NSA: We lack the capability to search our own email


And if you believe that I have a bridge to sell you.


It’s funny because it’s true!

I hate to defend the NSA, but this actually makes sense if you think in terms of them being a secret intelligence agency. (Which they are.)

A facility to globally search all employee email would cross classification and secrecy boundaries, and risk inadvertently revealing top secret stuff to whoever was running the search. By limiting email searches to just one employee at a time, they can at least anticipate what classification levels the search will encounter (by knowing what that employee is cleared for), and thereby ensure that whoever’s doing the search doesn’t stub their toe on FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE.

It might in principle be possible to design an email system that could keep track of classification codewords and secrecy flags, but it’d be monumentally complex and worse, how do you prove there are no bugs or logic errors in it?

If you accept the requirement of running a secret intelligence agency, then you need to be able to keep secrets. Global search is not compatible with secrecy. QED.


They should ask their ISP to let them attach a box to the network so that they can collect all the data their employees send and receive.


If they just used gmail…


Maybe China keeps the NSA emails in a better format for global searching.


That’s if you don’t have an estimated 8-10 billion$ budget and access to a whole slew of classified AI patents. An advanced neural network could easily sort out who has access to what, the contents of an e-mail that are relevant to any specific FOIA request… What’s more likely is that they have such a system, but it is highly classified and responding to the FOIA request would make it known :wink:


That’s if you assume the NSA’s tech is actually effective at finding accurate information. I don’t think we should make that assumption.

What consequences would they suffer if they were completely incapable of producing strong, credible intelligence? None - they are never held to account. So why assume they can?

Incidentally - just think for a minute about the concept of a “classified patent”. Classified. Patent.


I have the perfect solution: PRISM.


The NSA turned down a FOIA request.

In other news today, water is wet, and the Pope is Catholic.



To quote Inigo Montoya out of context:
“I do not think it means what you think it means.”

To be capable you have to be willing. So they’re definitely incapable.


Easy solution: Just search National Geographic’s email instead.


What is the statement here, “Don’t worry, we’re stupid!” Oh yeah, I feel better now. It’s like I’m on the deck of the Titanic.

I don’t believe it. If what they say is true, which it is not, it still makes them insanely dangerous.


Bullshit. Any sysop could scan the network’s emails. Pretty sad when the NSA stoops to lying to avoid embarrassing themselves further. Defund the lying jackasses.


Why? I think the “QED” was kind of tongue-in-cheek and, moreover, it was a reasonable argument.

Note that it’s not clear that the NSA turned them down out right. Agencies are allowed to bill the requestor for personnel hours and duplication costs — ProPublica might not have been able/willing to pay for 30,000 manual searches.

We would use our power to force another countries leaders plane to the ground to try and catch someone not actually on board. Making the leaders look like morons tends to get someone held accountable.


I don’t know what your point was, but there are classified patents with well-defined rules.

Basically, patent applications get audited by DoD/CIA/whomever, and if one of them is deemed sensitive to national security, it gets classified and the inventor/assignee is forced into treating it as state secrets. In return, I think they get special consideration as a supplier from the government (which could be a windfall) and a standard patent term which starts immediately after the state secret is relinquished.

There are also rules for what happens if someone independently re-patents the thing that is secretly patented. In short, the re-inventor gets screwed completely, the state secret gets reviewed, and if admissible the original patenter’s term kicks in. So, yeah, classified patents exist (or at least they did in the cold war days, dunno about now), and they’re buried landmines.

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They still exist. Last I checked, there were some 5000+ patents that were classified. Down from 6000 around the cold war, but still enough to be incredibly troubling. The Invention Secrecy Act is VERY loosely worded in favor of the government, obviously. It’s just been around so long that people seldom question it anymore.