Beyond the Cusp

June 11, 2013

Prism, Echelon, Unlimited Data Mining, the NSA, Where Did it Start?

We are hearing stories and rumors, facts and flights of fancy, truths and misdirections, and enough information overload to the point that our heads are spinning and we end up so confused that we likely just shake our heads, take a couple analgesics for the headache and go off to forget the whole mess. Unfortunately, once we know that our every communication, our every internet search, every web site we visit, every purchase we make, and even our every move is being tracked, stored and can be retrieved any time in the future and collated to make any story desired about us believable. Add to that the fact that with computers tapes can be made in which there is nothing that cannot be produced showing us doing anything from sleepwalking to murder and saying anything from the kindest compliments to the worst treasons. When we delve deeply into the potential powers that the government could use in nefarious efforts to paint us as guilty of any crime and part of any conspiracy which they could ever dream up we realize that the powers that be have the ability to make our lives into whatever scheme their sick little minds desired. But at some point in our paranoid fog the thought creeps into our consciousness, when and how did all of this start and how long has it been turned against the people?

 

The beginning of modern data mining was espionage, both between rival city states and within city states by the different members of the ruling court. Espionage was accepted by the common person as it was something that did not affect their lives and it also diverted the ruling classes from further ruining their lives. That has all changed as it is now utilized by governments in order to control the lives of the people. Totalitarian governments have long been known to have secret police and entire departments within their governments which collected information on the general public and went even deeper on persons of interest. The targets usually contained the wealthy, political activists and anybody who was thought to be a potential problem, threat, rival or simply somebody who may need some convincing to assist with gathering information on any others. With the advent of the electronics age espionage became both more technical and also easier to employ against a wider set of targets. Even as electronic data increased geometrically, the ability to gather and store data increased exponentially far outstripping the rate of increase of available data. The unfortunate fact is that the ability to collect data has reached the dream point for the political class as they can now record everything. And since they have the ability to collect every iota of available data they have reached the obvious conclusion, they collect everything, why not.

 

The first major data collecting on masses of people in the United States where anybody who may be of use or importance was monitored for whatever secrets or damning information that could be uncovered was FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover. His files on politicians, leaders of industry, and anybody who was somebody became stories of legend. But J. Edgar Hoover would have salivated had he ever seen the NSA system known as Echelon, the forerunner of Prism. Echelon was preceded by international signal monitoring between nations but Echelon was capable of such volumes of data gathering as to make everything preceding it seem almost amateurish. Today’s data mining capabilities make Echelon appear almost primitive. Echelon was implemented over a quarter century ago and gave the NSA (National Security Agency) unprecedented capabilities outstripping their wildest dreams of the founders back in 1952. With Echelon the NSA finally realized their dream of having the capability to collect data on almost anybody their little hearts desired. But even the immense gathering powers of Echelon were outpaced by the amounts of data being generated very soon after its inception with the addition of general use of the Internet plus cell phones and a simple explosion with the advent of the electronics age. The onset of the electronics age also provided the solution to the unimaginable amounts of data generated. This presented the NSA with the opportunity to meet the challenge before them, the ability to collect all data from all sources. This required an extensive storage facility. That is exactly what the NSA just officially opened in Nevada where they estimate they have sufficient storage medium to store every electronic signal generated worldwide for the next century. Even if it only does as advertised for half that time, it will still have been an impressive system.

 

Echelon caused a stir amongst many people who follow government abuses, politics and conspiracy theorists. Much of what was known in the public about Echelon was refuted by government as the NSA and others denied its existence. Eventually, like anything which requires large numbers of people to run the equipment and make the raw data into something presentable that had real uses and meaning, the secret got out and enough became known that denial was no longer possible. Armed with the experience of the warnings and denials over Echelon, the revelations about Prism are easily believed by the people and thus no attempt appears to be in the works for denial. That leaves the government with the choice of facing the music or making what they are doing appear to be both necessary and innocuous. Trust one who was a believer and ever suspicious of Echelon, Prism is every bit as dangerous with levels of misuse beyond the wildest of imaginations. We have already been witness to the powers of Prism. General Petraeus and General John Allen were early victims of the powers of Prism as they were disgraced into retirement by the revelation of their private emails. The information of their emails that were released did not result from their government email accounts but from their private email accounts. The power of Prism became evident in these two cases as once those who wished to destroy these men’s lives took the knowledge that there had been emails that might be of a questionable nature and then gathered the entire history of these emails simply be entering a query into Prism data search and waited for the results. Presto, everything that matched the query for the past decade at their fingertips to use in any manner against these men. These were private emails and before you claim they should have known better than to leave such evidence, what would your bosses think if they had access to every email, chat, instant message, tweet, and Facebook entry you have made over the past decade? Would your job be safe? What about that comment you made after a particularly bad day about that slave-master who runs your office? That is the potential damage anybody in our government with access to Prism can bring down on any citizen of the United States for the foreseeable future. I am fairly sure that Prism also is collecting data from other nations as well and its capabilities are being made available to friendly government within limits. With Prism now fully activated and connected to the immense storage facility in Nevada the government can continue collecting every electronic signal and run their queries at their convenience as the data will be available for the rest of time, well, in theory at least.

 

Some may be interested in what are the main differences between Echelon and Prism other than the sheer immensity of the data that can be stored indefinitely by Prism versus Echelon. Well, that actually is the basic difference. Under Echelon the government entered key words and phrases which could be adapted depending on what were deemed to be of interest. With Echelon they had permanent key words such as bomb, President, terror, attack, assassinate, kidnap, Echelon, and the names of important or noteworthy people. When a piece of data crossed the Echelon data input channels containing any of these keywords it was saved and if it contained the right combination or sufficient numbers of key words, it was marked for review by an actual person. Echelon was monitoring all the trans-Atlantic phone cables, satellite uplinks and downlinks, Internet providers’ data points to the Web, and numerous other data points which were considered necessary or sensitive. The main deficiency of Echelon was the amounts of data it was capable of both storing and monitoring. Prism does not have such limitations as it has the capability to take in all the data that the NSA can manage to find a method to intercept. There is no requirement for keywords with Prism. Using Prism does require keywords but they can be entered well after the data was stored, not using them as a hurdle to clear in order to be stored. When accessing the Prism database one enters the names and keywords which they wish to pull the data on just like we do when searching the Internet. The difference is Prism has far more data than the Internet and Prism can track any piece of data in its memory back to the person or people who were parties to the conversation or otherwise connected to the data. Prism has another capability that too many will be even more ominous. If you wish to track the movements of someone you only need to enter a few key numbers to gather tracking information for them from that point further. Whether Prism has the ability to track one from past data it would likely be limited to tracking where any person received a cell call or used their OnStar or tracked their lost vehicle. Any way one looks at the power and potentials for misuse of Prism, it definitely is a sign that Big Brother has arrived and we may soon need to monitor our every facial expression so that our faces do not arouse suspicions, after all there are cameras almost everywhere.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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June 12, 2012

Should Pollard Receive Presidential Pardon?

On the subject of Jonathan Pollard spying for Israel and handing them classified photographs presumably of the Iraqi Osirak nuclear complex and reactor, it would have been easier to write of if he will be pardoned by United States President Obama at the behest of Israeli President Peres; very likely not. Instead, let’s look at the somewhat more controversial subject of if Jonathan Pollard should receive a pardon and be released. There are more sides, opinions, complications, over-simplifications, added-complications, theories, conspiracies, excuses, explanations, and lastly, accusations that to fully examine this subject and take in every obtuse angle which are splattered throughout the blogosphere and try to make heads or tails of it will drive one’s sanity right over the proverbial cliff. So, rather than actually go to a place more insane than where I am accused of residing, I figured I would simply try to write using things from my Swiss cheese memory. So, off we go into one more romp through blunderland.

The most important controversy about the entire Jonathan Pollard affair refers to exactly what he was guilty of. This is not what he was charged with or what he pleaded guilty to or even what the agreement was, we can go there in good time. The problem is there are many who claim that the judge broke the plea agreement when he received confidential, classified information which revealed the true extent to Pollard’s perfidy. I thought I might address what is likely the most serious of the supposed secret told to the judge right before sentencing. It was claimed that Pollard had sold the Russians the complete list of all our agents in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union which cost us both numerous agents’ lives and years of careful placement of placing people in the sensitive positions where they could best complete their missions. Here is the singular problem with this scenario. Jonathan Pollard worked as a Navy intelligence worker who handled photo reconnaissance and other related data and information. As such, guess what, Pollard had absolutely no access to the lists of our operatives, especially Central Intelligence Agency operatives, behind the Iran curtain. The real problem with Pollard revealing such information was simply impossible. Another claim from those on the opposite end of the spectrum is that Pollard was set up by being accused for all the misdeeds performed by master spy Aldrich Ames in order to divert the investigations by providing a believable suspect, though eventually Ames was caught. This is difficult to believe as I would hope any Judge worthy of trying such an important espionage case would be sufficiently knowledgeable to realize the limitations of Pollard’s security access dismissed much of what such claims would have entailed.

So, perhaps we should proceed under the premise that Pollard was charged with the same charges as were included in his plea deal and there were no other extraneous factors. Jonathan Pollard pleaded to the charge of passing sensitive classified information to an allied power. One has to remember that Pollard was nothing more than the person passing on information he came across in the performance of his Navy Department employ. He was not planted in the United States by a foreign country and actually passed on information that might have technically been covered under an agreement the United States has with Israel to provide them with intelligence information and satellite pictures pertaining to areas of what is referred to as special and mutual interests. One might have thought that satellite high-resolution pictures of the Iraqi Osirak Nuclear Power Plant would have fallen under such a classification. The problem was that the State Department did not consider that such intelligence was of any relative importance which Israel should be privileged to acquire. Since these items were classified, considered sensitive information, and determined of no interest to the Israelis, Jonathan Pollard had committed an act of espionage.

The passing of classified information, even to an ally, is very serious and very illegal and anybody caught and convicted of doing so, plea deal or not, deserves serious sentencing. The standard sentence has been reported to be an average of two to four years for passing such to an ally and as much as eight, though usually just four or five, for passing such information to an enemy state. Most often, somebody who is found guilty of passing sensitive information, which is not as secretive or as serious as classified items, to an enemy country is most often exchanged for whoever is found guilty of spying in said country in order to have a warm body to offer for trade long before they finish serving their sentence. My most unimpressive memory tells me that often they serve only two to four years despite what the sentence passed down.

So, what are we to believe should be done with Jonathan Pollard who has now languished for over a quarter of a century? One of the problems is that Pollard was spying for Israel who the United States would never stoop to spying against. Partially this is due to the fact that Israel very often informs the United States through one of the varied channels available of their military operational intentions, shares a fair amount of their intelligence information, and has agreements through which many of their military research is conducted in a shared manner jointly with American companies and appropriate American interests, and generally works willingly with the United States in many other areas. The truth of the matter is that Jonathan Pollard may very well be being held to the end of his life sentence simply as to be used as an example of the United States not operating under the direction and influence of Israel or their overly exaggerated influence reputably held by AIPAC. Releasing Pollard would cause a situation where somebody from the State Department would need to explain how releasing an Israeli master super spy, Pollard’s deeds have been inflated to the standard of rivaling the likes of Bond, James Bond, rather than leaving him to rot till death in some long forgotten dungeon, or if we have to be civil, a nice prison cell. Plainly put, releasing Pollard would mean admitting that some people went to great lengths to go overboard over the “Pollard Affair” and that perhaps he was given somewhat longer sentence than was rational, let alone believable. There will be no admission of such. The State Department and others in the seats of power will never ever admit to having been ham handed and blowing this case way out of proportions, thus Jonathan Pollard, the greatest spy since Mata Hari, will forever rot in prison and never be a free man. If some are feeling particularly generous, maybe they will allow Jonathan Pollard to travel to Israel to be buried, but maybe not.

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