The NSA's bulk collection of what sometimes seems to be just about anything about anybody generates so much news that it requires a bulk approach to keep up with it all. Here's a brief rundown of some recent surveillance-related tidbits.
Spying on bigwigs is apparently no biggie
Christian Whiton, a former senior adviser at the US State Department, says Germany's and France's supposed outrage over NSA spying may well be for show. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reportedly "livid" about the possibility that her cell phone was tapped by the US, but perhaps that was just to please her public. Whiton tells CNN:
I think especially with Germany and France, of course, they are very familiar with U.S. signals intelligence, which is the technical term for eavesdropping...We use a lot of signals intelligence, we share it with our allies. And they spy on us too. France is one of the most aggressive collectors of intelligence. So what you are seeing is a bit of kabuki theater that will probably blow over before too long.
There's more from Whiton here, and -- not to imply that we condone spying on friends (or fail to recognize the various and sundry dangers of mass surveillance) -- we'd probably be a little less than shocked to discover that he was right about the kabuki theater. We'll see.
Tweeter turns tables on NSA
It's not every day you get to spy on a spy, but former MoveOn.org director Tom Matzzie got his chance Thursday. Matzzie was riding the Acela express train between New York and Washington, DC, when he realized former NSA Director Michael Hayden was sitting near him and giving a phone interview to a reporter "on background" (meaning Hayden didn't want to be identified).
Matzzie decided to live-tweet the call, in a manner of speaking, and he topped off his tweets with a nice punch line. Here's some of the thread:
Former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden on Acela behind me blabbing "on background as a former senior admin official" Sounds defensive.— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
Hayden was bragging about rendition and black sites a minute ago.— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
Michael Hayden on Acela giving reporters disparaging quotes about admin. "Remember, just refer as former senior admin" #exNSAneedsadayjob— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
On Acela: phone ringing. I think the jig is up. Maybe somebody is telling him I'm here. Do I hide?— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
New call. I am totally busted I think.— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
I think I'm safe. Just passed Philly. No rendition yet. Do I have the balls to ask him for a photo? #haydenacela— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
Will Hayden's victim-of-eavesdropping experience have a chilling effect on his willingness to serve as a confidential source for journalists? If so, there might be an ironic lesson in there somewhere for the former head spook.
Snowden makes a statement
Whistleblower Edward Snowden continued his recently renewed visibility by throwing his support behind this Saturday's Stop Watching Us rally in Washington, DC. The rally was put together by a coalition of more than 100 companies and advocacy groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as individuals, such as Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian. Snowden spoke up by way of a statement provided to the ACLU:
In the last four months, we've learned a lot about our government.
We've learned that the U.S. intelligence community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance. Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong.
Now it's time for the government to learn from us. On Saturday, the ACLU, EFF, and the rest of the StopWatching.Us coalition are going to DC. Join us in sending the message: Stop Watching Us.
Snowden isn't the only one providing some star power for the Stop Watching Us event. The rally's publicity crew sent out a video yesterday starring actors Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Cusack, and Wil Wheaton; director Oliver Stone; and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg; among others (special cameo appearances by Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover). Here's the vid:
You can find out more about the rally here. And CNET's Dara Kerr will publish a Q&A on Friday with the rally's lead organizer, Rainey Reitman, activism director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
No really: Stop watching us
If you do happen to go to the rally, make sure you dress pretty. Rolling Stone has an interesting little item up about the private surveillance industry and how it advertises its wares to law enforcement. As the magazine puts it: "Promotional materials for numerous private spy companies boast of how law enforcement organizations can use their products to monitor people at protests or other large crowds."
Here's part of a sales pitch for one such product:
Once you set up the OpenMIND system to profile and monitor the rally, it will search the web for the event on web pages, social networking sites, blogs, forums and so forth, looking for information about the nature of the rally (e.g. peaceful, violent, participant demographics), try to identify both online and physical world activist leaders and collect information about them, monitor the event in real-time and alert you on user-defined critical developments.
You can find the rest of the Rolling Stone article at this link. And it occurs to us that, like you, the OpenMIND system may just now be finishing its read of this here blog post. Our thanks to it, and to you, for stopping by. (And come back soon for our Q&A with Rainey Reitman.)