Seven degrees to Kevin Bacon, but only three to the NSA

A story yesterday in The Atlantic paints, on a much larger canvas, the expanse of the NSA’s surveillance. Writes Philip Bump from the Capitol Hill testimony of Chris Inglis:

Chris Inglis, the agency’s deputy director, was one of several government representatives—including from the FBI and the office of the Director of National Intelligence—testifying before the House Judiciary Committee this morning. Most of the testimony largely echoed previous testimony by the agencies on the topic of the government’s surveillance, including a retread of the same offered examples for how the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act had stopped terror events.

But Inglis’ statement was new. Analysts look “two or three hops” from terror suspects when evaluating terror activity, Inglis revealed. Previously, the limit of how surveillance was extended had been described as two hops. This meant that if the NSA were following a phone metadata or web trail from a terror suspect, it could also look at the calls from the people that suspect has spoken with—one hop. And then, the calls that second person had also spoken with—two hops. Terror suspect to person two to person three. Two hops. And now: A third hop.

So, to break it down consider this entirely fictional account (get that guys, entirely fictional):

Al Sahara Aljazeera lives in Yemen. He is on the terrorist watch list because he blogged about drones and his last name is Aljazeera. The NSA knows about Al.

Sahara Aljazeera’s brother, Ali Sahara Aljazeera lives in a metropolitan U.S. city where he studies at a university. He is not on a terrorist watch list, but exchanges pleasantries with his brother weekly. They often discuss politics.

Ali Sahara Aljazeera is befriended by the campus missionary, Bob Christian. They exchange multiple phone calls, share meals, talk about religion, politics and, occasionally, terrorism.

Bob is a friend of mine. We talk regularly about a number of topics.

One hop.

Two hops.

Three hops.


All of a sudden, my phone records can be searched and potentially listened to from a stored recording, all by the NSA and all without a search warrant. Not to mention my online presence, text messages, and snail mail.

It’s 1984 in America again. Welcome.

Shocked? You no longer should be.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.