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Special Reports Last Updated: Jun 26th, 2009 - 01:40:17

NSA�s cyber-security grab is a major expansion of web surveillance
By Wayne Madsen
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 26, 2009, 00:24

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(WMR) -- With Time magazine reporting that President Obama has narrowed his top choice for the White House �cyber security czar� position to former Virginia Republican Representative Tom Davis, a leading backer of the Bush administration�s surveillance powers over the Internet, comes word from WMR�s sources that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been given a green light by the Obama White House to embark on a major effort to establish total surveillance over the Internet.

The decision is somewhat of a consolation prize to NSA director General Keith Alexander who made no secret of his desire to be named as Obama�s cyber security czar. However, it is anticipated that Davis is in lockstep with the NSA in ensuring the eavesdropping agency becomes the de facto lead organization for conducting spying on Internet users worldwide.

The NSA seeks to expand its surveillance powers over the Internet well beyond its current e-mail surveillance capabilities conducted by classified programs like Pinwale, first reported by WMR on December 4, 2005, and reported as an e-mail interception program on September 15, 2008. Using the cover of additional code-word programs, NSA is expanding its surveillance capabilities of the Internet by striking technical agreements with various software developers, hardware vendors, and service providers, including Microsoft, Intel, Google, and social networking services like FaceBook and Twitter.

Eventually, NSA hopes to have the ability to monitor in real-time mode e-mail traffic, online web searches, and conversations using Voice-over-IP (VOIP) services. Currently on NSA�s target list are services that have balked at cooperating with the spy agency, including the encrypted VOIP service Skype, which is based in the United Kingdom; Mozilla, which provides the Firefox Internet search engine, and encrypted e-mail programs such as Hushmail. One classified NSA initiative is to exploit security vulnerabilities in commercially-available software and hardware products to enable it to conduct better surveillance via the web.

Services like Skype may not be free of NSA�s long reach. NSA�s UK partner, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has also embarked on a massive Internet surveillance program called �Mastering the Internet� or MTI.

On September 15, 2008, WMR reported on how NSA was using projects designed to protect the security of cyberspace as Trojan horses to gain a foothold in surveillance of civilian networks: �WMR has learned from government sources that the Bush administration has authorized massive surveillance of the Internet using as cover a cyber-security multi-billion dollar project called the �Einstein� program. Billed as a cyber-security intrusion detection system for federal computer systems and networks, WMR has been told that the actual intent of Einstein is to initially monitor the email and web surfing activities of federal employees and contractors and not in protecting government computer systems from intrusion by outsiders . . . The DNI [Director of National Intelligence] and NSA also plan to move Einstein into the private sector by claiming the nation�s critical infrastructure, by nature, overlaps into the commercial sector. There are classified plans, already budgeted in so-called �black� projects, to extend Einstein surveillance into the dot (.) com, dot (.) edu, dot (.) int, and dot (.) org, as well as other Internet domains. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has budgeted $5.4 billion for Einstein in his department�s FY2009 information technology budget. However, this amount does not take into account the �black� budgets for Einstein proliferation throughout the U.S. telecommunications network contained in the budgets for NSA and DNI.�

The NSA power play to increase its authority over the Internet even caused a rift with the usually more cooperative Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In May, Rod Beckstrom, the head of the National Cyber Security Center within DHS, resigned in a critical letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano that cited NSA�s expanding domestic role in cyber-security as his reason for quitting.

However, NSA has the backing of Obama�s DNI, retired Admiral Dennis Blair, who is a strong supporter of the agency�s dominating role in cyber-security and its classified on-going and planned Internet surveillance projects.

In yet another example of his going back on campaign promises, Obama has backpedaled on his commitment to privacy rights. The slide to supporting illegal and intrusive surveillance began when Obama supported immunity from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that willingly participated in the NSA�s warrantless wiretapping program code named Stellar Wind.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright � 2009

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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