back to article Snowden scandal latest: NSA, GCHQ lingo-spies replaced by unstoppable RHINEHART robots

The NSA has been using software to convert intercepted phone calls into transcripts stored in searchable databases, it is claimed. It is also entirely believable: Dragon Dictate isn't exactly top secret, is it? Documents leaked by Edward Snowden and published by The Intercept on Tuesday show that Uncle Sam's spies, and their …

  1. Thorne

    I knew

    Gina couldn't be trusted.......

  2. Anonymous Blowhard

    Send three and fourpence

    we're going to a dance!

  3. frank ly

    "Hello, could I speak to Mr. Semtex please?"

    Wait a minute, black helicopters are landing in front of my house!

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: "Hello, could I speak to Mr. Semtex please?"

      The fertilizer will keep them off the lawn.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: "Hello, could I speak to Mr. Semtex please?"

        Or do a Clint Eastwood*....

        *Ref: Grand Torino

        1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Fuck that shit for brains

          Or do a Clint Eastwood*....

          *Ref: Grand Torino

          If that small brain had his way he would have every resident of Ruby Ridge executed all over again for having a tank of diesel or a dog.

  4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    New Orderly World Order API

    Hi, Iain, and Welcome to Wwworlds Created, Commanded and Controlled and Destroyed by Words. It is old news about IT and AI on El Reg though, isn't it?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A good time to start learning Welsh and conduct all my business in it.

    1. Mike Banahan

      Welsh?

      Ba chóir duit Gaeilge a fhoghlaim - tá cainteoirí dúchais annamh

      1. Bloakey1

        Re: Welsh?

        Go raibh maith agat Micheal. Ta se an dia go deas.

        While we are on the subject. Wasn't there another famous Operation Reinhart or Reinhardt as spelling varies? I believe it was the termination with extreme prejudice of large amounts of civilians of the Jewish faith by nasty men in lederhosen.

      2. Irony Deficient

        Re: Welsh?

        A Mhaidhc, d‛fhoghlaimeoidís fiú na bPoncán Gaeilge a labhairt.

    2. thx1138v2

      Navajo might be a better option.

    3. Alan J. Wylie

      A good time to start learning Welsh and conduct all my business in it

      Alan Cox started learning Welsh a decade or more ago. What did he know that we've only just found out?

    4. TitterYeNot

      "A good time to start learning Welsh and conduct all my business in it."

      Shirliloppers we shoulabee fusing onething likey hobbledeebook as it pheasant win moogle transplate yeti...

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. adnim Silver badge
      Holmes

      Yup

      Can't see Cameron being prime minister again, I expect he will bomb this time and votes for the Tories may tank. Still I would like to take a shot at Mr Cameron's job

      1. Bloakey1
        Joke

        Re: Yup

        <snip>

        "Still I would like to take a shot at Mr Cameron"

        <snip>

        I fixed that for you. You naughty naughty boy. Somewhere in GCHQ a bell doth toll and it tolls for thee Carlos!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yup

          <snip>

          "Still I would like to take a shot at Mr Cameron"

          <snip>

          Still I would like to take a money shot at Mrs Cameron

          There, now do see you to slip in the correction properly?

          1. Bloakey1

            Re: Yup

            <snip>

            "There, now do see you to slip in the correction properly?"

            Ehhhh, que?

            He might get jolly batey if you shot up Mrs Cameron.

    2. Richard_L
      Big Brother

      Innuendo... Al-Qaeda, what!?

      Personally, I can't see GCHQ having to worry much about interpreting sexual innuendo when eavesdropping on conversations between the ultra-religious, bomb-happy bores of Islamic State or Al-Qaeda.

      But on the other hand, if "I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue" is deemed a threat to national security, then yes, we may be in a spot of bother if we just leave the GCHQ mainframe to get on with monitoring it.

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Innuendo... Al-Qaeda, what!?

        Today the police issued a warrant for a suspected terrorist who goes by the code name of "Samantha". They are also looking for her handler.

        1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

          Re: Innuendo... Al-Qaeda, what!?

          Today the police issued a warrant for a suspected terrorist who goes by the code name of "Samantha". They are also looking for her handler.

          well as Humphrey has retired, I suspect Sven

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Black Helicopters

            Re: Innuendo... Al-Qaeda, what!?

            My money would be on Mrs Trellis......

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Innuendo... Al-Qaeda, what!?

          'Today the police issued a warrant for a suspected terrorist who goes by the code name of "Samantha". They are also looking for her handler.'

          She is believed to be somewhere in North Wales. The capture plan is that after they have picked her up, they are going to Bangor in the van.

          Sorry, best I could do at short notice. And you're not really surprised at the anon.

          1. Julz Bronze badge

            Re: Innuendo... Al-Qaeda, what!?

            Mrs Trellis!

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Innuendo... Al-Qaeda, what!?

        According to some studies, that "ultra-religious" is only certain ones at the top. The rest are just guys (mostly) who are bomb happy. So sexual innuendo will still a problem. It's not all that it appears over there... remember Bin Laden's supposed porn stash? It could be a problem then.....

    3. FrankAlphaXII

      Content recognition, and contextual/cultural analysis is extremely difficult for a computer to do on its own. Sometimes you really have to have someone fluent or from the culture in question to pick up on what's really being said.

      But shifting all of the translation and some analysis work to a computer, even if it was possible (which it isn't, at least not yet) would be a nightmare for everyone involved. It'd just add another layer of Male Bovine Feces to work through but one that's completely unresponsive. I can tell you with near 100% certainty that it would also seriously piss off the voice and non-voice collectors who are hanging their asses out in some very hot places a lot of times to get the linguists and analysts their product. You have to be able to talk to the analysts if they or you have questions, and you can't do that with some dumb-ass computer. And I can see that kind of extra bullshit getting people killed.

    4. Bloakey1

      <snip>

      "Imagine programming a machine to scan El Reg forums for keywords, and trying to interpret correctly all of the innuendo, double meanings, etc"

      The biggest problem is the volume of data that they have and mining it successfully. The more they collect the less efficient the algorithms become to the point where data analysts are swamped with referrals to grease guns,over the counter drugs, explosive situations etc.

      Add to that the fact that linguistic exegesis is a difficult thing for example one man's irony could be another man's deadly serious answer, and the fact that a gnu might be an animal or might be a typo of a thing that goes bang whereby context to the word is needed. There are so many potential variations my head is starting to hurt.

      They are slurping more data than they can handle and also investing more money in technical solutions at the expense of analysts. The flip side of this coin is that they need more analysts to sift through the data as the Mk1 human eyeball will never be replaced by technology.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > and the fact that a gnu might be an animal or might be a typo of a thing that goes bang

        But either way, we know it's Not Unix.

    5. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Stupid terrorists

      I expect it's up to finding some stupid terrorists, and maybe passing Boeing info on what airbus is up to.

    6. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: "near-infinite budget" NSA funded 8 FTEs at an average grade of about GS-12, and an unknown number of contractor personnel (probably in the neighborhood of 15 to no more than 20), with a total expenditure of uncer $30 million per year. That is to say, it was a fairly small program for a major DoD agency. That probably was R&D only, and evidently did not include any significant equipment purchase for deployment.

  7. FrankAlphaXII
    Black Helicopters

    I'm pretty sure that the Army at least is still taking anyone who can qualify for at least 35S, 35P, 35N, 35F, 35G, 350F, 350G, 351L, 351M, 352N, 352S, 353T, 35A on the commissioned officer side and 09L.

    Then again, spaces change around day to day. One day an Enlisted or Warrant MOS or commissioned officer Career Management Field will be open, the next it ain't. Its a hell of alot more flexible on the Enlisted side than for either type of Officers, but there simply aren't as many spaces for Warrant Officers that ain't flying a helicopter and Commissioned Officers as there are for Enlistedmen.

    Knowing the Army, I would seriously doubt that the two Military Intelligence brigades at Fort Meade aren't using all the personnel spaces that they can possibly get from HRC. Two brigades is quite alot of people really. I also seriously doubt a computer program's being substituted for a linguist and analyst going over it.

    Black helicopter because it looks like a Kiowa misshapen blackhawk.

    1. Bloakey1

      <snip>

      "Black helicopter because it looks like a Kiowa misshapen blackhawk."

      You buggers sent a Cobra after me in El Hamra c. 1983. I have never forgiven you lot since.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Revolution vs Evolution ,...... now there's an enigma to sort out top and lap dogs

    Who's to say that El Reg isn't an Open Steganographic Source XSSXXXXXchange for Spooks APTly ACTivated and SMARTR Enabling in the Fields of Virtual Reality and Future Orderly ProgramMING.

    And yes, revolutions nowadays are always televisualised, and produced and directed off screen and online against the buffers of mainstream. And IT makes for Great IntelAIgent Game Edutainment too.

    AIMMORPG Rules with Causes and Courses for Humanity ‽ Yeah, of course it and IT does. That's a real no-brainer, for sure.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hold on...

    Pashtun (Pashto? Where did you get that?) is at least semi-tonal and extremely heavily contextual, even more so than Arabic. I tried to learn it but ended up relying on our local translators* as accents change wildly from village to village. You're looking at an insane amount of false positives from any software "solution" to this unless it's absolutely supergenius-level software and frankly, I have my doubts about that.

    Not many trained military translators write software. I know this because I'm one of the not many and I know none of my colleagues are up to this task and neither am I.

    (* Who, by the way, have been treated appallingly by the Army and HMG. Automatic citizenship for a year's tour would be fair. What we do to those people and their families is barbaric).

    1. Bloakey1

      "Hold on...

      Pashtun (Pashto? Where did you get that?) is at least semi-tonal and extremely heavily contextual, even more so than Arabic. I tried to learn it but ended up relying on our local translators* as accents change wildly from village to village. You're looking at an insane amount of false positives from any software "solution" to this unless it's absolutely supergenius-level software and frankly, I have my doubts about that."

      <snip a lot I agree with>

      In Afghanistan the languages or range of dialects are very interesting as they tend to be concentrated in tribal pools due to the lack of travel and intermarriage. I speak 6 or 7 languages and I find it fascinating that cultural and ethnicity can predispose us to ways of thinking and behaving. Translating a text as opposed to properly interpreting and presenting it is very difficult indeed. We even have problems effectively translating strains of English from one version to the other.

      Add argot, slang, street talk, common interpretations of a word that technically means something else and you have a veritable mine fieldl Try explaining to an Afghan why the term tosser can be both pejorative and proper at the same time or that the term fanny can be a name, a front bottom or a back bottom etc.

      The list is endless and a joy to contemplate and peruse.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Having had the good fortune to grow up in a polyglot household, I found getting to grips with Pashtu a breeze. And then I tried talking to people living a scant 100k from my teacher. Embarrassing.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its wonderful being a patsy of this crowd...

    "In a 2006 memo, the NSA said: "We are entering a golden age for Human Language Technology (HLT). Powerful and inexpensive computers, high-speed networking, and advanced algorithms are being combined to revolutionize the analyst desktop." The resultant software was the equivalent of "Google for Voice," the memo boasts, saying one system could process "one million cuts a day." -

    Its wonderful being a patsy of this crowd... Are they working on eliminating the orgasm too?

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: Its wonderful being a patsy of this crowd...

      Nahh, but they have a contract out on the Cornish Patsy, I believe he is a fifth columnist called Mr Ginster.

  11. Graham Marsden
    Facepalm

    And once again...

    ... the Security Services' answer to finding a needle in a haystack is to make the haystack bigger...

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: And once again...

      Exactly, but do not forget that to fund the bigger haystack they had to reduce the size of the needle and the team who do the searching.

      Next they will send in the SF boys who will burn the haystack down so that the needle can be found with a magnet.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: And once again...

        Hi, Bloakey1,

        That was a valid observation which doesn't shine a bright light on the workings of services charging for intelligence supply.They need to up their game quite considerably, methinks.

        Can you imagine the terror made easily available, and most probably already fully recognised as being an unbeatable devastating concern by parties, for launching against the politically incorrect and inept in support of corrupt and perverse SCADA Systems with control laundered through fiat banking organisations, if special forces and secret secure intelligence services and servers got their Sublime InterNetworking ACT and APT Apps working together in defence and provision of Live Operational Virtual Environment Fields for CyberIntelAIgent Realm Rule and Reign‽

        However, one man’s terror because of their discovered and uncovered errors though is another man’s pleasure to enjoy and exploit towards eradication.

        It is hard to not conclude that the current executive heads of that which are presumed to be able to do such things for the good of the nation and all, are not well enough intellectually equipped to presently supply such necessary future leadership, given the compounding evidence which media mainlines in the mainstream to subjects/objects.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: And once again...

          The harsh reality is that there is a lot of research in causing misery and none in solving it, because misery makes money for a select few..

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      @ Graham: Re: And once again...

      The bigger the haystack, the bigger the pile of horse crap!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    "The primary purpose of the software is to pick out keywords in recorded conversations"

    But don't real people use code words instead of 'bomb', 'president', 'roadside', 'cell', 'payment' etc?

    The USA and its friends repeatedly tortured Mohamedou Ould Slahi (still in Gitmo) and they tried to get him to explain what he meant by 'tea' in a recorded phonecall. That he may really just have been talking about tea never seems to have occurred to them.

    1. adnim Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: "The primary purpose of the software is to pick out keywords in recorded conversations"

      "But don't real people use code words instead of 'bomb', 'president', 'roadside', 'cell', 'payment' etc?"

      Or steg pgp encrypted text into the picture of a kitty and post it on Facebook, Pinterest at al.

      It would be an interesting exercise to actually do this to see what happens. One might find out if the NSA/GCHQ spend time and resource running kitty pics through statistical analysis. I would imagine that for known suspects they would run every media file sent/posted to the web through steg detection tools.

    2. Geoffrey Thomas

      Re: "The primary purpose of the software is to pick out keywords in recorded conversations"

      Was it Norbert the nark doing the interrogation? He's hot on "tea".

  13. druck Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Subtitles

    Lets hope the speech recognition software the NSA and GCHQ are using is better than that used for the live subtitling on BBC News, or there could be some really unfortunate misunderstandings.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Subtitles

      It definitely isn't at as far as Russian is concerned and it is obvious by looking how ill prepared and ill briefed are our private school educated humanitarian degree muppets prior to dealing with the "Russian Threat".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Subtitles

      > live subtitling on BBC News

      Do they use software or a bloke with one of those funny chord keyboards?

  14. ST Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Just out of curiosity

    In the movie "The Ghost Writer" - 2010 - the publisher of Adam Lang's political memoirs is RHINEHART, Inc.

    Get your tinfoils ready. Who is playing on whom here. Because I don't believe in coincidences.

  15. Richard Pennington 1

    Do GCHQ / NSA have a program to decipher amanfromMars?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Person of Interest

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1839578/

    This was supposed to be a drama, not an instruction manual for the spooks!

  17. tom dial Silver badge

    After reading the Intercept article and all of the documents referenced at the end I conclude that we should not be surprised, that the program as hyped in the documents from ~2006 may not have met its objectives all that well. GCHQ's commentary from ~2009 suggests that it was not a stunning success at that time, and the budget of 8 government employees with an average grade of GS-12 (mid-level technical/managerial) and a total annual budget of < $30 million over the period from 2011 - 2013 suggests an ongoing moderate size research undertaking, not a major operational program to suck in all the world's voice and text traffic, analyze it, and search it automatically to identify the unruly among us for further watching and correction..

    This Intercept article, like most of them dealing with signals intelligence agencies, has a great deal of innuendo and statements about potential for misuse and nothing in the way of evidence that the spies are doing anything other with the technology, whatever its state and degree of deployment, than what we should expect of them. It certainly is possible that the technology described, if developed to a degree of operational effectiveness that the documents presented fail rather badly to support, could be used against us, but in democratic regimes like those of the US, UK, other Five Eyes, and most European countries, the evidence for that risk is between nonexistent and small.

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