October 09, 2008

NSA Voyeurs Admit Getting Their Phone Monitoring Jollies

Greetings. ABC News is reporting the accounts of NSA operatives who are admitting to the inappropriate sharing and use of personal phone calls officially being monitored for security purposes:

Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer.

"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.

The fact that this is being independently reported by two different operatives suggests -- no big surprise -- that it may have been a widespread practice, perhaps still in progress (well, until this story hit the fan, anyway).

Similar instances in other contexts abound. Abuses of government-controlled closed-circuit CCTV cameras for similar "tantalizing" purposes are well known. Years ago, it was a not uncommon practice for telephone company workers on late night shifts to attach loudspeakers to particularly "interesting" phone lines in central offices, and play the illegally monitored conversations loudly for their own enjoyment while working.

In the current NSA case, the reported ability for conversations to be monitored and particularly shared without cause in the particular manners described suggests a breakdown (or a lack) of appropriate access controls and "need to know" classifications on such sensitive materials. It is unacceptable for operatives to be able to access and "trade" such conversations for their own enjoyment and without any legitimate security purpose being served. In fact, such lax circumstances themselves could introduce their own serious security risks relating to potentially serious misuse of monitored conversations (of government officials and others) outside of the official parameters of monitoring programs.

This once again drives home how critically important continuous and rigorous independent oversight is for any such projects and systems, no matter how crucial to security the ostensible purposes of such operations are purported to be.


Posted by Lauren at October 9, 2008 09:13 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein