04-06-06I read some stuff a while ago about the NSA wiretapping program, I forget where. Some details about the technical way that the NSA does the wiretapping stand out in my memory as sort of funny.
First of all, they have their own set of fiber optic lines that run directly from the major phone and network data switches to the NSA headquarters in Maryland. There are two major phone switches - one on the Pacific side and one on the Atlantic side which tap into the underwater cables. NSA routes copies of all the packets onto their lines and ships them back to Maryland. There are also apparently just two top level network switches that they tap for inside-the-US internet traffic. It seems to me this has got to miss a ton of network data, since network data gets locally routed on subnets when possible and copies of the packets don't go up the chain. That would mean that the NSA only gets internet packets that go through the top level routers, which means only packets that travel far across the net, eg. cross-country or way across the US in terms of network topology.
The other funny thing was how they tap into satellite communications. Rather than tap into the phone switch after it's received, they have their own set of dishes. Apparently again there's a major satellite array on each coast, and the NSA has their own satellite array a few miles away from the commercial array. They point their dishes at the same satellites and just take their own copy of the received stream and put it on their own line back to Maryland.
Seems to me they could just hook themselves into the internet and send themselves normal internet packets (encrypted of course). They can just tap a "copier" into any spot on any network. The copier just grabs all the packets, encrypts them, and drops them back on the net with the To: changed to NSA Maryland.