Trevor Timm of the Electronic Freedom Frontier dug up a very interesting nugget. It was embedded in the heralded December 2013 White House task force report on spying and snooping.
Under Recommendations, #31, section 2, he found this:
“Governments should not use their offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts or otherwise manipulate financial systems.”
Timm quite rightly wondered: why were these warnings in the report?
Were the authors just anticipating a possible crime? Or were they reflecting the fact that the NSA had already been engaging in the crime?
If this was just a bit of anticipation, why leave it naked in the report? Why not say there was no current evidence the NSA had been manipulating financial systems?
Those systems would, of course, include the stock market, and all trading markets around the world.
Well, there is definite evidence of other NSA financial snooping. From Spiegel Online,“‘Follow the Money’: NSA Spies on International Payments,” 9/15/13:
“The National Security Agency (NSA) widely monitors international payments, banking and credit card transactions, according to documents seen by SPIEGEL.”
“The NSA’s Tracfin data bank also contained data from the Brussels-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a network used by thousands of banks to send transaction information securely…the NSA spied on the organization on several levels, involving, among others, the [NSA] agency’s ‘tailored access operations’ division…”
The NSA’s “tailored access operations” division uses roughly 1000 hackers and analysts in its spying efforts.
The next step in all this spying would naturally involve penetrating trading markets and, using the deep data obtained, manipulate the markets to the advantage of the NSA and preferred clients.
The amount of money siphoned off in such an ongoing operation would be enormous.
“Looking over the shoulder” of Wall St. insiders would be child’s play for NSA.
Ditto for predicting political events that would temporarily drive markets down and provide golden opportunities for highly profitable short selling.
Like drug traffickers and other mobsters, the NSA could invest their ill-gotten gains in legitimate enterprises and reap additional rewards.
And if the Pentagon, under which the NSA is organized, requires heavy amounts of money for off-the-books black budget ops, what better place to go than their own NSA?
All in all, when you operate the biggest spying and data-gathering operation in the world, the opportunities abound. Yes, knowledge is power, when the distinctions between legal and illegal are brushed off like a few gnats on a summer day.
The Surveillance State has created an apparatus whose implications are staggering. It’s a different world now. And sometimes it takes a writer of fiction to flesh out the larger landscape.
Brad Thor’s novel, Black List, posits the existence of a monster corporation, ATS, which stands alongside the NSA in collecting information on every move we make. ATS’ intelligence-gathering capability is unmatched anywhere in the world.
On pages 117-118 of Black List, Thor makes a stunning inference that, on reflection, is as obvious as the fingers on your hand:
“For years ATS had been using its technological superiority to conduct massive insider trading. Since the early 1980s, the company had spied on anyone and everyone in the financial world. They listened in on phone calls, intercepted faxes, and evolved right along with the technology, hacking internal computer networks and e-mail accounts. They created mountains of ‘black dollars’ for themselves, which they washed through various programs they were running under secret contract, far from the prying eyes of financial regulators.
“Those black dollars were invested into hard assets around the world, as well as in the stock market, through sham, offshore corporations. They also funneled the money into reams of promising R&D projects, which eventually would be turned around and sold to the Pentagon or the CIA.
“In short, ATS had created its own license to print money and had assured itself a place beyond examination or reproach.”
In real life, with the NSA heading up the show, the outcome would be the same.
It would be as Thor describes it.
We think about total surveillance as being directed at private citizens, but the capability has unlimited payoffs when it targets financial markets and the people who have intimate knowledge of them.