NSA: We Steal Industry Secrets, But Not for Competitive Advantage

Kudos to Kevin Gosztola, who liberated the propaganda the NSA sent workers home with for Thanksgiving to use with family and friends.

I find 3 of the bullet points particularly interesting (all of which Gosztola also touches on).

NSA: we steal secrets, we just use them differently

NSA does not and will not steal industry secrets in order to give U.S. companies a competitive advantage.

The NSA has uttered various versions of this claim since the Snowden leaks started. But I find this formulation particularly telling. NSA is not denying they steal industry secrets (nor could they, since we know they’ve stolen data from corporations like Petrobras and have stolen secrets from a range of hacking targets).

They’re just denying they steal secrets in order to give US companies a competitive advantage.

Of course, they’re not calculating the advantage that having the world’s most voracious COMINT spy might have for owners of IP. They’re not talking about how intelligence on opposition to US products (like GMO or untested chemicals) translates into industrial advantage. They’re not talking about how spying influences the work of Defense Contractors (who do, of course, also sell on the international market). They’re not talking about how larger financial spying ultimately gives American companies an advantage.

But so long as NSA’s workers can tell their mother-in-law they’re not facilitating US cheating (which they are), it’s all good, I guess.

We don’t demand, we ask nicely

NSA does not and will not demand changes by any vendor to any product, nor does it have any authority to demand such changes.

Again, watch the language carefully. NSA denies it demands changes (presumably meaning to the security of software and hardware producers). It doesn’t deny it sometimes asks for changes. It doesn’t deny it sometimes negotiates unfairly to get those changes. It doesn’t deny it steals data on those changes.

It just doesn’t demand those changes.

We perform exceptionally well if you ignore cybersecurity

NSA performs its mission exceptionally well. We strive to be the best that we can be, because that’s what America requires as part of its defense in a dangerous world.

Signals intelligence improves our knowledge and understanding of terrorist plans and intentions. It is one of the most powerful tools we have to protect our citizens, soldiers, and allies.

Fundamentally, NSA and partner foreign intelligence agencies work together to protect the world’s citizens from a range of threats like terrorism, weapons proliferation, and cyber attacks. Terrorists and weapons proliferators use the same technology many of us do, such as e-mail. That is why the U.S. Government compels providers to provide webmail for these carefully identified threats.

In the original, the first of these two bullets is bolded, on top of the emphasis to exceptionally well.

But note how carefully the document dances around NSA’s failures in cybersecurity? Elsewhere, the document admits its helps DOD with cybersecurity, but says nothing about targeting cyber attackers more generally.

It then pretends it only uses Section 702 for collection directly from Internet providers, ignoring the upstream collection and its focus on cybersecurity targets. It also pretends it only uses Section 702 for counterproliferation and terrorist targets, though ODNI has admitted to targeting cyberattackers under Section 702 before.

No lesser expert than Keith Alexander has equated the cybertheft of American companies to colonial plunder. It is his job to combat those cyberthieves who’ve plundered the country. And yet, he says he has done his job exceptionally well.

I guess that’s why he only wanted to talk about terrorism?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. bloodypitchfork says:

    Don’tcha ever get tired of wading through this cesspool Marci? Here..take a break. See, there’s a whole other world going on…

  2. Rayne says:

    NSA does not and will not steal industry secrets in order to give U.S. companies a competitive advantage.

    But we aren’t told what contractors do, or any “valued partners” with access to the same network/servers/databases might do with industry secrets.

    NSA does not and will not demand changes by any vendor to any product, nor does it have any authority to demand such changes.

    The nice requests probably look just like the nice requests to telcos and other sources/targets: “This NSL requires you to comply with our request and not disclose the nature of this request at risk of prosecution. Go ahead and prove we didn’t ask nicely — please. And thank you!”

    The other angle on this is that NSA might be the vendor in the equation; of course they ask themselves nicely to comply with requests.

    NSA performs its mission exceptionally well. We strive to be the best that we can be, because that’s what America requires as part of its defense in a dangerous world.

    Oh, bonus, a two-parter!

    1) We the people have no clue what the NSA’s true mission might actually be. It’s not securing us, that much is true, when looking at examples like the Boston bombing and Brazil’s Petrobras.

    2) “Defense in a dangerous world” are FUD buzzwords, the new spin on “9/11!! 9/11!! 9/11!!”

    Ugh. I suppose they outsourced this happy holiday horseshit propaganda to Booz.

  3. bloodypitchfork says:

    @Rayne: quote:”Ugh. I suppose they outsourced this happy holiday horseshit propaganda to Booz.”unquote

    Perfect. Speaking of NSA horseshit propaganda, I assume you’ve placed yourself in Schindler’s crosshairs by now. If and when he decides to challenge you, I hope you verbally sever his NSA apologist head with extreme prejudice.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/12/how-surveillance-state-insiders-try-to-discredit-nsa-critics/281941/

    In fact, here’s the battlefield. I don’t do twitter but I did comment.

    https://twitter.com/20committee

  4. Hooker Jay says:

    They cribbed this straight out of those BASF commercials from the 1980s and inverted it. “We’re not stealing for competitive or political advantage. We’re making the tools that foster the stealing for competitive or political advantage BETTER!” Whatever the NSA’s claims on a given subject, believe the opposite (unless Keith Alexander happens to extol on the pros and cons of using lye as an agent for the disposal of human remain – that shit you can believe without skepticism.)

  5. Rayne says:

    @bloodypitchfork: Meh. I could give a hoot if I was in that [insert your choice of term]’s crosshairs. He’s proven himself to be an adept apologist/marketing tool for the traditional MIC, likely to talk up any opportunity to sell more of their products while ignoring the facts on the ground.

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