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NSA surveillance program reaches ‘into the past’ to retrieve, replay phone calls
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NSA surveillance program reaches ‘into the past’ to retrieve, replay phone calls

By Henrik Palmgren |

It’s been confirmed by recent classified document releases that the NSA has been accessing and storing all telephone conversations from ENTIRE COUNTRIES, and holding them in massive databases to listen to later in the paranoid hunt for potential ’emerging threats’.

These conversations are stored, but only examined by a human analyst when it’s decided it’s ’relevant to national security interests’ (aka ’at their whim’).

This calls to mind an old puzzle:

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" is a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality. (Source)

A more modern and relevant thought experiment could be framed thus:

"If the NSA is collecting and storing your full phone conversations in bulk, but no human analyst listens to it, is it still mass surveillance?"

Most people would answer : YES!

However, the National Security Agency and President Obama feel differently.

More from The Washington Post on the differences in ’reality perception’ between the spies and the spied upon...

NSA surveillance program reaches ‘into the past’ to retrieve, replay phone calls

By Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani | WashingtonPost

The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.

A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.

The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.

In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.

The call buffer opens a door “into the past,” the summary says, enabling users to “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.” Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1 percent of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or “cuts,” for processing and long-term storage.


Ubiquitous voice surveillance, even overseas, pulls in a great deal of content from Americans who telephone, visit and work in the target country. It may also be seen as inconsistent with Obama’s Jan. 17 pledge “that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security,” regardless of nationality, “and that we take their privacy concerns into account.”

Read the full article at:

Tune into Red Ice Radio:

James Bamford - NSA, U.S. Cyber Command & the Global Brave New World of Surveillance

Patrick Henningsen - Hour 1 - Syria, Snowden, NSA & the Whistleblower Circus

Jon Rappoport - Hour 1 - The Surveillance State & War on the Individual

Russ Baker - Hour 1 - Michael Hastings, Libya Repeating in Syria & JFK

John W. Whitehead - Hour 1 - A Government of Wolves & The Electronic Concentration Camp


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