back to article That NSA denial in full: As of right now, we're not pretending to be Facebook or Twitter

Inaccurate. That's how US spy hive the NSA today branded claims that it "has infected millions of computers around the world with malware," and that it "is impersonating US social media or other websites" to eavesdrop on people. The clandestine espionage operation hit back at the allegations by issuing a statement [PDF] on …


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  1. Florida1920

    This just in


    "We'll show them how to do it," says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This just in


      I reckon the Zuckerbeast is pissed because the NSA can spy on his users so much better than he can.

      Hypocritical bastard.

  2. Ole Juul

    I love it. Malware with ads.

    1. Lapun Mankimasta Bronze badge

      Oh, $DEITY! Babes in the woods! Malware with ads were the worst thing I encountered a few years ago.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Denial or something more bizarre

    I'm wondering if it's possible that some of the documents the Mr. Snowden took were plants in that they were designed to mislead and discredit anyone who took them?

    The NSA is doing a poor job at denial given the tenses used and numbers. The docs claimed millions or was that journalistic license by the press?

    Then there's the Congress Critters all upset about the CIA thing but no mention of NSA... hmm... smoke and mirrors again?

    1. Old Handle

      Re: Denial or something more bizarre

      Interesting thought, but how would that work? Since this stuff is all classified, there's no way for the average person, or even a serious investigative reporter to verify the leak isn't true. If there is any disinfo in there, I would think it's more likely designed to mislead their adversaries about NSA capabilities. For example if they can easily tap undersea cables but have trouble intercepting satellite transmissions, they might plant a document stating the opposite.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Denial or something more bizarre

      "The NSA is doing a poor job at denial given the tenses used and numbers."

      Probably because the NSA is trying to make sure that it's denial is plausibly deniable. Remember President Clinton arguing that the meaning of a sentence depending on the meaning of the word "the"?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        To shoot someone in the leg when you are aiming for their arm is inaccurate. You still shot them.

  4. Chairo

    We are not spying on you, honestly

    ... we wrote the letter during lunch break, so technically it is true.

    1. hplasm
      Big Brother

      Re: We are not spying on you, honestly

      We are not spying on you, honestly

      Dishonestly, however....

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Journalism, whither art thou?

    Surely, every time some governmental weasel outfit plays playground semantics with the language it should take about 2 seconds before a hundred journalists simply ask the questions to plug the howlingly obvious gaps. Either the NSA deny the specifics or don't, if they don't principled journalism should hammer them mercilessly with the bits they've effectively admitted by specific omission - along the lines of Channel 4 news merciless parodying of BT for refusing to offer someone to explain their position on Phorm.

    Getting away with the tricksy language unchallenged is getting tired, and a couple of weeks of picking apart every statement on the fly might persuade them to try another tack.

    Or are we really that fucked for good journos?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Journalism, whither art thou?

      Ah, well, you see... all of our journalists' work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight.

      So now you understand, right?

    2. Roj Blake

      Re: Journalism, whither art thou?

      Who's to say that decent journos aren't on the NSA watch list?

      "It would be a shame if those compromising webcam images of you were accidentally leaked shortly after you published your story."

    3. John Bailey

      Re: Journalism, whither art thou?

      "Getting away with the tricksy language unchallenged is getting tired, and a couple of weeks of picking apart every statement on the fly might persuade them to try another tack."

      But if you don't ask the approved questions, you don't get invited to the next press conference. Just as news programs have to hold back on what they ask politicians, because the shifty little sods will just refuse to appear if they get a good cross examination.

      "Or are we really that fucked for good journos?"

      Yep.. Now shut up and read about some dole scrounger with thirty kids and a 50 inch tv set.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Journalism, whither art thou?

        "But if you don't ask the approved questions, you don't get invited to the next press conference."

        Fine, you submit them a list of written questions covering the 'holes' and invite them to respond. When they don't, your front page reads along the lines of "we invited the NSA to respond to the following questions [long list], but they have so far declined", complete with some Orwellian graphic in case someone isn't paying attention. And you run it day after day until they either do respond, or shut you down. Either way they get look like the smug, illiberal fuckwits they are, very publicly.

        Yes of course its deeply naive and fabulously improbable, but if journalism aspires to being better than the filler between the ads it should recall that asking hard questions and speaking truth to power is supposed to be its raison d'être, not flogging tampons and weekend breaks. They could do a good deal worse than taking a cue from India's Tehelka. India and much of its press may be deeply corrupt, but it still probably has more publications and journalists willing to stick their necks out than our 'free' press can muster.

        For that matter, that Iraqi scribbler who lobbed the shoe at Bush a few years ago managed a sharper and more eloquent critique of his Middle East policy in two seconds than the assembled press corps had in two years.

    4. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Journalism, whither art thou?

      For every question asked there is an ambiguous answer which can be provided.

      I am particularly suspicious of denials which have any paired constructs within them; "We did not spy and infect" would be true if they only spied or infected but not both, equally "We did not spy or infect" would be true if they did both. And both are true if "we" did not do it ourselves but got someone else to do that.

      This is just amateur hour fare and there's always "we have no evidence of..." as the catch-all which makes any denial worthless.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    See title

    Anon, yeah right!

    1. Wensleydale Cheese
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Assshat

      Own up, who brought the incontinent donkey?

  7. tom dial Silver badge

    "One final note: while the NSA attempts to deny the alleged activity, there's no word on whether it has the capability to perform such tasks in the near future – kept in reserve, just in case."

    Of course they do; the leaked docs said so. On the other hand, one might reasonably ask how an agency employing around 50,000 and perhaps a similar number of contract personnel would be able to effectively monitor millions, especially given that many of those personnel are managers, HR staff, security or system administrators, circuit designers/builders, and the like; and why, if they could, the U. S. government would want them to.

    Journalists have been remiss, certainly, in not questioning NSA more sharply based on parsing the public statements. But they also erred significantly in failing to evaluate the plausibility of some of the statements they pass on. In other areas, too, they have shown a lack of perspective, or possibly a herd mentality particular perspective, as exemplified by reporting on the NSA/GCHQ tapping of international fiber. Shocking it may be to some, but it is hardly unprecedented; it is, in fact, the exact equivalent in the early 21st century of what the signals intelligence services were doing with satellite and microwave links and in the late 20th century and with long, medium, and short wave radio transmissions before that, back into the first half of the century. Omitting that fact leads to an appearance that NSA (and associates') activities expanded far more than they actually did, and that their mission grew much more after 2001 than probably was the case. It certainly is true that they are filtering, and thereby examining, a much larger communication stream than 25, 50, or 75 years ago, and that stream unquestionably contains the personal communication data of a far greater fraction of the world's population; but it also may be that they are examining a smaller part of the global communication stream, and that its inclusion of data relating to a billion or two more people is not a goal but a hindrance to attaining their actual objective.

    The fact that these activities have been going on for at least three quarters of a century with little in the way of observable oppression suggests that there is not a great emergency. Even the Project MINARET watch list operations, as bad as they were, probably did relatively little damage compared to the actions of the FBI and CIA, and do not seem to have been repeated since. After proper consideration of the facts (and their constituents' wishes) and whatever deliberation they are capable of, the Congress may wish to modify the NSA's mission and authority, or even abolish the agency. Major change seems unlikely, however, given that the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for the most part enacted into law constraints that the NSA reported as its practice in the 1975 Church Committee hearings, and established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as an external control.

  8. solo


    "is" and "US"

  9. Ralph B

    That denial statement PDF

    I think we should probably assume it's infected.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @tom dial

    "The fact that these activities have been going on for at least three quarters of a century with little in the way of observable oppression...."

    Hold on, if the Stasi used people's neighbours to spy on them, that was OK, and opened people's mail, marked their typewriters etc, all OK? Because this automated mass surveillance is the same thing on a much larger scale.

    You seem to be making the case that invading people's privacy doesn't count if you don't arrest (too many) people at 04:00 and give them a kicking? And what of the "valuable intelligence" that all this data collection produces? You could ask that diplomat's son, recently arrested by the armed cretins of the Metropolitan Police for the wicked crime of signing for a neighbour's parcel? Have a look at the press photos showing the moronic goobers of the Met and all their counter-terror experts digging up the garden - it's like something from the old Soviet Bloc. Some press coverage suggests that the parcel (never recovered according to some reports) was associated with a crime by a third party, but the facts are pretty clear - the Clowns in Blue arrested the wrong person, targeted the wrong house, and made themselves look stupid. I suppose for an organisation that shoots innocent people dead and walks away scot free there is no downside to f***ing up on the intelligence front, but I don't willingly pay my taxes for that sort of "public protection".

    Meanwhile, have GCHQ made big inroads from all this intelligence on drug crime, money laundering, organised crime, human trafficking? Doesn't look like it to me.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: @tom dial


      1. I did not say it was OK (and reread my post to be sure of that); I stated that it was a fact.

      2. The NSA (and GCHQ as far as I know) are not the STASI and have no police power, although some possible recipients of their information might have.

      3. I was not aware of the incident you describe, but the description indicates no connection to GCHQ, let alone the NSA, although there might be more that could be said about the "intelligence" source. The primary actors appear to have been ordinary police, and I noticed that Ms. Kuntal Patel was arrested and remanded in custody pending court appearance on February 21, at which time her trial date for attempted murder was set. Irrespective of their information source, the police appear to have been doing their jobs to a degree that satisfies UK criminal law standards. A search for the poison, abrin, might be thought in order as it is a rather nasty one.

      4. Drug police in the UK probably have had no more success then the US DEA in squashing illegal drug use. That probably is a lost cause, treatable only by legalization and labeling regulation. There is no indication that assistance from the NSA in pinpointing illegal drug trafficking has been noticeably useful, as cocaine and heroin street prices have been declining for years. That is probably much the same for other types of crime, and for GCHQ in the United Kingdom. These agencies (at least the NSA) were not set up to support domestic police forces, and probably do so only at the margins.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What do you mean " non Americans, its not looking great"?

    It is not looking good for Americans either.

  12. fpx

    What does "impersonation" mean?

    "NSA does not use its technical capabilities to impersonate US company websites."

    Lots of wiggle room in that one.

    "Oh no, we don't impersonate Facebook. When we intercept HTTP requests for some of Facebook's web bugs, and quantum-inject a redirection to some server hosted outside the US, that's not impersonation!"

    I don't think James Clapper would break a sweat arguing that line.

    Also, isn't it more or less well-documented that they used this impersonation on LinkedIn, which is headquartered in California?

    1. O RLY

      Re: What does "impersonation" mean?

      When Clapper uses the phrase "least untruthful" to describe his testimony under oath, it destroys all credibility in what his agency releases. Lying under oath is a felony for normal people; in fact, the 42nd President of the United States was impeached for it. The press releases merely illustrate the mendacity of the agency and the contempt the NSA shows to their putative overseers and the people whom they purport to protect.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Word Gymnastics

    "Recent media reports that allege NSA has infected millions of computers around the world with malware, and that NSA is impersonating U.S. social media or other websites, are inaccurate."

    The report was not about having infected, but showing they have the capablity and intent to do so. Thus the rebuttal that they have infected millions of computers is inaccurate but only because that's the point they choose to focus on.

    We also know that they do impersonate websites, slides showing masquerading and injection techniques for yahoo have been around for a good while.

  14. heyrick Silver badge

    "Everyone knows the NSA can legally eavesdrop on foreigners outside US soil"

    Really? Legally? I was under the impression that it is "okay" under American law....which pretty much doesn't count if you are conducting your activities in a country that isn't America. [their choosing to ignore local jurisdictions doesn't make it legal]

    1. auburnman
      Black Helicopters

      Re: "Everyone knows the NSA can legally eavesdrop on foreigners outside US soil"

      Europe should pass laws saying that hacking spy organisations outside Europe (and the Commonwealth) is explicitly legal. See how the NSA like it.

      1. Slx

        Re: "Everyone knows the NSA can legally eavesdrop on foreigners outside US soil"

        Why would it include 'The Commonwealth' when it has absolutely no control over what goes on in Commonwealth Countries given that they're effectively some kind of golfing society of former British territories and colonies?

        1. auburnman

          Re: "Everyone knows the NSA can legally eavesdrop on foreigners outside US soil"

          Yeah I worded that pretty poorly. Didn't mean to imply Europe could tell the Commonwealth what to do.

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: "Everyone knows the NSA can legally eavesdrop on foreigners outside US soil"

      Much of what foreign intelligence agencies do is legal in their home countries but illegal in the target countries. This is not news.

  15. codejunky Silver badge


    The NSA are stuffed. It doesnt matter what they get accused of they will be the last to be believed due to their current record of being honest. If someone accused them of attempting global dominance to fulfil the plans of the illuminate they would still have a hard time claiming innocence.

    And of course such distrust of the NSA is justified. I wonder how history will look back on the NSA and what form it will take in future.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: lol

      I think a pointy hat and a large red nose might feature in any historical recollections.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: lol

        Not sure about the large red nose. How about a nose that, for some utterly inexplicable reason, appears to regularly get longer?

        1. Tomato42

          Re: lol

          @Nick Ryan: If they had noses like that, they would already be breaking the light speed barrier every time they shook their heads while saying "no, we don't spy on people"

        2. Lapun Mankimasta Bronze badge

          Noses Re: lol

          How about the Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Welles?

    2. Hans 1

      Re: lol

      > I wonder how history will look back on the NSA and what form it will take in future.

      History is always written by the victors, so until the bubble that is the US explodes, you probably know they have an incredibly high debt, the NSA will always be portrayed as a James Bond organization, keeping bad guys at bay. As soon as the bubble bursts, which will happen sooner than later, the NSA will be portrayed like KGB, Stasi, and all those other "ethical" agencies.

      I mean arresting and torturing ppl because they wear the wrong model of a watch is pretty much fucked up. Yes, the NSA is doing just that across the globe, in complete impunity!

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: lol

      >The NSA are stuffed.

      More importantly Facebook are stuffed.

      If foreigners start thinking that Facebook just equals NSA they might not "like" it so much.

      If foreign companies believe that Facebook is being backdoored by the NSA to hack their machines, as Linkedin was, they might start blocking Facebook.

      If BRIC countries start to think that Facebook is just an NSA hacking front then they might start blocking Facebook from their entire country

      So Zuckerberg paid to elect a president which has just destroyed his business.

  16. Scroticus Canis

    Quelle surprise! - Why is Echalon upgrade such big news now?

    Since we all knew about Echelon over twenty years ago why are we now so surprised it's been upgraded to keep up with the times? Snowdon's 'revelations' should come as no surprise to anyone capable of coherent though but just an indication at how crap the NSA is/has become in vetting staff.

    Given the infrastructure the NSA and GCHQ have they have no need to spy on their own citizens as they can spy on each others according to their mandates and then just make the data available to their 'special relationship' friends. Very dubious ethics and morality from our own perspectives but probably legal (in a bendable sort of way) within their respective countries.

    (Sherlock for the phrase that springs to mind)

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Quelle surprise! - Why is Echalon upgrade such big news now?

      We''re not surprised so much, more glorying in the ability to put the spooks on the defensive instead of being able to keep their heads down.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Quelle surprise! - Why is Echalon upgrade such big news now?

      Because Echelon was used by the US and UK to spy on the military activities of a USSR that sent millions of it's citizens to death camps and had 20,000 nukes pointed at us.

      Using it to spy on every one of our own citizens 24x7 to make sure they had some dirt on anyone who ever complained to the local council is a little different.

  17. bharq

    forgot a big one

    the use of the word 'inaccurate' in the first sentence, as opposed to 'false' in other sentences.

    When I spy on hundreds of millions of computers, if you say I spy on millions, that's not false - after all, millions are a subset of hundreds of millions. However, it is inaccurate.

    Or if I spy on millions of PC's, laptops, mainframes and smartphones, then saying 'millions of computers' would be inaccurate. Although they all contain processors and do some computing and as such might be classified as 'computers', so the statement is definitely not 'false', colloquially they are not classified under this general name and as such you can get away with 'inaccurate'.

    Oh how we love pedantry... and reading this statement, we're clearly not the only ones!

  18. Eguro

    Well at least we'll get a more extensive network built in the EU...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What amazes me about this whole Snowden revelation scenario is that it's been presumed for decades that the US has been routinely data gathering covertly so why is Prism etc a surprise to anyone. Just do a Google search for the Echelon project. Echelon was a reference to a supposed system that allegedly did exactly what Prism has been proven to do but for many years before. It was a badly kept secret (or deliberate leak) that Echelon existed and that many USA partners (the UK in particular) were cooperating with its operation. I've presumed for at least 15 years that every phone call and digital communication was being processed by the Echelon system, it just turns out to be called Prism these days.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Echelon?

      While the surprise and shock indeed is a bit difficult to understand or justify, Echelon's present analog appears to be XKeyscore rather than Prism, a facility for use in executing data retrieval based on warrants and subpoenas.

  20. Keep Refrigerated

    I specifically do not troll on internet forums...

    I am not a troll and I do not troll according to the guidelines and rules set out by the people who use my computer (namely me) and I do not troll people who I have never met online, when they know who the person using my computer is in real life.

    Furthermore I don't troll in online forums because I have specifically outlined that I don't troll, because I have to stick to the rules and guidelines I made for myself and one of those rules is that I am not a troll.

    I also don't troll indiscriminately individuals that are me and people I know in real life. I also do not troll people in the future, or travel back in time to troll those people who may have already been trolled by people who may be allowed to troll under their own rules and guidelines.

    Trust me, I don't troll,


    Troll T Trollington of Under the Bridge Trolling Company.

  21. AbeSapian

    Appropriate Legal Authority

    'Nor does NSA target any user of global Internet services without appropriate legal authority. Reports of indiscriminate computer exploitation operations are simply false.'

    Given that the "legal" authority comes from a secret court whose deliberations are never revealed to public scrutiny, I'm not very reassured. The FISA courts have always been a rubber stamp and will always remain so.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Appropriate Legal Authority

      The documentation available publicly, including what Snowden released as well as the Church Committee report and various other items, generally supports a claim that the NSA has been operating in much the same way for at least 40 years and probably 75 or more. Some programs, notably SHAMROCK and MINARET, were terminated on NSA initiative based on an understanding that they probably exceeded what the law permitted. This was done before (by two years in the case of MINARET) of the Church Committee hearings that lead to the FISA and FISC. The FISA largely set as legal limits the operational practices then in use at the NSA as to data collection, minimization, and dissemination; rather than the court providing a "rubber stamp", this may explain the very high FISC approval rate for NSA actions.

      It is unfortunate that FISC deliberations are mostly classified and therefore unavailable for public analysis, but it also is not obvious how it would be feasible in general to declassify FISC arguments and decisions about classified activities and programs.

  22. Britt Johnston

    A quick fix for non-US firms

    Hire americans to beef up your security.

    Surely the NSA wouldn't hack their mails?

    US Immigration has a list of US citizens living abroad.

    Should NSA want it, GCHQ has access.


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