back to article US spyboss: Yes, we ARE snooping on you, but think of the TERRORISTS

The US Director of National Intelligence has admitted that the National Security Agency has been gathering folks' mobile phone data and internet activities - but claims the public has got the American government’s intentions all wrong. James Clapper said in a statement that the leaked court document detailing the NSA's …


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  1. Gordon 10
    Black Helicopters

    unrestricted direct access

    Who needs "unrestricted direct access" when there are bound to be a series of messages or data entities detailing exactly what the Feds need and the availability of midnight flights to Gitmo for anyone who doesnt populate them.

  2. Tony Green

    “The unauthorised disclosure of a top-secret US court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation,”

    No bad thing, in my opinion.

    The US is a threat to every other nation on the planet, so the less that terrorist state itself knows about those it wants to attack, the better.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      “The unauthorised disclosure of a top-secret US court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation,”

      No it doesn't - it tells potential terrorists that they will be immediately detected by the all seeing eye of the NSA and so they shouldn't try anything.

      It's like claiming that leaking the existence of American nuclear weapons to the USSR put America at risk.

    2. Old Handle


      If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear, right?

  3. g e

    You know your country is f*cked when...

    Your government is more concerned about its electorate knowing what it's doing than what it's doing.

    1. tony2heads

      Re: You know your country is f*cked when...

      Some governments doing even know what they themselves are doing.

  4. Tom 260

    "Clapper insisted that the “targeted counterterrorism” system was misunderstood"

    Perhaps because it seems to be more blanket than targeted...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      No, Mr Clapper, I think that people understand exactly what is going on. That is precisely what the outcry is about. You, sir, are the one the "misleading" view of the situation.

      1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: Misunderstood?

        "We have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo

    2. Someone Else Silver badge


      Perhaps that's because, the details of the "targeted counterterrorism"...or even that it is "targeted counterterrorism" (as opposed to "generalized counterterrorism", I guess) top-secret

      D'ya think that might have something to do with it, Komrade Clapper?

  5. Whitter
    Thumb Down

    A wide variety of threats

    One assumes economic threats too then: i.e. rampant indurial espionage.

    1. Whitter

      Re: A wide variety of threats

      Sorry: "Industrial".

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: A wide variety of threats

      Here it's the "threat to national security from the misguided activities of citizens manipulated by foreign interests" ie people who object to running a crude oil pipeline through a seal sanctuary

      The government hasn't started calling them terrorists yet....

  6. DJO Silver badge

    Who'd have guessed it, NSA exceeding their remit

    does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber”.

    A little disingenuous, no the phone owners are not directly identifyable however they do have enough identification that all they have to do is ask (perhaps backed by a court order) the service provider and then they can determine the identity of the subscriber.

    There is an easy way for the security services to justify these actions: Just publish details of all the terrorist plots that this survaillance has foiled in the time it's been operating. if (as we all suspect) there have been no such interventions then the program should be stopped.

    1. Justin Pasher

      Re: Who'd have guessed it, NSA exceeding their remit

      In a lot of cases, they wouldn't even need to go that far. Just look how easy it is nowadays to take a phone number (at least non-mobile) and perform a reverse lookup. Granted, some people will have made the effort to "unpublish" their number or make it private, but most will not.

      You want "anonymous" data? Convert each phone number to a one-way hash key. That allows you to "link" the data between two callers but makes it very hard to KNOW who those two callers are.

      Then again, what good would the data be to them in that case .... I guess that's why they need a little more than "anonymous" data...

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Who'd have guessed it, NSA exceeding their remit

        "You want "anonymous" data? Convert each phone number to a one-way hash key. "

        Wouldn't work in this case. The number of possible *messages* (phone numbers) in this case is small enough that you could brute force yourself a set of tables to reverse the hash.

    2. teebie

      Re: Who'd have guessed it, NSA exceeding their remit

      "Just publish details of all the terrorist plots that this survaillance has foiled in the time it's been operating"

      ...and, to save time later, put a little tick next to the ones that were FBI entrapment cases that you are just pretending were discovered this way.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Who'd have guessed it, NSA exceeding their remit

        put a little tick next to the ones that were FBI entrapment cases that you are just pretending were discovered this way

        Why bother? The NSA could simply invent any number of such "success" stories, since there's no way to verify them. "Yep, we prevented a dozen terrorist attacks before breakfast."

        All such proposals are irrelevant anyway. One of the few things the Federal government, and those of the various states, broadly agree on is the appeal of the surveillance state. There's little downside for them. Civil libertarians are a vocal minority, but less vocal and more minor than the fans of "national security". The general populace is apathetic. Surveillance reduces the governments' liability - few officials want to be branded as the one who "let an attack happen" by discouraging it, makes prosecution easier, and is tremendously profitable for many parties. The only way the government can be weaned away from it is by a major shift in the national political climate. That's happened before (e.g. the various Civil Rights movements), but it takes a long time and it's hard to influence.

        That doesn't mean there's no point in voicing opposition to the expansion of surveillance - it does help move the political equilibrium a bit closer to the side of the angels - but while venting anger, proposing solutions, &c. might be satisfying, they're unlikely to have any significant effect. Reasoned public debate and grassroots political action have the best chance of influencing the legislative and judicial branches a bit, and even the executive branch can succumb to pressure from the citizenry at the state level. (At the Federal level, the executive behemoth is largely immune. With around one million civil servants with Top Secret clearance in the US today, the intelligence industry is much too large to be troubled by jes' folks. We're not in the era of Hoover's little COINTELPRO anymore.)

  7. Vimes

    Any non-US citizens need to be very worried about this, especially given the sharing going on.

    As others have pointed out on other sites perhaps this sort of thing explains why the likes of GCHQ is so desperate to have the snoopers charter? Perhaps some of them might have an inkling of what they're doing isn't entirely legal?

  8. phuzz Silver badge
    Black Helicopters


    And wouldn't you know it, they've been passing the info on to GCHQ as well:

    Remind me why we need the snooper's charter again? We can just let the yanks do all the work, and foot the bill...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: GCHQ

      Damn good thing too - if we don't spy on all those Americans how can the counter revolution succeed?

      Long live King George and the defeat of the North American rebels

    2. Ian 62

      Re: GCHQ

      Theres an idea...

      The US agencies can spy on all of us.

      And GCHQ can spy on all of the Americans.

      That way neither need laws to let them do it. They could come up with a new name for it...

      Symmetric Hitech Intelligence Teamwork Enhancement

      Proventitive Redundant Object Discovery Enquirey Design

      Yankie Organised UK Analysis Research Enhanced Failover Uniform Counter Knowledge Engine Discovery

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: GCHQ

        "The US agencies can spy on all of us.

        And GCHQ can spy on all of the Americans."

        And, of course, data sharing agreements between the 2 and hey presto, the spooks have exactly what they want without any oversight. Reminds me of the sort of ACTA shenanigans - negotiate a "free trade" agreement behind closed doors. put into it all the unpalatable clauses that would never get through a democratic parliament and get it ratified by the executive, then pretend that your national laws are superseded by the treaty.

        1. jonathan keith
          Black Helicopters

          Re: GCHQ

          That would be the UKUSA Agreement.

      2. Don Jefe

        Re: GCHQ

        You spelled Yankee wrong :)

      3. smudge
        Big Brother

        Re: GCHQ

        "The US agencies can spy on all of us. And GCHQ can spy on all of the Americans."

        This is, of course, a very serious matter. But it does remind me of the story of when the new CIA HQ was being built, quite a few years ago now. The local realtors (estate agents) not surprisingly wanted to know how many new people/families would be moving into the area, but were told that this was classified information.

        So one bright thinker phoned the Soviet embassy in Washington - and got the answer straight away.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: GCHQ

          What I love is that yesterday the morons on the security committee were taking shots at Huwai

          1. streaky

            Re: GCHQ

            "What I love is that yesterday the morons on the security committee were taking shots at Huwai"

            Yeah because there were no 8 year olds available to tell them how stupid they were being in doing this. Now we all look like t**ts. Bet the Chinese think this is all hilarious (government and otherwise).

            Seriously I got the Aussies being dumb and protectionist emulating the Yanks, but I thought we were smarter, then the Tory government happened. I literally read this and did the avatar thing.

      4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: GCHQ

        Better idea.

        GCHQ can only spy on Americans / NSA can only spy on Brits

        And they hate each other and don't share any info

        A bit like when we used to have actual real enemies

        1. MrT

          Menwith Hill...

          ...used to handle a lot of stuff, back before the www existed. I remember visiting the place back in the 70's, but it was more for the slice of American culture than anything nefarious. Having US friends who worked on the base helped get through the gates, which back then didn't have the small 'peace camp' that grew as the 80's wore on and the three big golf balls had offspring...

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Menwith Hill...

            Ahh the gold old days - when we spied on the enemy (at least officially)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And let's not forget the lessons of history from Echelon.

      Which, rather than being used to catch criminals or terrorists, ended up mostly being used by the USA for corporate espionage in order to give their firms an unfair advantage in competitive tenders.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Good luck, Theresa May...

    ...You're going to need all the luck you can get with your steenkin' Snoopers' Charter now.

    I need multiple icons for this one but will settle for the black helicopters.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And for non-US citizens?

    “It cannot be used to intentionally target any US citizen, any other US person, or anyone located within the United States,” he assured the American people.

    But spying on the citizens of your allies OK then?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Re: And for non-US citizens?

      Non-Americans don't vote in American elections, so we can trample on their freedoms even if hundreds of millions of them are supposed to be our allies and eroding little things like Common Law indirectly undermines the U.S. Constituion that was based on common law. But hey, all that stuff was done by a bunch of dead foreigners and guys wearing goofy buckled shoes, so for today, let the good times roll and damn the consequences!

      In the meantime, back at GCHQ they are probably piously ready to roll out "We don't spy on British citizens (because we are too busy spying on 310 million Americans through a reciprocal arrangement with the NSA that does the job of Brit-snooping for us).

      1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: And for non-US citizens?

        Our apologies to GCHQ, but we've decided to cancel our outsourcing contract and move that work back in-house. We look forward to working with you again, should any other opportunities arise.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: And for non-US citizens?

      >But spying on the citizens of your allies OK then?

      That was the origin of the UKUSA agreement.

      US president Hoover's swore that he wouldn't spy on Americans "Gentlemen don't read other gentlemen's mail.". Unlike Mr Obama didn't have his fingers crossed. So he got the Brits to intercept US mail and read it and he did the same for them.

      A more refined form of lying for a more civilized age.

  11. James Micallef Silver badge

    Counterterror fail

    The way to defeat terrorism isn't to treat everyone as a suspect and throw due process out of the window when you THINK you might have nabbed a terrorist. The best way to destroy a terrorist's credibility is to expose how ridiculous his* ideas are in an open, public courtroom.

    Yes, if you dismantle that whole apparatus, there is a slim chance that some nutter might blow something up, and even a miniscule chance that I'll be one of the victims. But given that it's more likely that I get struck by lightning than get killed by a terrorist, I prefer to take my chances and keep my data untapped, thanks very much.

    This type of trawling for masses of data also makes it more difficult rather than easier to find bad guys. FFS they had all the knowledge about 9/11, they just couldn't put the pieces together properly. So when they are looking for a needle in a haystack, what they're doing is adding more hay to the pile. Way to go!

    *or hers I guess, although it's almost always a 'him'

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Counterterror fail

      If the purpose of this was to catch terrorists that would be true.

      If the purpose of this is to have some dirt on everybody - just in case - then the more data the better

    2. Anomalous Cowshed

      Re: Counterterror fail

      "The way to defeat terrorism isn't to treat everyone as a suspect and throw due process out of the window when you THINK you might have nabbed a terrorist."

      I wasn't happy with the spelling of this sentence, so I came up with the following suggestion:

      "The best way to defeat terrorists like you and me and keep us defeated is indeed to treat everyone of us as suspects and throw due process (whatever that may be) out of the window."

      Does that seem a reasonable fix?


      A. Cowshed.

  12. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Major Systems Intelligence Fail/Intellectual Property Deficit

    What did you think those NSA guys were doing all day? …. Brid-Aine Parnell, 7th June 2013

    Busying themselves creating terrorists, of course, Brid-Aine. Isn't it bloody obvious? But it is not the smartest thing to be doing with IT today, for it leads to home systems collapse and national ruin and smarter invisible and intangible opposition and novel competition on levels of engagement which be completely alien to traditionalists/establishmentarians, and thus be past masters extraordinarily rendered useless and powerless in the fields of both real and virtual operations.

  13. i like crisps
    Black Helicopters

    I miss Bill Hicks

    Go back to sleep America.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spies are professional, trained liars.

    You should always bear this in mind when evaluating the credibility of their "just trust us" statements.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Mickey Mouse spies are professional, trained liars, but the real things though, ....

      ... are something completely different and irregular and unconventional‽

      Actually, AC, the perfect spy is a truly honest amateur who really knows what will happen because of their doings/actions/shared transmitted thoughts.

      And, if you think it impossible that they exist .... these perfect spies who be truly honest amateurs who really knows what will happen because of their doings/actions/shared transmitted thoughts .... then you might like to consider their existence be as leaderships in virtual machine realities, where human beings are as disposable illiquid assets for day and zeroday trading amongst those of their kind/ilk.

      And they be in touch and in contact with more than just government wonks, who would be living in fear for the end of their cosy, free and easy paid for by taxes lives, as human beings transition and learn of the foul and dastardly means and memes of their remote virtual control by the elitist powers that be controlling their lives .... or thinking that they have control of everyone's lives, and that may be quite delusional and geared to deliver .... The Ultimate Sub-Prime and the Grandest of Catastrophic Illusions in the Great Game .... with Titanic Head Quarters Fails.

      Perhaps you would like to ask, Brid-Aine Parnell, that same pertinent, impertinent question of Spookery in Palace Barracks, Holywood .... What did you think those MI5 guys were doing all day? .... whenever there is so much overwhelming evidence apparent and available and indicative of a lack of intelligence being used and therefore negligent abuse of security services most likely be rampant and/or freely available for exploitation/export, which would be a nice little big invisible secret earner, and an attractive addictive passion to that and those made of the right stuff and suffering/offering no nonsense? :-)

      And that will be a brace of that question, to more square its power rather than double its effect, for this will be sent directly to them from original source via one of their provided portals .... although probably not through this quaint one, which be fully indicative of the sad and sorry state of their operations in a world of instant communications between and through Global Operating Devices .......

      Get your FCUKing Act together, M. There's a good chap. England expects ... and all that .... and deserves a lot better with ab fab fabless betas, don't you think. IT is a serious business and failure is not a welcoming option, old boy.

      El Reg, do you think this is a metadatabase loded and loaded munition being fired into western secret and security services, simply penetrations testing their systems for future necessary virtual intelligence fit for .... well, let us just call it in IT, Greater Beta Great Games purpose if Global Virtual Reality Presentations are a tad too Advanced to be widely believed as current live programming in a Reprogramming of Global Asset Project ...... New Orderly World Order AIMission, ....... which may or may not have something or nothing to do with Bilderberg Groepies and G8ers?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Burn After Reading (2008) - 'Intelligence is relative'

    “Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats......The unauthorised disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans,”

    Yeah we get it. Its ok to spy on the rest of the world and us. We caught you changing the rules again. As George Orwell said in Animal Farm: "Four legs good, Two legs bad"... Until our enemies change... And the rules get revised again.

    I don't know what America's spying strategy is about anymore. What I do is its dysfunctional. Put the Coen Brothers in charge! Despite receiving warnings America completely missed the Boston bombers. With all the billions going into these projects that's unforgivable! So I say, stop spying on the rest of the world and us. Instead beef up our borders at home, and invest the money in making America's cities safer. The crime stats confirm we're not much safer than poorer countries in other parts of the world! Finally, when you are warned about a terror risk and you're not sure, why not just refuse them a visa...

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only surprising thing about this is that people are surprised. All those acres of computers are for what exactly? Crysis?

  17. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    The Worst Bit

    The majority of the population will believe these cnuts and thank them for doing such a grand job of protecting them from the terrywrists. I'm just waiting for one of them to come out with "They must be doing a good job. We've not had any major terrorist attacks since they collected all this information."

  18. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Big Brother

    so how do they *know* that those records are not of US citizens?

    Cross checking the credit card details you used to get the email account/phone number against the passport number of the suspect citizen.

    Or they could just store every record collected instead.

    Americans, what do you think you're government will do?

  19. Jim O'Reilly

    A gem of misinformation

    The General didn't lie! And this is roughly how NSA has worked for years.

    FIAS allowed them to find interesting foreign phone calls and then listen to them, but they had to get a warrant from the FISA court within 72 hours to officially "listen" to them. The searching is done by huge banks of computers.

    Now it looks like they sieve domestic data the same way, using the call data. When they get a hit, another program does paperwork, if the Patriot Act left that requirement intact, and then listens to the call using the computer, or a human if indicated. Foreign interception isn't changed.

    The "special training" is do follow the correct procedure so that the FISA Act isn't violated, and the domestic surveillance can be denied.

  20. btrower

    For their safety, just put everybody in jail

    If we put people in jail, I guarantee that they will have less mortality due to things like auto accidents or mobs of disgruntled citizens (called 'terrorists' in the new lingo). Start with various government employees. They are already on the payroll, so you can dock their pay to defray the cost of incarceration. If it proves to be safer for them, expand the program. To be safe, maybe charge and convict them of crimes -- say of violating their oath of office or something. Luckily there is already a fasttrack solution for this. Now that arrest is essentially equivalent to charges, prosecution and conviction, you can just scoop them up and toss them in prison.

    You might worry that toward the end you could get something equivalent to the snake swallowing its own tail because the last employees would have to arrest themselves. Don't. Outsourcing is already well underway. By then it will all be outsourced -- probably to India or China by then. It will save costs, so its all cool.

    Come to think of it, if we don't ever have charges or prosecution we don't really need all those lawyers. Put some of them in the program as well. Do a test group first, though. Might I suggest 'IP' lawyers?

    This safety plan would nicely balance against all the shortage of medical care due to the hospital closings and the artificial scarcity of medical training.

    The beauty of this is that all the mechanisms are in place.

    It's not perfect, you understand. You might have to release some convicts to make room. Why not release the non-violent offenders convicted of victimless crimes like smoking pot. If you think that looks sloppy to have convicted felons out of prison, expunge their records to tidy things up. Make lemons into lemonade!

    C'mon people. Let's start thinking outside of the box!


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