Feeds

NSA: Secret 'Perfect Citizen' project does not spy on US

Merely 'provides technological solutions'

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

The US National Security Agency (NSA), the world's premier codebreaking and eavesdropping organisation, has strongly denied that it is setting up monitoring equipment on American privately-owned networks deemed to be critical national infrastructure.

A story in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, which we reported on here, said that defence contractor Raytheon was working on a classified technology project dubbed "Perfect Citizen" for the NSA, which would see infrastructure networks - for instance power, telecoms or transport systems - "instrumented" in order to detect possible attempts to attack them.

This naturally raised some worries in a domestic-surveillance context, with an internal Raytheon email quoted by the WSJ as stating that "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother". Naturally, a lot of information residing in infrastructure systems would be a bonanza for those interested in massive automated monitoring of the US population.

We contacted both the NSA and Raytheon for comment. Raytheon was unable to say anything, but NSA spokesperson Judith Emmel answered by email. It appears that Perfect Citizen does exist, but according to the NSA it is not as menacing as the WSJ report made it seem.

"PERFECT CITIZEN is purely a vulnerabilities-assessment and capabilities-development contract," wrote Emmel. "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."

According to Emmel, the PERFECT CITIZEN tech will merely "provide a set of technical solutions that help the National Security Agency better understand the threats".

As for seeking to spy on US citizens by means of examining their power or phone usage, tracking them through transport systems etc, the NSA would simply never think of such a thing.

"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 US laws and regulations," insisted Emmel.

Which reads rather as though the NSA is not yet actually "instrumenting" any utility companies, but is developing the necessary tools to do so if required.

The agency would contend that this is purely in order to safeguard vital computer systems in charge of critical things such as power grids, railway signals, traffic lights etc. Many such systems were designed in the days before widespread networks with little thought for security, but are nowadays accessible via the internet.

Without some local access, it would be hard for the NSA even to know what probes into such systems may be underway: packets might reach a given portal by any route across the wider internet. The agency does have a legitimate interest here, being part of the US military and thus expected to defend American networks from enemies both foreign and domestic.

Unfortunately such local access to utility networks would seem to offer scope for disturbing "mission creep" once in place.

And people are bound to ask just why it was thought necessary to keep PERFECT CITIZEN secret. We've asked the NSA's Emmel, in fact: we'll let you know as and when we hear back. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
WHY did Sunday Mirror stoop to slurping selfies for smut sting?
Tabloid splashes, MP resigns - but there's a BIG copyright issue here
Spies, avert eyes! Tim Berners-Lee demands a UK digital bill of rights
Lobbies tetchy MPs 'to end indiscriminate online surveillance'
Scrapping the Human Rights Act: What about privacy and freedom of expression?
Justice minister's attack to destroy ability to challenge state
Inequality increasing? BOLLOCKS! You heard me: 'Screw the 1%'
There's morality and then there's economics ...
Google hits back at 'Dear Rupert' over search dominance claims
Choc Factory sniffs: 'We're not pirate-lovers - also, you publish The Sun'
EU to accuse Ireland of giving Apple an overly peachy tax deal – report
Probe expected to say single-digit rate was unlawful
While you queued for an iPhone 6, Apple's Cook sold shares worth $35m
Right before the stock took a 3.8% dive amid bent and broken mobe drama
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.