Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The NSA, Storage and the Marina Program


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:

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

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Qaddafi
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Winslow Myers
Christopher Brauchli
Wonder Woman at the UN
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
Lee Ballinger
Tupac: Holler If You Hear Him
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”
October 20, 2016
Eric Draitser
Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Extreme Unction: Illusions of Democracy in Vegas
Binoy Kampmark
Digital Information Warfare: WikiLeaks, Assange and the US Presidential Elections
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Bogus History Lesson
Bruce Mastron
Killing the Messenger, Again
Anthony DiMaggio
Lesser Evil Voting and Prospects for a Progressive Third Party
Ramzy Baroud
The Many ‘Truths’ on Syria: How Our Rivalry Has Destroyed a Country
David Rosen
Was Bill Clinton the Most Sexist President?
Laura Carlsen
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
Aidan O'Brien
Mao: Monster or Model?