The NSA is denying a report from the Wall Street Journal that a secret program code-named "Perfect Citizen" will be monitoring civilian networks.
That's from a rare public statement by the ultra-secret agency responsible for spying on outsiders and defending classified networks. The NSA, as a wing of the military, is largely prohibited from operating within the U.S.
The Journal reported Wednesday that defense contractor Raytheon won a $100 million contract that would involve sensors in the networks of "critical infrastructure" such as utilities and nuclear power plants. The sensors would report anomalies to the NSA via a partnership with Homeland Security, the Journal reported. According to an e-mail cited in the report, a Raytheon employee described it as a "Big Brother" system.
Our take on the original report is here.
But, in a statement put out by NSA spokeswoman Judith Emmel Thursday, the agency denies there is any monitoring activities and called on the public to trust the NSA's adherence to the law (despite the Bush-era warrantless wiretapping to the contrary). The NSA did, however, confirm the creepy code name.
Today's Wall Street Journal article by Siobhan Gorman, titled "US Plans Cyber Shield for Utilities, Companies," is an inaccurate portrayal of the work performed at the National Security Agency. Because of the high sensitivity surrounding what we do to defend our nation, it is inappropriate to confirm or deny all of the specific allegations made in the article. We will, however, provide the following facts:
- PERFECT CITIZEN is purely a vulnerabilities-assessment and capabilities-development contract. This is a research and engineering effort. There is no monitoring activity involved, and no sensors are employed in this endeavor.
- Specifically, it does not involve the monitoring of communications or the placement of sensors on utility company systems.
- This contract provides a set of technical solutions that help the National Security Agency better understand the threats to national security networks, which is a critical part of NSA's mission of defending the nation.
- Any suggestions that there are illegal or invasive domestic activities associated with this contracted effort are simply not true. We strictly adhere to both the spirit and the letter of U.S. laws and regulations.
Now, if you understand what "vulnerabilities-assessment and capabilities-development" means, please let us know, because it just sounds like security gobbedly-gook to us.
Wired.com followed up the e-mailed statement with the following questions, but the NSA fell oddly silent, even though as far as we can tell the answers wouldn't have involve classified information.
Could you please tell me whether any Congressional committees or the leadership has been briefed on the program and if so, when and who?
Did a Raytheon contractor refer to this as a "Big Brother" program in an e-mail?
And finally, why should the public believe the NSA when a federal judge just found that it illegally and secretly spied on American citizens?
We'll update the post if the NSA gets back to us.
Image via WSJ