Digital Posse Comitatus: Generals Obfuscate and Inveigle Congress

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Infosec Island Admin

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NSA, Black Chambers, and MAE’s with NARUS STA-6400′s

The recent article on wired.com about the Senate hearing with General Alexander (NSA) was an amusing.

In it, they link to a video of the testimony before congress by Alexander on the issue of interception and surveillance of digital traffic in the US by the NSA and thusly, the DoD by way of alleged hardware and processes by NSA.

This ability to do so has been around for some time in the digital age we live in now and really came out when Mark Klein came out of the closet on the NARUS system at the MAE he worked at. 

However, way before this, the CIA and other agencies had such things as “Black Chambers” to open your mail or to look at your faxes/cable traffic via back door deals with the companies that made those technologies available. So this is nothing new in theory, just the actual practice of it has changed through the nature of technologies.

So, when I see the General hemming and hawing, obfuscating and inveigling about “how” things are done with the FBI as the internal acting body for surveillance and investigation after filling out paperwork, I have to snort and say “Liar” Or at the very least “obfuscator”.

The truth of the matter is that the NSA has the capabilities and the hardware, but there is supposed to be a firewall against all of this happening (though there have been other whistleblowers from NSA who say otherwise) but, post 9/11 the lines have blurred considerably at the order of GWB.

Post 9/11: Bush Opens The Floodgates

There are stories of a room full of alphabet agency heads with GW when he told them all of the old rules applied no more. Domestic surveillance and all of the old rules were being thrown out the window and from what I heard, they were all kinda aghast at hearing it.

What GWB did was open the floodgates to the world of warrantless wiretaps and surveillance culture we now have and diminished the lines between military and civilian agencies collection and alleged sharing of data. In the case of the NSA though, the abilities were always there to monitor the traffic of the US, remember, how much of the infrastructure is indeed here?

No, the only firewall was a rule set that said “thou shalt not listen to these people” and that was it. Post 9/11 though, because the 19 hijackers were here, they decided that the needs of securing the nation, rested on that firewall being turned off.

So it was that it steadily has become easier for the FBI and others domestic and military, to use the technologies at the hand of NSA and others to monitor the digital infrastructure. Ostensibly at first there were to be FISA courts and warrants, but, over the years as you have seen in the news, such things have become less and less used and the system negated.

In the case of FISA, the FBI used it less and less, and in the case of the NSA, well, they never needed it because there weren’t “technically” allowed to monitor US Citizens right? This is not to say that they are always doing such things, but, you know that some have and it depends on the cases that they are making.

Remember, all of this is ostensibly to protect the nation from another 9/11... And that the masses today are more often than not, oblivious to the precedents being set. This does not mean too that the NSA is just abusing these capabilities all of the time, nor is the FBI, in asking NSA for such intercepts...

But… Who watches the watchers really? Oversight committees only see so much and for those of you who say it is inconceivable I shall point to earlier history with Nixon and others as proof that it is not. So, if you wish to believe that it is all for our own good, and that terrorists like you see on NCIS are all being caught by these means legally and with honor, so be it.

Just know that people are fallible and the processes are so loose now with secrecy levels as never before to make things that do happen, never see the light of day whether they were right or wrong in the end.

NSL Letters and Warrantless Wiretaps

Today we have Anonymous making the waters muddier than ever before as well as a myriad of other security nightmares going on. Much of what goes on that requires the FBI to look into it is indeed illegal actions on the part of individuals and groups. On the terrorism side for instance there are many alleged “lone wolves” out there, jihobbyists really, who are mentally unhinged enough to want to plan and act out that require surveillance.

These types of activities require the laws we have in place and the NSL letters and FISA warrants  kinda eventually went out the window because they were too slow for the feds allegedly. Just as well, there were issues with the warrants filled out being overly broad and not having sustainable reasons for their being sworn out. Was it just laziness on the part of the feds or did they just want to obfuscate because they “wanted” them to go through because had they filled them out right or at all, they would have been denied?

Today we have cases of warrant-less wiretapping going on as well as the recent warrant-less GPS issue that was overturned by the courts and thus the FBI had to turn off some number of GPS units in the field. But hell, really. what’s the point when your cell phone does all the GPS tracking for you huh?

Everyone today pretty much has one that does it and it’s likely on because you are not thinking about the fact that you are tracking yourself every 8 seconds by just owning the damn thing and having it on. So, once again, it comes down to the grey areas here where privacy is really only what you make for yourselves. In the case of an NSL letter or a warrantless wiretap, well, you won’t know about it until you are van&d right?

Generally though, I do not believe that people are being unjustly convicted yet or being watched en mass... However, the environment is ripe if you tweet something that gets someone’s attention right? It’s when I say this or think about this, is when I think of Nixon and the odious things he was doing with Hoover and the FBI as well as his CIA plumbers. Some may feel that this is the same feeling today that they are having where all of this is concerned.

Watching Alexander Dance Reminds Me Of That Scene In “Clear and Present Danger”

Going back to the testimony by General Alexander I find it particularly interesting that the senator brings up Posse Comitatus and Alexanders reaction to that. I had generally thought that Posse Comitatus was kinda dead anyway, but, it is an important question to ask now about the digital domain today. NSA has it’s civilian portion but generally it is a military arm run by a general. By asking about domestic surveillance, the senator is breaching an important question about how the military wants in on the digital battlespace and just where that will be fought.

Can one, in the digital age insure that battles by the military will only be carried out in servers outside the continental United States? The short answer is no, and one has to argue then that the military could very well be fighting battles within the US (networks) and would this in fact contravene the Posse Comitatus act?

It’s an interesting puzzle to look at and I am thinking perhaps the Senate is beginning to have a light bulb go on over their collective heads about it. Though, it is my thinking that the general was not being as literal minded or truthful about the intricacies of what they were asking for an answer about. In my opinion he sidestepped it a bit and I am sure others out there will differ with my opinion. In my mind though, the crossing of the Posse Comitatus line where this type of intercepts are concerned was long ago broken by the administrations desire for “security”

Don’t get me wrong though, I agree, that there are times when this is quite necessary, but, there should be rules and processes.. Unfortunately in the case of the FISA court and FBI, we have seen where it was contravened repeatedly, so who’s to say that the NSA is any different?

Overall though, the scene reminded me of “Clear and Present Danger” where Jack Ryan is asking for “training money” when in fact he has been set up and is actually getting money for Operation RECIPROCITY. It was at that time that the senator asks him if he’s telling the truth and that they had heard this all before during Viet Nam.

Where does the truth of it really lie? Will we ever know?

IT’S BAMFORD YOU TWITS!

In the end, it was an interesting little video and I really wished that the players could even get the little details right. For your edification Senators and General Alexander, the writer’s name is James BAMFORD I am pretty sure that Alexander has heard the name before and I think he kinda just got a giggle out of the cluelessness of the senator asking the question.

Bamford though, does his research and he knows his shit, so, I will lean toward believing him over the testimony in this particular video. So NSA is building a new facility and some have pointed out that it could in fact enhance their abilities to surveil domestic actors or, just suck up the internet traffic as a whole. The likelihood is that the capability is there, but once again, the laws and the rules say that they cannot “use” such data.

Read between the lines on the testimony... The tech is there.. It’s the rules that say they cannot use it.

Your mileage may vary on what you choose to believe the intent and the follow through is.

K

Cross-posted from Krypt3ia

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