Meet XKeyscore: The Latest Massive Surveillance Program Of U.S. . . . As Reported In The Foreign Media

President_Barack_ObamaNational_Security_Agency.svgThis morning we have yet another article detailing a warrantless surveillance program by the National Security Agency that contradicts representations made by President Barack Obama and members of Congress. You may recall how Obama has tried to get citizens to embrace a new surveillance-friendly model of privacy after the disclosure of massive surveillance of citizens, including programs acquiring every call made by citizens. Various Democratic members came forward to admit that they knew of such programs and not to be afraid . . . they have our backs. Yet every story that has surfaced has contradicted claims that such programs are limited and do not involve the content of communications in emails and messages. The latest program being reported is called XKeyscore and is described as scouring emails, chat rooms, and browsing histories . . . all without a warrant. In the meantime, citizens in polls are saying that they are more concerned with the threat of their own government to their privacy than the threat of terrorism. Once again, citizens learned of this program not from their representative or their media but largely from the foreign press and the disclosures of Edward Snowden.

Of course, media allies of the President are expressing exasperation with people like Snowden in keeping them from moving on to other subjects and away from the eradication of privacy in America.

The NSA for its part has denied reports “of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true.” Something tells me it is the “unchecked” that the agency is stressing. The Obama Administration is infamous for replacing due process and privacy guarantees with its own self-evaluation and monitoring guarantees.

This program is described as allowing the agency access to “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet” in “real time.”

As these reports mount, the Democratic Party remains largely silent. While there was a highly orchestrated vote on the surveillance program recently (that predictably failed by just a few votes), the Democratic Party has now joined prior Bush supporters in attacking the most fundamental protections of U.S. citizens. The winner is a growing security state that employs hundreds of thousands and pours hundreds of billions of dollars into the pockets of agencies and their contractors. Citizens have become the subjects of such programs like raw material for an insatiable and unstoppable surveillance machine.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald has detailed how low-level employees have access to such material. My guess is that the NSA will focus on that issue rather than the existence of these programs. It is now a common technique of the Obama Administration: focusing on the procedures rather than the privacy concerns. We are likely to hear about criteria and internal reviews as part of the “trust me I am Obama” approach to authoritarian powers. After all, they got away with that in announcing a policy allowing Obama to vaporize U.S. citizens based on his sole authority.

With Congress now fully supporting this surveillance state, citizens are left with a dangerous vacuum in our constitutional system. The federal courts have created a blind spot where they bar judicial review on the basis of increasingly narrow standing rules and classification barriers. Even reading about these issues is difficult. As we have been discussing, the U.S. media has largely yielded to demands of the White House not to call Snowden a whistleblower and we often have to read about these programs from foreign sources like the Guardian.

How did we come to this point as a nation?

89 thoughts on “Meet XKeyscore: The Latest Massive Surveillance Program Of U.S. . . . As Reported In The Foreign Media”

  1. NSA Collects ‘Word for Word’ Every Domestic Communication, Says Former Analyst

    William Binney worked at the NSA for over three decades as a mathematician, where he designed systems for collecting and analyzing large amounts of data. He retired in 2001. And Russell Tice had a two-decade career with the NSA where he focused on collection and analysis. He says he was fired in 2005 after calling on Congress to provide greater protection to whistle-blowers.

    He claims the NSA tapped the phone of high-level government officials and the news media 10 years ago.

    RUSSELL TICE, former National Security Agency analyst: The United States were, at that time, using satellites to spy on American citizens. At that time, it was news organizations, the State Department, including Colin Powell, and an awful lot of senior military people and industrial types.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, this is the early 2000s.
    RUSSELL TICE: This was in 2002-2003 time frame. The NSA were targeting individuals. In that case, they were judges like the Supreme Court. I held in my hand Judge Alito’s targeting information for his phones and his staff and his family.

  2. G.Mason: you cannot show where I have ever advocated it.

    I qualified that pretty thoroughly with “IF”, so don’t get your panties in a bundle.

    G.Mason: We need to force our current government to resign in disgrace and replace them with temporary placements.

    I see, and what sort of “force” do you advocate for that purpose? Economic force, against people that are pretty uniformly rich and powerful and set for life?

    G.Mason: … as long as those appointed hold the Bill of Rights in the highest regard.

    And how do you propose we ensure that? By their statements? By changing the right of people to vote for whomever they please? By limiting their choice to candidates that you approve?

    I am not opposed to using economics to force political change; the Egyptians basically did by refusing to work under Mubarak. But you have to get a significant number of people to sacrifice their income, perhaps lose their jobs and their income, insurance, homes, and security for an abstract principle that, in truth, is not causing them intolerable pain. That is a lot to give up and a pretty tall order even if you believe the eventual consequences are dire; the pain would have to be far more imminent to spur people to the action you advocate.

  3. I do not support violent Revolution. I am advocating for an economic Revolt. It would be far more crippling than violence. I only advocate violence in return to violence which is what the Founding Fathers were wise enough to protect us with the 2nd to discourage such a scenario.

    No, we do not need violence and you cannot show where I have ever advocated it.

    I do not advocate any changes to the Constitution. In fact I advocate it being restored.

    We need to force our current government to resign in disgrace and replace them with temporary placements. I am not opposed to right leaning or left leaning people sitting in office as long as those appointed hold the Bill of Rights in the highest regard. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich would both be excellent people for example. I have reservations about both but in the end I would trust them far more than Bush or Obama.

    Whatever the party we need Civil Libertarians to correct the corruption that has rotted out the mechanics of our country.

  4. G.Mason: It is time for a Revolution […] What other choice do we have within a system that is so utterly corrupt and quite rigged?

    It depends on what you mean by “revolution,” if you mean a violent gunpoint revolution, I do not believe it is needed. In this country alone Women, Blacks, and Gays have all made enormous progress without any attempt to overthrow the government; in other countries enormous non-violent change has been accomplished as well, in the last few hundred years.

    Let me present the central conundrum in the call for violent revolution.

    First, consider the question: Who is conducting the violence? Do they have the backing of the majority in the country? Is their agenda (meaning whatever modifications they intend to make to the laws and Constitution) subscribed to in its entirety by the people?

    Is it their intent to unilaterally establish some new rules, some new government, that the existing people do not want and for which they would not vote?

    On this question, I have never seen a call for “Revolution” that did not implicitly call for a rewrite of the Constitution, and putting something forever outside the will of the people. From the Aynish to the Communists and at all points between, those so frustrated by the government they wish to see it overthrown are eager to set permanent and absolute prohibitions, only subscribed to by their tiny minority, that cannot then be overturned by any majority.

    That has been my personal experience thus far with such calls for revolution; and I am not saying it cannot change. I can imagine, I suppose, a call for violent revolution to uphold the existing Constitution without change or Amendment, but I haven’t heard anybody seriously doing that. Thus far my experience is that those that noodle on “Revolution” thinks they have figured out THE “solution” and it invariably demands a dictatorial rule (or pages of them) that cannot be overturned by anything short of another violent revolution.

    As a point of comparison, let me point out our Founding Father’s did not do that, themselves. Every single word and clause in our Constitution is subject to change by Amendment, including Amendments. Amendments, in turn, can (in effect) be changed by simple majority vote; since that is all it takes to elect Congressmen and a President that would approve of the Amendment. I am not saying that route is easy or practical, but it does exist: We are ruled by ourselves. As corrupt as our government is, they still step down when convincingly voted out of office, as long as they do that we remain in charge if a majority of us want to fix something.

    My Second point is, if your Revolutionary leaders were not going for dictatorial rule and were not opposed to the will of the majority, but were going to submit themselves entirely to the will of the people, then wouldn’t it be easier to accomplish the change you desire by non-violent revolution?

    To me, there is no logic that supports violent revolution in America. Either the goals of the revolutionaries constitute a dictatorial overthrow of our democracy, or their goals can be achieved by non-violent means within existing political channels by a committed majority. More slowly and deliberately, but nobody must be murdered or terrorized.

    The situation is different in dictatorships, but as long as our elections can still elect new faces, as long as the losers do not retain their “elected position” by force, we are still in control if we want to be.

    I think the call for violent revolution is a reflection of frustration that the majority of the populace does not give a crap about what the wannabe revolutionist cares deeply about. But violent revolution would be a perversion of “freedom,” by forcing upon the majority a new government, rules and regulations they did not choose and cannot change, in exchange for the old government they did choose and could have changed had they desired the change enough.

  5. It is time for a Revolution

    Perhaps some of you find that to sound insane but you would be greatly mistaken. What other choice do we have within a system that is so utterly corrupt and quite rigged? Freedom is but an illusion.

    I wonder what George Mason himself would have to say about Mr Hayden being a professor there. I would imagine that he would have nothing good to say.

  6. FBI Taps Hacker Tactics to Spy on Suspects

    Law-enforcement officials in the U.S. are expanding the use of tools routinely used by computer hackers to gather information on suspects, bringing the criminal wiretap into the cyber age.

    Federal agencies have largely kept quiet about these capabilities, but court documents and interviews with people involved in the programs provide new details about the hacking tools, including spyware delivered to computers and phones through email or Web links—techniques more commonly associated with attacks by criminals.

    People familiar with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s programs say that the use of hacking tools under court orders has grown as agents seek to keep up with suspects who use new communications technology, including some types of online chat and encryption tools. The use of such communications, which can’t be wiretapped like a phone, is called “going dark” among law enforcement

  7. NSA secrets kill our trust

    By Bruce Schneier, Special to CNN
    July 31, 2013 — Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)


    This sort of thing can destroy our country. Trust is essential in our society. And if we can’t trust either our government or the corporations that have intimate access into so much of our lives, society suffers. Study after study demonstrates the value of living in a high-trust society and the costs of living in a low-trust one.

    Rebuilding trust is not easy, as anyone who has betrayed or been betrayed by a friend or lover knows, but the path involves transparency, oversight and accountability. Transparency first involves coming clean. Not a little bit at a time, not only when you have to, but complete disclosure about everything. Then it involves continuing disclosure. No more secret rulings by secret courts about secret laws. No more secret programs whose costs and benefits remain hidden.

    Oversight involves meaningful constraints on the NSA, the FBI and others. This will be a combination of things: a court system that acts as a third-party advocate for the rule of law rather than a rubber-stamp organization, a legislature that understands what these organizations are doing and regularly debates requests for increased power, and vibrant public-sector watchdog groups that analyze and debate the government’s actions.

    Accountability means that those who break the law, lie to Congress or deceive the American people are held accountable. The NSA has gone rogue, and while it’s probably not possible to prosecute people for what they did under the enormous veil of secrecy it currently enjoys, we need to make it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated in the future. Accountability also means voting, which means voters need to know what our leaders are doing in our name.

    This is the only way we can restore trust. A market economy doesn’t work unless consumers can make intelligent buying decisions based on accurate product information. That’s why we have agencies like the FDA, truth-in-packaging laws and prohibitions against false advertising.

    In the same way, democracy can’t work unless voters know what the government is doing in their name. That’s why we have open-government laws. Secret courts making secret rulings on secret laws, and companies flagrantly lying to consumers about the insecurity of their products and services, undermine the very foundations of our society.

    Since the Snowden documents became public, I have been receiving e-mails from people seeking advice on whom to trust. As a security and privacy expert, I’m expected to know which companies protect their users’ privacy and which encryption programs the NSA can’t break. The truth is, I have no idea. No one outside the classified government world does. I tell people that they have no choice but to decide whom they trust and to then trust them as a matter of faith. It’s a lousy answer, but until our government starts down the path of regaining our trust, it’s the only thing we can do.

  8. Michael Hayden responds:


    Access is still overseen by the FISA court (which also compels firms to turn over requested data), but the process no longer requires the time consuming, cumbersome, individualized warrants of the past.

    As recently as this past Sunday, however, Snowden chronicler-supporter-spokesman Glenn Greenwald was working to revive the meme of an unchecked NSA. Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Greenwald described tools that allow analysts “to listen to whatever e-mails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft word documents.”

    Greenwald’s accusations were sufficiently broad and breathless (even though he did at one point concede that there were “legal constraints for how you can spy on Americans”) that the stunningly misleading lead of ABC’s follow-on story was that these tools “allowed even low-level analysts to search the private e-mails and phone calls of Americans.”

    Actually, if Greenwald’s description of the tools themselves is correct, they are the product of a decade-plus effort at NSA to improve the analytic and collection means available to its work force, to allow NSA analysts at all levels–analysts trained annually in how to protect American privacy–to make a single query to access all relevant information across agency databases and to assign tasking across various SIGADs.

    Put another way, NSA can more readily connect dots (dots comprised of lawfully collected foreign intelligence) and coordinate tasking (of legitimately targeted foreign communications) than at any other time in the agency’s history.

    And if that is true, it is something we should celebrate rather than condemn. But it remains to be seen if the coming national discussion will be based on facts like these or on something else altogether.

    And what of that debate, both overseas and at home? More to follow.



  9. lottakatz,

    It was a structured school board meeting. My group was appalled that they were there in uniform. We did not ask about it 1. because what was there to do and 2. we had limited time to speak and we kept on topic.

    I don’t think they are supposed to make up lists either. It seems there is way too much going on that has no business happening.

    The actions taken against Occupy really showed what this govt. is about, IMO.

  10. Jill, you’re one of the people they’re collecting the data to neutralize. I’m surprised though that it was a military person in uniform. It used to only be FBI type guys- dark suits, sunglasses. I didn’t know the military was allowed to make lists and check off names etc. Did that come up in the meeting, anybody ask the question? S*it’s gettn’ serious up in here.

  11. TonyC,: “The problem with the maxim “If you aren’t doing anything wrong…” is failing to realize exactly what falls into the category of “wrong” for people with power and money: Threatening their power and money!”

    excellent posting.

  12. I went to a freaking school board meeting on behalf of counter-recruitment. I and others in the group had our license plates photographed. There were several military uniformed officers at the meeting. One of them had a print out of the people in our group’s names. They were checking our names off as we came in.

    That’s just one example out of many. So no, I don’t think the NSA is taking all this data to protect me from terrorists. They are taking it to protect themselves/USGinc. from dissent.

    I agree with Tony C. about who determines if what you’re doing is “wrong” It isn’t you and it isn’t the Constitution.

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