Wednesday, February 27, 2013

'Ragtime': NSA's Secret Domestic Intelligence Program Revealed

More than a decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a set of extraordinary and secretive surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency has been institutionalized, and they have grown, reports Shane Harris at the Washingtonian.

These special programs are conducted under the codename "Ragtime," and they are divided into several subcomponents, according to the new book Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady.[...]

According to Shane, the book reports on a program named Ragtime-P
Ragtime-P, which will probably be of greatest interest to those who continue to demand more information from the NSA about what it does in the United States.

P stands for Patriot Act. Ragtime-P is the remnant of the original President’s Surveillance Program, the name given to so-called "warrantless wiretapping" activities after 9/11, in which one end of a phone call or an e-mail terminated inside the United States. That collection has since been brought under law, but civil liberties groups, journalists, and legal scholars continue to seek more information about what it entailed who was targeted and what authorities exist today for domestic intelligence-gathering[...]As many as 50 companies have provided data to this domestic collection program, the authors report.[...] How the surveillance is approved tells us a lot about the breadth of the NSA's intelligence-gathering. The court and the Attorney General both certify a slate of approved targets under Ragtime-P, the authors find. That includes a certain amount of "bulk data"--such as phone call logs and records--that can be collected around those targets. An NSA official told the authors that Ragtime-P can process as many as 50 different data sets at one time.

What happens next looks like a 21st century data assembly line. At the NSA's headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland, a program called Xkeyscore processes all intercepted electronic signals before sending them to different "production lines" that deal with specific issues. Here, we find another array of code names.

Pinwale is the main NSA database for recorded signals intercepts, the authors report. Within it, there are various keyword compartments, which the NSA calls "selectors."

Metadata (things like the "To" and "From" field on an e-mail) is stored in a database called Marina. It generally stays there for five years.

In a database called Maui there is "finished reporting," the transcripts and analysis of calls. (Metadata never goes here, the authors found.)

As all this is happening, there are dozens of other NSA signals activity lines, called SIGADS, processing data. There's Anchory, an all-source database for communications intelligence; Homebase, which lets NSA analysts coordinate their searches based on priorities set by the Director of National Intelligence; Airgap, which deals with missions that are a priority for the Department of Defense; Wrangler, an electronic intelligence line; Tinman, which handles air warning and surveillance; and more.

Lest you get confused by this swirl of codenames and acronyms, keep this image in mind of the NSA as a data-analysis factory.
Harris and the authors of the book seem to downplay the dangers of this data collection. They report access to the data of targets is extremely limited and most data just sits there unanalyzed.  But the data collection is extremely dangerous. If Big Brother wants to focus in on you, the data is there to do it. The somewhat benign view of the data collection fails to consider how an expanding government may use the data in the future. First, they collected the data and just stored it. Then, they started taking a look at the data they have and determined, say, who is a libertarian or a gold buyer. Not good.


  1. Stop being all paranoid. It's not like Obama is going to drone anybody. Besides, the Supreme Court just said it was legal.

    1. The only Nobel Peace Laureate with a Kill List, has already targeted and drone bombed 3 American citizens without due process, without even charging them, one of them was a 16 year old American teenager. How long before drone strikes are used here on US soil?

    2. Annd once again my sarcasm meter acting up online. Damn those Chinese factories!


      R U Serious??