Thursday, July 02, 2015

It Ain't Enough


Big data is all about finding patterns in skeins of information using AI, neural nets, genetic algorithms and graphics, along with other related methodologies, to get the skinny on whatever. When it comes to the NSA, the greed to get it all becomes palpable.

“Signals intelligence … ain’t enough, you guys,” the NSA chief told a gathering of contractors in the geospatial intelligence business. “We gotta create a much broader picture.”

We need “the ability to visualize,” he explained, because “man is fundamentally a visual creature.”

Rogers, who also heads the Pentagon’s United States Cyber Command, spent much of his keynote speech at the GEOINT 2015 conference pitching the technology, intelligence and defense companies in the audience on the importance of working together. The conference’s slogan — appropriate, given the government’s ever-growing demands — is “open the aperture.”

“It’s all about partnerships,” Rogers told the audience. “How can we harness the power of the commercial sector?”

It gets better.

Do you remember those "Visualize World Peace" bumper stickers? They gave the National Security Agency an idea, apparently. Now the agency that hears and reads everything wants to see everything, too. 

This is interesting in several ways. For one, it shows the tendency of any bureaucracy to expand however possible. The U.S. Department of Defense already has two other entities whose mission is to "create a much broader picture" like Admiral Rogers wants. Why the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency would need the NSA's help is unclear. 

Then there's the "signals intelligence ain't enough" line. Coming from the head of an agency whose self-professed goal is to "collect it all," the statement borders on megalomaniacal. What would be enough to satisfy Admiral Rogers? We probably don't want to know the answer. 

What really strikes a chord, however, is that the story portrays Admiral Rogers pitching the private companies on "the importance of working together." Should it not be the other way around? The NSA doles out lucrative contracts to those who can help it. The companies should be pitching Rogers on their ideas. Instead, he is approaching the private sector with hat in hand. Why? 

I can imagine two possibilities. One is that Rogers is still repairing the damage done by the Edward Snowden leaks, which greatly annoyed many in the technology sector. The agency may be finding it hard to get the technical help it needs from certain companies. 

The more chilling idea is that NSA wants to combine the abundant data it already has with the also-abundant data private companies collect from us. If they can figure out how to sort and cross-reference all of it, then very little information will remain secret from Uncle Sam.

Combine this with the TPP and the future is clear, if we let it happen.

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