Last night's NSA scoop by the UK Guardian? Child's play. The Washington Post has published a truly shocking story exposing the largest government domestic program in American history. If you are reading this right now, you have been affected by PRISM, a top secret operation begun in 2007 that has expanded "exponentially" during the Obama administration. This isn't the plot of a futuristic thriller. This is the US government at work, here and now:
The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time. The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues...The technology companies, which participate knowingly in PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted significant traffic during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Dropbox , the cloud storage and synchronization service, is described as “coming soon.” Government officials declined to comment for this article.
The Post describes the current program as President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program on powerful steroids, with Bush's successor -- who was fiercely critical of that effort -- presiding over PRISM's vast expansion:
The Silicon Valley operation works alongside a parallel program, code-named BLARNEY, that gathers up “metadata” — address packets, device signatures and the like — as it streams past choke points along the backbone of the Internet. BLARNEY’s top-secret program summary, set down alongside a cartoon insignia of a shamrock and a leprechaun hat, describes it as “an ongoing collection program that leverages IC [intelligence community] and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.” But the PRISM program appears more nearly to resemble the most controversial of the warrantless surveillance orders issued by President George W. Bush after the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Its history, in which President Obama presided over “exponential growth” in a program that candidate Obama criticized, shows how fundamentally surveillance law and practice have shifted away from individual suspicion in favor of systematic, mass collection techniques. The PRISM program is not a dragnet, exactly. From inside a company’s data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes, but under current rules the agency does not try to collect it all.
Beyond providing the government with the ability to "pull out whatever it likes," how potent is PRISM?
Even when the system works just as advertised, with no American singled out for targeting, the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content...Firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities, is what drove a career intelligence officer to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said.
Important point: Unlike Verizon metadata PRISM surveillance "can include the content of communications." bit.ly/16NXdAc— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) June 6, 2013
NBC News has learned that under the Patriot Act, the gov't has been collecting records on every call made in America— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) June 6, 2013
This cascade of leaks is probably the result of Obama kicking the intelligence community in the nuts so many times.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) June 6, 2013
There are so many unusual things about this story. Mere $20M cost. Chintzy powerpoint. Odd language in powerpoint. Tech company denials.— Joseph Weisenthal (@TheStalwart) June 7, 2013
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography