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John McAfee: The NSA is running on ‘sheer luck’ — and that’s a travesty

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After a long and trying journey on the road to Emerald City, the character of Dorothy, created by L. Frank Baum, found only a sad little man behind the curtain, rather than the expected powerful wizard. There is a distinct possibility that our surveillance state is a complete façade too — one that is now in the open.

In a way, it echoes the events in that classic children’s story, and if true, it would be a far more contemptible hoax than any of us ever imagined.

If true, this shows that these surveillance programs are largely designed for the express purpose of targeting citizens.

This past week, a report came out that suggests “sheer luck” was one of the elements an NSA program needed to find useful info in the sea of surveillance data. The info came from an NSA in-house newsletter leaked by Edward Snowden, called SIDtoday. Dated March 23, 2011, it was written by a signals development analyst within the operation. In it, the author says that “by sheer luck, (and a ton of hard work) I discovered an important new access to an existing target and am working with TAO to leverage a new mission capability.” TAO stands for Tailored Access Operations, through which the NSA hacking team had collected 900 usernames and passcodes. The target in question was reportedly PDVSA, a Venezuelan state oil company also known as Petróleos de Venezuela.

This is simply amazing. To think of all we endure as citizens of this country in the name of “security,” only to find that one of the ways that names of interest come up is by “sheer luck” … this is a travesty. Worse, this instance is supposed to be the side of these operations that is focused on finding foreign enemies. This may indicate that the systems which produce “targets” from the surveillance info gathered on our own population are even more random. On the other hand, maybe the targeting is better when it involves more Americans, which should worry all of us.

If true, this shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that these surveillance programs are largely designed for the express purpose of targeting citizens, pure and simple. There is something fundamentally wrong with this concept. Something un-American. It is the antithesis of freedom.

All the while, our government continually collects more information, with no end in sight. Billions of dollars have already been spent — and more will be spent in the future — on what amounts to random luck at actually finding information that could protect us. This is an outrageous state of affairs.

Thankfully, a couple of weeks ago, a federal judge partly blocked the NSA’s surveillance; his opinion was that the program was most likely unconstitutional. It is, and this is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it holds.

Privacy, security, and freedom are issues that I am passionate about. Find out more about my platform and my campaign for president at

John McAfee
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Who is John McAfee? John McAfee is one of the most influential commentators on cybersecurity anywhere in the world. His…
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