Peter Suderman presents a list of ways in which the panicked denials by top management of Google, Facebook, and Yahoo can be reconciled with the Washington Post story claiming that the NSA is “directly tapping into the central servers” of the companies. The potential explanations he lists are:

  1. The statements the companies have released so far are technically accurate—but the companies are involved anyway.
  2. The tech companies are involved in an NSA data gathering program, but only a very small number of people in each company knows about the involvement.
  3. The tech companies are not telling the truth.
  4. The NSA is accessing tech company servers without the knowledge of those companies.

The first explanation is what immediately occurred to me. The second, plausible deniability, sounds equally likely. I guess it’s also possible that the Post’s sources are mistaken or lying but my sense is that those explanations are less plausible than one or more of the others. I don’t think that Mark Zuckerberg has given us any particular reason to trust him or that we should believe that Larry Page wouldn’t bend over backwards to cooperate with government authorities (any government) if it maintained or improved Google’s position with them.

5 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    I have a lot of experience with how these classified programs work, though I’m not familiar with these specific programs. Generally, “need to know” is paramount and the only people who are “read in” to the program are those who need to know. So I think #2 is highly likely and those employees who were part of the program were prohibited from talking about or acknowledging the program from other employees.

    #1 also seems likely to me.

    #3 is possible, but right now these companies are in a bind. Even though the program was leaked, they are still subject to the legal limits of their nondisclosure agreements. Similarly, I received guidance at work that that I should not read anything about the program from a government computer because it’s still considered classified even though it is now public. So, for instance, if I looked at the Prism powerpoint from work I could get in trouble and my computer could be quarantined and wiped. There is still a similar prohibition still in place against Wikileaks material. The government doesn’t declassify stuff if it becomes public domain in these cases and that creates a lot of catch-22’s for those involved in these programs.

    Wikileaks was especially frustrating for me. I wanted to examine what was leaked in order to determine if anything about my unit’s tactics and procedures was released, but I was specifically prohibited from doing so – and we were warned we shouldn’t access them from home either….

    #4 seems pretty unlikely to me for technical reasons.

  • jan Link


    Such posts as the one above draw attention and credibility because of your first-hand experience in these matters. Once again, thanks!

  • Comrade Icepick Link

    They’re now saying that as many as 50 companies are having their data sucked up and digested by the NSA in real-time, including banks and credit card companies and so on.

    Funny, I knew graph theory was interesting, but I had no idea it would be used to turn American into Oceania before I turned fifty.

  • jan Link

    Here’s an interesting read giving more speculation as to the background of the NSA data-mining:

    We call top NSA whistleblower and get the real scoop on spying.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I don’t know if I’ve read all of the statements, but denials are the easiest means of evasion. Consider:

    Controversy: Reports indicate Colonel Mustard killed the Victim in the Conservatory with a Revolver.

    Colonel Mustard: I’ve never killed anyone in the Conservatory.
    Colonel Mustard: I’ve never been in the Conservatory.
    Colonel Mustard: I’ve never killed anyone with the Revolver.
    Colonel Mustard: I’ve never stopped loving the Victim.

    None of these statements refute the essential point (murder), they trip us on our sense that detail furthers truth, but if our details are wrong or incomplete, they promote obfuscation. I particularly like #2, since a revolver can kill someone in the Conservatory without entering it.

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