String Theories, Part. I: Everything You Do Is Being Collected

This interview was conducted with a self-described “former government employee who believes there is a role for surveillance by the intelligence community, but doesn’t like the way things are trending.”

We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance. For the purposes of this interview, we’ll call our contact “No Such Accomplice” or NSA for short.

Media Daily News: First things first — I was surprised to have to walk my phone back to storage after I told you I’d just take the battery out. I know from Wikileaks they can listen in — whether the phone is on or off, but most of my research has suggested that if you take out the battery, the phone is dead, game over. That fits, because it’s impossible to remove the battery from a lot of the latest phones.

NSA: With the battery, it’s a lot easier, but there are ways for the government to pick up signals from cell phones that don’t even have batteries in them. It’s an extreme method that takes a whole lot of work. You would need a specialized drone or vehicle parked nearby. And if they want to do it, it would have to be for a targeted individual. It’s unlikely in our case, but if you know the capability is there, you never risk it. Because it can be done.



One of the first things I wanted to say is that the intelligence system in the USA is compartmentalized and extremely competitive. It’s hard to piece certain things together, and it’s designed to keep the information from being released to the public. But it’s also a never-ending turf war. Everything in the MIC [Military Industrial Complex] is very competitive. You compete for funding. The Army competes with the Air Force. The Air Force competes with the Navy. Because the more they do, the more funding they get.

That’s why, if you think about whether something or anything can be done, you can count on somebody trying to get it done. Listen in on a phone even if it’s got no battery? We’re on it!

Media Daily News: That’s sobering. What about my VPN, then? Is it just basically a joke?

NSA: VPNs are, for the most part, safe. There are always ways you can be monitored. Using a VPN means your communications are solid, but there are other ways the government can track specifically what you're doing. They have a program that can report every keystroke, so they are recording the keystrokes. There are ways they can get around VPNs, if you become a target. Still, VPNs are a thorn in their side.

Media Daily News: So they’re Hoover-ing up my keystrokes? Everybody’s keystrokes?

NSA: Not necessarily your keystrokes, but everybody’s communications are being collected at all times. Not necessarily 
"watched." '"Watched"  means somebody’s monitoring them and their communications. That would be impossible.

Media Daily News: So the NSA, or whoever in the intelligence community, is probably not directly listening in on my calls.

NSA: The NSA does not directly deal with U.S. citizens. The NSA is not listening to you if you’re an American. The FBI is listening to you if you're an American and targeted. It’s a distinction people need to be better aware of: NSA is not directly spying on Americans — The FBI is using NSA to spy on Americans. But the FBI has to monitor someone directly, and I know the biggest barrier for the NSA is manpower. So if you can only monitor so many people and monitor what is the most important communications, I would imagine the FBI has the same manpower challenge.

Media Daily News: How automated is all this monitoring? Are there "trigger words" that set off alarms to instigate FBI monitoring? Or cause a reaction with the technology? There was a while when every single time I was on my phone, the second time I would use the term "CIA," the call would drop. Happened at least a dozen times, to the point where I would do it intentionally just to see what would happen. Then I mentioned how it was happening in a couple calls and it stopped.

NSA: I know they have technology for trigger words. They don’t use it much because it’s such a waste of time. For every instance where a trigger word exposes a genuine threat -- you’ve got thousands of potential man-hours monitoring someone who used a term innocently. It’s a waste of time.

Media Daily News: How long do they keep all this stuff?

NSA: About five years, but it could be longer, depending on the individual. It’s also different for the type of communication. It varies depending on your mode of communication. Five years. Ten years. All “Hoover-ed up,” as you say, and sent to the FBI.

Media Daily News: Everything?

NSA: Everything. Almost everything. One big reason I wanted to initiate this conversation is to impress upon people that everything, almost, that you do is collected. Doesn’t matter what country you’re in. It’s all being collected.

Media Daily News: Collected, OK. How much is being monitored? And if human intelligence isn’t enough, how far along is the AI that monitors it?

NSA: This brings up the question I can’t answer. A lot of times I’ll watch the news and see them talking about the NSA, and the things they say about the NSA are flat out incorrect. It’s all classified information, so they can never know. So they come to these wild conclusions. Anything you may have heard in the media about AI monitoring … I don’t know.

Media Daily News: So very few of us are actually being "monitored."

NSA: Right. They collect all the information, but it’s highly unlikely anyone reading this is actually being monitored by a human being. But should any person be given that power? That monitored information may stop a terrorist attack, save 500 people. But just about everybody who voted Obama, they trusted him. Do they trust Trump to go back and look at things collected from five years ago? It’s OK until it’s not OK anymore. That’s the balance.

Media Daily News: I’d like to touch on that for a second. Have you seen the running list of CEOs and other major executives who have resigned, retired or died since Trump took over? Well over 300 by this point, some of them very unexpected departures. Not to mention the rolling Hollywood shit show. Is that Trump getting NSA or the FBI to look into their communications and finding something to threaten his enemies with?

NSA: 300 CEOs? It could possibly be happening. Everything’s compartmentalized. I don’t know anything about that. But it doesn’t even necessarily have to be Trump. The CIA has been hacked. It’s been reported. Their virus software got released. What if somebody hacks the NSA? They’ve got the banking information that you sent your grandmother. What if everybody finds out that you like transsexuals? If you’re in a position of power, you’re a subject of blackmail. It’s a dubious situation if there ever was one.

Media Daily News: Are you saying a rogue NSA person or team could do that sort of thing as well?

NSA: I think that what’s interesting when you work for NSA, you take training classes on how to handle clandestine information responsibly. For any sane person, it’s a joke. All the classes are full of case studies where the NSA handled information irresponsibly, but how now everything is perfect. “First, this was the rule, we abused it like this, so laws were changed, and now everything is perfect.” It’s really funny if you have a morbid sense of humor.

Media Daily News: How long is the training?

NSA: The training takes weeks.

Media Daily News: Can you give me a rundown on the typical NSA employee? Is there a typical NSA employee?

NSA: Fifty percent of the people who work there are desensitized to the job itself. They look at it like a cool status symbol. I am privileged to know this information. They think of themselves as better than everybody else.

The other 50% are people who are just doing a job. And sometimes, the job can be very rewarding. If you’re in the counterterrorism field, and you stop somebody from blowing up a school, it makes you feel really good.

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