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Jun 14 2013

And a Third Program is Revealed

In addition to the cell phone metadata seizures (not just Verizon but the other major cell companies too) and the PRISM program, it appears that a third program was also revealed in the original documents leaked by Edward Snowden, codenamed Blarney.

Much of the initial coverage of last week’s leaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) online snooping focused on a content gathering program called PRISM. But buried in the Washington Post’s original coverage were a few tantalizing details about another program code-named BLARNEY that bears a striking resemblance to the one alleged in a prominent court case over the existence of a dragnet online surveillance program.

The details of the BLARNEY program revealed so far appear to closely match the testimony and documents of former AT&T employee and whistleblower Mark Klein. Klein worked at AT&T for twenty-two years, retiring in 2004. During that time, he has testified he witnessed the installation of a fiber-optic splitting device in the San Francisco office where he worked, with a copy of all data being diverted to a room controlled by the NSA. In that room was “powerful computer equipment connecting to separate networks” and with the capability to “analyze communications at high speed.” As part of his testimony, he also provided AT&T documents that included diagrams of the splitter technology used.

In a conversation with ThinkProgress, Cindy Cohn, Legal Director with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which is litigating the Jewel v. NSA case, agreed BLARNEY “appears to be what we’ve been saying, and what Mark Klein’s evidence shows.”

According the Washington Post, BLARNEY gathers up metadata from choke points along the backbone of the Internet as part of “an ongoing collection program that leverages IC [intelligence community] and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.” A slide later revealed by The Guardian lists the program as an upstream option for data collection, which relies on sucking up information “on fiber cables and infrastructure as it flows past.”

I interviewed Mark Klein after his book, Wiring Up The Big Brother Machine…And Fighting It, came out. That’s a book you really should all read.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    matty1

    BLARNEY gathers up metadata from choke points along the backbone of the Internet

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the details but how is this different to ECHELON, which has been known for decades?

  2. 2
    grumpyoldfart

    …an upstream option for data collection, which relies on sucking up information “on fiber cables and infrastructure as it flows past.

    Is that supposed to mean something or is it just a few buzzwords strung together for dramatic effect?

  3. 3
    Raging Bee

    matty1: offhand, I’m guessing the difference is one of scale and computing power.

  4. 4
    Raging Bee

    No, grumpy, it’s buzzwords strung together for UN-dramatic effect.

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    how is this different to ECHELON

    This is the internet. ECHELON was phone/voice telegraph and satellite radio/video as well as international microwave links.

    It is all part of a consistently targeted and growing capability. That’s what blows my mind about the people who are saying Greenwald is making this up: there has been a decades-long trend of whistleblowers outing this secret and illegal surveillance and, what, now suddenly it’s all lies?

  6. 6
    Marcus Ranum

    sucking up information “on fiber cables and infrastructure as it flows past

    translation: fiber-optic splitters are used on trunks, while “infrastructure” core switches are tapped using spanned ports.

  7. 7
    Reginald Selkirk

    Undersea cable cut near Egypt slows down Internet in Africa, Middle East, South Asia
    Mar. 27, 2013

    Please keep in mind that these undersea cable incidents are probably just accidents cause by ship anchors, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the installation of fiber splitters.

  8. 8
    Marcus Ranum

    Please keep in mind that these undersea cable incidents are probably just accidents cause by ship anchors, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the installation of fiber splitters.

    Some of them are subtle shots in “cyberwar” — when the NSA tapped the Soviet military comms lines in Murmansk they did it without interrupting service.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Ivy_Bells

  9. 9
    Marcus Ranum

    I recently posted an article about this on the fabius maximus site; the link-farm at the end is good introductory material to anyone who wants a better understanding of how these programs evolved:
    http://fabiusmaximus.com/2013/06/15/snowden-nsa-51438/

    The tl;dr form, I suppose, is that the post-cold war intelligence community turned its efforts on monitoring the citizenry, with the same level of enthusiasm and technology that was employed against the Soviets.

  10. 10
    atheist

    So you post over at Fabius Maximus’ site! I knew I recalled your handle from somewhere…

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