The NSA is the CIA’s lurker cousin. They might not have much in terms of sexy black-suited men in dark sunglasses running around with silenced pistols and delivering speeches along the lines of ‘I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you’ and other totally cool stuff that would be actually terrifying to hear in real life. The NSA is like the creepy, dorkier cousin that just sits in his underwear, staring with a pock-laden, acne-laced face onto a screen that has every single photo you have ever taken, including the ones that you took in sheer drunken embarrassment and immediately deleted. They have that, they have ALL of that. They have the pissed-off email you wrote to someone you didn’t like, but didn’t send it because you just wanted to write it to let off some steam. They probably have a lot more than that, too.
The extent of the NSA’s surveillance into the lives and data of private Americans is unbelievable. I mean 1984’s big brother seems like an amateur by comparison to this massive behemoth, but at the exact same time, they are far less potent. No one is safe from their all-seeing digital eye, not even the people you would think would be protected.
A few years ago Edward Snowden revealed a whole bunch of documents that showed just how far their reach goes. Interviews with him also show how easily it is for the NSA to tap into your… well… everything. Seriously, there is nothing that the NSA will not do to get your emails, phone calls, and funny cat videos, and they can bend anyone to their will.
So without further ado, here are 20 of the darkest secrets of the NSA that are guaranteed to give you goosebumps.
20. The NSA Can Force Big Companies To Roll Over
The NSA is powerful. I mean it’s not like they can make your school teacher give up your high-school aged kids’ grade report. I’m talking that Verizon was forced to basically spy on its own customers and deliver any and all information to the NSA. I guess they just loved the ‘Can you hear me now?’ guy so much that they were tempted to add a ‘OK, now this phone call will be delivered to the NSA for safe keeping. Thank you for choosing Verizon as your service provider!’ I wonder what other companies they got to capitulate to their whims.
19. They Are Reading Your Emails
Big companies aren’t the only ones that would get their privacy violated like nobody’s business. Your emails aren’t exactly safe. They have access to nearly everyone’s emails on the fly. Google doesn’t protest much (they are a big company that can be forced over, after all) and their motto is ‘don’t be evil’ which basically means cooperating with the good guys apparently… That being said, no email is safe from the NSA. Not yours, not mine, and not even the cute little email you made for your pet parrot (and you should really stop making him watch Scarface and Goodfellas. Those movies are making him write some crazy stuff)…
18. They’re Listening To Your Phone Calls
Telephone calls are one of the biggest ways we communicate. Even with all the social media and chat programs and tons of other ways to communicate, phone calls are still a staple of communication. The NSA knows this, and they want to make sure that they get every single phone call that they can get their hands around. They have no qualms tapping into your phone line and listening as you describe what recipes you want from your mom or what makeup secrets you trade to take 10 years off your face. They want to know, and they want to know all of it so they can sell them to cosmetics companies for a quick buck.
17. They Gather Information On 3 Billion Phone Calls Per Day
Sometimes they can’t just listen to your call live. I mean even machines need some downtime to play pong or something. When that happens they need to rely on just capturing a recorded phone call and saving the laughter for later when they edit it to remove all context and make you look like a fool. That amounts to no less than 3 BILLION phone calls per day. This includes drunk dialing and butt-dialed phone calls. I wonder what would happen if a butt did dial and the caller decided to cut the cheese… Would that constitute a chemical weapons threat?
16. They Collect More Than 200 Million Text Messages Per Day
With over 3 billion phone calls still being made in 2017, and the normal way of talking is now through text, but just how many text messages are made today? How many are being recorded? Well, to make things simple, the NSA collect more than 200 million text messages per day. That’s 199,999,999 more than what I send on a daily basis, if I send any texts at all anyway. The sheer quantity probably makes you feel bad that it is sifted through by a machine and not a human who has to read the mountain of ‘hi’ and ‘what’s for dinner’ and ‘hey, can you come over and help me with the body?’ messages.
15. Email Laws From 1987 Still Apply
The 1980s was a fascinating time. Computers went from hyper primitive machines with barely 48 kb of RAM to slightly less primitive devices with up to 1 mb of RAM. That being said, email existed at the time. In fact most people didn’t just say ‘email’, they used the full term of Electronic Mail in daily use. That being said, email from the time was a relatively simple affair and most people didn’t keep emails for too long. Also the concept of personal email was very rare since most emails at the time were strictly work or university related. So a law was passed in 1987 that stated that any email that was in existence for longer than 6 months can be accessed remotely by the NSA. Though since the late 90s this has changed with most emails being personal or mixed, and with increasing size of inboxes, it makes deleting emails less of a regular chore… It means that most of the emails you have stored are by default accessible to the NSA.
14. They Have Your Browsing History
So you try to clear your cache and cookies and use incognito mode every single time you go online just to safeguard yourself against the NSA finding out where you’ve been going, but it seems like that might not be enough, since they have access to millions of users’ browsing histories almost on the fly. Their top-secret program that is used to do this (as described by Edward Snowden) is XKeyscore, which is the widest-reaching system for gathering information from the internet. Without needing authorization, they tap into databases from all over the world containing browsing history, emails, online chats, and all sorts of stuff that few people would want others to see for.
13. They Have Over 150 Data Processing Sites
With all of this data gathered on your funny cat videos and pictures of your 7-year-old nephew that your sister sends you constantly, they need a place to process it, to separate the wheat from the chaff as it were, to find out which are the juiciest pictures and funniest videos for them to share between them and laugh at behind your back.
So where is this place? Well… there is no one place. The NSA has no less than 150 separate data processing sites around the US alone in order to sift through this massive mountain-sized heap of data that they collect every single day. That’s 149 more than what most people think they have.
12. They Can Access Disconnected Devices
So maybe for all their surveillance abilities, they surely can be defeated by just… disconnecting, right? I mean no internet connection will prevent anything from connecting. No email, no data usage, no nothing. It’ll be like the old days when you needed to deliberately connect to the internet via dial-up to do anything.
But even that won’t prevent the NSA from gathering information from your computers. Unless, of course, you were using an old 80s or 90s machine that was made in the pre-wifi era (and even then, they’ll probably find a way). They have a program called NIGHTSTAND that can attack windows computers from as far as eight miles away. Yeah…
11. They Obsess Over Your Social Media
It’s almost a given at this point that almost anyone can access your Facebook and Twitter account. Even if you put the settings on private, Facebook itself will keep your data and sell it to advertisers and other people. Whether or not they’re selling it to the NSA is something else. Either way, the algorithms that they have in place to keep a track of every single post you make would make even the most obsessive ex you ever had seem tame by comparison. If the NSA was a single person, they would have a restraining order placed against them by roughly half of the entire planet…
10. There Is No True Oversight Over The NSA
The NSA is a strange beast. No one really knows how the organization is looked after or who is looking after it. During the Obama administration, there was an independent review board and the foreign intelligence surveillance court, both charged with overlooking the NSA… and they had no idea just to what extent the NSA was using its surveillance techniques on the population. The NSA themselves constantly mislead the courts as to how they operated and just how much data they had. With this level of deception at the highest level, it makes you wonder if anyone knows what’s going on, or if the NSA is their own mini-nation or something.
9. They Have Never Directly Prevented A Terrorist Strike
For all the surveillance and spying the NSA has done they have not captured a single criminal using their skills and have not thwarted a single terrorist plot. This is one thing that’s really, really hard to understand. I mean I understand that with billions of phone calls, some of them are bound to be criminal related, creepy stalker calls, drug deals, death threats, and more nefarious stuff… but no, not a single one of them ever resulted in the apprehension of a criminal or terrorist plot. So just what ARE they doing with all that data and spying if it isn’t at least used to save lives?
8. Every Out-Of-Country Call/Email Is Intercepted By The NSA
So they listen to your phone calls from within the United States… but what about international calls or emails? Are they safe? Nope, they’re actually required to be intercepted by the NSA, and on top of that, any agent has the authority to read or listen to them at any time. There was a joke that goes as back as the 90s that says ‘you know you’re online too long when… you know that stranger from South Africa more than you know your neighbor.’ It seems like the NSA really, really wants to know who that guy from South Africa is and why you know him so much. Please say it’s more than just South African wine!
7. They Get More than 11 Billion Dollars in Direct Appropriations
The US has over 56 BILLION dollars allocated towards the black budget for surveillance and counterterrorism, and of this massive amount, 11 billion is allocated to the NSA. But that’s just their direct budget. Upon further investigation it becomes increasingly clear that this already huge budget is not the only amount they have to work with. It’s clear that the Pentagon and other government agencies are also providing them with indirect funds and services as well. Their new data storage facility in Salt Lake City alone cost around 2 billion dollars and it needs 40 million dollars per year just to run it. Good to know where American tax dollars are going…
6. Even Your App Data Isn’t Safe
Accessing your normal phone data seems pretty diabolical (for reasons that need no mentioning), they can even hack into smartphone app data. Do you have an app that stores your to-do list in the cloud? Well then, they know for a fact that you missed the one about wanting to clean your dishes, because they’ve been known to hack into those. In fact, they made sure that they can get into iPhones and Android devices… but even Blackberry, the dying third in the race, is not exempt from this. Everything from your contact list to credit card numbers and how long you’ve been playing your favorite game is something that is of interest to them for some reason or the other. (Maybe your high score is too hard to beat and they want you to lay down so the NSA employee can take over for a bit…)
5. Online Gaming Is Part Of Their Watch List
Online gaming is the ultimate hangout of nerds. Sometimes they’re even second lives and second jobs of said nerds (seriously, have you tried Eve online? The player-founded corporations are better run than most real life companies). As you would expect, they use it as a surveillance tool and keep track of any suspicious individual (including people who claimed to be too sick for work/school that day and are just going overboard with gameplay). Some criminal and terrorist groups DO use these places as ways to communicate and get together (Twitter is a mainstream social media platform and ISIS uses it as a communication tool).
But if they manage to find a smart, non-suspicious gamer (or even a suspicious one, we’re not judging), they have been known to recruit them as informants. So… you’re being watched, and you’ve become the chosen one… there’s a joke in there somewhere, but I can’t find it.
4. Windows Crash Reports Aren’t Private, Either
Windows crashes. In other news, water is wet, the sky is blue, and Bilbo Baggins’ feet are hairy. That being said, when Windows crashes, it is often an annoyance at the most. Crash reports are then sent to Microsoft so they can use that data from millions of its user so as to make an even worse product the next morning. But it seems that Microsoft isn’t the only company that’s interested in gathering that information. The NSA also collects Windows crash reports as a way of detecting weaknesses in the system in order to exploit them for their information gathering purposes or other top secret stuff.
3. Even The President Isn’t Safe
The President of the United States is a very well protected man. He has some of the best bodyguards in the world that monitor absolutely every single move he makes to make sure that there isn’t a single moment where he could be attacked. You’d think the exact same thing applies to the President’s digital life as well. But… you’d be wrong. While this isn’t as big an issue as you might think. I mean former President Clinton sent his first email in 1998, when many people were using email since the 80s.
There is no real special protection for the President’s email from the NSA. In fact, Snowden himself said that with a few keystrokes he could have accessed President Obama’s emails when he was working for the NSA. At least there are no double standards in effect… they really are watching everyone.
2. It Is The Biggest Employer Of Mathematicians In The World
Some people wonder, what can you do with a pure math degree? I mean the basis of modern science is mathematics, but just what job can you have? Well if you’re moderately good at your job, then the NSA might be a good place to go. No kidding, it’s the single largest employer of mathematicians in the world. In fact, the NSA is usually more than happy to grab up young math graduates to the point that some people in the math field have actually spoken out against the NSA for taking up such a large amount of young graduates and for a lack of ethics.
1. NSA… No Such Agency
When the NSA was founded in 1952 by President Truman (exactly 5 years after he created the CIA), it was actually a supremely secret organization. So secretive in fact that the American public had no idea it existed… until 1975. The event that forced it out into the mainstream was the Watergate scandal, specifically the Church Committee, and their existence to the US public was made. The joke among the people who worked for the NSA about their secrecy was that NSA employees called their organization ‘No Such Agency’. While it might not make much sense as a joke today, the fact that they exist for nearly 23 years without any public knowledge is a stark reminder as to just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
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