Author Topic: WASHINGTON POST: The real story behind Carly Fiorina’s NSA story  (Read 2172 times)

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The real story behind Carly Fiorina’s NSA story

By Philip Bump December 16

Carly Fiorina speaks with the media following the Republican Presidential Debate. (AFP PHOTO / L.E. BASKOWL.E. BASKOW/AFP/Getty Images)

During Tuesday night's Republican debate, Carly Fiorina argued that the private sector would assist the government if it were only asked. To prove the point, she described an incident involving the National Security Agency when she was the chief executive of HP in 2001.

"Let me tell you a story," she began:

Soon after 9/11, I got a phone call from the NSA. They needed help. I gave them help. I stopped a truckload of equipment. I had it turned around. It was escorted by the NSA into headquarters. We need the private sector's help, because government is not innovating. Technology is running ahead by leaps and bounds. The private sector will help, just as I helped after 9/11. But they must be engaged, and they must be asked. I will ask them. I know them.

This story first emerged during an interview with Yahoo News in September. From that and additional reporting, particularly by Vice, we get a fuller picture of what happened.
The NSA had been given new authority by President Bush in October of 2001 to collect metadata on phone calls and emails -- the precursor to the data collection that has been a key target of privacy advocates following the leaks by Edward Snowden. In order to gather and process all of the information it would collect in the operation, code-named STELLARWIND, the agency needed more processing power. So, as documents leaked by Snowden revealed, they reached out to a computer vendor to provide them.

Vice's Lorenzo Franceschi-Bichhhierai confirmed with then-NSA head Michael Hayden that Hayden had contacted Fiorina and made the request. "We just wanted the equipment, alright? We just wanted to get their products, and we couldn’t wait for the normal purchasing agreement to go through,” Hayden told Franceschi-Bichhhierai. "We paid for them. We did all the paperwork, but I needed them right away."
At this point, Fiorina's debate argument takes a bit of a hit.

One of the revelations that emerged following Snowden's leaks was that most requests from government security agencies did not involve expedited ordering procedures. If the government asks a company to send 50 products to them instead of to a warehouse -- and that it will pay -- it's easy for a company to acquiesce. What Snowden revealed, though, is that the government also asked companies to provide access to customer information and, in some cases, access to encrypted data.

That's a much different ask.
When Yahoo was told that it must turn over user data to the government following a change in federal law in 2007, it refused to do so, eventually suing to prevent the access in the government's top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Until it did provide access, the government threatened to sue the company $250,000 per day.

Other technology companies were indeed acquiescent, though it's not clear how willing they were in doing so. One slide leaked by Snowden shows data collection dates for a number of companies stretching over nearly six years.


In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., a new focus has been placed on encryption, which protects information as it travels over the Internet. Right now, you're reading this article using encryption; The Post serves all of its online content using HTTPS, which transmits data over an encrypted connection. It's a broad term.

When politicians use it, they generally mean encryption of messaging services, protecting messages that are sent between parties -- the sort of thing a terrorist might use to hide his plans from prying eyes. (Although we'll hasten to note that there isn't evidence the attackers in San Bernardino or Paris communicated over encrypted systems.) In both the undercard and main-event debates on Tuesday, candidates called for encryption to allow "back doors" for the government to view messages.

Apple's iMessage service uses encryption to protect the privacy of user messages, and the company has rebuffed requests from the government to allow it to peek inside when provided with a search warrant. In part, that's because the system uses "end-to-end encryption," meaning that the messages that Apple send back and forth are encrypted the entire time Apple has control of them.

Security experts also note that weakening encryption so that the government can view messages necessarily means weakening it so that hackers can do the same. To oversimplify: If you build a giant, beautiful wall and then hide a door somewhere along it, people searching the wall for a way in will likely stumble across the door at some point, no matter how well you hide it.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Fiorina about this specific question, and she offered the same reply.

[quote( author=(.*) link=(.*) date=[0-9]+)?]BLITZER: But my question was: Should these Silicon Valley companies be forced to cooperate with the FBI?
FIORINA: They do not need to be forced. They need to be asked to bring the best and brightest, the most recent technology to the table. I was asked as a CEO. I complied happily.[/quote]

That request was far less controversial than the requests that Fiorina might need to make of her former colleagues as president.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.
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