Jamming the NSA

Insert according to instructions below: جهـاد or الـجهـاد (jihad)

James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory: the Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (Doubleday, 2008),  is the foremost chronicler of illegal surveillance in the United States. His latest post at Wired’s Threat Level is Shady Companies With Ties to Israel Wiretap the U.S. for the NSA. In his previous lengthy and widely read post, The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say), he wrote:

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013.

Since illegal surveillance has become one of America’s greatest growth industries, one is almost reluctant to rain on the NSA’s “job-creating” parade. There’s a sense of impending inevitability to it as with globalization a decade ago.

Some console themselves with the knowledge that not only does surveillance illegal and legal, including CCTV cameras, protect us, but why worry if you’re not breaking laws? Others feel that the NSA trawls the sea of data with such indiscriminateness that it’s in danger of swamping itself with the length and breadth of its catch. Apparently, though, increasingly sophisticated software keeps up with the torrential flow and pans it for apparent nuggets. In fact, for those of appalled by the ascendance of the national security state, that might be its Achilles heel.

I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest this, but what if all those opposed to the continued expansion of the NSA’s illegal surveillance were to seed emails and phone calls with likely triggers for NSA software? “Jihad” might be an effective key word with which to begin. We could also click on an agreed-upon list of jihad web sites. Perhaps such measures would confound the existing software. Or lead to our wholesale detention.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

2 replies »

  1. From a 2009 article on Echelon (and I’m sure any “new” systems will borrow the same keywords):

    “Some of the more common sample key words that the NSA flags are: terrorism, plutonium, bomb, militia, gun, explosives, Iran, Iraq, sources said.”

    Revisiting Echelon: The NSA’s Clandestine Data Mining Program

    Given the nature of the operation and laws such as the UAMF and NDAA, one wonders if intentional trickery to subvert the system would count as hostility. At least we’ll have a lot to discuss when we check in at Gitmo 😉