On Wednesday, I noted how the Syrian "situation" had scrubbed the troubling issues surrounding the NSA programs from the headlines. I mentioned that I believe that one reason President Obama appears in no rush to ask that Congress be reconvened earlier than scheduled to vote on the measure authorizing the US to bomb Syria is the administration's hope that the controversy surrounding Syria will keep spygate off the front pages. I also stated that there was one bug in the ointment: Glenn Greenwald.
Well, that bug -- along with fellow reporters at The Guardian, ProPublica and the New York Times -- have raised their heads to present us with new revelations.
US and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have broadly compromised the guarantees that internet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications, online banking and medical records would be indecipherable to criminals or governments.
The agencies, the documents reveal, have adopted a battery of methods in their systematic and ongoing assault on what they see as one of the biggest threats to their ability to access huge swathes of internet traffic – "the use of ubiquitous encryption across the internet".
Those methods include covert measures to ensure NSA control over setting of international encryption standards, the use of supercomputers to break encryption with "brute force", and – the most closely guarded secret of all – collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers themselves.
Through these covert partnerships, the agencies have inserted secret vulnerabilities – known as backdoors or trapdoors – into commercial encryption software.
The files, from both the NSA and GCHQ, were obtained by the Guardian, and the details are being published today in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica. They reveal:
• A 10-year NSA program against encryption technologies made a breakthrough in 2010 which made "vast amounts" of data collected through internet cable taps newly "exploitable".
• The NSA spends $250m a year on a program which, among other goals, works with technology companies to "covertly influence" their product designs.
• The secrecy of their capabilities against encryption is closely guarded, with analysts warned: "Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods."
• The NSA describes strong decryption programs as the "price of admission for the US to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace".
• A GCHQ team has been working to develop ways into encrypted traffic on the "big four" service providers, named as Hotmail, Google, Yahoo and Facebook.
Supposedly, all these programs are needed to combat a small number of current or potential terrorists. As I mentioned in a post this morning, we are regularly told that we have severely wounded al-Qaeda and its associate forces. Many reports suggest that their numbers continue to shrink and that their operational structure is in disarray. If all these things are true, why is it that we must compromise the rights of world citizens to rein in this ragtag band of murderous militants?
Why is it so damn important for the US and British intelligence services to have access to yours and my bank records? Medical records? Online purchases? Material checked out from the local library? Routine communications?
By itself, this rampant overkill suggests that terrorism is NOT the real target. No, it suggests that the real target is absolute control of the vast majority of the world's population. It suggests that nothing is sacred (or private) anymore...except unmitigated power. It suggests that almost everything the powers that be think and do is not for anyone else to know and what the rest of us think and do is no longer private.
If you don't believe that absolute power corrupts absolutely, how do you explain these massive surveillance programs that lump the guilty and innocent together in one all-encompassing net?