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What's the Government /Really/ Classifying? 68

Nachtjäger writes "The Federation of American Scientists has an entire section of their site devoted to US Government secrets, including the lately hyped Echelon stuff. " Interesting project - it's an interesting chronicle of the declassification of massive amounts of papers.
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What's the Government /Really/ Classifying?

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  • by Jimhotep ( 29230 ) on Friday October 22, 1999 @04:44AM (#1594901)
    Back in 1994 I called my congressman. I asked
    for a copy of the crime bill about to be voted on.

    Their reply? "We wish we had a copy too".

    This was 2 days before it was to be voted on.

  • by Otto ( 17870 ) on Friday October 22, 1999 @04:48AM (#1594902) Homepage Journal
    A quick search of that site turned up this: gram/process/echelon.htm []

    Pretty entertaining stuff.. Neat site.

  • I had a glance through some of the material on torture and disappearances in Chile under the Pinochet regime.

    He may be in his 80s and ill, but Spain is definitely right to demand his extradition from Britain. I just wonder how much will come out on CIA involvement if he does come to trial.

    Is this enough to get the Echelon system working?
  • #define std_disclaimer "I am not a conspiracy theorist."
    But do any of you people really think this will be a) exhaustive and b) correct?
    One thing that strikes me as a common factor of government is it never likes being shown to have made mistakes or have done "the wrong thing".
    I'll bet a pound to a penny there's nothing of interest in here. Any controversy will have either have been reclassified as "top secret", or will have been mangled shortly after mistakes have been made. Or maybe that line of investigation is now very much non-PC.
    Think about it - even in Tech support, if you have stuffed some machine badly & will catch hell for it, how many of you have ever re-touched logfiles, or incorrectly blamed users? I'm not accusing anyone of gross incompetency or lack of professionalism, but if you can say you've never made a schoolboy mistake, then you've probably never learnt anything anyway. And in that case, if there's an easy way out ("Oh, that's NT's fault"), you will be tempted to take it.
    Do you really expect governments to work differently?
    Guess that'll get me nixed if Echelon's listening!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    FAS is pretty neat--look at the spy satellite section. []
  • by RNG ( 35225 ) on Friday October 22, 1999 @05:05AM (#1594906)
    Would it not be wonderful if all of a sudden, rathern than scanning a billion (or whatever the current number is) of daily emails in plaintext, they'd have to sort through a billion encrypted messages. This would be the best way to get back at them; if nothing else this would make scanning all mail traffic next to impossible (unless they can break encryption almost efforless, something I don't quite buy).

    Now why is it that there's this big fuss about Echelon in the US and here in Europe nobody seems to give a rats ass (or even know it exists). I think us Europeans can learn something from our American friends here: political activism about these things is imortant/essential. I really wish us Europeans would have the political tradition of writing/complaining to your congressmen about things you don't like. As far as I can tell, Europeans are more complacent when it comes to interacting with their chosen representatives ...

  • How much do you bet he will die of an "accident" or "heart-attack" before he can talk ???
  • Anyone interested?

    Something that covers distributed file systems, encryption technologies, an overview of security concepts (ports, daemons, keeping up with patches) and instructions for popular encryption packages.
  • by frankie ( 91710 ) on Friday October 22, 1999 @05:17AM (#1594909) Journal

    As a Marylander, I have several friends who work (or worked) for federal agency sub-contractors. Most of the random projects done by "the government" are doled out to Beltway Bandits (this is the actual term used) like them. At the usual cookouts they would often trade tales about classifying documents.

    As far as my friends could tell, the most common reason their companies would make an official Secret is so that the low-ranking bureaucrats in charge of their funding would be unable to read exactly how little work had been accomplished. And obviously all this Classified work must be much more important than some public project that any commie or Iraqi could read about in the paper... In other words, 100% pure Dilberting.

    I asked for a copy of the crime bill about to be voted on. Their reply? "We wish we had a copy too".

    Cute, but I'm sure that bill was never classified, it just wasn't available to anyone outside "the Committee". That's all about stupid congressional politicking (is there any other kind?). More of an Open Source issue, really.

  • What if Echelon could block any email it can't
    understand? My ignorance of encryption is
    boundless, but, that would seem to be a way to
    fight unwanted communication.
  • Ah, but they can't just block everything, otherwise our economy and part of our social system would crumble ... I would hope that this price would even be too high for the NSA and their equally paranoid counterparts ...

  • This doesn't sound too far from the truth. I'll side with you. Everytime (it would seem) there is a high profile, elderly war criminal in captivity being extradited he dies of a heart attack.

    My question is always did he die from being tortured or something? Or even more sinister, was he set free and told "lay low for the rest of your life." Both scenarios seem realistic to me.

  • A really good crypto site locate oout of the us is They have crypto enabled versions of several software packages. Check em out.
    "We hope you find fun and laughter in the new millenium" - Top half of fastfood gamepiece
  • Governments keep secrets. Get used to it. Most of those are probably only secret because some pointy-haired boss is competing against some other pointy-haired boss on the "who can classify the most documents" departmental sweepstakes.

    If you were actually able to see what's there, you'd probably find laundry lists, chinese take-away receipts, autoexec.bat files, Doctor Who short stories, even restroom graffiti.

    Let's be honest, here. The US Government has far fewer REAL secrets than it wants people to believe. It's showmanship, pure and simple. What is said about guys with bigger cars is just as true for guys with bigger vaults of secrets.

    Yes, I'm not underestimating the level of real paranoia on the Government's side. They're just as susceptable to that as everyone else - perhaps more so, given their jobs. They probably are hiding things of importance. But so what? Does it really matter if they're scared witless of their own shadows? Does it -really- matter, in the overall scheme of things? Not really. They're only significant because we choose to make them so.

    As for Echelon - I believe it's real, but there's no way in hell it's keyword-driven. Check EVERY word in EVERY message on ALL national and international lines in 52 countries? I don't care HOW fast a computer they have - that's TOO SLOW and would yield FAR too many false positives, and FAR too many false negatives. Neural Nets and GA's are where it's at, not SuperGrep!

    Fact is, we don't know what the Govt is doing, and all that's happening is that people are projecting their fears to fill the vacuum. It's arguable as to whether the vacuum should be there, but that is a seperate issue to the fact that people are projecting at all.

  • It might be wonderful but still I doubt that any more than a tiny fraction of the internet community would use encryption. It's changed from the days where traffic was mainly academic; now the "average user" is a suburbanite with no grasp and no willingness to inform him or herself about issues of privacy, security, cryptography or the like.

    Of course, that may not be necessary; it might just be necessary to encrypt a small fraction of network traffic to result in changes at Echelon. Of course, Echelon is reportedly a global operation, so it's necessarily a slow process. Also, I doubt that Echelon is the only communications intercept operation out there. It's something that any government or even any multinational corporation would be interested in, no matter where they're located.

    However, I don't think that's as relevant as other considerations. One should be encouraging prudent and secure communications for one's own good, not just to thumb one's nose at the US government. Make your PGP or GPG key available; use encryption routinely, and expect your correspondents to reply in kind. In other words, take responsibility for your own security.

  • Or everyone could end their letters with the words (terrorism, bomb, drugs, white house, president, usa) so that they get a hit on every single mail... =)
  • The only classified info I have ever dealt with is weapon info. Ranges, Speeds, Systems, that kind of stuff. The reason that is classified is to protect the source. It would probably be painfully obvious from some of the numbers who provided them. That would turn out to be BAD for the informant.

    Another thing that is classified is cruise missile guidance software. When it was being developed, it was classified higher than TS, at a level that is classified to even know the name of. I thought that was interesting stuff.

  • How bout this...

    Why does this site encourage posting in plaintext?

    Why dont we all start posting encrypted feedback?

    Here are my further thoughts...

    qreew ttyfr uuyyu jgfgh fghty wtree tui7r 36jrf
    qwtyu yh6fg yuy5r 6544f ghtrt hthju jbytt thtkk
    hghju nghnm ewdfg hmuyu gnuyl sdfdg gbnyy btbtb
    ljijj ppllp rerre btbtd vfvff saggh grdvv dhdgf

    And furthermore

    ashgg jytjr hrfbk kgjyy jyeeh jyddd jtyrh jlliu

    ps. seriously though, why isn't slashdot a secure web server?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...then we maybe don't have anything to fear... :) 0/programs/tech/factshts/langtrng.html []

    Multi-Media Language Training

    TECHNICAL DESCRIPTION: This is a complete multi-media stand-alone course based on a 30-minute situation comedy. It has a variety of learning tools amounting to a total of 160 hours of instruction at three entry levels (200 Mbytes of courseware and 100 Mbytes of audio).

    This show is taped in front of a live studio audience
    Mr Spy: Hiya Class!
    Class: Hello Mr Spy!
    Mr Spy: Today we'll learn the letter Ö. That's right kids! It's just a O with two bulletholes over it. It's commonly used in commie contries. Learn to fear it!

    (A dark, weird looking janitor walks in and a flowerpots falls on his head)

    Janitor (staggers around looking dazed): Ahooööööö
    Mr Spy: Oh no, he's a commie spy! Kill him!

    (Commercial break)
    This show is brought to you by the letter O.

    What will happen to the evil Janitor?
    Will the class ever learn the perils of the Ö?
    Be sure to catch the next episode of:
    "Life in the NSA - Like Sesame Street but with more guns and no stupid gay puppets"
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A lot of people believe (because the X-Files has trained them to believe) that all the classified stuff is really hot'n'juicy. Folks, as somebody holding a clearance, I'm here to tell you that 95+% of current classified material is boring as hell. It /does/ need to be classified, yes, but that doesn't make it exciting. The biggest danger I face in reading classified documents is falling asleep before I'm finished.

    (The remaining 5-% is pretty cool, though, but there's not a lot of that. Working for, say, Transmeta would generate more excitement for the bog-standard /. reader, and for good reason.)

  • "Fact is, we don't know what the Govt is doing,"

    We don't get to know, but we do get to pay
    for it!

    Just imagine all the cool stuff "we own".
  • by jflynn ( 61543 ) on Friday October 22, 1999 @05:50AM (#1594924)
    I think you're quite correct that the secrecy ratings in the US would be more appropriately named "Slightly embarassing", "Mortifying", "PR disaster", "Political dynamite", etc.

    This can prevent public reaction from heading off a bad policy early. As we know, it works better to expose mistakes and fix them, or at least avoid repeating them. Can a people really control their own government if they aren't allowed to know what it's done? It's really important that government be open to review and inspection in a democracy. Like source, not many *will* review it, but the fact that someone *could* keeps people honest and on their best behavior.

    You said it yourself in your comment, hiding mistakes is gross incompetency and shows a lack of professionalism. Yet our government, military, and corporate power heirarchies are extremely unforgiving of errors. Screw up once and those upward promotions really slow down. Is it any wonder people try to hide mistakes? Many parents demand the same sort of perfection from their kids, much to their and our detriment. It's time to lighten up a little, people make mistakes. Sometimes the best person for the job is someone who has already learned from all the mistakes.

    I think programmers learn very quickly that denying the existence of bugs doesn't really work, and that all new software has bugs. Kernel oopses and bluescreens remind us if we forget :) This attitude that all new work, be it law, a product, or source *will* be flawed and needs wide and open review to become efficient, should be emulated in other fields than programming.

    I don't deny there is a real need to keep secrets concerning covert operations and military missions. I suspect a very very small percentage of the secrets in Washington actually fall into the category of operational secrecy though.
  • How bout this...
    Why does this site encourage posting in plaintext?
    Why dont we all start posting encrypted feedback?

    <Snip Stuff that isn't Rot13ed :+)>

    It's mainly because it is a forum - what would be the point of you posting to a discussion if no-one but you could understand it?

    ps. seriously though, why isn't slashdot a secure web server?
    There isn't a point - Slashdot Accounts are practically valueless (Ok, you might get a extra mod point or two by default over an Anonymous post, but that's not enough to go to the time and effort of trying to "steal" a Slashdot account) and SSL adds a fair processing overhead per connection.

  • Is it just me or is the whole classification system of the US Government, a system of security through obscurity. The less that people know, the more secure we will be...

    Something that is Top Secret is pretty "obscure" where as something that is declassified is "open source". Given this real world example, does security through obscurity have its place and actually work sometimes?

    Don't flame me because I'm beautiful.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Well, there are different classification systems for all the different branches. NSA tends to have the classic three. Confidential, Secret, and Topsecret. These are all based on how much of an impact to national security that would be lost if the enemy was to get it. The truly classified stuff is SCI, secret compartmental information, where you get to a level of dealing with information sources. This is where you find different indoctrinations. As if the source of where the information was comming from, is more secret than the information itself. And yes it is obscurity. This is not source code. This is information that the average citizen of american does NOT need to know. If I was to die as a secret agent overseas because some american news paper felt that they HAD to know everything, then you get my point.
  • Well, Echelon in its current incarnation really doesn't have the ability to do this. It functions more as "listening stations" than active traffic routers; if it were going to block the e-mails, you'd have to have an Echelon machine in place of *every* router on the Internet, at *every* peering point.

  • Probably not torture. I'd think that it would be a hemmorage(9mm) or a clot(lead), but that's just me.

    Actually, now that my thinking cap is on (sllluurrppp! Mmmmm coffee), I would hope that there would be enough professionalism to offer him a choice; the red cyanide pill or being torn to shreds by your fellow countrymen.

  • First of all - Pinochet wasn't abducted - he legally travelled to the UK and Spain filed for extradition. However in the case of Adolph Eichmann - who was abuducted by the state of Israel from a country without an extradition treaty (Argentina?). I believe this was upheld in International Law - so in the case of "Crimes Against Humanity" it would be legal to abduct the defendant.

    But for your point - yes. If Hussein could argue that someone committed a "crime" against his citizens - he should be able to file extradition for the defendant. But Iraq would have to have a valid extradition treaty with that country (which I doubt).

    Then Iraq would have to argue that the crime was one recognized under International Law. In the case of the bombings or other actions during the Gulf War (and the embargo hence); He wouldn't have a case. The US (and allied countries) filed resolutions through the United Nations - so it would be difficult to argue that a crime was committed.

    Lastly it would have to be argued that the defendant could receive a fair trail in the country to be extradited to. There is no doubt that Spain is such a country and Iraq is not - so under this issue - the defendant could probably block extradition...

    You are obviously ignorant (I don't mean that pejoratively) of the crimes that Pinochet was accused of. Among other thing; basically ordering the murder of journalists who reported unfovorably on his policies...

  • Good lord! 'People' will complain until things are changed, eh? Worked pretty good for the jews in 1939, didn't it. This its the kind of thinking that makes it necessary for the US to keep bailing Europe out. Power to the government, indeed. Maybe, instead of just relying on someone else to do it, you should try taking care of yourself for awhile. What's gonna happen when you graduate an mom and dad ask you to move out?
  • There are many places where security through obscurity works. Everywhere from declassified documents with black marker scribbled over half the page to protecting your home network with a firewall. In fact, encryption itself is security through obscurity.
  • Governments keep secrets. Get used to it. Most of those are probably only secret because some pointy-haired boss is competing against some other pointy-haired boss on the "who can classify the most documents" departmental sweepstakes.

    There are rules and guidelines for the classification of documents. Usually there is a guide that lists types of information and the associated classification.

    Classified material is a time and money sink. You have to get clearances for employees, hire security officers and custodians, have secure storage facilities, physical security for the facility, follow special procedures in handling and accounting, etc.

    Any PHB with two brain cells can think of a 1,000 things that he/she would rather spend the money on.

  • A classified classification?! If I didn't know better, I'd say it was guberment work.

    There are some things that should be classified. Trust me on this one... there are a few things you truely do not want to know about. (Do you really wanna know what that green stuff is?)

    Discussions like this always bring to mind the scene from "Deap Impact" where Morgan Freeman is before some gov committee... "It was my impression that you didn't want to know."
  • The basic concepts of the classification system are open, but protected. We all pretty much know what "classified" means, and I bet if you called the front desk at the Pentagon and asked, they would tell you exactly what classifications there are and what each one means.

    It would be security by obscurity if they deliberately used a bizarre filing system, such as alphabetical by middle initial.

    The language used in most of the documents could qualify as security by obscurity, except that it is used without regard to security level.

    I realize I'm a day late, but could you make sure that package from Isreal gets to Bagdad?

    Sanity For Today
    Farley Flavors (of Fabulous Fast Food fame)
  • they probably have a big rule list of special people they want to keep track of, and the system picks up on that. While Bin-Laden is an obvious choice, any IRA member or suspected member, known cell phone numbers, etc., are probably on Britain's list of things to look out for. E-mail content isn't initially as important as to who is sending or recieving the message, so they use stuff like that to perk their ears to pay more attention to specific channels. So let's say a mythical IRA suspect, Sean O'Grady, has a cell phone. If he's smart, he uses a pirated number & id, and changes them frequently. But let's say it's known, through other intelligence, some of the people he likes to talk to via cell phones. Maybe one of those regular contacts is his lawyer. So they watch who calls that lawyer, and backtrack from there, to have a list of phones that Sean O'Grady could be using, so he's not really one step ahead. Then they also watch to see who Sean's lawyer calls, and put some of those pieces together. If something looks interesting, they might fine-tooth things and start getting text-to-speech dialogs of the phone messages. Also in England, it's pretty easy for the govment to eavesdrop on people's mail, and is done all the time. So the lawyer's mail is watched. Etc. The problem for the govment is that there are thousands of Seans to watch for, so their attention span is short unless it is caused to be focused.

    While Tom Clancy is probably not the paragon of truth, I would believe the mystique of him, his books and his "access" in some of the things mentioned in them that most people don't believe.

    Plus, in this week's Navy Times is a big story on how the people who investigate and grant security clearances are seriously swamped... So...

    "Dazzle them with brilliance, or blind them with bullshit".
  • Seems to be kind of out of date. Most of it appears to be from around early '96 or so. (Last Modified: Thursday, June 26, 1997 12:12:58 PM GMT) The fact that the site authors are so amazed by the Tiger maps was sort of a giveaway - you can get the same quality maps from Delorme on a CD for less than $50.

  • In an attempt [] to slow down the declassification effort a new provision requires that all documents be reexamined to find whether nuclear weapons data has been inadvertently released into the public domain in the last few years.

    A really brilliant move.

    If you say anything against it you can be immediately accused of letting terrorists get information which will help them build nuclear weapons.

    "Ok, just prove there ISN'T nuclear weapon information in one of these half-billion pages"

  • yes. It's the good ol' James Bond Syndrome. Media and entertainment have glamorized encryption and computers and secrets.

    For example: People think that being a secret agent is really nifty because of the Mission Impossible and James Bond type movies they see. In reality, secret agents spend most of their time sitting around reading newspapers and magazines to put together little bits of information. A lot of the secrets out there are available, if you just collect enough information. A piece in this trade magazine here, a bit in that newscast there... lots of unclassified information put together creates classified information.

    But you rarely see this put forth in the media/entertainment because it's not as glamourous and interesting as breaking into a well guarded room to steal a paper stamped with TOP SECRET.

    Most "TOP SECRET" stuff is boring, classified for a reason, and not part of a coverup/conspiracy. People should be worrying more about having access to strong encryption for their own uses, than about what the gov't is busy encrypting for gov't purposes.

  • I used to process all the Security Clearances in Pacific Region in Canada, as well as declassify a lot of information in personnel files. And held a Secret clearance.

    There aren't three levels of Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. There are higher levels above that, most dealing with Nuclear weapons and things of that sort. There are also restrictions on Who can see it: For US eyes only, For US/Canadian eyes only, and so on.

    Most, 95%, of the material classified as Secret is junk. The same holds for Confidential. I presume, based on inference, that probably 50% of Top Secret material is junk.

    And people frequently overclassify docs - one person I knew just liked to stamp things with all the cool stamps they give you - so she'd stamp For Canadian/UK eyes only because she was bored.

    There were days when I'd take a three-jacket personnel file and strip it down to a single-jacket file, or take a collection of higher grade docs and declassify most of them.

    Ah, the good old days ...

  • pretty nice resource, but i wonder if it would be possible to get a search engine running on it... perhaps since they're opening the information up to the public, the public should respond by making use of the information easier by getting an open source search engine for it...

    anyone out there know the good searching code 0necessary for a project like this?!
  • Another common tactic is to "misfile" or "mislabel" pertinent information in an attempt to keep it secret. Sometime under the Bush regime, there were LOTS of documents declassified or released thru FOI but since they removed all document classification/labeling systems reviewers had to pore over ALL of them to figure out what was actually in them and any kind of relationship between documents.

    And the October issue over at mentioned examples of CIA declassfied documents (required by law) were routine things like document check out requests, performance reviews etc.

  • by vlax ( 1809 )
    Eichmann's kidnapping was most certainly illegal under most notions of what constitutes international law. Isreal simply didn't care, and no one was likely to go out on a limb for scum like Eichmann, but if I recall correctly, the Argentine government was not exactly happy about the kidnapping at the time. As long as Isreal had US backing, no one was likely to make a fuss for him.

    However, the 1988 convention under which Pinochet is being prosecuted does make the crimes he committed, even in Chile, illegal in any state that signed the convention. Chile signed it, so did the UK and Spain. Spain wanted originally to prosecute Pinochet for crimes committed against Spanish nationals in Chile. The US uses the same logic to persue terrorists in other countries, even when their acts were not committed on US soil.

    I'm not sure Iraq is party to the same treaties, but yes, in principle if George Bush visited a country allied with Iraq without a diplomatic passport, he could be extradited to Baghdad to stand trial. I don't think that would necessarily be a bad thing.

    However, Iraq has few allies, and Bush is unlikely to visit any of them. Besides, it's too risky politically. Remember, although international law is, to some extent, codified, it's mostly aout what you can get away with. The rules are not applied equally. Pinochet, having lost all his friends in Washington now that the Cold War is over, can be easily prosecuted.

    Certainly it's no more than he deserves.
  • Sadly, you're right.

    It used to cost about $1000 to $2000 for a Confidential clearance, about $8000 for a Secret clearance, and somewhere around $20000 for a Top Secret clearance.

    And when they take too long to clear people, people don't use secure methods, because they have work to do.

    One of the silliest things is that we give US citizens, born in the US, an edge in getting a clearance, rather than immigrants. Usually it's the native-born citizens who are the greatest security risks, not the recent immigrants. But I wouldn't say the same for Nuclear-grade clearances - just for the usual junk.

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday October 22, 1999 @08:03AM (#1594954)
    Seen on a recent NOVA documentary on recently-declassified nuclear sub stories:

    The first of the show was fascinating in its own right - what happened to Thresher and Scorpion, two US nuclear submarines that were lost in the 60s with all hands aboard. Remember the guy who spent a lot of time hunting for the Titanic and didn't find it the first few times? Part of that was a cover story; he was actually examining the wreckage of Thresher.

    That was pretty amazing (short version: You don't want to be in a sub experiencing a catastrophic failure, but if you saw "the camera in the sub" scene in Trinity And Beyond, a movie consisting largely of similarly-amazing declassified footage of nuclear tests, you already knew that), but the second part of the show totally blew me away.

    Those of you who are old enough may remember Howard Hughes and his plan to "mine the oceans" for manganese nodules. I remember hearding about this on a NOVA documentary many years ago.

    That entire business plan was a cover story for a CIA op. Hughes was asked to come on board as the ideal cover - "Only Hughes would have the money to try mining the oceans, and it's so zany the public would have no trouble believing it as a Hughes project". The real goal was to retrieve - not "examine the wreckage of", not "send a 'bot into the sub to look for neat toys", but to retrieve, intact, a lost Russian nuclear submarine from a depth 17,000 feet.

    What Hughes ended up building was pretty far out, even for Hughes. Imagine a large ship with a submarine-shaped bay ("for holding the manganese nodules") in the middle of it. Now imagine a huge contraption that resembled the business end of salad tongs, but was roughly the length of a submarine.

    Now drop the contraption 17,000 feet down on long poles, grab your sub, and raise it. Once raised, pop into the sub to get all the codebooks, communications equipment, reactor design info, and for bonus points, three nuclear missiles. The ultimate prize in the Cold War.

    Unfortunately, they scraped bottom on their first attempt, and rather than raise the entire thing up to inspect it thoroughly for damage, they went ahead and picked up the sub anyways. About halfway up, three fingers on the "claw" broke off, leading to structural failure of the sub. The bow, with the bridge and all the intelligence information, along with the nukes, went back down to the bottom and was destroyed on impact. All that remained in the stern were bodies and/or parts thereof.

    The only official acknowledgement ever made was that a tape - showing a funeral at sea for the Russian sailors - was eventually sent to the Russian Premier when the secret leaked.

    Some of this footage - of the wrecks of Thresher, Scorpion, and the operation to retrieve the aforementioned Russian sub, has only recently been declassified.

    Finally, one plan that didn't get off the ground, but was hinted at in that "Interception Capabilities 2000" report - the placement of taps on underground cables. Seems the Russian Northern Fleet used to communicate via undersea cables around the North Cape, and it further seems that "since the cables were undersea, they were secure", and the communications were sent unencrypted. The plan was to use a different type of sub to place a listening device in the sand beneath the cable, (Russian navy inspects cable, sees no tap on cable, lays cable back down on top of buried listening device!) and then to string 2,000 miles of new cable to Greenland, where a satellite uplink would provide the US with real-time intel on the Northern Fleet. Apparently, this plan was scuppered when a mole inside NSA compromised it. It would have cost $2-3 billion dollars -- but what's a billion when you're talking about the possibility of having hours, or even days, of advance notice of World War III?

    I have a hunch that 20 years from now, we'll be discovering some similarly audacious things from today's era.

    It's been said before, but I'll say it again. NSA and CIA have better things to do with their time than worry about you.

    In the meantime - for anyone who's ever wondered "why would geeks ever want to work for the spooks", that's probably just the tip of the iceberg of why. Yes, most of the work is probably mind-numbingly dull, and made even duller by government regulations. But the chance to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime "moon shot" operation, and to play with or develop technology that's beyond the state of the art, is probably a significant motivating factor.

    If there's anyone out there reading this who's built a quantum computer or some other piece of technolgy the rest of us haven't even dreamt of yet: "Cool hack, dude! 20-30 years from now, I hope we get to hear your story too."

  • Not open source, BUT, some of their systems use a search engine made by a company called Excalibur Technologies. Nice stuff. Ask if for info on gas prices, and it'll find petroleum costs
  • by Anonymous Coward
    As an FYI, the undersea cable tapping operation actually took place and was successful for a number of years.

    For more details check out Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew. It has lotsa stories about the US submarine force being used for espionage (including much more detail on the Huges, Thresher, and cable tapping stories)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    They keep some nukes there, and they're working on new planes. Thats about it... no aliens, but they don't want anyone else to see what these planes can do (pretty cool stuff...)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Regarding the lost Russian sub story, I'll affirm it (though anonymously). A chemist I knew a while ago was hired by the cover company you mention to research the precise effects of deep-ocean chemical and pressure effects on human remains. At the time, he thought nothing of it - an academic endeavour.
    Several years later, he discovered what the research was really about, through contacts at the CIA. They were very concerned about the condition of the bodies when/if they would retrieve the sub; after all, this sub literally sank into a trench.
    I believe that, when news of this hit Moscow, the CIA returned the remains of the Russians but refused to hand over the sub itself. Guess they weren't finished copying the technology yet.
  • I think they got rid of Confidential a few (3-5?) years ago. They realized keeping tabs on all that classified info was way too expensive. A small amount of confidentilal stuff was upgrade to secret, and the rest was "unclassified". They did pressure companies to keep previously confidential stuff as "company confidential" and limit employee access to it. At least, that's the way I heard it. YMMV.
  • > I used to process all the Security Clearances in Pacific Region in
    > Canada, as well as declassify a lot of information in personnel
    > files. And held a Secret clearance.

    I'm on the opposite of the coin, re-activating my clearance again to
    get back into classified projects (again). I've been dutifully
    re-reading my briefing materials, especially about producing
    classified documents, and have found them to be pretty up-front and
    straightforward. Here's a summary (a techie summary, not an
    "executive" summary) for those "not in the know":

    1. Classified data = _real_ data. Approximations show up all over.
    If you're including actual dates, frequencies, or multiple decimal
    points, you're probably producing something that's >= Secret.

    2. One classified number classifies that paragraph and, therefore, one
    or more paragraphs, depending on your writing (notice, we're
    talking paper here). Other pages may be unclassified (e.g., no
    reeeally accurate numbers), but a document including the SuperDuper
    Secret pages is SuperDuper Secret by the transitive property.

    3. You are allowed (and encouraged) to produce unclassified documents
    / reports if at all possible. In the above example, take out the
    really neat number and your paragraph, page and document level drop
    to lowest possible (e.g., Unclassified).

    4. Classification is not a toy (WillAffleck's example is depressing
    but probably common). The documented government policy here is
    "don't be a dick."

    5. Classification exists for a reason. The best example I've ever
    heard was when talking with mumble mumble about pre/during-Vietnam
    War adventures and why he _still_ wouldn't talk about real details,
    his reply was "They(TM) didn't know we could get a submarine in
    there." I.e., if they didn't know we could get there, they don't
    know _why_ We(TM) were there and what We(TM) were there for. Think
    about it, when someone goes looking for something, it's because
    someone told them "there's something to look for here." Those are
    some of the "assets" that are protected by TopSecret++.

    > Most, 95%, of the material classified as Secret is junk. The same
    > holds for Confidential. I presume, based on inference, that probably
    > 50% of Top Secret material is junk.

    6. [Partial agreement] Confidential is silly: "potential risk to
    national security"?! [I'm quoting poorly but I don't have the
    definition in front of me.] The Jerry Springer show is a known
    risk to national security (it decreases the average IQ of the
    nation ==> bad ==> national security-- ), should it be classified

    Blah blah blah - this was a bit more than I intended but sometimes a
    definition of terms is useful.

    The punchline is: sometimes (often) declassification is a good thing;
    just getting the paperwork processed decreases the entropy /
    bureacracy of the universe. Sometimes, declassification is literally
    not possible: in extreme cases, the "asset" in question is still in
    "use" and we really don't want people to know how far the "asset" can
    shoot, or where the "asset" lives / works / sends his/her children to
    school, etc.

    Finally, the easiest way to tell if somebody is working on something
    classified is if every answer is a variant of "I don't remember." I
    still play this game with mumble mumble above:

    DB: "So where'd you go in that sub?"
    MM: "Out to sea."
    DB: "For how long?"
    MM: "A while."
    DB: "How long could you stay submerged?"
    MM: "Long enough."

    Doctor Bob
    Clearance: I don't remember right now.
    Project: Yes.
  • Wasn't this ship the Glomar Exlporer (the Hughes-funded recovery vessel)? That name seemed to jump out from the recesses of my mind when reading this story...
    Like another commenter said, I believe the Northern Fleet undersea wiretap was actually carried out, but wasn't in real time... divers would have to go out and recover recorded tape from the cable tap periodically, but this was scrapped when the aforementioned NSA mole spilled the beans... I guess if that had not occured the real-time uplink to Greenland would have been implemented.
    A funny consequence of the sub recovery cover story is that sea mining is still tossed around every now and then as an exploitable future source of resources... I have no idea how feasible it will ever be however
  • Found a blurb on [] about the operation...

    Project Jennifer / Hughes Glomar Explorer []

    One interesting little factoid is the note that this operation supposedly prompted the first known instance of "cannot confirm or deny"... but I could have sworn the Navy had been using that since the early SSBN days in reply to queries as to whether a particular ship was nuclear-armed...
  • Yup. If it's declassified, well, you can talk about it.

    Also, the totality of data can cause a classification, in that the number of tanks in one shop for tread repair may be secret, but the table of data for all the tanks in repair shops for tread repair would be a higher classification because:

    1. We now know where all your repair shops are.
    2. We now know your mechanical breakdown rates, from which we can infer how well the tanks perform.
    3. We now know (or infer) how many tanks you really have and where your high capacity repair shops are.

    You get my drift.
  • > As for Echelon- ...

    Combine a FDF from TRW (only URL I could find a few months ago was F.html [], about its use for pattern matching in DNA/RNA/protein sequence analysis. Couple that w/ SAIC's "In Flight Recorder" (sorry no URL handy)--a real time OC-48 data capture box.

    We need FDF/In Flight Recorders, lots of FDF/In Flight Recorders..

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