Help support WeTheArmed.com by visiting our sponsors.

Author Topic: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.  (Read 31067 times)

Nightcrawler

  • WTA Secretary of Defense
  • Senior Contributor
  • *****
  • Posts: 6280
  • That's what SHE said!

  • Offline
What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
« on: June 11, 2013, 02:58:56 pm »
http://sofrep.com/21763/what-is-prism/#.Ubcp6811PDw.twitter

A friend of mine posts on SOFREP, and he linked to this article.  The author is a friend of his, and she and I had a bit of back-and-forth on the article on Facebook.  I'm presenting here without comment, so you guys can read for yourselves and come to your own conclusions.  It's referring to the recent hullabaloo where the NSA employee leaked details of classified program to British and American newspapers.

Never Say Anything
by Laura Walker · June 11, 2013 · Posted In: Black Ops & Intel

I PROMIS you the recent leaks revealing the PRISM program reach the highest ECHELON of the administration and are still just a TEMPEST in a teapot.”   

On Wednesday, June 5th, the UK newspaper The Guardian stunned the public by publishing classified documents revealing a sealed court order authorizing the National Security Agency to access millions of records of Verizon customers.  On Thursday, the Washington Post revealed the existence of an NSA SIGINT surveillance program called “PRISM.”  Both papers published portions of a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation on PRISM that is remarkable for both content and the embarrassingly amateurish, garish graphics.

Then, on Friday, The Guardian published an 18 page, very classified [Top Secret/NoForn], Presidential Directive outlining President Obama’s orders for intelligence officials to identify foreign targets for cyber intelligence operations.  The document shows it was due to be declassified in October 2037. So much for that.  The Guardian went on to show that GCHQ also has access to the information in coordination with the NSA.

The weather forecast for June 2013:  Leaky

So what is PRISM? It is essentially a massive data mining program that feeds a huge database with all sorts of SIGINT: electronic communication intelligence information.  In very simplistic terms, the NSA is backing up the Internet and other communications, like phone call records, into the WOPR (okay, you know it’s not really called that) so intelligence analysts can search and sift through information when they have a target to track.

Shocking?  What did you think the NSA does?

n an ocean of information, the NSA is a like a great blue whale trawling through the water with an open mouth, pulling in massive amounts of data and sifting through it to get to the plankton.  Most of the water is uninteresting and/or useless.  The whale is not interested in it.  This is what the whale likes:



Should you be paranoid about your data? Not really. The God’s honest truth is, the point of programs like PRISM is to try to catch signal intelligence, patterns and anomalies of communication, from very, very bad actors doing or plotting very, very bad things. Unless you are in contact with terrorists or other nefarious types,  an intelligence analyst digging through your communication metadata isn’t likely to be titillated by the porn sites in your smartphone cache, or those scandalous text messages you keep sending me at closing time. Believe me, whatever you think is your most embarrassing secret is frankly boring to the Intelligence Community.

The NSA has been hoovering up information for a long time.  If you are interested in learning more about what the NSA does, the following books are excellent primers:

“The Puzzle Palace” – James Bamford

“Body of Secrets” – James Bamford

“The Shadow Factory” – James Bamford

“Chatter” – Patrick Radden Keefe

And all the programs I listed in the first silly quote at the top of this post can be Googled to your heart’s content. You’ll find articles, books, Congressional testimony, declassified documents and a whole lot of information and speculation on sites that love to list those sorts of things, none of which I’m going to link to or promote here. Nor am I linking to the Washington Post or The Guardian. You know why? Because I don’t leak classified documents. Not like this guy:

Edward Snowden has come forward as the source of the leaked NSA documents. Which sounds very brave until you get to the part about where he fled to Hong Kong before owning up to leaking Top Secret programs to newspapers. Mr. Snowden insists he has done nothing wrong. He claims he came forward because he doesn’t want to live in a state of perpetual government surveillance.

So let’s be clear about something. Mr. Snowden did not discover that the PRISM program was being abused. He did not report specific bad actors doing specific bad things using the PRISM program. So far, he blew his clearance and revealed a Top Secret program (that is frankly so obvious to the agency it is tied to one has to wonder why he ever went to work there in the first place) over his philosophy on life.

This is not a Whistleblower. He did not discover a crime and reveal it.  The Intelligence Community has specific avenues for Whistleblowers where they can bring their concerns or out wrongdoings through Congress where the process can address the situation, the Whistleblower is protected and National Security is properly maintained.

Mr. Snowden apparently just discovered that the NSA is the NSA, and decided to tell the world all about it. And fled to Hong Kong.  Which makes one wonder what ELSE he is leaking and to whom. And why he is seeking refuge in an area controlled by China.

[PS: hat tip to a friend I won't name for the inspiration for the quote at the top of the page.]

************

Please discuss.  I'm very interested in your opinions on the scandal and what you think about the NSA's alleged activities.  I'll chime in on what I think later on.







ArizonaMOLON LABE

Retired Bomb Guy
Semi-Pro Hack Writer

WeTheArmed.com

  • Advertisement
  • ***

    JesseL

    • Gun Mangler
    • WTA Staff
    • Senior Contributor
    • *****
    • Posts: 12451

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #1 on: June 11, 2013, 03:18:52 pm »
    The factual stuff in the article I have no contention with, though I do wonder how anyone who really knows anything about it is at liberty to discuss it - just because someone leaked it doesn't make it fair game for conversation among the people who had clearance to know about it before, does it?

    This is where I start to wonder:
    Quote
    So let’s be clear about something. Mr. Snowden did not discover that the PRISM program was being abused. He did not report specific bad actors doing specific bad things using the PRISM program. So far, he blew his clearance and revealed a Top Secret program (that is frankly so obvious to the agency it is tied to one has to wonder why he ever went to work there in the first place) over his philosophy on life.

    This is not a Whistleblower. He did not discover a crime and reveal it.  The Intelligence Community has specific avenues for Whistleblowers where they can bring their concerns or out wrongdoings through Congress where the process can address the situation, the Whistleblower is protected and National Security is properly maintained.

    Mr. Snowden apparently just discovered that the NSA is the NSA, and decided to tell the world all about it. And fled to Hong Kong.  Which makes one wonder what ELSE he is leaking and to whom. And why he is seeking refuge in an area controlled by China.

    Pointing out these oddities and inconsistencies doesn't exactly make for a conclusive dismissal of Mr. Snowden's motives. They really just raise more questions - what do we not know that would drive these revelations from someone who seems to have been in a pretty sweet situation?
    Arizona

    booksmart

    • Token Left Leaning Idealist Libertarian
    • Senior Contributor
    • *****
    • Posts: 6697
    • E. Pluribus Unum.

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #2 on: June 11, 2013, 03:39:57 pm »
    Honestly, I think it's a mixed bag.

    The FISA courts have denied something like .03% of the 'retroactive warrants' that have been applied for during their existence, so it's not exactly like they're holding those requests to high standards or anything.

    On the other hand, the Patriot Act is a worse piece of legislation than just about anything else I can name that's been passed in the past 12 years.

    Adskii

    • Senior Member
    • ***
    • Posts: 843

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #3 on: June 11, 2013, 04:15:35 pm »
    Well on the one hand, how did a screwball like that end up with TS clearance to begin with?  :facepalm

    On the other the campaign to discredit him will come hard and fast.

    On the 3rd hand (wait what?) how many other tinfoil hat stories need a 2nd look? I'm not saying let the crazies out of their cages, but perhaps a little more scrutiny...

    Nightcrawler

    • WTA Secretary of Defense
    • Senior Contributor
    • *****
    • Posts: 6280
    • That's what SHE said!

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #4 on: June 11, 2013, 04:26:45 pm »
    http://nation.foxnews.com/2013/06/10/oreilly-data-mining-and-you

    You know things are getting weird when Lindsey Graham, Karl Rove, Diane Feinstein, and Harry Reid are on one side of an issue, and Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Arianna Huffington, and Michael Moore are on the other.  :scrutiny
    ArizonaMOLON LABE

    Retired Bomb Guy
    Semi-Pro Hack Writer

    Nick Cage

    • Contributor
    • ****
    • Posts: 1659

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #5 on: June 11, 2013, 04:51:10 pm »
    I am of the opinion that this guy is a hero of sorts.

    Yes he blew top secret clearance etc. etc.

    But really, who gives a damn? He just revealed the one of if not the single biggest violation of the foundational principals of our nation, of who we are as a people.
    That in my book, gives him walking papers, I don't care what he had to do to get this information out, it was a righteous act.

    The word horrid doesn't even begin to contain 1/1000th of the vileness that is this program.

    Our national security agencies should be focused on those outside the country, when it looks within, it is a violation of everything.
    All the terrorist attacks we have endured pale in comparison to the damage done to our nation by our own government with this program and those like it that we probably will never know about.

    We are a broken people and a broken nation. It is a sad thing.

    booksmart

    • Token Left Leaning Idealist Libertarian
    • Senior Contributor
    • *****
    • Posts: 6697
    • E. Pluribus Unum.

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #6 on: June 11, 2013, 04:59:53 pm »
    Flipside of the question: how do you expect our intelligence communities to get sigint from within the US without PRISM?

    Nick Cage

    • Contributor
    • ****
    • Posts: 1659

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #7 on: June 11, 2013, 05:09:18 pm »
    I don't.
    Not of Americans or those here legally anyway.
    Risk is inherent to freedom, and freedom is vastly more valuable than "safety" which doesn't exist in real life anyway.   

    NukMed

    • Member
    • **
    • Posts: 434

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #8 on: June 11, 2013, 05:17:01 pm »
    Flipside of the question: how do you expect our intelligence communities to get sigint from within the US without PRISM?

    I expect them to get a warrant through an impartial judge based on probable cause to suspect that the law has been broken.  Law enforcement doesn't get a pass on the 4th am. just because they play the terrorism card.

    It's a violation of my rights to search/seize my phone records without there being probable cause that they are evidence in the commission of some crime.  My ownership of a phone doesn't count as probable cause.
    Freedom trumps fear.  Rights trump security.  Free will trumps order.

    booksmart

    • Token Left Leaning Idealist Libertarian
    • Senior Contributor
    • *****
    • Posts: 6697
    • E. Pluribus Unum.

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #9 on: June 11, 2013, 05:17:39 pm »
    IIRC, many (if not all) of the 9/11 attackers were here legally.

    (I'm just playing devil's advocate, here...)

    freeman1685

    • Contributor
    • ****
    • Posts: 1673

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #10 on: June 11, 2013, 05:19:07 pm »
    Flipside of the question: how do you expect our intelligence communities to get sigint from within the US without PRISM?

    By tracking incoming comm back to specific targets, and getting a friggin' Warrant.
    ArizonaStupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education or by legislation.  Stupidity is not a sin, the victim can't help being stupid.  But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity.  RAH

    booksmart

    • Token Left Leaning Idealist Libertarian
    • Senior Contributor
    • *****
    • Posts: 6697
    • E. Pluribus Unum.

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #11 on: June 11, 2013, 05:21:01 pm »
    Only tracking incoming comm doesn't completely help if the dangerous folk are already here.

    freeman1685

    • Contributor
    • ****
    • Posts: 1673

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #12 on: June 11, 2013, 05:35:04 pm »
    Only tracking incoming comm doesn't completely help if the dangerous folk are already here.

    Whatayamean 'If'? :shocked  :coffee
    ArizonaStupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education or by legislation.  Stupidity is not a sin, the victim can't help being stupid.  But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity.  RAH

    booksmart

    • Token Left Leaning Idealist Libertarian
    • Senior Contributor
    • *****
    • Posts: 6697
    • E. Pluribus Unum.

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #13 on: June 11, 2013, 05:38:19 pm »
    'When,' then...  :shrug

    NukMed

    • Member
    • **
    • Posts: 434

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #14 on: June 11, 2013, 05:39:41 pm »
    I am of the opinion that this guy is a hero of sorts.

    Yes he blew top secret clearance etc. etc.

    But really, who gives a damn? He just revealed the one of if not the single biggest violation of the foundational principals of our nation, of who we are as a people.
    That in my book, gives him walking papers, I don't care what he had to do to get this information out, it was a righteous act.

    I tend to agree with you.  The oath we take in government service is to the Constitution.  When one is ordered to do something that violates the Constitution, one is obligated to refuse the order and report it up the chain of command.  In this case though, the entire chain of command up to the President (not to mention Congress and the courts) is on board with violating the Constitution.

    Good for him for blowing the whistle.  He exposed criminals, not patriots.

    Some consider this guy a criminal for revealing top secret information.  Would any of us be upset if this guy revealed top secret plans by the government to violate some other rights, instead?  Hypothetically, would it be OK to reveal top secret plans to put Jews into ovens.  How about top secret plans to confiscate all firearms?  How about top secret attempts to shut  all churches/places of worship?

    It doesn't matter if the hypothetical is mild or extreme, plausible or impossible--the principle is the same.  Top secret or not, the violation of my Constitutional rights is a crime and that crime should be brought to light and the perpetrators tried and punished.
    Freedom trumps fear.  Rights trump security.  Free will trumps order.

    Nick Cage

    • Contributor
    • ****
    • Posts: 1659

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #15 on: June 11, 2013, 05:43:25 pm »
    IIRC, many (if not all) of the 9/11 attackers were here legally.

    (I'm just playing devil's advocate, here...)
    Yep, we dropped the ball letting them come in the first place.
    That is where our security needs to be before they get here.
    Once they are here... well life is toughie sometimes.

    And I'm 100% for us tracking all the comms we can get our grubby little mitts on over seas, none of those buggers are covered by our constitution or other stuff so but the houses and showers of the lot of them over seas for all I care, as long as you don't come near a US citizen without a bloody warrant in a real court not one of those blasted rubber stamp secret "courts".

    booksmart

    • Token Left Leaning Idealist Libertarian
    • Senior Contributor
    • *****
    • Posts: 6697
    • E. Pluribus Unum.

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #16 on: June 11, 2013, 05:44:19 pm »
    Top secret or not, the violation of my Constitutional rights is a crime and that crime should be brought to light and the perpetrators tried and punished.

    Going how far back? *wry grin*

    Panhead Bill

    • Senior Member
    • ***
    • Posts: 727

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #17 on: June 11, 2013, 05:49:09 pm »
    I'm still trying to get informed, and make up my mind about this whole thing - rather than jump on the outrage bandwagon.  From what I understand (admittedly little), the way the program is supposed to be used is that all of the data obtained (whether through cell phones, computers, etc.) is being stored in this mega-server-thing, and then, if the "authorities" want to look at any of it, they have to get a subpoena or warrant, after which they can go back and look at records/data. 

    But now that I think about it - why couldn't they go the traditional route once they have a target, and subpoena/warrant the records from the appropriate entity?  So the difference would be (again - assuming it's actually for the purpose it's claimed to be, and used as claimed) between the government already having the records in hand when the get court orders to allow them to look at it vs. having to go get the records from...say...verizon... once they get the warrant? 

    Am I misinterpreting/misunderstanding what the claimed purpose of the data storage is?  Can someone who's followed this a little more closely explain this better to me - and if anyone on here is not opposed to it, I'd love to hear your arguments. 

    Like I said, I haven't been fully-informed enough to decide what I think about the program, although I have heard (and tend to agree with) a lot of the points against it.  But I'd like to hear both sides of it - and not necessarily coming from the blow-hard talking heads on tv. 

    Bill   

    Btw, from what I understand, the "whistleblower" is (was) actually a contractor working for a government contractor.  Which actually opens up a whole other can of worms when a person can get ahold of information potentially highly classified, when they're two degrees of separation from actually working for the government.  Regardless of security clearances, that is disconcerting!
    California

    NukMed

    • Member
    • **
    • Posts: 434

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #18 on: June 11, 2013, 05:51:59 pm »
    IIRC, many (if not all) of the 9/11 attackers were here legally.

    (I'm just playing devil's advocate, here...)

    Not even the securest prison is 100% "safe," but I'm not advocating that we all live in prisons so that we can enhance our safety, either.

    I accept the fact that every once in a while there will be a failure and even some total FUBAR's.  Life is not without risk.  I still say that it is better to live free under Constitutional protections than to live under constant surveillance and be treated as some kind of "criminal in waiting."
    Freedom trumps fear.  Rights trump security.  Free will trumps order.

    NukMed

    • Member
    • **
    • Posts: 434

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #19 on: June 11, 2013, 05:55:04 pm »
    Going how far back? *wry grin*

    Clarify, please. *confused countenance w/ raised eyebrow*
    Freedom trumps fear.  Rights trump security.  Free will trumps order.

    freeman1685

    • Contributor
    • ****
    • Posts: 1673

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #20 on: June 11, 2013, 05:56:43 pm »
    I'm still trying to get informed, and make up my mind about this whole thing - rather than jump on the outrage bandwagon.  From what I understand (admittedly little), the way the program is supposed to be used is that all of the data obtained (whether through cell phones, computers, etc.) is being stored in this mega-server-thing, and then, if the "authorities" want to look at any of it, they have to get a subpoena or warrant, after which they can go back and look at records/data. 

    But now that I think about it - why couldn't they go the traditional route once they have a target, and subpoena/warrant the records from the appropriate entity?  So the difference would be (again - assuming it's actually for the purpose it's claimed to be, and used as claimed) between the government already having the records in hand when the get court orders to allow them to look at it vs. having to go get the records from...say...verizon... once they get the warrant? 

    Am I misinterpreting/misunderstanding what the claimed purpose of the data storage is?  Can someone who's followed this a little more closely explain this better to me - and if anyone on here is not opposed to it, I'd love to hear your arguments. 

    Like I said, I haven't been fully-informed enough to decide what I think about the program, although I have heard (and tend to agree with) a lot of the points against it.  But I'd like to hear both sides of it - and not necessarily coming from the blow-hard talking heads on tv. 

    Bill   

    Btw, from what I understand, the "whistleblower" is (was) actually a contractor working for a government contractor.  Which actually opens up a whole other can of worms when a person can get ahold of information potentially highly classified, when they're two degrees of separation from actually working for the government.  Regardless of security clearances, that is disconcerting!

    Not throwing any stones here Bill, but aren't you an attorney?  How would you handle a similar situation in say Criminal court, where the state 'pre' wired the defendant's phones, and internet records 'just in case', then went and got the warrant?
    ArizonaStupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education or by legislation.  Stupidity is not a sin, the victim can't help being stupid.  But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity.  RAH

    booksmart

    • Token Left Leaning Idealist Libertarian
    • Senior Contributor
    • *****
    • Posts: 6697
    • E. Pluribus Unum.

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #21 on: June 11, 2013, 05:58:07 pm »
    Clarify, please. *confused countenance w/ raised eyebrow*

    In one form or another, the program's been in place since the Patriot Act was originally passed.

    Panhead Bill

    • Senior Member
    • ***
    • Posts: 727

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #22 on: June 11, 2013, 06:04:37 pm »
    Freeman - no offense taken - I'm trying to wrap my head around it with just the info I'm hearing - that's why I asked.  I was trying to find an analogy that helped me put it into context - like you just did.   :D  (I haven't been able to catch much more than short bites on the news  here & there and I-net discussions)

    Put that way, if that's what they're doing, it seems obvious that it shouldn't be Constitutional or permitted. 

    So was this program a part of the Patriot Act?  Or is it something they've only recently started doing, but claim it's permitted under the Patriot Act?

    Bill
    California

    NukMed

    • Member
    • **
    • Posts: 434

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #23 on: June 11, 2013, 06:06:56 pm »
    In one form or another, the program's been in place since the Patriot Act was originally passed.

    The short answer is: since the inception of the program.  Anything else smacks of the "I was just following orders" excuse.

    Then again, I am upset.  I would be willing to hear suggestions from, and maybe even be persuaded by cooler heads.
    Freedom trumps fear.  Rights trump security.  Free will trumps order.

    freeman1685

    • Contributor
    • ****
    • Posts: 1673

    • Offline
    Re: What is PRISM? An NSA SIGINT Surveillance Program.
    « Reply #24 on: June 11, 2013, 06:13:53 pm »
    Freeman - no offense taken - I'm trying to wrap my head around it with just the info I'm hearing - that's why I asked.  I was trying to find an analogy that helped me put it into context - like you just did.   :D  (I haven't been able to catch much more than short bites on the news  here & there and I-net discussions)

    Put that way, if that's what they're doing, it seems obvious that it shouldn't be Constitutional or permitted. 

    So was this program a part of the Patriot Act?  Or is it something they've only recently started doing, but claim it's permitted under the Patriot Act?

    Bill

    I think Booksmart has answered that question. 

    In one form or another, the program's been in place since the Patriot Act was originally passed.
    ArizonaStupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education or by legislation.  Stupidity is not a sin, the victim can't help being stupid.  But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity.  RAH

    Help support WeTheArmed.com by visiting our sponsors.