Re: US' NSA monitors all e-mail, telephone and FAXes in Europe

Anders Sandberg (
01 Feb 1998 02:05:33 +0100

I think the fears that the NSA monitors everything are somewhat

First, the line-eater (the system storing all emails containing "hot"
words) is an old myth (there are line-eater annoying sigfiles filled
with hot words dating back to the early days of the net). The problem
with it is that it is too unselective, you get far too much junk which
has to be eyeball-scanned (imagine just wading through alt.conspiracy
daily) - it is not cost effective even with a lot of personell. And
the real terrorists and subversives of course do not email their
master plans over the net in plaintext (how many terorrist groups rely
on postcards for internal communication?). It is trivial to use
another phrase ("Let's greet the king with the blue bolts") or
encryption (not even strong encryption is needed against a

Second, large scale trawling is as far as I know an inefficient way of
finding the ones you are looking for, it is a brute force
search. There are better ways, which the net *does* make easy. There
is great interest in finding out who communicates with whom, since
this is usually much more useful to know than what they
say. Clustering algorithms can easily derive your social network by
checking your mail headers. A little intelligence goes a long way - if
you know a suspicious person, check his network and mail, and use that
information to trace further.This is apparently how the Swedish secret
police SAPO tried to track down Kurdish terrorists, although that was
by checking phone calls.

As for Netscape sending data to the FCC, that is most certainly a myth
too. Likely it is a mix up between FCC the organisation and FCC the
protocol. If there was such a routine in the program, it would be
trivial to dig it up and make public (remember the Microsoft trick?)
and it would definitely not display what it was doing :-)

When it comes to NSA access to european phone networks, that is an
interesting matter. I seem to recall that in the aftermath of WW II
the US was given extremely far-reaching authority to intercept phone
calls in the Bundesrepublik. How much of that access remains is a good
question. When it comes to France it seems more unlikely that its
government would ever allow NSA access (remember that DSDG (or
whatever it is called) have been quite active when it comes to
counter-espinage against the US, especially in the areas of industrial
espionage). As for the rest of the continent, I think the likeliehood
of outside access varies just as much (I read some semi-paranoid texts
a few years back about the backdoors in BTs telephone systems; much of
it seemed possible to do like the peacetime use of military routing to
eavesdrop). The problem is that it is not a homogenous system, with
far too many competing interests, to be consistently
eavesdropped. Personally I don't worry as much about NSA as I worry
about all the *other* groups who are likely trying to exploit the

Paranoia can be useful. But only if it is combined with critical thinking.

[neuropsychology theory of the day: paranoia is caused by insufficient
inhibition of little supported but threatening scenarios. Scenariosare
generated all the time, but normally only the realistic ones remain to
be acted on. However, if the realism-inhibitioon is weak, the scenario
has a high threat value and if it can provide support for itself (even
if this is through circular reasoning) it will become more active and
reach the conscious level where it will cause the person to seek
evidence for it, leading to paranoia. Even lover levels of inhibition
will make even non-threatening scenarios more active, causing
delusions. Hmm, I wonder how this fits with the models of spreading
activation in semantic networks which seems to be regulated by

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
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