Thursday, July 25, 2013

What the N.S.A. Wants in Brazil


What the N.S.A. Wants in Brazil

Posted by Ryan Lizza



One of the more curious revelations from Edward Snowden's trove of secret

N.S.A. documents was a recent report that United States spy agencies have

been vacuuming up communications in Brazil. Glenn Greenwald, who lives in

Brazil, broke this story in O Globo, one of that country's major newspapers,

on July 6th. Greenwald, in an follow-up piece in the Guardian, pointed to a

rough Google translation of his original July 6th report:


    In the last decade, people residing or in transit in Brazil, as well as

companies operating in the country, have become targets of espionage

National Security Agency of the United States (National Security Agency -

NSA, its acronym in English). There are no precise figures, but last January

Brazil was just behind the United States, which had 2.3 billion phone calls

and messages spied..


    Brazil, with extensive public and private networks scanned, operated by

large telecommunications companies and internet, is highlighted on maps of

the U.S. agency focus primarily on voice traffic and data (origin and

destination), along with nations such as China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan.

It is uncertain how many people and companies spied in Brazil. But there is

evidence that the volume of data captured by the filtering system in the

local telephone networks and the Internet is constant and large scale.


In a way, the N.S.A.'s focus on Brazil seems puzzling. Why would the United

States care so much about communications traffic in a friendly South

American country? But last week, at the Aspen Security Conference, General

Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., made a little-noticed remark

that helps explain his agency's interest in Brazil. During a

question-and-answer session with an audience of journalists and current and

former government officials, a German reporter rose and asked Alexander

this: "Why are you focusing so much on gathering data also from Brazil,

since there's not too much terrorism going on in Brazil as far as I know?"


Alexander's answer was somewhat elliptical (emphasis mine):


    You know, the reality is we're not collecting all the e-mails on the

people in Brazil nor listening to their phone numbers. Why would we do that?

What somebody took was a program that looks at metadata around the world

that you would use to find terrorist activities that might transit and

leaped to the conclusion that, aha, metadata-they must be listening to

everybody's phone; they must be reading everybody's e-mail. Our job is

foreign intelligence.


    I'll tell you, 99.9 and I don't know how many nines go out of all that,

whether it's in German or Brazil, is of no interest to a foreign

intelligence agency. What is of interest is a terrorist hopping through or

doing something like that.


(In the video of General Alexander's remarks, this exchange starts at about



Alexander's answer doesn't seem terribly revealing. But embedded in it was a

major admission, which is alluded to by the portions, "metadata around the

world that you would use to find terrorist activities that might transit"

and "a terrorist hopping through."


I asked General Michael Hayden, the former director of both the C.I.A. and

the N.S.A., what he found most interesting in Alexander's remarks. "He

committed two acts of declassification," Hayden told me, using a euphemism

for when a senior official reveals secret info by speaking in public. The

first revelation Hayden flagged was not terribly surprising: in an earlier

portion of his remarks, Alexander mentioned that the N.S.A. knows precisely

what documents Edward Snowden accessed.


But Alexander's second act of declassification was much more interesting.

Hayden pointed to Alexander's comments about Brazil, and his point about not

being interested in the communications of Brazilians. He asked me to think

about the geography of Brazil, which bulges out eastward into the Atlantic

Ocean. I still didn't understand. "That's where the transatlantic cables

come ashore," he finally explained.


Indeed, they do. According to a detailed map of the network of submarine

cables that transmits our voices and our Internet data around the world,

Brazil is one of the most important telecommunication hubs on earth.


There is an even more detailed, interactive version of this map, and Teleco,

which collects information about telecommunications in Brazil, has

additional details on the major submarine lines that run through the

country. It reports that one of the lines, Atlantis-2, which connects South

America to Europe and Africa and was created by twenty-five

telecommunications companies, is part of a network that, when complete,

"will form the infrastructure of the global information society."


While the idea that the N.S.A. is tapping transatlantic cables is hardly

shocking-there have been excellent recent stories on the subject in the

Washington Post and The Atlantic-as far as I'm aware, Alexander and Hayden's

remarks last week represent the highest level of confirmation of the

practice, and they help to explain Greenwald's report on the N.S.A.'s

interest in Brazil.


They also help shed light on an N.S.A. slide recently published by the

Guardian, which appears to show that the umbrella program for this type of

"upstream" collection is called Fairview and/or Blarney.


The map on this slide is a less detailed version of the one mentioned above,

but it indicates the many submarine cables going to and from Brazil, and

explains that the N.S.A. uses these programs for the "collection of

communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past."


Finally, Greenwald has reported that Snowden downloaded N.S.A. documents

described as the "crown jewels" of the agency. There has been much

speculation about what these sensitive documents might be. Three former

government officials told me that they likely contain details of our

relationships with foreign intelligence agencies, and, if so, that there

might be explosive revelations about surveillance practices undertaken by

Western allies that violate privacy laws and other statutes within those




Vanee' M. Vines, a spokesperson for the N.S.A., said, "We're not going to

elaborate on remarks that Gen. Alexander made in Aspen," and added that the

agency also had no comment on speculation about other documents possessed by




(F)AIR USE NOTICE: All original content and/or articles and graphics in this

message are copyrighted, unless specifically noted otherwise. All rights to

these copyrighted items are reserved. Articles and graphics have been placed

within for educational and discussion purposes only, in compliance with

"Fair Use" criteria established in Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976.

The principle of "Fair Use" was established as law by Section 107 of The

Copyright Act of 1976. "Fair Use" legally eliminates the need to obtain

permission or pay royalties for the use of previously copyrighted materials

if the purposes of display include "criticism, comment, news reporting,

teaching, scholarship, and research." Section 107 establishes four criteria

for determining whether the use of a work in any particular case qualifies

as a "fair use". A work used does not necessarily have to satisfy all four

criteria to qualify as an instance of "fair use". Rather, "fair use" is

determined by the overall extent to which the cited work does or does not

substantially satisfy the criteria in their totality. If you wish to use

copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you

must obtain permission from the copyright owner. For more information go to:










No comments:

Post a Comment