Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 31, 2014

NSA Uses Speech-To-Text Systems To Record (Your?) Phonecalls

Der Spiegel and The Intercept have a new story about the NSA and Turkey based largely on NSA files Edward Snowden acquired. While the NSA is cooperating with Turkey's secret services and helps them to assassinate Kurdish separatists it is also intensely spying on the Turkish leadership.

That is all the way I would have expected.

But there is one detail in the story which, to my best knowledge, reveals a NSA capability that was so far only rumored about:

In January 2012, US officials proposed supporting Turkey in their fight against the PKK with diverse measures, including access to a state-of-the-art speech recognition system that enabled real-time analysis of intercepted conversations. The system can even search for keywords and identify the person speaking if a voice sample of that individual has been stored.

There was always some assumption that the NSA would store not only all the medadata of all phone calls but also the content. Barton Gellman had published about the MYSTIC and RETRO program which back in 2009 allowed phone call storage of all calls in Afghanistan for up to a month. Some people refuted that the NSA could or would do this in more countries or for a longer time arguing that the storage of sound files of the phone calls would require too much data space.

But when the NSA, as is now revealed, uses sophisticated automated speech-to-text systems then it has only to store the text data of phone calls which is at least one magnitude smaller in data size than the sound data.

Every NSA target, potentially ever human being, has now to assume that everything it says or hears on the phone will be recorded and automatically searched by keywords and then marked, categorized and stored forever by some NSA system.

This is, I believe, a whole new dimension of NSA spying that may well change the way people are used to communicate and the intensity in which they are willing to express themselves "in private". "In private" now hardly exists anymore.

Posted by b on August 31, 2014 at 12:21 PM | Permalink

Comments

The days of using smoke signals will soon be upon us, if not out of necessity.

Posted by: notlurking | Aug 31, 2014 1:10:38 PM | 1

what ever happened with merkels knee jerk response about the nsa spying on her? is that all forgotten in her movement towards swallowing more suggested sanctions from her american masters?

Posted by: james | Aug 31, 2014 1:12:18 PM | 2

We must assume they have everything on everyone, I heard the Germans were no using typewriters again for their more important communications.All my future comments will be sent attached to the leg of a pigeon and just to be on the safe side I want to instruct the host of this site not publish them.Hehe

Posted by: harry law | Aug 31, 2014 1:15:28 PM | 3

@1

Smoke signals must be what ISIL is using to defeat the mighty uber-snoopers which are the NSA and five eyes consortium. Or maybe the NSA and five eyes just gives ISIL and the like a 'free pass'...

Posted by: really | Aug 31, 2014 1:21:13 PM | 4

Who talks on the phone anymore — at least about anything worthwhile or important? I don't.

This story has always been a big deflection and canard, imo. It's absurd on the face of it and obviously it doesn't work to deter anyone or anything so the intention of this data retention certainly can't be for its official denied reasoning. It's a waste of time and resources when you only consider the official reasoning.

Plus, we never would have heard Nuland say "fuck the EU" if people weren't listening in. Think of the mileage all of you got out of that one simple declarative exhortation uttered in "private."

Obviously, what is good for their goose, is once again good for your gander when it suits your purposes. Otherwise, none of you would have ever dared to amplify a story that involved the immoral act of listening in on someone's private conversations as Russia did with Nuland's.

Posted by: Cold N. Holefield | Aug 31, 2014 1:23:11 PM | 5

I wouldn't read too much into this.

For one thing: while text-to-speech is much better than it used to be, it still is nowhere near where it needs to be - particularly where non-English/non-European speakers plus regional dialects come into play.

As such, any decent storage would require the source voice recordings as a backup. After all, it would be highly frustrated to hear "We're going to bomb blurble" and have no recourse to the original.

Of course, the other ironic corollary is that these systems work best at home. I would hate to imagine what the output of text to speech would be for a recording of a conversation between 4 or 5 salafis - all from different parts of the world with different accents - whereas text-to-speech of John and Jane Smith, US citizens, is probably 95%+ accurate vs. recordings.

Posted by: c1ue | Aug 31, 2014 1:40:12 PM | 6

@5 It was pre-coup Ukrainian intelligence who intercepted that call, and I'd say they had a very compelling reason to do so.

Posted by: Jon Lester | Aug 31, 2014 1:43:02 PM | 7

It just seems that the USG, NSA and five eyes always drop the intel ball ala 9/11 when it matters most. I guess they are too busy listening to the general publics discontent with all their warmongering and foreign and domestic agendas that continue to degrade the quality of life for 99% of the planets population and 100% of life when talking about the environment.

Posted by: really | Aug 31, 2014 1:49:15 PM | 8

@5 It was pre-coup Ukrainian intelligence who intercepted that call, and I'd say they had a very compelling reason to do so.

Posted by: Jon Lester | Aug 31, 2014 1:43:02 PM | 7

Oh, I see, but the NSA doesn't have good reasons?

Considering Merkel's murky past and her coddling of Putin, I'd say the NSA also has very good reasons for listening in on her phone conversations or any of her conversations using your bias logic.

Either way, you've proven my point. Spies spy. So what? All governments do it. One is no worse than the other. If you claim America is worse, you're engaging in American Exceptionalism again.

Posted by: Cold N. Holefield | Aug 31, 2014 1:56:55 PM | 9

Don't worry. We all know that the Soviet Union spent billions and billions to gather intelligence. In spite of all those billions, the Soviet Union went "down in flames". The same is going to happen with the US. It's just a matter of time.

Posted by: Willy2 | Aug 31, 2014 2:11:09 PM | 10

willy2 - the parallels with the present usa and the previous soviet union are quite striking actually.. a police state where everyone's actions are monitored.. why, we even have a stooge living in the same state who thinks it is just hunky dory!!

Posted by: james | Aug 31, 2014 3:17:21 PM | 11

@8
It just seems that the USG, NSA and five eyes always drop the intel ball ala 9/11 when it matters most.

It's a feature, not a glitch. They sure let ISIS, ISIL, IS, ICE, ICE Baby Get all big and bad - well supplied, well organized, well funded, sharp dressed, etc before they attempted to do anything about it. (And Israel isn't worried about ICE Baby on their front door step. Funny that.)


@11
the parallels with the present usa and the previous soviet union are quite striking actually.. a police state where everyone's actions are monitored..

I had made that observation some time ago. It is very true, but we have the stars and stripes, the NFL and Budweiser so it cancels out.

Posted by: Fast Freddy | Aug 31, 2014 3:36:16 PM | 12

An unintended consequence of this revelation is that another piece of NewSpeak has been translated into plain language.

Metadata = Transcript (of the content of phone calls which the NSA, Obama, and all the skunks & liars masquerading as Western politicians swore black & blue weren't being intercepted or recorded).

Paul Hogan, ex Aussie (advertising) Icon used to say "Chuck another shrimp on the barbie (BBQ) Mate."
Perhaps it's time to start chucking some politicians on the BBQ.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Aug 31, 2014 4:15:10 PM | 13

the folks down at the US intelligence/security complex have a good gig going... to the tune of a trillion dollars a year.

the axiomatic 'bigger is better' capitalistic thunderdome that is america knows well that there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Posted by: john | Aug 31, 2014 4:27:02 PM | 14

@12 Fast Freddy

Hehe...I forgot the air quotes around the word seems in my post. Yeah all the "we did not know it was coming, we did not forsee this" bs is just that...bs.

The way the msm was hyping the ISIS threat they need to have the the ultimate hype-man on the msm talking head panels.

Posted by: really | Aug 31, 2014 4:29:18 PM | 15

@14

That's what it is all about ... the NSA is 'just' another part of the MIC ... and at the top of the pyramid. They don't deal with anything real at all, just bits and bytes and making up stories about them, and everything they do costs a billion dollars.

This scheme, for instance, will just index all the world's phone calls by keyword. Everyone will have spoken one of their 'keywords' - what their buggy software will have interpreted as one of their 'keywords' - at some point in their lives in some conversation, thus making everyone on earth a 'bona fide' target of their storage and analysis regime.

The only thing to do is to unplug the bastards, destroy their Big Data database, and put 'em all in jail. We can release Chelsea Manning, and John Kiriakou and - say - a million or two of the other 2.25 million people in prison in the USA to make room for them. Go after the Prison Industrial Complex as well.

Then have the US Post Office create an opensource email system that will protect all of our email from the likes of such scum as the rats at the NSA in future.

Posted by: john francis lee | Aug 31, 2014 5:46:00 PM | 16

Who talks on the phone anymore — at least about anything worthwhile or important? I don't.

That might be because you don't have anything worthwhile or important to talk about. You certainly haven't here.

America is exceptional alright, exceptionally dangerous because of the exceptional power it has built up in light of the organized destruction of the world during and (almost entirely due to US actions) following the second world war.

You're an immoral goof who can cheer every massacre, every theft, every lie so I wouldn't expect you to ever understand. You're the kind who can't understand until it's your kid or your family who gets killed in the war. Your hometown or your country in flames and wrecked.

So be it, if that's what it takes for you to understand, the world has a way of making its point to everyone.

Posted by: guest77 | Aug 31, 2014 9:05:25 PM | 17

Frankly, this has been secret service practice from the invention of the telephone (and much easier then with manually switched connections), the only difference presumably that they were not bothered with every phone call just the ones from people they were interested in. Phones have never been safe. It seems German secret services also have a long tradition of writing down conversations in pubs.

The much much larger problem is the lack of democratic control of secret services. Basically their secrecy. In Germany it just turns out that the Verfassungsschutz has warned right wing serial underground murderers about police searches thereby enabling them to continue to murder for 10 years.

Posted by: somebody | Aug 31, 2014 9:19:53 PM | 18

@5 Cold N. Holefield

Who talks on the phone anymore — at least about anything worthwhile or important? I don't.

Why would a sycophant troll for the Empire need to worry about anyone listening to his calls unless he was -- ahem, an overpaid professional?

Posted by: Where-Wolf | Sep 1, 2014 12:09:40 AM | 19

Yea, yea, yea.

Sounds to me like more BS from Snowden.

NSA Scare Tactics.

Not gonna work :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FFRoYhTJQQ

Posted by: DM | Sep 1, 2014 1:00:38 AM | 20

All this Intercept article does is reaffirm that NSA is an enforcement arm of US 'deep state', as is the CIA, Pentagon, FBI, etc. The article doesn't connect-the-dots on this.

In the 60s, in college, I had a friend who liived in an apt next door who spent his time in the army in northern Turkey listening to Russian signit, a trained linguist in Russian and Turkish, he spent his time translating recordings of phone and shortwave communications of mostly military outposts from southern Russia. Jon was older than me by probably 10 years - he had been in Turkey during the 50s! Turned out he was still working for the CIA, who were sending him to college, and went on to a career with them. Lost track of him when he moved to DC after graduating.

Posted by: okie farmer | Sep 1, 2014 3:41:41 AM | 21

The search engine, named ICREACH, contains information on the private communications of foreigners as well as on millions of American citizens innocent of any wrongdoing.Planning documents for the tool specifically name the FBI, CIA and DEA as core participants - meaning they would have easy access not only to billions of email and phone records, but also mobile phone locations and internet chat records. VPN is the only solution to prevent mass surveillance. Hide my ass is a big name in internet security and privacy, and it offer OpenVPN encryption by default. You can check its offerings, services and products by clicking below.
http://www.bestvpnservice.com/providers/21/hide_my_ass!.html

Posted by: Martin | Sep 1, 2014 6:15:32 AM | 22

You need to edit your post, its a myth dude.

Posted by: Ashlee | Sep 1, 2014 6:16:43 AM | 23

The search engine, named ICREACH, contains information on the private communications of foreigners as well as on millions of American citizens innocent of any wrongdoing.Planning documents for the tool specifically name the FBI, CIA and DEA as core participants - meaning they would have easy access not only to billions of email and phone records, but also mobile phone locations and internet chat records. VPN is the only solution to prevent mass surveillance. Hide my ass is a big name in internet security and privacy, and it offer OpenVPN encryption by default. You can check its offerings, services and products by clicking below.
http://www.bestvpnservice.com/blog/nsa-bullrun-express-vpn-response/

Posted by: alvano | Sep 1, 2014 6:19:47 AM | 24

@5,

Victoria Nuland's phone call wasn't private. She was a public official doing public business. There can be no legitimate expectation of privacy for public business.

Posted by: ee | Sep 1, 2014 7:02:03 AM | 25

Whatever you do, don't say the words: nkuclear, bmob, gnun, misisle, atactk or Wihte Husoe.
Learn to speak Mandarin, because no V2T in the world will ever unravel language tonality.

Posted by: ChipNikh | Sep 1, 2014 7:06:23 AM | 26

Of course, . . . these [speech-to-text] systems work best at home.

Thanks for the reassurance. It's really good to know that the NSA doesn't have any capabilities beyond what you have on your home PC.

Posted by: PhilK | Sep 1, 2014 8:16:38 AM | 27

no V2T in the world will ever unravel language tonality.

Here's a five-year-old video demonstrating Chinese recognition, starting at 2:40: Microsoft Research China

Posted by: PhilK | Sep 1, 2014 9:19:22 AM | 28

Empty soup cans with strings used to work(?)when we were kids.
As an American,who knows absolutely no furriners to call,I feel secure.But what about all the dual citizens conversing with their handlers in Israel?Hmmm....oh,nevermind.

Posted by: dahoit | Sep 1, 2014 10:55:30 AM | 29

@ChipNikh #26

You said: "Whatever you do, don't say the words: nkuclear, bmob, gnun, misisle, atactk or Wihte Husoe.
Learn to speak Mandarin, because no V2T in the world will ever unravel language tonality."

I disagree. Sound acquisition systems can trivially decode frequencies. Chinese language in general is very simplistic in terms of grammar. The problem again is regional accents. Mandarin may be the language of the land in the mainland, but there are still very large differences in regional accents, much less dialects.

Fujianese are nearly incomprehensible to me, whereas the mainland fashionable "Beijing" accent - which slurs sz to shz - is easily understandable as well as identifiable, with dozens of other regional accents in between.

Posted by: c1ue | Sep 1, 2014 3:28:00 PM | 30

I'm not sure what the importance of this non-news is. BBN in Cambridge, MA had voice recognition down 15-20 years ago before they allowed it into the public domain. And now the NSA is claiming that it knows how to use a tagged database like every blogger in the world? Seriously, is this what $250M buys in investigative reporting? Greenwald once did good work on civil liberties; why he felt that area was beneath his lifetime devotion is beyond me. I doubt that if Martin Luther King had lived he would have gotten bored and changed careers.

Anyone who knows how can send whatever they want without detection, say embedded in a recording of random street noise, or a grainy photo at dusk -- without the recovery key, the information is undetectable.

Voice recordings? The mafia got around that 75 years ago: "How many eggs would you like to order? And when would you like them delivered, Mrs. McGillicuddy?"

Frankly, if all of this spying conferred any advantage to US business, then why do they have to keep attacking and destroying countries? Why do they (along with the Swiss and Germans) have to introduce their GMO related crop technologies by stealth or at the end of the gun?

The entire world order is changing before our eyes. Is Greenwald any less of a distraction than Katy Perry? Let's keep our eyes on the prize!

Posted by: Malooga | Sep 1, 2014 3:36:52 PM | 31

Another American company hacked? What do all these companies have in common besides the fact they are American based? They are ALL part of the ongoing PRISM project which has allowed the NSA to put in 'back doors' which allows them a way in. The problem is that it also allows hackers and cyber criminals a way in as well. There is a mass exodus of companies leaving American based cloud providers as they are moving their data over to Switzerland.If you continue to use American based Cloud companies and/or email providers.
Consider yourself warned. This will only get worse as the NSA and the PRISM project to which APPLE is part of has weakened the internet. This is EXACTLY why people should use private Swiss cloud services like DigitalSafe. No leaks, no hacking, 100% Swiss Privacy and Military Grade encryption. http://encryptmy.net

Posted by: Eddie Bates | Sep 2, 2014 5:38:09 PM | 32

@malooga #31
You said: "Anyone who knows how can send whatever they want without detection, say embedded in a recording of random street noise, or a grainy photo at dusk -- without the recovery key, the information is undetectable. "

That's not actually true. Encoding information of any significant magnitude increases the size of the source data. Do you really think intelligence agencies don't have concrete information on what sizes the "typical" recording or photograph should be? It is a trivial program to look at voice/sound levels and size of memory of "frame" and flag anomalies, or to grab a quick estimate of photograph base pixel density and calculate the normal memory footprint.

Encryption schemes themselves can be cracked - ranging from source code level back doors to snoopware which grabs PGP keys.

So unless you're restricting yourself to twitter type messages encoded by hand on off-grid computers, I wouldn't rely on the theory of untraceable/uncrackable data too much.

Posted by: c1ue | Sep 8, 2014 11:46:15 AM | 33

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