Tech Companies Hiding Depth of Cooperation with NSA Surveillance

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The New American and others continue to comb through the leaked PowerPoint presentation explaining PRISM — the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program monitoring the Internet activity of millions of Americans.

Under PRISM, the NSA and the FBI are “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time,” as reported by the Washington Post.

As the investigation proceeds, it is becoming apparent that the level of collusion between the surveillance agency and the country’s largest tech companies appears much higher than representatives of those corporations would have customers believe.

As if that unconscionable cooperation wasn’t enough, stories in other outlets report that the federal government’s spying apparatus’ corporate partners in the construction of the surveillance state are handing over more private customer data than has been revealed so far.

For example, consider this story published by Bloomberg:

Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said.

In addition to private communications, information about equipment specifications and data needed for the Internet to work — much of which isn’t subject to oversight because it doesn’t involve private communications — is valuable to intelligence, U.S. law-enforcement officials and the military.

Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software company, provides intelligence agencies with information about bugs in its popular software before it publicly releases a fix, according to two people familiar with the process.

Larry Page, chief executive officer of Google Inc., said in a blog posting June 7 that he hadn’t heard of a program called Prism until after Edward Snowden’s disclosures and that the company didn’t allow the U.S. government direct access to its servers or some back-door to its data centers.

These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency. The role of private companies has come under intense scrutiny since his disclosure this month [June] that the NSA is collecting millions of U.S. residents’ telephone records and the computer communications of foreigners from Google Inc (GOOG). and other Internet companies under court order.

Many of these same Internet and telecommunications companies voluntarily provide U.S. intelligence organizations with additional data, such as equipment specifications, that don’t involve private communications of their customers, the four people said.

And this, from Reuters:

Former U.S. officials and intelligence sources say the collaboration between the tech industry and spy agencies is both broader and deeper than most people realize, dating back to the formative years of Silicon Valley itself.

As U.S. intelligence agencies accelerate efforts to acquire new technology and fund research on cybersecurity, they have invested in start-up companies, encouraged firms to put more military and intelligence veterans on company boards, and nurtured a broad network of personal relationships with top technology executives.

And they are using those connections to carry out specific espionage missions, current and former officials say, even as they work with the tech industry to avoid overt cooperation that might raise the hackles of foreign customers.

Joel Harding, an intelligence officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1990s who went on to work at big defense contractors Computer Sciences Corp and SAIC, said spy agencies have at times persuaded companies to alter their hardware andsoftware products to enable monitoring of foreign targets.

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