(TMU) – Most people know by now about the surveillance abuses perpetrated by the NSA earlier this century, but a new book about Edward Snowden suggests that the metadata collection programs introduced to us through previous whistleblowers and disclosures are part of a “live, ever-updating social graph of the US” that is ongoing and far vaster than we previously imagined.
The revelations come from journalist Barton Gellman, who described the content of his new book Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State for Wired. The article, entitled “Inside the NSA’s Secret Tool for Mapping Your Social Network,” catalogs Gellman’s attempts to reveal more details about the programs Snowden first disclosed to the world.
What he found shocked him, and represents an ongoing existential threat to American citizens, he says.
Gellman says that originally he wanted to understand more about the logistics of the NSA phone records. The Snowden archive hints at but does not explain the details of the agency’s project pipelines.
The main thoroughfare of data collection, ‘Stellarwind’, was a domestic surveillance program launched by Vice President Dick Cheney only weeks after 9/11. He mandated that all operatives and subordinates conceal the program from FISA Court judges and Congress, stamping it with the most covert of government classifications, ECI, which stands for, “exceptionally controlled information.”
Stellarwind facilitated ‘Mainway’, the NSA’s prized social network mapping tool which conscripted telephone data companies like AT&T and Verizon into secretive–and financially lucrative–data collection contracts negotiated by Special Source Operations.
But even this was just the tip of the iceberg.
The Mainway program codified two important, but (until now), obfuscated surveillance and data mining objectives: contact chaining and precomputation.
While the NSA long maintained that their surveillance programs merely stored untraced metadata that could help investigate the activities of known terrorist operatives, we now know that the agency was actively leveraging and exploiting the data to build an almost mind-bogglingly complex, next-generation social graph. As described by Gellman, this tool combined the concepts of “six degrees of separation” (or six degrees of Kevin Bacon, if you prefer) and a pre-COVID-19 model of contact tracing.
Termed ‘contact chaining’ and first deployed during the manhunt and investigation of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a new suite of software tools used the NSA’s intercepted communications (read: our personal information), including voice, video, email and chat text, attachments, pager messages, etc. to build a cutting-edge form of data analysis that can algorithmically parse data records to illustrate indirect relationships between any and all intelligence assets (read, us).
According to Gellman, Mainway turned into “the queen of metadata, foreign and domestic, designed to find patterns that content did not reveal…[and] identify, track, store, manipulate and update relationships” to create a global graph, an integrated graphical map, representing the “movements and communications” of virtually everyone on Earth.
Named “the Big Awesome Graph,” or “the BAG” for short, this tool was the principal data harvesting tool in the umbrella directive of “Large Access Exploitation.” It “mapped the call records as “nodes” and “edges” on a grid so large that the human mind, unaided, could not encompass it.”
The NSA’s Mainway program sought to use its newly and somewhat hastily assembled software to continuously create ‘contact chain’ profiles on all global citizens. The FBI commandeered over a billion new records each day from the telephone companies and the NSA ingested that info to “get a head start on everyone.”
Termed pre-computation, the idea was and is to create a “constant, complex…7×24…live, ever-updating social graph,” called ‘Graph-in-Memory’, of every US citizen and a large number of non-citizens and international citizens.
“All kinds of secrets—social, medical, political, professional—were precomputed, 24/7…a database that was preconfigured to map anyone’s life at the touch of a button.”
He maintains that only 22 top officials had the authority to order a so-called contact chain. However, the dangers of such power abound.
In its post-911 sprint to “to dominate the global communications infrastructure,” the NSA opened a veritable Pandora’s box, whereby “governments at all levels [may use] the power of the state most heavy-handedly, sometimes illegally, to monitor communities disadvantaged by poverty, race, religion, ethnicity, and immigration status.”
Gellman observes that “nearly anyone in the developed world can be linked to at least one fact in a computer database that an adversary could use for blackmail, discrimination, harassment, or financial or identity theft.”
“The latent power of new inventions,” Gellman writes, “no matter how repellent at first, does not lie forever dormant in government armories.”
In other words, if you’re worried about contact tracing in the age of Covid-19, worry no more: that ship has long sailed.
Jeff Bezos Thanks Amazon Workers And Customers For Paying For His Flight To Space
The billionaire space race chalked up one more ignoble milestone on July 20 when the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, boarded a reusable rocket his company Blue Origin built and funded, flew to the edge of space for a moment of weightlessness, and came back down to earth.
You can watch the flight and learn more about the journey here.
The Amazon founder has faced withering criticism for accumulating his massive fortune on the backs of an exploited workforce that is subject to harsh working conditions and low pay in warehouses or Fulfillment Centers where staffers must urinate in water bottles in order to meet their quotas.
In his press conference following the launch, Bezos thanked that same workforce for helping him to shoot himself into space in a move that many critics have described as a simple “joyride.”
“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for this,” he told the crowd, which responded with laughter. “Seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every employee thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It’s very appreciated.”
Critics on Twitter responded with derision, noting that Bezos was able to enjoy the trip at the expense of his hard-working employees.
“Thing is, employers are supposed to pay their employees, not the other way around, but that’s basically how Amazon works,” one user tweeted.
While another tweeter asked: “Maybe they’re searching space for signs of a livable wage or a way to pay their fair share of taxes?”
On Tuesday, Bezos blasted off in the sub-orbital New Shepard rocket from Texas. The date for the launch was chosen to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Members of the crew, which included his brother mark and 82-year-old female astronaut Wally Funk, brought a number of historic items on the flight, including a piece of canvas from the conceptual plane originally flown by the Wright brothers, the goggles Amelia Earhart used to fly across the Atlantic, and a brass medal made from the first hot air balloon which flew in 1783.
Keanu Reeves Praised As Video of Him Offering Seat to Lady in Subway Resurfaces
Keanu Reeves is an actor who has long been loved by audiences —and not necessarily due to his acting skills, but due to how nice the John Wick star is.
And now, Reeves is once again earning praise as a “true gentleman” after resurfaced video footage shows Reeves giving up his seat on the subway.
The clip was shared by Instagram film fan account Cinemonkeys where it has since earned nearly 45,000 likes.
The video footage dates back to 2011, when it was shared on YouTube by a user of the video-sharing platform.
At the time, Reeves was already a superstar riding on the fame he earned from the Matrix, Speed, and a number of other blockbuster hits.
When Reeves notices a woman carrying a heavy bag, he quickly points to his seat and asks if she would like to sit. The woman accepts and Reeves gets up without hesitating to let her take his seat.
Reeves, ever the model citizen, then stands and holds onto a subway pole while carrying his bag.
The video has since been watched over 27 million times and was even cited in a 2019 Time magazine profile of the actor describing Reeves as the “soul mate” of the internet.
The resurfacing of the clip on Instagram once again impressed users of the platform.
“This human being’s soul honestly shines so bright,” wrote one user.
“OMG I love him in every single way,” another person commented.
“His kindness knows no bounds,” commented someone else.
Keanu is set to reprise his role as Neo in the upcoming fourth Matrix film directed and written by Lana Wachowski, who co-directed the earlier trilogy with her sister Lilly. He will also return to the silver screen in John Wick: Chapter 4, which will be released in 2022.
Drunk Man Rescues Injured Baby Bird By Sending It To Animal Shelter… In An Uber
An injured baby bird received a new lease on life after a young man who was inebriated had the good sense to send the little creature to an animal shelter because he and his friends were too drunk to drive.
In the Summer of 2019, a small lesser goldfinch suddenly appeared by itself at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. The center’s chairman, Buz Marthaler, was notified by a volunteer who sent him a photo.
“It was a picture of this bird, and it had come by Uber,” Marthaler told FOX13. “It was just crazy.”
As it turns out, the tiny bird – which was only two weeks old – indeed rolled up to the site by its lonesome, the sole passenger in an Uber vehicle called by concerned citizens who found the injured creature.
Among those good Samaritans was Tim Crowley, who had been “day drinking” on that Saturday before he and his buddies witnessed the little bird fall from the sky.
“Impromptu, sitting in some camp chairs, hanging out, having a few drinks when we had a visitor fall out of the sky,” he explained.
Crowley then snapped a photo of the bird and sent it to the WRCNU, which instructed him to immediately bring the bird in. However, the group obviously couldn’t drive since they had been guzzling booze all day.
So Crowley decided he’d hail a cab for the creature.
“At first it was a joke, like, ‘Hey, maybe we should just call Uber!’” he said. “Then we were like, ‘No, really. Why not? We’re paying them.’”
As it turns out, the bird – since named “Petey Uber” by staff at the rescue center – likely would have perished if not for Crowley’s quick thinking.
Marthaler remains impressed by Crowley’s move and shared the news on its Facebook page.
“While we feel we’ve seen it all and can’t be amazed by anything, there is always someone out there to prove us wrong,” the shelter’s post read. “Thank you to the rescuer who helped this little one get the care it needed in a timely manner and thank you for keeping yourself safe and others on the road safe as well.”