The program is an automated prediction and response to possible cyber attacks against the United States, analyzing patterns of data flow into and out of the country, and automatically counter-attacking against the “wrong” type of patterns.
Snowden told Bamford from a Russian hotel room in exile that MonsterMind required the NSA to intercept all Americans' private communications, raising privacy and constitutional issues. “If we’re analyzing all traffic flows,” Snowden said, “that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time.”
According to Yahoo News,
Beyond domestic privacy concerns, Snowden warns, the program could cause an international diplomacy nightmare for the U.S. as well, because the cyberattacks launched by MonsterMind are often routed through third-party computers housed in foreign countries.
The proactive nature of MonsterMind creates a sort of predictive judgment about a cyber attack that hasn't even occurred, much like the Department of Precrime in the 2002 Tom Cruise movie Minority Report. Bamford notes that “MonsterMind would automatically fire back, with no human involvement.”
And while MonsterMind has yet to malfunction, according to publicly available information, the NSA's wiretapping efforts have produced massive costs globally already, including costs to U.S. businesses in the form of canceled contracts because of lack of trust. Snowden also reported that a wiretap of the Syrian Internet by the NSA went horribly wrong as their device “bricked,” accidentally shutting down the civil war-torn nation's entire Internet system. When the system tanked, a fellow NSA analyst joked to Snowden that “If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel.”
Snowden has also revealed that the U.S. government sends raw data of private American citizens straight to Israeli intelligence. “Among the discoveries that most shocked him,” Bamford wrote, “was learning that the agency was regularly passing raw private communications — content as well as metadata — to Israeli intelligence.” The specter of sending digital U.S. phone calls and e-mail straight to a foreign government is troubling, but it adds “plausible deniability” to the claim by U.S. intelligence officials that the NSA isn't listening to Americans' phone calls. Why bother doing that when you can have a foreign intelligence agency do it on your behalf?
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