Unadorned Skyscrapers housing numerous National Security Agency (NSA) servers hide out among similar buildings across the urban areas of the United States. Eight have been identified.
These monasteries of the intelligence agency priesthood house some of the most sensitive information in the world. Raw data here is used to connect to every other piece of data in order to create a profile for supposed threats to America.
But the NSA has a history of screwing up.
Partnership Between Public and Private Organizations
The NSA was formed in 1952 during the height of “the Red Scare” when the U.S. was in the Cold War with the U.S.S.R. and both sides feared nuclear destruction was imminent. The agency was hidden to the public at this time.
Later during the 60s in a secret operation code named “MINARET,” the NSA set up surveillance on public figures ranging from senators such as Frank Church to civil rights activists including Martin Luther King Jr.
They have also had involvement with the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam where they came up with evidence which falsely implicated enemies of the U.S. in the bombing when in fact it was a false flag.
Some time during the 80s, the NSA partnered with AT&T in order to broaden its reach and strengthen its infrastructure.
The former private intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked massive amounts of information from the NSA, including their collaborative efforts with AT&T.
The relationship that AT&T has with other networks is one of the primary reasons why the NSA seeks to cultivate the relationship.
While AT&T owns hundreds of buildings, the eight identified by The Intercept are where user data and data from other companies are processed.
It is these places which the NSA likely taps into and organizes its surveillance apparatus.
By law, the NSA can only search foreign-to-foreign connections. If someone in China sends an email to someone in Mexico and that data travels through one of the buildings the NSA claims, then that information can be looked at.
The same applies to foreign-to-domestic communication. However, if someone from the state of Montana emails someone from the state of New York, it is illegal without a warrant to dig into that communication or its metadata.
In the past, Snowden leaked information that the NSA was illegally spying on U.S. citizens much the same way it had done in the past. This time the scale was much bigger.
Although, the NSA has agreed to follow the law by not spying on citizens without a warrant at this point in time.
Since the NSA partners with for-profit telecommunication companies and contracts out much of its intelligence work, doubts about security are justified.
Selling off huge amounts of consumer information to advertising agencies or others is a profitable venture to the unscrupulous.
New government agencies such as the National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB) have to be created to monitor those who watch others. This has the makings of a bureaucratic nightmare if not handled with care.
Fishing for Bytes
AT&T is a multinational telecommunications giant. It maintains its own network as well as lending bandwidth to other companies which experience occasional overloads.
This is done through peering, in which overloaded networks send information through underloaded networks. The information travels through the cheapest possible lines rather than the most geographically efficient.
Data shared between AT&T and other companies is sorted through eight peering circuits which the NSA can sift through.
These eight locations are deep within U.S. cities. One is very close to the massive fiber optic cable which stretches from the U.S. all the way to Europe beneath the sea. Since the U.S. is such a central location in terms of telecommunication, the information transmitted globally is extremely likely to go through AT&T. The NSA calls this its home field advantage.
Once collection is done on any given day, the data is than sent to a central location in which it is processed and later disseminated to interested parties or stored for future reference.
Does the Public Need to Know?
Criticism about reporting the locations of known electronic information processing and retrieval centers comes from John R. Schneider, a columnist from The Observer and a veteran analyst of the NSA, among other distinctions.
In an article, Schneider argues that the public has little to worry about. Fear mongering and sensationalist reporting have been going on for years in the U.S. and The Intercept’s article is just the latest piece on top of the pile.
He also offhandedly remarks that showing the location of the NSA buildings may inspire terrorist attacks upon them.
Knowledge Is Power (Writer’s Opinion)
Whether Schneider is right or wrong, most people agree that the general public has the right to transparency in government action and government spending.
An informed populace is a formidable one ready to take on the task of democracy head on.
While the opponents of the U.S. are numerous to treat the citizens of the country like a shepherd does a lamb can only breed weakness in both.
The trouble with overly secretive agencies such as the NSA or CIA is that, like any other human organization, they are subject to corruption.
The fact that employees of the NSA maintain secret identities not having to do with espionage upon a foreign entity makes little sense.
It leaves the door wide open for duplicity within the organization, making what is supposed to be the agency which defends the country from subterfuge the most vulnerable to it.
Maintaining huge centralized databases is a moronic strategy, especially when so much of the work is contracted out to multiple private intelligence firms.
Their for-profit nature is a liability as little stops them from creating secret deals with foreign powers.
How many leaks were legitimate and how many were orchestrated, how many were never brought to light?
In Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince it was argued against using mercenaries in favor of using household troops for any sensitive military operation. I believe the same strategy should apply today.