February 04, 2006

Somebody's watching you.

And me. And any of us who make phone calls to the US or within it, and any of us who send email that passes through the US. While we're busy communicating, an uninvited guest may be checking out what we're saying or emailing: The US National Security Agency.

To keep an eye on us, the NSA has a huge and complex infrastructure in place on the ground in the US and above it in space, the precise extent of which is not known outside the inner circles of the NSA. With the current scandal around Dubya's authorization of illegal NSA wiretapping inside the US, however, more information about the NSA's 'octopus' has been coming to light. The ACLU's NSA Watch project has been collecting that information and has used it to prepare a map showing how the surveillance system is believed to work.

The NSA octopus

For a larger view of the Octopus, click here. [Graphic: ACLU]

The map shows how the NSA's tentacles reach into much of the country's civilian communications network, including [according to the ACLU's best information] 'the "switches" through which international and some domestic communications are routed, Internet exchange points, individual telephone company central facilities, and ISPs.' [A version of the map with a detailed explanation of the octopus' elements in on page 2 of this PDF file.]

The recent revelations about illegal eavesdropping on American citizens by the U.S. National Security Agency have raised many questions about just what the agency is doing. Although the facts are just beginning to emerge, information that has come to light about the NSA's activities and capabilities over the years, as well as the recent reporting by the New York Times and others, allows us to discern the outlines of what they are likely doing and how they are doing it.

The NSA is not only the world's largest spy agency (far larger than the CIA, for example), but it possesses the most advanced technology for intercepting communications. We know it has long had the ability to focus powerful surveillance capabilities on particular individuals or communications. But the current scandal has indicated two new and significant elements of the agency?s eavesdropping:

The NSA has gained direct access to the telecommunications infrastructure through some of America's largest companies. The agency appears to be not only targeting individuals, but also using broad "data mining" systems that allow them to intercept and evaluate the communications of millions of people within the United States.

The ACLU has an excellent overview of the NSA octopus here, which includes details on how the NSA is believed to choose the targets of its spy efforts and how US corporations are helping to make domestic spying easier for the feds. It's very much worth your while.

Posted by Magpie at February 4, 2006 05:22 PM | War on Terrorism | Technorati links |