Patrick Durusau: Social Security Numbers – Close Enough for a Drone Strike?

Yves here. It’s important to understand the scope and caliber of the police state apparatus that’s in place. The fact that it’s “dirty” meaning error-ridden and incomplete, is likely the big reason you have analysts like Edward Snowden with wide-ranging access. You still need humans to make connections and interpretations (and that introduces another layer for errors and plants to occur). And that also no doubt is used to justify even wider-ranging and more intrusive searches, such as NSA analysts listening to personal phone conversations of soldiers stationed in Iraq. That sort of casualness leads to abuses like NSA snoops inviting their colleagues to listen in on phone sex.

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.

The hazards, difficulties and dangers of name matching in large data pools was explored in NSA? Verizon? Obama? Connecting the Dots. Or not., republished at Naked Capitalism as: Could the Verizon-NSA Metadata Collection Be a Stealth Political Kickback? Safe to conclude that without more, name matching is at best happenstance.

A private comment wondered if Social Security Numbers (SSNs) could be the magic key that ties phone records to credit records to bank records and so on. It is, after all, the default government identifier in the United States. It is certainly less untrustworthy than simple name matching. How trustworthy an SSN identifier is in fact, is the subject of this post.

Are SSNs a magic key for matching phone, credit, bank, government records?

SSNs: A Short History

Wikipedia gives us a common starting point to answer that question:

In the United States, a Social Securitynumber (SSN) is a nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary (working) residents under section 205(c)(2) of the Social Security Act, codified as 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2).

The number is issued to an individual by the Social Security Administration, an independent agency of the United States government. Its primary purpose is to track individuals for Social Security purposes.


The original purpose of this number was to track individuals’ accounts within the Social Security program. It has since come to be used as an identifier for individuals within the United States, although rare errors occur where duplicates do exist.

The Wikipedia article also points out duplicates issued by the Social Security Administration are rare, but people claiming the same SSN are not.

The Social Security Administration expands the story of the SSN of Mrs. Hilda Schrader Witcher (in Wikipedia) this way:

The most misused SSN of all time was (078-05-1120). In 1938, wallet manufacturer the E. H. Ferree company in Lockport, New York decided to promote its product by showing how a Social Security card would fit into its wallets. A sample card, used for display purposes, was inserted in each wallet. Company Vice President and Treasurer Douglas Patterson thought it would be a clever idea to use the actual SSN of his secretary, Mrs. Hilda Schrader Whitcher.

The wallet was sold by Woolworth stores and other department stores all over the country. Even though the card was only half the size of a real card, was printed all in red, and had the word “specimen” written across the face, many purchasers of the wallet adopted the SSN as their own. In the peak year of 1943, 5,755 people were using Hilda’s number. SSA acted to eliminate the problem by voiding the number and publicizing that it was incorrect to use it. (Mrs. Whitcher was given a new number.) However, the number continued to be used for many years. In all, over 40,000 people reported this as their SSN. As late as 1977, 12 people were found to still be using the SSN “issued by Woolworth.” (Social Security Cards Issued By Woolworth)

Do People Claim More Than One SSN?

The best evidence that people can and do claim multiple SSNs are our information systems for tracking individuals.

The FBI advises in Guidelines for Preparation of Fingerprint Cards and Associated Criminal History Information that:

Enter the subject?s Social Security number, if known. Additional Social Security numbers used by the subject may be entered in the ?Additional Information/Basis for Caution? block #34 on the reverse side of the fingerprint card.

The FBI maintains the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), “…an electronic clearinghouse of crime data….” The system requires authorization for access and there are no published statistics about the number of social security numbers claimed by people listed in NCIC.

I can relate anecdotally that I have seen NCIC printouts that reported multiple SSNs for a single individual. I have written to the FBI asking for either a pointer to # of individuals with multiple SSNs in NCIC or a response with that statistic.

Beyond evildoers who claim multiple SSNs, there is also the problem of identity theft, which commonly involves a person’s SSN.

Identity Theft

Another source of dirty identity data is identity theft.

How prevalent is identity theft?

Approximately 15 million United States residents have their identities used fraudulently each year with financial losses totalling upwards of $50 billion.*

On a case-by-case basis, that means approximately 7% of all adults have their identities misused with each instance resulting in approximately $3,500 in losses.

Close to 100 million additional Americans have their personal identifying information placed at risk of identity theft each year when records maintained in government and corporate databases are lost or stolen.

These alarming statistics demonstrate identity theft may be the most frequent, costly and pervasive crime in the United States. (

BTW, reports as of June 9, 2013, “…6,558,655 identity theft victims

Assuming the NSA is monitoring all phone and other electronic traffic, what difficulties does it face with SSNs?

Partial Summary of How Dirty are SSNs?

  • From identity theft, 2012 to date, 21,558,655 errors in its resolution to other data.
  • An unknown number of multiple SSNs as evidenced in part by people listed in NCIC.
  • Mistakes, foulups, confusion, bad record keeping by credit reporting agencies (The NSA Verizon Collection Coming on DVD) (an unknown number)
  • Terrorists, being bent on mass murder, are unlikely to be stymied by “…I declare under penalities of perjury…” or warnings about false statements resulting in denial of future service clauses in contracts. (an unknown number)

Don’t have to take my word that reliable identification is difficult. Ask your local district attorney what evidence they need to prove someone was previously convicted of drunk driving. The courts have wrestled with this type of issue for years. Which is one reason why FBI record keeping requires biometric data along with names and numbers.

Does More Data = Better Data?

The debate over data collection should distinguish two uses of large data sets.

Pattern Matching

The most common use is to search for patterns in data. For example, Twitter users forming tribes with own language, tweet analysis shows.

Another example of pattern matching research was described as:

When Senn was first given his assignment to compare two months of weather satellite data with 830 million GPS records of 80 million taxi trips, he was a little disappointed. “Everyone in Singapore knows it’s impossible to get a taxi in a rainstorm,” says Senn, “so I expected the data to basically confirm that assumption.” As he sifted through the data related to a vast fleet of more than 16,000 taxicabs, a strange pattern emerged: it appeared that many taxis weren’t moving during rainstorms. In fact, the GPS records showed that when it rained (a frequent occurrence in this tropical island state), many drivers pulled over and didn’t pick up passengers at all.

Senn confirmed his findings by sitting down with drivers. And what did he learn?

He learned that the company owning most of the island’s taxis would withhold S$1,000 (about US$800) from a driver’s salary immediately after an accident until it was determined who was at fault. The process could take months, and the drivers had independently decided that it simply wasn’t worth the risk of having their livelihood tangled up in bureaucracy for that long. So when it started raining, they simply pulled over and waited out the storm. Why you don’t get taxis in Singapore when it rains?

“…[U]sing two months of weather satellite data with 830 million GPS records of 80 million taxi trips…” Sounds like the NSA project. Yes?

Detecting patterns is one thing. But patterns don’t connect diverse data sources. Nor do they provide explanations.

Reconciling Dirty Data

Starting from diverse data sets, even if they purport to share SSNs, the difficult question is how to reconcile the data. Any of the data sets could be correct or they could all be incorrect.

Here is a more formal statement on error analysis and multiple data sets:

The most challenging problem within data cleansing remains the correction of values to eliminate domain format errors, constraint violations, duplicates and invalid tuples. In many cases the available information and knowledge is insufficient to determine the correct modification of tuples to remove these anomalies. This leaves deleting those tuples as the only practical solution. This deletion of tuples leads to a loss of information if the tuple is not invalid as a whole. This loss of information can be avoided by keeping the tuple in the data collection and mask the erroneous values until appropriate information for error correction is available. The data management system is then responsible for enabling the user to include and exclude erroneous tuples in processing and analysis where this is desired.

In other cases the proper correction is known only roughly. This leads to a set of alternative values. The same is true when dissolving contradictions and merging duplicates without exactly knowing which of the contradicting values is the correct one. The ability of managing alternative values allows to defer the error correction until one of the alternatives is selected as the right correction. Keeping alternative values has a major impact on managing and processing the data. Logically, each of the alternatives forms a distinct version of the data collection, because the alternatives are mutually exclusive. It is a technical challenge to manage the large amount of different logical versions and still enable high performance in accessing and
processing them.

When performing data cleansing one has to keep track of the version of data used because the deduced values can depend on a certain value from the set of alternatives of being true. If this specific value later becomes invalid, maybe because another value is selected as the correct alternative, all deduced and corrected values based on the now invalid value have to be discarded. For this reason the cleansing lineage of corrected values has to maintained. By cleansing lineage we mean the entirety of values and tuples used within the cleansing of a certain tuple. If any value in the lineage becomes invalid or changes the performed operations have to be redone to verify the result is still valid. The management of cleansing lineage is also of interest for the cleansing challenges described in the following two sections. Problems, Methods, and Challenges in Comprehensive Data Cleansing by Heiko Müller and Johann-Christoph Freytag.

The more data you collect, the more problematic accurate mass identification becomes.

NSA Competency with Data (SSN or otherwise)

The “Underwear Bomber” parents meet with the CIA at least twice to warn them about their son.

A useful Senate Budget hearing on the NSA and its acquisition of phone, credit, bank and other records should go something like:

The following dialogue is fictional but the facts and links are real.

Sen. X: Mr. N, as a representative of the NSA, are you familiar with the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab?

Mr. N: Yes.

Sen. X: I understand that the CIA entered his name in the Terrorist
Identities Datamart Environment
in November of 2009. But his name was not added to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, which feeds the Secondary Screening Selectee list and the U.S.’s No Fly List.

Mr. N: Yes.

Sen. X: The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, Terrorist Screening Database, Secondary Screening Selectee list and the U.S.’s No Fly List are all U.S. government databases? Databases to which the NSA has complete access?

Mr. N: Yes.

Sen. X: So, the NSA was unable to manage data in four (4) U.S. government databases well enough to prevent a terrorist from boarding a plane destined from the United States.

My question is if the NSA can’t manage four U.S. goverment databases, what proof is there the NSA can usefully manage all phone and other electronic traffic usefully?

Mr. N: I don’t know.

Sen. X: Who would know?

Mr. N: The computer and software bidders for the NSA DarkStar facility in Utah.

Sen. X: And who would they be?

Mr. N: That’s classified.

Sen. X: Classified?

Mr. N: Yes, classified.

Sen. X: Has it ever occurred to you that bidders have an interest in their contracts being funded and agencies in having larger budgets?

Mr. N: Sorry, I don’t understand the question.

Sen. X: My bad, I really didn’t think you would.

End of fictional hearing transcript

The known facts show the NSA can’t manage four (4) U.S. government databases to prevent a known terrorist from entering the U.S.

What evidence would you offer to prove the NSA is competent to use complex data sets? (You can find more negative evidence on evavesdropping at Bruce Scheneier’s NSA Eavesdropping Yields Dead Ends.)

PS: On the National Security Industrial Complex, see: Apparently Some Stuff Happened This Weekend.

Addendum: Edward Snowden Makes Himself an Even Bigger Problem to the Officialdom

A must watch interview with Edward Snowden and great commentary as

On a quick listen, you may think Edward is describing a more competent system that I do above.

On the contrary, if you listen closely, Edward does not diverge from anything that I have said on this issue to date.

Starting at time mark 07:10, Glenn Greenwald asks:

Why should people care about surveillance?

Snowden: Because even if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded and the storage capability of these systems increases every year, consistently, by orders of magnitude, ah, to where it is getting to the point that you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even from a wrong call, and they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you have ever made, every friend you have ever discussed anything with, and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrong doer.

Yes, the NSA can use a phone call to search all other phone calls, within the phone call database. Ho-hum. Annoying but hardly high tech merging of data from diverse data sources.

It is also true that once you are selected, the NSA could invest the time and effort to reconcile all the information about you, on a one-off basis.

But that has always been the case.

The public motivation for the NSA project was to data mine diverse data sources. Computers replacing labor-intensive human investigation of terrorism.

But as Snowden points out, it takes a human to connect dots in the noisy results of computer processing.

Fewer humans = less effective against terrorism.

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  1. skippy

    The point – isn’t – if – they make connections good or bad (ambiguous – who defines quality)… its that the data collection happens at all.

    The collection of such data and its application is quite evident, grooming consumerist society at the behest of a select few, a priori prion.

    Skippy… A Public Private Partnership…. to end them all… everything is theirs… even defective thoughts…

    1. washunate

      Well said.

      The national security state is a classic 80/20 rule. 20% of the budget goes to defending us from foreign dangers, the other 80% is about domestic corporate welfare and social oppression. How dirty the data is or how good pattern matching becomes assumes as an underlying premise that there is a legitimate purpose to collecting the data in the first place.

      The I-9/E-Verify stupidity is one of my pet peeves and litmus tests for the authoritarians out there, at the center of which, of course, is forcing employers to do the dirty work for the government of gathering and entering SSA info into the DHS database.

      After all, we all know that the I-9 system successfully prevents employers from illegally employing undocumented domestic servants and agricultural workers and imposes severe punishments on the corporate execs who flaunt these cherished laws protecting us from the evils of free trade.

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      …it’s that data collection happens at all

      You’re right, first things first, but I don’t think anyone is arguing that point. It’s useful to examine just how this data is being used and abused. As described, the “state of the art” snooping seems to be a few degrees north of the Key Stone Cops though I very much doubt that is the complete story. The sordid (and twisted comic) details of inaccuracy and identity limitations are also important details, if only because these unconstitutional practices are not going to stop. No matter how we talk about this, it’s going to become even more intrusive, much more intrusive, simultaneously more accurate and more prone to unintended consequences, before the abusers and society comes to grips with either how it’s implemented or the overarching wrongness of the thing in the first place.

      On a practical level, one that doesn’t contradict, but doesn’t exactly match one on one the ethical and legal issues involved, the level of technology available and being used – basically by thugs even if they imagine themselves to be the good guys – is simply staggering, almost unimaginable, and the garbage in garbage out issues described above, while accurate, completely mask just how powerful and harmful this stuff can be. If the Key Stone analogy fits at all, it’s more like the Key Stone Cops with space age lethal lasers rather than ladders and tactical nukes rather than pistols in the hands of hopelessly inept and misguided players, and as Kurt Vonnegut? (or was it John Irving?) used to say, “and so it goes…”

      The program, like so many others, is secret. The public seems well lubricated/comatose or well trained or both to ignore detail and principle. The only way it will stop at this point is badly.

      1. skippy

        An observer builds a machine to amplify his ability to observe humanity – at the speed of light in real time – it inherently has bias built in ie. desire = profit, control, ego, et al.

        Now consider that this machine is better at its job that most would like to admit, correlation of real time data (over 60 years of trial and error from copper to light). Now along with the machines evolution you have the exponential explosion in the psychoanalytical and neurological fields.

        So with that said, the only friction available is the the observers ineptitude, see desire. Yet even with this malfunction wrt critical analysis, it gives the observer the data to construct reality and project it – too their – desire = ego.

        More powerful than force, debt, religion, standardized education, etc.

        Kinda like when we harnessed atomic’s, what did we do then[?]… yeah~… make funny shaped clouds and watch the results… until even the most egotistical found the load in their pants undeniable… socio – psychopaths still have evolutionary survival in their DNA (not prone to suicide)… eh.

        Skippy… as far as ineptitude goes… how wonderfully random a curtain.. by which to camo oneself with… even if it is a delusion… in their own minds… its a force multiplier…

  2. psychohistorian

    Can one consider the class society that we have the highest and best use of our species from some economic perspective?……and what would that economic perspective be?

    The blue blooded are failing all but, and soon to be, themselves.

    Plutocracy is not sustainable.

  3. JGordon

    As I suspected (despite some anecdotal evidence to the contrary), Americans are perfectly fine with being constantly spied upon by the regime, right down to being ok with having their every phone call monitored by the police state. Again, I’d like to point out that this is what I thought would happen all along, so it’s no surprise to me. Those who have been accusing me of undue pessimism (when in fact I am an optimist) should be duly chastened now.

    Ergo, America and its people are no longer worth caring about. So just relax stop caring about all this politics and economics nonsense. Become as cynical as I am and look forward to the collapse. I mean sure, everything will go to hell, but that’s already baked into the cake. And since there’s nothing else to do about that, those of us who aren’t asleep should all just focus on getting as many people through the upcoming bottleneck as possible. Fostering local urban food production, appreciation for firearms, and water collection would be a good places to start with that.

    1. diptherio

      Well, I have to wonder about these polls, honestly. 1,000 respondents seems like a pretty small n, also the polling started pretty much as soon as the story broke, so that many people were probably not fully aware of the scope. Also, why should we trust Pew, just of of curiosity? Seems to me that polling agencies and the folks who work there are just as prone to manipulation by gov’t influence as the next folks. I’d also like to have a look at the wording of their questions before I go putting too much weight on their numbers.

      1. JGordon

        Well, what you are saying are all valid points. So try this (I have). Just go around yourself asking people what they think of having all their phones call listened to and emails/text messages read by the government… to fight “terror”.

        You don’t have to take Pew’s word for it. Just try it yourself. I have been, and for every 3 or 4 people who hate the idea of being treated like trash, 6 or 7 or totally fine with it. Now initially I did run into a few who were totally against it, but when I increased my own sample size, it turns out I was hanging out with some outliers.

    2. ScottW

      As long as the question works in something with the word “terror” in it, a majority seem to accept surveillance. That is why every politician speaking about surveillance mimics, “It stops terrorist attacks.” Of course the truth is the surveillance on innocent Americans does not (and maybe none of it does), but we are told the successes cannot be detailed because of national security concerns. Americans are too stupid to understand if this data collection really worked in stopping terrorist attacks we would hear all about it, just like the killing of OBL. We’re too stupid to understand the quest for secrecy has nothing to do about alerting terrorists, but to keep a rather sleepy Nation, sleeping on this issue.

      Getting along in America means concocting a make believe world in which nothing evil happens until it happens directly to you and you actually believe it is evil.

      1. Malmo

        I think the public is largely ill informed on what this exactly is and the possible ramifications going forward. If every American were forced to sit down and listin to a debate on the subject, I suspect the vast majority would be against these techniques. The MSM has done a piss poor job of describibg the issue– probably by design–same with the political class. Just like we poll likely voters, why not poll the truly informed on the subject? My guess is the results would vastly favor scaling back this insidious surveilance machine..

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          If a few Senators started speaking out with a coordinated message, the national stenographers union, the msm for short, would be forced to carry the message beyond issuing complaints about “bloggers” who scooped the hacks at CNN once again.

          It is amusing that Obama might be the longest lame duck President in history. The guy is never going to win any support going forward.

    3. bluntobj

      Actually, note the question the poll asks and the title of the story.

      The title is basically americans are ok with surveillance.

      The question is “are you ok with surveillance with a court order?”

      Only actually parsing the poll results itself would tell you the truth; Americans are indeed ok with spying validated by due process.

      This is a fine example of spin, indeed. Now the meme in the media is that americans are ok with all spying, including that done without due process and court oversight.

      I’d pay a dollar to see that version polled. I’d say the numbers would be significantly different, eh?

      Nice to see the manipulation in action.

    4. Crazy Horse

      Want to take a real world poll to determine how much Americans like being lied to?

      Ask 1000 Americans if Obama’s security forces killed Osama.
      I predict you will get at least 995 yes responses. (Post Zero Dark 30 the number may well be 999)

      List all of the reasons given for spiriting the body of the world’s most wanted terrorist away in the middle of the night, fitting it with concrete boots, and throwing it overboard. At the top of the list put the one never mentioned, “Because the body wasn’t that of Osama bin Laden. Now apply Ocam’s Razor (aka basic logic) to determine if any of the official stories meet the basic test of credibility compared to the obvious.

      Delusion is the Opium of the People.

  4. sadness

    just imagine wanting to read everyone’s emails, listen to everyone’s calls, track every single person all the time…and then worry if you’re getting it right…..this really is the worlds biggest focus group… boring….and all because you don’t like them and they don’t like you

    don’t these people ever get out, catch the sun, listen to the birds, surf the waves, enjoy the forest, the silent fantasy of the snow, look into the childs innocent eyes – whatever happened to vive la difference….no money in it? and all those trillions gone?….too bad

  5. Jim Haygood

    ‘The best evidence that people can and do claim multiple SSNs are our information systems for tracking individuals.’

    If everyone including top government officials is now surveilled (Snowden said that he could target the president’s email if he had the address), what turns up on Obama’s SSN?

    The first three digits of the SSN indicate the person’s state of residence when the number was issued. List of 3-digit state codes:

    Obama reportedly has a SSN with an 042 code from Connecticut, despite never having lived there. At the debunking site, Snopes, is posted a remarkable ‘non-denial denial’ of this claim. Startlingly, it purports to publish the president’s SSN (042-68-4425). Then it launches into an elaborately confected speculation as to how Obama could have ended up with a Connecticut SSN code:

    Why Barack Obama’s Social Security card application might have included a Connecticut mailing address is something of a curiosity, as he had no known connection to that state at the time, but by itself that quirk is no indicator of fraud.

    The most likely explanation for the discrepancy is a simple clerical or typographical error: the ZIP code in the area of Honolulu where Barack Obama lived at the time he applied for his Social Security number in 1977 is 96814, while the ZIP code for Danbury, Connecticut, is 06814. Since ‘0’ and ‘9’ are similarly shaped numbers and are adjacent on typewriter keyboards, it’s not uncommon for handwritten examples to be mistaken for each other, or for one to be mistyped as the other (thereby potentially resulting in a Hawaiian resident’s application mistakenly being routed as if it had originated from Connecticut).

    Case closed … NOT!

    Anyhow, next time you’re filling out a form and don’t want to give your real SSN, just use 042-68-4425. And remember to look presidential!

  6. craazyman

    reminds me of the tatoo on the large and muscular forearm of the ex-US Marine machine gunner who hauled the garbage in my former building.

    “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out”

    there was a skull too.

    the dude was 6′ 4″, 230 pounds and impeccably polite. I had about 6 beers with him one night at the Irish dive bar across the street. He got quieter and angrier with each beer. eventually he wasn’t talking, just staring halfway between the bar and the wall behind the bar with a silence that smoldered with an incipient violent rage. I said something about the building and he started cursing.

    everything eventually congeals into its absolute essence and then it explodes, unless you’re really careful with it

    1. Massinissa

      That saying has a long history. It dates back to the Massacre at Beziers, from the Albigensian Crusade in southern france in the 13th century against the Cathar religious sect and their christian and jewish allies. The original quote was: “Kill them all: God will know his own!”, in reference to the christians that were allied with the Cathars.

      That quote perfectly captures Obama’s attitude for drone strikes hitting innocents IMO. Obama will just kill everyone in Afghanistan, including the women and the children, to get as many of the terrorists as possible.

  7. indio007

    Isn’t this grand! The so-called crazy tin-foil hat “conspiracy theorists” have been calling the SSI number the Social Slave Insurance number for years if not decades.
    Now all hell breaks lose and it becomes self-evident that it is nothing more than a tracking devise.
    Oh this is rich!

    1. Dave

      This has been a fear since its inception. According to several of my history professors, a long time ago, many folks were in opposition to the social security concept because it assigned each person a lifetime number. A serial number, in other words.

      This objection was diminished by the government promising that the Social Security Number would NEVER be used as an identification number.

      1. dw

        techinically it hasn’t been. but business had other ideas. they have been using it for a very long time now. and if you ever have to deal with a bureau you find out its only one part of what they use to identify you. but even then they can make a hash of it. and consider how long they have been around (since the 1980s at least they have a very large amount of data on every one. but they also have a lot of junk, as they dont have any quality controls on what is geiven them. you might object to whats there, but unless the business that ‘reported’ corrects it (and doesnt re report it later) you are out of luck.

  8. ambrit

    The good bit about this is that here in the West the underlying societal impetus has been away from old fashioned fatalism and toward individual responsibility. This moment is probably a turning point of some sort. A brave individual has stepped up and staked all on the ability of humanity to act responsibly, and not resignedly.
    I’ve started to use this situation to put the case for freedom and responsibility to those I interact with. The first order of business in such cases is to urge, no other word will do, the other person to jettison the accumulated baggage of post 9-11 hysteria. That, in my experience, is the hard part. Once that is even partly accomplished, people begin to connect the dots. The data points are usually already in the persons ‘map of the world,’ but haven’t been coordinated with the other relevant information. Once the initial barrier to independent thinking has been breached, just step back and enjoy the wholesale reevaluation that occurs in a persons world view.
    Mr. Snowdens big contribution to the public weal isn’t just the data he is releasing, but the clear repudiation of the manufactured world view that has been infecting our body politic since 9-11.
    The status quo crowd sees a supposedly infected member of the social body and wants to amputate, at arms length if possible. Saner minds are searching for ways to heal the society entire.

  9. Warren Celli

    This “ho hum” article deflects from the main point. It is not the competency of the fledgling system now — as it is improving exponentially as we speak and fewer and fewer humans are needed each day to make connections and interpretations — It is the morality of the Xtrevilists who have created and control the system that must be put under the spot light. It is the Xtrevilist ‘greed and evil’ are good mentality that is being inculcated (and now normalized), into the society that is what is responsible for the “abuses” of the system that Yves speaks of in her introduction.

    The greatest abuse (efficacy of the present system aside as most people can see and believe in the power of technology and this belief is daily reinforced by the Xtrevilists in a coordinated fashion with CSI TV programming that embellishes and reinforces it), is the bully behavioral modification effect that this secretive system has on the psyche of the global populace. Consider; the drone strike is unnecessary when the psychology of the drone strike is psychology internalized by the population. You WILL change your behavior accordingly!

    The genie is out of the bottle. Data collection, and the ability to process it is here to stay and will continue to accelerate rapidly. It is a mainstay of human evolution and the essence of the forming of the Onotron, the next iteration of humanity. (when/if you make that startling little epiphany you will see it more clearly).

    If you think these system improvements (regardless of who creates them and what use they are put to), are far ahead in the future and are of a “ho hum” concern, consider the brief history of the developments of weather modeling and reports and how few people are now needed to create them.


    “For a variety of reasons it is difficult for many to think of the holistic flow of mattergy, mostly because of the need and inclination to focus on the specific details of components that make up the con and fist components of the mattergy in a select DETOD and the frustration of working with so many missing spatio-temporal data points. It is helpful then to imagine holistic mattergy flows to be just like the flow of exoforces, specifically the weather. Weather reports in real time follow the flow of energy combined with matter; wind, thunder, rain, lightning, dust particles, etc., and from past and present observations project future weather events. Consider also that first weather reports were very sketchy, almost primitive, and lacked much concrete information. But look at them now with pin point wind speeds in twisters and hurricanes, number and strength of lightning strikes per unit of time, laminar cloud level tracking, satellite infrared and vapor tracking, etc., all that contribute greatly to increased accuracy.

    And so it will soon be when tracking DETOD mattergy flow. It is helpful to keep this upper level holistic movement in focus in order to make sense of all of it.”

    Scroll down on the page, sorry I do not have a page anchor nor time to put one in place. It is in the “What You Observe You See” section.

    Close enough for a drone strike? The drones have already struck! Focus on the morality and the dismantling of the rule of law by the few Xtrevilists that control them. Work to rebuild it!

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  10. Brooklin Bridge

    NSA Snoops listening in on phone sex? That’s why I keep all my phones in separate rooms.

  11. Casteelk

    Data matching software has been around for a decade. To do this, you have to partner companies together, which has been going on for a long time.

    Example. Experian partners with an ISP company Experian has SS#, purchasing records, ect. What they don’t have is, what do their “clients” do online? Well, partner these two, and bingo, information is money. This is not an example btw, its been going on since 2007.

  12. ep3

    shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the gov’t to protect my identity? or is that one of those conservative things that it’s up to the individual to protect themselves? Even tho it would be a national security thing to have your identity stolen and used for criminal purposes. But wouldn’t be one of my individual rights to have my identity protected and considered safe and free?

    1. Malmo

      Yes, a mess indeed. This reality alone, and getting this information out to the general public, will go a long way to curtailing this monster. Time for the big boy and girl MSM do do its job for once. and drumbeat this home to the masses.

  13. William Neil

    OK, thanks for some of the techno loose ends. I’ve been listening to this debate for a week now, including “officialdom’s” night on CNN last night, and here’s where I am.

    I am appalled by the disconnections in journalism; the NY Times coverage didn’t once reference their own accounts, going back to 2010, of one Mr. Drake’s national security problems in areas very similar to Mr. Snowden. He was worried as well, although what he was caught up in was drawn on narrower grounds over internal choices of programs.
    But close enough.

    Here’s the key issue as I see it, with officialdom denying it is the case, and Snowden maintaining the system is “inclined” towards this direction: the collection and storage of all forms of electronic emissions from businesses, citizens and so forth…the massive physical facilities built and under construction would not be necessary for what “officialdom” says they are about. Whether this has happened already or not we don’t know. But it makes sense because it is apparently much easier to collect it all and sort through it when driven by particular questions/suspects than it is to have it deeply constrained by the opposite: collect info limited to suspect’s contacts and so on…when probable cause via that court gives the ok.

    It would seem the advances in computer capacity and programs makes this vast sifting even more tempting. Of course, if it is all “stored” then personal data is there for the taking on many different grounds, including those of political domestic “curiosity” and later abuse. We’ve been there before as that old Victorian national nanny J. Edgar H. seemed to have been able to get the book on many, especially those with ambitions, using very horse and buggy techniques. Please note that the FBI, in contemporary times, has been very resistant to computerizing their records…program and contract after contract to attempt to do this went nowhere…draw your own conclusions on that one…

    But how different is this “inclination” to that of the private sector? Years ago I had conversations with other activists who noted that if they complained about a migraine headache in an Email to a friend lo and behold as they moved from site to site the Advil/Bayer/what have you ads would pop up. My understanding is that those running this type of sift and sort data operation claim they’re not reading your Emails or invading privacy, just pulling out commercially useful nuggets/words and building something on them. Really? Who’s monitoring their data storage systems and the security arrangements for them?

    My take is to be very worried about how far this has gone already, Nat. Sec. State and private sector “inclinations.”

    I’ve started wearing a whistle around my neck, on a lanyard (the compass and temperature model is optional.) It makes the point: we’ve lost our way in this “republic” and those helping us learn how it happened, and how far its gone need our support.

  14. dw

    while we have a good reason to be concerned about the government doing this, but consdier that almost all of business is doing this too. with little to notice or little oversight. and seemingly no care either

    1. William Neil

      The airwaves are filled with the assurances of high officialdom that there are checks and balances in place and data collected too far or not, abuses could not get through the defenses. To which I reply the career of J. Edgar Hoover is a reality, history, of the vast abuse of data collection and power by someone who managed to escape what the system was designed to prevent, and did it for decades above and beyond the “two party system.”

      We don’t know if there have been similar abuses; we simply don’t know enough, but his career ought to be a stark reminder, something that never should have been possible in a democratic republic.

  15. Brooklin Bridge

    My comment got swallowed. No links, no offensive lang. I’m not sure of what was wrong.

  16. Brooklin Bridge

    It’s amazing how the dialog in the media has shifted from illegal, unconstitutional spying, to the whistle blower. I was afraid this would happen. Just the viciousness of it is overwhelming, never mind the volume.

    People like Jeffrey Tubin remind me of the French radio announcers during the Nazi occupation who would croon away that sending Jews off to internment camps was for their own good.

      1. Kurt Sperry

        Yep Toobin has again been exposed as a complete tool of the .01%. He’s not only a traitor to the very founding principles of the country and democracy more broadly, but a vicious traitor to his own profession as journalist. Any journalist supporting the lawless surveillance state is themselves an imminent danger to freedom.

  17. diane

    If, in a nutshell, the author’s overall point is that there are too many ‘dirty’ links for the NSA to easily connect dots in any meaningful way:

    1.) Has the author read any of what has been previously written – over at least the last four years – about [GOPPER/”Libertarian”] Peter Thiel’s [Founder of, in 2004] Palantir, of Silicon Valley, California? (And the verdict doesn’t actually seem to be in yet on once HBGary Federal linked, Palantir, as to whether Palantir wasn’t the actual inception of Prism during the gwb years.)

    If so [if the author is somewhat familiar with Palantir], given what has been noted as Palantir’s dot connecting skills, does the author think it’s all just blarney, after all it has been in existence since 2004, and doing quite well, thank you very much? As a matter of fact, re Dianne Feinstein/Blum’s own Big Valley:

    …the California Department of Justice is developing a new data sharing platform for federal, state, regional and local agencies to access, analyze, and share criminal justice information.


    On April 22 [2013], DOJ awarded a $1.2 million-dollar project to Palantir Technologies, partnered with Enterprise Networking Solutions, Inc. to develop a statewide data-sharing platform to law enforcement and public safety agencies, according to state purchasing records.

    2.) As regards Social Security Numbers, the vast majority entered are those relayed by persons who would benefit from concentrating on connecting the correct SS number to their name, and I would think the vast majority of data entry typos (one, or two numbers off? out of 9) will still have a Name; TELEPHONE: government claim, or account number; and address attached to them. Generally, the only persons this leaves out, are ag workers and others without valid US id numbers (and I’m happy for quite a few of them there, re that evasion) AND THE CRIMINALS USING BOGUS NUMBERS. The vast majority of valid SS number holders can likely be targeted, to my mind.

    3.) The NSA will have quite enough to hone in on that data, as the vast majority of citizens who aren’t criminals, and will not care whatsoever that it is dirty, as a matter fact, the upper echelon$ of the N$A will likely gleefully accuse an innocent target of deliberately providing any data that looks dirty in terms of incorrect personal info, and use it as evidence.

    (To clarify, my comment includes the deepest of bows (and prayers) for: Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald. A bow, also (not linked above), to: Sam Biddle and some commenters here.)

  18. hunkerdown

    One point of fact: Edward Snowden worked as a system administrator, not an intelligence analyst. System administrators have elevated access so that they can perform their normal supervisory and maintenance duties, same as a landlord retains a copy of the key to one’s residence.

  19. Procopius

    In one way this story is very gratifying. Here’s a guy who didn’t even complete high school who was able to work in a high tech job, which supposedly requires a very high level of education, making $200,000 a year. Yay! The American dream is not dead. On the other hand I’ve seen a factoid, can’t remember where but in connection with our Surveillance Industrial Complex, that there are 3 MILLION people with Top Secret Clearances now. I’m sure some of those people are the kind of natural genius that Edward Snowden seems to be. How many of the rest are inept or malicious? Or both? And 3 million? What percentage of our government’s activities are not classified now?

    1. jrs

      Tech has always had a true meriocratic component. It’s not new, it’s more the exception than the rule but it’s always existed. But I suspect it’s less these days since everything is more and more about having the piece of paper.

      1. JCC

        I agree, it does seem to be a meritocracy, but I do not believe it’s less these days based on my experience in the world of Federal IT Contracting. Many of the people I work directly with, probably a not-so-slim majority, do not have a baccalaureate degree. Usually the only peices of paper required are a couple of IT Certifications to get started.

        No reflection on Mr. Snowden, but the ability to read, some decent math skills, good test taking skills, good memeory, and the ability to “think on your feet” is really all that’s needed to get a Network or Systems Administration position. Good (people) networking skills can help, too.

        The cream, obvious in E. Snowden’s prior situation, eventually rises to the top.

        P.S. The story according to Booze-Allen-Hamilton is that he had an approximate $122,000.00 salary which is a lot closer to the probable reality of his pay grade if he was only a systems admin. With that said, overtime and benefits could get him close to that figure in a good year. A Systems Analyst, which I think he clamed to be, might, with overtime and bennies, easily reach that level, expecially in Hawaii where I’m sure there is an additional cost-of-living component based on salaries I’ve seen offered i my line of work.

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