DHS, TSA, NSA, and paranoia

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When the Verizon telephone record scandal broke, some programmers had a little heyday. One brought up a URL that automatically contacted anyone’s senators and representatives, and submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the NSA, all in one fell swoop.

Being that I was feeling a bit prickly at that moment over our ever-encroaching government, I filled out the form. So far I’ve gotten a canned email response from one of my senators, which in so many words said nothing, accompanied by some pretty extensive hand-wringing. To wit:

” . . . it is important to maintain the right balance in defending our country while ensuring that our law enforcement officials do not inadvertently infringe upon the very civil liberties they have sworn to protect. I will continue to monitor these surveillance programs and keep your concerns in mind as Congress considers these important issues.”

Blah blah blah.

I also received a rubber-stamped (yes, really) letter from the NSA about my FOIA Case 72690. It is 3 pages long. The first page is simply blather about all of the author-i-tay granted the NSA, complete with citations. It’s the top of the second page, though, that takes the cake:

“To the extent your request seeks any metadata/call detail records on you and/or any telephone numbers provided in your request, or seeks intelligence information on you, we cannot acknowledge the existence or non-existence of such metadata or call detail pertaining to the telephone numbers you provided or based on your name. Any positive or negative response on a request-by-request basis would allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about NSA’s technical capabilities, sources, and methods. Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public responses related to these programs. Were we to provide positive or negative responses to requests such as yours, our adversaries’ compilation of the information provided would reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”

So let me unravel this. I write a letter, I get a letter back. I’m pretty unclear as to how a personal correspondence between the NSA and me — along with similar correspondence between the NSA and anyone else who took a whim to file a FOIA request — would somehow end up in the hands of “our adversaries” so they could have enough of them to draw conclusions. Is there some public FOIA response database floating around somewhere in cyberspace of which I am unaware?

The NSA’s line of thinking follows a pattern that has been well documented in these pages when demonstrated by the TSA: A gun-themed purse could not board. A designer pair of heels could not board. Neither could cupcakes, peanut butter, applesaucesnow globes, and lots of other innocuous stuff, including breath mints. Yes, mints.

The same thinking that fantasizes that “our adversaries” could somehow magically collect all the individual FOIA requests and have enough information to statistically analyze them to determine NSA technical capabilities is something only a very paranoid person could dream up. Yet this paranoia permeates every security-themed governmental agency.

This thinking defies every rule of probability and statistical sample size rule I have ever seen. But the real kicker here is that these federal snoops have up to “3 hops” of analyzed data for every person they are investigating as a potential criminal (hang that against a study that says that the average degrees of separation between Facebook users is 3.74). With all of that snooping — access to credit card purchases and traffic surveillance cameras and internet searches and social website analyses — these goofs still can’t come to the conclusion that grandma and her applesauce aren’t a threat?

Readers of this blog probably have been made aware that we as a nation have gone down a rabbit hole. Put it all together, folks, and the picture becomes excruciatingly, undeniably clear. Pogo was prescient: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

(Cartoon by ddonar)