The Empire Strikes Back: The Demonization of Snowden Begins

Summary: Marcus Ranum, our in-house cyber-expert, looks at the next stage of the government’s defense against the revelations of NSA surveillance. Like the surveillance itself, they rely on non-governmental agents to get the job done.

I’m sure we’re all shocked to see attempts to downplay the significance of the PRISM story.

What’s that you say? You’re not? Well, me either.

That was why I rushed together my article about finely slicing the word salad of “direct access” to servers, etc. It’s useful to try to clarify in advance the lies you are about to be told – it makes them more clear.

The attacks on Greenwald’s scoop tend to break into four categories:

  1. Traitor! Traitor! USA USA USA!
  2. It’s not new; we already knew all that.
  3. It’s not possible, it’s not feasible (reasons given)
  4. That’s not true! (no reasons given)

The people taking the second line of reasoning above either haven’t done their research or are deliberately ignoring the rich history of leaks about this kind of stuff dating back years. Past leaks about the surveillance state show not only the desire to massively tap data, but the resources spent doing so, and the technological capabilities. It is the latter that give the lie to responses such as farcical stories about thumb drives and FTP. Oh, we can be sure that thumb drives and FTP have occasionally been used, but that’s probably to collect information that can’t be gotten indirectly.

People who claim that Greenwald has it wrong are ignoring the rather obvious fact that the “Boundless Informant” slides show 97 billion records of data being injected into the system daily. That’s a lot of thumb-drives worth! They also are ignoring that Greenwald says there are more disclosures to come; my suspicion is that Greenwald has a couple bombs left up his sleeve and he’s waiting for the surveillance state to strongly stake out a position before he pulls the carpet out from under them.

Articles such as Rick Perlstein’s article in The Nation (“Glenn Greenwald’s Epic Botch?“) – title complete with face-saving question mark – show a lack of understanding of history. If Perlstein’s “no expert”, as he says, he should probably invest a day or two studying, rather than an hour or two writing. I find it amazing that any journalist would take a corporate spokesperson’s words at face value when they’re responding to a crisis, without researching the back-story. Was he born yesterday?

Room 641a

Previous whistle-blowers such as Mark Klein, who revealed the existence of Room 641A, have already described systems that align perfectly with what Snowden has revealed. For that matter, Duncan Campbell was documenting ECHELON back in the 80s.


Left: the Capenhurst intercept tower built to collect all communications between Ireland and the UK, in the 1980s.

These are the kinds of facilities one would build to intercept large amounts of data. One does not shuffle “real-time” collections via thumb-drive. Klein’s information about illegal surveillance was from 2004. What 9/11 did was justify the dramatic expansion and mainstreaming of techniques and programs that were already in place.

Remember “total information awareness“? A program designed to build — well, PRISM — that was met with unconditional popular disfavor? It was cancelled, or rather, the program name was cancelled – and has been resurfacing again and again under different names.

Below: the Bridgeton facility where NSA allegedly co-lo courtesy of AT&T:

The technical references provided by EFF and Klein were solid enough to pass muster in front of very many network and computer systems designers. This is highly credible material provided by someone who knows networking – this is not handwaving from some blogger who just made a bunch of stuff up over coffee one morning.

Meanwhile, we have former FBI Director Muller trying to rewrite history by saying that if PRISM were available pre-9/11, the attack might have been prevented. Apparently he forgot that the FBI had field agents trying to get someone higher up the chain of command to listen to them about strange arabs wanting to learn to fly big aircraft – and did nothing.

It’s inappropriate to screech at Greenwald, as Perlstein does, demanding accuracy, without having done one’s homework. It’s inappropriate to act as though Greenwald is lying when you haven’t — apparently — done any more research than asking a couple of your tech blogger buddies.

As I write this, I went to Boeing’s site to retrieve material about the Narus product line, and got an error page. Someone has deleted that link sometime between April 15 and May 11. They have apparently forgotten how the “wayback machine” works. Between Feb and March, Narus appears to have removed references to “intercept” and “surveillance” from their website. You’d think that the journalists would be researching Klein, Narus, etc – not trying to demonize Greenwald.

Big Brother is Watching

The lying has begun, indeed.

For More Information

(a) Comments on the Empire Striking Backs:

(b) About surveillance:

(c) See Wednesday’s post for links to a wide range of information about the surveillance of US citizens.

(d) Posts about these revelations, and what they show about America:


Our Sponson




8 thoughts on “The Empire Strikes Back: The Demonization of Snowden Begins

  1. The Scorecard: Snowden Approval Rating 54%, Obama 46%, Congress 17%

    Edward Snowden’s worst fear has not been realised – thankfully

    The NSA whistleblower’s only concern was that his disclosures would be met with apathy. Instead, they’re leading to real reform


    1. Color me unconvinced. So far I see the usual scandal pattern. Noise, pretty words. Perhaps we will go to the next stage: Congressional hearings.

      Wake me when Obama signs legislation or an Executive Order.


    1. Tradefaction,

      Thanks for posting this. I read Drum rarely, so don’t know the background.

      But we seem to be seeing a possible path to tyranny for America. The surveillance state has broad support by both parties — and the tech companies who are our idols (no matter how monopolistic or predatory). This is a coalition, large and difficult to stop.


  2. Cheney says NSA monitoring might have prevented 9/11

    How could it? If the CIA had the crucial information? Or the FBI?
    How quickly Cheney “forgot” that the FBI had agents trying desperately to get attention within the agency regarding mysterious arabs who wanted to learn to fly, and the CIA got (and did not pass on) warnings from Egyptian secret police.

    If I were Cheney I’d also be trying to rewrite history (especially my part in it) but these are bald-faced lies.


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