I’m Three Hops from a Terrorist, and Therefore Probably in the NSA’s Dragnet. And You?

Last month, the Atlantic highlighted the fact that the NSA had ‘fessed up to the fact that its snooping operation was a lot more encompassing than it had previously admitted. Deputy Director Chris Inglis testified that the agency didn’t look “two hops” from a suspected terrorist, as it had previously said. The range was now revealed to be “two or three hops”. A hop is someone you are in contact with, say via e-mail, phone or on a social network. So if you are A, three hops is A => B => C => D. And on the Internet, according to a 2011 study, the average person is 4.7 hops removed from another particular person.

A post on Medium tries to convey the scale of this data-hauling operation. Their math isn’t right, but it’s a useful starting point:

…let’s focus a bit on what may be a suspect’s contacts. If Snowden’s allegations and some of the reporting we’ve read from major media outlets is true, the companies who provide NSA with “metadata” –in other words “who’s speaking with whom”— include Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple.

An average person on Facebook has about 130 friends. Adolescents and young adults often have many more—a Pew study found that the average teen has a median 300 friends on Facebook. In addition to your Facebook friends, a “contact” could be anyone you emailed with Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account or instant messaged via a Microsoft service. Add…Skype…cell phone metadata…

Let’s say that there are about another 150 people outside your Facebook friends that you might have emailed, called or otherwise have been detectable contact with over a year. About 300 “contacts” per person sounds like a reasonable baseline. Let’s do the math from this relatively modest base…

At three hops, you have a dragnet. If we stick to our base number and calculate 300*300*300, we are looking at 27 million people. This is no longer a community, it’s a good chunk of a nation.

That’s not the right computation. The problem is you are going to have the same people showing up as duplicates due to overlapping networks. For instance, five people who have written on this blog and therefore are one hop from me are: Lambert, Nathan Tankus, Dave Dayen, Tom Ferguson, and Michael Olenick. Lambert knows all of the other four, so they’d show up in a two-hop-from-me list and therefore be duplicates. Nathan has had direct communication with Tom, so those would be duplicates by another route. Dayen and Olenick also know each other directly. And those are just the connections I’m certain of among them.

So you need to take that 27 million and divide it by a large number. I have no idea exactly how large, but I’d hazard between 10 and 100. Even if you assume 100, you still have three hops from a single person being 270,000 which is still big enough to prove the general point, that this isn’t a search process, this is an excuse for data hoovering.

And that process will put most of you in contact with a terrorist. I know I am via one channel and there are probably others. A member of the ECONNED research team who has stayed in touch with me has helped teach students in the Cambridge public school system. Two of his past students that he’s corresponded with in the last year know Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and at least one of them had contact with him in the last twelve months. So I am three hops from Tsarnaev, and therefore an official candidate for NSA snooping. Of course, I’m probably on the list for other reasons too, the most obvious being that Glenn Greenwald and I have corresponded occasionally (most recently, he was gracious enough to send a short thank-you message for attacking a hatchet job masquerading as a profile by the New York Times).

That’s before you get to the problem of accidental connections, such as the misdialed phone number. And a fast hangup won’t save you; in fact, fast hangups are often used as a way to signal to someone to contact that person on an agreed supposedly safe channel. So all the mistakes will be included in the NSA hop process.

There’s another aspect of the NSA’s dubious dragnet that the simple multiplication from Medium misses: some people have far more than 300 contacts. They are likely to hold important roles in society. Therefore a three-hop rule is much better at getting you people who are prominent and politically connected than it is at fishing out antisocial loners or smart terrorists who might maintain one or several public personas to conduct their normal life (assuming they have one) and use quite different channels and equipment for their nefarious plans.

In fact, a three-hop rule sounds like a clever, “legally sound” way to justify trawling out the information influential individuals rather than those who are dangerous (at least the way the NSA professes to define dangerous). And that alone over time will have a chilling effect on communication, as people who lived under the Stasi will attest. As long as the NSA can get innumerate judges and compliant Congresscritters to buy off on enough of these not very restrictive heuristics, they are set.

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    1. H. Alexander Ivey

      And there is another good point. Besides the fact said gov’t official could be lying (the number of hops could be any number), defining a “terrorist” is wide open. Hell, just writing this posting to a “known” anti-establishment website will probably make me a “terrorist” in NSA’s eyes. So who needs a lot of hops? Since anyone can be labeled a terrorist, 2 or 3 hops is all one needs to pull in everyone, store everyone, and query everyone – to paraphrase someone….

      1. Roaring Mouse

        Our government has issued helpful guidelines in determining whether you may be a terrorist. Do you pay cash for many to most of your purchases? If yes, you may be a terrorist. Do you have more than 1 week’s supply of food in your home? If yes, you may be a terrorist. Do you own a gun? If yes, you may need to be screened more carefully. . .

    2. LifelongLib

      Besides posting (however poorly) here, I make a number of Google searches on economic democracy, Socialism, Communism, as well as religions (including Islam) and the paranormal. And I occasionally e-mail a history professor in England whose blog I read. All that is probably enough to get me flagged someway if the NSA or whoever wants to bother.

      1. race_to_the_bottom

        Yes, any of those search terms will end you up in the gulag. People who respond to your posts will be there with you too…….Wait a minute. Is it too late to cancel this post? Oh darn, guess I better pack my toothbrush.

      2. John Jones


        Is it possible for you to post the blog name as
        I have been looking for a historian to ask questions to.

      1. Nathanael

        Given the NSA’s attitude of “spy on everyone”, “use any excuse”, “to hell with the Constitution”, I’m sure corporate email accounts and phone numbers are “people” for their “three hops” purposes.

        I call Verizon’s cell phone billing department. So does Tsarnaev. That’s two hops from me to Tsarnaev!

        The NSA is fascist and needs to be liquidated with extreme prejudice immmediately. Unfortunately it will probably take a few years.

  1. Troy Ounce



  2. MIWill

    JP Moregone under investigation for manipulation in the Hop Swaps market.
    no link yet.

    1. scraping_by

      I’m waiting for Hops derivatives. Gotta be slices of Hops exposure from people completely outside the radar.

      A Moody’s rating of AAA would mean ‘Amish, Amish, Amish”…

  3. Skeptic

    “And that alone over time will have a chilling effect on communication, as people who lived under the Stasi will attest.”

    And the chilling effect will accelerate over time. I believe that part of the current economic malaise is that “deals” are more difficult to do. Using paper napkins and meeting in alleyways tends to slow down or prevent those Barbarians At The Gate/ENRON type of deals where you really don’t want any sort of records. You would probably see a huge spike in the DOW if NSA announced a surveillance exemption for the major Banks and White Collar Mafia.

    So, the bigger question is: How do the Elite communicate? Are they too in the same, mundane, common STASI database or do they have special Two Tier Status like they do at airports, etc. I’m sure for instance the TSA in-yer-pantsers have special flags for the elite and well connected. Or maybe the STASI have them in the net too just in case some leverage might ever be needed. After all, if you ever need some favor from Buffet or Blankfein or Dimon … it’s helpful to have some leverage.

    Billionaires might want to look to Putin to see how the US STASI may treat them in the future. Oligarchs unite you have nothing to lose but your surveillance! One is reminded of that old reliable: “What goes around, comes around.”

    The above is one line of questioning I would love to see Snowden or some other expert address. Maybe NC could contact or find someone to expound on this subject.

    1. Dikaios Logos

      I’ll stick my neck out as someone whose status in or around the elite (as much as you can be while also having a malcontent personality) means that I KNOW I have three hop connections to: members and leaders of Middle Eastern political movements frequently described as terrorist and members and leaders of foreign intelligence organizations in various regions viewed as “very hot” in the conventional American telling of world events. And this is not speculation: I know the names of these people and much more about what goes in their heads than gets reported.

      My connections mean I am able to offer alternate narratives on major issues and that these narratives are based on solid information. This is akin to Yves’s deep and broad knowledge of the financial sector. While I have no intention of taking up arms, I can challenge a huge portion of what passes as legitimate narrative and often do, though in less public forums than this. And I think this makes me something of a target.

      The STASI point is a good one, but people need to realize those types of organizations (and perhaps the NSA) have as a top mission making sure that those with uncommon knowledge always tow the line. It might not seem like it, but groups like the CIA and KGB always have serious factional riffs and resources are employed to keep that from causing a problem. While “elites” can be a good descriptor, something I heard from an intelligence type from one of these “hot” countries should color that: “revolutions ALWAYS start in elegant dining rooms”. Yves does live on the UES and I also live in sheltered, wealthy area, but we also know some of the most damning secrets of those best served by the current political and economic order. I would be very surprised if the NSA wasn’t collecting info on me and my associates. My life has not been straightforward since these programs began and I have to wonder just a bit about that.

    2. Nathanael

      The NSA is already documented to be illegally and unconstitutionally spying on Barack Obama, multiple Supreme Court members, and lots of members of Congress. (Russell Tice blew the whistle.)

      Of *course* they’re spying on the elite.

      More importantly, Binney and Snowden have revealed that the NSA spying system has ZERO security. In short, it’s a treasure mine for corporate espionage. I expect that very, VERY quickly the majority of NSA analysts will be corporate spies for one company or another…. if they aren’t already.

      Here’s the thing: when you’re pulling insane, demented, evil shit like the NSA is pulling, you end up with your own employees disapproving of what you’re doing, and supporting various opposition groups. (Some will simply be working for major corporations… but others will be supporting political groups.)

      Then you (the NSA) lose. The USSR collapsed when most of the military simply didn’t follow the orders of the coup leaders. Criminals like Keith Alexander and James Clapper are totalitarians, they’re destroying democracy and the rule of law in the US, and they’re also *idiots* who don’t understand the first thing about how to stay in power.

  4. PhilW

    I wonder if I’m on the watch list simply because I answered my phone and the person on the other end spoke a few phrases in another language, possibly arabic, I’ve no idea, and I replied with phrases such as, “What?” and “I don’t understand?”

  5. HotFlash

    Let’s see. I have commented at Naked Capitalism. Yves knows Glenn G who knows Edward S — boom, looks like I’m in a dragnet. If I’m not, I should be.

  6. Jim Luke

    I suspect the number is much higher. Remember commercial and professional transactions get caught in this too. Although my “contacts” and FB “friends” might be in the range you specify, I teach at a college. I get emailed and my website gets visited by approx 1000 NEW students every year. Same is true for most teachers, sales profesionals, researchers, etc.

  7. Andrew Watts

    There’s no doubt that the NSA and other agencies are snooping on Greenwald. All the information collected probably has to be reviewed by a human analyst though. A personal thank you note for a article written in defense of Greenwald isn’t going to raise any flags for further analysis. I don’t imagine they have unlimited resources for such frivolous matters. So there’s nothing to be worried about.

    In Greenwald’s case, the worst that’ll happen is accessory charges being filed by the Department of Justice for his “Snowden has a blueprint of the NSA” comment. Even that doesn’t seem very likely though it remains a distinct possibility.

    That’s just my gut feeling for whatever it’s worth.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m not worried, what I write on the blog is vastly more likely to make me a person of interest than any network analysis (as in I don’t buy for a second that this is primarily about terrorism, it’s about having data on everyone so that if and when you decide someone has become a nuisance and need to be dealt with, it’s trivial to do so).

      1. optimader

        I’m Three Hops from a Terrorist…

        …and so is the POTUS.

        By the definition of terrorist, being three hops away is a ubiquitous condition, certainly for most anyone that is reasonably successful in a mid to large urban area ( as in many personal/business contacts.)

        On the underlying agenda for the NSA I agree. Clearly no efficacy regarding sleuthing out “terrorists”, the real agenda is an ongoing one that happens now to be scalable with the available technology that outpaces wisdom.

        A business colleague from St. Petersburg contends the Russian Organs of Intelligence Gathering have a rather complete dossier on everyone of consequence in the frmr SU up to and including Putin -logged and noted for future use as rqd..

        1. Massinissa

          If Obama has talked to a guy who works at Guantanamo, who talked to a terrorist, does that make him two hops from a terrorist? This whole ‘hops’ thing is sort of confusing.

          1. optimader

            In the interest of full disclosure, as a young lad I had impure thoughts about a neighbor, Emily Harris (Ne Schwartz)
            Smoke’in hot. But hey she was an older woman, exotic and worldly.. going off to college in a foreign country…well Berkeley that is.
            Oohlala, where are you now Emily?

            Pink Floyd – See Emily Play. Stereo
            Sid Barret, we miss you

            1. Glenn Condell

              Give Fort Meade a bell; someone there will know.

              ‘In the interest of full disclosure, as a young lad I had impure thoughts’

              They know about that too…

          2. Propertius

            Oh, he’s much closer than that. His personal contact with Ayers and Dohrn, however casual and innocuous, almost certainly qualifies.

        2. Thor's Hammer

          So exactly who is a terrorist?

          Is the Assassin who commands a fleet of remotely controlled aircraft and uses them to carry out “signature strike” assassinations based upon suspicious patterns of assembly a terrorist?

          Is somebody who maintains continual aerial surveillance over a civilian population in a foreign country with the capacity to instantly rain down death not subjecting that population to terror?

          Would you be terrified if you lived under the constant threat of seemingly random attack from remote controlled drones being flown by pilots halfway around the world? And had no means to protect yourself?

          Would you be terrified if you knew that every walk to the market runs the risk of your wife or children becoming “collateral damage” from a strike upon a stranger who had become the target of the Assassin?

          The madman or woman who straps explosives to their body and detonates them in a public space is most certainly a terrorist and should be deplored by any human with a grain of conscience. But by what definition of “terrorist” is not the Assassin Barack Obama equally deserving of the term?

      2. bluntobj

        “it’s about having data on everyone so that if and when you decide someone has become a nuisance and need to be dealt with, it’s trivial to do so).”


        I am continually amazed by people who shrug off the incrementalism in the loss of their freedom from surveillance. Like those people whose FB exploits stain their job prospects, past decisions and communications will be used against you in the future by the government.

        It’s not about terrorism now, it’s about speedy suppression or co-option of dissent in the future.

        Any reader that thinks “that can’t happen” had better look at the events of the last decade and realize that it already has, and it’s going to get worse.

        1. jrs

          “past decisions and communications will be used against you in the future by the government.”

          A world can also be created in which they are used against you in employment. Yea you’ll be tortured, put in solitary, locked up without a trial and drone bombed – but if none of that happens you’ll at least be unemployable.

          1. Robert Hurst

            I think you can take this one step further.

            So long as everybody knows the Panopticon exists, and there is no quaint legal framework compelling some degree of due process or disclosure of evidence by an accuser, then all that is needed is to ASSERT unilaterally that damning information exists on any given individual. Whether or not it really exists is immaterial.

            The Panopticon allows the state to control everybody, even those who have (hypothetically) done nothing wrong, ever.

            I suppose we could take that still further. The Panopticon itself does not have to be functional, or gather any information at all; as long as it is widely believed to do so the same power will accrue.

            1. Nathanael

              The “turnkey totalitarian” state, which the NSA / Panopticon types are trying to build, the wet dream of the Stasi, is not going to create the totalitarian state they want to create.

              There are four reasons why it won’t. They’re all kind of subtle.

              (1) The criminal NSA / Panopticon types don’t know what to look for, because they are blinded by ideology.

              Sure, they can harass whoever they decide to target… but in the 1960s, we found out that Hoover was routinely going after the *wrong targets*, groups which were completely harmless, while failing to notice groups which posed an actual threat until it was too late.

              Similarly, the obsession with hunting down Quakers and peace activists will cause the NSA / Panopticon types to fail to notice any brewing revolts within the US military, for example.

              (2) Eventually, nobody outside the NSA / Panopticon will take their claims seriously, because they are proven liars.

              This will eliminate the blackmail power of the NSA, once it happens.

              (3) The NSA / Panopticon can’t catch real terrorists, because they are needles in a haystack… and the NSA doesn’t know their names. This has been proven repeatedly. So there won’t be any chilling effects for *actual* terrorists, who will probably multiply thanks to the NSA fascism….

              (4) If there is a genuine, large-scale popular movement, the NSA / Panopticon will again be completely lost. When 50% of the population is advocating revolution, it becomes quite impossible for the NSA to identify and target “ringleaders”. They’ll try, but every leader killed will just create 100 more, as people protest the martyrdom of their leaders.

              This mistake in thinking — imagining that they could suppress a *mass* movement with police state tactics — was the mistake made by the Russian Tsars in trying to prevent the Russian Revolution, and a mistake made by other tyrants in the past. Only small movements can be suppressed by police state tactics.

              The NSA database is usable for the following things:
              (1) Blackmail… until the people catch on. This is the second-most dangerous aspect.
              (2) Harassing, kidnapping, and murdering politicians and activists who are already identified by name, *and who have relatively small bases of support*, not 50% of the population. This is the most dangerous aspect.

              So they can smash democracy, smash the rule of law, and make a very unpleasant country for a while. But they cannot keep it up without popular support. It is *impossible* to keep up this sort of thing going for more than a few decades without popular support, except under a particular limited circumstance which is not currently relevant (namely a large and competent elite military caste among whom you do have popular support). East Germany frankly only managed it because of the presence of the Russian Army, who had zero sympathy with the Germans.

      3. ChrisPacific

        it’s about having data on everyone so that if and when you decide someone has become a nuisance and need to be dealt with, it’s trivial to do so

        I’d go as far as to say that’s probably the only practical use for it. Three hops is just way too vast a data set for the government to use effectively in any investigative capacity (we’ve all seen the reports on the tells that were missed for the Tsernaevs because the pool was too large). It sounds like it’s intended as retroactive justification for a hit job on somebody if one is needed.

      4. run75441


        Court is no place to be for real people. I do not know good attorneys because we are next door neighbors.

    2. diptherio

      AW said: “I don’t imagine they have unlimited resources for such frivolous matters. So there’s nothing to be worried about.”

      Unlimited? No. But the Intelligence budget for 2009 was $49.8 Billion. They’ve got plenty of dough to go around, and it’s not like Congress has ever put up much of a fight on any funding they ask for.

      The goal behind these NSA programs is to identify everyone in the country who is an activist or rabble rouser of any sort. They want to keep tabs on us, the citizens, to make sure that we don’t go exercising our Constitutional rights in ways that make the PTB uncomfortable. If you think that sounds overly conspiratorial, I would suggest you spend some time studying the history of our intelligence agencies. You will find that they often seem more concerned with non-violent peace activists than with violent terrorists (or anyone else, for that matter).

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Not just that, the DoD (and the NSA is in the DoD) has trillions (no exaggeration) it has been unable to account for and blames on its computers. Here’s a classic on that topic:


        So it’s got a monster slush fund for black ops and I’m sure the NSA gets its share.

      2. Andrew Watts


        I have studied the history of intelligence agencies. It’s how I know that using signals intelligence to crackdown on domestic dissent is unbelievably inefficient. Using human intelligence methods such as informants, provocateurs, and infiltration are far more practical. Which is why it has been such a popular method of crushing dissent throughout history.

        The reason I brought up the Greenwald thing is to illustrate the point that people are quite willing to incriminate themselves without having the national security state resort to individually spying on them.

        I can’t honestly believe I’ve gone from mocking the intelligence community’s collective intellect to defending them. That escalated quickly.

        1. Nathanael

          “I have studied the history of intelligence agencies. It’s how I know that using signals intelligence to crackdown on domestic dissent is unbelievably inefficient. ”

          This is why the NSA is out of their minds.

          Their database is no good for catching terrorists.
          Their database is no good for cracking down on domestic dissent.
          Their database is excellent for corporate espionage, and will therefore drive major corporations out of the US entirely.
          Their database is excellent for blackmailing Congressmen (until people catch on… which given the Weiner and Spitzer campaigns may be happening VERY quickly), but blackmailing them to do what? Give the NSA more money?
          Their database is alienating every government in the world.

          I think there’s a reason Bruce Schneier compared the NSA to people who hoard old newspapers. It’s a deranged obsessive behavior.

      3. Nathanael

        “The goal behind these NSA programs is to identify everyone in the country who is an activist or rabble rouser of any sort. ”

        But… by running the country incompetently, stealing people’s homes, letting global warming run amok, allowing oil companies to destroy the water supply, letting people go jobless and cutting food stamps to make them go hungry, starting pointless wars of aggression, *losing* those wars, and being fascistic psychos who spy on everyone…

        …they are CREATING rabble-rousers and activists.

        Fat lot of good it does for McCarthy to try to identify all the Communists when every week he convinces another 1000 people that Communism would be an improvement.

        This is one of the reasons this is all so insane. The government is not following the policies of Stalin so much as the policies of *Brezhnev*, which pretty much destroyed the USSR.

  8. YankeeFrank

    The chilling effect has already commenced for me. I mean, I was already a little chilled by the suspicions I’m sure many of us had, but its far different now that I’m certain. Now, when I’m following links down an info hole I am more careful to make sure something I’m clicking on isn’t a site that may get me flagged as “suspicious” or something… of course reading NC might qualify us already. But it is scary, and will only get more scary as these feelings become more ingrained and unconscious. Knowing an all-powerful government is watching your every online move (and offline car drive) is seriously fucked up. This has to stop.

    1. scraping_by

      If it helps, reflect that keeping clear of people outside the neoliberal core won’t help. In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novels and histories of Stalinist Russia, the KGB had a habit of rounding up thirty people to get the one they were after. Hops, no hops, neighbors, distant neighbors, relatives, the guy on the street corner when they got there, they all ended up in the Black Maria. And then in the gulag.

      You don’t have to be on a list to be on a list. So, relax and flow with your heart and honor. Actions to keep yourself safe from an indifferent hostile universe come under the heading of ‘superstition.’

    2. Kurt Sperry

      The “chilling effect” only works as designed if we consciously acquiesce to allowing it. I flat out refuse to allow myself to be “chilled” and in fact knowing that is the intended result only increases my determination to rouse rabble and be subversive. I thus find posting under my real name liberating. I had pretty much assumed “they” made online anonymity impossible anyway, so I reckon I may as well publicly own my subversion. No TOR, VPNs, Faraday cages, one time pad encryption, pseudonyms or hiding in shadows for me, thank you.

  9. Hal Roberts

    A few years back it was said that all Ron Paul supporters were possible terrorist. I guess they all made the list with the NSA back then.

    Washington DC is terrorist head quarters, US Chamber of Commerce Globalist/ Centrist are their main vain into the local communities in the USA. They both hate Nationalist.

    1. Massinissa

      It wasnt just Ron Paul supporters, it was all Libertarians that that government document youre referring to said.

      So thats 1-2% of the country being “possible terrorists” right there.

      ‘Twas a vague document and I personally think they were trying to talk more about Sovereign Citizen types than anything, but their vague language and mention of mainstream Libertarian figures like Ron Paul and Bob Barr made that specific document very concerning.

      1. Kurt Sperry

        The more we draw targets on ourselves, the less useful and more bloated, unfocused and unwieldy their databases become.

        There is nothing useful to do with the knowledge that millions of people hate you. Nothing. I’ll bet if anything it frightens them.

  10. Dan B

    In the class meeting following to the Boston Marathon bombing a student informed the other students and me that his good friend was a close friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I then discussed this “connection” with the students in the context of the Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation generator. Most of them knew this as a parlor game or through the commercial Bacon did. I humorously asked the student what he would say if accused of being “connected” to the bomber. This got the class’s attention and we had a good discussion of the absurdities of this kind of “network analysis.”

  11. barrisj

    ” Therefore a three-hop rule is much better at getting you people who are prominent and politically connected than it is at fishing out antisocial loners…”.

    In fact, this is the most prevalent use made of the NSA telecom trawling. I’d wager that most if not all of the SEC/DOJ insider-trading investigations and subsequent prosecutions of recent years came as a result of NSA gleaning – enough until FBI could get a “probable cause” warrant for direct wire-taps. And all the “whistleblower” prosecutions, ditto. Civil libertarians argued futilely in the past that the “US-PATRIOT Act”, under the guise of “anti-terrorism”, would soon mutate into a “law enforcement” catch-all Panopticon, performing a neat end-run around long-standing constitutional restraints against warrantless AND unwarranted surveillance. And so it has, and good luck in attempting to curtail or “oversee” NSA activities, as it’s now become part of “the American way”.

  12. Jessica

    Thank you for this post.

    innumrate judges and complaint Congresscritters ->
    innumerate judges and compliant Congress critters

    (I am not really sure if Congress critters is one word yet.)

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I have been consistently using “Congresscritters” for at least a year.

      1. Propertius

        A Libertarian acquaintance of mine has been using the term “Congresscritters” since our university days – which would be nearly 40 years ago. He certainly didn’t originate it, so it has obviously been common usage in some (terrorist?) circles for decades.

        1. jrs

          I probably first encountered it in hard right libertarian circles – writings of Clare Wolf maybe – which I’m sure by itself probably lands you a hop away at this point.

  13. Yalt

    Isn’t the chilling effect the very point of the exercise? The system seems ideally designed if the goal is not to gather information but simply to have something damning, at least to a lynch mob, on absolutely everyone, or at least every “socially important” person, to be used against them when necessary.

    It’s not just the rabble that has to be kept in line. There’s always the risk that someone in the circle of trust might suddenly develop a conscience.

    1. from Mexico

      That’s my take.

      We know the surveillance and security state (SSS) has almost nothing to do with catching terrorists. That became very clear with the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, because the SSS turned a deaf ear to palpable information furnished by Russian intelligence that he posed a threat. So it’s obvious that catching terrorists, although it might be the stated agenda, is not the true agenda.

      The true agenda of the SSS is to collect and store everyone’s communications, under whatever guise or justification can be sold to a gullible public. Then, if someone becomes too much of a thorn in the side of TPTB, it offers a huge database from which to do opposition research.

      The case of Eliot Spitzer comes to mind.

      1. Nathanael

        Eliot Spitzer is likely to get elected to public office this year.

        Political blackmail is actually harder than it appears, particularly in a society with changing mores, which is becoming more concerned about economic issues than personal pecadillos. I’ve been expecting sex scandals to lose their political power entirely sooner or later, and it seems to be happening as we speak.

    2. Propertius

      Isn’t the chilling effect the very point of the exercise?

      Of course it is. It is, to use the precise term of art, terrorism in its purest sense. Nobody is better at terror than the government, after all.

    3. Doug Terpstra

      Yes, inducing general paranoia is only a small part of the NSA dragnet, and it’s only incidentally about terrorism (a curiously negligible threat despite the egregious provocations for blowback).

      In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother was preoccupied with controlling the party apparatus, not the proletariat. Otherwise it would be hopelessly entangled by analysis-paralysis, and the NSA is not. Its fishing expedition is shrewd, just-in-time leverage, whose primary purpose is to control the congress of baboons (naturalist’s proper adjective), the Supine Court, the Puppet in Chief, and the media veal-pen. With enough retroactive dirt on everyone, anyone anywhere who may become a threat to the PTB can be dealt with at any point as needed. It is all about power and control.

      As from-Mexico notes, Tsarnaev had been officially flagged by Russia, so ISTM he was more likely tracked and exploited as a test of martial law lockdown. And if so, it was a test that yielded stellar results, proving most Americans will acquiesce to absolutely anything. Like boiling frogs and lambs to slaughter; most simply do not give a damn and see no problem relinquishing liberty to preserve freedom (it’s only logical).

      1. Nathanael

        That’s what they think. They are extremely wrong. The coup plotters in the USSR thought the same thing, and their coup collapsed (along with the USSR) within a week.

        One thing Orwell had right: a smart totalitarian is more worried about controlling the “insiders” than controlling the “outsiders”. Controlling the insiders is much, much harder than it looks, though. Much, much, much harder. It’s basically not possible to control the insiders by any means other than competence and shared ideology.

        Furthermore, our current totalitarians show zero signs of being smart.

  14. middle seaman

    The whole calculation is wrong. NSA starts from all Facebooks, emails (way beyond the big guys since Microsoft gives them the names and locations of email servers) and sources that haven’t been mentioned above.

    Trying the discern where NSA goes, it becomes clear that 27 mil is a low number. The NSA needs close to 100 mil to cover the country. They probably capture that already.

    With excellent knowledge of the population, abolition of democracy in America, once unthinkable, is highly likely.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please reread post. With all due respect, your comment is a reading comprehension fail.

      The analysis is based on the NSA’s statements to Congress of how it does things, going by “hops” from a suspected or actual terrorist.

      The 27 million isn’t their total # of people they investigate. It was based on how many people you’d get by going 3 hops from one person, given certain assumptions. I said that # was too high because you’d have the same people showing up multiple times when you started from one person, but you still get to insanely big numbers with one person and three hops even haircutting the result considerably.

      1. wunsacon

        >> Please reread post. With all due respect, your comment is a reading comprehension fail.

        That might be unfair. Although the comment is terse, I suspect Seaman is disagreeing with the calculation made within the transcript you block-quoted.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Huh? The computation is made by going from one person.

          The NSA is clearly looking at more than one terrorist “suspect”.

          So the naive calculation would be to assume no overlaps and multiply 27 million by the # of suspects. That clearly winds up with lots of overlaps so the resulting # would be way too high.

          The point of that computation was not to estimate the total size of the NSA dragnet, which is what Middle Seaman and apparently you are claiming, it was simply to show how many people you’d wind up identifying by going three hops from a single person.

          1. bluntobj

            While overlaps hold down the total number of persons the node and branch analysis covers, it’s really what the analysis is seeking. Those with a high number of overlaps would be much more interesting targets for investigation and analysis, especially when you cross reference with political, faith, or activity databases.

            Fear the overlap more than being one of millions. God help you if you have a high number of correlating incidental overlaps with those branded as “threats.”

      2. Pitchfork

        All true, Yves. Still, on the broader level, it’s important to always make clear that the three-hops rubric, or any other limitation, only applies to one aspect of the surveillance architecture. Maybe just keep a “rubber stamp” handy that says :

        “The NSA collects and stores almost ALL electronic communication, foreign and domestic.”

        To be clear, the NSA has routinely tried to use talking points that apply to a single program in order to imply, falsely, that the limitations mentioned in those talking points refer to ALL aspects of NSA surveillance.

      3. transcriber

        I’ll throw this in here fyi/discussion. From the 7/17 House hearing on NSA oversight, second panel:


        Jameel Jaffer, ACLU: Even if you accept the government’s frame here and focus only on the uses, I don’t think anybody should be misled by this 300 number, which makes it sound like this is a very targeted program. But if you think about the 300 number in relation to what was said on the previous panel about three hops, you know, the first hop takes you to, say, 100 people whose communications are pulled up, the second one takes you to 10,000, and the third one takes you to a million. And you do that 300 times, I think it’s safe to say that every American’s communications have been pulled up at least once.

  15. Thor's Hammer

    For sites like Naked Capitalism that are frequented by people who express the view that all is not well in Consumerland, there is a no-hop rule.

    I have no doubt that everyone who logs onto Naked Capitalism, Real News Network, RT, Mad Max Keiser, Zero Hedge, Clusterfuck Nation, ClubOrlov,and similar hotbeds of insurrection is on the NSA’s primary suspect list. After all, they need some objective measure of how many prison cells to build for the future—-.

  16. Yalt

    I was going to comment that 300 contacts per person seems awfully low. There are people–salespeople, call-center employees–whose business contacts alone would dwarf that number, and if they’re selling/calling nationally or internationally the effect of duplicate contacts probably isn’t as large for them as it is in personal networks.

    But that got me thinking about another factor that might impact this calculation: the hops are not through persons but through identifiable nodes. To take a petty example, my parents share a single e-mail address and thus aren’t distinguishable individuals in their e-mail metadata. The same is much more ocmmon with land-line phones.

    To take a not-so-petty example, imagine the network activity generated by a single call-center autodialer.

    I’m tempted to post a phone number off our caller ID here and see how many of you are also getting calls from the same number. And the metadata probably doesn’t know what’s getting through the e-mail spam filters; we’re probably all similarly connected, via mortgage companies and Viagra sellers and 419 scammers, by messages we’ve never even seen.

    I’m guessing large swathes of the country are connected at two hops just by spammers and autodialers.

  17. F. Beard

    “Ideas are bullet proof”

    Here’s an idea: Money can be issued as equity, not just as debt.

    So why does the government subsidize debt-creation (e.g. deposit insurance, the Fed, sovereign borrowing) and not “sharing?”


    1. F. Beard

      “You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess. Deuteronomy 23:19-20 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      Are we feeling blessed?

  18. Mr. Jack M. Hoff

    So, some sit and debate about how many hops before they’re on the ‘list’. LMAO…. Do you hope and pray against all odds that you didn’t make it? Then if you suppose that you didn’t, you really don’t give a shit about those who did, right? Seems to me that this is the prevalent attitude countrywide and its not getting better.

  19. fresno dan

    I’m Three Hops from a Terrorist, and Therefore Probably in the NSA’s Dragnet. And You? – 07/24/2013 – Yves Smith

    No matter how much information they gather, it is never enough.
    Anal probes for all! Hourly…(He’s ingested Baba ghanoush!!! SWAT TEAM STAT!)

  20. Jackrabbit

    Didn’t some dissembling SOB recently say:

    “If the American people don’t trust the executive branch, Congress and federal judges to make sure we’re abiding by the Constitution…, then we’re going to have some problems.”

    Oh yeah, I remember now. That was President Obama on June 6.

    1. Yalt

      Dissembling? That was an honest and true statement if there ever was one.

      He didn’t say the trust was deserved or earned, just that its absence would be problematic. The more they’re trying to get away with, the bigger the potential problem if public loses its trust in the alleged checks and safeguards and in the benignity of the purpose.

      1. Jackrabbit


        It was dissembling because he was referencing these institutions as a group with the intention of shutting down debate.

        While some are critical of certain government officials or agencies, almost all Americans believe in (and trust) our system of government.

        Furthermore, Obama’s actions belie any real concern for trust in government:

        – he could’ve said that he would investigate these troubling accusations.
        – he could’ve dismissed DNI Clapper who blatantly lied to Congress about the spying programs.

        1. Jackrabbit

          Also, we have since learned that:

          1) The spying is much more extensive than anyone surmised
          2) Oversight is so flawed as to be meaningless

          a) Congress has not been fully informed of the spying programs
          b) The hand-picked FISA court has approved virtually every nsa request.

          Yet we have had no further statement on nsa spying from Obama.

        2. Yalt

          If he’d said or done what you propose, then he’d have been dissembling.

          As it is, he made it clear that his (or his handlers’) concern is with whether the people maintain their trust in government, not whether the government acts in a manner deserving of trust. And his intentions are to shut down debate on the matter before that trust is lost.

          I’m not quite sure why he chose to say this instead of outright lying about it but I thought the message was crystal. Of course, I only read the text instead of listening to him, which as pointed out elsewhere means I missed most of the propaganda punch of the statement.

          1. Jackrabbit

            Maybe you would prefer “finnesse” but I think “dissemble” is accurate.

            Although the statement appears to be true on its face, it slyly creates a false sense of security by appealing to people’s trust in Constitutional checks and balances.

            American Heritage Dictionary
            – To disguise or conceal behind a false appearance.
            – To make a false show of; feign.
            – To disguise or conceal one’s real nature, motives, or feelings behind a false appearance.

            Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
            – To give a false impression about; cause to seem different or non-existent; mask under a false pretense or deceptive manner. Disguise.

  21. Susan the other

    The NSA surveillance of everybody’s electronic life is so broad and time consuming it is not designed to catch a terrorist. It would be the most inefficient possible technique. The NSA is light-years more efficient than that. This big-brother confession on their part is almost like a red herring. But broad spectrum surveillance, as Yves says, does indeed have a purpose. I’d be more inclined to believe the purpose is to measure the level of discontent in our society. And who believes they don’t hear every word? Revolutions do not succeed in a contented society. The NSA can be an effective political tool, advising the POTUS when to go on a road trip through Illinois and push for stronger middle class, etc.

    1. Skeptic

      “The NSA can be an effective political tool,…”

      Right on. Obummah gives a speech, you measure reaction on the NET, cellphones, etc. Then you can gauge reaction and then act accordingly. Priceless political info.Put the pollsters right outa business.

      In addition, GOLDMAN launches PR campaign they are good guys. Same thing, NSA can measure effectiveness for them. What about all those Collaborator Corporations, they give the SPOOX the data and then the SPOOX hand back to them what consumer or other data they need to know. Ying and yang, arm in arm, I think there’s an ism for this. ..

      And the Economy, as we know, is a National Security issue and must be protected at all costs. Folks don’t really understand how far reaching this is. Hopefully, there will be other leakers if Snowden does not have proof of this.

      1. jrs

        Yes, I’ve had the thought too. They WILL use it for very sophisticated mind control (for lack of a better word). Mind control is already advanced, it’s called advertising. Ever wonder why those who listen to Obama’s speeches are more favorably inclined to him than those who merely read the text versions? Texts = written info that can be evaluated as such, sure you can manipulate emotionally with words – as old as written language, but it does cut down the PURELY emotional distractions (body language and facial expressions, tone of voice which is the basis of hypnosis, staging of the surrounding environment). Unlike words these are PURE CONTENTLESS EMOTION. Words at least have content (mostly lies in the case of Obama’s speaches probably but nontheless). Now body language and facial expressions are perfecly valid ways of making sense of the world in terms of personal relationships, but in terms of of VERY sophisticated manipulators, you are being manipulated. Stick to words and evaluate content, jam the mind control.

        So yea it’s more data for the mind control experiment. But also it will be used for information control, find out what information is dangerous to the status quo (from any position, right, left, whatever – the point is it poses a real threat to the status quo – the left (because they pose a real threat to current economic arrangements), the militant right, and anyone who criticizes the empire, are the number one threat). Neutralize this information somehow. If you’re totalitarian ban it, if soft totalitarian marginalize it even more than it is marginalized.

        Wo while mind and information control are not the first thing that comes to mind about what is abhorent about the NSA spying, the first things are monitoring and crushing dissent, chilling political speech, blackmail of powerful people etc. But it is another layer.

        1. Nathanael

          This may be their mode of thinking, but yet again, this won’t work at all.

          Why? Because reality has a way of breaking through propaganda. It’s easy enough to propagandize people with comfortable lives to whom this stuff is abstract.

          Propagandizing the hungry, the homeless, the people who have been beaten up by police thugs… that’s an entirely different problem. There is a way to propagandize such people, but this isn’t it. “Bread and circuses” requires bread, not just circuses. Rulers need some real action to point to, to go with their propaganda.

    2. Nathanael

      “I’d be more inclined to believe the purpose is to measure the level of discontent in our society.”

      Um, the level is extremely high. It’s bloody obvious how to make people more contented, and President George W. Obama, with his “cut taxes for the rich” program, has shown very little interest in doing so.

      I think you attribute motivations to the NSA which make too much sense.

      Bruce Schneier’s analysis was that the NSA was like crazy people who hoard old newspapers. They’re collecting the data because they can and because “it might be useful someday”.

      That seems about right. And anyone sensible, from Stalin to Martin Luther King, would agree that that sort of lunatic data collection should be shut down immediately.

  22. One Step Ahead o' the Paranoia

    The NSA doesn’t focus on Wall Street Bankers or Defense Contractors since they are one and the same. Trends, or very basically, trend analysis is what is processed and a great reason to run a blog or honeypot. Boycotting of Banks, activity that otherwise disrupts the “code” of commerce, these are the things that the social control infrastructure closely monitors. It remains to be decided whether or not the FBI can be succintly described as operating to protect profit. But that’s always why the cops were in the rich part of town, to protect and serve whatever the “gangsters” were doing. So the best way to be one hop from a terrorist is to loath and fear online as much as possible on blogs, twit, face, blow and hurl – right in there with ’em. (Let’s all stop paying our mortgages at once – all together now)

    1. jrs

      It’s true our blog discussions to each other about how bad things are, full of sound and fury, are often accomplishing very little but qualifying ourselves for special scrutiny by the NSA. However my hope is that as the totalitarianism gets harder there are at least people out there that can make sense of how and why it happened. And that there are less good germans than it sometimes seems. That is my hope. But yea if your not just talking vague “civil disobedience” but planning an actual offense or something, you may want to be careful of where you do that.

  23. Edward Harrison

    I think it’s worse than we are calculating, 300 to the 4th power because I know 300 people that know 300 people that know 300 people that know 300 people.

    I know 90,000 people through 1 degree (non-duplicated), 27,000,000 through two degrees and 8,100,000,000 through three.

    That’s actually 300 x 300 x 300 x 300 = 8,100,000,000 or everyone on the planet. That’s the math of three degrees of separation using 300 as the base.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The Atlantic story says the “three hops” is based on an update of earlier NSA statements on this matter, and they seem familiar with the background. And “three hops” = four people in a chain. You are saying it’s five, and I don’t see how you get there. If anything the alternate reading would be the NSA meant three people in the chain, but the use of the word “hop” seems chosen to flag the connection, A => B.

  24. George Phillies

    Moi: Former Libertarian Party state chair and candidate for President. Probably two hops from Snowden himself. Called for impeachment of the CIA and NSA directors for levying war on America.

    Yves, you are one hop from me. (8^))

  25. Jay

    Sorry to bring the bad news, but all of you are only two hops away from a “person of interest.”

    I think it would be fair to note that the NSA isn’t primarily interested in intercepting these communications to get actionable intelligence on an individual and thereby thwart an event; the Tsarnaev plot demonstrates this. What they’re most interested in is encrypted data, which can piggyback on nearly any type of electronic communication.

    If you think of the stuxnet virus as a Swiss watch that can be broken down into innocuous springs, gears, spindles, bearings etc., that are transmitted and reassembled when they reach a predetermined target, whereupon the virus activates, you would arrive at the conclusion that to prevent such a thing, you need to monitor and record everything coming into and going out of the net. What I think NSA is most interested in is intercepting data encrypted by foreign governments/intel agencies/militaries for private communications, but more importantly, to prevent a stuxnet-type virus from taking down the national electrical grid, disrupting the operation of nuclear power generators, and the other nightmare scenarios predicted by Richard A. Clarke.

    Another thing it could be used for is to examine the associates of a terrorist plotter, but only after the fact. There’s just too much data to isolate a sleeper cell or lone actor like the Unabomber, especially if s/he or they have been taking steps to go around NSA’s bottlenecks.

    Unfortunately, there is just too much opportunity to use the information selectively against people who are troublemakers for the authoritarians in the military/industrial/political/intelligence/banking racket. I’d suggest that the Elliott Spitzer case is instructive, as well as many instances where people in congress who boldly call for reform suddenly and inexplicably become meek mice. There isn’t just the usual degree of LBJ-style congressional intimidation going on, it seems like there are email trails with lurid pictures, or excel spreadsheets showing exactly where the fiscal bodies are buried.

    1. Synopticist

      Yes, that’s along the lines of my thinking as well. Domestically, I would emphasise the blackmail potential of any subversives, opponents or whistleblowers. Most people have done some sort thing online we wouldn’t want the world to see, even if it’s only their choice of porn.

      Internationally, Snowden staying in Russia must be the worst possible outcome imaginable for the NSA, and western intelligence agencies in general. We have to assume the FSB now know EVERYTHING Snowden knows. What a fu*kup. The irony is, if the PTB hadn’t over-played their hand by forcing down Morales’ plane, the damage wouldn’t have been 10% as bad.

      1. Nathanael

        The Russian FSB is way more competent than our NSA/CIA/FBI/DEA/DOD/etc. mess.

        According to one news article, the official assessment of Russian intelligence services, as given to Putin, was that the US government was acting insane.

      2. Nathanael

        Oh. And Snowden *predicted* that the US (un)intelligence services would do stuff like trying to force down planes which they thought he was on.

        Snowden predicted they’d do it, they did it.

        He’s smarter, all by himself, than the entire US intelligence community, because he can predict their behavior and they can’t predict his. Says something, doesn’t it.

      3. Nathanael

        People should remember that we are talking about the US “intelligence” agencies which failed to notice the collapse of the Soviet Union until they were watching it on TV, and didn’t even have useful dossiers on the coup members, or on Yeltsin.

        Based on past performance, every US “intelligence” agency should be dissolved. They appear to do nothing but burn money and spy on Congressmen and generals to get sexual thrills. There is no evidence of competence within the US “intelligence” community in the past 40 years.

  26. Frank Burns

    MERS, now that was designed by people on them computers. Out of sight, out of mind, that’s the crime of the times.

  27. SteveDen

    NSA’s problem is finding the needle in the haystack. It is not trying to spy (whatever that means) on everyone. It has to pick the right criteria to come up with efficient and meaningful results. Only after the pre-approved narrow criteria has been met can NSA get legal approval to spy on an individual.

    What is the alternative? Wait for you or I to tell NSA that something suspicious is going on. In other words, have no defense against the World Trade center bombings.

    1. Jackrabbit

      Good policing has always been cited as the best defense against terr0rism.
      For example, the FBI was warned about arabs taking flight lessons before 9-11. They didn’t follow-up on this lead quickly enough and this info (apparently) didn’t get to the anti-terr0r people who were warning that an attack was imminent. The reorganization of our security services after 9-11 for better communication and coordination ‘protects’ us much more than nsa spying.

      Senator Udall and others have debunked the nsa’s claim that it prevented over 50 attacks. In fact, nsa spying did not play a significant role in preventing ANY US attacks. (My understanding is that it DID help to prevent a single attack in Germany.)

      Kangaroo courts don’t protect us.
      AFAIK, the FISA court has issued a blanket warrant that allows nsa to do pretty much what it wants, trusting that he nsa will police itself. And they have rubber-stamped what the nsa wants almost every time.

      You write: What is the alternative? Wait for you or I to tell NSA that something suspicious is going on.
      The Russians DID tell the US that something suspicious was going on before the Boston bombings. Yet the nsa failed to prevent the attack. How do you explain THAT?


      Lastly, you fail to ask the key question: what is the cost? Are we willing to risk democracy to save a few lives every year? Should we also lower the highway speed limit to 30 miles per hour? That would save thousands of lives every year!

      1. SteveDen

        What do you want. No access by NSA to telephone and internet communications. If so, how would they get information on potential terrorists? From informants?

      2. Nathanael

        The FBI was warned about Arabs getting flight lessons *and saying that they didn’t want to bother to learn how to land the planes*.

        They ignored it.

        The FBI was warned specifically about Tsarnaev three times, twice from the Russians and once from another agency.

        They ignored it.

        There is no reason to spy on Americans. The “intelligence” services don’t even use the data they have handed to them on a silver platter. The last thing they need is more data. They actually need LESS data, so that they will stop getting distracted and start paying attention to the valuable tips which they are already getting.

  28. docg

    Yves, you have already no doubt been identified as a public enemy, with no need for any assistance from the NSA. Anyone reading what you and Lambert have had to say on this blog about US gov’t officials, and especially Barack Obama, whom you’ve identified as someone halfway between Hitler and the devil incarnate, would have no trouble spotting you as an aider and abettor of our “enemies.”

    If I were you I’d expect some jack booted thugs to be knocking at your door any day now.

  29. Lee

    Meanwhile, over at Daily Kos, its founder Markos Moulitsas,
    in a reactionary snit vents his frustration with the many popular, pro-Snowden/Greenwald posts on that blog site:

    “I don’t give a shit

    Seriously, I just don’t care.

    NSA spying is bad! So is stop and frisk. So is splitting up families by deporting children to countries they’ve never been to and don’t speak the language. So is harassing American muslims.

    Government overreach is bad. But to act like having the government track who you call is the height of government abuse is a very white privileged view of the privacy issue.

    But as for Greenwald and Snowden? Seriously, I don’t give two shits.”

    I guess he doesn’t make the connection between state surveillance and political repression, nor does he appear to recall the history, much of it recent, of the government’s role in spying on and smearing, murdering and otherwise interfering with dissident leaders and groups — black, white and brown.

    1. Yalt

      The state may be a bastard, but it’s his bastard.

      For now, anyway. Four years from now he may have reversed poles completely.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Guys like Snowden and Greenwald especially remind charlatans such Markos that they are nothing more than cheerleaders who have theirs and only care about positive reinforcement of their status. This is why, not the powerful necessarily, but their enablers despise Greenwald. Greenwald is what they pretend to be, and Greenwald is a constant reminded that Markos, Maddow, Sharpton (he’s more of an old timey conman), the progressive caucus, and so forth are nothing more than loyal cheerleaders with no values.

      Their disdain of the GOP has morphed from a disagreement over policies to a competition. Greenwald’s efforts point out government isn’t a game but has real results. This is why they hate Greenwald because he has never given Obama childish faith.

      1. Synopticist

        Enough Greenwald fan boy stuff already, please.

        He’s a Koch funded libertarian, and nothing that he’s done or said since he became a “leftist” hero has contradicted that.

        1. jrs

          I suspect this is sarcasm. Even if Greenwald was entirely Koch funded it doesn’t diminish his body of work. But of course that’s untrue. Besides the whole Kochs as uniquely even meme is itself crazed. As far as I am concerned the number 1 problem with the Kochs is that they are fossil fuel and it’s advocate. Yea it only threatens human extinction, no biggie or anything. But they are not alone in that sin. Does Obama take fossil fuel money? Oh you know it.

    3. scraping_by

      People who are casual about political repression are usually under the delusion that they’re on the side of the oppressors rather than the oppressed. That they’re friends with those who wield the whip instead of feeling the lash.

      This is sometimes true, and lasts as long as they’re useful. Normally, not a minute longer.

      Good luck, kossacks.

  30. rich

    U.S. a Lawless State-Paul Craig Roberts
    Former Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts says, “The country is not being run by the President. It is being run by spy agencies and private interest groups, Wall Street and military security complex . . .

    hey run the country. The President is a puppet, a figurehead.” Dr. Roberts contends, “If you are a lawless state, which the United States is, it obeys no international law. It does not obey the Geneva Convention . . . It tortures people. It doesn’t obey the Constitution. It doesn’t obey anything. It does what it wants. . . . If you are a lawless state, you disguise yourself as a democracy.” Former President Jimmy Carter agrees. Just last week, Carter said, “The U.S. has no functioning democracy at this moment.” Why hasn’t the mainstream media picked up this astounding comment from a former Democratic President? Dr. Roberts says, “Five firms now own what used to be a large dispersed independent media. Nobody can open their mouth, they’d get fired. They have become a propaganda ministry for government and corporations.” Dr. Roberts goes on to say, “My prediction or expectation is by winter, the second downturn of the Great Recession will be in place. Unemployment will explode, more foreclosures are coming. It’s going to be worse than the Great Depression.” Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with economist Dr. Paul Craig Roberts.


  31. Alex Hicks

    Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. is no “bomber” nor a terrorist. a stooge and fall guy yes. There were no real bombs or real injuries at Boston (see amputee actors of Hollywood like Heather Abbott). just like Aurora, Sandy Hook, Giffords -a false flag hoax. Now here come the plant crisis actor posters to attack me. just stating a fact.

    1. Massinissa

      Link to evidence or else im just going to consider you a tinfoil.

      No offense but I think I do already.

      No actual injuries at the boston bombings? Really?

      And there were no actual deaths at 9/11 too right? Please -_-

      I can see those things you listed being false flag attacks, but having no actual injuries or deaths? You must be joking.

  32. Jess

    Speaking of “enemies”, go check out Main Core. Last I heard — which was about 6-7 years ago — it contained the info on eight million Americans and legal resident aliens considered potential “threats to the government” in times of emergency or unrest. Do the math: that’s one of out every 300 people. Live in a high-rise in NYC, Boston, SF, DC, etc? Somebody — quite possibly YOU — is on that list.

  33. lb

    The definition of “a terrorist” can reduce the number of hops as well. It seems like the NSA would have incentive to be over-inclusive, lest they miss anyone. Are the terrorists explicitly tagged by a human, and if so, what are the criteria? Is aid and support (donating cash to a group at some point branded ‘terrorist’ whether you knew this — how?? — or not) enough? Is advocacy of some act enough, such that use of dog-whistle keywords/phrases (possibly used sarcastically — there is no “tone” online) would make you a “suspected terrorist”? Is any of this automated, such that the “51% chance” standard for some heuristic is enough?

    We’ve heard enough about targeting of OWS people, ecological groups, and the like. We don’t, however, know all of the sets of people branded as terrorists per PRISM et al. That could be very illuminating…

    Also, given the idea of an infinite rear-view mirror is part of this system, do old brandings of someone as a terrorist (possibly later debunked) stick forever? Do new brandings light the network up like a christmas tree?

    Imagine you wanted everyone in the fold. Analyzing the network, you could already tell who the ‘hub’ individuals were who reached the maximum number of people not yet being watched. You could possibly induce some of those hub people (or one level of adjacent people) to come in contact with someone bad, possibly under a legitimate light. Take every sheriff of a small town to some central training on terrorists and have them talk to a terrorist for a second over some telephony system to their cell. Suddenly everyone in all of those small towns is connected. This can sound tin-foil-hatty, and that’s fine, but realize how trivially gamed a system of omniscience is, regardless of the questions asked above.

    Maybe it’s time people revisit the “six” in “six degrees of separation/Kevin Bacon”.

  34. diane

    07/24/13 White House braced for Congress vote on amendment to limit NSA collectionObama opposed to ‘Amash amendment’ as vote provides first test of congressional opinion on widespread NSA surveillance

    “Just how important this vote is was underlined when they started doing the classified briefings and the intelligence community came out in full force and acknowledged this amendment would stop their bulk collection under 215,” the ACLU’s Richardson said.

    Richardson said the legislative scrambling ahead of the Amash amendment was so intense that the outcome of the vote “can’t be predicted right now.”

    A Washington Post poll released on the eve of the debate over the Amash amendment found widespread public skepticism of the NSA. Seventy-four percent of respondents said that the agency’s monitoring of telephone records and internet communications intrudes on Americans’ privacy rights generally, with 49% believing it intrudes on their own.

    Two of the most respected Washington personages on national security issues, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the Republican and Democratic chairmen of the 9/11 commission, wrote that the bulk surveillance poses “serious questions for our country.”

    “The NSA’s metadata program was put into place with virtually no public debate, a worrisome precedent made worse by erecting unnecessary barriers to public understanding via denials and misleading statements from senior administration officials,” Kean and Hamilton wrote on Politico shortly before the vote on the Amash amendment. Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman, was one of Obama’s earliest foreign policy advisers when the president served in the Senate.


  35. diane

    07/23/13 “Big Brother” Has Been Watching You… For a Long Time

    Executive Order 13587

    As reported last week in “Big Brother is Watching,” President Barack Obama, signed Executive Order 13587 on October 7, 2011 entitled: Structural Reforms to Improve the Security of Classified Networks and the Responsible Sharing and Safeguarding of Classified Information (Federal Register Vol. 76, No. 198 (10/13/11). The president’s decision to initiate the “Insider” program was triggered by revelations from Pvt. Bradley Manning, a US Army soldier who courageously exposed illegal US military attacks against civilians in Iraq and allegedly passed classified data to the website WikiLeaks. The program outlined in Executive Order 13587 is called the Insider Threat Program (ITP).

    Now that the program has come to light, it has been condemned by both liberal and conservative news organizations because it has raised concerns about privacy, unethical governmental behavior and the unavoidable comparison with Nazi, East German and McCarthy era witch hunts that destroyed the lives and careers of thousands of people. In fact, following an investigative report by the McClatchy news organization, Fox News issued an article by Dough McKelway entitled: “‘Insider Threat’? Program urging federal workers to tattle on each other raises concerns.”

    The publicity didn’t seem to faze the White House. Press Secretary Jay Carney, when asked about specific provisions of the ITP that were raised by the McClatchy article, responded, “I confess I didn’t see the story. I’ll have to take the question.”


    1. diane

      Sorry, I had intended that “more” link to go back to that 07/23/13 piece, by Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, though, ….. the piece it links to is also well worth the time spent digesting it.

  36. readerOfTeaLeaves

    And I figure that I’m hoovered because I read this post, and am a long time reader of Emptywheel.

    I think a lot of the judges and Congresscritters have been bamboozled.
    At the same time, Amazon probably knows at least as much about my preferences, buying habits, etc, as the NSA.

    1. jrs

      Every intuiton tells me Amazon cooperates with the NSA but that info isn’t out there yet. They do run the cloud servers for the CIA where much of the PRISM info was stored. It has been suggested that a large company somehow not paying tax may itself be a reward for cooperation (although there’s a lot of those).

      I have become a person in many ways wary of buying books online (even at Abe’s books – not Amazon). Which I find incredibly sad. I’m wary less because they are profiling me necessarily, but more because they are invading the sacred privacy of an individual and I have a feeling for nefarious ends. For a hypothetical example of how it could be used for nefarious ends: “these readers of Econned are becoming radical to the point of engaging in protests and civil disobedience, we have to prevent people from getting radicalized that way”.

      Are book bans far behind? Of course there are less overt ways.

  37. allcoppedout

    I’m not much concerned by the technology – it’s more the presence of cops, magistrates and judges now so dumb they can’t stop obvious farces as soon as they see them. The real chill factor is that they can be so arbitrary – all terror I’ve seen relies on that.

    1. from Mexico

      Did you see this?

      I’m such an illiterate when it comes to the use of things like Twitter that I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of it, but it appears to me that it was an instance of draconian actions by police, prosecutors and the courts to stifle even the most benign of activities that might challenge the SSS (Security and surveillance state):

      Twitter Crackdown: NYC Activist Arrested for Using Social Networking Site during G-20 Protest in Pittsburgh


  38. jal

    Do you want your grandkids to be standing in line getting his teeth checked by a potential employer to see if he is fit to be hired?
    Can you prepare your grandkids to be the one doing the checking of the teeth of the potential employees?

    Okay! Okay!
    I agree its not going to be the same system that was used by landowners when they went to the slave market to get their slave labor.

    Its going to be a modern version that utilize modern technology.
    It will not be sufficient for your grandkids to have worn braces on his teeth to look acceptable. The H.R. dept. will be mining all of the data bases to see if he/she is “one of the boys”.
    Its going to be a “closed shop.”
    The “entry fee” will be out of reach of most people. Only the most talented will be let into the system. (Yes, “brown nosing” is a talent. Can you say “Yes, Mam.” with a smile)

    If you want your grandkids to be “one of the boys” they will need to have the skills and the personality to be able to answer the question:
    Employer: What is two plus two
    Grandkid: What do you want it to be?

    We have a shitty system and its going to get worst.
    Welcome to the club.

  39. just me

    PalTalk. Don’t forget PalTalk.

    The Medium quote left it out.

    …let’s focus a bit on what may be a suspect’s contacts. If Snowden’s allegations and some of the reporting we’ve read from major media outlets is true, the companies who provide NSA with “metadata” –in other words “who’s speaking with whom”— include Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple.

    But Rayne at emptywheel just wrote a good analysis of it:


    Remember this presentation slide on PRISM from last month’s blockbuster report by the Guardian-UK?

    Remember the one outlier right smack in the middle of the slide — the company name most folks don’t recognize?


  40. Paul Tioxon

    I’ve have eaten falafel for years now, which can only mean one thing. I am part of a 5th column of guru sympathizing fellow travelers with crypto-Islamacist tendencies. Either that or my tai-chi morning rituals and tofu consumptions means I’m a Sino/ChiCom proxy. No matter how you slice it, I’m doomed!!! Doomed!!! DOOMED!!!! And so is Capitalism, according to the iron laws of Marx. Got that of my chest, finally. I mean, if going to die, I’m sure as hell going to deserve it. More curry dishes and Sufi mysticism please.

  41. casino implosion

    I guess I better stop making google searches like “how to shoot down a drone” and “how to confuse face recognition software”.

  42. With Cat as my CEO

    I met Julian Assange at a party in 2009, which just put all of you at two. :)

  43. Miguel Gustav Jones

    “And you”… Living outside the US, and having published my opinion online multiple times vis a vis the security state, not to mention “commercial” connections, (subscriptions to al Jazeera, etc), I’m 99% sure I’m in the dragnet.

  44. ToBadTyranny

    Wind speed + wind direction + distance + elevation + degree incline/decline + temp + humidity + load + grains + SQUEEZE =

  45. securitate

    One way for “Securitate” to keep in check the East european population was to spread the idea that everybody was under suveillance. (Of course, this was beyond the technical capacity of that time, but then you would never know, would you.)
    Me thinks this still applies today, as the new Securitate’s objective is to make everybody fear the state and become self-censored.

  46. race_to_the_bottom

    At some point in the US, there will be a movement for serious change. It is inevitable because people’s quality of life continues to decline and there is nothing in conventional politics to stop it. People are in real material and phychic pain. When these movements get under way, the state will want to crush them, like Occupy, the antiwar and civil rights movements. The leaders of these movements will be a particular target, and understanding the network that the leaders are central to is pure gold. This is where informers are recruited. There are always informers. They can be blackmailed, threatened, or even paid to be informers. That is the way it works. It has always been this way.

  47. Calgacus

    Here’s something I wrote for the wikipedia refdesk, not news here, but maybe an interesting link collection:

    Well, Bruce Schneier says “We don’t know what is being collected exactly, but a safe assumption is that approximately everything is being collected.”. I think it is a pretty safe assumption that the yottabyte capacity of the Utah Data Center is designed to be filled with, uh data. Note that when “The [Criminal] N.S.A. uses the word “acquire” ” it means pulling “information out of its gigantic database of communications and not when it first intercepts and stores the information.” And according to Russ Tice, .“It’s not just metadata” .

    On terrorism? – see Schneier’s Mission Creep: When Everything Is Terrorism & this “special need”, to guard against “terrorism”, overrides that relic 4th amendment. In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A. Jimmy Carter speaking of Snowden & Prism, thus opines that “America has no functioning democracy” . A federal judge’s ruling observes “the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws”, while describing her own ruling for the government by The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement”

    1. Nathanael

      I’m probably on their list because they’re MORONS.

      Most of my comments on the net call for the prevention of a revolution. I believe a revolution is going to be very hard to avoid if the government keeps being so stupidly totalitarian and abusive.

      But I expect the NSA/CIA types to be too bloody stupid to have the reading comprehension to understand that I am calling for the prevention of a revolution. Totalitarian police-state thugs are not known for their intelligence.

      1. Nathanael

        NSA folks, if you’re reading this: look up Earl Grey and the Great Reform Act (and especially the “Days of May”). Then look up the French Revolution.

        Earl Grey warned the powerful of his time that they would be subject to a revolution if they did not reform. I am merely giving the same warning.

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