back to article CIA-funded upstart: The truth about Prism and NSA's web snooping

Palantir Technologies has denied its Prism software is related to the NSA's controversial and massive PRISM web surveillance system. The Big Data startup, backed in its early stages by the the CIA's In-Q-Tel venture capital arm, has insisted that its data-mining Prism software in question is for banks, not governments. …


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  1. btrower

    Rush for the exit

    The administration is trying to spin PRISM as 'ho hum', nothing to see here, move along. Meantime, everyone is rushing to distance themselves. Why would that be?

  2. Robin

    Another Prism

    I have a glass prism as well. I can categorically state that this is in no way related.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Another CIA-funded upstart... Google Earth, aka Keyhole Inc, financed by In-Q-Tel, the venture capital wing of the CIA.

    *waves at the spooks*

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I got down voted seriously when I said this sort of snooping was going on last year. Now who's laughing.

    I also said SSL and AES was insecure as the NSA wrote them. More downvotes on that. hahahahaha

    Now here we are. Enjoy your US datacenters. We moved our ops to off shore centers five years ago and use 4096 bit encryption on all of our DB's and comms. Little less efficient, but a damn sight more secure.

    Google's new motto: Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer.

    1. Tom 38

      It's hard to verify what "you" said at any point, hiding as you are behind your lovely cloak of anonymity. Going solely from this post, positing a massive bunch of kook like conspiracy theories and then jumping up and down when one of them is validated.

      You: P, Q, R!

      USA: P...

      You: Therefore Q, R!

      It's an obvious logical fallacy, and since you don't spot it, it makes it hard to trust your logic.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      NSA did not write AES

      The NSA did NOT write AES. It was created by 2 Belgian mathematicians.

      All the NSA did was approve it.

    3. Vic

      > I said this sort of snooping was going on last year.

      You got one right.

      > I also said SSL and AES was insecure

      You got plenty wrong.

      One success does not preclude you being a cock...


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Palantir" Technologies, eh?

    Hang on, I'll just contact the Tolkien Estate's lawyers. They'll soon sort this lot out :-)

  6. Peter 39


    The U.S. Administration's description of PRISM as "ordinary" and "ho-hum" is just spin.

    If it were "ho-hum" then it wouldn't be classified as TOP SECRET and compartmented, would it ?

    1. Steve Knox

      Re: spin

      You'd be surprised at the banality of much of the US government's "TOP SECRET" stuff.

      1. beep54

        Re: spin

        I do gather that a fair amount TOP SECRET stuff is along the lines of "Your name is REDACTED".

  7. Gordon Pryra

    Not surprising Prism is so powerful

    Not when it has the The palantír of Orthanc at its root

  8. Tom 13

    Name similarities not damning

    PRISM as I recall was also the name of one of the regional cable companies before they all became Comcast. Granted I think I only ever saw the name when I saw in a hotel, but it's back there with the rest of the dust and cobwebs.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Name similarities not damning

      It was also a brand of dial-up modem....oooeerrrrr....this has been in place a lot longer than we suspected!!

      <quakes in boots>

  9. Solly
    Big Brother


    And my 8 year old son was doing prisms and pyramids in his maths homework only yesterday - clearly it's a VAST conspiracy....

  10. smudge
    Black Helicopters

    "... a possible obtain everything, analyse later approach"

    An approach that makes sense. Before you reach for the downvote button, I'm not saying that I approve of it, or support it - merely that I can see why they might adopt that approach.

    Basically, if the spooks make a specific request to the data providers, or run a specific query on the data provider's system, then they are potentially signalling to the data providers what or who they are interested in. Which is probably classified TOP SECRET with umpty-umpty codewords.

    The less specific the request, the less specific the information you leak. So slurp up everything, and you leak nothing.

    Not approving, nor supporting - just saying.

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: "... a possible obtain everything, analyse later approach"

      If they find one suspect, they will want to see his/her contacts. Not future contacts, but the people thay have PREVIOUSLY contacted, before they perhaps were alerted. Hence the need to store everything for six to twelve months.

      Also, the art of surveillance is to know what is normal and what is not. That is a good reason to keep an eye on ordinary innocence.

      I speculate, of course. Anyone who actually does know anything is obliged to say nothing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "... a possible obtain everything, analyse later approach"

      I would contend that there is no point in indiscriminately gathering all the data you can, because if you don't have the means to process it in a sensible manner, you end up in the situation of the Stazi - They had so much information that they couldn't process it, it completely crippled them. Now it is imaginable that the NSA can process specific phone numbers, but I doubt that they'll have the processing power to run anything but a cursory search for patterns in anything but a targeted manner as the amount of data must be vast.

      Again, not approving, supporting etc...

      1. Martin Gregorie

        Re: "... a possible obtain everything, analyse later approach"

        The data volumes for Call Data records aren't that huge. They average out at about 400 bytes per call and are well-structured enough that they can be tipped straight into a conventional data warehouse's star schema.

        If you do it properly, you even get data compression and deduplication for free because the key fields are a lot bigger than the soft DBKs you'd use to link the natural dimension values to the fact table.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "... a possible obtain everything, analyse later approach"

          It's not the volume of data, it's the amount of data points. General analysis will be like looking for patterns in pi, they're there, you just have to look hard enough. This will reduce the use of the data they have collected for anything but specific, targeted searches.

  11. FrankAlphaXII

    Well, everyone here's so important they're all targets for the NSA. Im not talking about collected data thats thrown out before it ever gets written to a database, nope, you're all so important we have FISA warrants and Extraordinary Rendition teams waiting on every single one of you to walk out of your house, flat or office to take you to GTMO and waterboard you.

    At least thats what my five downvotes from commenting on Trevor Pott's paranoid rantings article from the other day would indicate. <eyeroll> Everyone is so important and so much of a threat here that they have FISA warrants for each and every one of you. </eyeroll> At least thats the impression I get.

    !DEITY people, get real. If any of you work in what they call "Big data", amplify your daily number of write operations by about a hundred thousand to a million times and you get a small fraction of what NSA/CSS deals with on a daily basis from their lawful and unlawful sources. About 99.9% of collected COMINT data is utter bullshit which gets tossed. Yet somehow magically they have time to play games with little people who do not matter in the slightest geopolitically. Inflated self-importance much? Kind of sad that I have to argue using reductio ad absurdium as otherwise semi-intellectual people are acting like children and making the postings to prove it on this topic.

    What I find amusing is that otherwise intelligent people who should really know better buy into this line of bullshit hook, line and sinker. And alot of them (at least here) are British or Canadian, from the lands of the Home Office Warrant and the steamed open letter. Funny how that little fact hasn't been mentioned. Its okay if your own spooks do it in the name of security, but its evil if someone else's do the same thing.

    If you want to look at who the real threat to your naive notion of privacy is, look no further than Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Akamai could be a real threat too if they wanted to be. Instead of collecting and storing the data on you though, they sell it to the highest bidder instead. But noone seems to complain about that because its not trendy to, and you don't have a liberally biased media (note, I'm not say El Reg has a Political Bias, they do but it seems to be a Common Sense bias as opposed to following dumb shit one side or another says blindly, which says alot for a news source located in the same country as the Guardian, Daily Fail and Torygraph) and their asinine idea of morality fanning the flames of fake outrage until there's another preventable terrorist attack and they go and ask why a defanged and declawed NSA didn't provide the information to stop it.

    My viewpoint is clearly in the minority, and I'm not trying to insult anyone, but really, if you want NSA/CSS to watch you, go run some guns and drugs in the Caribbean and make a cleartext radio transmission while you're at it saying thats what you're doing. Otherwise don't fucking worry about it, worry about the bastards who are making a buck off of you, your browsing habits, your sales and customer records, and your content instead.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      In Other Words

      "nothing to see here". Thanks for being the apologist for 1984 here. I am sure the KGB and the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit had exactly the same apologets. "We only look for the counter-revolutionaries, so 99,99% of the population have nothing to fear !!!" Those 0,001% are "in processing" at some Gulag. Or in processing to be sold (kid you not) to West Germany.

      Your post is full of bullshit. They have abused and will abuse these capabilities as soon as some smelly fatboy considers you a "threat". It is sufficient to protest one of their illegal wars to have your entire communications history pulled "to see what we can find about this traitor".

    2. smudge

      Thank you!

      Funniest thing I've read about this whole affair.

      Sure proves that some Americans do understand irony.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "you're all so important we have FISA warrants and Extraordinary Rendition teams waiting on every single one of you to walk out of your house, flat or office to take you to GTMO and waterboard you."

      Technically, yes. That's the philosophy behind this - we don't know ahead of time who's going to turn into a terrorist, so we have to be ready to lift, torture, and kill anyone at all at any time and still be able to fob the world, or at least our bosses, off with the story that the person was reading "bad" websites. It is paranoia, but it's paranoia on behalf of the NSA who have always been like this, even when they had to open everyone's mail by bloody hand (which they did for years, at least for mail crossing the border). That's why they're the biggest security agency in the US - they literally need the manpower to do the industrial level domestic snooping that is their job. And they've never given the slightest shit that it's unconstitutional and never will because they think the constitution is left-wing pinko hippy wank that protects the guilty.

      "Instead of collecting and storing the data on you though, they sell it to the highest bidder instead. But noone seems to complain about that "

      You've clearly confused this website with some other one. People here complain about that all the time "you are the product" is practically a chant here when Google etc are mentioned. And anyway, how does the fact that these companies will sell you to the highest bidder make the NSA's taking the information for free any better?

    4. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Please submit all your e-mails, financial, medical, and so forth history to the internet to peruse. There's no way that any of it will be:

      1) Used to convict you of minor crimes (like CCTV + too many bags of garbage.)

      2) Used out of context by someone who "doesn't like your attitude" to bang you up

      3) Used to raise your insurance rates or deny you coverage

      4) Used to blackmail you

      5) Used to blackmail others

      6) Used to gain competitive advantage over your employers/your company

      7) Used to identify "deviant" political beliefs and target you for tax audits, police pressure or harassment

      8) Used in the war on journalism

      9) Used to in any other fashion to presume you are guilty unless you can prove your innocence.

      That would never, ever happen because the government - all governments, really, at all levels and all of the people working for them - are professionals. Hell, shit, they're so professional they have a lid on everything!

      You can't get some private in the Army stick a USB key into a classified database and start an international witchunt!

      You can't get a former NSA employee working for a contractor pulling damning documents out then running away overseas to fucking China to hide while he releases the documents to a foreign news organization!

      These are professionals. Your data is absolutely safe, secure, and handled by entirely impartial individuals who will never, ever, ever for any reason at any time abuse their power or allow that data to leak. Ever.

      I repent and recant, your obvious wisdom and the strength of your One True Belief in the supremacy and righteousness of the almighty government watchdog has converted me.

      Praise Big Brother! Praise the lord my panopticon $deity!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bank abuses.....& .... Bank of America...

    What specific abuses was Bank of America trying to cover up from the Wikileaks fallout?

  13. Pete Spicer

    Whenever I heard PRISM I can't help but think of Infocom's A Mind Forever Voyaging in which you're a computer called PRISM.

    Pint, because it's an underrated classic to toast.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And the difference is???

    "The Big Data startup, backed in its early stages by the the CIA's In-Q-Tel venture capital arm, has insisted that its data-mining Prism software in question is for banks, not governments."

    And the difference is???

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Utah Saints


  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmm..Palantir tech used to analyse U riots

    Their tech doesn't look so innocent if they have open access to the big nine db's:

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Palantir CEO interview, vintage 2009

    Well, a little while ago (2009), Palantir wanted the publicity they got from being featured on US National Public Radio. They were being interviewed about the use of Big Data (before it was fashionable) and preventing unauthorised access to *intelligence* data, not banking data.

    Palantir said "no problem, we can do that".

    I'm having trouble matching what they said back then with their current denial, other than wondering which particular words are the weasel words.

    I bet there were some interesting conversations at Bilderberg last week as this was all coming out. The Palantir CEO was on the attendee list. One of the few companies I hadn't heard of, so it caught my eye.

    Small world, innit.


    "Most people in America believe you can either fight terrorism — i.e., identify and get the terrorists — or you can protect our civil liberties — i.e., make sure the government isn't looking at our personal information when they are not allowed to," says Palantir Technologies CEO Alex Karp. "And that dichotomy used to be true. We've found a way to tag information so the only people who can see it are those who are allowed to see it, so it takes care of that problem."


    1. DB2DBA
      Big Brother

      Re: Palantir CEO interview, vintage 2009

      You're correct about the disconnect. This article posted today on Techwire shows that Palantir do indeed work with government, in this case, the State of California Department of Justice.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What if...

    ...all this spying tech. is used mainly for industrial espionage and blackmail?

    I seems to me that Tony Blair was actually blackmailed into joining Bush's war in Iraq. Remember the dodgy property deals? What else might have been lurking in the background?

    No wonder our leaders are toothless dogs. Through fear or coercion, Obama is just a puppet for whoever is really running the show.

    Democracy is just a sop to fool the masses into playing/paying nicely.

    1. Ian McNee

      Re: What if...

      It seems to me that Tony Blair was just another self-serving unprincipled shit who operated with the same arrogant sense of entitlement and impunity that infects the vast majority of ruling elites and their cronies everywhere.

      There, I fixed it for you.

      When what we already know about and have some real evidence for is really bad there is no need to invent more bad stuff which is entirely speculative.

      Back on topic: in addition to all the other stuff mentioned above about Palantir, the fact that they had a significant association with HBGary Federal up until the point that it was revealed very publicly that HBGary Federal were astroturfing, smearing, snooping on behalf of corporations and government agencies and to the detriment of ordinary people simply trying to protect their jobs, privacy, environment, etc., demonstrates that they are not a very nice corporation. It doesn't prove that Prism == PRISM but that doesn't really matter: it's already clear enough that one should be extremely wary of Palantir.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: What if...

        Looks like Britain has been spying on G-20 meetings, so there's really no telling who gets leveraged with knowledge obtained in a less than scrupulous manner:

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