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Report: NSA creating spy system to monitor domestic infrastructure

By Daniel Tencer
Wednesday, July 7, 2010 21:07 EDT
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Internal Raytheon email calls system ‘Big Brother’

The National Security Agency has begun work on an “expansive” spy system that will monitor critical infrastructure inside the United States for cyber-attacks, in a move that detractors say could end up violating privacy rights and expanding the NSA’s domestic spying abilities.

The Wall Street Journal cites unnamed sources as saying that the NSA has issued a $100-million contract to defense contractor Raytheon to build a system dubbed “Perfect Citizen,” which will involve placing “sensors” at critical points in the computer networks of private and public organizations that run infrastructure, organizations such as nuclear power plants and electric grid operators.

In an email obtained by the Journal, an unnamed Raytheon employee describes the system as “Big Brother.”

“The overall purpose of the [program] is our Government…feel[s] that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure Infrastructure critical to our National Security,” the email states. “Perfect Citizen is Big Brother.”

“Raytheon declined to comment on this email,” the Journal reports.

Some officials familiar with Perfect Citizen see it “as an intrusion by the NSA into domestic affairs, while others say it is an important program to combat an emerging security threat that only the NSA is equipped to provide,” the Journal states.

The program is reportedly being funded under the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, a program launched by the Bush administration in January, 2008, and continued under the Obama administration. The initiative is budgeted to cost $40 billion over several years.

ANOTHER WAR WITHOUT DEFINITION?

News of the spy system comes in the wake of months of news reports and government statements on the the threat of cyber-attacks. Last year, the US pointed the finger of blame at North Korea for a “widespread” attack on US and South Korean government computers. Earlier this year, a coordinated attack on Google servers was identified as originating from China.

But many observers say the threat of cyberwar is exaggerated, and they suggest that profit may be a motive behind efforts to build cyber-defense systems.

“It’s about who is in charge of cyber security, and how much control the government will exert over civilian networks,” writes security technology expert Bruce Schneier at the CNN Web site. “And by beating the drums of war, the military is coming out on top.”

Schneier sees danger in the media “mislabeling” activities like computer hacking and “cyber-activism” as “cyberwar.”

“One problem is that there’s no clear definition of ‘cyberwar.’ What does it look like? How does it start? When is it over? Even cybersecurity experts don’t know the answers to these questions, and it’s dangerous to broadly apply the term ‘war’ unless we know a war is going on.”

MONEY TO BE MADE

In a report published last month, Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post described cyber-security as “Washington’s growth industry of choice,” and companies in the business are “in line for a multibillion-dollar injection of federal research dollars.”

Kang reported:

Delivering the keynote address at a recent cybersecurity summit sponsored by Defense Daily, Dawn Meyerriecks, deputy director of national intelligence for acquisition and technology, said that along with the White House Office of Science and Technology, her office is going to sponsor major research “where the government’s about to spend multiple billions of dollars.”

Tom Burghardt at Pacific Free Press notes that the conference at which Meyerricks spoke was sponsored, among other firms, by Raytheon.

 
 
 
 
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