Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Leave 'em laughing

The Blogger program in which these ruminations are compiled sometimes decides for no discernible reason that cut-and-paste passages from the New York Times (and only the Times, I'm not kidding, it does not do this with any other source) should be set in 1.5-em type. Normally I just change them, but this bit from Scott Shane's latest article on the NSA data collection seemed to convey so perfectly a fact about the NSA that nobody seems capable of understanding that I just thought I'd leave it big:
The point was not so much to catch the Iranian leader’s words, but to gather the data for blanket eavesdropping on Iran in the event of a crisis.
This “communications fingerprinting,” as a document called it, is the key to what the N.S.A. does. It allows the agency’s computers to scan the stream of international communications and pluck out messages tied to the supreme leader. In a crisis — say, a showdown over Iran’s nuclear program — the ability to tap into the communications of leaders, generals and scientists might give a crucial advantage.
Is that clear, kids? The NSA does not listen to Bundeskanzlerin Merkel's telephone conversations, other than perhaps to verify that the system is working. The NSA keeps her phone number on tap, so to speak, just in case they need it, which will be only in circumstances so exceptional as to be very unlikely to ever occur; and it's imaginable that they sample the metadata, although that would indeed be pretty grossly inappropriate. It is possible that they tap the phones of some of our more dangerously unreliable allies—Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, I'm looking at you—with some frequency, but Andrew Napolitano's fanstasy (to take a representative example) of how they are listening to all the world leaders all the time, even as they chat with the unsuspecting or perhaps clued-in president Obama—

It seems straight out of a grade-B movie, but it has been happening for the past eleven years: The NSA has been using Merkel to spy on the president of the United States....
She also uses her cellphone to speak with foreign leaders, among whom have been President George W. Bush and President Obama. Thus, the NSA – which Bush and Obama have unlawfully and unconstitutionally authorized to obtain and retain digital copies of all telephone conversations, texts and emails of everyone in the U.S., as well as those of hundreds of millions of persons in Europe and Latin America – has been listening to the telephone calls of both American presidents whenever they have spoken with the chancellor.
—is just silly.

But wait wait, you cry: Don't we in fact know that Merkel's phone was being tapped, from authentic documents published in Der Spiegel and publicly acknowledged by Merkel and Obama and everyone concerned to be the real real? Not quite.

The incriminating document on the Merkel surveillance as reported in Der Spiegel of October 27—apparently one of the Snowden hoard, since it is an NSA document of 2010 and since one of the ten (count 'em) writers credited on the story is Laura Poitras—is a single database entry from the National Sigint Requirements List, a list of targets, with seven fields:
Atop the US embassy in Berlin. Photo by Reuters via Daily Mail.

  • a number (verified by Spiegel as that of Merkel's confidential Handy or handgehaltenes Telefon, the one she uses to send texts to her lieutenants in the battlefield, I mean Bundestag)
  • a statement of what kind of number it is ("raw telephone number")
  • the identification of the "Subscriber" ("GE Chancellor Merkel")
  • the relevant NSA receiving department (Signals Intelligence Directorate/Procurement and Evaluation/Europe
  • time when the record was transferred to the list (sometime in 2002; Spiegel vaguely relates it to the leadup to that year's September elections, i.e., when Merkel was fighting it out with Edmund Stoiber for the leadership of the conservative coalition—Stoiber won the internal fight but lost the election)
  • status ("A" for Active, undefined by Spiegel, and I honestly don't know why it couldn't merely mean she was still using the number, but let that pass)
  • the relevant NSA targeting department (Special Collection Service, a hitherto unknown sigint unit located atop the US embassy in Berlin—unknown to whom? one might wonder; in Singapore in the 1980s the entire population including expatriates was well aware of the antennas atop the US and Soviet embassies and their long and sometimes comical struggle for the height advantage)
Thus, says Spiegel,
the NSA would have targeted Merkel's cellphone for more than a decade, first when she was just party chair, as well as later when she'd become chancellor. The record does not indicate what form of surveillance has taken place. Were all of her conversations recorded or just connection data? Were her movements also being recorded?
My bold. Indeed it does not. How so many intrepid freedom-lovers have concluded on the basis of this article that her Handy was getting getappt I do not know and cannot understand, but the article really does not say that, mainly because they have no evidence to that effect. Meanwhile, thanks to Scott Shane, reporting from that worst-since-Nixon terrorized and leakproof fortress the White House
("Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions. They're scared to death," New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane explained to Downie. "There's a gray zone between classified and unclassified information, and most sources were in that gray zone. Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone. It's having a deterrent effect.")
we pretty much know: Merkel was getting her communications fingerprints taken. She may really dislike it, and she may really have been unaware of it, and the German intelligence (unlike the Brazilian) may really not do anything of the sort but depend entirely on NSA and GCHQ for its own sigint, but in any event that's all there is. And the main reason she is so visibly angry, just as with my Dilma in September, is that that's what the public expects. Politicians.
From Leave 'em Laughing, 1928.

No comments:

Post a Comment