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Excerpt: "The FBI has recently formed a secretive surveillance unit with an ambitious goal: to invent technology that will let police more readily eavesdrop on Internet and wireless communications."

Spy-Eye with cell phone illustration, 06/15/10. (illustration: Mobile-Pedia)
Spy-Eye with cell phone illustration, 06/15/10. (illustration: Mobile-Pedia)

FBI Quietly Forms Secretive Net-Surveillance Unit

By Declan McCullagh, CNET

30 May 12


he FBI has recently formed a secretive surveillance unit with an ambitious goal: to invent technology that will let police more readily eavesdrop on Internet and wireless communications.

The establishment of the Quantico, Va.-based unit, which is also staffed by agents from the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency, is a response to technological developments that FBI officials believe outpace law enforcement's ability to listen in on private communications.

While the FBI has been tight-lipped about the creation of its Domestic Communications Assistance Center, or DCAC - it declined to respond to requests made two days ago about who's running it, for instance - CNET has pieced together information about its operations through interviews and a review of internal government documents.

DCAC's mandate is broad, covering everything from trying to intercept and decode Skype conversations to building custom wiretap hardware or analyzing the gigabytes of data that a wireless provider or social network might turn over in response to a court order. It's also designed to serve as a kind of surveillance help desk for state, local, and other federal police.

The center represents the technological component of the bureau's "Going Dark" Internet wiretapping push, which was allocated $54 million by a Senate committee last month. The legal component is no less important: as CNET reported on May 4, the FBI wants Internet companies not to oppose a proposed law that would require social-networks and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail to build in backdoors for government surveillance.

During an appearance last year on Capitol Hill, then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni referred in passing, without elaboration, to "individually tailored" surveillance solutions and "very sophisticated criminals." Caproni said that new laws targeting social networks and voice over Internet Protocol conversations were required because "individually tailored solutions have to be the exception and not the rule."

Caproni was referring to the DCAC's charge of creating customized surveillance technologies aimed at a specific individual or company, according to a person familiar with the FBI's efforts in this area.

An FBI job announcement for the DCAC that had an application deadline of May 2 provides additional details. It asks applicants to list their experience with "electronic surveillance standards" including PacketCable (used in cable modems); QChat (used in push-to-talk mobile phones); and T1.678 (VoIP communications). One required skill for the position, which pays up to $136,771 a year, is evaluating "electronic surveillance solutions" for "emerging" technologies.

"We would expect that capabilities like CIPAV would be an example" of what the DCAC will create, says Steve Bock, president of Colorado-based Subsentio, referring to the FBI's remotely-installed spyware that it has used to identify extortionists, database-deleting hackers, child molesters, and hitmen.

Bock, whose company helps companies comply with the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) and has consulted for the Justice Department, says he anticipates "that Internet and wireless will be two key focus areas" for the DCAC. VoIP will be a third, he says.

For its part, the FBI responded to queries this week with a statement about the center, which it also refers to as the National Domestic Communications Assistance Center (even Caproni has used both names interchangeably), saying:

The NDCAC will have the functionality to leverage the research and development efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement with respect to electronic surveillance capabilities and facilitate the sharing of technology among law enforcement agencies. Technical personnel from other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies will be able to obtain advice and guidance if they have difficulty in attempting to implement lawful electronic surveillance court orders.
It is important to point out that the NDCAC will not be responsible for the actual execution of any electronic surveillance court orders and will not have any direct operational or investigative role in investigations. It will provide the technical knowledge and referrals in response to law enforcement's requests for technical assistance.

Here's the full text of the FBI's statement in a Google+ post.

One person familiar with the FBI's procedures told CNET that the DCAC is in the process of being launched but is not yet operational. A public Justice Department document, however, refers to the DCAC as "recently established."

"They're doing the best they can to avoid being transparent"

The FBI has disclosed little information about the DCAC, and what has been previously made public about the center was primarily through budget requests sent to congressional committees. The DCAC doesn't even have a Web page.

"The big question for me is why there isn't more transparency about what's going on?" asks Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group in San Francisco. "We should know more about the program and what the FBI is doing. Which carriers they're working with - which carriers they're having problems with. They're doing the best they can to avoid being transparent."

The DCAC concept dates back at least four years. FBI director Robert Mueller was briefed on it in early 2008, internal FBI documents show. In January 2008, Charles Smith, a supervisory special agent and section chief in the FBI's Operational Technology Division, sent e-mail to other division officials asking for proposals for the DCAC's budget.

When it comes to developing new surveillance technologies, Quantico is the U.S. government's equivalent of a Silicon Valley incubator. In addition to housing the FBI's Operational Technological Division, which boasts of developing the "latest and greatest investigative technologies to catch terrorists and criminals" and took the lead in creating the DCAC, it's also home to the FBI's Engineering Research Facility, the DEA's Office of Investigative Technology, and the U.S. Marshals' Technical Operations Group. In 2008, reported that the FBI has "direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier's systems" through a high-speed DS-3 link to Quantico.

The Senate appropriations committee said in a report last month that, for electronic surveillance capabilities, it authorizes "$54,178,000, which is equal to both the request and the fiscal year 2012 enacted level. These funds will support the Domestic Communications Assistance Center, providing for increased coordination regarding lawful electronic surveillance amongst the law enforcement community and with the communications industry." (It's unclear whether all of those funds will go to the DCAC.)

In trying to convince Congress to spend taxpayers' dollars on the DCAC, the FBI has received help from local law enforcement agencies that like the idea of electronic surveillance aid. A Justice Department funding request for the 2013 fiscal year predicts DCAC will "facilitate the sharing of solutions and know-how among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies" and will be welcomed by telecommunications companies who "prefer to standardize and centralize electronic surveillance."

A 2010 resolution from the International Association of Chiefs of Police - a reliable FBI ally on these topics - requests that "Congress and the White House support the National Domestic Communications Assistance Center Business Plan."

The FBI has also had help from the Drug Enforcement Administration, which last year requested $1.5 million to fund eight additional DCAC positions. DEA administrator Michele Leonhart has said (PDF) the funds will go to "develop these new electronic surveillance capabilities." The DEA did not respond to CNET's request for comment.

An intriguing hint of where the DCAC might collaborate with the National Security Agency appeared in author James Bamford's article in the April issue of Wired magazine. Bamford said, citing an unidentified senior NSA official, that the agency has "made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems" - an obstacle that law enforcement has encountered in investigations.

Eventually, the FBI may be forced to lift the cloak of secrecy that has surrounded the DCAC's creation. On May 2, a House of Representatives committee directed the bureau to disclose "participation by other agencies and the accomplishments of the center to date" three months after the legislation is enacted. your social media marketing partner


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It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

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Founder, Reader Supported News

+52 # universlman 2012-05-30 15:15
The architecture reminds me of my impression of the Ministry of Love from George Orwell's novel "1984."
0 # NanFan 2012-05-31 12:14
Quoting universlman:
The architecture reminds me of my impression of the Ministry of Love from George Orwell's novel "1984."

I guess someone knows how to read; too bad they don't know how to care about the rights of people.


+61 # Michael_K 2012-05-30 16:33
The most dangerous thing that needs to be taken into account, is the abysmal ineptitude and horrific level of imbecility of the majority of the people employed by these alphabet soup agencies.

The frustration levels of these people, confronted with their lack of any meaningful success, generally leads them to be perfectly happy to manufacture cases against completely innocent people. Of course, that's only dangerous for us, innocent citizens, the terrorists will benefit greatly from all this.
+7 # fliteshare 2012-05-31 03:10
So, since the innocent are going to endure the brunt of punishment anyway. Would it be strategically more advantageous to join the guilty ?
+22 # John Locke 2012-05-31 08:33
I would say it would make more sense to take our government back, These systems are for domestic surveillance, they will be abused and we will be watched with out a court order...Give the FBI or any government agency an inch and they take the entire football field...when will we say we have had enough.
+52 # KrazyFromPolitics 2012-05-30 17:13
The very agencies that were ostensibly designed to protect us have now become agencies to fear, J Edgar Hoover's garbage, notwithstanding . "We become what we seek to control". We have degenerated into a perpetual state of self-made paranoia.
+19 # RMDC 2012-05-31 04:05
Krazy -- the FBI was never intended to protect people. It was created as a part of the secret service to infiltrate and disrupt labor unions, socialists, and anarchists who in the early 20th century were demanding such terrible things like an 8 hour work day, an end to child labor, fair wages, safety regulations, and so on.

The FBI's tactics then were illegal and often violent. The FBI took over what the Pinkertons did as a private army. The FBI was designed from the start as a political police, a GESTAPO designed to prevent citizens from organizing and exercising their legitimate rights and powers.

I would guess that most criminals now know that the internet cannot be used for communication. All you get on the internet is the expression of opinions -- perfectly legal and very important for a democracy. And you get the wide spread of information as a way of filling the vacuum left by the destruction of a free press. These are the things the FBI wants to control and shut down.

Someday the USG will push its fascism too far and the people will rebel -- not violently because the USG is so heavily armed and militarized that its violence would always overpower any rebellion. But people will just stop cooperating and create civil societies outside of government. This happens in many dictatorships. You can't oppose them so you live life outside of them. There's no connection between people and government.
+15 # Elusive Pimpernel 2012-05-31 08:20
..."Someday the USG will push its fascism too far"

The time for "too far" is not in the future...its HERE NOW! Don't people realize how its done? Incrementally!! If changes were made instantly, people would rebel for sure, but when its being done slowly and for our own good (national security), we just trust them that they are being honest. We are all asleep and unwilling to question new government laws which limit freedoms and encourage spying on us as well as illegal incarceration of citizens.

The time for the government to have pushed too far is already at hand NOW!
+5 # KrazyFromPolitics 2012-05-31 19:14
RMDC: I know. That's the reason I said "ostensibly". My intended sarcasm didn't come through. The alphabet police, spooks, et al are more frightening than any other domestic or foreign threat. Our creeping into fascism has had me concerned for years.
+52 # CandH 2012-05-30 18:18
First impression, where's the "checks and balances" to a "surveillance" program that is sharing this supposed "information" without court order, warrant, etc, with local, state, federal, DEA, whomever wants it, and with no one to check its content authenticity/ve rifiability? Since 911, the slow drip of information that our "law enforcement authorities" have chucked the Bill of Rights, and now has somehow determined it to be a null and void issue? WTF?
+14 # futhark 2012-05-30 23:43
Create the technology (Total Information Awareness) and they will use it, without regard to ethical or legal considerations.

Someone in Congress needs to get after these people and question them intensively on the hows and whys of this program and how it can be consistent with the Bill of Rights.
+13 # Elusive Pimpernel 2012-05-31 08:15
futhark........ ...hmmmmmmmm, I think congress is a puppet to the elite puppet-masters. Not only has our constitution been compromised, but there are few congressmen and women with any real conviction left to save the day. To many of them, this is just a job, and no longer the ideological path that their earlier revolutionary predecessors undertook. Our government is no longer "by the people" or for the people.

Soon as we realize that, its time to go out into the streets in large groups and take back our country.

The elitist have the government, the military and police, and the judicial courts in their pockets, we need some force on our side. Its time to convince the police and military that the country is being stolen from us and they need to join us in retaking it back.
+19 # redjelly39 2012-05-31 02:06
OK, This article is missing a huge piece of the puzzle. The largest Spy Center that is currently being built in Bluffdale, Utah is not even mentioned. This is where this new technology will be performed, stored, analyzed and all against We the People.
Bluffdale Spy Center -
We need to get up too speed quickly because the noose is tightening around our necks.
There is a powerful force of financial elite who are centralizing material wealth and power for their own benefit, while destroying the lives of billions of others. Their worldview is riddled with fear and ignorant of the abundance of nature and interconnectedn ess that is our essence.
Thrive - is a free online movie that explains why our Energy, Food, Health, Rights, Education & Financial system are controlled. You can follow the money to see how the same people are gaining financially in every sector of human life. You can also see how an agenda for global domination is being accomplished, and the kind of deceptive strategies and tactics that are being used to further our suppression.
+8 # Elusive Pimpernel 2012-05-31 08:10
Right on redjelly, glad to see another "believer" here.
+5 # neohip 2012-05-31 12:21
There are many who know it is NOW!
+10 # cordleycoit 2012-05-31 05:06
Isn't it standard operating procedure for police states to have secret weapons to use to control the populous. And isn't the industry supposed to cooperate with all government requests for the tools to oppress the people?
In recent history the Brits were unable to put down an uprising of may be a thousand Irish rebels except by creating a total surveillance system. Which could not control last year's uprising of disconnected youth.
North America being larger requires a larger brush eighty some fusion Centers with tens of thousands watchers and the drones to act quickly to eliminate dissenters. Along with a robust prison system, the camps are being staffed, pinch points established: is time to take the Red Pill and pull their plug?
+6 # CTPatriot 2012-05-31 05:25
Total Information Awareness reincarnated!
+15 # walt 2012-05-31 05:56
Every days seems to bring the USA more and more fascism.

This is shocking!
+22 # Elusive Pimpernel 2012-05-31 07:03
We first got Patriot Act, then National Defense Authorization Act, and now we find out the FBI has a secret organization forming to spy on Americans.

When I speak of slowly eroding freedoms in the US, of FEMA detention camps (over 600) being built all over the US, and of Patriot Act giving unlimited rights to a sitting president, and call this a "conspiracy" to subjugate Americans an not terrorists, I'm called a "conspiracy nut".

What size a 2x4 upside people's heads does it take to wake people up?? Even in these pages of Readers Supported News, there are many who gladly will click the THUMBS DOWN on comments by people who accuse the government of becoming a totalitarian state.

This FBI article is but of many other plans in the works to restrict our freedoms. Its ironic, supposed terrorists come from abroad to attack us, and our government sees fit to limit our freedoms and spy on us and then claim its for "national security".

Doesn't anyone see the slow incremental way with which they are moving to take our freedoms away??? Thats defined as a "conspiracy" and we need to address that before its too late.

People, share this article with your friends and family and help to wake them up from this plot to restrict our rights. We must wake people up to this fiendish government's slow reduction of our civil liberties.
+10 # futhark 2012-05-31 10:31
I proudly claim the title of "conspiracy hypothesizer". The ones who dismiss the possibility of conspiracies among the military, intelligence, and corporate elites out of hand are simply naive, to the point they could be called "nuts".

Elusive Pimpernel, you are absolutely correct in observing the inherent liberties we enjoy or are supposed to be enjoying, many of which are enumerated in the Bill of Rights, are continually being nibbled away, not by foreign conspirators, but by officials hired by our government ostensibly to protect our security and our freedoms.
+2 # neohip 2012-05-31 12:27
And we, us, must act now. Are we waiting for everyone to wake up? If we can see the threat isn't it even more our responsibility to act? What do we do? How do I connect with you and Pimpernel? Anyone is dismisses out of hand a conspiracy has become the duped of the Conspirators.
+8 # pernsey 2012-05-31 07:15
Big Brother is watching.
+2 # billintex 2012-05-31 07:55
Sounds like another effort to waste billions trying to reinvent the wheel. All this stuff is already available--all they have to do is to use a little brain power to make it fit together.
+12 # fishmother 2012-05-31 09:05
It's like Vietnam Redux with a giant leap forward in technology. Back then it was wire taps on thousands & thousands of phones belonging to people they thought were ant-war activists, with no discrimination between those who answered phones in an agency where we did draft counseling and bombers. Of course current technology makes anyone with an opinion a possible target of scrutiny. I wonder if it’s possible to keep “them” so busy 24/7 by using certain key words that we could really tie up their surveillance equipment. Sort of a cyber version of the day so many people called the Stock Exchange that their lines were jammed and they could not carry on business as usual.
+12 # jwb110 2012-05-31 10:12
When I went to the Soviet Union in 1981 every citizen of that country knew that their phones, every phone, was tapped 24-seven. It was an open secret and so people behaved accordingly.
Eventually, America the new Soviet Union, will be in the same position. The open secret will cause all citizens to behave differently something that enforces the "them and us" way of doing things.
Shame, shame, shame.
+5 # socrates2 2012-05-31 12:27
Oh, come on. The father of public relations, Edward Bernays, told us back in 1928 that our betters _managed_ the republic in order to avoid a cacophony of voices and confusion if true democracy were implemented. By "guiding" mainstream, majoritarian "thought" much deviancy could be controlled, with the addition of the ultimate political weapon (because it confers "legitimacy" on all governmental actions), "the rule of law" and prisons.
The internet/www almost destroyed that elitist dream. However, our betters do not give up that easily. Like Star Trek's "Borg" (B.ig Org.anization?) , they have adapted. This technological method is but one more tool used to quash our Jeffersonian freedoms. But resistance is never futile...
Moving on.
+2 # noitall 2012-05-31 18:13
Like the atomic bomb and the contents of Pandora's box, once released, this technology is with us for ever and like the A-bomb, we paid for it. It will kill any free communication of any kind. You'll have to stand with the cows in a pasture to have a private conversation but then after Reagan's "star wars", that too is probably sewed up. (ever wonder where that star wars money really went? moon base for those "worthy to live"?) Its either live with the fact that we're fucked or do something about it. What do you say, vote Democrat? Rings shallow doesn't it?!

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