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New evidence emerges of tech companies being in bed with the NSA

Amidst the hue and cry over the NSA’s spying on individuals, both abroad and in the US, new evidence has come to light which submits that US companies are cooperating with the agency to a greater degree than they would have us believe.

The documents, which were made available by The Intercept, detail “contractual relationships” between the NSA and US companies. It was also disclosed that the NSA has “under cover” spies working at or with some US companies. This of course was one of Edward Snowden’s roles while working for the NSA in various postings around the world. It was just last week that we wrote in this space about the NSA infiltrating foreign companies.

This revelation comes on the heels of US corporate giant Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Shultz, warning against the demise of the Internet due to pernicious government spying. He was joined in his outrage by other tech leaders and by Sen, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at a Silicon Valley event. They warned about how US surveillance could prompt countries to wall off their networks. One can only guess at what will be the response of tech companies as this latest news of domestic NSA involvement percolates through the media.

The exact role of US firms in the NSA’s global spying operations remains uncertain. The data is inconclusive. But what is clear is that some American companies are volunteering to cooperate with the agency as it conducts its massive surveillance programs. US companies would have you believe that they reluctantly turn over their customer’s email and phone records to the NSA under court order. Moreover, companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have gone on record as saying they only respond to requests for information that are targeted and specific.

The companies cooperating with the NSA are not identified. This is classified information. But some level of collaboration is apparent. The companies have been providing “SIGINT” (signal intelligence) or the seizing of data and voice communications. According to the documents US companies deliberately insert “backdoors” and other technical weaknesses so that the NSA may have an easier task gaining access to communications. Heretofore, we were led to believe that the NSA acted unilaterally and surreptitiously in accessing private communications. The new disclosures fly in the face of that. Some companies have allowed this to happen.

Another startling revelation is about a program called Whipgenie whose purpose is to protect the relationships between US corporations and the NSA regarding the tapping of fiber optic cables. This is called ECI of Exceptionally Controlled Information and revolves around domestic wire access collection – otherwise known as eavesdropping within the US. Such activity would often require a court order. It is however apparent that companies have cooperated with the NSA in allowing the break-in to communications.

Another program that bears reference is one dubbed “Sentry Owl”. This was highlighted in the article about NSA involvement in foreign companies. Sentry Owl is dedicated to private, domestic companies and is among the most closely guarded secrets in the intelligence community. It is ECI that can only be disclosed to “a very few select people in government.” This would seem to include the heads of the congressional intelligence oversight committees, Sen. Diane Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers. But they declined to comment on whether or not they’ve been briefed on the program.

One thing is for certain, that the amount of quasi-legal surveillance that is being conducted by the NSA and other agencies is certainly known to the Obama administration. And it is the administration that rubber stamps such conduct. They purport to be an administration of transparency and personal liberty but have chosen to turn a blind eye to what’s going on under their noses. Predictably, the NSA’ stance is espoused by NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines maintaining that the NSA is operating within the law and to the extent it isn’t can be chalked up to national security. She said, “It should come as no surprise that NSA conducts targeted operations to counter increasingly agile adversaries.”

Obama is not on the ballot come this November. But much of Congress and his party is. It will be interesting to see if the American public has had enough of the double-talk as it relates to government surveillance and individual freedoms and reflects their outrage at the ballot box.


Stan Ward Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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