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ICG Risk Blog - [ NSA, signals intelligence, "meta-media" tools and the GOOGLEZON ]

NSA, signals intelligence, "meta-media" tools and the GOOGLEZON


The NSA was designed to monitor a relatively contained number of official communications pipelines in nation-states -- for example, microwave transmissions from Moscow to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) base in Siberia. But as Michael Hayden, then NSA director, [said] in late 2002: "We've gone from chasing the telecommunications structure of a slow-moving, technologically inferior, resource-poor nation-state -- and we could do that pretty well -- to chasing a communications structure in which an al Qaeda member can go into a storefront in Istanbul and buy for $100 a communications device that is absolutely cutting edge, and for which he has had to make no investment for development."...

NSA conducts broad-based surveillance indiscriminately over communications lines that few bad guys even use any longer. [NSA] isn't picking up much because the smartest terrorist groups have long since stopped talking about their plans over cell phones or land lines -- or to the extent they do, it's probably to plant disinformation. Today the challenge isn't decoding an intercepted message from a known enemy; instead it's figuring out what is and isn't a message and who the enemy is...

The result is that the NSA is overwhelmed by millions of phone calls and e-mail contacts that it simply can't digest. And it's not just a question of finding the needle in the haystack; today's surveillance professionals aren't sure what the needle looks like. The agency has adjusted, but it continues to perform what some experts consider to be primitive, broad-based techniques, like random keyword searches on the Web for Islamist tag lines. As a December 2002 report by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee noted, "Only a tiny fraction of the daily intercepts are actually ever reviewed by humans, and much of what is collected gets lost in the deluge of data."

[Communications] between terrorist groups today [is] either "air-gapped" [or] or it occurs through Web sites.

Terrorists, criminals, pornographers and many bloggers are among the most flexible and creative users of an emerging class of products that I call "meta-media" tools. Burdened with extraordinary legacy drag, I fear that high street journalists, their masthead papers and established intel and analysis agencies bringing up the rear. Readers should note that it was a toss as to whether the lead dinosaur in this article was the intel community or high street journalism.

Meta-media tools have been with us commencing with Internet Relay Chat (IRC), "designed from the onset as a means of instant communication via the net (not to be confused with the Web which also sits on the net), for group (one-to-many) communication in discussion forums called channels, but it also permits one-to-one communication." (See New breed of hostile Navaho Talkers, parts 1 and 2.) IRC remains a threat today and is augmented by a widening array of channels and tools many of which are outside NSA's conventional surveillance.

Last December, I was invited by a professional journalist society to listen to the incoming editors of the three principal local papers discuss their views on serving the needs of the community. My question in the Q&A was, "How many of you and your staffs are familiar with Googlezon, and of those that are, what are you doing about it?" Only two were aware, but they dodged the follow-on regarding impact. By the number of heads in the audience that swiveled when I posed the question, many saying, "Googlezon?," it was clear that the audience was in no better shape. Sitting ducks all to the expectations of the MySpace generation:

The MySpace generation, by contrast, lives comfortably in both [online and face-time social] worlds at once. Increasingly, America's middle- and upper-class youth use social networks as virtual community centers, a place to go and sit for a while (sometimes hours). While older folks come and go for a task, Adams and her social circle are just as likely to socialize online as off. This is partly a function of how much more comfortable young people are on the Web: Fully 87% of 12- to 17-year-olds use the Internet, vs. two-thirds of adults, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The fluidity of these networks is astonishing; their demands on advertising, retaining relevance to consumers and expanding functionality is warp speed in relation to conventional unidirectional print mediums. The fluidity of interconnected online communities is matched by the explosions in text, video and music technologies, products and bandwidths that connect them. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is currently showing off a new crop of new meta-media tools, a continuing hallmark of which is increasing interconnectivity, which in signals intercept terms means more and different protocols and bandwidths to sweep. Microsoft's Gates paints a "2010" landscape in which users seamlessly migrate between devices as they pursue their various tasks, continually receiving customized digital media wherever they are.

To an asymmetrical terrorist, this could double as a tool for a COTS battlefield communications dominance, one that would be cloaked among hundreds of thousands of innocent commercial users.

Consider the ease with which the collegiate War News Radio journalism site and its podcasts inexpensively and effectively used some of these tools to reach out to a variety of Iraqi, European, and US sources and individuals without leaving their Swarthmore College campus.

The technology that has had transformed the child pornography market is transforming other criminal and terrorist communications. While some readers will consider this subject stressful, it is instructive to apply the canopy of enabling technologies that link juvenile 'camwhores' (also here) to pedophile subscribers to the establishment of clandestine terrorist websites, even in areas of low technological awareness:

Not long ago, adults sexually attracted to children were largely isolated from one another. But the Internet has created a virtual community where they can readily communicate and reinforce their feelings...

As soon as [juvenile named] Justin hooked [a simple webcam] to his bedroom computer and loaded the software, his picture was automatically posted on, an Internet directory of Webcam users, along with his contact information. Then he waited to hear from other teenagers.

No one Justin's age ever contacted him from that listing. But within minutes he heard from his first online predator. That man was soon followed by another, then another...

It was as if the news shot around the Web. By appearing on camera bare-chested, Justin sent an important message...

His new friends were generous. One explained how to put together a "wish list" on, where Justin could ask for anything, including computer equipment, toys, music CD's or movies. Anyone who knew his wish-list name - Justin Camboy - could buy him a gift. Amazon delivered the presents without revealing his address to the buyers...

[The] road to cyberporn stardom was paved with cool new equipment. When his growing legion of fans complained about the quality of his Webcam, he put top-rated cameras and computer gear on his Amazon wish list, and his fans rushed to buy him all of it...

Justin's desk became a high-tech playhouse. To avoid suspicions, he hid the Webcams behind his desk until nighttime. Whenever his mother asked about his new technology and money, Justin told her they were fruits of his Web site development business. In a way, it was true; with one fan's help, he had by then opened his own pornographic Web site, called

Minors who run these sites find their anonymity amusing, joking that their customers may be the only adults who know of their activities. It is, in the words of one teenage site operator, the "Webcam Matrix," a reference to the movie in which a computerized world exists without the knowledge of most of humanity...

As he grew familiar with the online underground, Justin learned he was not alone in the business. Other teenagers were doing the same things, taking advantage of an Internet infrastructure of support that was perfectly suited to illicit business.

As a result, while it helped to have Justin's computer skills, even minors who fumbled with technology could operate successful pornography businesses. Yahoo, America Online and MSN were starting to offer free instant message services that contained embedded ability to transmit video, with no expertise required. The programs were offered online, without parental controls. No telltale credit card numbers or other identifying information was necessary. In minutes, any adolescent could have a video and text system up and running, without anyone knowing, a fact that concerns some law enforcement officials.

There were also credit card processing services that handled payments without requiring tax identification numbers. There were companies that helped stream live video onto the Internet - including one in Indiana that offered the service at no charge if the company president could watch free. And there were sites - portals, in the Web vernacular - that took paid advertising from teenage Webcam addresses and allowed fans to vote for their favorites.

I find it increasingly easy to extend these social, commercial and technology trends to a future media landscape, coined Googlezon, in EPIC 2014 (film and transcript):

In the year 2014 people have access to a breadth and depth of information unimaginable in an earlier age. Everyone contributes in some way. Everyone participates to create a living, breathing mediascape. However, the Press, as you know it, has ceased to exist. The Fourth Estate’s fortunes have waned. 20th Century news organizations are an after-thought, a lonely remnant of a not too distant past...

2006 – Google combines all of its services [and] all of its searches into the Google Grid, a universal platform that provides a functionally limitless amount of storage space and bandwidth to store and share media of all kinds. Always online, accessible from anywhere. Each user selects her own level of privacy. She can store her content securely on the Google Grid, or publish it for all to see. It has never been easier for anyone, everyone to create as well as consume media...

The French seem to share such sentiments about "America's digital-culture imperialism." When Google announced a ten year plan to digitize the literary world, notably the literary heritage of much of Europe, it was hailed as "the new ogre of literature": "A recent phrase born in the French press, "omnigooglization," has even come to be shorthand for America's digital-culture imperialism, stirring old fears of waning French influence reminiscent of recent political struggles. Is Google the new Iraq -- or just the new Disney?" Back to EPIC 2014:

2008 - Google and Amazon join forces to form Googlezon. Google supplies the Google Grid and unparalled search technology. Amazon supplies the social recommendation engine and its huge commercial infrastructure. Together, they use their detailed knowledge of every user’s social network, demographics, consumption habits and interests to provide total customization of content - and advertising...

In 2011, the slumbering Fourth Estate awakes to make its first and final stand. The New York Times Company sues Googlezon, claiming that the company’s fact-stripping robots are a violation of copyright law...

[In] 2014, Googlezon unleashes EPIC [(Evolving Personalized Information Construct), a] system by which our sprawling, chaotic mediascape is filtered, ordered and delivered. Everyone contributes now – from blog entries, to phone-cam images, to video reports, to full investigations. Many people get paid too – a tiny cut of Googlezon’s immense advertising revenue, proportional to the popularity of their contributions.

EPIC produces a custom contents package for each user, using his choices, his consumption habits, his interests, his demographics, his social network – to shape the product. A new generation of freelance editors has sprung up, people who sell their ability to connect, filter and prioritize the contents of EPIC. We all subscribe to many Editors; EPIC allows us to mix and match their choices however we like. At its best, edited for the savviest readers, EPIC is a summary of the world – deeper, broader and more nuanced than anything ever available before.

While the actual date may vary, Google will get there more quickly than NSA. That begs the issue of a 'private label' Google supplanting or replacing NSA. How many private label versions will exist? Who will own them? Will an adversary be able to purchase a "good enough" version before NSA can adapt?

Coming Soon to TV Land: The Internet, Actually
New York Times
January 7, 2006

After long wait, line between PCs, TVs blurring
By Philipp Gollner
Sat Jan 7, 2006 12:36 PM ET

Gates shares his vision of the digital lifestyle
Gates shows off gadgets, software that let users access customized digital media any time, anywhere
By Elizabeth Montalbano
IDG News Service
January 05, 2006

Gates at CES: Digital workstyle circa 2010
Posted by Dan Farber @ 7:31 pm
Between The Lines
January 4, 2006

Data, Music, Video: Raising a Curtain on Future Gadgetry
New York Times
January 2, 2006

The NSA's Overt Problem
So Many Conversations, So Few Clues to the Terrorists' Chatter
By Michael Hirsh
Washington Post
January 1, 2006

Inside NSA's World
William Arkin
Early Warning
December 20, 2005; 08:30 AM ET

by Ben McGrath
New Yorker
Issue of 2005-12-26 and 2006-01-02
Posted 2005-12-19

Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World
New York Times
December 19, 2005

The MySpace Generation
They live online. They buy online. They play online. Their power is growing
By Jessi Hempel, with Paula Lehman in New York
Business Week
DECEMBER 12, 2005
Cover Story Podcast

Prepaid Cards: Candy For Criminals?
Law enforcement officials say they're ready tools for thieves, drug rings -- even terrorists
By Chester Dawson
Business Week
December 12, 2005

BROOKE GLADSTONE interview of MATT THOMPSON, co-creator, along with Robin Sloan, of
EPIC 2014
On The Media
December 2, 2005

Summary Of The World: Googlezon And The Newsmasters EPIC
Robin Good
Transcription of most of EPIC 2014. While it does not go all the way to the end of the video it is close. There are also good links/articles on the page.
November 29, 2004
NOTE: Useful to have this transcript up while you watch
EPIC 2014

EPIC 2014
Internet movie by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson
Museum of Media History

Epic 2015
Sequel/alternate version
by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson

Radio Warfare
by Lee Norsworthy
August 18-24, 2005

Google, The French, And World Domination; The Culture War Begins
By Jason Lee Miller
Published: 2005-05-13

What Does France Have Against Google?
By Scott Lamb
Spiegel Online
March 25, 2005 Print

‘War News Radio’ searches for its news niche
The Phoenix
March 17, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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