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XKeyscore: Instrument of Mass Surveillance

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Stephen Lendman
August 3, 2013

Evidence mounts. America crossed the line. It operates lawlessly. It reflects police state ruthlessness. Big Brother’s real. It’s not fiction. It watches everyone.

It’s about control, espionage and intimidation. It targets fundamental freedoms. It has nothing to do with national security. America’s only threats are ones it invents. It does so for political advantage.

On July 31, London’s Guardian headlined “XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the Internet.’ ”

It “gives ‘widest reading’ collection of online data. NSA analysts require no prior authorizations for searches.” They sweep up “emails, social media and browsing history.”

Every keystroke enters a database. NSA training materials call XKeyscore its “widest-reaching” online intelligence gathering tool. Agency officials call it their Digital Network Intelligence (DNI).

It collects “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet.” Virtually nothing escapes scrutiny.

London’s Guardian used classified information. It’s sourced from a February 2008 presentation. It’s about meta-data mining. It’s chilling. It’s worst than previously thought.

It explains what Edward Snowden meant, saying:

“I, sitting at my desk, (can) wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email” address.

At the time, US officials scoffed. House Republican Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Mike Rogers said:

“He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

According to Guardian contributor Glenn Greenwald:

XKeyscore lets analysts “mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search.”

“The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.”

Agency personnel use XKeyscore and other systems for “real-time” interception of personal online activity.

US statutes require FISA warrants when targeting a “US person.” It doesn’t matter. NSA operates extrajudicially. XKeyscore permits doing so with technological ease.

It lets analysts search meta-data, emails, and other online activity. They can do it with “no known email account (a ‘selector’) in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted.”

“Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.”

A December 2012 slide titled “plug-ins” explains easily accessed information fields.

They include “every email address seen in a session by both username and domain, every phone number seen in a session (eg address book entries or signature block), and user activity.”

It includes webmail, usernames, buddylists, and machine specific cookies, etc.

According to Snowden, XKeyscore lets analysts conduct “searches within bodies of emails, webpages and documents.”

They can access “To, From, CC, BCC, (and) ‘Contact Us’ pages on websites.” Analysts can monitor anyone. They can read and save their personal communications.

Doing so simply requires “clicking a few simple pull-down menus designed to provide both legal and targeting justifications.”

Virtually nothing online escapes scrutiny. Fourth Amendment rights don’t matter. Privacy no longer exists.

Amounts of information collected are “staggeringly large.” One – two billion records are added daily. Information gathered is so voluminous, it can only be stored for three to five days. Meta-data is kept 30 days.

NSA solves the problem by “creat(ing) a multi-tiered system that allows analysts to store ‘interesting’ content in other databases.” One’s called Pinwale. It stores information up to five years.

In 2012, over 40 billion records were collected and stored monthly. Americans are lawlessly monitored. Warrant authorization isn’t gotten.

NSA lied telling the Guardian:

Its “activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests.”

“XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA’s lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system.”

“Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true.”

“Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA’s analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks.”

“In addition, there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring.”

“Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.”

“These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad.”

It bears repeating. NSA operates extrajudicially. It’s an out-of-control agency. Rule of law principles don’t matter.

At issue is control, espionage and intimidation. Fundamental freedoms are targeted. Claiming national security priorities doesn’t wash. It’s one of many big lies. They mask police state lawlessness.

Greenwald’s article was published the same day the White House released heavily redacted NSA “bulk collection program” reports and a FISA court order. It included domestic telephone call monitoring procedures.

Obama officials lied. They claim surveillance isn’t authorized without demonstrable suspicions. Monitoring, they say, is subject to FISA court oversight.

It’s virtually rubber stamp. It’s a kangaroo court. It’s illegitimate. It authorizes virtually all requests. It operates extrajudicially. It’s been around for 35 years. No case ever went to the Supreme Court.

It’s findings are secret. A single judge signs surveillance orders. Challenges are virtually impossible. Police state justice is assured.

Things are getting worse, not better. Freedom’s disappearing in plain sight. Congress and federal courts are co-conspirators. They’re in lockstep with lawless surveillance.

Congressional committee hearings reflect show, not tell. Senators and House member criticisms ring hollow. Legislation prohibiting lawless spying could stop it. Nothing with teeth is planned.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper committed perjury. He lied to Congress. He was caught red-handed. He said NSA doesn’t spy on Americans.

Clear evidence proves otherwise. Holding him accountable won’t follow. It never does. It won’t this time. Congress approves lawlessness. So do federal courts.

Big Brother is official policy. Political Washington supports it. Claims otherwise don’t wash.

A Final Comment

August 4 is 1984 Day. Nationwide rallies are planned. Thousands are expected to participate. “Big Brothers has seen enough,” they say.

Sustained public pressure’s essential. Congressional inaction demands it. On July 31, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) headlined “Huge Global Coalition Stands Against Unchecked Surveillance.”

Over 100 organizations endorsed 13 protect human rights principles. Doing so challenges lawless spying. They advise “on how surveillance laws should respect the law, due process, and include public oversight and transparency.”

Privacy matters. It’s time legislation with teeth assures it. According to EFF’s Danny O’Brien:

“It’s time to restore human rights to their place at the very heart of the surveillance debate.”

“Widespread government spying on communications interferes with citizens’ ability to enjoy a private life, and to freely express themselves – basic rights we all have.”

“But the mass metadata collected in the US surveillance program, for example, makes it extraordinarily easy for the government to track what groups we associate with and why we might contact them.”

“These principles announced today represent a global consensus that modern surveillance has gone too far and must be restrained.”

Organizations involved represent over 40 nations. “International human rights law binds every country across the globe to a basic respect for freedom of expression and personal privacy,” said EFF’s Katitza Rodriguez.”

“The pervasiveness of surveillance makes standing up for our digital rights more important than ever.”

“And we need those rights to survive in a digital world, where any state can spy on us all, in more detail than ever before.”

“We know that surveillance laws need to be transparent and proportionate, with judicial oversight, and that surveillance should only be used when absolutely necessary.”

“Everything we’ve heard about the NSA programs indicate that they fall far outside these international human rights principles.”

Operating this way assures tyranny. It’s practically full-blown. Police states operate this way. America’s by far the worst.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

This article was posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 10:15 am

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