The demand for NSA data

by on August 5, 2013 at 1:02 am in Law, Political Science | Permalink

“It’s a very common complaint about N.S.A.,” said Timothy H. Edgar, a former senior intelligence official at the White House and at the office of the director of national intelligence. “They collect all this information, but it’s difficult for the other agencies to get access to what they want.”

“The other agencies feel they should be bigger players,” said Mr. Edgar, who heard many of the disputes before leaving government this year to become a visiting fellow at Brown University. “They view the N.S.A. — incorrectly, I think — as this big pot of data that they could go get if they were just able to pry it out of them.”

Smaller intelligence units within the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have sometimes been given access to the security agency’s surveillance tools for particular cases, intelligence officials say.

Here is more, scary throughout.

Ashok Rao August 5, 2013 at 1:11 am

I commented about this earlier – and this makes me all the more worried – is that this data has the potential to deeply empower political incumbency. The way Obama used statistical trends in 2012 to pinpoint his campaign won him an election.

Now I don’t think the DNC will have direct access to the data yet, but within 10-15 years?

There has been remarkably little discussion, at least relative to the magnitude, of political-election benefits of the NSA data.

Adrian Ratnapala August 5, 2013 at 1:57 am

Did Obama use data that were not available to his opponents?

Ashok Rao August 5, 2013 at 2:13 am

Not that I know of, and not that I would expect. It is unlikely that the apparatus between PRISM and politics is crystallized yet.

On the other hand, it’s exactly the kind of data we know helped him, and considering the authority of the NSA vs. law-abiding data collection organizations (like the ones Obama relied on – to great success and, to some privacy hawks, great concern) within the decade it’s likely it will have far more relevant data.

Most things are not a “slippery slope”. The use of this data is. At least without transparent, independent, and robust judicial oversight. Oh, nevermind, we have FISA.

Adrian Ratnapala August 5, 2013 at 2:32 am

I am more concerned then about old-fashioned dirty laundry. The kind which undid Gen. Patraeus.

8 August 5, 2013 at 5:52 am

There’s enough circumstantial evidence at this point to assume the Obama admin (someone in it) has used the data to target political opponents, from Petraeus to various candidates who had their IRS data leaked to Democrat operatives. It’s really only one small step to unlock the NSA data, and if Snowden hadn’t blown the whistle, it might have been as easy as getting someone assigned to work at NSA.

Andrew' August 5, 2013 at 6:11 am

“Did Obama use data that were not available to his opponents?”

Wrong question.

Marie August 5, 2013 at 11:25 am

Yes, but you can do both.

Hazel Meade August 5, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Right. Who is to say that there are not already contractors working for the NSA who are funneling informaiton to their political parties? Nobody knows about them because they havn’t published this info to the world. As long as it is kept private, nobody would know.

Also, Snowden has revealed that most accesses of the database are never actually audited, and there is no technical limit to prevent any agent from accessing the database. The limits are purely policy. IIRC he said something like 5% of the database accesses are actually being audited. How difficult would it be for someone with political connections to make sure that their paricular searches are not audited?

Kaplan August 5, 2013 at 7:52 am

Power Corrupts. Politicians & government bureaucrats are the worst offenders.

Nothing at all surprising here. Whatever powers a government gets or grabs — will eventually be abused and used against the general public. Welcome to the American Police State.

The Federal power to spy on foreign governments & wartime enemies has easily been expanded to vast domestic U.S. spying,
eagerly aided by private American technology/communication companies.

The 4th Amendment is a joke in all 3 branches of the Federal Government. You have no protections.

This was all predictable 40 years ago. Few learn from history.

Andreas Moser August 5, 2013 at 3:16 am

I wonder how many spies lose their lives in these inter-agency fights.

Andrew' August 5, 2013 at 6:12 am

Zero. That’s just the excuse to put whistleblowers in prison. We don’t have any spies. We blow everyone away with drones and ask questions never.

Andrew' August 5, 2013 at 6:07 am

They aren’t interested in you…

Oh wait, they are. I’m owed about 55 million bjs.

crs August 5, 2013 at 6:28 am

“As furious as the public criticism of the security agency’s programs has been in the two months since Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, ‘it could have been much, much worse, if we had let these other agencies loose and we had real abuses,’ Mr. Edgar said. ‘That was the nightmare scenario we were worried about, and that hasn’t happened.’”

worst silver lining statement … also not clear if the nightmare is the “public criticism” or “real abuses” (or if they even know what an abuse is?) sigh.

Mogden August 5, 2013 at 10:51 am

Why would a thinking person believe anything a NSA official has to say?

Robt August 5, 2013 at 8:27 am

The U.S. as a nation is in a cold war with some countries, dollar is into currency war and government departments are fighting amongst themselves for data. Where are we headed to??

Dan Weber August 5, 2013 at 10:40 am

The fact that the NSA won’t give out the data should be a relief. A data source the NSA wants to keep secret is a source they won’t let be used for putting Joe Random in prison.

Chris H August 5, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Government inefficiency can be a bit of a saving grace here. The more agencies that have access to the data, the more likely one of them is actually going to want to use it on American citizens.

Of course the downside of the no sharing is that if my hard drive gets wiped the NSA won’t give me the back up they have!

Joe Smith August 5, 2013 at 11:03 am

Cellphone meta data is most useful to law enforcement if criminals think that law enforcement does not have access to it. :-)

Nathan W August 6, 2013 at 9:48 am

That’s why they shouldn’t have been such idiots and spied on everyone. Now that they spy on everyone, it’s harder to spy on the people they should actually be spying on.

CBBB August 5, 2013 at 11:19 am

Maybe the existence of an unrestrained NSA ought to call into question support for things like driverless cars as well as most of the new IT based automated technologies now coming through the pipeline. Today it’s collecting cellphone and facebook data, tomorrow keeping track of where you are at all times, and maybe not so long from now some hacking into the control systems of autonomous vehicles to get rid of undesirable and potentially embarrassing political opponents like Snowden via unfortunate “accidents”. Pretty conspiratorial I know but do these guys have ANY scruples?

Joe Smith August 5, 2013 at 11:50 am

“do these guys have ANY scruples?”

Snowden’s not dead yet, is he?

CBBB August 5, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Bin Laden survived for a long time after 9-11, I’m not saying these guys are completely omnipotent but they’ve certainly lost any moral high ground.

Joe Smith August 5, 2013 at 11:43 pm

“they’ve certainly lost any moral high ground.”

You must live in a very sheltered world (protected in part by people you apparently despise).

Mike W August 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm

And yet the IRS is more than willing to cooperate with the Federal Election Commission.

Hazel Meade August 5, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I wonder if you’ve read the Reuter article linked over at Reason about the SOD (Special Operations Division) unit inside the DEA and it’s intelligence sharing with the NSA.
Apparently there is an intelligence link, and info is passed between the NSA and the DEA and eventually to local law enforcement for drug enforcement activities. They are trained to use “parallel construction”, that is to recreate the investigative information so as to hide where the source came from. I don’t think we can be at all confident that data from PRISM isn’t ultimately widing up as a top-down “tip” from the NSA to the DEA to local cops.

prior probability August 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm

These recent disclosures are cause for concern … but doesn’t Google, Facebook, et al. already comb through our electronic data and share it with third parties?

Gnonannon August 7, 2013 at 3:18 am

The acquision and accumulation of raw data is the NSA’s most visible technical achievement. Useful exploitation of the data is really the more open-ended problem, and it is unclear how efficiently it can be used.

Timothy Edgar’s comments suggest they need to find a way to bowlderize data for dissemination across agencies, and put it in forms most useful to their respective purposes. (tracing criminal associations, estimating military capacity, auditing the behavior of personel, tax evasion, speeding).

The temptation to make routine use of these archives will increase as interpretation becomes more efficient and data are, in some form, granted wider institutional dissemination. Count on it.

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