Like a lot of people, I’ve been following the NSA Spying Scandal closely. In fact, I’ve been following it for several years, since before I first ran into Barrett Brown. Seriously. The leaks about go back a long way, and most writers appear to have missed the implications.
When Did The Leaks Start?
Now that’s a damned good question. I’ve been hearing bits and pieces for a long time. I didn’t keep track of all of them, or when they hit, but the leaks about Internet spying go back to the middle Nineties.
In other words the leaks appear to have started just after the World Wide Web got popular, which also appears to be the time that the NSA started trying to vacuum up everything happening on the web.
There were earlier leaks, about other programs. Information about Operation Ivory Bells, the tapping of Soviet telephone cables, has been covered in a variety of books. There’ve even been television shows covering how the NSA monitors telephone traffic on overseas cables.
Going further back, everyone knows about the Bletchley Park code breakers, and how they broke the German codes during World War II, while also getting information about German actions from the fact that there were radio transmissions from certain places. Think Metadata.
The Germans were doing the same, and attempted to limit the information that they were giving out by using wired communications whenever possible. During the Dieppe Raid, the telephone wires to the Pourville Radar Station were cut by RAF Flight Sergeant Jack Nissenthall, a radar specialist, to force the station to use radio transmissions to pass sightings. The information from the radio transmissions gave the British valuable information about German radar capabilities.
What the NSA has been doing is a logical extension of what the British were doing during World War II (along with the Americans, Germans, Italians, Canadians, and Japanese).
Whether or not the NSA’s actions are legal, is something that the American courts will have to decide. In my opinion the actions aren’t moral.
So Why Am I Just Hearing About It Now?
Because you haven’t been paying attention.
Think about what Google does, and tell me that you are surprised that a United States Government Agency, with more money, and no need to show a profit, can do the same thing only better.
What Are The Implications
Now we get into the fun stuff.
The leaks about the NSA programs have been going on for a long time. Edward Snowden is only 30 (born in 1983). He’s too young to have been involved in the earliest leaks.
Nor does he appear to be all that bright. He appeared to think that the United States Government would either ignore him, or give him a pat on the back. Yeah, right.
One thing that a lot of people have commented on. Snowden shouldn’t have been able to access this information. What if Snowden used the NSA’s own tools against it?
Then there’s the NSA claiming it can’t search its own emails… Gotta Lotta Gaul?
Let’s look at some possible situations.
- You are working on Industrial Espionage. You need access to your competitors emails, etc. Why not get someone working inside the NSA? Just think what Microsoft could do with an idea of what Apple is working on!
- You are working for the Deuxième Bureau, and need information on Libya. Get someone inside the NSA and voila!
- You are a politician, and need that extra edge to win an election. Get one of your workers inside the NSA… Remember Richard Nixon and the White House Plumbers?
- Just think of the blackmail possibilities, if you have someone inside the NSA. All you have to do is come up with some plausible way to have found the information off-line, and the target would never know what hit them.
The Americans have no way to know how many baddies have gotten into the system. They think that Snowden is bad. Well, he is. At least for the impact he is having on their spying scheme.
But Snowden didn’t try to use the information for his own benefit. There almost certainly are people who will use the information they are exposed to for their own benefit. The Washington Post claims that over 4,000,000 people hold Top Secret clearances in the United States. That’s about 1.3% of the American population, or 13 out of every thousand people!
There’s no way that the Americans can be certain that all 4,000,000 people who have been given a Top Secret clearance are reliable. In fact we know that there are a lot that aren’t reliable. Remember I mentioned that leaks had been going on since the Nineties, before Snowden hit puberty?
Most of these people holding Top Secret Clearances wouldn’t have access to the information Snowden leaked. Most of them probably have access to little more than the general public. Probably. Since the United States Government won’t even tell Congress the details, it is impossible to be sure. There could have been hundreds of huge leaks in the past, which the United States Government knows about, but which they aren’t talking about.
We know there were leaks. Consider H. B. Gary, and the information that Anonymous pulled from their mail server. What we don’t know is where all the leaks were, and the NSA won’t know that either.
Let’s say I’m doing a bit of Industrial Espionage, while working for the NSA. I get access to emails from the target company, then pass it along to my corporate handler, and that allows them to produce a product before the target company can get its product on the market! Will the NSA know what happened? Not if everything was handled off-line.
Now just think of all the times when a couple of companies come out with similar products, at the same time. Some of them are coincidence. Some of them are based on listening at the right time. Some of them, well, maybe the NSA had a helping hand without knowing it.
Someone Always Cheats
Remember that. Someone always cheats. The NSA and its huge spying program is the most fantastic opportunity for cheats, ever. I can guarantee that there are a lot of people trying to use it, in ways that the United States Government would never approve. I can also guarantee that the United States Government hasn’t got a hope in hell of stopping them.
This was, and is, a spectacularly stupid program. Whoever approved it, should have been institutionalized. Because they are (and were) totally insane to even think of doing this.
That they have managed to enwrap most of Corporate America in their scheme, is even worse. Right now every other government on the planet has to be re-considering ever using American software FOR ANY REQUIREMENT. Every government on the planet has to be re-considering the use of any American web site FOR ANY REASON.
Corporations have to be doing the same thing. If the United States Government has managed to install back doors into Windows, which appears to be the case, then what if your competitor finds the back doors, and you don’t? Simple. Your company is dead.
Effectively the NSA may have killed Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo, for that matter the entire American computer hardware and software industries.
Oh, it won’t happen overnight. But there are a lot of people looking at things right now, deciding what to do, and they aren’t at all happy.
The upside is that this is a huge opportunity for Free and Open Source Software. Richard Stallman looks ever more like a prophet whose time has come.
Monday September 9, 2013