FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The NSA, Storage and the Marina Program

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Civilisation, claimed Mark Twain, involves the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries. Intelligence gathering can be seen to be a byproduct of that fascination: bureaucratic necessity has become its own rationale; the need to protect civilisation by means of ever sophisticated, economically legal systems of protection, the great “unnecessary necessary”.

The latest metadata program to come out of the Edward Snowden digest via James Ball of The Guardian (Oct 1) is known as Marina, the sort of innocuous name one would give a cyclonic disturbance. But the better analogy would be to see Marina as a port of call, a storage facility that accumulates data that is stored for up to a year without apparent justification.

Such revelations keep putting the Obama administration, along with its still to be employed intelligence officials, at odds with the general argument that the NSA only records material of those it targets. Their main line is that such a gathering of information is authorised by Executive Order 12333 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). No warrants are required under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act provided the data exchange involves a non-American source outside the United States. “All data queries,” claimed an official from the NSA, “must include a foreign intelligence justification, period” (Russia Today, Sep 30).

The metadata documents, with their mass aggregating feature, suggest otherwise. In fact, as was revealed by James Ball and Spencer Ackerman (The Guardian, Aug 10), NSA operatives can bypass this “foreign” rule very simply, given that “purely domestic communications can be inadvertently swept into its databases,” a form of capture termed “incidental collection”.

An introductory guide for intelligence analysts that form the Snowden set also reveal that, “The Marina metadata application tracks a user’s browser experience, gathers contact information/content and develops summaries of target.” The Marina database stores computer metadata; phone metadata is routed to a different system.

The guide is full of praise for Marina the wonder beast, whose storage capacity is evidently cavernous in promise. “Of the more distinguishing features, Marina has the ability to look back on the last 365 days’ worth of DNI metadata seen by the Sigint collection system, regardless [regardless being highlighted] whether or not it was tasked for collection.”

The material keeps coming. And it will keep coming. We are only getting morsels hacked from the intelligence complex, one so colossal it has ceased to be manageable within any legal confines. On the one hand, the legal argument is peddled to show that warrants are obtained when necessary, that legal “partnerships” exist with internet providers to surrender content to NSA snoopers. Prism, along with its wicked cousins, is hideous for the very fact that it has the imprimatur of law.

The legal thrust is emphasised in an NSA document from August 9 this year, stating its “Missions, Authorities, Oversight and Partnerships.” The document indicates rather blandly that the organisation focuses on “central foreign intelligence and counterintelligence” when it comes to gathering signals intelligence. We know that to have been well refuted. That said, those at the organisation are confident that, “We do not need to sacrifice civil liberties for the sake of national security – both are integral to who we are as Americans.”

Besides, why the fuss, the signals spooks seem to be saying. The document goes on to provide an unconvincing reassurance – there is simply too much out there for the minders to tap, given that the internet carries some 1,826 petabytes of information per day. Only 1.6 per cent of daily internet traffic is actually caught. And of that, “only 0.025% is actually selected for review.” When intelligence organisations start playing the modesty card, something is amiss. The trick here is find out what the NSA is leaving out of the calculation – namely those means of sharing that are replete on the internet.

For all its self-promoting jargon on “oversight”, the NSA remains a creature that operates outside it. How could it not, given that its own creation is clouded by extra-legal dubiousness? Gore Vidal, that irascible man of American letters, put his finger on the point when he spoke about the emergence, in President Harry Truman’s time, of that “national security state” that grows with insatiable appetite, a behemoth without obvious limits.

The font from which that state sprung from was less the head of Zeus than the National Security Act, passed, as Vidal explained in March 1998 at the National Press Club, “without any national debate or the people’s consent”. Its effect was “to replace the old American republic with a national security state very much in the global empire business.” And so, that business continues, busier than ever.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He ran for the Australian Senate with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Minute Musings: On Why the United States Should Launch a Tomahawk Strike on Puerto Rico
Tom Clifford
The Return of “Mein Kampf” … in Japan
Todd Larsen
Concerned About Climate Change? Change Where You Bank!
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Brexit: Britain’s Opening to China?
John Hutchison
Everything Old is New Again: a Brief Retrospectus on Korea and the Cold War
Michael Brenner
The Ghost in the Dream Machine
Yves Engler
The Military Occupation of Haiti
Christopher Brauchli
Guardians of Lies
James Preece
How Labour Can Win the Snap Elections
Cesar Chelala
Preventing Disabilities in the Elderly
Sam Gordon
From We Shall Overcome to Where Have all the Flowers Gone?
Charles Thomson
It’s Still Not Too Late to Deserve Your CBE, Chris Ofili
Louis Proyect
Documentaries That Punch
Charles R. Larson
Review: Vivek Shanbhag’s “Ghachar Ghochar”
David Yearsley
Raiding the Tomb of Lubitsch
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail