Friday, January 16, 2009


Why the N.S.A. could ask the Tatas for a room in their hotel

In his latest book, "The Shadow Factory", James Bamford uncovers some rather interesting information about the importance of Mumbai to the N.S.A. From the NYT review of the book:
“Probably the best place within the entire region to install a listening post is the Indian city of Mumbai,” James Bamford writes in “The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America,” his latest book about the all-seeing, all-hearing National Security Agency. Without question, he says, Mumbai, India, “represents the kind of location where the N.S.A. would seek to establish a secret presence.” And such a place, he notes elsewhere in his book, “presents an extremely tempting target for terrorists"...

...Why would Mumbai be such a valuable listening post for the N.S.A.? To understand the answer, and indeed to follow the central argument of the book about just why and how United States government eavesdropping has become so pervasive and invasive, one has to know that a vast majority of the world’s communications are now transmitted over fiber-optic cables. In 1988 they carried only 2 percent of international traffic, but by 2000 they carried 80 percent. When micro wave transmissions and communications satellites were the medium, messages were relatively easy for the N.S.A. to intercept, en masse and through the open air. But to catch the ever-growing flood of digital data in the bundled strands of fiber that crisscross the planet — voice calls, e-mail, faxes, videos and so much more — you have to tap into the cables directly. Or, better still, you can set up a monitoring operation at the switch, where many different cables come together. Once you have a facility to split off the signals without interrupting them, you’re plugged in to a mother lode of megabytes — millions going by every few seconds. Mumbai, as it happens, has the central switch for much of Asia and virtually all the cables of the Middle East...

...have the laws promulgated since the (domestic surveillance) program was exposed, including the one voted for by Senator Barack Obama last summer, ended the nightmare of pervasive surveillance? Bamford thinks not. Presidential power remains abundant, he says, and “it is the political courage that is in short supply.” Loopholes are easy to maneuver in an atmosphere of hypersecrecy, and what the N.S.A. does not do itself, it may well ask of partner agencies with similar abilities. That was why Bamford was writing about India. It could be one of those partners. Bamford’s sources from India’s intelligence service suggest that the last major obstacle to bugging the switch in Mumbai actually was the state-owned company that ran it But it was privatized earlier this decade, sold to the enormous Indian holding company called the Tata Group, which also owns, among other properties, the Taj Mahal hotel. Probably just a coincidence, but yet another interesting detail."
Seems the Borders 30% discount coupon came in the mail at the right time...

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