Everyone's talking about the NSA and PRISM. Right now, I'm toying with the notion that these disclosures were, at least in part, disinformation. Those Top Secret docs never looked quite kosher to me, and I can't quite buy the notion that the NSA would rely on voluntary
cooperation from the big internet companies.
Those companies are putting out some rather convincing denials. Here's Mark Zuckerberg
I want to respond personally to the outrageous press reports about PRISM:
Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers. We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn't even heard of PRISM before yesterday.
And here's Google
First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.
Frankly, I think these denials are persuasive.
One of the things that bothers me about PRISM is that the described program simply doesn't match what we've previously heard about the NSA's capabilities. Frankly, PRISM is too small-potatoes. Ever since Russell Tice came forward, we've known that No Such Agency now has the capability to scoop up everything -- and by "everything," I mean everything
: Phone calls, internet chats, text messages, the works. The eavesdropping isn't considered true eavesdropping until human eyes have looked at the data; until then, the daily haul can be data-mined endlessly by software.
Now as it happens, one of the authors of the WP story -- a filmmaker named Laura Poitras -- uncovered a lot about this much larger NSA project via another whistleblower, William Binney. There are indications that Binney supplied her with the PRISM documents.
Poitras made a fine short documentary about Binney which has been embedded into this New York Times page
. For technical reasons, I cannot embed the video here, but please watch it -- you'll learn ten times more about what the NSA is really getting up to than you'll learn from any of the PRISM stories. (Also, the film is very nicely shot. I'd like to know what kind of camcorder Poitras uses.)
The technology described by Binney does not match the rather lower-tech world of PRISM. Binney also describes the rather harsh pressure tactics the NSA has employed against him. So if (and let me emphasize that word: If if if
) he participated in a disinfo scheme, one can understand why.
The obvious parallel goes to those notorious Texas Air National Guard documents handed to Dan Rather.
Undoubtedly, a program named Prism does exist; Obama has so admitted
During the speech, Obama responded to citizen’s concerns vaguely, and provided little details on how the program actually works.
In other words, we have verified the nomenclature
. We have verified the existence of a program
. But nobody has verified those documents