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June 11, 2013

How could a high school drop-out with few technical skills get free access to the most sensitive secrets?

There's an angle some outlets are taking on this Snowden NSA leak story that focuses less on what he leaked (PRISM, which was nearly public knowledge) and more on how this dude got the access he had. Some think it points out just how risky it is to rely so much on private intelligence multi-national corporations to do our government's spy work. Others think that Snowden can't possibly be who he says he is and must be a plant or a patsy or lying about his past. Edward Snowden: From GED To NSA? | TPMMuckraker
So far, most of what we know about Snowden’s career comes from what he has told The Guardian. The high school trouble, a brief stint in the Army, then work as a security guard at an NSA facility in Maryland, then to the Central Intelligence Agency, where he worked on IT security, then a job in Japan working for a private contractor at an NSA facility, and then a few years at various contractors, before his latest gig, working for Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii. Booz Allen Hamilton has confirmed that Snowden worked at the firm for the last few months, with a base salary of $122,000. The company fired Snowden on Monday, citing violations of the firm’s code of ethics and “firm policy.” Mother Jones, meanwhile, got in touch on Monday with Anne Arundel Community College, in Arnold, Md., which said that a student with Snowden’s name and birth date attended classes there from 1999 to 2001 and also from 2004 to 2005. A spokesperson for the college said that Snowden did not receive a degree, and had not taken any “cyber-related courses” or courses in the school’s NSA-certified “Information Systems Security” program. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Bloomberg that the “[the] idea that a 29-year-old individual with so little experience” had access to the material Snowden did is “absolutely shocking.” There have been a few factors offered up to explain how Snowden ended up where he did. Snowden apparently cited his technical skills. According to The Guardian, “[Snowden’s] understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.” (It is not clear, however, just how much technical skill Snowden’s various career stops demanded.) Media outlets, meanwhile, have pointed to the intelligence community’s increased reliance on private contractors in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. According to the Washington Post, one in four intelligence workers in recent years have been a contractor, and at least 70 percent of the intelligence community’s budget has gone to private firms. (Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, for example, is a Fortune 500 company that receives 98 percent of its revenue from the government.)

June 10, 2013

Remember when the NSA admitted they listened to the phone sex soldiers were having with their loved ones back home?

Remember That Time the NSA Listened to U.S. Troops Have Phone Sex With Loved Ones Back Home? - Hit & Run : Reason.com
[F]ormer Navy Arab linguist, David Murfee Faulk, 39, said he and his fellow intercept operators listened into hundreds of Americans picked up using phones in Baghdad's Green Zone from late 2003 to November 2007. Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer. "Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News. Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall's "smoke pit," but ended up feeling badly about his actions.

May 29, 2013

Call center employees in India watch surveillance footage of doctors in New York to make sure they wash their hands

Hospitals Struggle to Get Workers to Wash Their Hands - NYTimes.com
At North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, motion sensors, like those used for burglar alarms, go off every time someone enters an intensive care room. The sensor triggers a video camera, which transmits its images halfway around the world to India, where workers are checking to see if doctors and nurses are performing a critical procedure: washing their hands.

April 25, 2013

Orwellian CISPA bill is dead again, mostly

ACLU: CISPA Is Dead (For Now) - US News and World Report
CISPA is all but dead, again. The controversial cybersecurity bill known as the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act, which passed the House of Representatives last week, will almost certainly be shelved by the Senate, according to a representative of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The bill would have allowed the federal government to share classified "cyber threat" information with companies, but it also provided provisions that would have allowed companies to share information about specific users with the government. Privacy advocates also worried that the National Security Administration would have gotten involved.