The Spy Factory

Discussion in 'privacy general' started by LockBox, Jun 12, 2013.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. LockBox

    LockBox Registered Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2004
    Posts:
    2,275
    Location:
    Here, There and Everywhere
    As current events play out across the globe, it might be a good time to share the documentary "The Spy Factory" which is based on one of the books in James Bamford's trilogy of books on the NSA. In fact, he wrote and produced this program for PBS and NOVA. It is 52 minutes in length.
    You can watch it now free online at http://video.pbs.org/video/1051968443
     
  2. JackmanG

    JackmanG Former Poster

    Joined:
    May 21, 2013
    Posts:
    284
  3. JackmanG

    JackmanG Former Poster

    Joined:
    May 21, 2013
    Posts:
    284
    Okay so I viewed "The Spy Factory".

    I have to say, it's quite fascinating how such a flip-floppy report could be produced and aired.

    It goes back and forth from typical government talking heads giving typical government talking points, to giving some actual real journalistic information, to more talking points. All the while leaving all sorts of holes.

    I realize compiling and attempting to tell a story like the one they were telling isn't easy, and doesn't really provide for a seamless production process, but they could at least pick an angle and stick to it. More than anything it just felt like the whole program had no real direction. They were just spewing out information.

    What I also found quite funny was the part where they reference the film Enemy of the State, in which Will Smith plays an an attorney who finds himself the target of a rogue NSA cell. Nova interviews a former NSA Director of Research who specifically references the film and talking about how they in the intelligence community found it amusing, because Hollywood depicts them as "omniscient", as if they could "collect anything we want...and it's just not that way. It's not that way at all."

    First of all, this is hilarious because of course now essentially no one can deny that's largely exactly how it is (seriously, if you haven't seen the film, I definitely recommend it. It seems perfectly plausible, and the technological capability is certainly there. I can think of only one specific technology depicted in the film that is basically science fiction. Everything else is more than likely frighteningly accurate). But second of all, the NSA talking head literally negates his own statement in his very next sentence in the interview:

    "...like we can collect anything we want...and it's just not that way. It's not that way at all. You may collect a lot of stuff...but you don't know what you've got."

    He goes on to admit: "Really, the biggest technology challenge was: how do you deal with volumes of information like that."

    So here you have an NSA director, who was at his post from 2002-2005, essentially admitting that, sure they could collect pretty much whatever they wanted, it's just that when you're able to do that (i.e. collect that sheer amount of data), it's a lot tougher to make use of it.

    Another point that's especially laughable now, in light of the events of last week, is toward the end where they spend a good 10-15 minutes offering proof that the NSA is routing American communication traffic through it's own equipment...literally the same type of thing that was revealed in the PRISM leak. But what's fascinating (although not at all surprising) is the interception they describe is not through the servers (or, to get technical as the documents revealed, equipment connected to the servers) of the tech companies...but rather interception at an even more basic level...the telecom company switchboard.

    They describe how Internet traffic is largely transported across the globe through fiber optic cables under the ocean (as opposed to the old world ways of radio waves through space.) And they tell the revelation Mark Klein, a technician at AT&T's regional switching center in San Francisco who, in 2003, noticed that the cables on the 7th floor (where the international traffic coming from Asia, as well as a large degree of the domestic traffic, came through) had been rerouted, and a mirror image of the data (international and domestic) was being sent to a secret room one floor below.

    Sure enough, it was an NSA installation in which they split the fiber optic cables and routed them through the agency's own equipment. Brian Reid, another communications expert who analyzed the internal company documents that Klein provided showing the technology infrastructure, then states "Based on everything I know, I believe that there are between 15 and 30 of these 'secret rooms' around the US." And of course, that would essentially cover nearly all domestic communication.

    This is the kind of thing Snowden was talking about when he said:

    "The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards."​

    This is probably most watch-worthy part of the program. It starts around 35:11 (right as they show government apologists almost outright saying "you need to sacrifice liberty for safety".)

    What's so funny is that this was all revealed in mid-2006. (This documentary aired in 2009.) EFF even filed a lawsuit against AT&T that year due to the program. But of course, as Peter Eckersley explains, that, along with other suits they filed got quickly swept under the rug.

    Schneier was right. We need whistleblowers, and more of them.


    Aside from that, most of the documentary is spent essentially making the case that the NSA had enough intel to probably catch hijackers before 9/11, because they had been monitoring their communications for 3 years prior...and yet they simply wouldn't share intel with the CIA or FBI. And the same thing with CIA...when they had intel (such as the fact that two associates of bin Laden were in the US, they literally ordered the two FBI agents who were part of the task force to not share that information with their bureau.)

    This is part of the thesis explored in the documentary film Secrecy, which in part suggests that when you have such a climate of security clearance and classifying so much information, that it ironically actually harms your ability to be an effective intelligence force.

    As good as this kind of information is, I'm afraid it largely gives the viewer the wrong impression...that the problem is essentially that we just need to "get our house in order" and centralize more authority and get more efficient to defeat the bad guys. It gives the impression that all these spies, and politicians, and bureaucrats, and everyone else in these positions where you essentially have to be a sociopath to excel, are really just looking out for everyone's best interest...they just need to get the kinks out of the system. We just need to "clean house", and get rid of "waste, fraud, and abuse."

    Riiiight.
     
Loading...
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.