NSA Mass Monitoring Cell Phone Calls Globally
by Stephen Lendman
On December 5, the Washington Post broke the story. It headlined “NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show.”
Doing so enables tracking individual movements. It maps their relationships. It does it in “previously unimaginable” ways.
NSA maintains a vast database. It’s called FASCIA. It “stores information (on) locations of at least hundreds of millions of devicesâ€¦”
New efforts analyze data collected. Doing so reflects mass global surveillance. NSA claims it doesn’t target Americans willfully. It lied saying so.
“Incidental” whereabouts alone are tracked, it claims. WaPo said the term “connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.”
Previous articles explained how NSA operates lawlessly. It does so globally. It targets Americans. It does it willfully. It collects phone records of millions of AT&T, Verizon and other telecommunications company customers.
It taps into central servers of nine or more US Internet companies. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and others willingly cooperate.
Audio, video, photos, emails, text messages, and other personal information is collected. Doing so lets NSA track individual movements and contacts over time.
According to retired NSA/US Air Force/Naval Intelligence/Defense Intelligence Agency analyst-turned whistleblower Russell Tice:
What’s ongoing “is much larger and more systemic than anything anyone has ever suspected or imagined.”
It’s been widely known for years. Little was revealed publicly. Pervasive spying is much worse than suspected.
Snowden released documents and others reflect the tip of the iceberg. Expect lots more revelations ahead. Newly revealed WaPo information is the latest.
An unnamed senior NSA collection manager said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data worldwide.
It’s gotten by tapping into cables connecting global cell networks. They serve US cell phones and foreign ones.
Additional data is collected from “tens of millions of Americans” traveling abroad annually. According to WaPo:
“In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June.”
“Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.”
NSA wants global privacy eliminated. It wants total electronic information access. It wants it in America and abroad.
It wants it everywhere. It wants it no matter who or where you are. It’s well on the way to getting it.
NSA lies claiming mass surveillance is lawful. Robert Litt is Office of the Director of National Intelligence general counsel.
He lied claiming “no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”
Its most powerful analytic tools are collectively called “CO-TRAVELER.” It enables bulk collections. It involves more than location information.
A portrait of travel times and people whose paths crossed is gotten. Doing so reveals physical interactions and relationships. It lets NSA know who we’re with, where and when.
CO-TRAVELER permits looking for “unknown associates of known intelligence targets,” said WaPo. It does so by “tracking people whose movements intersect.”
Privacy advocates call aggregated location data over time uniquely sensitive. Sophisticated mathematical techniques are used.
They let NSA analysts map cell phone user relationships. They do so by correlating their movement patterns over time. They do it with up to millions of other cell users crossing their path.
Cell phones “broadcast their locations” even when not in use. Carrying one on your person tracks where you’re going.
CO-TRAVELER and related tools involve methodically collecting and storing location data on “a planetary scale,” said WaPo.
People are monitored in “confidential business meetings.” Their medical, financial, and other private spaces are tracked.
Privacy practically no longer exists for anyone communicating electronically.
Chris Soghoian is principal ACLU technologist. “One of the key components of location data, and why it’s so sensitive, is that the laws of physics don’t let you keep it private,” he said.
Emails can be encrypted, he added. Online identities can be disguised. “(T)he only way to hide your location is to disconnect from our modern communication system and live in a cave.”
Vast NSA data more than doubles Library of Congress print material. It’s growing exponentially. It’s so vast, it’s “outpacing (its) ability to ingest, process and store” what’s gotten. NSA is upgrading to greater capacity.
Three US Democrat senators expressed concern. Ron Wyden (OR), Mark Udall (CO) and Barbara Milulski (MD) introduced a 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendment.
It requires US intelligence agencies to say whether they ever collected or plan obtaining location data on “a large number of United States persons with no known connection to suspicious activity.”
Americans tracked globally can’t be determined from Snowden documents alone. Senior intelligence officials declined to estimate.
They claim no way to do it. Why not wasn’t explained. An intelligence agency lawyer was cited. He doesn’t respect constitutional law.
He claimed cell phone data monitoring doesn’t violate Fourth Amendment rights. They protect against unlawful searches and seizures.
Warrantless privacy invasions constitute gross Fourth Amendment violations. According to WaPo:
“(T)op secret briefing slides (show) NSA pulls in location data around the world from 10 major ‘sigads,’ or signals intelligence activity designators.”
“A signad known as STORMBREW relies on two unnamed corporate partners.” They’re codenamed ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT.
Both companies administer NSA “physical systems (interception equipment). ‘NSA asks nicely for tasking/updates.’ “
“STORMBREW collects data from 27 telephone links.” They’re called OPC/DPC pairs. They refer to originating and destination points.
They transfer traffic from one internal network to another. Cell tower identifiers are included. They’re used to identify phone locations.
“The agency’s access to carrier networks appears to be vast,” WaPo explained. Computer and Information Science Professor Matt Blaze said:
“Many shared databases, such as those used for roaming, are available in their complete form to any carrier who requires access to any part of it.”
“This ‘flat’ trust model means that a surprisingly large number of entities have access to data about customers that they never actually do business with, and an intelligence agency – hostile or friendly – can get ‘one-stop shopping’ to an expansive range of subscriber data just by compromising a few carriers.”
NSA’s location tracking capability is “staggering,” added WaPo. It renders most communication security efforts “effectively futile.”
Analytical tools map date, time, and location of cellphones. Patterns or significant overlap movements are monitored.
Other tools compute cell devices’ speed and trajectory. Information gotten overlays electronic data on transportation maps. Likely travel time is determined to show which devices may have intersected.
This report and previous ones reflect out-of-control NSA spying. It persists at home and abroad.
Thousands more Snowden documents remain to be released. Expect added proof of NSA lawlessness.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) lawsuits pressed courts to prohibit warrantless searches. Rulings were split.
In 2008, the Third Circuit US Appeals Court held that federal magistrates may require warrants based on probable cause. They may do so before permitting monitoring of phone location records.
Fifth and Sixth Circuit Court rulings approved warrantless seizures. The Supreme Court hasn’t yet addressed the issue. It’s important enough to do so. It’s right wing judges may provide no relief.
At the same time, an earlier High Court ruling prohibited planting GPS devices on cars without warrants. It stopped short deciding whether warrantless tracking violates Fourth Amendment rights.
A Final Comment
On December 6, Russia Today (RT) headlined Sweden ‘spied on Russian leaders for US.’ “
Sweden’s National Defense Radio Establishment (FRA) is involved. It monitors electronic communications.
FRA declined to comment. Its communications head, Anni Bolenius, said:
“We do in general have international cooperation with a number of countries, which is supported in Swedish legislation, but we do not comment on which ones we cooperate with.”
Sweden’s Sveriges Television (SVT) broke the story. Nils Hanson was involved. He’s chief editor of SVT’s “Mission: Investigate.”
He told RT that FRA/NSA collaboration isn’t new. “(N)ow we can show documents proving this relationship,” he said.
Snowden provided them. “Sweden’s ‘cable access’ made its position ‘unique’ in the eyes of the NSA,” said RT.
Sweden’s FRA signal intelligence agency is a key NSA partner. According to one Snowden document:
“The FRA provided NSA unique collection on high-priority Russian targets, such as leadership, internal politics.” NSA bosses were told to:
“Thank Sweden for its continued work on the Russian target, and underscore the primary role that FRA plays as a leading partner to work the Russian Target, including Russian leadership and counterintelligence.”
“FRA’s cable access has resulted in unique SIGINT reporting on all of these areas.”
FRA authorization involves tracking “external threats” potentially affecting Sweden. It secret Defense Intelligence Court issues permits.
Targeting Russian leaders reflects doing so at NSA’s behest. It suggests exceeding FRA’s remit.
Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials aren’t threats. FRA has lots of explaining to do. Perhaps Moscow will demand answers.
Last April, Voice of Russia cited Julian Assange saying FRA intercepts 80% of Russian Internet traffic. It sells it to the NSA.
It’s further proof of Swedish/US collaboration against Russia. It shows hostile intent. It targets a friendly neighbor.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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