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Sunday, June 23, 2013

NSA - Prism

NSA Deception Operation? Questions Surround Leaked PRISM Document’s Authenticity

Was Edward Snowden spotted before he decided to leak documents, and set up by the NSA?

Global Research, June 12, 2013
Region: USA
Theme: Intelligence

“I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.” - Edward Snowden

Intelligence services have been feeding false information to known enemy informants in their own ranks for a long time, and they are very good at it.
Today, the potential whistleblower is one of the most dangerous informants an intelligence service can confront.

Was Edward Snowden spotted before he decided to leak documents, and set up by the NSA?

Substantial evidence supports the possibility that he was. Numerous questions cast doubt on the authenticity of the Power Point slide show describing PRISM, but the UK Guardian has not seen fit to release it to the public. Perhaps Glenn Greenwald should anonymously leak this file: In the words of Snowden himself, “The public needs to decide.”

Was Edward Snowden under surveillance at intelligence contractor Booz Allen in advance of releasing the PRISM document?

In the wake of the Wikileaks scandals, the U.S. intelligence community has answered “Who shall watch the watchmen?” by introducing active surveillance and detailed profiling of their own analysts and contractors, looking for potential whistleblowers.[1] By his own account, Snowden often discussed perceived Agency wrongdoing with his co-workers, which suggests that he should have been profiled and flagged as a potential leaker by the NSA’s internal surveillance process.
Interviewd by Glenn Greenwald, Snowden described his workplace behavior in the time leading up to his decision to leak documents:

“When you see everything, you see them on a more frequent basis and you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses, and when you talk about them in a place like this, were this is the normal state of business, people tend not to take them very seriously and move on from them. But over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about it, and the more you talk about it, the more you’re ignored, the more you’re told it’s not a problem, until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who is simply hired by the government.”[2]

Questioning The Document

Classified DoD briefing files are created to meet formal style specifications and are subject to stringent internal reviews. After the publication of pages from the PRISM presentation, independent analysts were quick to notice and report substantial deficiencies in the document.[3] Others have expressed serious doubts about the PRISM slide show’s pedigree, including the NSA’s former top attorney:
“Stewart Baker, the NSA’s general counsel in the 1990s and now an attorney at Steptoe and Johnson, said he was not familiar with PRISM or similar government activity, but the leaked Powerpoint presentation sounds “flaky,” as do the initial reports.

“The Powerpoint is suffused with a kind of hype that makes it sound more like a marketing pitch than a briefing — we don’t know what its provenance is and we don’t know the full context,” Baker said. He added, referring to the Post’s coverage: “It looks rushed and it looks wrong.” – Declan McCullagh, Wired, June 7, 2013[4]
The logos of major U.S. IT and communication service providers are splashed across the top of PRISM power point slides like sponsor patches on a NASCAR driver’s jacket. Vendor logos often do appear next to product illustrations in DoD briefing documents, and are sometimes used to indicate a vendor’s position in process or procurement flow charts. But the “ad banner” format present in the leaked PRISM slides is very unusual and apparently unique to the PRISM document. All of the vendors named have vehemently denied knowledge of the PRISM program described in the slides.[5] Some of these denials, such as those by Twitter and Google, are from companies which have previously fought court battles against arbitrary disclosure of their users’ data to Federal agencies.[6]

A second PRISM?

Unclassified documents available on the Internet identify a completely different PRISM program, a powerful integrated network communications tool for Department of Homeland Security counter-terrorism crisis management. This PRISM integrates incident reporting, GPS tracking of emergency service and law enforcement vehicles, “outbound 911″ public alert networks, CBN and other technical sensor data, etc. A detailed, unclassified 2004 description of the “DHS PRISM” is available at Cryptome.[7] A 2007 report from the RAND Corporation defines PRISM as a “Planning Tool for Resource Integration, Synchronization, and Management”[8]. It seems unlikely that two network-centric programs as large and different as the DHS and NSA PRISMs, both operating inside the United States, would bear the same name. Only Monty Python calls everyone Bruce “to avoid confusion.”

Would the NSA lie to us?

The National Security Administration is one of the country’s most officially secretive agencies. In the Washington press corps, its popular nicknames have included “No Such Agency” and the “Never Say Anything” agency.

It is against long standing Agency policy to comment directly on any classified matter, and its Directors have consistently refused to confirm or deny any Agency activity when questioned by the press. But when the UK Guardian broke the story of the PRISM leak, the Director of National Intelligence promptly confirmed the document as authentic, calling the leak “reprehensible”:

“The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.” – James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence[9]

This very unusual confirmation raises more questions about the PRISM document than it answers.

Is it possible that the PRISM leak was set up by the NSA as a deception operation in support of the Obama Administration’s ongoing wars against whistleblowers and the 4th Amendment? Documents from Federal intelligence contractor HBGary, published in 2011 by anonymous hackers, include a Power Point presentation proposing methods for attacking Wikileaks, and this document names Glenn Greenwald, who broke the PRISM story, as a specific target:
“The presentation, which has been seen by The Independent, recommends a multi-pronged assault on WikiLeaks including deliberately submitting false documents to the website to undermine its credibility, pioneering cyber attacks to expose who the leakers to WikiLeaks are and going after sympathetic journalists.

“One of those mentioned is Glenn Greenwald, a pro-WikiLeaks reporter in the US. Writing on Greenwald stated that his initial reaction was “to scoff at its absurdity.” – Jerome Taylor, The Independent[10]

The UK Guardian released the PRISM story on the opening day of PFC Bradley Manning’s court martial. The leaked PRISM document will certainly influence public debate on both whistleblower protections and State surveillance – and influence is one of our intelligence community’s regular daily chores. Some commentators have been very quick to present forceful talking points in favor of free and unrestrained State surveillance[11], and there is growing consensus that reports depicting PRISM as a mass domestic surveillance dragnet were a false alarm. The Washington Post, which broke the story at the same time as the UK Guardian, has walked back its position on the civil rights implications of the PRISM materials.[12] Meanwhile, it seems that everyone has forgotten about Romas/COIN.

Universal Surveillance: Romas/COIN, Odyssey and beyond

The same security breach at HBGary that revealed formal proposals to plant false leaks and target reporter Glenn Greenwald personally, also disclosed the existence of a real surveillance program with dramatically more dangerous civil liberty implications than PRISM: Romas/COIN, and its planned successor, Odyssey. Barrett Brown summarizes what is known about this program in an article on the Project PM website:

“A successful bid for the relevant contract was seen to require the combined capabilities of perhaps a dozen firms – capabilities whereby millions of conversations can be monitored and automatically analyzed, whereby a wide range of personal data can be obtained and stored in secret, and whereby some unknown degree of information can be released to a given population through a variety of means and without any hint that the actual source is U.S. military intelligence. All this is merely in addition to whichever additional capabilities are not evident from the limited description available, with the program as a whole presumably being operated in conjunction with other surveillance and propaganda assets controlled by the U.S. and its partners.”[13]

According to its internal e-mail from 2010 and 2011, HBGary was a prime contractor coordinating bids from Google, Apple, AT&T and others to build an expanded, upgraded version of the Romas/COIN information warfare system. Minor publicity attending the naming of these high profile vendors in the HBGary documents may have inspired the NASCAR-style sponsor logos decorating the dubious PRISM slides.

When HBGary’s e-mails were disclosed, the Odyssey bid was on hold with HBGary and its partners waiting for a revision in program requirements from the DoD. Two years have passed since HBGary was preparing to bid against Northrop Grumman for the prime contractor position on the Odyssey program. Odyssey should now be completed or nearing completion.

Is it possible that the PRISM leak was intended to mislead the American people into dramatically under-estimating the real domestic surveillance capabilities of our National Security Agency? You might well think so, but this reporter could not possibly comment.


1) Eric Schmitt, White House Orders New Computer Security Rules, New York Times, October 6, 2011
2) Glenn Greenwald interviews Edward Snowden, Guardian US, Sunday 9 June 2013
3) Are the NSA’s PRISM slides photoshopped?, Top Level Telecommunications, June 7, 2013
4) Declan McCullagh, “No evidence of NSA’s ‘direct access’ to tech companies”, Wired, June 7, 2013 at
5) Joanna Stern, NSA PRISM: Dissecting the Tech Companies’ Adamant Denials of Involvement in Government Spying Program, ABC News, June 7, 2013
6) Declan McCullagh, Justice Department tries to force Google to hand over user data, CNET News, May 31, 2013
Declan McCullagh, DOJ sends order to Twitter for WikiLeaks-related account info, CNET News, January 7, 2011
7) MAJ Gregg Powell and COL Charles Dunn III, Homeland Security: Requirements for Installation Security Decision Support Systems, Battle Command Battle Lab (Gordon), March 21, 2004
8) Carl Rhodes, Jeff Hagen, Mark Westergren, A Strategies-to-Tasks Framework for Planning and Executing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Operations, RAND Corporation, 2007
9) James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, DNI Statement on Activities Authorized Under Section 702 of FISA, June 06, 2013
10) Jerome Taylor, The US bank and the secret plan to destroy WikiLeaks, The Independent February 13, 2011
11) Tim Worstall, NSA’s PRISM Sounds Like A Darn Good Idea To Me: This Is What Governments Are For, Forbes, June 7, 2011
12) Peter Weber, Is the NSA PRISM leak much less than it seems?, Yahoo! News, Jun 10, 2013
13) Barrett Brown, Romas/COIN, Project
See also Barrett Brown, A sinister cyber-surveillance scheme exposed, UK Guardian, June 22, 2011

Steve Kinney is an independent researcher and writer on computer and network security topics, with a long standing interest in the civil and human rights implications of Internet censorship and surveillance by State and corporate actors.

All copyrighted sources are quoted and used for comment and education in accord with the nonprofit provisions of: Title 17 U.S.C., Section 107 for Fair Use. This site is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C., Section 107 and is protected under: Fair Use - and The First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


The N.S.A.'s Prism Remains Opaque : The New Yorker
JUNE 13, 2013


A week after the exposure of mass-surveillance programs built and managed by the National Security Agency, we know that the leaker is a twenty-nine-year-old contract I.T. worker named Edward Snowden. We know his past online identity, TheTrueHOOHA, and the details of his personal life and political beliefs posted with that alias—he appears as a sort of techno-libertarian agnostic, a common archetype of Internet forums. We know about his girlfriend, a photogenic dancer. We even have reports that he smuggled the documents he leaked to theGuardian and the Washington Post out of the Hawaiian base where he worked on a thumb drive—or maybe on four laptops, or both. But we still know distressingly little about the programs Snowden sought to expose.

Snowden’s actions revealed a few distinct, though interrelated, N.S.A. programs. The first, of which we have the clearest picture—largely because government officials have acknowledged and defended the program—collects the records of nearly every call placed within the United States. Snowden leaked to the Guardian a secret court order demanding that Verizon Business turn over the records—“telephony metadata”—of calls within, to, and from the United States that cross its network. It then emerged that the N.S.A. has been collecting such records for seven years, from every major carrier in the country. The President and others in the Administration emphasized, in response, that the N.S.A. wasn’t listening to actual conversations. But the vast database of records the N.S.A. collects can say far more than a phone conversation. Metadata, which can include caller and location information, is fairly talkative. (Senator Dianne Feinstein has stated that the N.S.A. does not require a court order to search its database of call logs; it needs only “reasonable, articulable cause to believe that that individual is connected to a terrorist group.”)

Another program, Boundless Informant, tracks and maps where the N.S.A.’s Internet intelligence comes from on a country-by-country basis, even though the N.S.A. had told Congress that it did not possess the "technical insights" to make such detailed assessments.

Meanwhile, the program called Prism, which aims to collect digital intelligence about foreign targets, remains frustratingly opaque. The leaked slides of the PowerPoint presentation that formed the basis for the news—its intended audience within the N.S.A. remains unclear—claim that nine leading tech companies participate in Prism, permitting the N.S.A. to gather data like e-mails, chat records, photos, videos, file transfers, and more. An additional slide published by theGuardian states that Prism features “collection directly from the servers” of those tech companies. The Post wrote that the N.S.A. and F.B.I. “are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies.”

But it increasingly appears that the technical descriptions in the Post and the Guardian may have been imprecise. This would be unfortunate, whether it resulted from the limited knowledge of the reporters and their editors, or simply from flawed claims in the internal documents. The technical details of Prism matter; they carry implications in terms of the nature of the program itself and the extent of tech companies’ coöperation. While the Times, citing “people briefed on the negotiations” between the government and the companies, has described Prism as functioning like a “locked mailbox” to which the government has the key, the Post has reported that, according to anonymous “intelligence community” sources, “government employees cleared for PRISM access may ‘task’ the system and receive results from an Internet company without further interaction with the company’s staff.” It added that “companies cannot see the queries that are sent from the NSA to the systems installed on their premises.”

The office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said in a statement that the “government does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers.” (Though we do not know what “unilaterally” means in this context, and Clapper falsely told the Senate, before the leaks, that the N.S.A. did not “wittingly” collect any sort of data on millions of Americans.) Google’s response to the allegations has also been aggressive. The company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, wrote in a post, “We cannot say this more clearly—the government does not have access to Google servers—not directly, or via a back door, or a so-called drop box. Nor have we received blanket orders of the kind being discussed in the media.” The company has publicly requested that the government allow it to disclose the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act national-security requests it receives—which must currently be kept secret—because its “numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made.” (Microsoft and Facebook have followed suit.) What Google says is very different from what the N.S.A. documents that the Post and the Guardian have published allege. But it seems unlikely that Google would intentionally engage in even minor misdirection, given its high price: if Google were caught lying, it would lose users’ trust forever, which could actually destroy the company.

We also lack details about Blarney, a program mentioned in a slide as part of the N.S.A.’s “upstream” data-collection efforts, which a leaked slide describes as the “collection of communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past.”

The Post characterizes Blarney as collecting metadata about Internet communications—similar to the call-records program—possibly allowing the N.S.A. to build an index of Internet traffic and how devices and people connect. Blarney may be far more invasive than Prism, but it remains unclear. Two other presumably ongoing “upstream” data-collection programs remain unnamed, their titles redacted from the slide.

Snowden has also reportedly shown documents to the South China Morning Post that allege that the N.S.A. has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and China since 2009—including those belonging to civilian students and businesses. (Wired magazine, in a profile of N.S.A. Director Keith Alexander, reports on the development of a massive offensive apparatus within the Agency to conduct cyber-attacks.)

Alexander has said that the Agency will release more information about its surveillance programs, and it appears this information will largely concern its collecting of call data; the Timesreported that Alexander wanted, again, to dissuade the public from believing that “the N.S.A. is listening to Americans’ phone calls.” We may learn no more about Blarney or related data-collection programs, even if—especially if—they are the most invasive of all. But we will undoubtedly continue to hear more about Snowden.

Photograph, of James Clapper (center) at the United States Capitol, by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters.

The National Student Association, the N.S.A., and the C.I.A. : The New Yorker

JUNE 20, 2013


After the recent Washington Post and Guardian disclosures about the National Security Agency (the subject of my Comment in this week’s magazine, by the way), a three-month-old colloquy from an open session of the Senate Intelligence Committee got a second look.

It’s March 12th, a few months before the disclosures. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, is in the witness chair. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, is doing the questioning.

“So,” Wyden says, “what I wanted to see is, if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clapper does not look happy. He rubs his bald pate, looks down at the table. He glances up furtively, not quite meeting Wyden’s eyes.

“No, sir,” he replies.

Wyden seems surprised. “It does not?”

Now Clapper looks thoroughly miserable. He rubs his head harder. “Not wittingly,” he finally says. “There are cases where they could in—inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not, not wittingly.”

A number of respected commentators saw this as a straightforward lie, to the point of being afiring offense. Perhaps so. I saw it a little differently, though.

A truly straightforward lie would have stopped at “No, sir.” But, by adding a caveat, Clapper was signalling that his “No” stopped short of being wholly the opposite of “Yes.”

And then there was this: he didn’t say “unknowingly” or “not knowingly.” And he didn’t say “unwittingly.” He said “not wittingly.”

Clapper’s slightly peculiar word choice took me back to early 1967.

I was living in San Francisco, working as a cub reporter for Newsweek. (Believe it or not,Newsweek had a whole bureau there: a chief, two full-time reporters, and an office assistant who doubled as a photographer.) I had just finished spending my first year out of college on the staff of the National Student Association, in Washington, where I edited a magazine distributed mainly to student leaders abroad. In San Francisco, I often hung out with people from Rampartsmagazine, a rambunctious lefty slick that was the ancestor of today’s Mother Jones. One day aRamparts friend called me and said, “What would you say if I were to tell you that the N.S.A. was a front for the C.I.A.?”

By N.S.A., of course, he meant my immediate former employer, not the agency currently much in the news.

“I’d say, ‘You’re crazy,’ ” I replied. And I meant it.

But the more my friend filled me in on Ramparts’ about-to-be-published scoop, the more plausible it seemed. It made sense of a good many things I’d half-noticed around the N.S.A. office without thinking much about them—odd comings and goings, furtive whisperings, long meetings behind closed doors.

The magazine I’d edited, including my modest salary, had been financed by a grant from the Foundation for Youth and Student Affairs. The source of the money, I’d been told, was a reclusive heir to the Corning Glass Works fortune who was interested in, well, youth and student affairs. Now I learned that FYSA—“Fie-sah,” we called it—was one of many conduits for C.I.A. cash.

As would soon come out, the C.I.A.’s financing of the N.S.A. was part of a larger secret program, established in the early years of the Cold War, under which funds were routed through foundations (some otherwise legitimate, some entirely fictional) to a variety of left-of-center organizations and publications, including the Socialist International, the overseas operations of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Encounter magazine. The project was run by what you might call the liberal wing of the C.I.A., whose members recognized that activities like supporting the Franco regime in Spain, overthrowing democratically elected governments, and backing the colonial status quo in Africa and Asia were unlikely to win the Cold War. This part of the C.I.A. understood that Communism’s most effective enemy was the noncommunist left, not the authoritarian right.

Some of the organizations that got the C.I.A. money were entirely ignorant of its ultimate source. In other cases, a few senior staff members would be made aware of the arrangement and enjoined, emphatically, to keep it a secret—from their colleagues and everyone else. The N.S.A. was in the latter category. The N.S.A.’s president, its international-affairs vice-president, and those staff members who regularly travelled abroad on the organization’s behalf were let in on the secret. The rest of us were not.
For around fifteen years, this arrangement “worked.” Those who knew about it accepted it—sometimes queasily, more often eagerly. It made them feel important, adventurous, grown up. It meant that they weren’t just playing in a student-government sandbox. Anyway, promoting liberal-democratic ideas among Third World students, opposing Communist and Soviet influence, and helping anti-apartheid student groups in South Africa did not present problems of conscience. Moreover, while the C.I.A. money was earmarked for overseas activities, it freed up funds derived from other sources to be used for the N.S.A.’s domestic purposes, which included campaigning for academic freedom, demanding the abolition of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and supporting the civil-rights movement. (For example, the N.S.A. helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and provided it with crucial political and financial assistance.) For these reasons, it’s too simple, and not truly correct, to dismiss the N.S.A. as nothing but a C.I.A. front. It was better than that. But it was deeply compromised. The secrecy and deception inherent in the arrangement amounted to a kind of moral corruption.

In the mid-sixties, with the postwar, Cold War liberal consensus collapsing under the weight of the Vietnam disaster, the C.I.A.-N.S.A. relationship became increasingly untenable and unpleasant. By the time a disillusioned former staffer decided to take the story to Ramparts(after being rebuffed by the Times and the Washington Post, among others), the N.S.A. leaders were trying—desperately, quietly, futilely—to get out from under it. The revelation did the job for them.

It’s a long story—a hell of a lot longer than this little summary—and a surprisingly little-known one, given the radicalizing, disillusioning, highly consequential impact that the C.I.A.-N.S.A. revelations had on a generation of politically engaged liberal and leftist students.

But why am I telling you all this? What does it have to do with James Clapper, that other N.S.A., and “wittingly”?

Just this: at the N.S.A., the staff members who knew the secret were known to one another as “witting” or “witty.” Those who’d been kept in the dark (me, for example) were known, though of course not to ourselves, as “not witting” or “not witty.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but here’s my guess: Clapper instantly knew that he’d made a serious mistake when he said “No.” He groped for some way to mitigate it, and what he found, an instant later, was an intelligence-community term of art, a bit of tradecraft jargon having to do with the difference between the on purpose and the incidental, the guilty and the not guilty: witting and not witting, witty and not witty. Wittingly and not wittingly.

It wasn’t enough to turn a lie into a not-lie. But at least it suggested the lingering presence of, if not quite a conscience, at least a sense of shame.

Above: James Clapper testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in March. Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty.

© 2013 Condé Nast. All rights reserved

All copyrighted sources are quoted and used for comment and education in accord with the nonprofit provisions of: Title 17 U.S.C., Section 107 for Fair Use. This site is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C., Section 107 and is protected under: Fair Use - and The First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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