Monday January 14, 2008
National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell is drawing up plans for cyberspace spying that would make the current debate on warrantless wiretaps look like a “walk in the park,” according to an interview published in the New Yorker‘s print edition today.
Debate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “will be a walk in the park compared to this,” McConnell said. “this is going to be a goat rope on the Hill. My prediction is that we’re going to screw around with this until something horrendous happens.”
The article, which profiles the 65-year-old former admiral appointed by President George W. Bush in January 2007 to oversee all of America’s intelligence agencies, was not published on the New Yorker‘s Web site. (It can be read here in pdf).
McConnell is developing a Cyber-Security Policy, still in the draft stage, which will closely police Internet activity.
“Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the autority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer or Web search,” author Lawrence Wright pens.
“Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation, he said,” Wright adds. “Giorgio warned me, ‘We have a saying in this business: ‘Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.'”
A zero-sum game is one in which gains by one side come at the expense of the other. In other words — McConnell’s aide believes greater security can only come at privacy’s expense.
McConnell has been an advocate for computer-network defense, which has previously not been the province of any intelligence agency.
According to a 2007 conversation in the Oval Office, McConnell told President Bush, “If the 9/11 perpetrators had focused on a single US bank through cyber-attack and it had been successful, it would have an order of magnitude greater impact on the US economy.”
Bush turned to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, asking him if it was true; Paulson said that it was. Bush then asked to McConnell to come up with a network security strategy.
“One proposal of McConnell’s Cyber-Security Policy, which is still in the draft stage, is to reduce the access points between government computers and the Internet from two thousand to fifty,” Wright notes. “He claimed that cyber-theft account for as much as a hundred billion dollars in annual losses to the American economy. ‘The real problem is the perpetrator who doesn’t care about stealing—he just wants to destroy.'”
The infrastructure to tap into Americans’ email and web search history may already be in place.
In November, a former technician at AT&T alleged that the telecom forwarded virtually all of its Internet traffic into a “secret room” to facilitate government spying.
Whistleblower Mark Klein said that a copy of all Internet traffic passing over AT&T lines was copied into a locked room at the company’s San Francisco office — to which only employees with National Security Agency clearance had access — via a cable splitting device.
“My job was to connect circuits into the splitter device which was hard-wired to the secret room,” Klein. said “And effectively, the splitter copied the entire data stream of those Internet cables into the secret room — and we’re talking about phone conversations, email web browsing, everything that goes across the Internet.”
“As a technician, I had the engineering wiring documents, which told me how the splitter was wired to the secret room,” Klein continued. “And so I know that whatever went across those cables was copied and the entire data stream was copied.”
According to Klein, that information included Internet activity about Americans.
“We’re talking about domestic traffic as well as international traffic,” Klein said. Previous Bush administration claims that only international communications were being intercepted aren’t accurate, he added.
“I know the physical equipment, and I know that statement is not true,” he added. “It involves millions of communications, a lot of it domestic communications that they’re copying wholesale.”
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