Silicon Valley has what the spy agency wants: vast amounts of private data and the most sophisticated software available to analyze it. The agency in turn is one of Silicon Valley’s largest customers for what is known as data analytics, one of the valley’s fastest-growing markets. To get their hands on the latest software technology to manipulate and take advantage of large volumes of data, United States intelligence agencies invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, award classified contracts and recruit technology experts.
The evidence is contained in documents – classified as top secret – which were uncovered by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian. They reveal that during G20 meetings in April and September 2009 GCHQ used what one document calls “ground-breaking intelligence capabilities” to intercept the communications of visiting delegations.
From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data. Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters. The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.
There’s no mention of it in CNET McCullagh’s article, but this entire discussion was about metadata. They explicitly say this several times, using the word “metadata.” And metadata is not “listening to phone calls,” it’s the equivalent of looking at a telephone bill. That’s why Mueller begins (in the clip above) by saying that the Supreme Court has ruled that this kind of data is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.
The Bush administration, by then, had been taking “bulk metadata” from the phone companies under voluntary agreements for more than four years. The volume of information overwhelmed the MAINWAY database, according to a classified report from the NSA inspector general in 2009. The agency spent $146 million in supplemental counterterrorism funds to buy new hardware and contract support — and to make unspecified payments to the phone companies for “collaborative partnerships.”
“I’m much more frightened and concerned about real-time monitoring on the Internet backbone,” said Wolf Ruzicka, CEO of EastBanc Technologies, a Washington software company. “I cannot think of anything, outside of a face-to-face conversation, that they could not have access to.”
By 2010, Snowden was already thinking about the morality of the surveillance programs he was privy to. “Society really seems to have developed an unquestioning obedience towards spooky types,” he wrote in an online forum. “Did we get to where we are today via a slippery slope that was entirely within our control to stop, or was it a relatively instantaneous sea change that sneaked in undetected because of pervasive government secrecy?”
Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information while in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence.
The NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and branches of the U.S. military have agreements with such companies to gather data that could be highly useful in the hands of U.S. intelligence or cyber warfare units.
During this same time, it appears Snowden became a prolific participant in a technology blog, Arstechnica, under the pseudonym TheTrueHOOHA, posting more than 750 comments between late 2001 and mid-2012. In 2002, he posted a query asking for advice about getting an information technology job in Japan and mentioned he was studying Japanese. Later he argued that by pirating poorly made software he was justly punishing companies for their ineptitude.
Snowden believed there had been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland.
“We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” he said.
(South China Morning Post)