NSA PRISM Slides: Notice Anything Unusual or Missing?

We haven’t seen (and likely will never see) all of the NSA slides former Booz Allen employee Edward Snowden shared with the Guardian-UK and the Washington Post. But the few that we have seen shared by these two news outlets tell us a lot — even content we might expect to see but don’t tells us something.

First, let’s compare what appears to be the title slide of the presentation — the Guardian’s version first, followed by the WaPo’s version. You’d think on the face of it they’d be the same, but they aren’t.

[NSA presentation, title slide via Guardian-UK]

[NSA presentation, title slide, via Guardian-UK]

[NSA presentation, title slide, via Washington Post]

[NSA presentation, title slide, via Washington Post]

Note the name of the preparer or presenter has been redacted on both versions; however, the Guardian retains the title of this person, “PRISM Collection Manager, S35333,” while the WaPo completely redacts both name and title.

This suggests there’s an entire department for this program requiring at least one manager. There are a number of folks who are plugging away at this without uttering a peep.

More importantly, they are working on collection — not exclusively on search.

The boldface reference to “The SIGAD Used Most in NSA Reporting” suggests there are more than the PRISM  in use as SIGINT Activity Designator tools. What’s not clear from this slide is whether PRISM is a subset of US-984XN or whether PRISM is one-for-one the same as US-984XN.

Regardless of whether PRISM is inside or all of US-984XN, the presentation addresses the program “used most” for reporting; can we conclude that reporting means the culled output of mass collection? Read more

Truck-sized Holes: Journalists Challenged by Technology Blindness

[photo: liebeslakritze via Flickr]

[photo: liebeslakritze via Flickr]

Note: The following piece was written just before news broke about Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden. With this in mind, let’s look at the reporting we’ve see up to this point; problems with reporting to date may remain even with the new disclosures.

ZDNet bemoaned the failure of journalism in the wake of disclosures this past week regarding the National Security Administration’s surveillance program; they took issue in particular with the Washington Post’s June 7 report. The challenge to journalists at WaPo and other outlets, particularly those who do not have a strong grasp of information technology, can be seen in the reporting around access to social media systems.

Some outlets focused on “direct access.” Others reported on “access,” but were not clear about direct or indirect access.

Yet more reporting focused on awareness of the program and authorization or lack thereof on the part of the largest social media firms cited on the leaked NSA slides.

Journalists are not asking what “access” means in order to clarify what each corporation understands direct and indirect access to mean with regard to their systems.

Does “direct access” mean someone physically camped out on site within reach of the data center?

Does “direct access” mean someone with global administrative rights and capability offsite of the data center? Some might call this remote access, but without clarification, what is the truth?

I don’t know about you but I can drive a Mack truck through the gap between these two questions.

So which “direct access” have the social media firms not permitted? Which “direct access” has been taken without authorization of corporate management? ZDNet focuses carefully on authorization, noting the changes in Washington Post’s story with regard to “knowingly participated,” changed later to read “whose cooperation is essential PRISM operations.”

This begs the same questions with regard to any other form of access which is not direct. Note carefully that a key NSA slide is entitled, “Dates when PRISM Collection Began For Each Provider.” It doesn’t actually say “gained access,” direct or otherwise. Read more