According to new emails released by an anonymous source and contributor at Al Jazeera, Google and the NSA had been setting up secret meetings at protected sites just off the airport almost a year before Snowden was even a blip on anybody’s radar.
Apparently the topic of the meeting was the NSA asking for Google’s help in cracking a set of specific problems which had started to set their surveillance efforts back on the Android mobile OS.
“About six months ago, we began focusing on the security of mobility devices,” General Keith Alexander wrote in response to allegations of the correspondence between himself and the CEOS of Google Sergey Brin and Larry Page. “A group (primarily Google, Apple and Microsoft) recently came to agreement on a set of core security principles. When we reach this point in our projects we schedule a classified briefing for the CEOs of key companies to provide them a brief on the specific threats we believe can be mitigated and to seek their commitment for their organization to move ahead … Google’s participation in refinement, engineering and deployment of the solutions will be essential.”
Of course, it’s not exactly news that the two agencies had worked with each other on somewhat amicable terms while PRISM was in full swing. Google engineers were recorded openly cursing the NSA out after the undersea cable taps were revealed, and since then it’s been made abundantly clear that the NSA has overstepped many of the bounds and agreements which were signed while Google was helping the government more under pressure of gag orders than anything else.
Brin told Alexander he would be “out of town” that weekend, but was cordial in showing his appreciation for the invite.
“General Keith.. so great to see you.. !” Schmidt wrote. “I’m unlikely to be in California that week so I’m sorry I can’t attend (will be on the east coast). Would love to see you another time. Thank you!”
Large private companies have meetings with high ranking US and EU officials all the time on matters of national security. More often than not it’s when the military industrial complex sees a private entity doing something better than it knows how to, and wants to get their hands on some new technology in the pursuit of better protecting citizens from foreign threats.
From what we’ve read so far, it seems the spin on this particular case is actually positive if you look at it from the right angle. The NSA wasn’t attempting to cut some secretive backroom under-the-table type of deal with Google, but rather to get their advice on a subject the company knows probably better than anyone else (except perhaps Facebook).
The NSA was actively seeking out help from the tech community on a way to provide security without stepping over the bounds of privacy instilled by the fourth amendment of the Constitution of the United States. While it’s not exactly enough to make up for all the horrible atrocities Alexander and his agents have committed over the rein of his tenure at the head, it at least shows us that someone there was thinking about the limits of what privacy means in the 21st century, and how you can provide the service of protecting people’s cell phones and the dams that generate the electricity they charge them with, without completely overstepping your bounds as a civil office in the process.
From the tone over the, you might confuse anger over a few of the things the NSA has done with a total disregard for the benefit they do provide citizens of the United States at some basic level. With vital pieces of SCADA architecture (supposedly vulnerable to bugs as simple and widespread as Heartbleed, I have no doubt there are thousands of people who show up to work at the agency every day and have no moral qualms at night about the purpose they serve in the interest of national security.
Because as much as it might be difficult to admit, he fact of the matter is that yes, China does have massive privately funded groups of hackers assembled from top colleges in the nation, just like us. Yes, they are launching cyberattacks against American companies for the purpose of industrial and economic espionage, and in a certain capacity it is absolutely the tax-funded responsibility of the government to protect the people who live and register as voters within their own borders. It’s in a very real situation like this that the NSA shows its true worth, and I can understand the administration’s decisions to back those types of efforts up with a couple billion out of the budget each year.
No matter what the eventual takeaway from this newest revelation will be, it’s clear that these types of meetings can easily be misconstrued as malicious when taken out of context from a distance.