SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Last Wednesday, The Washington Post obtained documents indicating that the National Security Agency (NSA) gathers nearly five billion records each day that track the locations of users around the world, including some Americans. The data was provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. His revelations continue to expose a domestic surveillance operation far more widespread than the public was initially led to believe. But the NSA wants you to know that these data-mining expeditions serve a greater, more benevolent good. So as a special holiday treat, the NSA, free of charge, will send Santa Claus the Christmas lists of every child whose records were intercepted by government systems through an automated process that "promotes immediacy, assured delivery and overcomes challenges with illegible letters, improper postage or incorrect addressing that often occur when silly liberal children are allowed to correspond with the North Pole directly."
It's not the first attempt the NSA has made to appease an increasingly outraged public. This summer, for instance, amid backlash over its intrusive and legally questionable violations, the NSA made a conciliatory gesture by offering its vast repository of personal intelligence as a free cloud storage and emergency backup service, competing directly with companies such as Google and Dropbox. The offering, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained, is now available to all Internet subscribers as the Backup Online User Goods Storage (BOGUS) service.
"We're trying to help; we're not monsters, we're not Scrooges," Clapper said. "And to staunch the bleeding here, and show that these data collection efforts are benign, we're extending the American public a pretty big olive branch through our holiday program."
Snowden's latest leak, published last week by The Washington Post, illustrated a new level of tracking. Information on billions of smart devices is compiled by the agency in an expansive database that allows analysts to study the travel habits of potential security risks and identify their unknown associates -- an initiative the NSA refers to as "target development." The U.S. intelligence group's extensive data warehousing efforts, focused on mobile phone, Internet and email data (the latter through the controversial PRISM program), have come under fire since Snowden began disseminating proof of the covert practices in June 2013.
But as privacy advocates urged Congress to enact legislation to reform NSA data-gathering programs, Clapper emphasized the unacknowledged boons produced by these efforts.
"Soon, we'll be able to offer our own social network, rivaling Facebook and Twitter," Clapper said. "And users will never have to log on and update their statuses or post new pictures again -- our systems already have that information and can automate the entire process. This is tremendous news. For today, though, we're incredibly pleased to present our special Christmas service… for the children. We must always think of the children."
The electronic wishlist delivery program, which transmits children's gift requests to North Pole servers, is being branded by the NSA as the Christmas List Automated Uploaded Service (CLAUS). And the best part? "You're already using it. It's already happening," Clapper boasted in a rarely jubilant tone. "Surprise, kids! Santa has your list. And he's had it since fall."
Still, criticism persists. Clapper believes that competitors such as Facebook, Google, AT&T and even the U.S. Postal Service are jealous. He also dismissed concerns over privacy and security.
"First off, it's clear that lesser organizations are upset about our solution, which is far superior and considerably less cost prohibitive," he said. "Why pay outrageous fees for stamps, parcel delivery services, or even the taxes squandered to maintain archaic revenue-suckers like the USPS? Second, CLAUS is not compromising the protections afforded to private citizens. They were already planning on sending their requests to Santa through unsecured, easily intercepted hardcopies -- letters we're certain terrorists would love to get their hands on and lace with ricin or anthrax. And third, if nobody gives two craps about NORAD tracking Santa -- a joint military defense and stealth surveillance task force capable of shooting down invading threats to our airspace, with the spirit-crushing potential to mistake a flying sleigh for enemy aircraft -- why the hell is everyone up-in-arms over the NSA expediting the delivery of Christmas lists to Santa from the nation's precious youth? Bah humbug, indeed."
2013. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. See disclaimers.