I have had a couple people who know my background ask me if I had seen Snowden.
They were curious about my take on it.
First, it’s important to note that the film is supposed to be a biographical account of Snowden’s dealings with the NSA, and with that a factual presentation of the systems the NSA had been using during the time period portrayed – which was 2004 to 2013.
It’s weird. I’m 35 minutes into the film – some of the parallels between our lives are eerie.
In 2007 he was in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2008, I was there.
In 2013 he was in Hong Kong, and in 2010 I was there.
I broke my ankle while in Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky falling down a ravine not long after getting stress fractures from the running, he broke his ankle jumping out of his bunk at Fort Benning.
I’d already been recruited by the NSA by then, so I kept running on the ankle break to graduate basic training and refused an administrative discharge, as I’d already been offered the position with the NSA and knew I could slug my way through the pain to get out of basic and after was sent to Fort Meade, Maryland for my training with the NSA.
Weird parallels in our lives aside, there’s a system referred to in the film as XKEYSCORE, created in 2008 according to the movie, where a user can search for specific keywords across SMS Texts, Cell Phones, Private Chats, as well as internet posts of information, and so on.
The goal according to this film was – to provide the intelligence analyst the capability to retroactively search for items of interests, and as was demonstrated in the film – a search term like ‘bomb bush’ on a centralized database containing this information might be used by an intelligence analyst to come up with “suspects” to augment ground based intelligence.
Here’s a screen shot of the concepts taken from the film.
So here’s where things get weird for me.
It’s not that I call bullshit on this ‘account’ of the system. When I met Edward Snowden in 2003 at Fort Meade, he was married and while he was equally as pale white, his background was that of a lawyer. He and his wife had signed up for the military to pay for the $60k in debt they’d each acquired, and there was supposedly no affiliation with intelligence services.
The time periods between the documentary and my interactions with him are different. The stories behind the man.The demeanor. The guy was hugely depressed when I met him. He was just a different man than what I’ve seen depicted on mass media and this film.
For me this is evidence of alternate realities as the biographical and media accounts of this man are different than what I’ve experienced in my own world.
In any case.
This also would explain why the system documented in this film was significantly different and … substantially less sophisticated than the one I’d worked on.
In 2003 and 2004, I’d been given technical specs on something called Raptor and Echelon.
When I looked at Raptor’s documentation – what I learned was – the United States had seven central hubs for communications – called switches, where ALL communication in the WORLD goes through. At first I thought I was mistaken, as I thought it was in reference to the United States, but as it turns out, the FBI has been quite prolific in capturing communication and routing it through the United States since J Edgar Hoover’s days.
These switches are publicly owned by a small company named AT&T, but in a literal sense every one of these sizeable buildings had piggy backing with it the FBI’s facility which basically split all the data and analyzed it separately.
This provided the FBI with the potential to analyze data on a real time basis.
But they lacked the resources to do this.
This – in combination with efforts being made through the establishment of Central Services – formalized intelligence sharing with the NSA and the FBI, who would bequeath the role of real time information analysis work to the NSA.
By the time I had joined, the NSA had already set up house in the San Francisco AT&T building, a site known as Room 641.
Now Raptor captured voice conversations and texts on a world wide basis, but there was a need for higher level processing to include other avenues of real time information – which included the internet and world wide web, arpanet, new networks and technology as they came online, heck even chat channels in IRC and MMORPGs. The reach and intent of Echelon was mind boggling, grandiose even, and an unplanned failure from the start.
So not long after the inception of Echelon and this global communications and oversight network, there was a realization that a single organization providing oversight was just too much. The FBI was already having huge problems prioritizing domestic efforts with international and had decided to shift its operations to focus on domestic operations.
SO Raptor, named appropriately after Michael Crichton’s vicious breed of dinosaur which ate any information it could set it’s sights on, had morphed into Prism as I commenced work on it in 2003.
Public record, incidentally documented saying Prism came into existence in 2007 due to Bush’s signature is wrong.
And Google’s not showing references to Raptor and instead refers to a similarly named program called Carnivore which wasn’t abandoned, as asserted by Wikipedia, but was transitioned to the NSA in the form of Prism.
Now with all those speculative fictional accounts of my world aside – I was on a small team which designed the Prism system from the ground up.
What we had was simple – TONS of data. We had PLENTY of computer horsepower to process all the information, the NSA had long been playing with massive amounts of parallel processing – heck, they’d even worked with Los Alamos to create a massive parallel computing network of clustered Playstation 3 machines prior to their public release in 2002/2003, so hardware and processing power was far from a scarcity for us.
But what was problematic was the ability to dynamically respond to real world conditions and mitigate risk presented by unexpected events such as the events which occurred on September 11, 2001.
Conspiracies aside, it was my job not just to prevent the next one from occuring, but to understand why it had even happened to begin with.
It was a first of it’s kind system. Something that merged the concepts of what the FBI had been working with and that was presented to us through the antiquated Raptor program. A program, which incidentally was what was documented by Snowden’s biographical account pictured above – something that was literally 10 years behind the times documented in the film.
Different to what’s documented on the film Snowden, I’d experienced a history where the NSA avoided naming projects, including the Prism based project I’d been tasked with.
In fact, the organization had done away with the traditional system of clearances and had replaced it with a complex system of security clearances which did include the old clearances (secret/top secret, etc) for legacy’s sake, but also included a wide array of new clearances. Here’s a chart:
To my awareness, the clearances had only been updated in 1999, and were NSA specific, and were having a difficult time finding acceptance by directors who were supposed to be enforcing the clearances.
That’s why the system I helped create became highest priority. Not only were there fears of terrorism, but there was a recognition that mind manipulation technologies weren’t just real but were actively being used by intelligence agencies around the world, so a wider array of clearances which provided for better informational compartmentalization combined with new software would hopefully ‘throw off’ foreign agents who’d thought change in the United States secretive systems was behind us and thus not worthy of reviewing for potential change.
The system I’d helped create introduced more granular level of information control, and allowed us to program a system which specifically kept certain information offline and in the real world only.
So here’s the basic system we designed:
To explain the system briefly – when a call is made on any cell phone around the world, a text is made, a car crosses in front of a camera – all that information is sent for processing through one of seven switches resting inside the United States. These high performance switches copy the data and send it to the NSA servers for processing.
That’s ALL they do.
Now once that data is received, it goes through a “Real Time Focal Area Processing”. They mess with these processes ALL the time so there’s no telling what order they’ll run in, if they are parallel or not, etc, etc, as they try hard not to make the processing cross dependent.
Simultaneously, the data is stored – at the very least – two three separate mechanisms. It’s stored in the cloud, the last I saw they were leveraging Amazon Cloud Services, it was also being stored in SQL Server databases (I tuned these things more times than I can count), and they are stored in torrents.
Yep. You heard right. Torrents. The NSA actually works with Hollywood to permit the monitored sharing and encrypted distribution of data through torrents. This creates a really interesting distribution network that’s impossible to decipher unless you have the NSA’s keys, and interestingly enough this union with Hollywood provided a glaring hole to learn about countries, organizations and institutions who are manipulating the United States’s media channels by spreading propaganda claiming piracy.
So now that the data’s shared. There’s real time analysis.
So how to prevent the next 9/11 is simple: Chatter on a real time basis concerning an impending event – which was available to the FBI for 9/11 – is stored and forwarded to live agents for real time assessment. This allows the agent to escalate the event if it’s determined to be valid, or in the case of most activities – to simply monitor and observe an event and write a report if necessary or requested.
Real time filters are available. For instance. Let’s say “Shoot Donald Trump” is placed in as keywords for real time sensing. At the time the text of something or someone is heard and/or translated to text, whether it’s a live cell phone call or a text message – this can automatically connect a live agent from a pool of agents with a screen which provides an alert describing the reason for the connection.
Similarly, if a subject is being passively monitored, typically all of the credit cards, vehicles, and locations in the vicinity of the subject are monitored for activity of the subject. Real time satellite surveillance is rare nowadays, as this system made it possible to passively monitor subjects at far less cost – and it also gave the statisticians and mathematicians plenty to work on with predictability algorithms detailing the subject’s most likely travel paths.
In a lot of cases, the system I helped build to some degree knows what you’re going to do before you even do it yourself. It even predicts sexual encounters and relationships.
I know, is nothing sacred?
Now what Snowden presented in his movie was interesting. And while I don’t know if the system I helped put in place is still in operation, what I do know is shortly after the system I put in place became functionally operational in 2006, the NSA – trying hard not to monitor US citizens, realized the futility of doing what they do with globalization in effect, and rolled out global operations – largely augmenting the FBI offices in the regions they were placed in.
I got to tour many of the locations.
Now to explain the chart ‘redo’ – it was determined early on there was corruption in the computing mechanisms. With computers and parts supplied largely by China and various other parts for routers and networks supplied by other countries around the world, the system was initially missing things.
BIG things that I can’t get into lest I wind up like Snowden.
Intensifying things – the NSA had chosen to leverage companies like Microsoft and other well known firms to outsource a great deal of labor, who were opening up the flood gates and obtaining labor from other countries such as India.
The various mindsets and mentalities that went into the code and the sheer size of the project was making the project almost unwieldy so by the time I was called back in to fix things in 2009, it was a disaster that I helped to averted
So what we did was – we split things up.
We recognized the need to include other countries in the processing of information so we formalized intelligence relationships with a few places we hadn’t had relations with before. Notably Latin American countries and locations such as Cartegena which was hugely beneficial in mitigating risk presented through drug trafficking. Costa Rica – which was insistent on not having a military as a matter of cultural pride which was exacerbating drug trade issues and related terrorism. And finally – Nicaragua – which was becoming a contentious location for Russia and China both who were hoping to influence the region in ways that are still not fully understood.
I also helped formalize the relationship with Singapore’s intelligence agency and made some great friends there in the process.
Now me. Personally. After all that. I look at Snowden and – it’s not that I think he’s a bad guy.
And I am of the sincere belief that we all lost our collective mind for a myriad of reasons too lengthy to list and the dust we’re picking up is the aftermath of an inconceivably complex split in personalities and identity as a result of too many inputs and ideas.
Snowden. Who I suspect is listening to me selectively as I’m listening to him. One of these days I hope you’re willing to come to Studio City, stop being afraid of the country you and I helped build, and understand that we’re the benefactors of something amazing that our MINDS put together. We collaborated.
I was the expert in computers. You were the expert in law. I so frequently wanted to be a lawyer and that compulsion I suspect was because of you and your mind’s influence on mine. Similarly, your knowledge of computers is limited, and while you’ve gotten good at story telling, your skills are still much better at story than they are at knowing this thing called the computer.
I’m not sure if this system I at one time created is still there.
And being honest. I wouldn’t mind having a lawyer for a friend with an incredible story to tell to play a part of it.
I’m curious as all hell what my life looked like through your eyes.
Do you mind mentioning me in the media – at the very least indirectly. I suspect that you and I are one and the same being with a cosmic form of multiple personality disorder the likes of which are biblical.
Not sure about that though. Since you’ve yet to mention me publicly.
I’ll finish watching your movie.
But aren’t you tired of being afraid? I’m tired of being homeless. I’ll help you overcome the fear. You help me overcome the homelessness. And we tell a story the likes of which no one has ever heard before.
Do you understand what I’m saying? Big Bang. Split personalities. My timeline = one thread of existence, yours = another thread that was at first running asynchronously to mine, and somehow I suspect we split and ran parallel.