When I first became a regular user of Linux, several years ago, I tried out different text editors and quickly discovered that emacs was my best choice. By coincidence, about that time I ran into an old emacs manual written by Richard Stallman in the dollar section of a used booksore. In that edition, near the end of the book, was a section on “Mail Amusements.” This documented the command “M-x spook” which adds “a line of randomly chosen keywords to an outgoing mail message. The keywords are chosen from a list of words that suggest you are discussing something subversive.” (I note that the term “spook” in those days meant “spy.”) Stallman notes in the current edition of the manual,
The idea behind this feature is the suspicion that the NSA and other intelligence agencies snoop on all electronic mail messages that contain keywords suggesting they might find them interesting. (The agencies say that they don’t, but that’s what they would say.) The idea is that if lots of people add suspicious words to their messages, the agencies will get so busy with spurious input that they will have to give up reading it all. Whether or not this is true, it at least amuses some people.
It is amazing to see how things change over time. But this, unfortunately, is not a good example of change over time. As I’m sure every Linux user knows by now, the National Security Agency has included “Linux Journal” (the journal and the site, apparently) as an indicator for potential extremist activity. If you subscribe to the journal, visit the site, mention it in an email, or anything like that, your internet traffic will be subject to additional special attention.
Apparently the NSA captures all, or very nearly all, of the Internet traffic for just long enough to sort through it for key indicators, which they use to pull out a subset of traffic for longer term storage and possible investigation. If you visit Linux Journal’s web site, your internet traffic, apparently, is subject to this treatment.
Well, this should be obvious. Linux users are extreme. Linux is extreme. If I was the NSA I’d be keeping a close eye on the Linux community because that is where a major national intelligence agency is most likely to find useful, and extremely good, security related ideas. GNU/Linux, FOSS, OpenSource – these are all keywords I’d be watching because this is where the cutting edge is. LAMP systems are the most secure servers used on the Internet, by and large. Linux-like operating systems are the preferred systems for devices that need both reliability and security. I’m sure the NSA itself uses Linux as its primary operating system because it is the most adaptable and secure one they can get. If not, they probably use a cousin or hybrid of some sort.
Also, penguins. Penguins are known to be extreme. They wear tuxedos, who does that anymore? They live on the Antarctic Continent. I can’t think of anything more extreme than this. The adoption of Tux the Penguin as the symbolic mascot of GNU/Linux is a huge red flag for the entire intelligence community.
I do find it amusing that people are a bit up in arms over this. Did anyone ever seriously consider the idea that the Linux community and their Penguin friends would not be the subject of special NSA attention? It would be rather disappointing were it not. Stallman added M-x spook to emacs decades ago. We’ve known for years that the NSA snoops on everything and everyone. Linux is a widely used extremely important operating system. Linux Journal is a key publication used by a wide range of Linux
extremists, er, users and developers. Of course the NSA is watching.
Kyle Rankin at Linux Journal who is a known Linux user notes that there is a more specific reason the NSA would view the Linux community as a hotbed of potential extremism. This is where things like Tor and Tails exist as projects and are mostly used. These are, of course, technologies to be more anonymous on the internet. Tor comes form a project originally funded by the US Naval Research Laboratory and DARPA with early work on it supported by the radical Electronic Frontier Foundation. It has also been funded by the US State Department and the National Science Foundation. The original idea was to allow communications over the internet to be untraceable so sailors (or others) could write home and keep their lips tight (loose lips sink ships and all that). With subversive beginnings and evil intent such as this, naturally the NSA would want to keep an eye on it.
I’m sorry to tell that if you’ve been reading this blog post you are probably on the NSA list of extremists. I use the terms “Linux Journal,” “Linux,” and “Penguin” several times in this blog post. And you are looking at this blog post in your browser. You are so screwed.
I would like to challenge the OpenSource/FOSS/GNU/Linux community to take up Stallman’s initiative and bring it to the next level. Let us M-x spook the spooks. Apps, browser add-ins, cron scripts, and other small scale technologies could be used to add subversive terms such as Linux Journal and Penguin to all of our Internet traffic, all the time. The NSA would quickly run out of disk space and someone would tell them to get back to work and do something useful. Real extremists just made a radical extremist Caliphate in the Middle East forchristakes. I would think the NSA would be more focused on such things than on Linux Journal, or Linux. I can see keeping an eye on the Penguins, though.