NSA collecting porn activity to discredit “radicalizers”

posted at 9:01 am on November 27, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Does the latest NSA revelation show the agency creating newer and more humane efforts to defuse potential terrorist situations through discrediting their leaders — or a dangerous new direction for government snooping? Perhaps this might be a little bit of both.  The NSA collected data on six potential targets about their online porn habits as a way to undermine their credibility, according to a new document leaked from the Edward Snowden cache. But were these efforts limited to legitimate counter-terrorism targets?

The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a top-secret NSA document. The document, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, identifies six targets, all Muslims, as “exemplars” of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target’s credibility, reputation and authority.

The NSA document, dated Oct. 3, 2012, repeatedly refers to the power of charges of hypocrisy to undermine such a messenger. “A previous SIGINT” — or signals intelligence, the interception of communications — “assessment report on radicalization indicated that radicalizers appear to be particularly vulnerable in the area of authority when their private and public behaviors are not consistent,” the document argues.

Among the vulnerabilities listed by the NSA that can be effectively exploited are “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls.”

Actually, a better question might be if any of them are legitimate counter-terrorism targets.  The NSA admits that none of them are accused — so far — of terrorist activities, and that at least one of them qualifies as a “US person.” That status requires a much higher degree of scrutiny for surveillance, but no explanation appears in the story to say whether NSA provided that or not.

One former NSA official defended the program by pointing out that discrediting terrorist leaders by exposing (so to speak) their hypocrisy is a lot cleaner than drone-bombing them:

Stewart Baker, a one-time general counsel for the NSA and a top Homeland Security official in the Bush administration, said that the idea of using potentially embarrassing information to undermine targets is a sound one. “If people are engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans and we can discredit them, we ought to,” said Baker. “On the whole, it’s fairer and maybe more humane” than bombing a target, he said, describing the tactic as “dropping the truth on them.” …

According to the document, the NSA believes that exploiting electronic surveillance to publicly reveal online sexual activities can make it harder for these “radicalizers” to maintain their credibility. “Focusing on access reveals potential vulnerabilities that could be even more effectively exploited when used in combination with vulnerabilities of character or credibility, or both, of the message in order to shape the perception of the messenger as well as that of his followers,” the document argues.

Well, that’s possibly true, but it seems largely theoretical.  That argument ignores the fact that American intelligence is probably not going to carry a lot of weight with these targets’ audiences, even if the data showed the men patronizing JDate.com or something. Radicals would claim that the US falsified the data, and while it might put a few lingering doubts in the minds of some, most will just end up scoffing.

Besides, the NSA isn’t exactly hitting pay dirt here:

One target’s offending argument is that “Non-Muslims are a threat to Islam,” and a vulnerability listed against him is “online promiscuity.” Another target, a foreign citizen the NSA describes as a “respected academic,” holds the offending view that “offensive jihad is justified,” and his vulnerabilities are listed as “online promiscuity” and “publishes articles without checking facts.” A third targeted radical is described as a “well-known media celebrity” based in the Middle East who argues that “the U.S perpetrated the 9/11 attack.” Under vulnerabilities, he is said to lead “a glamorous lifestyle.” A fourth target, who argues that “the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks on itself” is said to be vulnerable to accusations of “deceitful use of funds.” The document expresses the hope that revealing damaging information about the individuals could undermine their perceived “devotion to the jihadist cause.”

Oh, my! A celebrity lives a glamorous lifestyle!  An academic publishes articles without checking facts! So … he’s basically the New York Times. I kid, I kid ….

The issue here isn’t so much that the NSA tracks the online activities of foreign radicals suspected of involvement in terrorism, although perhaps it should be that they have so little to show for it.  The issue is that the mechanisms in the hands of the NSA could easily be turned against other “US persons” for the exact same purpose the NSA expresses in their document but aimed at political activists here at home.  I’m not saying that either the Bush or Obama administrations have done or do this — but the possibility exists, and with the NSA’s trawling of domestic communications, it’s possible for those inside the intel community to go rogue and do this on their own, too.

Update: My friend Olivier Knox wonders in jest if the “program” wasn’t a backfill for internal activity:

You’ve just made the list, pal. Your frequent visits to the Hello Kitty gift shop will be noted.


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Petraeus.

DDay on November 27, 2013 at 1:53 PM

Yeah, that too. And there was Harry Reid’s accusations about Romney’s taxes during the election, and then after the election we found out the IRS was oppressing tea party organizations and preventing them from organizing and participating in the ’12 election, and also I believe it’s been established that tax information was improperly shared at least with regard to the tea party. And one or more of the IRS higher-ups were making frequent visits to the WH, so who knows how many of those visits discussed Romney’s taxes as well as the tea party and other political opponents.

And while such concerns may have once seemed far fetched, in light of Snowden’s revelations about the fascist survailance state that totalitarians of the past could only have dreamed of, and the IRS scandal, and the Obamacare lies and payoffs, and the Senate waging the nuclear option against the filibuster… and rule by executive fiat…. we’re essentially already a form of banana republic and the federal government doesn’t have any credibility left.

FloatingRock on November 27, 2013 at 2:20 PM

astonerii on November 27, 2013 at 1:59 PM

All valid points.

DDay on November 27, 2013 at 2:25 PM

It sounds like an unworkable tactic because as soon as you announce it, there is the assumption that the NSA has put the stuff on the guy’s computer. You’d never convince anyone that they don’t have the technology for that.

Buddahpundit on November 27, 2013 at 1:16 PM

.
Wow, I hadn’t considered that possibility . . . . . that puts this story in a whole new light.

listens2glenn on November 27, 2013 at 2:36 PM

The issue is that the mechanisms in the hands of the NSA could easily be turned against other “US persons” for the exact same purpose the NSA expresses in their document but aimed at political activists here at home.

I haven’t heard any explanation up till now about how they could possibly not gather information on people other than the intended target.

Axe on November 27, 2013 at 9:53 AM

You’ll just have to trust them on that :)… Unless you have trust issues :)…

jimver on November 27, 2013 at 2:39 PM

Geheime Staatspolizei.

Pure and simple.

It has begun.

a5minmajor on November 27, 2013 at 2:51 PM

astonerii on November 27, 2013 at 1:47 PM

What a retard…

unclesmrgol on November 27, 2013 at 3:05 PM

unclesmrgol on November 27, 2013 at 3:05 PM

Over an hour of research and after finding out everything I said was right you chose to come back with that?
Yes, you are a retard.
You should just stay quiet, it keeps people from knowing for a fact how smart you are not.

astonerii on November 27, 2013 at 3:13 PM

For years people like Ron Paul told us to stop meddling in the middle east because we’re going to motivate terrorist attacks against us. He also warned that those very attacks, motivated by our government, would then be used as a pretext to destroy our individual liberty and wealth here at home. He was right, and many of you were wrong. Now learn to enjoy the results of your actions.

fatlibertarianinokc on November 27, 2013 at 5:09 PM

Wow, I hadn’t considered that possibility . . . . . that puts this story in a whole new light.

listens2glenn on November 27, 2013 at 2:36 PM

I guess it means that if there is no way for NSA to publicly reveal anything like this, I mean, they can’t announce ‘hey, look what we got on akmad!’, then it’s probably fake and people with such worries that it could be happening see a way to discredit future revelations about themselves. Snowden would go along with it. Unless NSA has a way of revealing it without having their fingerprints on it.

Buddahpundit on November 27, 2013 at 5:10 PM

unclesmrgol on November 27, 2013 at 3:05 PM

Over an hour of research and after finding out everything I said was right you chose to come back with that?
Yes, you are a retard.
You should just stay quiet, it keeps people from knowing for a fact how smart you are not.

astonerii on November 27, 2013 at 3:13 PM

socalcon on November 27, 2013 at 5:13 PM

unclesmrgol on November 27, 2013 at 3:05 PM

Over an hour of research and after finding out everything I said was right you chose to come back with that?
Yes, you are a retard.
You should just stay quiet, it keeps people from knowing for a fact how smart you are not.

astonerii on November 27, 2013 at 3:13 PM

Sorry all for the premature post (I must be the retard!)

I guess the assumption is that all HA posters wait on the edge of their seats throughout the day to address astonerii at the earliest opportunity.

BTW, sorry I’m late in posting this…

socalcon on November 27, 2013 at 5:22 PM

NSA collecting porn activity

Is this the kind of information the NSA handed over to Obama to blackmail Chief Justice Roberts into finding Obamacare constitutional?

Something turned Roberts on a dime, he was siding with the conservatives on the bench to strike Obamacare down — then suddenly for no apparent reason, just a couple of weeks before the Obamacare decision was announced, he radically changed direction.

Hmm… I sure wonder why.

Axion on November 27, 2013 at 5:24 PM

Others have mentioned Petraeus and what happened to him. Yes, that is another example of this kind of abuse of power.

Axion on November 27, 2013 at 5:25 PM

John Roberts. Is he into child porn or just hard core porn. Maybe his credit card statements show a lot of charges at candy stores buying candy little girls favor? Or is it little boys? Or maybe his cell phone has been tracked to DC whore houses? My guess is that he’s into pedophilia. Any other sexual deviancy would only make him a role model for liberals. Only the shadow, aka NSA, knows and so does Obama.

You can run, but you can’t hide from NSA.

they lie on November 27, 2013 at 5:51 PM

If the NSA wants to “get” someone, they will get them. In this day and age you can pretty much pin almost anything on any person who uses the internet whether they did it or not.

Johnnyreb on November 27, 2013 at 9:17 AM

Agreed.

Any govt employee can and many have manufactured *issues* that they then use to *prove* an individual’s disqualifications from (whatever, whichever).

Have seen this happen many times, especially if there are complaints raised about a particular state or federal agency. They find a way to, “aHA, look what we found, this PROVES you are… so now, you’re no longer qualified to…”

When they start looking for “violations” to the point that they’re going to manufacture them like spontaneous combustion, look out.

Not talking here about NSA who I guess could pretty well destroy any individual’s credibility using similar methods — the problem is that govt CAN do this. And has. And is in some cases.

Lourdes on November 27, 2013 at 6:05 PM

John Roberts. Is he into child porn or just hard core porn. Maybe his credit card statements show a lot of charges at candy stores buying candy little girls favor? Or is it little boys? Or maybe his cell phone has been tracked to DC whore houses? My guess is that he’s into pedophilia. Any other sexual deviancy would only make him a role model for liberals. Only the shadow, aka NSA, knows and so does Obama.

You can run, but you can’t hide from NSA.

they lie on November 27, 2013 at 5:51 PM

I strongly doubt John Roberts has such involvements but his problem as to security seems to be that he adopted foreign-born children through foreign agencies, and not necessarily legitimately. It’s been suggested this is the wrongdoing in his life that’s been used to coerce his “favorable” SC ruling for Obama that drove the rest of the Justices nuts academically.

Lourdes on November 27, 2013 at 6:07 PM

The idea of shaming terrorist leaders out of attacks is absurd. You really think that somebody willing to strap on a suicide bomb for Allah is going to care about the online habits of their leader?…

Happy Nomad on November 27, 2013 at 9:21 AM

DITTO.

Fact that we have such irregular immigration scrutiny on so many people from wherever…

It sounds more like the NSA is using this method (the post’s issue reported) to discredit political offenders, depending on the politics involved and being waged by those setting the politics than it is using the method for national security methods. If the govt really, truly wanted national security, they’d deport illegal aliens, be firm with immigration law requirements and not hesitate to boot anyone who doesn’t measure up.

Lourdes on November 27, 2013 at 6:12 PM

“using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls.”

How exactly is this going to “discredit” a radicalized devotee of a religion that worships a man who routinely raped a nine-year-old girl?

Fabozz on November 27, 2013 at 9:29 AM

DITTO.

And Muslims are told that it’s ok to sechually agress, so to speak, upon any child who “can bear the man’s weight”.

It’s a perverse culture integrated with child sechual abuse and child abuse in general accordingly. The 9/11 terr-ists indulged in a lude exploration of Las Vegas prior to their damnable deeds and I venture to guess it wasn’t their first “outing”.

Lourdes on November 27, 2013 at 6:15 PM

We still haven’t had a reasonable explanation why Harry Reid supposedly had such detailed information about Mitt Romney’s tax returns.

Happy Nomad on November 27, 2013 at 9:37 AM

In the Harry-Reid-Obama-Pelosi-DNC environment among federal workers, I AM SURE there wasn’t too big a hurdle raised by the IRS to, oh, just happening to have ready copies “per the request.”

I doubt much today isn’t abused by the Left as to documentation about anyone when and if it assists the Left’s wants.

Lourdes on November 27, 2013 at 6:20 PM

I’m just surprised that they were targeting “radicalizers” in the muslim faith. I for sure figured that King Barky the Liar would be targeting his real enemies (& not the country’s) conservative leaders.

I bet he is and using the muzzies as a smokescreen.

jukin3 on November 27, 2013 at 1:07 PM

DITTO.

DITTO.+

Lourdes on November 27, 2013 at 6:56 PM

NSA collecting porn activity to discredit “radicalizers”

…so it is all concentrated in the Government Halls…in Washington DC then?

KOOLAID2 on November 27, 2013 at 7:27 PM

APACHEWHOKNOWS on November 27, 2013 at 9:47 AM

Good point chief, but if the NSA guys realize there’s room for them under the bus, they may send TOTUS on a Texas convertible ride.

Oh well, I guess that’s kind of the same point, in a way.

S. D. on November 27, 2013 at 7:31 PM

Of course we should all find out what the actual amount of porn collected by the NSA actually is, as well. I mean they promiscuously collect reams of data sucked up from foreign data streams, and those in the US, and store the stuff which means they must have the largest single porn collection on the planet.

Gotta wonder how much is used internally for ‘other than surveillance review’.

And just how many ‘targets’ have been taken down by this sort of information, anyways? As far as I can tell your standard jihadi wouldn’t be embarrassed by this sort of thing all that much… look what they do to people in reality when they come to town: terrorize the townspeople, kidnap daughters of prominent families and then force marry them. Those that are infiltrating the West are SUPPOSED to fit in and seem like everyone else, as the 9/11 group demonstrated by doing all sorts of non-Islamic and forbidden activities just to ‘blend in’ so they wouldn’t be noticed. Worked, too.

Now if they were taking down international white slavery rings, you know the sex-slave trade, then they might be on to something. But collecting information and not using it effectively against our enemies? And then doing the same sort of collection on American Citizens?

The NSA is in a glass house and is getting a nice set of stones to throw.

It needs to go.

Obviously they feel no compunction about respecting civil rights of citizens. And ineffectively collecting information that might, in theory, prove useful against some antagonist of the Nation but not actually, you know, using it?

They can’t do the job given to them.

They are doing a job they aren’t given or allowed to do.

The culture is corrupt and trying to ‘reform’ it and keeping the ‘experts’ who are part of a corrupt culture just won’t work. Time for it to go. If this work needs to be done then it needs to be done by soldiers in the military given explicit instructions on what to collect and not to collect. And a court martial on such offenses should be mandatory, summary and severe.

ajacksonian on November 27, 2013 at 8:06 PM

Legitimate attempt to go after the people who are the root cause of terrorism.
Response?
“OMG the NSA is going to go after our porn habits to control us!!!!!!!!”

Count to 10 on November 27, 2013 at 9:23 PM

The trouble is that the politically correct are likely to define “tea baggers” as a root cause of terrorism.

And, since George W. Bush, they have consistently refused to identify Islam as a root cause of terrorism.

David Blue on November 27, 2013 at 10:49 PM

So I guess the studded leather, chains, piercings and “Discipline Me Buzzy” tattoos under the robes is how they cowed Benedict Roberts?

viking01 on November 27, 2013 at 11:06 PM

Legitimate attempt to go after the people who are the root cause of terrorism. Count to 10 on November 27, 2013 at 9:23 PM

Ummm…well…I guess you and I would have to disagree that ‘embarrassing someone about their internet porn proclivity’ is an effective means of securing this country against Islamic terrorists bent on killing Americans. Because…that’s bringing a pillow to a gunfight.

This is absolutely nothing more than the NSA trying to ‘hide in plain sight’. Because now they can point back to this story when they *DO* ‘out’ someone’s internet traffic and say, “Well, sure. We found Republican Senator Dingbat’s internet traffic…but ..it was because we were looking for terrorists. We told you all about this stuff, remember? It’s all out there, and we told you about it. So…don’t mind us logging your keystrokes…we’re looking for terrorists”.

a5minmajor on November 27, 2013 at 11:19 PM

Legitimate attempt to go after the people who are the root cause of terrorism.
Response?

Count to 10 on November 27, 2013 at 9:23 PM

Any particular reason why we would have to monitor their web traffic to claim that the terrorists were surfing porn? They’re going to ask us for our logs? We would send them?

Ronnie on November 28, 2013 at 12:12 AM

Does the NSA have jurisdiction to go after that widow of the Nigerian banker? I’ve waited and waited for my $2 million, and am getting nowhere.

socalcon on November 28, 2013 at 9:46 AM

Good.

rlwo2008 on November 28, 2013 at 10:43 AM

So they’ve now J Edgar Hooverized the NSA?

So the pro-porn God-booing left is tsk,tsk-ing the very evil which they push on society as a good?

Don L on November 28, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Until this government finally defines the very word terrorist legally (that limits the governments proven partisan political activity) then anything it does must be held suspect in lieu of it’s secret surveillance upon citizens.

Don L on November 28, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Legitimate attempt to go after the people who are the root cause of terrorism.
Response?
“OMG the NSA is going to go after our porn habits to control us!!!!!!!!”

Count to 10 on November 27, 2013 at 9:23 PM

Nope. Not to control us, but to thwart our representative government through blackmailing of select person in positions of power. Such as Petraeus and Roberts and likely many many others.
I am sure it is not a program to do this, they just put the pieces together to allow corruption to work its magic and the results to end up in the hands of their political allies.

I am not concerned with them threatening me with anything in order to control me. I am concerned about them doing it with public officials and conservative spokespersons.

astonerii on November 28, 2013 at 6:28 PM

So I guess the studded leather, chains, piercings and “Discipline Me Buzzy” tattoos under the robes is how they cowed Benedict Roberts?

viking01 on November 27, 2013 at 11:06 PM

Child trafficking is Roberts big sin. Someone needs to open those adoption records and get the guy impeached for not being willing to follow the law. A man who works to thwart the law should not be intrusted to intemperate the law.
I am sure Obama has unsealed those records silently and behind the scenes and let Mr. Roberts know that his job is at stake.

astonerii on November 28, 2013 at 6:32 PM

If there is anyone out there who really believe that this administration would not try to use NSA snooping data against political opponents I would really like to hear what your basis for that belief is.

Nomas on November 28, 2013 at 9:27 PM

This feels more and more like a police state every day. Shameful and frightening, but true.

rplat on November 29, 2013 at 6:39 AM

Of course in the Obama administration, all Republicans are “radicalizers.”

Axion on November 29, 2013 at 3:09 PM

You have to wonder if internet activity could help get a positive outcome on a 5-4 Supreme Court decision…….

JeffinOrlando on November 29, 2013 at 3:37 PM

Our government has become our enemy.

Obama is an enemy of the state, a Muslim sympathizer and ally, a liar, deceiver, and would-be ruler rather than President. Almost half of our citizens have sold their soul, their neighbors freedom, & this nation for the willingness to live on their knees on the hand-outs of those who demand we kneel in obedience rather than on our feet as free citizens.

To Obama supporters/sheep…had ‘Obamacare’ been a Bush program…had it been this damaging to America & the opening of the web site flopped so horrifically under Bush…would you still be fighting for it…or would you be demanding an end to it along with his Impeachment?

Had Bush helped All Qaieda take over Libya so soon after/11…helped the Brotherhood take over Egypt…targeted YOU with the IRS…spied on YOU with the NSA…would you be kissing Bush’s backside & defending HIM like you are with Obama?!

Does the guy destroying America being BLACK make it OK? According to most Obama supporters, the ONLY reason anyone has anything negative to say about him is because he is associated with a color. The only thing in regards to Obama I associate with the color ‘black’ is his heart & his motives. The only colors that matter to me are RED, WHITE, & BLUE!

easyt65 on December 1, 2013 at 10:09 PM

“assessment report on radicalization indicated that radicalizers appear to be particularly vulnerable in the area of authority when their private and public behaviors are not consistent,” the document argues.

Translated from cubicle-speak: the bad guys are hypocrites.

Didn’t we know this all along, especially where the 9/11 hijackers were concerned.

jangle12 on December 2, 2013 at 12:41 PM

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