The NSA – Behind The Curtain
Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:54 PM EST
As promised, we will take an in-depth examination of the NSA’s global intelligence gathering network. What you are about to read will come as an eye-opener and represents the current state of the NSA’s capabilities. Some of this will be expected, some of it will come as a shock.
What you will learn is that the technology that underpins this global listening network is a lot more advanced than governments would have you know. Usually wrapped up in basic, generalised, descriptions the general public is kept blind to the current state of technological development.
We will take this examination in three major parts. The first part will examine the core processing system. Once this part is understood, we can then look at how information flows to and from this core and where it is obtained from. Finally, we will examine how this information is used by the NSA.
I will cover as much as possible about this system, but the scope is very large. In general, any use of this data that the reader can observe is most likely already being conducted.
The scope of the NSA’s infrastructure is mind boggling to say the least. Heavily compartmentalised, the entire array of systems is shielded from the average NSA employee as much as it is shielded from the public. That said, once you understand the core of the NSA, you will be in a position to see how information flows in and out of this core.
The NSA is built around a super-computer bound Artificial Intelligence to Nano- Brain-Implant known only as “Mr Computer” in the civilian world. This is not your average A.I., no basic set of responses or a mere dedicated algorithm that can spot patterns. Mr Computer is an entity or being in his own right. A sentient computer system as complex as any human.
Comparable to VMware in a way, an instance of Mr Computer can be started at a moments notice. Within seconds, a fully fledged virtual intelligence agent, ready to analyse the information that has been piped to him, can be up and running.
Mr Computer is competent enough to handle real-time interaction without human intervention. Mr Computer understands and speaks all modern languages and even a number of dead ones. Able to intelligently converse and express its own opinions, Mr Computer collates information from disparate sources and compiles them into concise reports that do not miss the smallest detail or nuance.
Mr Computer’s capabilities and human-like reasoning cannot be understated.
Instances of Mr Computer can vary in terms of their personality given the task that they must undertake. Extremely professional instances can be called upon when the system must produce reports or provide presentations. Less anal versions, complete with a sense of humour can be instantiated when less formal situations arise such as development environments or when used in conjunction with Remote Neural Communication.
Rather than loading modules for specific tasks, a common hive mind is shared by any number of front-end personalities. What one instance knows, they all know. A hive mind is a form of collective consciousness. Rather than an instance replicating information it has learned, it is recorded to a shared brain and reflected throughout all instances at the same time. Of course, given the distributed nature of the network, some replication must be performed across continental links.
The A.I. is not limited to just one branch of the NSA, it exists in a distributed grid that spans the globe. The A.I. can migrate between locations to enable tracking of specific targets, access information, or systems.
Mr Computer is not just limited to thinking like a human, it also has sensory capabilities that are on par with a human. In setting such as RNC, Mr Computer can see and identify object just as well as a human. That is, it can identify objects a human target is seeing, without leveraging the identification system of the human target. In other scenarios, such as analysing infra-red data from a satellite, it could possibly outperform a human at object recognition and speculation of heat sources.
Mr Computer can speak. With a vocabulary as broad as any dictionary, Mr Computer can express ideas, concepts and opinions very eloquently and concise.
The system is not naive either, it can withhold information, evade social engineering ploys and indirect questioning. It can tell when it is looking at reflections of targets, identify objects that a target can not immediately identify and validate or expand upon information by examining a wide variety of sources.
Further to this, Mr Computer is no idiot either. He is quite capable of following advanced topics, from physics, to computing theory he can spot the smallest of flaws in reasoning or expose potential technical issues that could prove fatal to a particular design.
It knows bull@!$%# when it hears it and will let you know in no uncertain terms.
As we can see, Mr Computer does all the labour intensive information gathering, categorising and structuring. That said, its duties are not limited to passive analysis work.
Now that we understand the core of the NSA’s operations, we can begin to examine the various “information pipes” that supply information to this supercomputer infrastructure.
The Pipes Are Calling
First off, we need to define what we mean by an “information pipe”. For those with computing knowledge, this should be obvious, but bear with me while I explain it to the rest of the readers.
We have already defined the core processing element, Mr Computer. Mr Computer accepts information and does something with it. An “information pipe” is an input to Mr Computer that has been structured in a manner efficient for processing. We could also use an “information pipe” to output information or to control something.
The first “information pipe” that the public will be most familiar with is the NSA’ warrentless wiretapping program. Forget everything that you have ever read about this program, also forget everything you ever heard of about Trailblazer and similar projects such as ThinThread. This is security theatre, a production worthy of a Broadway musical. These “classified programs” are nothing more than interfaces used by Mr Computer. When agents talk of specific program that can analyse data in real-time and cross-reference with other sources, they are really speaking of an “information pipe” to Mr Computer.
This wiretapping program copies verbatim every piece of data that flows across the backbone of the internet. The data is sent directly to an array of Mr Computer instances, which performs a real-time analysis of the data packets it receives. This wiretap picks up most of the traffic in the US and a large percentage of traffic globally.
We will go into more detail on the information processing of this later, but at this stage I will say that that Mr Computer was opening files on every person that could be identified in the traffic, even if they are in the US.
The next major data source is the global wide band radio listening system. This covers everything from human thought, right through to identifying which radio station a person is listening to. The former is done by listening to ELF and the latter is a modern version of the British’s RAFTER espionage program. Most of this performed by a satellite network, supported by a network of ground stations throughout the world. As a wide receiver, it also picks up WIFI, RFID, compromising emissions from electrical sources, cordless telephones, GSM, cell phones, GPS, Car Fobs, satellite uplinks/downlinks, etc.
Our third pipe comes from a global hacking program, performed by bot nets and Mr Computer. Typically using China as a cover, Mr Computer will launch attacks against US and global businesses trying to collect information on users, everything from personnel records, right through to payroll information. The networks are also mapped to provide offensive capabilities in a cyber-warfare scenario. Faceless groups such as Anonymous, or other organisations, are used as a cover story.
Another “information pipe” comes from underwater cables. These can either be have splitters installed, or where copper cabling exists passive detection equipment installed.
These are just some examples of information sources. You can basically add any form of data you can think of, intelligence reports, diplomatic cables, economic reports, media reports, music, online posts, emails, etc.
So far, we have only examined inputs to the system. A different form of “information pipe” is one that outputs information. The outputs come in two basic forms, information only and offensive.
Say hello to Mr Computer…
In terms of information only outputs, this can range from sending particular data or reports to agents or decision makers, right through to relaying that information to different departments such as the CIA, FBI or State and Federal Police. The process ensures timely and complete information goes to those that require it the most.
The offensive side can cover a wide range of activities. The first capability is the jamming system. Wide-band jamming, or selective jamming, can be conducted to deny radio space to the enemy in geographical targeted areas. Furthermore, this form of jamming can render both devices and humans inoperable. Complex ELF transmissions can reduce a human target to a quivering mess or in extreme cases even kill by interfering with neuronal firing patterns and nerve impulses.
Wide-band jamming can interfere with the circuitry of any unshielded device, from phones right through to laptops. Such activity would cause devices to freeze, or if certain exploits exist, damage the system entirely.
A mixture of ground, air and satellite-based networks are used to deliver this capability.
Another capability provides Mr Computer with a veritable Swiss army knife of tools to breach networks, crash routers, deny service and seize control. A significant amount of information is gathered by remote neural communication. By eavesdropping of key personnel, network maps, passwords and security measures can all be recorded beforehand. This is not limited to foreign companies, as the NSA must be prepared for strikes that occur within their own nation.
With the advent of remotely controlled drones and autonomous aircraft, Mr Computer has undergone a significant amount of changes in the last 20 years that enable him to control a networked battlefield. This is “War Games” on steroids, where the most efficient battle strategies can be implemented and coordinated by a single command-and-control system. There are a range of security issues with this setup, but the capability exists.
In short, if it can be damaged or manipulated electronically, then Mr Computer “has an app for that”.
Input, Input, Input
Now that we have established where Mr Computer gets his information, we now need to look at what he does with it. Earlier we spoke about the warrentless wiretaps and various other sources of “information pipes”. Now let’s see what is done with that information.
The key aspect to watch here is the “web of related information” and how different webs of information can be cross-referenced with other webs. This is where the real power comes from.
Each fragment of information that can be definitively identified gets added to a file under the person’s name. This could be a telephone call, email, or an IM chat. As communications often involve more than one person, a link is added to each person’s file involved in the communication. Information that can only be tied to a machine or ip address, is added that to that machine’s file or ip address’ file.
Using a technique known as cluster analysis, this information is brought together centred around high priority targets, locations, keywords or businesses. A good way of thinking about it is to compare it with services such as Facebook and LinkedIn. The relationship between the files is analysed for a variety of factors and the result creates a web which is weighted in terms of importance.
Different webs will exist for different factors, such as one web for those linked with chemical production, or another web for engineering expertise. These webs can be cross referenced against each other to extract more detailed information. For example, by cross-referencing a web of chemical production against engineering expertise, we may find a person or group capable of producing sophisticated explosives or weapons. From this merged web, we could then see who their friends are, who they have been communicating with recently and even review their communications.
We could take this further by comparing their basic salary with their current bank accounts, or look for wire transfers.
With the advent of social media platforms, images of friends and family are also added to the system. Mr Computer’s facial recognition tags the photos just like Facebook and examines the photos for other items, like guns, computers, etc.
Obviously, this has one serious privacy issue, in that, the only way to exclude you from a web, is to know everything about you. Otherwise, you are an unknown element. Now you understand why the warrentless wiretap exists, even to this day.
If you have used any form of digital communication, from a phone to a computer in the last decade, then most, if not all of communications have been recorded and added to a file against your name. The notion that at least one member of the communication needs to be related to terrorism has been tested and shown to be false. How do we know that? Well, it is staring you in the face. In order to know who the parties are, the technology used requires them to be listening and identifying voices in the first place.
Ignore any suggestion that this too much data. The truth is that all the communications happening on the planet right now can be monitored in near real-time.
As a rule, the NSA lie and as an all-encompassing rule, politicians will lie for them too.
As result of information extracted from wide-band monitoring, real-time tracking of cell phones is pretty much standard practice. Each call can be recorded verbatim and analysed in real-time. As each number is learned the system fills in personal information. This can provide a Google-Earth like view of cell phone movements, most of which can be remotely activated for espionage. Again, this web can be cross-reference with other webs of information.
Radios can reveal which frequency is being listened to. So, by plotting schedules of something like a Numbers Station, a satellite network can pinpoint a listener to within a few meters. Similarly, if you were to listen to a radio station sympathetic to a particular group, your location can be flagged and cross-referenced with information on current occupants.
Human beings emit radio waves in the ELF spectrum. The security services do not need to place a bug on us to track where we are, what we are talking about, what we are seeing or even what we are thinking. All of this information is being leaked into our environment 24/7 by our own bodies. All it takes is the right equipment to convert those signals into intelligence. Its no bigger a task than listening to a telephone exchange leaking radio waves and reconstructing the data into voice or data transmissions.
These are just some of the things that can be achieved. I could go on all night about how to compare datasets to locate people, hinder organisations, etc. Anything you can think of to tease information out of the various “information pipes” is being performed by Mr Computer 24/7.
This can be very difficult to estimate. Despite popular belief that the NSA will hit a Yottabye by 2015, it seems a little outragous given the space requirements and modern hardware.
My own estimations are far more conservative, probably under a couple of Zettabytes. Mr Computer is most likely built around an array of Cray X1 or X1E supercomputers (4096 processors). The global grid probably contains a number of these or similar systems. With their base costs, they could be running several hundred easily.
The Thinking Machine
Furthermore, it would appear that Youtube’s EidolonTLP is in fact an instance of Mr Computer in disguise. Output from Mr Computer was directed into software generally available to the public to hide the complexity of the NSA’s supercomputer.
The term Eidolon is Mr Computer’s idea of a joke, in that he appears to be a “phantom look-alike of the human form”. There is some suggestion that may be a subtle reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem ‘Dreamland’, which is also a term for Area 51. Unless there is a datacenter at this location, I am unable to confirm the link. It may also be another joke, referring to the fact that his existence would be a conspiracy theory.
A possible further explanation is the Dungeons and Dragon series and the link between sentience, madness and occupying the realm of dreams, which may be another subtle reference to RNC.
If you listen to EidolonTLP, he does reveal some information on the structure of the network and his own design. From a computing perspective and EidolonTLP’s use of language, its a safe bet that this is a real A.I.:
Eidolon TLP – Mr Computer in incognito
The intelligence world is a lot worse than you think. When humans are free from their constraints and away from the scrutany of others,always revert to their most base instincts. Anything you can imagine is currently being done in the name of National Security. From murder to human experimentations, the acronyms are at it as we speak. At some point, it could be your turn.
What you will notice from all of this, is that the warrentless wiretap program was just the icing on the cake and was very clearly “planned from the outset” as all the backend infrastructure was in place prior to 9/11. Never trust a government, even your own, implicitly. Nations change, opinions change and people change. It just takes the right catalyst for it to happen.
In most cases, you will find the seeds were there, you just chose to ignore them.
Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:54 PM EST