Monday, March 4, 2013

Is the NSA Listening in to your Telephone Calls?

Everyone who I know in Mexico (MEXGOV officials and narcos) believes that their telephone calls are being listened to by MEXGOV, the cartels or both. I don't think that they are paranoid. They also feel that USGOV is listening in and I can't say that is necessarily off the mark.

But this blog post is about the US, not MEXGOV because having MEXGOV "illegally" wiretap is like dog bites man. It's not a story. The US is a bit more interesting because there are laws to protect unwarranted wiretaps on US Citizens. Everyone knows that the National Security Agency, headquartered at Ft. George Meade, Maryland acts like a vacuum cleaner where SIGINT is concerned and that sophisticated methods are used to sift that information that comes from a number of sources including (but not limited to) telephone conversations.

Some of these programs are discussed in a new book, "Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry", by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady. The book will be released on April 1, however having had access to it before its release, I can share what it says and you can decide whether or not to pay any attention to it. (how's that for a dodge and weave?) The authors also wrote "The Command: Deep Inside the President's Secret Army", which I have not read. It's available on Kindle for US$2.99.

The program that they cite is caveated RAGTIME (RT) and I suspect that if you nosed around you'd find documents classified TS/NF/WN/RT.

RAGTIME is subdivided into four categories. RAGTIME A are intercepts of foreign-to-foreign data. RAGTIME B is foreign intercepts made as it transits through US territory. RAGTIME C deals with intercepts of nuclear proliferation material and RAGTIME P are Patriot Act related intercepts.

Though I don't wish to over complicate the process with Cryptonyms. The National Security Agency specializes in 'data mining'. They sift through a large amount of bulk data that comes through the scoops that they've put into place. ANCHORY, the all-source database holds everything that comes in. HOMEBASE coordinates the data base with collection requirements set by the various components of the Intelligence Community, which task NSA.

Using link analysis as a basis for deciding what is and what is not important, the links between the known and heretofore unknown are given a score to both target validity and information in the context of probable reliability. Xkeyscore, once applied, directs the raw data to different 'selectors'. For example, AIRGAP is a selector associated with the Department of Defense (DOD). TINMAN deals with information that applies to both airborne warning and information that a component of CIA uses. WRANGLER organizes bits of data along a timeline to try and help all of it to make some sense.

The legality of various collection departments (can USGOV collect against a particular source) is a matter for attorneys and politicians to hash out. However, finding legal consensus is not always as easy as it may seem to be. This blog is not going to sort that out for you. Neither does it condemn the NSA or it's outreach to data delivered by T-MEX or the Mexican Intelligence Agencies (Mostly Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional, CESEN).

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