Latest NSA spying news features emoticons and Google engineers exploding with profanity

Screen shot of the WaPo story with a cute little smiley face drawing by some NSA spy

More revelations on spying by the National Security Agency were published in the Washington Post today. Thanks again to whistleblower Edward Snowden (whose actions gave this cartoonist pause with a “Post-Snowden moment”) we now know that the NSA is capturing massive amounts of communications data flowing between data centers maintained by Google and Yahoo.

According to the Post, digital information produced by Google and Yahoo account holders – texts, emails, documents, videos and yes, that does include content – is being copied by the NSA and sent to its Fort Meade headquarters, where some but not all is retained by the agency.

It’s known that the NSA is intercepting Google and Yahoo user account information as moves between data centers, but the exact collection points remain a mystery. While some of that information evidently belongs to Americans, there doesn’t seem to be detailed information about how much of it originates in the U.S. versus foreign nations. The main tool for capturing this data is a project called MUSCULAR, operated in collaboration with British intelligence agency GCHQ. 

A smiley face inserted into a hand-drawn sketch from a top-secret file was enough to cause a couple Google engineers to “explode in profanity,” the Post reporters noted. That drawing demonstrated how encryption, a security measure meant to shield data from third parties, is “added and removed here,” at an intersection between the public Internet and Google’s internal cloud servers.

Seeing as how Google is a ubiquitous presence in our lives and a key player in Silicon Valley’s tech industry, it’ll be interesting to see how native San Franciscan Sen. Dianne Feinstein responds to the news that the NSA has apparently been intercepting the tech giant’s data without its knowledge. Feinstein is uniquely positioned to weigh in on this activity in her capacity as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Since Snowden’s first leak, Feinstein has kept up the drumbeat that NSA’s spying program is good for national security.

On Oct. 2, at a Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, she delivered the following statement:

“Our great strength today, ladies and gentlemen, in protecting this homeland, is to be able to have the kind of technology that’s able to piece together data while protecting rights. I listened to this program being described as a surveillance program. It is not. There is no content collected by the NSA. There are bits of data—location, telephone numbers—that can be queried when there is reasonable, articulable suspicion. … I will do everything I can to prevent this program from being cancelled out. To destroy it is to make this nation more vulnerable. I just wanted to say that. I had to say it.” 

Speaking earlier this year, at a Sept. 26 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on FISA, Feinstein delivered a reminder of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 and sought to offer reassurance on the data collection program, saying:

“This committee as well as the Judiciary Committee have reviewed the legality of these programs, been briefed on their operation, and been notified of problems with their implementation. Further, this committee has previously informed all senators of additional classified information regarding these programs available for their review prior to Senate consideration of these measures. 

It is my opinion that the surveillance activities conducted under FISA, and other programs operated by the National Security Agency, are lawful, they are effective, and they are conducted under careful oversight.”

But more recently, following revelations of spying on foreign leaders, Feinstein changed her tune. In an Oct. 28 statement, she said the Senate Intelligence Community was “not satisfactorily informed.”

Suddenly, rather than being notified and informed, the committee members were seemingly kept in the dark while the NSA ran wild. “It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community,” she said.

Seems the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee could start by reading Washington Post articles detailing the contents of Snowden’s leaks. There’s plenty of information in there.


public. Since the birth of the internet it has been known that once you transit some information, it may be captured by others. And it is an axiom that you should never commit to print anything that you do not want others to read.

Non story.

How's Snowdon doing is his new Moscow digs? I'd bet nobody in Russia is shocked that the KGB (or whatever they are called these days) is monitoring their emails.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 30, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

Except it's not just the internet it's phone calls, texts and even regular snail mail as well.

None of those is "public information." And Snowden is spelled like that, with an "e."

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Oct. 30, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

potentially public, so that includes emails, IM's, tweets, phone calls and mail.

If I want to tell you a secret I always do it face-to-face, in a location where I have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 5:48 am

That's such an onerous standard that it could never be met by the vast majority of Americans and thus is unconstitutional.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 10:45 am

I think it is more prudent to assume that any correspondence of yours is potentially public, and therefore be circumspect about it, then it is to blindly assume that you'll never get caught doing something wrong if you blab about it.

If you think what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional, then you should take that to SCOTUS. but didn't the justices already give this the nod?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 10:54 am

I think it is more prudent to assume that any correspondence of yours is potentially public, and therefore be circumspect about it, then it is to blindly assume that you'll never get caught doing something wrong if you blab about it.

If you think what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional, then you should take that to SCOTUS. but didn't the justices already give this the nod?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 10:54 am

They did not.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 5:24 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

I think I'll continue to stand by the protections of the US Constitution, which as a citizen is my right. You, on the other hand, can walk around "whispering" behind your hand the moment you step outside your door.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 10:08 pm

I'm comfortable with the government knowing everything about me. Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear.

Posted by anon on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

from someone called "anon"

Posted by Guest on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 9:28 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 10:04 am

Too easy for some J. Edgar Hoovers to use this as a political weapon. Too easy for some sticky-fingers agents to seek salable insider financial information or industrial secrets. The claim of safeguards is not believable, and the temptation for misuse is too great. Agents with a legitimate interest in protecting us should be required to get real warrants from a real court. Instead, we have do-whatever-you-want warrants from a made-up secret court. It's un-American.

Posted by Rocket on Oct. 30, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Posted by lillipublicans on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:27 am

Good to know you can always be relied upon.

Of course, under your system, we'd give power to total unelected "activists", and that would be so much more democratic, right?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:44 am

Hey! A mindless cliche is better than the usual mutterings about goeblins and skew-ball!

Count your blessings!

Posted by racer さ on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 9:06 am

The NSA makes the Stasi look like an amateur schoolboy club operating out of a treehouse. At what point do we face the reality that the US is not a democracy?

Posted by Greg on Oct. 30, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

We could have voted in the Greens who, presumably, would not have done this. But we collectively chose not to.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 5:49 am

Of course we are a democracy. The Democrats suffocated Occupy Wall Street with violent evictions and the Republicans are trying to press the pillow into the faces of the Tea Party. How much more democracy do you expect the elites to tolerate?

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 6:04 am

We know what they will do.

You have a problem with the people?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 6:15 am

I have a problem with the two parties racketeering elections and government.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 6:46 am

not share and, in a democracy, it is what most people think that matters, not the conspiracy theorists and extremists.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 7:54 am

If you ask most people if they think the two-party system is corrupt, if you ask them if they want more choices than D and R, most people will say yes. So why are we still stuck with the same government as always -a government that has a 5% approval rating now? It's because we're not a democracy. A democracy would be responsive to the people's wishes.

Posted by Greg on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 11:39 am

The American people will always whine, and if you ask them what they think about their leaders at all level of government, they will be unhappy.

And while they may say that they want more "choice", the simple fact is that there are other choices, but the people do not take them.

Some people chose Nader in 2000 and all that did, arguably, was make it easier for W to win. Nonetheless, people can vote green. But when it comes to the crunch, the people do not trust the greens for prime time.

Likewise libertarians, the peace and freedom party, the socialists, independants all the rest. In the last mayoral race in SF, you had about 20 choices. Were none of them to your liking?

Isn't the real point that the silent moderate majority vote the middle way, and those on either flanks are doomed to eternal disappointment?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 11:59 am

The people see that the system is rigged against 3rd party choices, so they don't choose those parties not because they don't want them, but because they know they won't be allowed to win anyway.

Posted by Greg on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

So Nader would have won in 2000 if only people had thought that he could win?

How about a simpler explanation. The average American voter is stupid and believes everything he sees and hears on TV, so inevitably he will vote stupid as well.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:33 pm

The two parties control government, government controls election law and the two parties use that control of election law to ensure that there are no electoral threats to their continued control of government.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 11:46 am
Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 12:07 pm
Posted by glojdoips on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

He is 55 next year and getting a little jaded.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

perhaps the "sit around on our asses and haplessly bitch on liberal blogs at progressives all day" club


Posted by alkdjllk on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

marcos doesn't like the status quo, and so he needs to do something to change it, or else give up (which is what I suspect he has done).

While I, on the other hand, am perfectly happy with the current situation, and so I have no need to organize or get all activist on anyone's ass.

I am not the one who wants to change the structure of society upside down.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

if you think everything is just fine, why do you spend so much of your time railing against progressives on this blog?

(basically a very aggressive personal activism)

why don't you just go play golf instead?

Posted by coiudh on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

There are the Tea Partiers and there are the Koch funded astroturf operations.

There's tremendous overlap between OWS and the Tea Partiers on issues centering around bank bailouts and the perpetual war machine.

If we take OWS at face value that it represents the 99%, then that will mean non-progressives as in Tea Partiers who don't toe the PC lines. I'm okay with working with people with whom I disagree on a lot to make progress on big ticket items on which we see roughly eye-to-eye.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

Most San Franciscans are in the 1%, globally.

The Teat Party was about as classical a grass roots movement as you can get, and in fact the left would love to get that level of traction, but cannot.

Sure, a few monied souls jumped on board but the TP was essentially a populist, bottom-up movement.

Occupy, on the other hand, was little more than a disorganized rabble that was obviously going to self-destruct after a few months.

If there had been the equivalent of the TP on the left, I suspect you'd be crowing about it.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by alkdjll on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

There was an equivalent of the TP on the left and it was OWS. Instead of inviting OWS into the party fold, the Democrat big city mayors aided by the Democrat President and DOJ/Homeland Security violently repressed OWS.

That is the difference between the two parties. When the Republicans win elections they attack the Democrats. When the Democrats win elections they attack the Democrat base. This car only turns to the right, elections are only allowed to decide how fast and sharp that turn will be made. Curiously, the car turns faster and sharper to the left when the Democrat base gives Democrat electeds a pass when they'd raise holy hell if a Republican tried same.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 5:59 am

crime, and took a shower occasionally.

That makes the TP and the Occupy mob totally different. And explains why the former was a success and the latter was a failure.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 6:08 am

The US government is a republic, not a democracy. It was engineered as a republic precisely to exclude most voices from the political process. This might have been an improvement over monarchy but today it is anachronistic, an outlier in industrialized nations, closer to China than to Germany,

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 7:06 am

That comment reminds me... I was reading about the concept of "democratic centralism" today, as conceived by the Bolsheviks and as practiced today in places like China and Vietnam. And I'm thinking... how exactly is this different than Boner's "majority of the majority" rule? We have one party, with slightly different wings, but once the party decides on something, everyone is expected to fall in line. The new democratic centralism!

Posted by Greg on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 7:51 am

anyone can claim that the US is a one-party state, nor that there isn't a real difference between the two parties.

The problem in differentiating them only appears to occur on the far left and the far right. the more extreme you are, the more the two big parties look similar.

But to the large silent majority who determine elections, there is a chasm between them.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:03 am

There are no substantive differences over major policies between the two parties, just stylized tribal differences.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:13 am
Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:28 am

Neither party to the government shutdown wanted to usurp private insurers from dominating health care finance. They were merely quibbling about how private insurers were to keep profiting. Tribal differences distinguishing political products masquerading as political choice.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:42 am

left-wing extremists like the Greens, or for right-wing libertarian Randian types. The people choose not to, preferring a moderate middle. That remains true even in SF.

Congress voted down the public option because the people screamed at them that they didn't want one, and didn't trust bureaucrats with their healthcare.

Anyway, the shutdown in DC was at least as much about the deficit, and the Dem's and the GOP are far apart on that.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 9:05 am

which is what a large majority of eligible voters do.

Why? Because they know it doesn't make a difference in their daily lives.

Give us real choice, make our vote meaningful, and we'll vote.

Otherwise, we can read revisionist history like the above comment.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 9:21 am

But if you don't vote, you can't complain.

Nor can you complain if you do not like the choices but do not provide one yourself. If you do not like the candidates, stand yourself.

But of course there are people and parties you can vote for, like the Greens. But they attract only marginal support.

Most people like the current system, and the fact that you do not doesn't change that.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 9:36 am

Are you suggesting that peoples' freedom of speech to complain is predicated upon them voting?

Lack of participation in elections signals dissatisfaction with voting. Dissatisfaction with voting signals dissatisfaction with the parties and candidates on the ballot.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 9:48 am

you cannot reasonably and credibly complain about who wins.

Lack of participation happens for lots of reasons. With parties standing from the far left to the far right, if you cannot find someone to vote for out of all that, you must be a very weird cookie indeed.

Next week the incumbents stand unopposed, but that isn't the fault of the incumbent and so no reason not to vote got him/her. Rather it is the fault of people like you whining but not standing.

In big elections, the turnout is often over 50% so most people do find the process meaningful.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 10:36 am

My birth certificate and income tax cashed check are my licenses to complain.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

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