Wednesday, 31 July 2013 20:45

The NSA IS Reading Your E-mails

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The London Guardian's Glenn Greenwald revealed in a July 31 exposé that the NSA has indeed been collecting the full text of every American's e-mails without a warrant under the “XKeyscore” program, flatly contradicting the claims of congressional opponents of the Amash amendment last week. 

The Amash amendment would have denied the NSA the ability to snoop on Americans without a warrant or National Security letter under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The amendment by Michigan congressman Justin Amash failed by a mere seven-vote margin in the House of Representatives. In the wake of the vote, Amash has promised to sponsor legislation to ban the NSA from collecting telephone and Internet data on American citizens. 

Using NSA PowerPoint presentations provided by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Greenwald explained: “One presentation claims the [XKeyscore] program covers ‘nearly everything a typical user does on the internet,’ including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.” Greenwald added: “Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing ‘real-time’ interception of an individual's internet activity.”

Greenwald also explained: “An NSA tool called DNI Presenter, used to read the content of stored emails, also enables an analyst using XKeyscore to read the content of Facebook chats or private messages. Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.”

The information collected by the NSA's XKeyscore program includes information that congressional opponents of the Amash amendment denied the NSA was collecting just one week ago.

Greenwald's revelations put to lie the words of all the congressmen who argued against the Amash amendment on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last week. Among those claims were the following:

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.): “We should have time and education on what actually happens in the particular program of which we speak. And I'll pledge each and every one of you today, and give you my word, that this fall, when we do the Intel authorization bill, we will work to find additional privacy protections with this program, that has no emails, no phone calls, no names and no addresses.”

Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.): “A false narrative has emerged that the federal government is taking in the content of Americans' phone calls. It's not true. It's not happening. A false narrative has emerged that the federal government is taking in the content of the American people's emails.... Consider this, there is more information contained in the phone book that sits at home on your kitchen counter about each one of us than the information that is in the national security database that we are talking about today. Your name, your address, is in the phone book. Your name, your address, is not in this national security database.”

Tom Cotton (R-Ark.): “What is it? Meta-data. It sounds kind of scary. It's nothing more than an Excel spreadsheet with five columns: Called to, called from, date, time, the duration. Five columns, billions of rows.”

The only question that remains is this: Were those representatives misinformed by NSA senior staff, or were they deliberately lying to the American people? Considering Rogers chairs the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence, it's unlikely he was uninformed. 

Before Edward Snowden leaked information about the breadth of NSA surveillance of Americans, U.S. intelligence officials denied that they kept personal information on Americans in their huge databases. Director of National Intelligence Admiral James Clapper famously lied to Congress about the existence of the surveillance programs that the NSA now admits exist.

Interestingly, throughout the current post-Snowden controversy, the NSA has failed to deny it stores the e-mails and records the telephone calls of American citizens. NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander issued a “non-denial denial” in a June 23 interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, stating, “The FISA law makes it clear: in order for the NSA to target the content of a U.S. person's communications, anywhere in the world — anywhere — NSA requires probable cause and a court order, a specific court order.” Of course, Alexander was continuing to parse words: He used the word “target” rather than “collect,” and collecting the content of Americans' communications is something he pointedly didn't deny doing. 

Rep. Rogers repeated Bachmann's “phone book” line on CBS' Face the Nation July 28. “There is more information in a phone book than there is in this particular big pile of numbers,” Rogers told host Bob Schieffer. Of course, if there really was more personal information in a phone book than in the NSA archives, then — one might sarcastically suggest — the federal government could save the $20 billion-plus annual cost of NSA surveillance by appropriating $2,500 in shipping costs for sending a set of the nation's phone books to NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. Rogers — a leading Republican candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Carl Levin — continued: “There are no recordings of phone calls. There are no dossiers. They do not record your emails. None of that was happening. None of it. I mean, zero.”

Greenwald's story in the Guardian confirms what Snowden said in his original interview published by the Guardian back in June. “I, sitting at my desk,” Snowden told Greenwald, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.”

Such a policy by the NSA clearly violates the provisions of the Fourth Amendment, which requires for a “reasonable search” under the Constitution: 1. a search warrant from a judge; 2. probable cause evidence of a crime being committed; and 3. description of what the search will find and where it will be found. None of those provisions is satisfied by the NSA's PRISM or XKeyscore programs. 

Interestingly, XKeyscore does not deal with audio from telephone calls, which many suspect that the NSA also collects and stores in its huge data centers, including a mammoth new site in Utah that will open this year. But the NSA has many other surveillance programs, which it calls “Upstream,” in addition to PRISM and XKeyscore. There may be additional, yet-to-be-revealed NSA programs that grab telephone audio.


  • Comment Link John Friday, 02 August 2013 13:29 posted by John

    It might be worth pointing out that the NSA does not have code writers with magical abilities. There is only one way this could have been done so effectively, and that is with old school tactics. They have either approached the CEO of every major software vendor and telecommunications company to secure back doors into the systems and software, or extorted the same thing out of technical department managers in those companies. Probably both. If you didn't write the code yourself, you probably can't trust it completely, even solutions like Tor or I2P. Also, use of Tor only hides your surfing activities, not the fact that you are using Tor, unless you can find a friendly proxy through which to connect. Read the FAQ at the Tor project website for details about this.

    Our only hope of peaceful relief is Congress. I'm not at all sure that Congress has any real power at this point, but it's our only legal option. Hammer your Representative, don't let them sleep unitl they take action.

  • Comment Link David Friday, 02 August 2013 00:46 posted by David

    How do we counteract all this surveillance?

    Use an e-mail program that allows you to communicate discretely - like Countermail.
    True end-to-end security
    Portable and secure email from any browser
    No hard drives on our web servers, to protect against hard drive leakage and to protect against persistant backdoor/trojans
    Anonymous email header, no personal IP-addresses inside the header
    No IP-logging, our server does not log IP-addresses
    CounterMail's Servers are located in Sweden (away from US custody)

    Use the freely available Linux operating system for your computer.
    Download Linux Ubuntu

    I have installed Linux Ubuntu as my operating system. It works great! It was easy to install, not like the older versions of linux which required a lot of time and effort.

    The Wine Add-on will run your Windows programs on Linux. You won't have to sacrifice those Windows programs that you paid for and want to continue to use.

    Use Tor
    For a more private web surfing experience, you can use a browser add-on like Tor , and go through a secure tunnel VPN that will change your IP address, like
    Individuals use Tor to keep websites from tracking them and their family members, or to connect to news sites, instant messaging services, or the like when these are blocked by their local Internet providers.
    How To Give The NSA The Finger…Without Them Ever Noticing

  • Comment Link Nora Friday, 02 August 2013 00:20 posted by Nora

    They claim they don't need a warrant, and you underestimate the power of the Beast. It's hard for some of us to grasp, but they are tracking everyone in real time. Every store you shop in tracks you using your cell phone. Those store cards tell the snoops what you purchased, where you bought it, how much you paid for it and how. License plate scanners tell the police, who share the info, where you are and where you are heading. Your computer is subject to being scoured anytime you're on line and every post you make is read and scrutinized. Even these comments are being read. The only way to have any expectation of privacy under this authoritarian regime is to resist. Get rid of your cell, shut off your computer and arm yourself for the revolution. Oh and you NSA people who are reading this, I am labeling you an enemy combatant. You're a traitor and a disgrace to this country.

  • Comment Link Norm Todd Thursday, 01 August 2013 18:07 posted by Norm Todd

    Give them something to read, lots and lots. Use all the buzz words.

  • Comment Link James L Habermehl Thursday, 01 August 2013 17:39 posted by James L Habermehl

    “I, sitting at my desk,” Snowden told Greenwald, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.”

    Snowden could do that if he chose to. And if he was caught by NSA doing that, he'd have been disciplined, because NSA knows and teaches its analysts that to actually do what they could do, if it was done to an American person without first obtaining proper authorization, would be illegal. Now it comes down to how well does what they consider proper authorization comport with Americans' rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and how well NSA makes sure its analysts don't do what they're told not to do.

  • Comment Link rprew Wednesday, 31 July 2013 20:39 posted by rprew

    With the tremendous numbers of emails sent daily, the NSA cannot possibly actually READ all of your emails. It can store and use a search algorithm on ALL the emails and pull those with a certain "score" based on keywords, language, ip address, etc. Those emails are then read my humans.

    So, if we can't get Congress to enforce the Constitution and stop this outrage, we can develop and distribute algorithms which will automatically insert a line or two meaningless dialog into each and every email we send to increase the "score". Once the NSA is so overwhelmed with email as to become burdensome, they will need to create new algorithms to EXCLUDE a large portion of the population.

    Of course, this could also backfire. Our rulers may come to the realization that we are exchanging too many recipes for what they may deem unhealthy foods and spawn a new division of the FDA.

    And God forbid there may be some email text which a government reader finds offensive! What if an atheist reader scans an email which mentions God? Or a Muslim reader finds an email derogatory of Islam? These government employees have a RIGHT not to be offended!

    Perhaps the government should mandate that all isps first send ALL emails to the NSA for approval. If the NSA approves the content, it will then be passed on to the recipient. Or the email can be censored before being forwarded. We would all then feel so much safer!

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