Who is Securing Who?

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here. The NSA spying has been in the press a lot. Up until Snowden the NSA strongly professed it had no mass surveillance.  Now, it is clear that they did, and were lying.

Ostensibly the spying is to prevent terrorism.  But an appointed review group stated the NSA “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.”

I keep pondering why the NSA is so aggressively spying on everybody when it seems to have no terrorism benefit. What drives them? Why do they need to know everything about everybody?

A contact I have in Asia and I were having a very off-the-record conversation. In that conversation it was confided in me that my contact’s vice president was being blackmailed. I asked if he knew who and was told the United States. OK, I can write that one off to paranoia or a search to blame somebody. If his VP was being blackmailed then he was doing something wrong, right?

Then, just this past week I was having a conversation with a Russian who was visiting. He had the same problem: a superior officer (this time in the Russian government) was being blackmailed by the United States.

One data point does not make a trend. But there are now two data points and that at least forms a direction vector (in this case back to the United States). I am waiting for a third data point now, because I have always believed that if I hear something three times there may be something to it.

I just came back from a dinner with a Chinese official. We had a good dinner and some candid conversation, since I am increasingly involved in Chinese operations. The topic came up of our government leaders, especially Obama. My friend turned to me and said “What do you think is really going on?” I said I didn’t know. He then raised his two hands into the formation used by a puppeteer holding strings to a puppet and smiled at me. I blurted out: “Obama is a puppet??!!” He smiled back at me and asked if I had any better explanation.

Our conversation then shifted  to an infamous character in American History: J Edgar Hoover, the first head of the FBI from 1935 to 1972. He was noted for amassing secret files on political leaders and even intimidating sitting presidents (See www.Wikipedia.org/wiki/J_Edgar_Hoover). The connection to the NSA conversation became painfully clear. The belief starting to be held outside the United States is that the NSA has its global spying operation so that it can blackmail anybody it needs. The precedent was set by J Edgar Hoover. With the information at their fingertips they have the goods on anybody and everybody they need.

I imagine that when Obama took office, somebody sat down with him and showed him a file. Every politician has a scandal or two that they are hiding, Obama cannot be an exception. Then, the NSA probably simply said: “See the value of our organization?” Obama certainly would have agreed. This is the only explanation that makes any sense when you look at what Obama promised and what he actually did.

My boss asked me last month what the best way was to get a message to another party securely. He asked if he had to write it on a piece of paper. I responded that no, that wouldn’t work because every letter mailed to or from or within the United States had the envelope photographed and OCRed. Even sending a letter with a stamp is no longer private.

I’m not one to believe in conspiracy theories…. there is too much to ignore here. We are at the forefront of the NSA spying. Our routers are infested, our computers are infested, our VPNs are tapped, our USB drives have malware in their firmware, and every communication is monitored. We are on the front line, we are the last opportunity to defend our company leaders from harms way.

If you manage telecommunications or IT for your company, you should be thinking of how to protect your company leaders. Some day they will come to you and ask how to protect critical information, or how to get a message to another leader in another company. They will ask you how infiltrated the company infrastructure is.

Start taking inventory of your network components. Pay more attention to security. And develop side channel and back channel communications systems.