Meet PRISM / US-984XN - The US Government's Internet Espionage Super Operation

Tyler Durden's picture

The disclosures involving this (and the prior) administration's Big Brother surveillance state, which would make Nixon blush with envy are now coming fast and furious (one wonders - why now: even that bastion of liberalism the NY Times, has turned against Obama). Although while the Guardian's overnight news that Verizon (and most certainly AT&T as well among others) was cooperating with the NSA on spying on US citizens, so far at least the internet seemed, if only to the great unwashed masses, immune. That is no longer the case following news from the WaPo exposing PRISM, a highly classified program, which has not been disclosed publicly before. "Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy." What PRISM does is to allow the NSA and the FBI to tap directly "into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time."

The secrecy is so deep we expect even the president himself may not know about it (but he does):

The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy.  Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

Of course, PRISM is from the government, and it is here to help you. But the question is why are some of the biggest private companies explicitly collaborating with what is now the biggest exposed spying operation in history, companies which include such household names as Microsoft Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. Yes, everyone's beloved Apple was added in October 2012: the NSA knows all about your music playlist, not to mention has a database of all your iMessages.

In other words, all those newly minted people known as corporations are in on it, but not: dear debt serf. It's a small club, and there is a multimillion liquid net-worth cutoff... and you are not in it. From WaPo:

An internal presentation on the Silicon Valley operation, intended for senior analysts in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, described the new tool as the most prolific contributor to the President’s Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 articles last year. According to the briefing slides, obtained by The Washington Post, “NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM” as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.

 

That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications. It is all the more striking because the NSA, whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.

 

The technology companies, which participate knowingly in PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted significant traffic during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

 

...

 

the PRISM program appears more nearly to resemble the most controversial of the warrantless surveillance orders issued by President George W. Bush after the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Its history, in which President Obama presided over “exponential growth” in a program that candidate Obama criticized, shows how fundamentally surveillance law and practice have shifted away from individual suspicion in favor of systematic, mass collection techniques.

Spying on US citizens is "incidental"... kinda like killing thousands of women and children in drone raids is "collateral damage":

Even when the system works just as advertised, with no American singled out for targeting, the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content. That is described as “incidental,” and it is inherent in contact chaining, one of the basic tools of the trade. To collect on a suspected spy or foreign terrorist means, at minimum, that everyone in the suspect’s inbox or outbox is swept in. Intelligence analysts are typically taught to chain through contacts two “hops” out from their target, which increases “incidental collection” exponentially. The same math explains the aphorism, from the John Guare play, that no one is more than “six degrees of separation” from any other person.

This is how the big corporations sleep at night:

Formally, in exchange for immunity from lawsuits, companies like Yahoo and AOL are obliged to accept a “directive” from the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to open their servers to the FBI’s Data Intercept Technology Unit, which handles liaison to U.S. companies from the NSA. In 2008, Congress gave the Justice Department authority to for a secret order from the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court to compel a reluctant company “to comply.”

In practice, there is room for a company to maneuver, delay or resist. When a clandestine intelligence program meets a highly regulated industry, said a lawyer with experience in bridging the gaps, neither side wants to risk a public fight. The engineering problems are so immense, in systems of such complexity and frequent change, that the FBI and NSA would be hard pressed to build in back doors without active help from each company.

Some "do lots of evil" by their customers. They just don't disclose it:

“Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data,” a company spokesman said. “We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a ‘back door’ for the government to access private user data.”

Time to kill that Facebook profile... or be accidentally killed for being "of a terroristy persuasion" based on some NSA algo:

There has been “continued exponential growth in tasking to Facebook and Skype,” according to the 41 PRISM slides. With a few clicks and an affirmation that the subject is believed to be engaged in terrorism, espionage or nuclear proliferation, an analyst obtains full access to Facebook’s “extensive search and surveillance capabilities against the variety of online social networking services.”

And some more charts:

Introducing the program

A slide briefing analysts at the National Security Agency about the program touts its effectiveness and features the logos of the companies involved.

Monitoring a target's communication

This diagram shows how the bulk of the world’s electronic communications move through companies based in the United States.

Providers and data

The PRISM program collects a wide range of data from the nine companies, although the details vary by provider.

In retrospect, it is sad what a farce this country has become: artificial market, centrally-planned economy, pervasive spying on the people, a tax collector that target political enemies, an administration that openly lies under oath...

If we didn't know better we would say this was 1955 Stalingrad, although Stalingrad at the height of totalitarianism was for amateurs. This is next level shit: "Firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities, is what drove a career intelligence officer to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said."