[Cryptography] An NSA mathematician shares his from-the-trenches view of the agency's surveillance activities

Phillip Hallam-Baker hallam at gmail.com
Wed Sep 18 10:44:05 EDT 2013

On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 8:01 PM, John Gilmore <gnu at toad.com> wrote:

> Techdirt takes apart his statement here:
> https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130917/02391824549/nsa-needs-to-give-its-rank-and-file-new-talking-points-defending-surveillance-old-ones-are-stale.shtml
>   NSA Needs To Give Its Rank-and-File New Talking Points Defending
>   Surveillance; The Old Ones Are Stale
>   from the that's-not-really-going-to-cut-it dept
>   by Mike Masnick, Tue, Sep 17th 2013
>   It would appear that the NSA's latest PR trick is to get out beyond
>   the top brass -- James Clapper, Keith Alexander, Michael Hayden and
>   Robert Litt haven't exactly been doing the NSA any favors on the PR
>   front lately -- and get some commentary from "the rank and file."
>   ZDNet apparently agreed to publish a piece from NSA mathemetician/
>   cryptanalyst Roger Barkan in which he defends the NSA using a bunch
>   of already debunked talking points. What's funny is that many of
>   these were the talking points that the NSA first tried out back in
>   June and were quickly shown to be untrue. However, let's take a
>   look. It's not that Barkan is directly lying... it's just that he's
>   setting up strawmen to knock down at a record pace.

As someone who has met Hayden, I do not think his words are necessarily
untrue, they may be out of date. It appears that there was a major change
at the NSA after his departure. In particular the number of external
contractors seems to have increased markedly (based on the number and type
of job adverts from SAIC, Booz-Allen, Van Dyke, etc.)

The enterprise bridge control center certainly does not seem to be Hayden's
style either. Hayden is not the type to build a showboat like that.

After 9/11 we discovered that our view of the cryptowars was completely
false in one respect. Louis Freeh wasn't building a panopticon, he simply
had no comprehension of the power of the information he was demanding the
ability to collect. The FBI computer systems were antiquated, lacking the
ability to do keyword search on two terms.

I rather suspect that Alexander is similarly blind to the value of the
information the system is collecting. They might well be telling the truth
when they told the court that the system was so compartmentalized and
segregated nobody knew what it was doing.

For example, did the NSA people who thought it a good wheeze to trade raw
SIGINT on US citizens to the Israelis understand what they were passing on?
They certainly don't seem to know the past history of US-Israeli
'cooperation' only last year an Israeli firm was trying to sell intercept
equipment to Iran through an intermediary and the story of how the Chinese
got an example of the Stinger missile to copy is well known. My country has
had an arms embargo on Israel for quite a while due to breach of Israeli
undertakings not to use military weapons against civilians.

That does not make the situation any less dangerous, it makes it more so.

What Barkan does not mention is that we know that the NSA internal controls
have collapsed completely, Snowdens disclosure proves that. Snowden should
never have had access to the information he has disclosed.

As with gwbush53.com, the intelligence gathered through PRISM-class
intercepts will undoubtedly be spread far and wide. Anything Snowden knows,
China and Russia will know.

The fact that nothing has been said on that publicly by the NSA
spokespeople is something of a concern. They have a big big problem and
heads should be rolling. I can't see how Clapper and Alexander can remain
given the biggest security breach in NSA history on their watch.
Website: http://hallambaker.com/
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