The Roots of the Problem. Francis Jeffrey on Internet development, DARPA, the early NSA and what happened next

by poppsikle


How it all began. Government Contractors & Bureaucracy

The government buys lots of goods & services (“contractors”) who push whatever they have to offer.  The government also promotes and nourishes certain developments (for example, DARPA & university research grants). The bureaucracy (for example, Pentagon) is full of people with certain career specialties, and assigned certain tasks.

Who is guarding the People?

Congress is elected largely using money from contractors who supply goods and services to the government. So not only are the wolves guarding the chickens, but also the eggs. (and no one knows which actually came first!)


Remember when I worked for DARPA in the 1970s, we were developing the Internet (then called DARPA-NET & NSF-NET) because it was thought to be a communication method that (a) would survive a war [the parallel “.mil” side of it], and (b) accelerate the pace of collaboration among government, university & industry. I don’t really know whether anyone at that point was contemplating its potential for “data mining”, or even the prospect that it would become a public communication and mass-media system.

The Early NSA

What NSA was thinking in those days is largely documented in a book, “The Puzzle Palace,” which they tried to suppress AFTER it was published. SIGINT in those days seemed to be mostly about interpreting messages picked-out from telephone and radio signals. This required lots of translators (human) and s/w that scanned signals for “key words”. They had “listening posts” all over the world, but the domestic nexus seemed to be “telephone exchanges”, which in the 1960s & 70s were being computerized (UNIX operating system, developed by AT&T Bell Labs).

9/11-fueled Acceleration

The NSA was focused on ther SIGINT contribution to (real) military intelligence and counter-intel, with the identified threats being the USSR, etc. While there were some low-key “NSA snooping scandals” in the 1970 & 80s, i think they really got messed up in the 2nd Bush administration, and the way it played the “9/11” catastrophe to its own advantage. Suddenly there was a permanent enemy and a permanent state of war — just as George Orwell envisioned.  So the Constitution was abandoned, and money flowed to anyone who was well-connected and seemed to offer a piece of the technology puzzle.

Change that needs to happen

We’d like all this current commotion to result in restoring the Constitution, reinforcing private ownership of our own data and bio-data, and a national SIGINT system that is focused, effective and efficient for its primary and stated purpose (i.e., REAL mil. intel & counter-spy ops). I would be for certain additional functions that are carefully and narrowly defined, only:  AGAINST human trafficking, abduction, torture, murder-for-hire and large-scale international organized crime that corrupts governments or traffics in (specifically) nuclear, biological or nanotech weapons.

– Francis Jeffrey

See also: Lets Solve the Problem of Restoring Internet Privacy! Francis Jeffrey on How to do it