back to article Those NSA 'reforms' in full: El Reg translates US Prez Obama's pledges

On Friday, President Obama gave his long-awaited speech on plans to reform the activities of the US intelligence services and how they monitor the rest of the world. You can watch the entire speech here, but words are tricky things – never more so than when national security is involved. As such we've taken a transcript of the …


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  1. PhilipN


    Good article - thank you.

    Sorry Uncle Sam you are the same big fat clumsy kid in the sandpit trampling everyone else's sand castles every time you move as you have always been.

    For an (unfortunate) perspective everyone should read or listen to Mark Twain's autobiography Part I his chapter about the Moro Indian Massacre. Or google it. Re-assuring that he could be incensed by the actions of the good old U.S. Of A. - and write about it - but horrifying that it did not make a blind bit of difference.

    And to a crafty old lawyer what Obama said is meaningless. So many mere gestures, qualifications and caveats which ultimately say they are not going to change a damn thing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yawn

      And to a crafty old lawyer what Obama said is meaningless. So many mere gestures, qualifications and caveats which ultimately say they are not going to change a damn thing

      It's not quite meaningless, because the single most important aspect of this speech is the indication that privacy has become a proper political hot potato. That alone doesn't guarantee anything will change, but that's where the second vector comes in: US business is losing revenue abroad as a consequence. I'll return to that topic in a second - I'm going to quote two pieces of the article which are IMHO incorrect in their analysis.

      Companies looking to do business internationally have faced a very tricky situation ever since Snowden started singing. Cloud vendors in the US complain that they are treated like pariahs when it comes to selling their services overseas. The reform will go some way to easing those concerns.

      With respect, I disagree. What Obama has done here is to address some of the more overt abuse of the laws. What he has carefully avoided is the legalised access to private information - the collection of federal laws that allow practically random officials to walk into any US company without much in the way of due process and demand access to information.

      Here's another bit of analysis I disagree with:

      The new presidential directive that I've issued today will clearly prescribe what we do, and do not do, when it comes to our overseas surveillance. To begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes, and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks.

      No doubt this will come as a relief to the citizens of the UK, France, Germany, Brazil, and others who have had huge amounts of their communications data slurped by the NSA in the past. However, it will take some time before those "ordinary folks" take the US at its word, given the abuses of the past.

      Only when you are willing to believe that formerly the US did indeed engaged in indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks instead of for the nebulous legitimate national security purposes surveillance. The key to mass surveillance is that you don't know upfront who is ordinary and who is going to be the next person to use a skyscraper as an aircraft hangar. On that topic I would like to repeat an interesting problem: as those people lived INSIDE the US; should Europe not get data from US outbound travellers instead of the other way around?

      This speech merely confirms that lessons learned have not proven enough education to abandon this global surveillance, and that active mistrust of any US organisation remains good policy.

      1. Keep Refrigerated

        Re: Yawn

        "The key to mass surveillance is that you don't know upfront who is ordinary and who is going to be the next person to use a skyscraper as an aircraft hangar."

        And therein lies the crux of the problem. Everyone thinks they're ordinary, it's the other guy who is the terrorist. Thus they're comforted by Obama's words because, "Well shucks, at least he won't be monitoring us ordinary folks anymore"!

        Funnily enough terrorists comes across as ordinary people until they do something extreme. So if you're looking for terrorists, you're going to be looking for ordinary people, in order to protect the ordinary people. So Western governments rightly or wrongly take the view that everyone is the terrorist, until proven ordinary.

        Thus, it becomes the prime objective of any government, not to protect the people, but to protect the idea of the people, from the people.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yawn


      Sorry Uncle Sam Obama you are the same big fat clumsy kid in the sandpit trampling everyone else's sand castles

      There, fixed it for ya.

      1. dan1980

        Re: Yawn


        That would be an acceptable reading of the situation were it not for the fact that these oversteps (to put it mildly) have been going on since well before Obama's time, under both Democrat and Republican 'leadership'.

        Regardless of whomever is in, these policies have received broad, bi-partisan support over many years - not just for the continuation of such programs but for their expansion as well.

        To assume that this started with Obama and (regardless of current revelations) would have ended with his second term is naive beyond words.

        'Uncle Sam' is probably the right term, being as it (he?) is, a personification of the US Government as a body and concept, rather than any specific party or leader or, more importantly, the people of the country. (And is therefore a good fit, given that the people seem to be largely against this systemic over-reaching.)

    3. BillG

      Re: Yawn

      El Reg wrote:

      but the inclusion of the Attorney General is a welcome step

      Obviously you don't know anything about the present U.S. Attorney General.

  2. dan1980

    Best intentions != right

    This covert mass-surveillance is undertaken with the justification that those undertaking and overseeing it are moral and fair and with the best intentions and purest hearts.

    The problem is and always will be, that even if those people truly believe they are doing the right thing, that doesn't mean that what they think is right is the same as what the public thinks is right.

    Any government -or government body - that is removed from the opinions of the people risks deviating from the wishes of the people. And that is the fundamental problem with all such covert operations; they are removed from the people as a matter of necessity.

    I often read/hear celebrities talking about how their families and friends keep them 'grounded' to make sure they don't get a big head. You then contrast to people who traipse around with their group of sycophantic hangers on or like-minded celebrities, flanked by burly no-necks, and generally behave as if they are a law unto themselves and everyone should just let them do what they want - they're important don't you know.

    The latter is what the NSA has become. Shielded from any real grounding influence, they are a group filled with what they see as the vital importance of their jobs.

    What Snowden has done is to force that grounding influence onto the NSA and the government.

    I liked the comment about what might have been if the British had the capabilities of the NSA during the revolution. Those in the US government should really take that to heart - after all, the British would have said much the same as the US government says today: that they are protecting British interests and British lives, that the information they gather is vital for British soldiers and if someone were to expose it, those soldiers would be put in grave danger. (Is there any other kind?)

    And that's the thing - such actions are only moral in so far as those involved believe their cause to be just. The problem is that most people believe their cause to be just - including the Taliban, including Bashar Al Assad in Syria, including those in cold war-era Russia, including those in Nazi Germany and including Kim Jong Un and his military dictatorship in North Korea.

    Granted I would rather the US have these capabilities than the North Koreans, but I would much rather no one had them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Best intentions != right

      "Granted I would rather the US have these capabilities than the North Koreans, but I would much rather no one had them."

      The general theme underlying most articles and commentary so far on this general subject appears to be that "it's OK for everyone to have these capabilities but the US (and UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and maybe Israel) . The capabilities won't be made to go away by turning off NSA, GCHQ, etc. and there is no evidence that eliminating or crippling these agencies would make the world safer for those not involved in suicide bombing and religious warfare.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Best intentions != right

        Quoting your post: "The capabilities won't be made to go away by turning off NSA, GCHQ, etc. and there is no evidence that eliminating or crippling these agencies would make the world safer for those not involved in suicide bombing and religious warfare.

        While true, we cannot eliminate guns, either. Should we therfore allow them to be used indiscriminately? Or should we demand the right to protect ourselves?

        1. kittens
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Best intentions != right

          While true, we cannot eliminate guns, either. Should we therfore allow them to be used indiscriminately? Or should we demand the right to protect ourselves?

          We, in the US, have already established that guns are the answer. Now what was the question?

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Best intentions != right

        "Granted I would rather the US have these capabilities than the North Koreans, but I would much rather no one had them."

        Actually I would much rather it WAS the North Korean's spying on all my communications - they can't do anything with it.

        Instead i have to wonder if everything I store on sharepoint or Office365 is immediately being copied to my US competitors, if visits to US customers or collaborators are tracked.

        Do I have to worry that my cell phone walking past the mosque on the way to the lab or my holiday visits to Egypt or Cuba are going to get me stopped from attending the next US held conference.

      3. FormerKowloonTonger
        IT Angle

        Re: Best intentions != right

        This Ameddican [sic] might add right here, now, that it is such short sightedness as the 'analysis' presented here by the rather [most probably] young Editors and the obviously quite young commentators here, that had earlier driven, and is now driving a growing feeling here in America towards a policy of Isolationism among some of us [gasp!] who remember vividly [still!] the Second World War and who had family members in France in 1917; my father was a U.S. Army Field Surgeon in France, 1917, 1918.

        Then, as the years too soon had passed - that turned into "Yanks Go Home". Then, and again after WWII.

        Then, after all of the the Second horror came the Marshall Plan which, in effect, re-built all of Europe destroyed yet again by the Germans after 1939.

        Then, some few may remember the Ameddican [sic] umbrella over Europe all during the Cold War.

        I know, I know, that was all "so very yesterday"....perhaps in some of the currently trendy 140-character-limited mindsets.

        But it would be well to remember that those two earlier desperate cries for help from France and England were answered by us Ameddicans [sic]. If reluctantly, it was because the European slaughters from the trenches and elsewhere were not to be foddered by young American blood and limbs and minds destroyed "over there" across the Atlantic without much anxious thought. Why was their [the English and French] fight against the Germans to be ....our .....fight?

        Now, it seems that some avant garde [!] 21st Cent StarWars electronic defensive means that are being applied on our [-and-your] behalf by the likes of our N.S.A. are all of a sudden knee-jerkily and shrilly proclaimed, "Invasions! Of! Our! Privacy!" by.......the Europeans...some of the quite young ones who gleefully post pics of their genitals via the Internet.

        O.K. Our new global World War against our well penetrated and subversive Muslim enemy has created severe frictions among some quarters among the English and French and....ironically....the Germans.

        ...........Goodbye......We'll defend our Homeland, you defend your Homelands.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Best intentions != right

          I just think it's a shame there are so many decent Americans, because I'd much rather their country just fuck off.

        2. dan1980

          Re: Best intentions != right


          From what I can tell, your post amounts to:

          (North) America came and saved your behinds twice so how dare you have a go at us for trying to protect our own country!

          First up, the US involvement in WWI was orchestrated by the banks and the arms/munitions manufacturers. It was motivated, quite simply, by greed.

          You can deny that, but that finding (by Nye) was the very thing that set the US to the isolationist position (and associated Neutrality Acts) that saw them initially stay out of WW2, and that you seem to be advocating now.

          What brought the US into WW2 is a complex question but one simple truth is that Hitler's Germany was an aggressive, ruthless, expansionist, intolerant, genocidal, totalitarian military machine.

          And, in the year between the French surrender and the dissolution of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Britain and the Commonwealth were shouldering the lion's share of the burden of defending against that threat.

          FDR knew that and saw the defeat of Germany as essential for the safety and prosperity of the USA. He said as much and was in talks with Churchill even before Pearl Harbor.

          As you remember that period "vividly" I expect that you will also remember how the increasing financial and materiel involvement in the war slashed the unemployment rate in the US (which was as high as 25%), and the eventual full involvement all but ended the Great Depression.

          I appreciate that you experienced that period first hand while I did not, but so long as you aren't suggesting that personal, subjective experience is the same thing as objective, dispassioned analysis, we can still have an intelligent discussion.

          Trying (and probably failing) to keep to that dispassioned ideal, if there was ever a war that could be seen so starkly as 'good-vs-evil' it was World War 2. Britain and the Allies tried diplomatic means to avoid conflict, realising that war with Germany would be devastating for everyone. Once it was clear that nothing short of war would stop Hitler, the Allies had no choice.

          The North American position of viewing that situation as 'not their fight' is not a great deal dissimilar to someone walking past a mugging and not getting involved because it's on the other side of the street and, therefore, 'not their problem'.

          FDR understood that and polls at the time show that, even prior to Pearl Harbor, the US public were starting to understand that too. (Maybe you didn't feel that way but records from the period show that you would have been in a minority, albeit a not insignificant one.)

          You evidently have different views than I do, but it's hard to make out the specifics between the malformed ellipses, omnipresent square-brackets (I favour parentheses), melodramatic gasps, belittling of those younger than yourself, repeated exhortations to alternately notice and ignore puns, and, of course, your all-consuming fear of Islam.

          Perhaps that is the sum of your views - that you are continually disappointed by youth, unfailingly devoted to the bracket and the period (full-stop), never-endingly surprised and shocked, internally conflicted about puns and constantly scared of Muslims.

          If so, then you are, of course, entitled to your opinions but it would be nice if you stopped declaring that people who disagree with you are, ipso facto, know-nothing youngsters. Proximity to an event does not automatically bestow understanding of that event and age does not automatically bestow intelligence, or wisdom.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Best intentions != right

          Do You think chancellor is a muslim terrorist?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At the end of the day, regardless of what Obama says, the problem is trust in the NSA to report what they are actually doing, or at least to report fully what they are doing.

    What has been demonstrated by a number of people is that the practical usefullness of collection of mass data in the way that is currently being done, is just not very effective.

    1. FormerKowloonTonger


      How would you know, one way or the other?

      1. dan1980


        While you are technically correct and we can't know for sure, when you look at what has been said, Alexander et al have had to continually revise down their grand statements of the number of terrorist attacks they have prevented.

        We start with Obama thundering the government line that the NSA's unpopular snooping has, really and truly, been effective because it has saved real lives by 'foiling' 54 terror plots. Fifty-four! Well, that certainly sounds impressive to me - keep up the good work!!

        Only no, that was not actually the case. In fact the only real action that anyone can point to as being 'thwarted' by the NSA does not involve any actual or threatened terrorist act but an individual providing 'material support' to terrorists; in this case, a cab driver sending $8,500 to Al Shabab in Somalia.

        Given the Government have been so eager to trot out '54', one can plausibly argue that, while some information may be too sensitive to release, if there really was such a large number of foiled terror plots, then we should expect the government to be very eager to point out whatever specifics they could.

  4. Charles Manning

    Different needs

    Obama needs his plausable deniability. NSA needs their smoke screen and need this all put to bed.

    Everyone with half a brain knows NSA will keep spying on whomever they see fit including Merkel and US citizens. They see that as required to perform what they deem to be their role.

    One thing this sort of issue raises is what the point of having a president anyway?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Different needs

      Same reason for having a Queen - you need somebody to wave and distract the proles.

  5. tkioz

    All I see here is a polly waffling on about things that he has no intentions of doing anything about, all these 'reforms' are a smokescreen. I wonder what the NSA has on him?

    I wonder what history will say about these events in a century or so...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: 100 years hence

      Probably that we, the people, didn't know jack shit, and couldn't do anything about it.

      Of course, I may be wrong, and if it happens, I'll certainly join the second American Revolution.

    2. Brent Longborough
      Big Brother

      In a century or so...

      All this will never have happened.

      (For those that haven't already understood, the NSA/GCHQ complex will rule through puppet administrations bent to their will through blackmail. One of their early actions on taking power will be to erase all record of what we know today.)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      . . ..and of course, immediately AFTER the speech. . . .

      . . . .Obama appoints hyper-partisan John Podesta to "oversee" the review of the NSA. Just like a major Obama donor was appointed to "oversee" the investigation of IRS abuses on political groups.

      The Fix is in, nothing has or will change, except possibly some program names, and managers will play musical jobs. . . .but that's it. . .

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      wonder what the NSA has on him

      If he doesn't play ball with the NSA they'll have their friends at the CIA assassinate him, like happened to that other pres

  6. zen1

    More presidential lip service.

    boosh 41, clinton, boosh 43 and now obama: Every goddamn one of em liars. While I do love my country, all I can do is offer my apology to the rest of the world for some of the blatant stupidity of both our elected and appointed public officials.

    1. Charles Manning

      Re: More presidential lip service.

      Liars is a strong word, but probably accurate.

      It seems that presidents are largely powerless and have little real control whether that is "read mah lips: no more taxes" or shutting Guantanamo down within a year, ok two, maybe four...screw it just keep it open!

      Even having the best intentions does not mean stuff gets done.

      It is hardly amazing that the US govt is so dysfunctional. There are municipalities fighting with states fighting with the feds ove3r the same powers. At a federal level, we have oversight from senators, representatives and the president all fighting along both party lines and power play between the offices.

      Just at a federal level there are a bunch of 3&4-letter agencies which are largely independent and have their own fiefdoms. NASA and NOOA fighting over research turf (& budget), FBI, CIA and NSA fighting over security turf.

      Even the military have this sort of infighting between Army, Navy and Air Force.

      Then to make it more exciting add in state-level police, agencies and military bodies.

      No wonder anything that actually gets done ends up being a half-arsed compromise and costs so much.

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Re: More presidential lip service.

        That's all because the United States wasn't designed to have a large, centralised federal government. Under the constitution the fed was meant to be as small as possible - ensuring the common border and national defence, and preventing individual states from taking belligerent acts against one another - and the state governments held most of the power. The system worked very well for quite a long time, but once power started to be pulled to the federal government, it began to fail.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: More presidential lip service.

          Specifically it was based on the Netherlands - independent states with an elected but relatively powerless stadtholder as head of the committee.

          However in the Netherlands it worked - must be something to do with the beer and drugs.

          1. Smarty Pants

            Re: More presidential lip service.

            I read that as neanderthals and it still makes more sense than Obama's speech

        2. veti Silver badge

          Re: More presidential lip service.

          The fed was meant to be as small as possible, but there are widely differing interpretations of what "possible" means in this context.

          The system never really worked that well. For the first 80 years or so, America was still growing, and it's easy to govern a country where your stroppy youth can just be pointed at the frontier and told to go grab what they want. It's no coincidence that when America stopped growing westward, the Civil War followed within a generation. And ever since then, the federal government has been steadily growing in power.

          1. Hollerith 1

            Re: More presidential lip service.

            It stopped growing westward in 1890s. One reason the Civil War happened was because the western 'empty' areas were becoming territories and then states, and the Southern bloc were moving heaven and earth to make sure as many or all of those new states were slave states. May I mention Kansas/Nebraska here? The Civil War was not fought because of increased Federal power, but because there was a huge split in the population over slavery. The Southern bloc dressed it up as 'Sates' Rights', but the only right they fought to preserve was slavery. After the war, the Federal government did give itself extraordinary powers in the subjugated ex-slave states, but these were removed mostly under President Rutherford, and the small gains the African-American population had made were wiped out in an instant. Let's not go into what happened from 1870s to 1950s, when the Feds again decided that it was time to step in.

            I myself am not a fan of big centralised government. Being Canadian, I know the downsides, but I also see the positives: a uniform approach, the ability create something that is more than the sum of the parts. But, in reality, there is precious little gain. But it's best to be accurate about history before using it to show something is bad or not.

  7. xperroni

    It lives on

    [The US] has, in the past, been a valuable force for maintaining human rights and freedoms.

    The Anti-Empire Report #99

    The worldwide eternal belief that American foreign policy has a good side that can be appealed to

    And so the belief continues.

  8. Yes Me Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    A little escape hole here...

    Have a careful look at the text of the actual Presidential Directive: "In particular, when the United States collects nonpublicly available signals intelligence in bulk, it shall use that data only for the purposes of detecting and countering: [various specific threats] "

    Two comments on that word "nonpublicly":

    1. That's a word?

    2. This text means that the restriction to the specific threats listed doesn't apply to publicly available bulk sigint (such as scraping Facebook pages).

    1. Havin_it

      Re: A little escape hole here...

      >2. This text means that the restriction to the specific threats listed doesn't apply to publicly available bulk sigint (such as scraping Facebook pages).

      Well, so what? Any cunt with an email address can do that.

      1. dan1980

        Re: A little escape hole here...

        "Well, so what? Any c--t with an email address can do that."

        One would ague that you wouldn't have to be a so-and-so but that's not the point.

        Scraping dross from Facebook is useful, but not madly so. It becomes a whole lot more useful (and therefore the collection, storage and analysis becomes more invasive) when you cross-reference that data with all the other data that the NSA have access to that "any c--t with an e-mail address" wouldn't.

        The worrisome part about 'big data' is that information that is relatively harmless and has always been available to those willing to record it, is able to be combined with numerous other sets of similarly mundane information and the result is most definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

        That alone is concerning enough as it allows people with access to that data to gain sometimes scarily accurate pictures of our lives but when you get the daddy of all 'big data' in the form of the NSA (as they are a kind of meta big data) and add in the more private information they are able to amass, you have something that is a very real invasion of privacy.

        The standard has always been that you could have your publicly-accessible information recorded but this fails as a reasonable guide in the connected, digital age. The standard should not be to assess any given piece of information in isolation*, but to take the whole collection that's been (and is being) gathered and ask whether a person would be reasonably able to collect all that data 'in public'.

        * - For example, my conversations while at lunch could be considered publicly available and thus recorded without any concern.

  9. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    An excellent article and it's a really shame that it may never hit the mainstream American press. I offer my apologies to the world also. While "spying", "surveillance", and watchfulness are necessary, seems we went to extremes. Beyond the extreme even. And what has it really gained anyone except more political power? In many ways, the justifications for this are much what comes out of TSA.. feel good words but nothing of substance.

    It's also very understandable why certain people/factions would like to destroy the US Constitution and to a certain extent, the Declaration of Independence. Our forefathers had the wisdom to include language that would encourage a revolution against a repressive government. It would have even sanctioned it. But not anymore. Those in power, need to stay in power. Follow the money to find the real power. To go back 200 years, would not be in their best interest.

  10. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Brief summary of the (very good) summary

    * Bulk collection of phone call metadata of *Americans* shall continue unabated (granted: telcos collect it anyway). The collected info will be stored not by NSA but someone else, maybe some new agency. Some narrowing of post-collection targeted searches, sometimes, maybe. Nothing to prevent potential abuse.

    * Non-Americans should just stop worrying. Their info will still be collected but may be deleted at some point in the future, unless it is decided to keep it.

    The above are the 2 man issues, IMHO. Foreign heads of state should have means to ensure security of their comms, regardless of US promises to behave (not only the US spies, anyway). Ordinary people don't have such means, and that is the main problem.

    IMHO, untargeted bulk *collection* of communications data and metadata must be outlawed, with strict punishment for engaging in it or allowing it to happen through malice or negligence, throughout the government, including intelligence and law enforcement (e.g., local police). Otherwise it is not a real change, from the current state of affairs in the US or, indeed, from Stasi or KGB - those didn't act on every tidbit they collected, either.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: T.F.M. Reader Re: Brief summary of the (very good) summary

      "....Foreign heads of state should have means to ensure security of their comms, regardless of US promises to behave....." Don't be silly. The Germans, along with every other country in the World, will have spent a small-to-large fortune on trying to secure their leader's coms. They do so not just against the NSA but against other states like Russia and China, commercial spies, hackers, reporters, and just plain nutters. The fact the German counter-SIGINT failed means either they weren't as effective as they thought or Merkel ignored their advice (possibly like how Obambi did with his insistence on keeping his commercial Blackberry when he was elected). The German team will review their processes, possibly make some changes (which Merkel may not ignore this time round), and the great chess game of Spy-vs-Spy will continue.

      BTW, please note that no EU leader is saying they will never spy on others, or that they would not spy on the POTUS. In that department, MI6 and MI5 have alleged history, having spied on (amongst others) the US Ambassador to the UK in the run up to WW2 (due to his anti-British, suspected pro-IRA and known pro-Nazi leanings). Us Brits allegedly continued surveillance of the Ambassador's family post-War, including his son in his political career, one John F. Kennedy....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: T.F.M. Reader Brief summary of the (very good) summary


        Nobody is debating that spying happens and that all governments do it.

        However we, the public, do assume that the spying is targetted at the nations' enemies and those that could potentially be enemies.

        The NSA seems to be spying on pretty much everyone, even their own people and indiscriminately so.

        Clearly this cannot be justified under any circumstances.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          Re: T.F.M. Reader Brief summary of the (very good) summary

          ".....However we, the public, do assume that the spying is targetted at the nations' enemies and those that could potentially be enemies....." Merkel is the leader of a foreign nation that competes with US (and the UK) economically and in World politics. When Merkel makes a speech that could impact foreign policy of the US (or UK), such as on the replacement of NATO with a "European Army", or Turkish integration into the EU, or trade with India or China, it is of invaluable worth for Obambi and Cameron to know as much about her decision in advance. This is diplomatic spying and is and always has been actually MORE prevalent than traditional spying on "bad guys". Anyone that thinks the members of the EU don't spy (diplomatically and commercially) on each other is laughably naive.

          ".....The NSA seems to be spying on pretty much everyone, even their own people and indiscriminately so....." As the article (and even Snowdope) points out, all the NSA's activities are very tightly targeted. The idea that anyone has enough processing power and analytical staff to monitor the whole Internet, plus eavesdrop telecoms, is simply to vacuous for words. Even the NSA and GCHQ have budget limits, which means the spies have to target what they resources they have on what their political masters, Obambi and Cameron (and in the BND's case, Merkel), tell them to spy on. To think that the politicians would allow their spy services to run rampant and unchecked is to fail to understand that the politicians are usually the most paranoid about their secrets and control. To think the politicians let the spies do anything other than advise on policy is amusing. Obambi may stand up and pretend the NSA business is news to him but he is just playing politics, he will have been very sure to make himself very aware of EXACTLY what his spy agencies get up to the minute he got into the Whitehouse.

          ".....Clearly this cannot be justified under any circumstances." Clearly you were too busy wringing your hands to think it through. I have no problem whatsoever with the GCHQ or NSA activities in exactly the same way as I have no problem with a beat Bobbie walking down my street, but that maybe because I'm not subject to fits of paranoid-induced fantasies of self-importance. Get over yourself, you are of zero importance to anyone.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: T.F.M. Reader Brief summary of the (very good) summary

            > Merkel is the leader of a foreign nation that competes with US (and the UK) economically and in World politics.

            That you think this is accceptable is frankly quite astonishing. Spying is supposed to be about protecting a country against their enemies, not their friends. I know that Germany has some form in the past, but I think it is fair to say that it is now *far* down the list of foreign potential antagonists at the current time. At what point did Germany in recent times indicate that it was a potential enemy of the US such that their politicians should be specific targets of detailed surveillance?

            > To think that the politicians would allow their spy services to run rampant and unchecked is to fail to understand that the politicians are usually the most paranoid about their secrets and control.

            Most of the politicians in the US haven't the faintest clue what the NSA are doing on a day-to-day basis.

            Most of them are worried about getting re-elected at the next available opportunity.

            > Clearly you were too busy wringing your hands to think it through. I have no problem whatsoever with the GCHQ or NSA activities in exactly the same way as I have no problem with a beat Bobbie walking down my street, but that maybe because I'm not subject to fits of paranoid-induced fantasies of self-importance. Get over yourself, you are of zero importance to anyone.

            Matt, I'm sorry, but you're a total fuck wit as demonstrated by that last rather strange paragraph. Lay off the drugs mate.

            1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

          2. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: T.F.M. Reader Brief summary of the (very good) summary

          >However we, the public, do assume that the spying is targetted at the nations' enemies and those that could potentially be enemies.

          That was always the role of MI5. The NUM, CND, Greenpeace, John Lennon, Jack Straw, Ricky Tomlinson.

          In Britain anyone who wasn't at Eton was suspected by MI5.

          Ironically since the KGB only seemed to have recruited people who were at Eton and Cambridge

  11. Schultz

    The US authorities can "can meet high expectations"

    Is anybody left with high expectations?

    The size of the secret programs is the most scary thing for me. They clearly outspend China in their snooping efforts -- how is that as a comparison!?

    1. JeffyPoooh

      Re: The US authorities can "can meet high expectations"

      Oh, I understand that these promises have led directly to an immediate Stop Work order on the massive Utah Data Center. Obviously it's no longer required. Right?

  12. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Deck chairs

    The article seems to suggest that there is balm for US corporations in all of this, but I don't see any myself. It has become clear that US corporations can be forced to collaborate with US intelligence efforts, to do so secretly, and that this has happened on a massive scale in recent years, and that there is little or no attempt in this latest speech to roll back that program.

    No-one who is paying attention can doubt that there are back doors in Windows, iOS and Android. The "accidental" weakening of SSL a while back starts to look very suspicious, and if you can put a back-door in open source code without anyone noticing for ages then there are few limits.

    Memo to US companies: When even your allies are frightened to do business with you, you should start worrying.

    Regarding Obama's speech in particular, I suppose we have to sit through this "deck chair re-arrangement" exercise before the scale of the commercial damage becomes clear. Then there will be *obvious* action, like swinging budget cuts to the snoops, widespread lay-offs and many more Snowden-like revelations about how it was in the bad years. The only question is, will that happen before or after the US loses its lead in IT?

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Institutional dishonesty

    I have never know Bruce Schneier to be downhearted about the issues of digital life, but his recent article - - needs to be read alongside any suc proclamations from Obama or anyone else. In particular, Schneier notes the routine lying by the security establishment. Any of the background provided by Obama is a nonsense, as the drive and reasoning of the security establishment is not in line with what the public expects.

    But at least in the US there is a discussion going on. Here, both GCHQ and the little twerp Hague simply respond to the latest revelation of GCHQ excess that they operate "within the law," with the expectation that that's the end of the discussion.

    What I think is needed, at least I need this, is some idea of the real reasons for the establishment wrapping themselves in this paranoia. It really is an unreasoned position to be in.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Institutional dishonesty

      What I think is needed, at least I need this, is some idea of the real reasons for the establishment wrapping themselves in this paranoia.

      A better approach would be to set a time limit on secrecy. There is already a process to release classified information after a set time, I think the activities of these agencies should be included in that, with a clear line to whoever owns the responsibility for what then emerges as clear abuse.

      Until the NSA becomes to the US government what Jimmy Saville has become to the BBC I don't put much stock into declarations of improvement by the goon in charge, and neither will I do so of the words of the UK government on GCHQ. I have but one annoying question for both: given that they are supposedly instruments to protect the nation: what do they have to hide?

  14. Cliff


    Blah blah blah blah business as usual.

    1. perlcat

      Re: TL;DR

      As an American, you're right. All's this was was getting smoke blown up the world's collective asses. It isn't even to keep businesses going -- The American Toom Tabard is only concerned with political goals, and hasn't paid any attention to businesses in the US -- arguably to the world's detriment -- in general, his stunning lack of competence, coupled with his incredible ego and his hyper-partisanship has meant anything he has tried to "accomplish" has turned to shite. He needs to go back to being a nobody community organizer.

  15. Rol

    GCHQ and NSA, same same, but different.

    I have no doubts that GCHQ operates to its fullest capacity, however that capacity is defined by NSA's willingness to open up the full gamut of backdoors and technical intrusions they have masterfully forced on their domestic IT industry.

    American IT hardware and software is ubiquitous, much of the worlds data is carefully stored in America or on servers owned by American companies, and these companies have no choice but to comply with America's surveillance demands, regardless of where they operate in the world.

    GCHQ has far fewer tentacles wrapped around the worlds communications, and gets most of the worldwide action via the feeding hand of the NSA, something they undoubtedly must be mindful of when their interests do not always coincide.

    It is the USA's dominance in IT that must be challenged, or we will never be free from their snooping efforts.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "GCHQ has far fewer tentacles wrapped around the worlds communications"

      You haven't been reading for content have you?

      1. Rol

        Re: "GCHQ has far fewer tentacles wrapped around the worlds communications"

        Now that would be a waste of time and effort, I mean it was a waste of my time and effort.

      2. Thesheep

        Re: "GCHQ has far fewer tentacles wrapped around the worlds communications"

        So the Laundry turns out to be history, not fiction! Tentacles!

  16. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    We the sheepeople...

    That was predictable - while Obama is reviled by the Republicans as "left-wing" the truth is that he's politically about as right-wing as Maggie Thatcher in real terms and is a member of the establishment majority. He is a politician which means he doesn't care about anyone unless he need their vote - and having voted for him, we have no further purpose.

    I don't see the current level of surveillance changing for the better in the future unless we the people change our behavior - we need to live our lives knowing that we are always in the spotlight. Use cash, not credit, firewall everything (not using commercial firewalls - they are compromised), abandon the cloud and cease using any service that stored data in the US or its minions. Build EMF shielded houses and offices where all cell-phone service is lost when you walk in the front door and isolate the AC power because before Edward Snowden there was Echelon, and before that we had Tempest - these programs didn't go away. Only we we change our behavior will anything change.

    But the chances of this happening are vanishingly small. The function of the President is not to wield power but to distract attention from those who do wield power - and to point out, when questioned, that the book has "Don't Panic" on the cover. Move on folks, there's nothing to see here.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: We the sheepeople...

      Wrong, sorry.

      Left wing and right wing aren't the issue here. The problem is how statist they are. Obama is very definitely left-wing in his politics - even by European standards, or certainly by UK standards, his political goals are left-wing. However, he is also extremely authoritarian - something people like you interpret as "right wing", even though strong right-wingers would never, to pick a random example, countenance a nationalised healthcare system of any sort.

      Bush, Bush, Clinton and Barry are all statists. Thatcher was quite heavily statist in certain areas, less-so in others - but still overall statist. So was Reagan, by and large, in deeds if not words. Almost every western leader since the end of world war 2 has been broadly statist - they have broadly favoured stronger government control over things. The difference has only been which "things" they want to control. Broadly speaking, Thatcher, Reagan and Bush - right-wingers - wanted more government control over individual "vices" and moral activity. Obama, Clinton and Blair - left-wingers - wanted more government control over economic and "social" activity.

      They all wanted more control over _something_.

      You can play the left-wing right-wing game all you want but it won't solve the problem as long as we keep placing people who want _more control_ in charge of us. You may believe that because they want to take more control over the things _you_ think should be controlled, that makes them "good" and the others "bad" - but they never stop at your personal limits. They always want _more_ control, and they will always take it. Always.

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Re: We the sheepeople...

        I do seem to like to use the word broadly a lot...

      2. Charles Manning

        Obama's wings

        "his political goals are left-wing".

        The buttons he pushes and stuff that comes out of mouth are left wing (using an American calibration) , but his actions - what he should actually be judged on - are not.

        Indeed if they didn't come in conveniently coloured read and blue wrappers, most people could tell the actions of Obama or Bush apart.

        Increased government size is generally a left-wing style action. Federal govt size continues to grow under all presidents - even those who campaigned against it.

        About the only outstanding feature of Obama's run has been Obamacare. Many people will think of that as being something like the universal healthcare much of the rest of the world gets. It is not. It is instead a draconian policy that forces people to get healthcare insurance whether they like it or not.

      3. dan1980

        Re: We the sheepeople...

        "The difference has only been which "things" they want to control. . . . They all wanted more control over _something_."

        I think (well I would) that an important corollary to this is that, while each side might increase control over different aspects of society, they rarely roll-back the extra control instituted by the 'other side'. The only thing that swapping Governments does is make sure that the extent of control over these areas is kept (broadly) in step.

  17. Shades


    ...I've never seen such consensus in the El Reg comments. Not a single comment has been downvoted at the time of this post... Apart from the one that appeared after I read the final comment! lol

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wow.... I accept your challenge sir. This is no place for consensus

      At last, POTUS recognizes that there is a big enough stink in the air to warrant some "action".

      I would have been much more impressed to hear something along these lines:

      1) FISA court decisions and proceedings will become accessible via the Freedom of Information Act, unless rejection can truly be justified on the grounds of national security (i.e. endangering intelligence sources). There is ample precedent for excluding FOIA requests for data that needs to be protected for legitimate military and operational security reasons and allowing requests where the public (or individuals) has the right to know (think Agent Orange.... etc.). Most of the laws in place were working fine until suspended or weakened by the Patriot Act.

      2) Companies will be allowed to inform customers when they have been served with a snooping request unless it is during an ongoing, court-authorized investigation. Obstruction of justice rules still apply, but not forever. And snooping is fine as long as it is legally justified via constitutional methods, not make-believe Kafka-like improvisations. Government needs consent from the governed, i.e., us.

      3) NSA, the Federal Government and industry will collaborate in an immediate, nationwide effort to clean up all state engineered/exploited vulnerabilities in hardware and software so as to re-instate trust in American technology. Of all the fallout from this debacle, I believe this is what is will hurt America the most.

      4) Privacy experts and advocates will begin work on a task force to draft legislation that prevents the most egregious forms of privacy abuse from data mining and cyber espionage. Many other countries can provide examples of this approach such as Canada and the European Union.

      5) Citizens, corporations, government agencies, et al will be encouraged to use encryption for all of their cyber dealings and communications, starting with all on-line financial and commercial transactions and working down to our private emails.

      Words are nice but actions are better. Consensus will not fix this problem, it will only put people back to sleep and let the problem fester further.

      Anonymous until proven otherwise.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: AC Re: Wow.... I accept your challenge sir. This is no place for consensus

        ".....Many other countries can provide examples of this approach such as Canada and the European Union....." Ah, I see you're one of those that swallowed the myth that Europe (usually meaning "Old Europe") is blessed with a Nirvana of a legal system, with a judiciary held accountable to the people, and complete and open control of their security services compared to the Evil States. It might interest you to know many countries in Europe do not have jury trials for anything other than the most serious of crimes. In the supposed Liberal wonderland of Sweden they rarely have any form of trial by jury. Which means actions against the government in most of Europe depend on you getting the judiciary on your side, not a jury of peers.

        And the EU already has some of the strongest retention laws imposed on their telecoms industries in the World. The NSA is on record as saying they envy what they see as the more shielded and hidden operating environment the European spooks have (especially the GCHQ).

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Anonymous Coward

          Re: AC Wow.... I accept your challenge sir. This is no place for consensus

          '..... some of the strongest retention laws imposed on their telecoms industries in the World. The NSA is on record as saying they envy what they see as the more shielded and hidden operating environment the European spooks have (especially the GCHQ).'

          Sir you say that like it is a bad thing ?

      2. Charles Manning

        Re: Wow.... I accept your challenge sir. This is no place for consensus

        "At last, POTUS recognizes that there is a big enough stink in the air to warrant some "action"."

        Nope POTUS realises that if he does not say something he will go down in history as the NSA-friendly spying president.

        So all he has done is to say enough to kick the can down the road a bit, hoping he can continue to do so until the next sucker takes over,

        A task force is a great burying tool. Look at the last VP task force into gun control. It lasted long enough for the media to get bored and go home.

        If the NSA stuff doesn't just go quiet by itself, you can guarantee there will be a task force created to "handle" the issue for a few months.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Wow...

      Except now, about half the comments (including yours) have a single lonely downvote.

      I wonder if it was the same spook operative agent person?

  18. gerdesj Silver badge

    3 -> 2

    It shouldn't be too hard too justify to yourself that people directly connected to terrorists are themselves obviously terrorists, should you be of that frame of mind.

    Reclassify the previous one step away numbers as belonging to "ring 0". Now two steps embodies the same data as three steps and complies with the new requirements.



  19. Forget It

    Prez Obama sez:

    "Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of the current three"

    Terrorist sez:

    okay guys three step protocol from now on.

    1. JeffyPoooh

      "...three step protocol..."

      Just ever-so-slightly redefine the parameter "associated with a terrorist organization" into an instantly 'contagious' field, and 'N' becomes effectively infinite.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: "...three step protocol..."

        Simple - first step is "you->phone company", other step is "terrorist->phone company", since you are both linked by a single step to the phone company then everyone can be spied on!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lies and the lying liars who tell them

    "This program does not involve the content of phone calls, or the names of people making calls"

    Of course it does. Does he think we're children or something? The NSA collects all the data it can, and that will include contents of calls; names of people making the calls will be so automatic that probably no one in the organization knows how to turn it off.

    All my life, US intelligence leaks and denials have followed the same pattern:

    1. Someone claims that the services collect/do X

    2. Services deny that they collect/do X

    3. Someone proves that services do half of X

    4. Services admit that they do that half of X but would never, ever dream of doing the rest of X and that half of X is a totally different thing from X and that means, therefore, when they said that they don't do X they were technically telling the truth and were in no way hiding the fact that they did half of X, which they really (honest) would have admitted to if directly asked, so it's your fault for not specifically asking if they did half of X

    5. Someone proves that services do all of X

    6. Services admit that they do do X, but rarely

    7. Someone proves that services do X routinely

    8. Services refuse to talk about X any more

    "X" can be following people; assassination of foreign leaders; framing people that they "know" are guilty; sending people away to be tortured; stealing industrial secrets and passing them on to US companies; bugging phones without warrants; hacking computers; or arresting and locking people up based on the sole evidence of that person's enemies.

    And it doesn't matter who asks them; they will happily lie to the President and Congress because the services have 100% faith in themselves. The totally believe that they are the Good Guys and that anyone that doesn't agree with them is either weak-minded or outright Evil and therefore they do not have to account to them in either case.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lies and the lying liars who tell them

      Yes, I'd almost sooner trust organised crime. The basic differences are 1). degree of subtlety, and 2). degree of self-honesty. That I wouldn't sooner trust organised crime does not mean by default I trust English-speaking State Security apparati even slightly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lies and the lying liars who tell them

        Yes, I'd almost sooner trust organised crime

        Ah, but herein lies the irony: by their actions, parts of government have turned themselves into organised crime...

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Lies and the lying liars who tell them

          At least with organised crime they make a profit and you get to ask a favour when the Boss's daughter gets married

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. Jeffrey Nonken

    "...FISC is notorious for not turning down requests for investigations – but at least there's some oversight involved, as opposed to the current situation where it's a free-for-all."

    Sounds like classic Dilbert!

  22. Howard Hanek
    Big Brother

    Optical Illusion

    As the President's speech progressed it seemed as if the smoke and mirrors came sharply into focus and I remembered how much the truth means to a man who can lie so repeatedly if it serves his purpose. So no, I don't believe his words but will closely monitor his actions.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Can you trust a man, and the system he runs, that believe, perhaps rightly, perhaps not, that the national security (as they define it) is paramount? Can you trust proven liars, who refuse to be subject to any independent verification of their (current) pledges mixed with platitudes? Not that I'm advocating any supervision of the good old US of A, you can only supervise those, who can be FORCED into being supervised.

    So, frankly, I wouldn't believe a word of what he says, because there's no way of verifying which words are true, and will come true, and which ones are just... words.

    p.s. interesting, as this coincides with comments I have heard, now more than once, that "America" (i.e. USA) has turned into the police state. And this comment was absolutely unrelated to the Snowden debacle, more like reflecting on everyday surveillance of Americans done by the public services, police, tax authorities, social services.

  24. Charles Osborne

    I have no representative government

    When the DNI lies to my Senator in an open session of Congress and, when exposed, laughs and goes on his way unchastened much less unpunished, I no longer live under a representative government.

    1. dan1980

      Re: I have no representative government


      I think you have been the one to hit closest to the mark here.

      At that point, democracy becomes an illusion to keep the people occupied. The argument from the NSA &c would be that it is in the people's best interest that they withhold certain information. The counter argument is that representative government is about the people (through their representatives) telling the government what they believe is in their best interests and not the other way round.

  25. Luke W.


    "However, it will take some time before those "ordinary folks" take the US at its word, given the abuses of the past."

    Indeed. Never again. At least as far as I'm concerned.

  26. elb0wf4ce

    We don't drink warm beer. I'll read the rest later.

    1. Cliff

      Speak for yourself

      Certainly when compared with gassy keg lagers etc.

    2. Intractable Potsherd

      Who's this "we"? I made a point of praising an otherwise lacklustre restaurant the other week because it served its (bottled) oatmeal stout at the right temperature, i.e. just below room temperature. I don't drink ale, stout or bitter if it has been refrigerated, I don't drink lager at all in the UK.

      1. DRendar

        Precisely... Room temp (or just below) definitely doesn't equate to 'warm' in my vocabulary.

        'Warm' to me would be several degrees at least higher than room temp.

        • Lager (Which is what 90% of Americans think of as beer) should be (and always is) served cold (i.e. refrigerated).
        • Bitter, Ale, Stout, Mild etc. should usually be served at room temperature (there are exceptions, like Brains SA Cold, Guinness Extra Cold etc.)

        Yanks think we drink 'Warm' beer, but we don't, we just don't refrigerate some beers.

  27. Tromos

    Good article, but I'm not sure Obama's verbiage needed filleting. It seemed to me to be totally boneless from start to finish. Mind you, he'll probably get another Nobel for this.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gracias, El Reg!

    The Fourht Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    After having read this, how can anyone pretend that what the NSA does is constitutional? Of what practical use is a secret court with unnamed judges to the victims of the NSA? Oh, by the way, there is no one in the world who can claim that he or she is not a victim. As matters stand, the NSA treats every human being as though they are suspected of having committed a crime.

    Now, is there anyone else who wants to take the micky out of me over this? I was not kidding when I said that our politicians have stepped well outside the bounds of our constitution. I meant what I said then and I still mean it. American politicians trample on the constitution on a regular basis because we the sheeple let them get away with it. They will not stop their misbehavior unless and until we stand up to them and vote many of them out of office.

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: Gracias, El Reg!

      Upvoted this time, but stop using "sheeple" - it is a stupid term brought into bad repute by a couple of other posters on here.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Thanks for a good summary. If Obama really believes that load of carefully crafted waffle is going to stuff the Genii back in the bottle, he's sadly deluded. He may have tightened up some of the rules, but he has in effect said that monitoring our digital lives and storing the results is now the publicly stated official norm, and from my own perspective that's just not good enough at all.

    I accept the basic premise of governments spying on each other, their respective militaries and on non-state combatants, and where this draws suspicion to private individuals, monitoring them till they are ruled in or out provided it is subject to publicly accountable judicial oversight. But the rest of us should be entitled to be free from constant surveillance the rest of the time. History suggests that if heed is not taken of the need for privacy, we will eventually get rid of those denying us the right, by violent means if needed.

    In the meantime, until the US gets its house in order and starts respecting basic human rights, it will not be trusted. That lack of trust is going to cost dear in economic growth, lost exports, lost prestige and ultimately a lack of investment leading a loss of place as the world leader in tech. You can bully people to hand over their oil, but you can't force them to buy your products and services.

    Obama didn't even address the issue, but if the claims that the NSA weakened encryption standards are proven worse than the conjecture, even the current mess will look like a storm in a teacup from which regaining trust will prove impossible.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas

    At the risk of stating the obvious, any distinction between what is permissible for US agencies to do with respect to information on foreign nationals compared with that for US citizens gives a green light to the agencies of other countries adopting the same approach with respect to the "American people".

    It hardly helps an American to feel issues of privacy are taken seriously while the implication remains that Iran can feel entitled to capture personal information on US citizens even if the NSA doesn't.

    Good that Obama has mentioned this issue, unfortunate he still seems unable to state clear principles on the subject as evidenced in his use of 'certain'.

  31. Cipher
    Big Brother

    Anyone who thinks things will change is delusional. There will be lies and more lies, but the police state will continue to grow unabated. Snowden should release more, unredacted, documents. When the government is the criminal, the people must know the facts...

  32. NomNomNom

    All this survaylance and they still can't find madeline mcann

    makes you wonder

    1. Cardinal
      Thumb Up

      Re "all this survaylance" - I know just what you mean!

  33. Don Jefe

    Aim Off Due to Parallax

    It pisses me off when politicians say things like 'The events of 9/11 brought these issues to the fore'. That's just absolute bullshit. The events of 9/11 pushed these issues into tunnels where nobody could see what was happening.

    For the purposes of this discussion, let's ignore the supervillains (Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, et al) and focus on the profoundly stupid, but well meaning, or at least not full on evil, idiots who create policy.

    I honestly believe that most of the people involved in the 'surveillance state' policies and operations mean no harm and truly believe they are doing 'good'. But, as anyone who has ever practiced long range marksmanship, worked on submerged structures, been fishing, dropped things out of aircraft (at a target), followed a compass bearing up a steep hill, filled a measuring cup without looking through the side or anyone who remembers variable zoom rangefinder cameras will tell you, parallax is a motherfucker of a thing.

    When you're looking at something through another medium or something on a different plane than you are, you have to compensate for parallax or you'll never hit your mark. The thing you're aiming at is not actually where it appears to be. The really messed up part is that you can't even correct your aim effectively because our friend parallax is also distorting the appearance of your previous impact sites.

    Current 'anti-terror' policies are being negatively affected by parallax. Every single part of anti terror policy is screwy and ineffective because nobody is bothering to correct for the variations between the apparent and the actual location of the targets.

    We (that's us, you and I) are off to the side and viewed from the side, it is easy to see how far out, vertically anyway, shots are landing. But the government can't see that. Parallax is causing them to not only misjudge where a target came from, but to misjudge its trajectory and ultimate destination.

    It's readily apparent that parallax is in full force when we're told things like 'terrorists hate us for our Freedom' and the drivel in Obama's NSA speech. That stuff makes absolutely no sense, but we've only got half the parallax error (we can't assess horizontal parallax because we're off to the side) policy is being aimed at the apparent location of the target, not the actual location.

    That will never, ever be effective. Assuming your target is in motion, if you keep firing without correcting for parallax, everything boils down to luck: Pray and spray. That's no way to create policy or manage threats. If you can only see something as it goes whizzing right by you, then it's time to get serious about viewing the issues from at least three directions and actually hit the target. Right now we've got only one vantage point, and even if something were coming at us, you've only got 50/50 odds that any action you take won't put you into the direct line of fire, instead of out of it.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: Bong Puffer Re: Aim Off Due to Parallax

      "....Current 'anti-terror' policies are being negatively affected by parallax...." Nice to see you understand the visual physics of parallax, even if you are wilfully blind to the effectiveness of our secret services. The ongoing lack of large attacks in either the US or UK, the fact that AQ is currently begging lone-wolf nutters to do their bidding because AQ can't mount effective operations in the West, all would seem to suggest the current policies are being much more effective than you want to give them credit for. Please do try and pretend AQ and chums would not dearly like to be setting off bombs in our countries with the regularity that they do in Pakistan or Iraq.

      ".....That will never, ever be effective....." There's a long list of Taliban, AQ and other assorted Islamist terrorists that would love to cheer you on, only they can't because the targeting put a bomb or a missile on their heads. Which kind of implies the offence team is working as well as the defence team, and that you are talking out of your rectum.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Bong Puffer Aim Off Due to Parallax

        The lack of terror attacks is no more indicative of effective anti-terror policies than a Granny Smith Apple is indicative of the number of dauschund puppies born in Iowa last Tuesday.

        See Matt, it's when you say stuff like that gets me wondering if your occasionally valid commentary is a fluke, kind of a shotgun approach to reason, or if you make those posts when you're drunk. I do salute you for not waking up every morning and deleting the intellectual graffiti you sprayed all over the Internet the night before.

        You're partially right about us targeting the leadership of terrorist organizations. I say partially because the Taliban is our buddy now. Years of targeted killings on top of a ground war wasn't working, at all, so we figured we would just make friends with them instead. It would behoove you greatly if you did try and keep up.

        US and UK military actions have killed AQ's second in command 76 times in the last 13 years. I'm not sure you understand how organizations work. But as a rule, replacing the #2 position several times a year and still have the operational cohesion to be considered a threat, generally aren't considered signs of a weakened organization...

        The funniest thing about all this is that you're always calling people sheep, when it's quite nearly certain that you'll be the one blindly following the herd. How does that work anyway? If it looks like a sheep, sounds like a sheep and acts like a sheep but doesn't realize it is, in fact, a sheep. Is it one of those willpower things where you try to wish something into happening? Is it a medical condition?

        I once saw a documentary where people couldn't recognize themselves in photos or a mirror. They saw themselves as a completely different person. Maybe that's what you've got!

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          Re: Bong Puffer Aim Off Due to Parallax

          "The lack of terror attacks is no more indicative of effective anti-terror policies...." Wow, you are so determined to baaaah-lieve you simply refuse to acknowledge the evidence right in front of you. I bet you're one of those loons that insist seatbelts don't actually make anyone safer, or that brushing your teeth doesn't actually help dental hygiene. What a sad little sheeple you are. 9/11, 7/7 and the Madrid bombings all showed AQ had not just the commitment, the planning ability and money to make such attacks, but sympathisers in the West willing to work for them. You can pretend all you like but sticking your fingers in your ears and bleating is not going to change those simple facts. If you want to pretend it is not the actions of the security services, including the eavesdropping activities of the NSA and GCHQ, then please do explain why you think AQ has been unable to mount another spectacular in either the US or UK?

          ".... I do salute you for not waking up every morning and deleting the intellectual graffiti you sprayed all over the Internet the night before...." You sheeple do so hate a dissenting voice, it really gets your flock agitated, doesn't it?

          ".....US and UK military actions have killed AQ's second in command 76 times in the last 13 years...." Male bovine manure. Al Zwahiri has always been the AQ #2 right up until Bin Liner got sent to sleep with the fishes (very apt given the POTUS's Chicago background). If you can't even get basic facts like that correct then maybe you should just give up now, it will only make others laugh at you even harder.

          "....But as a rule, replacing the #2 position several times a year and still have the operational cohesion to be considered a threat....". And ther's those big blinkers in action again! Even the Arab press have been noting how Al Zwahiri is unable to control his organisation due to his inability to communicate with them securely and quickly, which is due to the NSA/CIA-and-chums tearing his organistaion to shreds.

          ".....generally aren't considered signs of a weakened organization..." You really don't have a clue, do you? Consider that if I have a thousand terrorists, a small number of that thousand will be smarter and better terrorists and will get the top jobs. If I have to keep replacing the smart and better ones every time they get killed, pretty soon I'm having to fill top slots with mediocre or even sloppy terrorists. That is exactly what has happened to AQ - their experienced fighters have been killed or captured and now they're scraping the barrel. They still present a threat - even a sloppy terrorist with enough money and weaponry can kill when faced with mediocre security services and a population riddled with sympathisers, as seen in Pakistan. But their chances of mounting an operation in the West to rival 9/11 are massively reduced. Not eliminated, but not reduced to the point where we want to stop the NSA and co from looking for them. Now hurry back to school, you have a lot of learning to catch up on.

          1. Don Jefe

            Re: Bong Puffer Aim Off Due to Parallax

            I can't believe I never saw this before, but you're ex-military aren't you? That didn't work out too well for you huh?

            The giveaway was how you repeat everything your superiors say. I say something, you repeat it. Most of the armed forces in the West teach their hopeless recruits to repeat what their superiors say. Kind of a last ditch hope of keeping them alive a little longer.

            Now, that training normally has you doing the repeating part silently, in your head, but I guess they were just happy you could actually speak. I'm honestly glad you didn't get killed serving your country, but I guarantee the military PR people were a lot more pleased about that than I am. The military gets a hard enough time from the press. If it came out that they were putting 'special' people in harms way, the press would have a field day with 'Special Forces'.

            You know, the job market has changed a lot since the Internet really got going. There are opportunities for people like you these days. I know some people in politics and, if you're not opposed to working in the States, I can job you out as a fire starter for any number of big campaigns. The way that works is that you'll be positioned as an evangelist for a candidate, but in reality you'd really be working for the opposing candidate. It's genius really. You're guaranteed to hole any ship you're on.

            If you don't already have the background for that (you don't) it's OK. I've got partnership interest in a DC job placement firm and I can have them repackage you appropriately. You're pretty lucky, you know. Most of the people the firm represents are highly accomplished, best-in-class technical experts who want to transition into executive roles, but just don't know the right people to get headed in that direction.

            Normally they would require a client to already have had a substantial career, and be a recognized leader in their industry, before they agree to represent them. Buy hey, even kings and presidents have to empty the trash cans every now and then right? So even though your biggest accomplishment is getting through each day without accidentally killing yourself and everyone within 150 meters, they'll make you look presentable. Normally the fees start at $100k + 5% of the first 12 months salary, but like I said, the firm is 1/3 mine. They'll waive the 5% completely, as well as 1/3 of the base, and the rest I'll cover out of pocket until I recover it from whoever hires you. Not many people get the chance to have an utterly insignificant career turned into a golden ticket.

            You really should be pretty excited you know. You'll make good money and as long as you don't screw up this one little thing, people will actually listen to you in the future! Think about how great that would be for you! Sure, people hear you now, but they don't listen. I can change that for you. Instead of being the raving lunatic on the busy street corner, using a cheeseburger for a loin cloth and covered in My Little Pony tattoos, that people only notice because 30% of adults believe in demonic possession and who fear you might be contagious, they notice you because you've proven you have something not insane to say.

            Think about it. I expect we'll need to have you throughly deloused and vaccinated. Afterward we'll have to get at least 300 of those extra pounds off you before we can show you in public. All that's going to take a while, so if you want in on the next election cycle we'll need to get started very soon. So let me know ASAP.

            1. dan1980

              Re: Bong Puffer Aim Off Due to Parallax

              @Don Jefe

              ". . . parallax is a motherfucker of a thing."

              "See Matt, it's when you say stuff like that gets me wondering if your occasionally valid commentary is a fluke, kind of a shotgun approach to reason, or if you make those posts when you're drunk."

              "I once saw a documentary where people couldn't recognize themselves in photos or a mirror."

              "The giveaway was how you repeat everything your superiors say. I say something, you repeat it."

              "Instead of being the raving lunatic on the busy street corner, using a cheeseburger for a loin cloth and covered in My Little Pony tattoos . . ."

              You're a bit of a meanie sometimes mate, but you don't half crack me up.

              The thing about Matt is that there are corners of the Internet where he would fit right in, but he chooses to post here instead (or maybe as well). I'm glad that he does; it would be a boring place if everyone gave sane, well-reasoned commentary all the time.

            2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

              Re: Bong Sucker Re: Bong Puffer Aim Off Due to Parallax

              Your whole post just amount to more of the usual anti-military bleating the sheeple have been dishing out since the Sixties, and it was yawntastic then when your mom was putting flowers in her hair and acid down her throat.

              Oh, and I see how you completely avoided answering the question about what you think has stopped AQ launching more spectacular attacks in the UK and US if not the work of our security services. I guess you just don't like thinking too much about that one, it probably makes your head hurt. Just better if you take another drag on the pipe and repeat some more canned bleats you think are "smart'n'cool". Enjoy your ignorance.

  34. Cardinal
    Big Brother

    Imagine what Stalin, Hitler, Mao etc could have done with these capabilities.

    I expect our children will find out though!

    1. Don Jefe

      While these things are certainly wrong, so is your likening them to the actions of some of the worst dictators of the 20th Century. See, people like that don't need surveillance, or evidence, in order to have people disappeared.

      Sure, everyone has heard stories about Secret Police and agencies like the Stasi who put bugs in your kitchen cupboards. But they weren't there to actually collect evidence against you, they were there to remind your family, friends and neighbors not to raise a fuss when you've been missing for a few weeks. They don't need evidence against you.

      Even our most blatant assaults on Human Rights aren't comparable to what those dictators, and others of their ilk have done. Did you notice how you aren't currently decorating a gallows pole for your comment or for even reading this story or because your brother read this story? Even Freedom Resort and Beach in beautiful Guantanamo Bay Cuba pays lip service to due process. A tragic fire could have occurred at any time and killed all the guests. It would have caused a bit of a fuss, but meh, accidents happen. It sure would have been easier than spending billions of dollars to upgrade the facilities, running a dedicated fiber line from Maryland to Cuba and the international damage to our reputation. But, still, no fire.

      Now, I'm in no way justifying or excusing what we're doing. I think it's absolutely horrible, but at the same time, comparing Western anti-terror policy those dictators is terribly insulting to all the people who were victimized by those leaders. Even a cursory glance at a history book should have shown you how much different those things were. Try to keep that in mind.

      1. Cardinal

        Well, thanks to Reverend Jefe for his usual interesting sermon. - Will somebody just give Mr Hawkins a nudge at the back please?

        Now Miss Marple will read out a list of forthcoming church activities whilst the collection plate is passed around the congregation.

        1. Don Jefe

          Yep. Pretty cool huh? Just think, without the likes of me, you'd have nothing to say, or at least nothing to say that anyone bothered to hear.

          Usually, there's a fee when I provide a platform for unproven individuals to speak from. However, I usually do a couple of gratis introductions every year. They're usually for underfunded graduate students and some NPO's I like, but occasionally I'll do it out of pity.

          So I'll count you as my first pity gig of the new year. When the collection is done, feel free to keep the money for yourself. I'm sure it won't be very much. I mean, even I can only do so much, and you're really not giving me much to work with here. But I think I can see where you're coming from. I've read that people who are terribly lonely, or who are unsatisfied with their place in life, often rage against the nearest person who isn't an abject failure. The same mentality that makes people attack celebrities.

          They're doing exciting things in medicine these days. Lots of people's serious issues can be mitigated simply by helping them realize that it's OK to be at the back of the pack. You can't have a 1st place without last place and all that. You should see someone about this before it gets the best of you.

          1. Cardinal

            Didn't they tell you NOT to stop taking the medication?

            Look, just sit down, have a nice cup of tea and relax.

            It must be terribly exhausting carrying that huge ego about all day long - you feeling under appreciated and all.that.

            Now - go on - TAKE the medication and you'll feel much better.

            p.s. You don't really own 'El Reg' you know, it's a delusion. It's not really all YOURS.

  35. Chris G Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Who believes any government will stop spying

    On their own population and anyone else they can collect information on?

    The British Government developed radio detector vans in 1926 to make sure we were all paying our radio licences, TV detector vans were introduced in 1952 before any but a few well off people even had a TV, and that was just to collect a licence fee.

    Obama may believe what he is saying ( but I doubt it) but even if everything he says will be done, is done , it will not stop the security services collecting as much information as they can about everything that could help them at some time.

    All governments are concerned with their security as a nation and as the people in charge who have the power, the peoples personal rights are and always will be secondary to 'National Security' and the secret intelligence services will carry on doing things secretly.

    Now all the technologies for such sweeping data gathering exist and are improving almost daily there is nothing short of armageddon that will stop them, certainly not laws, nobody is going to stop using what is already out there.

    Very few governments trust other governments and I am sure will spy on each other and their respective populations as much as they can, economics are as important to one's national security as much as anything else so it's not just a case of military activity or terrorism.

    All laws can do is provide some recourse when one of these agencies has been found out to have been very very wrong in the prosecution of their duties.

    Even with many of the apparent restrictions on what any agency can do , there is so much available data lying with commercial companies and other parts of government that fairly accurate profiles on a persons activities can probably be put together relatively easily without obvious snooping .

    So don't expect to be off anybody's radar any time soon, just be content with making it as difficult for the buggers to get info on you as possible.

    The obvious icon!

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Please type a bit s l o w e r...

    Thanks - The NSA

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the morning to you

    For proper analysis, I'll pop over to the No Agenda Show, they know their onions well enough...

  38. deadlockvictim

    Esteemed Author» It's fair to say that if the British had the capabilities of the NSA today, there wouldn’t have been an American revolution and the citizens of the North American continent would be sipping warm beer and spelling color with a 'u' along with the rest of British society.

    It is fair to say that George Washington et al. were terrorists and that the government of the United Kingdom of England & Scotland should have sent them to the Britsih equivalent of Guantanamo Bay (Australia maybe?) had they been able to catch them.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >"additional restrictions on government's ability to retain, search, and use"

    Note the extremely deliberate lack of the verb "collect" in there. That's because they don't propose to place any additional restrictions on the government's ability to collect absolutely bloody everything.

  40. WatAWorld

    This is an excellent article.

    Its a pity there is not more plain speaking honest reporting done in this world.

    Too many other journalists just parrot whatever lies and half-truths they are told, regardless of whether it is obvious lies. No newspaper should be in the business of spreading lies.

    Too many newspapers and TV networks drop the "Sen. Smith said" and just repeat what Smith said as if it were a fact.

    And even those that take the time and space to say "Sen. said" seldom ever point out that Smith is lying.

    Well done Iain Thomson.

  41. nitsedy


  42. BunnyOlesen

    As I recall, the FBI was NOTIFIED about the saudi's who were taking flying lessons and someone was concerned, and an FBI unit brought it to the attention of higher ups - who ignored it AND at least on one occasion, maybe two, in Florida one of the terrorists, who was in the U.S. illegally at that point and driving a car without a license - was pulled over & was either ticketed or actually held for a few hours, either way, but never turned over to Migration officials or deported -

    The Chechnyan Boston bombers had actually been interviewed by the FBI (or maybe just one) but also their family members and friends - they said 'their investigation didn't find any links to known terrorist groups' however the Russian Security Bureau had ALSO contacted the FBI and informed them that they were VERY CONCERNED about the older brother, that he was a danger to others and to himself, because he had visited known 'recruiters' who radicalise ppl into hard line islamic beliefs and jihad, also visited mosques known for these ideologies on each of his return trips to Russia - and after being informed of this, and after interviewing them - the FBI didn't even bother to put a them on a airline watch list for overseas travel - which might have clued them in, never checked on them again.

    The Fort Hood shooter, who many people had complained about to teachers and staff members in the army, I mean the dude was such an obvious clear cut case of 'probably will go nuts and kill people' that when his medical school teacher gave an assignment for a medical case study - he turned in a paper about JIHAD and islam. Returning soldiers from Afghanistan or Iraq said that he had tried to convert them to islam (last thing they wanted to hear from their assigned psychiatrist) AND the FBI had read the EMAILS he sent to Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen, you know the TOP AL QAEDA recruiter for jihadi terrorists that we have since 'droned' to death?

    In these emails he asked all about jihad and it should have been very clear that they should have checked him out, at least, and their defence was 'religious freedom' and they were worried about they didn't want to infringe upon his - which is a LOAD of B.S. because they do NOT give a drip about anybody's freedom of anything, or anybody's civil rights or right to privacy - OBVIOUSLY.

    My point is - they can listen all day long - but if they're going to be STUPID INCOMPETENT BUTTWIPES when they get valid information on somebody and ignore every obvious complaint and brightly lit neon arrow sign pointing at the problem - WHAT GOOD WILL IT DO ???

    And they do not in any way shape or form need to listen to every single person and gather all meta data from every single phone - they have programs that can listen for key phrases or words (even though they are TOO stupid, I'm certain, to have any of those programs listen in arabic, urdu or somali) AND THEY FOR SURE DO NOT HAVE TO WIRETAP ANGELA MERKLE'S CELL PHONE !!!

    They are liars, and that entire speech did not mean a damn thing, and it is not worth anything. It wasn't worth listening too - obama is a liar and a con man.

    ALL HE SAID WAS 9/11, terrorists in every basement building bombs to kill YOU, be afraid, the founding fathers were violent terrorists, we wuz jus tryin' to protekt yall - why you so mad? You should really be THANKIN' us and be grateful and keep being afraid.

    AND remember that terrible, terrible boston marathon massacre? WELL, if we had done this sooner we could have STOPPED that boston marathon attack - even though we had received all the direct information we needed to stop them, and keep them under surveillance & wire tap their phones under the patriot act (or with a real warrant) BUT since we're so incompetent, we just dropped the entire ball of wax, down the drain, into the sewer and all the way out to the gulf of mexico - never to be seen again.

    But for SURE - listening to hundreds of millions of phone calls a WEEK and emails and stuff, we for SURE would have caught them using our sleazy, illegal,constitution violating, civil rights violating, privacy violating action of listening in on every phone call made by any person in the U.S. Right? Cause that's way easier than just using common sense without being worried you'll offend some muslim - SO worried that you do nothing and they end up killing a bunch of people - at least you didn't offend your Saudi Lord and King.

  43. cortland

    Dropping as if from a passing vulture...

    ... is the splatter that any intelligent approach to the drawbacks of technology's increasing complexity must assume that whatever technology makes possible, it also makes inevitable, and in the end (so to speak) intolerable. Cue Chun the Unavoidable.

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