Could the Verizon-NSA Metadata Collection Be a Stealth Political Kickback?

Yves here. Note that it’s possible (one would assume probable) that the Administration has been collecting the sort of information it has been getting from Verizon from all major telephone carriers. But if not, then the line of thought below is pertinent.

By Patrick Durusau, who consults on semantic integration and edits standards. Durusau is convener of JTC 1 SC 34/WG 3, co-editor of 13250-1 and 13250-5 (Topic Maps Introduction and Reference Model, respectively), and editor of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard at OASIS and ISO (ISO/IEC 26300). Originally published at Another Word for It.

Why Verizon?

The first question that came to mind when the Guardian broke the news on NSA-Verizon phone record metadata collection.

Here’s why I ask:



Verizon over 2011-2012 had only 34% of the cell phone market.

Unless terrorists prefer Verizon for ideological reasons, why Verizon?

Choosing only Verizon means the NSA is missing 66% of potential terrorist cell traffic.

That sounds like a bad plan.

What other reason could there be for picking Verizon?

Consider some other known players:

President Barack Obama, candidate for President of the United States, 2012.

“Bundlers” who gathered donations for Barack Obama:

Min Max Name City State Employer
$200,000 $500,000 Hill, David Silver Spring MD Verizon Communications
$200,000 $500,000 Brown, Kathryn Oakton VA Verizon Communications
$50,000 $100,000 Milch, Randal Bethesda MD Verizon Communications

(Source: – 2012 Presidential – Bundlers)

BTW, the Max category means more money may have been given, but that is the top reporting category.

I have informally “identified” the bundlers as follows:

  • Kathryn C. Brown Kathryn C. Brown is senior vice president – Public Policy Development and Corporate Responsibility. She has been with the company since June 2002. She is responsible for policy development and issues management, public policy messaging, strategic alliances and public affairs programs, including Verizon Reads.

    Ms. Brown is also responsible for federal, state and international public policy development and international government relations for Verizon. In that role she develops public policy positions and is responsible for project management on emerging domestic and international issues. She also manages relations with think tanks as well as consumer, industry and trade groups important to the public policy process.

  • David A. Hill, Bloomberg Business Week reports: David A. Hill serves as Director of Verizon Maryland Inc. LinkedIn profile reports David A. Hill worked for Verizon, VP & General Counsel (2000 – 2006), Associate General Counsel (March 2006 – 2009), Vice President & Associate General Counsel (March 2009 – September 2011) “Served as a liaison between Verizon and the Obama Administration”

  • Randal S. Milch Executive Vice President – Public Policy and General Counsel

What is Verizon making for each data delivery? Is this cash for cash given?

If someone gave your more than $1 million (how much more is unknown), would you talk to them about such a court order?

If you read the “secret” court order, you will notice it was signed on April 23, 2013.

There isn’t a Kathryn C. Brown in Oakton in the White House visitor’s log, but I did find this record, where a “Kathryn C. Brown” made an appointment at the Whitehouse and was seen two (2) days later on the 17th of January 2013.

BROWN,KATHRYN,C,U69535,,VA,,,,,1/15/13 0:00,1/17/13 9:30,1/17/13 23:59,,176,CM,WIN,1/15/13 11:27,CM,,POTUS/FLOTUS,WH,State Floo,MCNAMARALAWDER,CLAUDIA,,,04/26/2013

[The 04/26/2013 date is the date the data was released. –lambert]

I don’t have all the dots connected because I am lacking some unknown number of the players, internal Verizon communications, and Verizon accounting records showing government payments, but it is enough to make you wonder about the purpose of the “secret” court order.

Was it a serious attempt at gathering data for national security reasons?

Or was it gathering data as a pretext for payments to Verizon or other contractors?

My vote goes for “pretext for payments.”

I say that because using data from different sources has always been hard.

In fact, about 60 to 80% of the time of a data analyst is spent “cleaning up data” for further processing.

The phrase “cleaning up data” is the colloquial form of “semantic impedance.”

Semantic impedance happens when the same people are known by different names in different data sets or different people are known by the same names in the same or different data sets.

Remember Kathryn Brown, of Oakton, VA? One of the Obama bundlers. Let’s use her as an example of “semantic impedance.”

The FEC has a record for Kathryn Brown of Oakton, VA.

But a search engine found:

Kathryn C. Brown

Same person? Or different?

I found another Kathryn Brown at Facebook:

And an image of Facebook Kathryn Brown:

Kathryn Brown, Facebook

And a photo from a vacation she took:


Not to mention the Kathryn Brown that I found at Twitter.


That’s only four (4) data sources and I have at least four (4) different Kathryn Browns.

A quick search shows 227,000 hits for Kathryn Browns.

Remember that is just a personal name. What about different forms of addresses? Or names of employers? Or job descriptions? Or simple errors, like the 20% error rate in credit report records.

Take all the phones, plus names, addresses, employers, job descriptions, errors + other data and multiply that times 311.6 million Americans. (And that’s before we get to Facebook “likes,” twitter hash tags, Google search data, or telephone record linkages, all of which can be “dirty” in themselves, or with respect to each other.)

Can the problem of eliminating that semantic impedance be solved with petabytes of data and teraflops of processing?

Not a chance.

So, the Orwellian Fearists can stop huffing and puffing about the coming eclipse of civil liberties. Those passed from view a short time after 9/11 with the passage of the Patriot Act,* and not because of ineffectual NSA data collection.

Is there some class of problems that the NSA data collection efforts actually have a chance of solving?

Yes. Those that are sanely scoped.

Remember that my identification of Kathryn “bundler” Brown with the Kathryn C. Brown of Verizon was a human judgement, not an automatic rule. Nor would a computer “think” to check the White House visitor logs to see if another, possibly the same Kathryn C. Brown visited the White House before the secret order was signed.

Human judgement is required to eliminate or mitigate semantic impedance because all the data that the NSA has been collecting is “dirty” data, from one perspective or other. Either it’s is truly “dirty” in the sense of having errors, or it is “dirty” in the sense it doesn’t play well with other data.

For example, a sane scope for preventing terrorist attacks could be starting with a set of known or suspected terrorist phone numbers. Using all phone data (not just from Obama contributors), only numbers contacting or being contacted by those numbers would be subject to further analysis.*

Using that much smaller set of phone numbers as identifiers, we could then collect other data, such as names and addresses associated with that smaller set of phone numbers. That doesn’t make the data any cleaner but it does give us a starting point for mapping “dirty” data sets into our starter set.

The next step would be create mappings from other data sets. If we say why we have created a mapping, others can evaluate the accuracy of our mappings.

Those tasks would require computer assistance, but they ultimately would be matters of human judgement.

Examples of such judgements exist, say for example in the Palantir product line. If you watch Palantir Gotham being used to model biological relationships, take note of the results that were tagged by another analyst. And how the presenter tags additional material that becomes available to other researchers.

Computer assisted? Yes. Computer driven? No.

To be fair, human judgement is also involved in ineffectual NSA data collection efforts.

But it is human judgement that rewards sycophants and supporters, not serving public purpose.

NOTE * American voters bear responsibility for the loss of civil liberties by not voting leadership into office that would repeal the Patriot Act.

NOTE ** This frightening example works because it starts from a known phone number that’s already linked to a known identity; it’s sanely scoped. Whoever organized the Eliot Spitzer takedown, for example, also had a sanely scoped project and an excellent proxy for the subject identity for the target in context: Black socks. –lambert

* * *

Lambert here: None of this is to say that Bush and Obama’s massive surveillance program isn’t a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment. But there’s no particular reason to think that one segment of our grotesquely engorged National Security state is any less corrupt or effectual than any other, and that goes for NSA and DHS as much as for the Pentagon.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. sd

    Can the accumulated data be used for ‘insider’ trading?

    For instance, if there is an increase in communication between two companies, could the pattern imply a pending merger & acquisition?

    1. reslez

      The fact you’re asking this question shows that you have no idea exactly how much can be determined with this sort of data. That or you’re being facetious.

      For example, researchers with access to Netflix’s anonymized watch history were able to identify specific individuals with as few as 3 data points by correlating it to reviews on IMDB.

      Private companies are doing this sort of thing routinely for marketing purposes. The federal government purchases this data from them. Add in the federal government’s direct access to telecommunications data and internet history and there is pretty much nothing they don’t know about you once they bother to type in your name.

      Presumption of innocence? Prosecutors routinely spin anything and everything to look like guilt. And nothing prevents Joe Schmo Bureaucrat from looking up whatever they want to know about you, meanwhile whistleblowers are hounded into bankruptcy and jail.

      They know everything about us, they move heaven and earth to prevent us from knowing anything about them. And they do it in our name.

      1. Frank Miata

        Good point about Netflix. One wonders if the Taliban or other terrorist groups may be tracked by the porn sites they watch? Can their viewing habits be different from those of Seal team 6? Just a thought.

    2. sgt_doom

      To segue from that point to a more salient one, perhaps, a larger question might be who owns Verizon?

      All the original Baby Bells have been reconstituted back into the original AT&T, only larger, and more robust, with the one exception of Verizon.

      So, does the majority of owner of AT&T also the owner of Verizon? In searching through cross-stock ownership, it certainly appears that way.

      Historically, the majority owners of AT&T were Morgan and Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt the minority owner), but ownership was transferred to the Rockefellers (I think for raising money for the Carnegie steel buyout, but I forget the exact details of transfer).

      Now Jay Rockefeller led the charge in the Senate to grant legal immunity to AT&T and the telecoms, and AT&T fully embraces Jay as their evangelist in congress. (Just check out their web site sometime!)

      Which could very well be another reason, normally it is always wise to be highly suspicious of those who suggest everything takes place at the political level, or political theater of the absurd, when logic trumps all when one follows the money.

      Call me suspicious. . . .

    1. spacecabooie

      Black programs are often thought of as physical/mechanical system development programs, many of them carried out by Big Def with substantial Big Guv support and funding in amounts that are not made public.

      How much of that funding – particularly since the sequester – has been going to Big Dat/Comm, not to purchase data originally formatted by/for Big Dat/Comm, but to purchase special purpose technology products developed in accordance with Big Guv specifications ?

      Big Dat/Comm perhaps would even have contracts to administer the use of such products.

      Semantic Impedance matching/filtering in this product would perhaps be a primary design feature.

      And on the subject of Black things, might Big Gov (of the offensive kind) have been involved in funding Black-Scholes research and development ?

  2. Joe

    Searching via Google v.s. the database and methods the government has is completely different. Unless proven otherwise, at this point I assume the government has vast records of all of our data; every bit of it. Besides your calling records they more than likely have all our financial records, driver’s license, social security, tax records, travel records and any data we have been foolish enough to share with any internet company. I would assume they have every bit of information that ever touches a computer somewhere.

    Why does Google endlessly insist I give them my phone number to tie to my Gmail account (which I have always refused by the way)?

    The NSA is collecting data at the source. If I was the NSA, I would be identifying the data as it is created and sorting it in real time rather than later.

    The NSA has tools you do not have, i.e. face recognition software.

    It appears that all the internet companies, telcos, banks, etc… are cooperating 100% with the government and have surrendered all customer data or have willingly looked the other way so that they have a plausible case of deniability.

    America is a fascist state. Follow the money. Why doesn’t any corporate tool ever go to jail? Why don’t corporations pay their taxes? Me, I think it’s quid pro quo for silently enabling the police state to grow.

    I think no matter what tinfoil hat garbage I can dream up, the situation is probably worse.

    1. silver linings showroom

      Is it possible the government decided to almost entirely ignore antitrust law because it’s easier to make deals with a small group of oligopolists than to herd cats?

    2. Doug Terpstra

      Eric Place-Holder’s Department of Immunity has a two-fold Orwellian mission: to enrich prison-profiteers with whistleblowers, journalists, immigrants, and petty offenders while exonerating military serial killers, corporate felons, and Big-Bro’ bribe-bundlers like Jon Corzine.

    3. Nathanael

      It’s going to be interesting to see the collapse of this authoritarian abusive state.

      The longest lasting government which was arguably fascist (corporatist) was that of Salazar (32 – 75), followed by Franco (39-75), followed by Mussolini (22-43), followed by Hitler (33-45).

      The key success of all of them lay in expansionary fiscal policy, which our current regimes are refusing to do, and so I don’t think they qualify as fascist.

      That is also why our current regimes are likely to be very unstable.

    4. diane

      Searching via Google v.s. the database and methods the government has is completely different.

      Exactly, the point of connection for computers inside of one’s residence is predominantly a phone line, and the point of connection while outside the home is predominantly a mobile phone, one’s workplace, or a library (many of which now assign permanent computer use ‘pin’ numbers to the person’s library card.

      And then there is the facial, voice, and print recognition, which was, as usual, introduced via the publically traded corporations and larger, family owned, non-traded corporations.

      And that’s not even to mention the social security numbers attached to what’s being swept up.

      1. diane

        (Sorry if a duplicate, second attempt to post, with an html close quote correction and sans link to original article post:

        Further, this bit (which isn’t linked, as it is above, to another article in the original posting):

        The Orwellian fearists can stop huffing and puffing about the coming eclipse of civil liberties.

        was just stunningly patronizing and insulting. Might as well snicker distatefully and call Glenn Greenwald and all the millions of others rightfully outraged, Conspiracy Theorists!!!!!)

        1. diane

          Lastly, I believe it is highly inappropriate to post a picture of someone who does not at all expect to have such an intimate (shared among presumed friends) picture of themselves highlighted (the photo of Kathryn, above), regarding an international issue about someone else with her name, especially without the one who posted it providing a close up photo of themselves, if they actually believe that is okay. As bad as Newspapers are, they used to have to ask permission to put someone in such a spotlight, without their knowledge.

          1. diane

            (to include that photo poster’s real name, if they are actually using a pseudonym (false name).)

          2. reslez

            You seem to be under the misimpression that anyone who matters cares about individual privacy. Peons have no privacy (and should get used to it). As for we peons, yes it is very bad and wrong of us to dare turn the spotlight on anyone else. We might invade the privacy of someone who matters!


          3. diane

            Huh, reslez???:

            You seem to be under the misimpression that anyone who matters cares about individual privacy.

            Until it’s proven otherwise – and no one has proven it, to my mind, certainly not you – everyone who matters cares about their privacy (especially when they actually come to know how thoroughly it has been violated).

            As to:

            Peons have no privacy (and should get used to it).

            You get used to it, I choose not to, along with millions of others.

        2. diane

          By the way, reslez, I’m pretty sure that is not your photo in that speshul, ‘avatar’ spot; ….in the upper left corner of your ‘post.’ Sooooooo, why not inlude one of those undiscernable, turned to one side, photos of yourself, …since you make such a point of poo pooing facial recognition technology below,….let alone the valid point I made above, that most (99.99999999% I’ll guess) internet transactions are trackable, via 100% traceable, phone and library connections.

    5. borkman


      I’ve worked with companies seeking funding for state of the art face recognition techoloogy.

      Its false positive and negative rate is high with oridinary pictures.

      You need dead on (face straight at the camera) images to do well with nothing interfering with the capture of the key mesurement points.

      1. reslez

        Yes, since commercial-grade algorithms are currently somewhat bad at facial recognition, we should stop worrying about this topic completely. Set aside the fact that, at first, algorithms were also somewhat bad at text recognition until CAPTCHA came along and gave them a financial incentive to get really good at it. So good that many humans now have trouble passing CAPTCHA challenges. So good that police cruisers are now routinely equipped with devices that record all license plates in their vicinity.

        Since we know that technology never improves and there is no financial incentive from the government to improve these facial recognition algorithms, we should run along and not worry our pretty little heads about them. Our overlords have only the best intentions (to profit from and control us).


        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          You can realistically assess the situation today. Or not. Personally, I have enough anxiety that I don’t need to pile on.

          I also can’t find where anybody is making the argument that technology is not advancing. More straw?

        2. borkman

          How many straw men did you manage to pack into your reply?

          We are talking about the state of the technology today. It happens to be based on 2 D face recognition. Guess what, that’s because the data capture is 2 D, or did you miss THAT part?

          And what I am talking about is not commercial grade. The target user base for the technology I’ve seen is the intelligence and police community. So they are up on the state of the art.

    6. sgt_doom

      Excellent points, Joe, most excellent and cogent points.

      The American gov’t, along with China, Iran and many others (officially at least 160 gov’ts) purchased the state of the art automated intelligence platform, the Trovicor Monitoring Center, which is able to access healthcare databases, DNA databases, intercept telephoney, email on the fly and allow editing and continued transmission, deep packet inspection and a host of other intrusion software, while automatically dispatching the appropriate teams (kidnap, wiretapping or kill) upon receipt of specific information.

      I suspect we’re not even seeing the highest smallest tip of that submerged iceberg of penetration.

    7. constant

      A quick search shows 227,000 hits for Kathryn Browns

      Did anybody go through the process of verifying the number of references for the hits
      I did several times and it ends very soon
      give it a try
      hits my ‘***’

    8. Bruno Marr

      Folks, if you think meta-data keeps you anonymous then surf over to the Gaudian website and read about the near futulity of anonymizing large data sets. Computer science has shown that with just a few data points ANY idividual can be ID’d with 95% accuracy.

  3. pdlane

    The author either has a short memory or purposely ignores facts: But,, it is nothing new and has been going on in one form or another since the NSA was created back in 1949. In October 2003 AT&T technician Mark Klein discovered newly installed NSA data-mining equipment in a “secret room” at a company facility in San Francisco. No one knows how far back in time this sweeping has been going on, but we do know that it expanded under Bush/Cheney with the Patriot Act.

    1. washunate

      I’m fascinated when people ignore the obvious to develop elaborate theories. I had forgotten we’ve known about this for ten years. Time for a celebration!

    2. Norman

      In answer to the question as to when it started, back at leazst in the 70’s, perhaps originally in the L.A. area, when A.T.&.T. went didgital with it’s phone lines on a massive scale. The use of the “beeper”, then the pay phone, allowed the “drug deals to flourish unabated. So, the geeks came up with “key words”, wich were recorded when ever they were used. A certain number of hits would be duly noted on the daily printout, again being read by someone. Then the number[s] could be zeroed in on, allowing the federallies to monitor. Of course, that all became nute with the advent of the cell phone, which today even gives ones location. Consider who makes most of the cell phones in use today, and yes Miltilda, they do have what is called by some as back doors, allowing the good ol boys a way to snoop. Oh, I guess that this will also be another taxpayer provided source of revenue for Verizon/other companies/facebook etc.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      There are plenty of posts out there on the 2006 scandal on Bush warrantless wiretapping and surveillance in general; I did plenty back in the day, and Marcy Wheeler and Glenn are all over the topic as well.

      What I can’t figure out is why you want this post to be those posts.

      1. Norman

        If you’re replying to my comment, then perhaps you’ll notice that I was commenting to anothers. The problem of inserting my comment where it shows up today, is the fact that for what ever reason, my comments are stuck in the moderation needed mode instead of printing it when I made it. I should ask you why I’ve been singled out for the honor{dis} of having to be moderated when I comment? Seems that it would be far easier to just eliminate me from the list of recipients/subscribers to Naked Capitalism. After all, if I seem mundane in my comments, well, I’m just looking for the viewpoints of others, you could say from an educational point of view, which I really do get from reading this blog, even telling others about same, putting it in the “Cadilac” class of blogs.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Unless you’re pdlane, I’m not replying to you.

          If you want a full-time moderator 24/7 to pull comments out of the queues in near-real time whenever they end up there, do feel free to write NC a large check. Otherwise, it’s a big Internet.

          1. Norman

            Gee Lambert, sorry to get under your skin, I only commented because as I already said. Yes, it’s a big internet out there, but sometimes the words used are out of context. Oh well, one should check ones elitism at the door when dealing with peoples opinions, do you think?

  4. Stephanie

    I don’t get it. Where is there evidence of payments? Or would one just expect/assume that any company involved would be assured of being monetarily compensated for their cooperation? As if it were a business deal? A public-private partnership?

  5. Cheyenne

    Always interesting to read stuff from an expert, but the whole post hinges on Verizon being the only carrier being mined.
    I’m sure pretty much any longtime NC reader will be savvy enough to suspect this isn’t the case.

    1. Stephanie

      Why? Couldn’t the gov make deals with other companies? I see that Yves has made a similar point at the outset, but IDGI. If the argument hinges on a singular deal, why even post the article now that we know that there are other deals with other communication companies? I’m sure I’m missing some basic argument here. I’ve read the article twice, though, and don’t see an answer to my question.

      1. pdlane

        Verizon is not the only carrier involved. All the carriers are involved. This incident is just the renewal of the continuing arrangement with Verizon. FYI.. FISA only grants 90 day secret warrents, thus they all have to be continuously renewed.

        Further, as far as payments to the carriers… we will never know as the NSA budget is highly classified and never publicly released.

        1. Nathanael

          Eventually some administration will shut down the entire NSA/CIA/FBI/DOD secret police apparatus. Not ’till after a revolution, sadly…

        2. Yves Smith

          You don’t know that.

          You seem to forget that the metadata collection required a court order which Greenwald published.

          Having the equipment on site is a necessary but not sufficient for the data collection of the sort outed at Verizon to be taking place.

          One can say it’s PROBABLE that the Administration has similar orders with other carriers, but to say it’s in fact happening is a leap unsupported by facts.

          And one reason for pursuing this line (“Well, based on what we know, this looks like it could be a payoff”) is to increase the heat an itty bitty bit more on forcing disclosure of whether this sort of thing is being done with the other major carriers.

          1. Mark P.

            [1] It is happening at all the other carriers.

            Overall, sixty-seventy percent of the world’s electronic communications go through Anglo-American routing stations and is scooped up by the intelligence services of those countries.

            [2] You should also pay closer attention to the role of Amdocs, the largest phone-billing services company in the world and ultimately based in Israel, although they’ve covered their tracks on that since 2006, which was the last time media and sheeple got excited about communication surveillance —


            “Amdocs Limited is a provider of software and services for communications, media and entertainment industry service providers. The company develops, implements and manages software and services for business support systems (BSS), including billing, customer relationship management (CRM), and for operations support systems (OSS). Amdocs is the market leader in Telecommunication Billing Services which forms the major strength of the company. Its products consist of software developed to provide customer experience systems functionality for service providers. The software systems support the customer lifecycle: revenue management, customer management, service and resource management and service delivery.

            “Its traditional clients are telecommunications “Tier-1” and “Tier-2” providers such as AT&T, BT Group, Sprint, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Bell Canada, Telus, Rogers Communications, Telekom Austria, Cellcom, Comcast, DirecTV, Elisa Oyj, TeliaSonera and O2-Ireland. The company also offers outsourced customer service and data center operations. Headquartered in Chesterfield, Missouri, Amdocs has more than 20,000 employees and serves customers in more than fifty countries (the Registered office of the company is in the Island of Guernsey). “

          2. Lambert Strether Post author

            @Mark P. We “don’t know it” in the sense that this is the only court [sic!!!] order we have and it applies to Verizon only. Personally, I think it’s extremely likely they’re all doing it, but I wouldn’t claim to know that. (Remember, we have a secret [quasi-]legal regimen; even if we do know they were doing it in 2006, we don’t know they’re doing it now.)

            I’d also argue that one reason to be precise in our claims is to encourage further whistleblowers to come forward, and more leaking to be done.

    2. washunate

      More than suspect. The Guardian author, who bizarrely doesn’t seem to be named in this post, is Glenn Greenwald, one of the foremost critics of the Bush/Obama spying regime. Back in 2008 he was all over the first go round of FISA amendments and Obama’s support of spying and telecom immunity. The Obots have been attacking Greenwald for years for speaking out about this.

        1. washunate

          Yves didn’t write this post. I’m talking about the author, Patrick Durusau. His speculation seems like a good lesson for when smart people discuss subject matters outside of their familiarity without doing a little background reading first.

          The tell is that he credits the Guardian yet doesn’t mention any individual person who has been writing about this for years (not just Greenwald of course, Wheeler and a number of voices, too).

          1. Yves Smith

            First, Durusau, if you had bothered doing YOUR homework, is a very serious data/IT expert.

            Second, it isn’t obligatory (as in not a matter of convention) to mention the author of an important story. Fer Chrissakes, the Times has a whole bunch of stories today on surveillance that don’t even mention the Guardian, much the less Greenwald. See here, for instance:

            So your charge that Durusau doesn’t know this beat is unfounded.

          2. Lambert Strether Post author

            It seems to me that the link itself is the credit required. This is the blogosphere, and not an academic paper.

            Adding… If the cite were to a secondary source that depended on Greenwald but didn’t break the story, that would be a tell. But here the focus is on the data itself, and not a media critique.

          3. washunate

            I respectfully disagree. People like Greenwald have been so smeared that to not even mention his name in a piece about reporting by Greenwald suggests ignorance or carelessness.

            This is not some unforgivable sin – it’s just a datapoint suggesting that the IT expertise has no relevance to conjecture about political kickbacks. And that’s the key – this is all conjecture. The data we have about the Bush/Obama spying suggests that the null hypothesis should be that multiple telecoms are involved. It would take significant evidence to change the conclusion to only Verizon being involved. It is particularly ironic on the subject of political involvement because one of the areas where Greenwald was most criticized by Serious Democrats was when Greenwald lambasted Obama in 2008 for supporting telecom immunity and warrantless spying – and plastering the AT&T logo on the Democratic convention bags.

            For example, two days ago, Durusau started a post with this:

            “Sadly U.S. citizens have to rely on the foreign press, NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily for minimal transparency of our own government.”

            Yes, of course, Greenwald is currently writing for the Guardian, which is foreign. But he’s an American, who has been talking about this for years, in the American press, with books published in America.

            Salon has 104 pages archived of his work. His most recent book was published by Picador, a New York publishing company, and is broadly available in all the American book stores. American authoritarians who dislike his voice criticize him regularly in American media. Etc.

            I notice that Durusau’s most recent post about on another topic, cyberwarfare, mentions Greenwald’s name in linking to the Guardian.

            This is important because these are the guys on ‘our team’, in the reality-based world. If we don’t hold ourselves to a higher standard of evidence and context, then we’re stooping to the level of those with other purposes. On another subject, helping fund Bradley Manning’s trial transcripts, for example, he names both the person making the report and the original person who showed him the link. And he isn’t suggesting that a prison company is getting a kickback for torturing Manning.

          4. Lambert Strether Post author

            @washunate “it’s just a datapoint suggesting that the IT expertise has no relevance to conjecture about political kickbacks.”

            Hmm. I’m not aware of another post by another poster that (1) lays the date of White House visitor’s log for a Verizon executive against (2) the date of the approval of a surveillance program of direct benefit to Verizon against (3) the campaign contributions of that same executive (and others). To adopt a line from LA Confidential, “I won’t use the word ‘kickback,’ but feel free to think it.”

            This “conjecture” (and you and the poster both agree it is just that) seems eminently reasonable to me. I don’t see why the poster is unqualified to make it.

          5. washunate

            Lambert, I’ve been thinking about this, and I’m not understanding your comment.

            This post was laid out with the following two core premises:

            1. There is something unique in the national security realm about this particular Verizon court order.
            2. The reason for that is political kickbacks.

            I don’t see warrants supporting either of those claims, never mind arguing persuasively for both of them together.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        You may be thinking of Jonathan Turley’s blog where indeed no mention was made of Greenwald either in Turley’s post on the event (only “The Guardian” was credited) or in other posts adjacent to it, at least since Greenwald’s courageous scoop.

        This is not “in character” with Turley, but at the same time it’s not something one just “forgets” to mention. Sad.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Note, I am talking about Turley and his posts, not the commenters who definitely bring up Greenwald (hard to see how one can avoid doing so).

  6. patrick k

    Each succeeding administration is going to appear much more sinister than the prior as technology catches up with surveillance blueprints. There is virtually nothing new on the original Gestapo/Stasi methods, which in the day were done long hand and with cameras.

    All the impossibles with this mega data will in time be usable with new, still to be developed software. It is certain that a point will come when someone sits at a screen, imagines your name and your entire life, along with everyone you have ever interacted with appears in very real usable video form all set to music. It is what it is…more importantly, there is no stopping this progression. We are the Borg! Using the IRS to pimp your enemies will be so yesterday.

    1. Nathanael

      “It is certain that a point will come when someone sits at a screen, imagines your name and your entire life, along with everyone you have ever interacted with appears in very real usable video form all set to music. ”

      That is great for secret police who want to harass political dissidents, but utterly useless if they are trying to detect *actual* plots to overthrow the government. Those, they will miss completely, because in a country with secret police, people who are *actually* plotting to overthrow the government *appear really normal*.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Exactly. So if you reverse engineer “sane scope” out of an understanding of what can actually be done with the data, that gives you a shot at guessing what they are actually doing, reasoning from capability not motive.

        “Present fears / Are less than horrible imaginings.” Except the version of this quote I have running around in my head has subsituted “worse” for “less”….

  7. Bernard

    yes, using the IRS to pimp your enemies, lol. the Tea party IRS BS is sooo…PR marketing. even though i don’t know much about the facts, watching the Tea Partiers and their “outrage” is perhaps one of the”funny” aspect to the whole Big Brother America we live in. schadenfreude

  8. diptherio

    “Durusau is convener of JTC 1 SC 34/WG 3, co-editor of 13250-1 and 13250-5”

    Never before has someone’s by-line made me feel stupid.

    1. neo-realist

      Unless you’re being facetious, this blatant police state data collection and monitoring along with state secrets protection shows that Frank Church is dead and gone in more ways than one. What was once a crime is now legally protected behavior.

  9. Jessica

    What this seems to boil down to is that they can’t put you on their radar using massive amounts of dirty data. But if for any reason, you get on their radar, they can focus in on what they need and violate your privacy pretty thoroughly. Although not necessarily much more effectively or efficiently than traditional police Red Squads.
    Also, their incompetence can cut both ways. I see no guarantee that the day won’t come when they decide to harass, for example, everyone they have cell phone records of you calling frequently. So your poor mechanic gets dragged in too. These are after all the folks who have drones shooting at first responders and then at the funerals that result.

    1. diptherio


      Inept use of this unconstitutionally obtained data is a threat to all of us. What if you happen to be at the convenience store at the same time as a “person of interest” a couple of times and the NSA (or whoever) decide to check you out too, just in case…?

    2. reslez

      Once you’re on their list, your life is ruined. Lawyers? Who can afford them. Bullying prosecutors will claim your scalp and call you a terrorist to burnish their resumes.

      They are going to do this to political opponents. I’m talking people outside the Beltway, people outside the party system. No powerful friends. No protections. No hope.

      They are making peaceful change impossible — probably because, as lambert would say, when it comes to violence they believe they can win.

  10. Jackrabbit

    Occams Razor

    – I expect there are much simpler/direct ways to reward Verizon.

    – *IF* it is _only_ Verizon: they are the main carrier for NYC.

    1. jrs

      Yea in my experience that’s how “public/private partnerships” really work:
      1) companies DO need protection FROM the government. An ill-conceived piece of legistlation can put a perfectly decent out of business. Building ties with the government is protection.
      2) government represents a huge market and eventually becomes one of the top customers for I think most businesses (of course the very fact that a government agency is a main customer is often kept hush hush even within the company and something you are not supposed to speak of as an employee even though you are aware of it)
      3) of course not every company proceeds to step 3 if being basically an arm of the government but ..

      1. jrs

        Ok I imagine a govenrment agency being a major customer isn’t always hush hush, social security administration is your major customer maybe not … but sometimes. I don’t make this stuff up.

    2. LifelongLib

      Yes, I had the same thought. Sign a mundane purchase or service contract with them. Of course government procurement procedures are nominally designed to prevent that sort of thing but there are ways to work around them.

  11. washunate

    Greenwald has been talking about these problems for years. AT&T had their logos on the Democratic convention bags back in 2008 around the time Obama lobbied hard for telecom immunity and the prior FISAAA.

    Sure, it’s possible there are specific kickbacks, but the main point is that the Obama Administration is blatantly participating in the assault on the Constitution. Verizon and ATT both are major corporate lobbyists, but it is the government that is spying on people.

  12. diptherio

    Interesting article. The scenario presented is plausible, but the issue for me is still, now that NSA has all this data on all of us, it can be used in a “sanely-scoped” way for whatever the PTB decide. This is a rather disturbing thought for activists, who have already been targeted and infiltrated by the gov’t. I imagine there is no warrant required to sift through data that your agency has already collected, is there? And isn’t that a convenient way to get around those pesky 4th amendment protections…

    I read with interest the information regarding semantic impedance. It lends support to my practice of using pseudonyms on-line whenever possible and fudging on demographic questions (Hulu and facebook both think I’m Latino, which makes for a more amusing ad experience).

    But I have to say, this endnote is total BS:

    NOTE * American voters bear responsibility for the loss of civil liberties by not voting leadership into office that would repeal the Patriot Act.

    Well, here in MT we elected Jon Tester, largely on the basis of his firm opposition to the PATRIOT Act and his promises to “work hard to restore our Constitutional liberties.” Of course, once elected he shut the hell up about the PATRIOT Act and then went and voted for the NDAA with it’s expansion of Presidential fiat to the whole world and everyone on it. Blaming the “American voters” for a rigged political system is some pretty low, and downright ignorant, bullshit, imnsho. If voting could change anything (fundamental), it would be illegal…didn’t this dude get the memo?

    1. anon y'mouse

      I refuse to accept responsibility for the political class. regardless of the candidates, they are all on the same side and will vote the same way. even if they are against it, or the bill goes down the first time, it will keep coming back like a zombie with its head still attached until it gets shoved in some completely unrelated bill. they all know who is paying THEIR bills, so they go along. we have absolutely no control over what they do, and it doesn’t seem to matter who they are. just look at any number of examples where popular sentiment (and calls to congress) were against various activities and they went ahead and did them anyway.

      it’s another reason why I don’t feel bad about not voting anymore either. these candidates are all owned by the powers that be. if they aren’t owned, the become owned really quick. why engage in a staged race? one should be able to see that the outcome, like playing at Vegas, is not going to EVER be in the small fry’s favour.

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      If it wasn’t rigged, voting would be illegal… Spot on, it is rigged.

      I caught a small chunk of Tom Ashcroft’s, On Point, last night. Just enough, before hitting the off button, to hear the ubiquitous guest repeating the ubiquitous meme, “Well, if you have nothing to hide, then there is nothing to worry about, this shouldn’t bother you at all.”

      They have to have that snippet on tape. She pops up every single damn time something like this comes up.

      From Mexico mentioned someone yesterday who more or less said, The difference between The Pravda and The NYT is that everyone in Russia knows it’s pure propaganda where as in the US they still swallow it whole.

      1. jrs

        Hey, it really is a statement worth of the Panopticon isn’t it:

        “Well, if you have nothing to hide, then there is nothing to worry about, this shouldn’t bother you at all.”

        Translation: don’t have anything to hide, don’t do anything big brother wouldn’t approve.

    3. Brooklin Bridge

      The only possible explanation for why people still “buy” Capitalism and our so called representative government as part of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is to be found in the lines of people in small convenience stores waiting to buy a powerball ticket or over in the corner scratching away at the glossy microscopic veneer of their weeks salary. Greed. Self interest. Whatever. It’s just unbelievable how powerful that impulse is and how it can overcome all common sense and observable fact.

    4. reslez

      Fourth amendment? You have no 4th amendment from corporations. They do the collection, and government simply buys the data.

      This happens all the time.

      “Nothing to hide” cuts both ways. If they have nothing to hide, why can’t we know what they’re doing? Total inversion of democracy.

  13. washunate

    FYI, for those wanting a little background on the years-long developments of Senator and President Obama embracing spying and Glenn Greenwald challenging him, here is a good conversation on Democracy Now and some specific articles from his time at Salon. Unfortunately Salon has made it difficult to find his old pieces because they now link to his author page instead of directly to the posts as they were originally tagged (by date). This time period is between about pages 70 and 80.

    1. Yves Smith

      Go read the court order. It’s more encompassing than “call record data”. It includes geolocation. That is unrelated to specific calls.

      The Administration is trying to downplay this by making it seem like this is well established business as usual and no one should worry their head. It’s a way of trying to cast a veil over it.

      The denials (like the initial tech co “we don’t allow direct access to our servers” which is a non-denial denial) are carefully parsed. And this is an authorized leak (anyone with a zillion security clearances is not gonna leak, these are PLANTS).

      So as I said earlier, it is PROBABLE that there are similar programs in place at other telcos. But that WSJ bit proves nothing.

  14. rich

    Web inventor Berners-Lee warns forces are ‘trying to take control’
    Companies and governments “trying to take control of the internet” are undermining the founding principles of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has warned.

    The inventor of the World Wide Web said the internet is facing a “major” threat from “people who want to control it on the sly” through “worrying laws” such as SOPA, the US anti-piracy act, and through the actions of internet giants.

    “If you can control [the internet], if you can start tweaking what people say, or intercepting communications, it’s very, very powerful…it’s the sort of power that if you give it to a corrupt government, you give them the ability to stay in power forever.”

    Sir Tim was speaking as it emerged that the US government has been collecting huge amounts of personal information from Google, Facebook, Apple and other internet companies.

    There have also been reports that British spies have been gathering intelligence from the internet giants “through a covertly run operation set up by America’s top spy agency”

    “Unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society,” Sir Tim said. “I call on all web users to demand better legal protection and due process safeguards for the privacy of their online communications, including their right to be informed when someone requests or stores their data.

  15. yeahbuddy

    Gee, all this lovely data couldn’t happened to be ‘processed’ in the brand new Death Star NSA facility in Utah?..

    Said building is our Bastile.


    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      @yeahbuddy Since WP is eating the author’s comments (that’s why we’re moving to a new host (slowly (but surely))) here is Durusau’s response:

      I tried to show using Verizon as an *example* that there is a semantic
      limit that more data and processing power isn’t going to overcome.
      Adding all the telco’s, etc. into the mix just makes the semantic
      limit problem worse.

      It is possible that the NSA has solved P vs. NP and not told anyone,
      but that seems unlikely. The NSA is subject to the same semantic
      limits that make credit reports inaccurate, social security numbers
      unreliable (think identity theft and fake SSNs), etc. All those issues
      circle around the question of personal identity.

      My objection to the data gathering and the Death Star in Utah is that
      it is an incompetent waste of funds. Having failed to resolve the
      semantic limit issue with less data, the strategy is to gather more data.

      More data isn’t going to solve the semantic limit issue. Or should I
      say there has been no proof offered for that proposition? Perhaps that
      is why the work is secret? No such proof exists.

  16. George Phillies

    The sensible bet is that every single phone company is subject to the same unAmerican unpatriotic disloyal NSA spying attacks. Readers will also note that any reasonably competent NSA analyst via phone calling analysis is going to have huge advance information on things like corporate mergers, and will be making a mint selling the data on the side to unscrupulous investors.

    1. reslez

      If you look up things like ECHELON you’ll see this is exactly what they did. Except they fed the data to American corporations to get a leg up on foreign competition. Things like exact details of competitors’ bids.

      The justification was since American companies are forbidden by law to engage in bribery, the information merely helped to level the playing field. Of course we know these claims of lily white purity are false… any stick to beat a dog.

  17. Publius

    Begging the question of why organized crime is so hard to defeat from insider trading to criminal violence with a dataset such as this.

    1. diptherio

      Oh, I’m sure all those guys are conducting their business in abandoned warehouses or meeting by the railroad tracks in the wee hours of the morning, something like that. I mean, they’re criminal masterminds, right? They probably do all their illegal stuff strictly face to face, like any intelligent criminal…if they were using electronic communications, surely the FBI would be all over them…right?

    2. Nathanael

      The FBI is, for the most part, not interested in stopping organized crime. Why? Most organized crime is run by the CIA or some other government agency. Or by bankers who are “favored of the government”. Sigh.

      1. jfleni

        Usually accurate, but every now and then somebody gets their wires crossed (like the FBI director in 2004) and publicly proclaims: “There is an epidemic of fraud”[referring to housing].

        Then everybody clams up until the “loud and smelly fart in church” moment passes and it’s all forgotten.

    3. LifelongLib

      OT, but you probably heard of that wargame (I think it was in 2002) where the “opposition” was able to sink most of the U.S. fleet. One of the tactics they used was to do all communication face-to-face or by hand-carried messages, rendering all of the “U.S.” side’s electronic monitoring useless. So the meeting-in-warehouses scenario is actually possible.

    4. Brooklin Bridge

      Begging the question of why organized crime is so hard to defeat from insider trading to criminal violence with a dataset such as this. -Publius

      And getting the same answer as to the question, Why isn’t Holder turning up more evidence against himself? He of all people has all the data on all the slimy unconstitutional things he is doing, no?

  18. Brooklin Bridge

    Obama’s speech this morning is particularly insidious. Basically speaking out of the corner of his mouth, he opines that no one is listening to your phone conversations, just gathering meta data and if a suspicious pattern is observed, then they have to get a warrant.

    Totally disingenuous. First, the “meta data” provides them with an enormous amount of really intrusive information; your number, the number of the person you call, your location (either by contract information on the land line, or by your gps coordinates on cell phone), and the duration of your call. They know if you are calling your doctor, your lawyer, someone who is, has been, or may be a member of the communist party, and then they know who that person calls subsequently, etc., etc. They use powerful analytical software to gather a profile about you that contains all manner of information you would never dream possible. And it’s kept – including content – forever. They may or may not listen to the content of the call but they store it away and can get back to it at any time some pathetic excuse for a judge automatically signs off on a warrant without even reading it.

    Obama’s message? Get over it, learn to love it. It’s only going to grow

      1. anon y'mouse

        unless you have his same level of government-provided health care, or are at least 20 years his junior, this may be unlikely.

    1. reslez

      It didn’t take him long to become a caricature of Bush. Every time they open their mouths you simply negate every word to get a clear picture of what’s actually going on.

      “No one is listening” – Yes, I imagine a cartoon depiction of cube farms full of NSA analysts with padded headphones on listening to every single telephone call is inaccurate. Instead picture server farms, fiber optic, distributed computing, crunching crunching crunching. No one is listening.

      Obama is not denying anything. He’s telling you they have the data, and you should be afraid.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      The limits of this “powerful analytical software” are explained in the post. Over 50% of software projects fail, and anybody who works in a cube knows how bad most software is. There’s no particular reason to think that corruption and incompetence don’t infect this program as they do every other program the national security class runs.

      I am not saying the program isn’t awful, and I’m not saying it’s not dangerous, and I’m not saying it won’t hurt people.

      What I am saying is that if you want to know your enemy, you’ve got to know your enemy.

      Imagine you were thinking about buying stock in the NSA. What kind of due diligence would you perform? This post is that sort of due diligence.

      Or imagine you were facing (say) the French Army on the Western Front. One might react “ZOMG! They have a huge Army and the Maginot Line!!!!” Or one might react, “Yes, and here’s a bridge we can get our tanks over in the Ardennes.” I prefer the second approach.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        True, most software starting out is indeed riddled with problems at a minimum. Frequently there is no handling of “junk in, junk out” issues and so gibberish corrupts or subtly corrupts the data. This makes software that is completely secret all the more problematical since these algorithms may be causing all sorts of insidious, impossible to find, never mind fix, problems for large numbers of people who have no way of knowing why all of a sudden they are paying a fortune for insurance or why they can’t fly on a plane or why their credit sucks no matter what they do. Ultimately, I suspect some very smart people such as those working for Google will have a hand in it, if they don’t already, and it will become very powerful though perhaps still prone to certain subtle types of bias if not error. Then starts the problems of intentional misuse of assumptions based on data sets having extremely intimate knowledge (erroneous assumptions well hidden) of you.

        Note I am assuming that sooner than later, probably much sooner, corruption will lead to data being freely shared with the corporate world who pays the politicians blood money. I think it’s a very safe assumption to make and is probably already happening.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Sure. One of the jokes I made — tinfoil hat time! — was that Obama would be using this data to enforce the ObamaCare mandate. Kidding!!!!

          That said, technically, this stuff is not easy, and the post explains in detail why it is not. I am not saying the program isn’t dangerous or destructive; but IMNSHO we need to be coming not from a place of projection but from a place of realistic understanding of the capabilities involved; that is what the “sane scope” point is all about.

      2. Brooklin Bridge

        Actually, my intent wasn’t to criticize the article. As you pointed out, it’s still incredibly intrusive and will be pretty powerful AND incompetent.

        I simply wanted to blow away Obama’s utterly disingenuous speech this morning. Nothing to worry about my foot. The NSA could be made up of orangutans and it would still be absolutely odious and unconstitutional. I’m not saying Durusau disagrees with that, either. Rather he is saying it’s going to be highly ineffective at what it’s trying to do which is probably not worth doing anyway,

        The problem isn’t preventing terrorist attacks by spying. The problem is CREATING terrorist attacks by spying, among other bone-headed, thuggish, brutal minded things, such as offing kids from 6 K miles away as collateral damage, that won’t ever go over well at home or abroad.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          @Brookin Bridge

          1. Criticism is good! I just hate bad arguments (not that all my arguments are good!!)

          2. If my stomach were strong enough, I’d color code Obama’s speech. This is my favorite part:

          if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

          3. On creating attacks, yes, that’s my favorite metaphor of all time: The self licking ice cream cone.

          imperial mission -> assault on population -> blowback -> imperial mission.

          And for “imperial mission” read $$$, “jobs for the boys,” War is a Racket, etc.

          1. Eureka Springs

            I hope you reconsider the color post even if it takes a week or two to get around to it. It’s a powerful tool in your box.

            1. Lambert Strether Post author

              Maybe this weekend. Give credit to Obama: He’s running two massive public relations campaigns at the same time: ObamaCare and … whatever the name of this scandal is.

  19. Accrued Disinterest

    ‘Follow the money’ is legit, but this isn’t the first time data mining has infected the news cycle.

    “The National Security Agency “has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data” provided by AT&T, Verizon Communications and BellSouth Corporation, Leslie Cauley first reported May 10, 2006, in USA Today”.

    Sure, the telcos could be getting stroked from both sides of the isle, so follow the money. Where in the world is Deepthroat?

  20. Diane Fahey

    Several scenarios can be correct at the same time. However, the NSA now does possess the capability of going through this data. Fourteen months ago, Amy Goodman on DemocracyNow had on William Binney, who worked for the NSA for almost forty years. He was the technical director of NSA World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group until he resigned because of the illegality of the activities. He was joined in the interview by filmmaker Laura Poitras and Wikileaks computer analyst Jacob Appelbaum. The interview is in four parts — all four are worth watching, but if you want to cut to the metadata portion, watch part 1, and I think the end of part 3, and definitely part 4. It is chilling to find out what they are using the metadata for.

  21. Ray Duray

    Yves & Lambert,

    I found this inclusion by Patrick Durusau to be below your usual excellent standards.

    What I object to is that Durusau has plainly not made his case that there was a quid pro quo amounting to bribery between Kathryn C. Brown and the White House. What he’s come up with are a series of dots he fails to connect.

    Furthermore, the implication that Durusau makes that Verizon is exceptional in that it had a unique status vis-a-vis the NSA data collection process is stunningly naive.

    I have been reading a lot on this topic since the USA PATRIOT Act was passed in late 2001. The warrantless wiretaps started soon after and included all major telecoms carriers. The one hold out is mentioned above, Qwest Communications with the subsequent vindictiveness against Joe Nacchio on unrelated charges almost undoubtedly forced forward through the DoJ by an angered NSA. What Nacchio was imprisoned for was pretty much SOP among high tech execs throughout the period he was prosecuted for.

    To conclude, the NSA-White House-Kathryn Brown merrry-go-round that Durusau speculates about undoubtedly will eventually be discovered to be pretty much an across-the-entire-industry agreement between the telecom giants and the NSA.

    For those seeking deeper background on the NSA, I highly encourage readers to check into a couple of books by James Bamford. See:

    And before PRISM, there was ECHELON:

    1. Yves Smith

      You object to Durusau’s speculation (which he and the post headline flag as speculation) yet you connect dots that aren’t connected yourself.

      A warrantless wiretap is NOT in the same category as this Verizon metadata exercise. The fact that you are conflating the two is a pretty big fail. See here:

      Gonzales said the program authorizes warrantless intercepts where the government “has a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda.” and that one party to the conversation is “outside of the United States”.[18] The revelation raised immediate concern among elected officials, civil right activists, legal scholars and the public at large about the legality and constitutionality of the program and the potential for abuse.

      The warrantless wiretap controversy was about accessing the content of communications. Some of the discussion refers to court approval under FISA authorizing (as in rubber stamping) 18,000+ requests and rejecting only 4. That indicates these were requests relating to individuals (I’m not deluding myself in that the Administration didn’t engage in fishing expeditions/daisy chain exercise related to individuals, but this is totally different than one order that is a massive sweep across all customers in a certain time period).

      By contrast, the metadata request is one order covering all activity, including geolocation data (a new data item not listed in the warrantless wiretapping request). Similarly, past efforts to sue and obtain information about the past warrantless wiretapping was turned down due to standing, as in the petitioners couldn’t prove they were among the targets. That would clearly NOT be the case for any broad operation targeting all subscribers.

      Now as I indicated at the very top of the post, it is PROBABLE that there are similar orders for other carriers. But if not, the Durusau question is germane.

      And by incorrectly conflating this with the earlier AT&T controversy, you are playing into the Administration’s hands. Your posture is (basically) “old hat, nothing to see here, move on.” While by contrast, we want the Administration to say whether they have this sort of program at other carriers or not. The Administration is going to try to not respond. Pointing out that “if this is only Verizon it looks bad too” is another (admittedly small) bit of grist to increase their embarrassment if they try to duck the questions about the scope of domestic metadata gathering.

      1. Ray Duray

        Dear Yves,

        Thansk for your views. I’m largely finding that I agree wholeheartedly with your opinions. It was the weak and seemingly ad hominum nature of Peter Durusau’s attack on Kathryn Brown, more or less as a straw man argument, that I objected to. He attempted to be rather specific and speculative about matters to which none of us without security clearances can be privy.

        And it is specifically that so much of this story is classified that makes for Contention that is rather pointless. Sure, I might be guilty of painting with a broad brush when it comes to the minutiae of legal distinctions between the AT&T revelation from Mark Klein, the warrantless wiretaps and this new buzzword metadata. But the mechanism on the human level is all the same. In every instance we have a government employee in a highly classified bureaucracy, i.e. the NSA, asking an employee of a telecom company to violate the 4th Amendment as well as the authorizing legislation regarding NSA’s mission to engage in foreign-only investigations. To me this is the essence of what is going on here, no matter the minutiae. We are witness to our government breaking the law with the telecoms serving as willing accomplices. The rest is just details.

        In solidarity, Ray

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Please don’t attempt to march under the banner of solidarity while simultaneously making false claims.

          There are plenty of comments elsewhere on the thread (and the caveated post itself) tha show why the poster’s analysis of Kathryn Brown was neither a straw man nor “ad hominum” [sic].

      2. hunkerdown


        With due respect, I think Mr. Durusau has a fatal blind spot in his analysis: humans have several compulsory identification numbers by which to tie disparate data together. He correctly points out that all that call log metadata alone wouldn’t be particularly useful for automatically constructing a logically provable dossier of a given individual by name (“targeted strikes”, if you will), but that dismisses the utility of such a data set in mapping out human networks, identifying variations on behavioral themes, revealing sources of activity set apart from the mainstream, and so informing “signature strikes” in the form of reports. Graph search for national security, if you will.

        For example, starting with a very thin slice of the metadata:


        and the record:

        2012-04-02T10:20:30,Answered,0m45s,213-555-0911,661-555-6789,Los Angeles CA,Palmdale CA

        What does this tell you? Someone called someone else. Useless. So let’s add three more:

        2012-04-02T10:22:01,Answered,0m41s,661-555-6789,661-555-0101,Palmdale CA,Bakersfield CA
        2012-04-02T10:22:57,Answered,1m03s,661-555-6789,661-555-3111,Palmdale CA,Palmdale CA
        2012-04-02T10:24:49,Forwarded,0m2s,661-555-6789,661-555-4444,Palmdale CA,Palmdale CA

        What can we learn from four call records? Closely spaced, short calls originated from a number which just answered, one of which went to voicemail and was terminated before a message could be left… all these numbers have some sort of affinity, but what? We’d have to look for other signatures…

        Are there any international calls linked to any of them? Have they been involved in information-distributing behavior like this before? Since when? How often? Did they disappear, with new circles operating in the same manner? How distantly or tightly are they related, indirectly or directly, to known assets, known dissidents, or other known persons of interest whose numbers the USG has?

        Observe that, aside from some landmarks fed into the system (persons of interest and their phone numbers), all we have been doing so far is correlating call logs with themselves. Even if some of them may be positively mapped onto the real world, we’re still dealing with virtual actors here, which could be people, business, voicemail dead drops, conference systems, or what have you. Yet we still have found four or five people who we can infer have something in common, and possibly narrowed speculation as to what that something might be based on frequency, time, time of day, day of week, etc., without recourse to the other business records and open source information the NSA could potentially access to map those anonymous row IDs onto people. If NSA happens to be receiving bank records from Treasury, payment card and/or clearing house information in real time as well (omg hair bleach!), talk metadata can be correlated to action metadata and the surveillance gains new, pseudo-physical dimensions (through current transactions) and demographic ones as well (through analysis of previous transactions). Real-world identification has now been linked to

        To the extent the system knows the reliability of some datum in that set, and can determine error bars on how strongly that datum is consistent or inconsistent with a few thousand various hypotheses (e.g. A is subordinate to B, A shares personal secrets with B, A and B have no personal affinity, A is a central figure in an affinity group, A has an addictive personality, A is strongly interested in chemistry, A is strongly interested in tradecraft), it can identify the best supported hypotheses, rate their actionability according to the actors and possibly more ambiguous but more urgent hypotheses, and queue them up for human analysts to triage, correlate, verify and report.

        All voodoo, as you see. :) Intelligence gathering has no need to meet any sort of evidentiary or logical standard beyond probable cause, and even that only to get a warrant for further investigation or action. In fact, the application of logical fallacies serves as a crude form of mechanical intuition which, when filtered through fuzzy and/or crisp logic as our brains do, produces crude intelligence (maybe apophenia is a better word).

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          What you have described is a “sanely scoped” project. That’s not the same sort of “boil the ocean” project a truly Orwellian system demands.

          The real issue is merging dirty data, which you do not address. (I myself would argue that all data is dirty data, just that some is less dirty.)

        2. fajensen

          If NSA happens to be receiving bank records from Treasury, payment card and/or clearing house information in real time as well (omg hair bleach!),
          “They” do have access to anything that goes through SWIFT and airline reservation systems so liking cards with names should be trivial. “They” even rub it in:

          When one applies for a permit to enter the US, it goes through ESTA. The ESTA application must be paid with a personal credit card – so ….. credit card transactions are certainly tracked, probably 4eva after.

          PS: Whenever I sloppily left my lapdog on standby, it would be awakened by the hotel WLAN and drained for power during the night. Maybe the hotel network was “instrumented” too, maybe not. Problem disappeared outside the US.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      @Ray Duray Since WP is eating Durusaus’ comments I am posting this for him:

      Disappointed to learn that “literalism” is alive and well outside of
      biblical studies.

      Yes, yes, I did use Verizon as an example, which made sense as only
      Verizon was mentioned in the court order. It is called an in the news

      As I just commented a moment ago, adding in all telcos just makes the
      point about the useless nature of the venture more pointed.

      Do appreciate the NSA pointers but the point of the post was why fear

      1. Ray Duray

        Hi Lambert,

        Re: “Do appreciate the NSA pointers but the point of the post was why fear incompetents?”

        Because the incompetents are deeply entrenched in power.

        As to thinking you or the Naked Capitalism community are superior to the incompetents, I would only point out the nature of the beast we are dealing with.

        Just because attacks on people like Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are incomepent does not make them any less dangerous.

        On a separate note, you quote Peter Durusau stating “I don’t have all the dots connected because I am lacking some unknown number of the players, internal Verizon communications, and Verizon accounting records showing government payments, but it is enough to make you wonder about the purpose of the “secret” court order.”

        Right. Durusau also missed the obvious signals that this 90 day renewal document was one of a series in an ongoing order to collect metadata going back to 2007 and that just as with the PRISM revelations of yesterday that this order would have applied not only to the Verizon Business division (the document originally leaked to the Guardian) but that it also safe to assume that similar agreements were being cut by the NSA with all the major carriers.

        Which makes Durusau’s attack on Kathryn Brown kinda cranky. Which was my original point that has gotten lost in a whole lot of sidebars.

        My main point was that we all need to keep our eye on the big picture. The protections of the 4th Amendment are being stolen from us incrementally and it would be a good time for us to draw a line in the sand, rather than disparage the enemy as being too incompetent to harm us or to prevail against the citizenry. I don’t see that you have made that case at all.

        Cheers, Ray

          1. Ray Duray

            Yes Lambert,

            Though I did find it infuriatingly off the mark. Perhaps it was the HUGE AND RIDICULOUSLY IRRELEVANT PICTURE OF BOOBS that has set me off to wondering if this opinion piece was to be taken seriously. :)

            Patrich, Peter, Whatever…

            Politico has a few choice quotes from James Bamford:


            Quote: A longtime expert on the National Security Agency calls its practice of vacuuming up millions of American phone records nothing short of “insane.”


          2. Lambert Strether Post author

            Well, on a post where there is a great deal of concern about whether the author of one post is mentioned, it would seem reasonable that the authors of all posts get their due. A link is fine, but dear lord. Imagine if Durusau had written “George Greenwald.” For the rest, I’ve made my points.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      @Ray Duray writes:

      What I object to is that Durusau has plainly not made his case that there was a quid pro quo amounting to bribery between Kathryn C. Brown and the White House. What he’s come up with are a series of dots he fails to connect.

      Did you read the post?

      I don’t have all the dots connected because I am lacking some unknown number of the players, internal Verizon communications, and Verizon accounting records showing government payments, but it is enough to make you wonder about the purpose of the “secret” court order.

      The caveat is quite plain, at least to the careful or actual reader.

      * * *

      As for “stunningly naive,” I don’t see any problem with trying to tease out what’s actually happening on the basis of evidence, caveated or no. Your mileage may vary, and apparently does.

      * * *

      Adding, anybody who conflates warrantless wiretaps with network surveillance may have read a lot but not nearly enough; the technical and legal regimens were different in 2006 (and may be today; give secret law and secret interpretation, we can’t know). In fact, the Bush administration originally tried to limit the scope of their scandal with the exact same sleight of hand.

  22. diane

    There is nothing at all in the author’s post that even hints that the two:

    1) All major telephone carriers are sources of NSA data.

    2) Only Verizon is the telephone carrier source.

    are mutually exclusive, nothing whatsoever, yet he appears to imply such. Further, the author’s derogatory commentary re :

    …the Orwellian fearists…

    is no help in any truthful discussion (let alone, highly suspect).

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      1. “he appears to imply such” where, exactly?

      2. Personally, I have quite enough fear in my life already without adding any more. I’d rather have a realistic understanding of my enemy’s capacity’s than not. YMMV!

      1. diane

        To respond, Lambert, to:

        1. “he appears to imply such” where, exactly?

        1.) Mostly by his slur (bolding mine): …So, the Orwellian Fearists can stop huffing and puffing about the coming eclipse of civil liberties. Those passed from view a short time after 9/11 with the passage of the Patriot Act,* and not because of ineffectual NSA data collection., (which, on his original post, was not linked to any article), and the most clear interpretation one can take of his comment is still quite murky.

        1.a) For one, a lot of those (initially unlinked to by the author), ‘Orwellian Fearists,’ were the very first to acknowledge that 9/11 marked the UZ Government being quite open about excusing the spying on of its own citizens, and I’m positive he is well aware of that. So is he actually saying that it ended with that Patriot Act, and has not been further honed by further NSA data collection, ACROSS THE BOARD?

        2.) By his terming the NSA data collection ineffectual (see italicized author quote included under number one, above; …. and ask some of the NSA’s victims how ineffectual the NSA is in collecting data, Gloria Naylor (read 1996), comes to mind, for just one of likely millions).

        2.a) Via his omissions re the NSA. Has he noted, anywhere, that it is not just one of a multitude of NSA methods, to offer Verizon a way to pick up revenue (under another name, would love to know that might have been classified on the Financials, by the forever winking, Big Four top Dawg$) via supporting the Obomber – That it’s yet another non mutually exclusive way for the NSA to snoop with ease?????? NO, he has not. Anyone with a rational mind would have made sure to acknowledge in their commentary that the NSA is picking up data from all of the major phone providers, …. whichever way is the easiest, he does not. He appears to term all those proclaiming it’s a blanket phone tapping: Orwellian Fearists.

        As to:

        2. Personally, I have quite enough fear in my life already without adding any more. I’d rather have a realistic understanding of my enemy’s capacity’s than not. YMMV!

        There seems to be somewhat of an irrational statement there, as if anything which induces fear, is irrational. The two phrases don’t really equate to one another. I.E., an understanding of your enemies true capacity, could very well induce even more fear.

        1. diane

          (not to even mention what I noted, in a comment far above, as his ease at posting what had been intended as among friends photos, of totally innocent parties who at one time were asked if they wanted their among friends photos to be used as someone’s leverage in pumping themselve$s up as yet another talking head, in it for only their own glory (and PAYCHECK.))

        2. diane

          Thanks for the assignment.

          As they say, lambert, what is good for the goose, is good for the gander.

          Didn’t you hand me an ‘assignment’ in your response to my calling bullshit on the above author? Or, are you somehow different in both wanting to clarify yourself, and perhaps the social responsibility to clarify one’s self, than me?

          1. diane

            By the way, I ‘love’ how you were able to insert your comment in between two of mine above which were both made prior to yours, in a way that no one else commenting here (without edit control) can do.

            Just saying, isn’t that somewhat like carrying a bag of sand with one to the seesaw when both persons actually weigh the same?

  23. Ray Duray

    Truthout has a handy timeline on mass surveillance in the U.S. commencing with the FISA Act of 1978:

    Of particular note the collection of telephone metadata is not a new story. It was in the headlines in 2006:

    Quote: May 2006: Mass collection of call data revealed

    USA Today reports that the NSA has been collecting data since 2001 on phone records of “tens of millions of Americans” through three major phone companies, Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth (though the companies level of involvement is later disputed.) The data collected does not include content of calls but rather data like phone numbers for analyzing communication patterns. As with the wiretapping program revealed by the Times, the NSA data collection occurs without warrants, according to USA Today. Unlike the wiretapping program, the NSA data collection was not limited to international communications.

  24. Ray Duray

    CorpWatch has more on the backdoors NSA has installed in Silicon Valley. All denied by the companies and the government, of course. (Psst, they are not “backdoors”, hint, hint, they are “mailboxes”. See the difference,eh? Me neither.)

    Select quote:

    Technology giants immediately denied all knowledge. “We have not joined any program that would give the US government – or any other government – direct access to our servers,” said Google CEO Larry Page. “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. “We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network,” said a Yahoo spokesperson.

    This corresponded to testimony provided by James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, to Senator Ron Wyden in March at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March. “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” he asked. “No, sir,” Clapper answered.

    On Friday it turned out that each of them had lied or been misinformed.

    1. diane

      Highly unfortunately, it’s not just those companies and the government denying a partnership between the NSA and Silicon Valley Multinational Tax Evaders (ooooh, oopsie, [Legalized] Tax Avoiders!!!!!).

      Isn’t it just mind boggling, for just one instance of Silicon Valley CorpGov exclusion from any rational scrutiny (let alone deserved outrage against), how certain parties have previously read that Google, in its earlier days, was somehow offered to buy Keyhole (previously CIA/DOD run owned top secret satellite photos), and did, turning it into the outrageously invasive Google EarthGoogle Earth, which the major news media in all other countries but the UZ (and Israel, since Israel was, at least initially, exempted from Google Earth satellite photos) accused of outrageous privacy invasions – yet¸ way too many of those same presumably knowledgeable persons are now claiming that Google (for just one guilty party) was likely innocent of knowledge regarding NSA criminality?

      And does Zuckerberg’s infamous propensity to invade other’s privacy, while snickering that he can and folks are dumb assholes for letting him, really need to be further proven?????? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera….

  25. Lambert Strether Post author

    Boundless Informant: the NSA’s secret tool to track global surveillance data. What could go wrong? (Adding, this post explains what could go wrong and why…)

    Another scoop for Greenwald!

    Adding… Sometimes the news is slow… And other times it’s fast….

    UPDATE Adding. Check out the last slide in the leaked slideshow that goes with the story. The whole system is based on FOSS (Free and Open Software) and hosted on corporate servers.

    1. Dunno about the legal implications of “hosted on corporate servers” but in general the creepy merging of corporations and state gets a little more creepy…. and

    2. If true (the slide could be lying, after all), “free and open software” means the capabilities/parameters of the program are knowable. That’s interesting.

    UPDATE Adding from page one of the FAQ, this is a prototype.

    1. hunkerdown

      “1. Dunno about the legal implications of “hosted on corporate servers” but in general the creepy merging of corporations and state gets a little more creepy…”

      Booting WikiLeaks has its privileges

      “2. If true (the slide could be lying, after all), “free and open software””

      As it happens there aren’t that many closed-source Big Datastores out there that do map/reduce and have been heard much of since Google pioneered the paradigm. None that I know of, anyway.

      “means the capabilities/parameters of the program are knowable.”

      Map/reduce is a two-step transform for data which allows it to be indexed in a wide variety of ways. Mapping, here, is creating an n:m mapping of input data to index entries and “metadata”; reduction is the recursive aggregation and summation of those index entries and “metadata”. The mapping part is pretty simple, probably: parse a record and turn it into {region, report type, record size} “metadata” tuples, one for each axis of interest. Reduction then basically counts all those up along the axes of interest, in concentrically larger chunks. Since reduction is recursive, adding a marginal piece of data is very low-cost since the bulk of the existing sub-aggregates don’t need to be recalculated.

      NoSQL is the big thing in Big Data right now because query throughput and database size scale approximately linearly over a wide range just by adding boxes. With the NSA’s toy money, there is no effective upper bound on how much they could count with this thing.

      Definitely a considered choice of tools for the task of a dashboard. I can’t speak to how well map/reduce would function for pre-collection analysis mainly because I haven’t thought about it much. *ponder*

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Thing is, though, it’s not just scale. The linked data crowd from W3C has been all “Squillions of triples ZOMG!!!” for years, and nobody has been able to figure out what else that project is good for except generating grant money.

        The scale (like, everything) is important for (possible!) capabilities at some future date (software projects mostly fail (and that’s before we get to corruption)).

        The scope (presumably “sane”)* is important to tease out and reverse engineer what they can do now.

        So, “*ponder*” indeed!

        NOTE * For some definition of “sane.”

    2. Ray Duray


      Re: “Another scoop for Greenwald!”

      It would appear that Greenwald and the Guardian are drip feeding us with the contents of a major leak. They started on Wednesday and have been working this story with the precision of a harem enchantress in a hypnotic Dance Of The Seven Veils. Heck, they’re even live blogging their own scoop. That’s a first, I think. :)

      Oh, well. It’s all just in good fun. By the way, did you see the way that Bill Maher trashed Glenn Greenwald on HBO’s Real Time about three or four episode ago?

      It reminded me very much of the way that Johnny Carson treated Jim Garrison on the Tonight Show in 1968.

      I’ll be loooking forward to Greenwald’s next visit to the Real Time set. I hope it goes well for Glenn. My suspicion is that Maher will be coached to be chief persecutor of Greenwald, as he was in their first meeting and as Carson was coached in advance of his meeting with Garrison. The spooks never let these opportunities go unscripted.

    3. bob

      “The heatmap gives each nation a color code based on how extensively it is subjected to NSA surveillance. The color scheme ranges from green (least subjected to surveillance) through yellow and orange to red (most surveillance).”

      The US is Yellow. Mexico and Canada are green.

  26. bob

    “Computer assisted? Yes. Computer driven? No.”

    I have to take issue with this statement. It’s completely computer driven. By using a “computer” to search, you are limiting the sample to “data entered into a computer”.

    This is a crucial point in this discussion of survelilence. In order to even begin to look at data, you have to have the data. You have to write the data down first before you can begin to read it.

    Once you write the data down another decision has to be made to delete the data.

    By saying that you are “looking at the data” you are also admitting that you are in posession of the data. That the “data” exists, present tense.

  27. bob

    I do agree that that the “data sharing” is making corporate america very wealthy. Lots of fees. This point needs a lot more discussion.

    How much is the US paying “private companies” for information?

    In two different ways-

    1. In order to spy on people

    2. In order to regulate other private companies- Why does the CFTC have to buy data from a 3rd party vendor in order to properly regualte it’s industry? Yes, they do need that data…but why on earth are we allowing a 3rd party to charge us for it?

    *Can’t the NSA get it for the CFTC? Quicker than the traders? Let’s let the CFTC, with the help of the NSA front run the bond market for a month. Come on now…you think I’m the first person to think this?

    It’s just becoming antother “growing revenue stream” for wall st to take advantage of.

    1. One trade to rule them all

      “Hey, Jack…you’re on the NY hub right?”


      “can you give me 10 more latentcy with London 10 mintutes before close? We’ll never have to work again!”

      Sounds good. Add in a bottle of scotch and you have a deal.

      “you drive a hard bargain. Deal”

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Oooh, what a nifty “irresponsible speculation” :-)

        1. The NSA inserts a lag into some financial feed (“can you give me 10 more latentcy”)

        2. Gives a heads up to the HFT shop of their choice

        3. Profit!!! (and kickback)

        Rather like the way the CIA’s Air America used to carry heroin and coke to keep their off-the-books balance sheets healthy (and for fun, too, of course; this stuff is fun, until it isn’t). Except it’s all digital. None of those all-too-physical white powders to load and unload….

        * * *

        That’s not the same as the fees (rents) for handing over the data; IIRC from the 2006 scandals those feeds are lucrative but I can’t find the link.

  28. William Barnes

    This blog has the best astute/pronounced commentary about the ongoing rape of the American Bill of Rights. Reality in the US should come with an explicit skull and bones warning about the general health consquences of being fully conscious, sober, and ‘critically’ engaged about metasticised Big Brother. The inability to sleep well and periodic nightmares are now par for the course. Profound feelings of alienation and betrayal now line many citizens’ daily reality. Whatever does it mean anymore to hold an American passport, beyond the increasingly shameful and apologetic baggage?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      “Whatever does it mean anymore to hold an American passport?”

      I know! I know! [raises hand]

      It means wipe your laptop coming and going (or going and coming).

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