Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 18, 2014

NSA's "Collect It All" Includes Your Phonecalls

Barton Gellman has a new scoop based on the Snowden files:

The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.

A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.

The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.

In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary. ...

This NSA capability now exists for only one country (Afghanistan?), but will soon be implemented against at least five others.

If you believe:

  • that such a capability, though not necessarily under the NSA, will not be deployed for the domestic USA or any other "western" country ...
  • that such a capability will not be abuses for petty personal reasons ...
  • that such a capability will not be abuses for petty political reasons ...
  • that such a capability will not be abuses to gain and hold onto power ...
  • that such a capability will not diminish your freedom to think, speak or act ...

you are naive.

The only way we have to defend against the NSA's totalitarian "collect it all" is "encrypt it all". Not all tools for doing that are yet necessarily ready. But they will come. You can help to make this happen by actively preferring those products and services that have the highest level of encryption and privacy.

Posted by b on March 18, 2014 at 12:17 PM | Permalink


For a good start : TAILS

Posted by: zingaro | Mar 18, 2014 12:22:24 PM | 1

This well be a fun topic for sure and yes you are never alone. The total surveillance world has arrived just in time to save us we are being told but the still don't were big shiny plane went.

Posted by: jo6pac | Mar 18, 2014 12:42:11 PM | 2

Okay, so knowing what we know now, How many people still think that Eliot Spitzer was caught with a prostitute through "legal" means?

How about Scott Ritter or Dominique Strauss Kahn??

Clearly, all of these guys were caught because their enemies had access to secret surveillance operations carried out (ostensibly) by the US gov.....and they all used it to destroy their rivals.

Is that why 30 or so congressmen are retiring this year?

I'll bet it is.

NSA is a big blackmail scam and its being used to force unpopular legislation through congress, bribe the president and keep control of the system in the hands of the big corporations.

Do you really think congress has the power to close NSA down even if they wanted to?

I really don't think so. The US is tooo far gone. The whole system is now in the hands of crooks.

Posted by: Raskolnikov | Mar 18, 2014 12:42:31 PM | 3

If the US gov't was forced to report on the Snowden docs, this is the type of story they'd write. It confirms what we already know and then implies ("at the request of U.S. officials") they're not recording domestic calls and that they can only go back 30 days.

Posted by: James | Mar 18, 2014 12:59:07 PM | 4

MOA "This NSA capability now exists for only one country (Afghanistan?), but will soon be implemented against at least five others."


Posted by: Solerso | Mar 18, 2014 1:22:28 PM | 5


The five countries would be....Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and...Germany?

Posted by: ess emm | Mar 18, 2014 1:34:11 PM | 6

France is a good candidate too, selling his citizens for free since quite some years ;)

Posted by: zingaro | Mar 18, 2014 1:45:29 PM | 7

Hey, on the bright side they know everything at all times so they can thwart any and every terror plot ever hatched. And no more Rumsfeldian "known unknowns" or even" unknown unknowns" for that matter. No excuses! Which is awesome. I can asleep SOOOOO much easier now. Safe and secure not a care I'm the world. Thank you, NSA.

Posted by: Colinjames | Mar 18, 2014 2:05:27 PM | 8

you might want to consider using this for search, not tracked, unlike that other googlug search

Posted by: Rd. | Mar 18, 2014 2:31:23 PM | 9

As a student in the sixties I am very familiar with government surveillance, although I must say an undercover fellow in our student peace union saved me from getting my faced bashed in by a YAFer with a monkey wrench in 1968.

During the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco a private spy organization was set up that did dumpster diving in my union's trash. The same group spied on a socialist bookstore, then-Representative Barbara Boxer, Students Against Apartheid and even the local PBS station. One of the guys doing the spying was an intelligence officer with the SFPD who also spent time overseas chatting to people tied to chairs with hoods over their heads, as when he left the country they found pictures in his police locker.

So in my dotage I am seldom surprised by the newest revelation about the NSA.

Posted by: Bob In Portland | Mar 18, 2014 4:56:17 PM | 10

"One of the guys doing the spying was an intelligence officer with the SFPD who also spent time overseas chatting to people tied to chairs with hoods over their heads"

That's an important point. There is a lot of overlap between the staff of your average US police department and those organizations which do the Empire's dirtiest work. Though we hear practically everyday of another shocking example of police brutality, I'm not sure the average US citizen makes the connection between the wars and violent intelligence operations abroad and the increasingly violent policing at home.

These links are at every point in the structure, from top to bottom. One example from what amounts to American cop royalty: Bill Bratton, the new NYC police commissioner, happened to be a contractor to the police department in Caracas during the 2002 coup against Chávez. The police chief who hired him is currently serving 30 years in prison for his role in the 2002 overthrow - specifically for ordering the massacre by police sharpshooters that set off the coup. Bratton made a speedy exit following the coup, and has never gotten over his not being allowed to unleash his violent methods of policing onto the citizens of Caracas. In fact, he was deeply in league with the same right wingers who are today wreaking havoc on the streets he was supposed to be "cleaning up" - including singing the praises of the Harvard-educated fascist Leopoldo Lopez in the media.

Bratton is also involved in several business ventures related to his police work - including his own police contracting firm, and being an news "analyst" for NBC. He certainly wins the neoliberal trifecta with his deep involvement in the security state, the business community, and the mainstream media.

The article linked to above lays out the road between such ultra-violent US anti-insurgency campaigns like the Phoenix Program, and the computerized police work done in the neo-liberalized countries of today. This repressive mix of information tech and ultra-violence of course find their fullest expression in the programs which the NSA runs, programs we are privy to due to the Snowden leaks. But though these programs are certainly vastly more sophisticated than they were 40 years ago, really they are nothing particularly new. They are just the latest versions of ones that we're devised during America's greatest sci-fi slaughter, the war in VietNam:

There, two elephant sized, now ancient, IBM computers ran 24 hours a day processing queries from combat units and the CIA. The CIA was requesting that thousands upon thousands of captured documents be scanned, as they searched for the names and locations of suspected Viet Cong members. Anyone unlucky enough to have their name appear on a CIA query immediately was a possible assassination target or at the least arrested.

It would be an interesting study to see if the seemingly skyrocketing reports of police brutality in the United States are related to those officer's military service in the US wars abroad. After all, there are thousands and thousands of young veterans and intelligence officers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan - certainly more than the DoD and CIA are able to provide jobs for. I would guess that more often than not, they - and their dangerous skills - end up being put to use policing US citizens.

Posted by: guest77 | Mar 18, 2014 9:06:09 PM | 11

Why don't you put a self-signed certificate on the moon? It would cost nothing and all of us could just click by the "alert! terror!" warnings issued by their browsers and store your certificate to avoid the noise in future.

The worst thing about commercial certificates is that the issuer is contacted at every web access, building a 'metadata' trail of all accesses. You would be the issuer and could just trash the logs.

At least I think that's how it works. Correct me if I am wrong.

Posted by: john francis lee | Mar 18, 2014 11:59:24 PM | 12

They listened to Americans calls from the Green Zone in Iraq to the US ....

... and an analyst can listen to any phone call at any time ...

Where is FISA?

Posted by: Curtis | Mar 21, 2014 3:37:04 PM | 13

from the movie, Sneakers:

Dick Gordon: National Security Agency.
Martin Bishop: Ah. You're the guys I hear breathing on the other end of my phone.
Dick Gordon: No, that's the FBI. We're not chartered for domestic surveillance.
Martin Bishop: Oh, I see. You just overthrow governments. Set up friendly dictators.
Dick Gordon: No, that's the CIA. We protect our government's communications, we try to break the other fella's codes. We're the good guys, Marty.
Martin Bishop: Gee, I can't tell you what a relief that is... Dick.

Posted by: Curtis | Mar 21, 2014 3:41:05 PM | 14

I'm amazed how we can keep track of all the foreign calls from a country. I'm even more amazed how they can keep track of all the calls they made into one program that recycles those calls. This astounds me.

Posted by: Seattle Windows and Construction | Mar 31, 2014 5:00:51 PM | 15

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