Snowden's MYSTIC Revelations Raise Credibility Questions

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-03-19 Print this article Print

But let's say for the sake of this discussion that it is one of those and that other nations with similar profiles and levels of concern are soon to join them. The next question is, why should we care?

Remember, it is the NSA's job to collect foreign signals intelligence in the process of analyzing threats against the United States. There's no indication that the agency is in the process of recording phone calls in the United States and, considering the outrage from close U.S. allies over the bugging of phones in Western Europe, they probably aren't attempting to listen to conversations there, either.

NSA foreign phone bugging might matter to your company if it does business in one of the countries that is a target of the phone-call recording program. In the case of most of these countries, the U.S. government already knows you're doing business there, so whatever you say will not be a surprise. And if you're doing business with those countries contrary to U.S. sanctions against those governments, then you have bigger problems than the NSA.

But let's say you're involved in legitimate business in one of those countries and you don't want the NSA listening in. Well, you can encrypt your phone calls. As I found at CeBIT in mid-March, there's no shortage of European vendors who can provide products that will encrypt your voice communications. Some of them are billed as "NSA Proof."

Chances are pretty good that the NSA can break that encryption given time and motivation, but will the agency even bother? Again, if you're doing business legitimately then they already know what you're doing.

But getting back to the question of what difference it makes, the fact is that the NSA is doing its job if it's recording phone calls in another country. It's supposed to be listening in to signals of all types, looking for threats to the United States. If it can manage to record all of a single country's phone calls for later study, and somehow manage all that data within its bandwidth and storage constraints, then it's simply fulfilling its charter.

But even before we get too wrapped up in what it may or may not be recording, we need to reflect on the lack of discrimination regarding those reports. When a purported capability seems more like science fiction than reality on the face of it, then maybe there's a little too much imagination involved. Yes, it's likely that the NSA can record every phone conversation that takes place in a few countries. But can it do anything with that information once it has it? Right now, we don't know, but past experience has shown that they probably can't.


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