The Spy Who Talked Too Much

Former NSA Director Michael Hayden spent yesterday afternoon trashing his former bosses in the Obama administration as he rode the Acela between DC and Grand Central Penn Station&#185. It was a series of off-the-record interviews which Hayden requested be anonymously attributed to a former senior administration official.

I know this because Tom Matzzie, sitting a few seats in front of Hayden, overheard the conversations and live tweeted the ‘event.’

Tom Matzzie ‏@tommatzzie
On Acela listening to former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden give “off record” interviews. I feel like I’m in the NSA. Except I’m in public.

Yes, the head of the NSA should be more discreet. And, yes, we’ve all trashed a boss or two to friends and colleagues. But there’s something much more troubling about Hayden’s conversation.

Here’s a guy who’s told anyone who’ll listen, including Congress, that intelligence his agency gathered would never be used for political or personal gain. And he’s pretty much doing exactly that!

He was using information he gained at the NSA to advance his own personal agenda. The fact that he wasn’t willing to stand behind his own words makes all of this scarier and Hayden more weasely.

The vacuum cleaner like collection of data by our nation’s security professionals and rubber stamp oversight by the secret FISA court scare the crap out of me. There’s a much better chance this haystack of intelligence will be misused than produce actionable ‘spy’ data.

&#185 – I originally wrote Grand Central. Penn Station is where Amtrak goes in Midtown Manhattan. My error. Thanks, Scott, for the email.

Be Careful What You Google

If you read this blog with any frequency you know I’m concerned about our government’s propensity to snoop on its own citizens. It’s not that I’ve done anything wrong, it’s just massive data sniffing leads to massive numbers of computer assisted conclusions–often wrong.

Just searching “pressure cooker” and “backpack” can arouse suspicion. This morning reported on a Long Island family visited by police because of Googling those two terms!

They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing. I don’t know what happens on the other 1% of visits and I’m not sure I want to know what my neighbors are up to.

General Keith Alexander who heads the National Security Agency appeared at the Black Hat Convention in Las Vegas, Wednesday. The NSA employs our most prying spies. Alexander’s appearance was telling.

General Alexander said NSA operatives worked under strict controls, including oversight by Congress, the executive and judges on the Fisa court, which he said was a tough watchdog: “I can tell you from the wire-brushings that I’ve received that it is not a rubberstamp.”

In essence, as much as the NSA gets, they’d really like more.

Am I A Paranoid Tinfoil Hat Wearing Nutcase?

I’m not sure which upsets me more, the government’s massive program which spies on its own citizens or the fact few people really care. What’s happening is scary to me. It should be scary to you too.

This isn’t a Republican or Democrat problem. I was upset with President Bush for this intrusion on my life. Now I’m upset with President Obama.

We all understand that the price for services in the 21st Century is a sacrifice of privacy.

As I wrote over the weekend, Southern California Edison knows when I turn my lights off at night. AT&T knows where I am 24/7. Other companies, like Google, know so much about me from my web habits, they might know more about me than I do!

Last night I helped Stef with car insurance. After supplying a few bits of data the insurance company found the rest on their own!

None of these companies can put me in jail. None of these companies have the power of the government.

The US government doesn’t want to give up specifics of their spying programs. Even senators and congressmen have extremely limited access to the NSA’s workings. Government spokespersons say they are worried vital secrets would be revealed.

My suspicion is the administration’s more worried about the embarrassment and blowback from this overreach than any impact from the secrets. Do spies and terrorists not think we’re trying to track them? Do foreign governments think we just mind our own business?

The problem with the NSA and other secretive agencies is lack of oversight. Yes, the government claims there is the FISA court, but it is secret with secret opinions, secret rules, secret laws and gag orders enforced on anyone who has dealings with it or the NSA, CIA, etc.

Most people scrutinized by the court have no idea anything’s happened.

There’s certainly little of the safeguards and protection against prying the government claims. Look what Snowden, a low level non-government employee, made off with!

To me all of this seems like an obvious and dangerous violation of the 4th Amendment.

Few people seem to care. I’ll admit that. The majority of attention to the NSA spying leaks has focused on the leaker.

Who cares? He is not the story.

Fixating on Edward Snowden misses the whole point… which might be the government’s goal in directing our attention his way.

So tell me, why do so few care? Have I become a paranoid tinfoil hat wearing nutcase?

What My Credit Card Taught Me About NSA Snooping

I’ll get back to writing about our cross country trip later today. First, a story about my credit card and how it relates to the whole NSA mishegas.

While driving toward Lincoln, NE I got an email from Chase. They’re behind the credit card we use most often. Chase wanted me to call their Security Department.

Uh oh. The last thing we needed was trouble with the card we were using to get to SoCal.

Before we left we notified Chase we’d be traveling and even changed our address to the new home in California. Still, when they saw a large charge for gas somewhere in Iowa they freaked.

I called the number given in the email, but was asked so many personal questions I wondered if it was a scam? How many bits of data did I have to give Chase before they knew it was me? I balked at my date of birth, hung up and called the number on the back of the card.

This time I spoke to Jay in the Philippines. We solved the problem, but not before I’d gone through a half hour of angst, two calls to Chase and lots of questions an identity thief could take to the bank–literally.

No person at Chase made the decision there was a problem. I certainly did nothing wrong. It was artificial intelligence, a computer on the lookout for unusual activity.

Chase purposely sets their criteria low enough that false positives make up a large percentage of their work. It’s better for them to hassle people like me than miss real fraud. When it comes to fraudulent purchases, they’re left holding the bag.

In order to comb through all its data the NSA also uses computer driven AI. They too will come up with false positives. People who’ve done nothing wrong will get hassled, possibly worse.

In the end most of the mistakes the NSA makes will be corrected. Probably not all. Certainly not before innocent people suffer undue stress.

Look at the TSA’s “No Fly” list. We’ve all heard stories about people who are on it and can’t get off. Here’s the story of young boy who was on. He’s not alone.

Computers and the Internet have allowed data to be organized in ways never possible before. The question before us is how we want that data used? I can choose to ditch Chase, but I only get one government. And Chase can’t put me in jail.

We should be protected from government snooping by the 4th Amendment. It is very clear.

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.

When I Agree With Rand Paul

In the modern era I’m what’s called a progressive. I guess that’s because people are scared of saying, liberal. I answer to liberal too.

With that in mind, it scares me I’m siding with Congressman Rand Paul, while simultaneously upset Bill O’Reilly hasn’t gone far enough!

Strange bedfellows? Uh, yeah.

We are all upset about the federal government’s spying. They’re spying on us. They’ve forgotten about the 4th Amendment which draws a well defined line around how snoopy the government can get.

Some in the government say the revelations by former Booz Allen Hamilton analyst Edward Snowden are treasonous. Nah.

“The only things we’ve damaged is the reputations of American political officials and not national security.”

That’s from Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who broke the NSA story. Neither Rand Paul nor I could have said it better.

The Equation Of The Internet

The NSA stories of the past few days haven’t surprised me. Everything, but the exact names of the companies, has been written about on some of the geekier sites. I’ve even written about it on the blog.

These NSA projects are very troubling. How can this and the 4th Amendment co-exist?

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.

Let me explain the equation of the Internet. It’s there, implicit, not spoken. We agree to allow the Internet to know everything about us as long as it never uses it against us.

Let’s face it, your cable company, Google, Facebook and a bunch of other entities you don’t even know exist, know everything about you.

They know what size you wear and what styles you like. They know the porn you view. They know if you’re pregnant or dating or lonely. They know when you’re sick. They always know where you are.

They know more about you than your mom or your spouse. It could be argued they know you better than you do!

It’s creepy they know this, but mostly they make life better. It’s a trade we make.

The government, on the other hand, has punitive powers. It can punish. We have all seen examples of mistakes made.

Imagine the government’s enforcement powers, triggered like a Google search. Usually a good match. Not always.

I don’t want my government doing this.

Maybe it’s time we had access to the databases we appear in? We need an Internet ‘credit report’ law.