Darlene Storm

Denying domestic spying & dossiers on Americans: Does NSA Chief play word games?

August 13, 2012 2:42 PM EDT

Before any more time passes since Def Con 20, let’s look at facts that came to light when the ACLU presented “Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains: The NSA and the Constitution." During the panel discussion, William Binney, former technical director at the NSA, claimed that NSA Chief General Keith Alexander was deceptive during the keynote and was playing word games. So let’s look at a few tidbits from Alexander’s keynote first.

During the write up about day one of Def Con, I mentioned thousands of attendees were unable to get in to hear Alexander speak about “Shared Values, Shared Responsibility.” The NSA was just one of many federal agencies at Def Con trying to recruit hackers for Uncle Sam. The NSA had set up a recruitment website for Def Con hackers and Gen Alexander, wearing a jeans and a t-shirt that ironically sported the EFF logo on the sleeve, called Def Con the "world's best cybersecurity community." He added, “Sometimes you guys get a bad rep. From my perspective, what you guys are doing to figure out vulnerabilities in systems is absolutely needed.”

Def Con founder Dark Tangent, aka Jeff Moss now with the Homeland Security Advisory Council, asked Alexander, "So does the NSA really keep a file on everyone, and if so, how can I see mine?" Alexander replied, "No, we don't. Absolutely not. Anybody who tells you we're keeping files or dossiers on the American people knows that's not true.”

Let’s stop and rewind for a minute back to March. After NSA expert James Bamford claimed NSA software secretly examines “every email, phone call and tweet as they zip by,” it spurred a congressional hearing to determine if such domestic spying were true. Gen Alexander denied such NSA total information awareness spying on Americans. In fact, he answered “no” fourteen times during the congressional probe.

Fast forward to the Hope 9 conference where NSA whistleblower William Binney said the NSA has dossiers on nearly every U.S. citizen. Binney’s revelations to journalist Geoff Shively and Livestreamer Tim Pool included, “Domestically, they're pulling together all the data about virtually every U.S. citizen in the country and assembling that information, building communities that you have relationships with, and knowledge about you; what your activities are; what you're doing."

Alexander’s keynote did mention collecting data, but not on Americans. He said “the NSA is authorized ‘to collect foreign targets — think of terrorists — outside the United States’.” The FISA Amendment Act “allows us to use some of our infrastructure to do that. We may, incidentally, in targeting a bad guy, hit on somebody from a good guy.”  Alexander added, "Our job is foreign intelligence. We get oversight by Congress."

But at “Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains,” Binney said, “All the oversight is totally dependent on what the NSA tells them. They have no way of knowing what [the NSA is] really doing unless they’re told.” Although Alexander was “technically” accurate, Binney said, "This thing about not keeping track of every American is absolutely true. They missed a few. That's the kind of word game they play. I've been in that business for a long time." Binney resigned from the NSA in 2001 because the spook agency started spying on everyone in America.  He believes that in the new datacenter in Utah, the NSA will go beyond archiving to indexing and “sorting information that they're collecting, which is email, FTPs [file transfers], those kinds of things, Twitter things, all kinds of data about everybody.”

Also at the panel, James Bamford agreed with Binney that it’s “technically legal” so “long as no human listens to or reads any of the harvested communications without a warrant.” Bamford said, "An intercept doesn't take place until it's actually listened to, until somebody puts on some earphones or actually reads some text on a screen."

We don’t know the real deal, because there is a problem with the “government's needless classification of information.” It’s one thing if there is an actual threat to national security, but we’ve become a nation of digital distrust – for years even the cute, popular toy Furby was suspicious. The NSA banned the toy because “it was feared that Furbies would overhear top secret information, which would then be shared with others when the toys began to talk.”

It’s up to you what to believe regarding if NSA’s Alexander is playing word games, but I’d like to point out the vendor area at Def Con where the NSA had a booth with its core values listed as “honesty, integrity, respect for the law, transparency.” 

Regarding NSA transparency, have you ever seen redacted NSA documents released via FOIA requests? I’m not at liberty to say more about these at this time, but here are three such NSA documents. It's too small to make out other than being almost totally blanked out as in redacted. Does that say transparency to you?

Respect for the law? After the NSA claimed it would violate Americans’ privacy to say how many of us it spied upon, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence admitted the U.S. has violated the Fourth Amendment at least once when it comes to warrantless wiretaps done under the FISA Amendments Act.

Want the real answer to how often the feds have spied on Americans “since 9/11 through the use of drones, legal search warrants, illegal search warrants, federal agent-written search warrants and just plain government spying?” Sen. Rand Paul attended a secret security hearing and although he cannot legally repeat what he learned, Reason.com reported that Paul’s answer was “Gazillions.”

Do you believe General Keith Alexander’s statements about not keeping files or dossiers on the American people? As SecurityNewsDaily reported regarding Alexander’s resassurances, security and cryptography guru Bruce Schneier said at Def Con, "You didn't buy any of that, did you?"