NSA’s Spy Program “Stellar Wind” Exposed

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This article is from The New American, written by Bob Adelmann:

The lead story in Wired magazine for April exposed the Stellar Wind program for its intended purpose: to spy on every jot and tittle of every American citizen’s life all the way down to his “pocket litter:” parking-lot stubs, receipts from McDonalds, tickets from his haircut at Cost Cutters, as well as all the way up to the content of his every e-mail, every Google search, every telephone or cellphone conversation.

Stellar Wind is the code name for an effort approved by President George W. Bush following the September 11, 2001 attacks to mine a large database of communications of American citizens but which was allegedly terminated when Congress pushed back against it.

However, the National Security Agency, awash with funds provided by Congress, is nearly finished constructing its Utah Data Center as the collection point for data provided from around the country and around the world. Its purpose: “to intercept, decipher, analyze and store vast swaths of the world’s communications … [including] all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls and Google searches.” In other words, according to James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, when the $2 billion facility (consisting of four 25,000 square-foot buildings full of computer servers and their air conditioning units plus a 900,000 square-foot building to house its technical and administration people) is completed in September, 2013, virtually everything one communicates through any traceable medium, or any record of one’s existence in the electronic medium, which these days is everything, will … become the property of the US government to deal with as its sees fit.

William Binney, a former NSA crypto-mathematician who quit NSA after he realized it was openly and deliberately ignoring privacy limitations built into the Constitution, said in an interview with Bamford, holding his thumb and forefinger close together: “We are this far from a turnkey totalitarian state.”

Binney headed up a team that built the infrastructure to spy on everyone all the time and, at the time, recommended that NSA install its “tapping gear” only at the nation’s “landing sites” — physical locations where fiber optic cables come ashore — to limit its eavesdropping to international communications only and preserving Americans’ right to privacy. But NSA ignored Binney’s recommendation and instead decided to build its spy center in Utah, connecting it with satellites and listening posts in Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Hawaii, and elsewhere, with direct links to NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, NSA’s research facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and last but not least, the White House.

In addition NSA has two huge data-gathering facilities, each with three 105-foot satellite dishes, one at Catawissa, Pennsylvania, called Roaring Creek, the other at Arbuckle, California, called Salt Creek.

[Gail: And a third destination up which are the American citizens: Shit Creek.]

Says Binney, “They violated the Constitution setting it up. But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in their way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.”

One of the challenges NSA faced was decrypting data, such as that encoded by PGP or the much more robust encryption software used by governments. The Advanced Encryption Standard is used to protect most commercial e-mail programs and web browsers and has, until very recently, been considered unbreakable. To break a 128-bit encryption code, for example, the number of trial-and-error attempts — call “brute force” — requires an incomprehensibly large number of attempts before succeeding: 340 undecillion (10 to the 26th power). But current breakthroughs by NSA, using Cray super-fast computers, now can break such codes in fractions of a second, exposing all information to the light of day and the peering eyes of NSA observers.

At the moment it appears that the two strongest barriers to intrusions on privacy, technological and constitutional, have been shredded. But courts are involved in a variety of challenges to the NSA’s efforts, and the project isn’t due to come online in full flower until a year from September. Such an operation, now out in the open, requires enormous funding. Congress, given sufficient encouragement and electoral change of heart this November, could just shut it down by defunding it. It’s really up to informed Americans to see where their elected officials stand on privacy versus security and then take appropriate action in the voting booth.


  1. Since the UT data center is complete, I think it’s safe to assume that Congress never defunded the NSA or its nefarious programs…

  2. Methyl sez, “Full tyranny will only be averted by an awakening of the populace … ”

    Sort of related, investment advisor Richard Russell notes in a blog, “Sturm Ruger & Co., which makes great pistols and rifles, received orders for a phenomenal one million units during the first quarter [of 2012]. Something to think about. A sign of the times?”

    Sturm Ruger’s website has this:

    “Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. (NYSE: RGR), announced today that for the first quarter 2012, the Company has received orders for more than one million units. Therefore, the Company has temporarily suspended the acceptance of new orders.

    Chief Executive Officer Michael O. Fifer made the following comments:

    The Company’s Retailer Programs that were offered from January 1, 2012 through February 29, 2012 were very successful and generated significant orders from retailers to independent wholesale distributors for Ruger firearms.

    Year-to-date, the independent wholesale distributors placed orders with the Company for more than one million Ruger firearms.
    Despite the Company’s continuing successful efforts to increase production rates, the incoming order rate exceeds our capacity to rapidly fulfill these orders. Consequently, the Company has temporarily suspended the acceptance of new orders.

    The Company expects to resume the normal acceptance of orders by the end of May 2012.”

  3. Maybe it is time to start sending random emails and posts into the internet. Just random strings of characters. No code, just random. But they’ll think it is code because they are a bunch of paranoid people running these things. Give the NSA computers something to work on.

    It’s funny how people who don’t trust the government are “paranoid” yet those in government demonstrate over and over again by their actions they clearly are paranoid. Who has to watch everything except paranoid control freaks?

    • “It’s funny how people who don’t trust the government are “paranoid” …

      A wise observation! Thanks, Brent; I’ll be using this as a talking point from now on.

      Something else. I’d be interested to hear how NSA would justify Stellar Wind as purely a concern over terrorism. This thing is more akin to burning down a house to solve a roach problem. I think the feds are losing track of their meme.

      Where do they get these names, anyway? There’s nothing stellar about this.

  4. Not surprised at all. Nothing the government does that infringes more on our privacy and freedom surprises me anymore. I only find comfort in the thought these asshole will suffer horribly at some point in their life, or death.

  5. But courts are involved in a variety of challenges to the NSA’s efforts…

    Almost, but not quite, as effective as Congress’ lame little bleatings will be. The Executive has announced that the Constitution is a dead letter, and Congress a useless appendage.

    Do people not understand that all three–Judicial, Legislative, Executive–are part of the same State, the entity that has a monopoly on coercion and force?

    Asking it to police itself is like asking an armed robber to please, pretty please, take less and don’t hurt me.

    I think we’ve learned how effective petitioning Congress is over the last five years; analogies like “farting against thunder” and “pissing in the ocean” come to mind but don’t quite capture the full futility of the act.

    Full tyranny will only be averted by an awakening of the populace; for it is only by their consent that tyranny exists. Without their complaisance and compliance, the giant topples.

  6. “Congress, given sufficient encouragement and electoral change of heart this November, could just shut it down by defunding it.”

    Keep on dreaming. There is no limit, nor has there ever been, to the power that the state will grant itself.


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