Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Bruce Schneir's 7th Annual Movie Plot Contest

Courtesy Sean P. Anderson
Sadly, my entry for Bruce Schneir's 7th annual movie plot contest is far over the 500 word limit.

The NSA Privy Council

In 2010, the United States Government passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, colloquially known as FATCA. This law requires all foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to report details of many US account holders to the IRS or face a withholding of 30% of all US-derived income. The intent is to track down Americans who dodge taxes by hiding them away in foreign banks. However, this law puts many FFIs in an awkward position: either withhold the information and risk massive financial losses or spend millions of dollars upgrading their systems to comply with US law — but also violating their home country’s privacy laws.

Due to the massive outcry, the US has instead started to enter into inter-governmental agreements (IGAs) with many countries promising to in turn require US banks to turn over data on the foreign country’s citizens to the US government. Each government would then exchange data on their citizen’s banking details. By having the government’s exchange data rather than individual companies, privacy laws are skirted.

Many US banks are upset at the prospect of spending millions to upgrade their computer systems to track details of their customers, particularly when it offers no substantial benefit to the banks. Unbeknownst to all, FATCA was part of a covert NSA program to influence US law. The ultimate goal of FATCA was never to catch US tax dodgers, but to implement the FATCA-related IGAs. The NSA, working with their foreign counterparts, have managed to create a worldwide group of intelligence agencies who now have much more extensive knowledge of their citizen’s financial affairs.

Emboldened by court’s interpretations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and due to the IGA requirement that the financial information be turned over first to the US government, the NSA has managed to acquire full access to the banking details of the vast majority of people on the planet, including almost all Americans, who have ever lived or held bank accounts in another country.

Creating a huge neural network, ADAM (Advanced Detection And Monitoring), and training it on this data, the NSA has managed to create profiles of international banking activity which appear to be suspicious in nature. The well-intended goal is to stop international crime and terrorism, but the results were astonishing: a significant percentage of the “one percent” in America have turned out to be engaged in financial activities that, strictly speaking, run afoul of the law.

The NSA now has a problem. Despite the information being legally collected by the US government, the agency’s newfound ability to analyze this data, via ADAM, represents some serious legal challenges. If the NSA acts overtly on this data, they’ll be challenged by the very people who have the money and political connections to end this program. However, the seriousness of much of the crime uncovered is too great to ignore: everything from multi-billion dollar tax evasion to financing arms smuggling. The matter which finally causes action is proof, uncovered by ADAM, that many people associated with the CIA, including high-level officers, are heavily involved in the cocaine and heroin business, though often at least one-step removed.

Unable to trust other intelligence agencies but genuinely seeing an opportunity to shut down many drug smuggling, arms dealing, tax evasion, bribery, and terrorism activities, the NSA quietly, and without any formal record, creates the Privy Council: a small body of ex-NSA employees who work to right the wrongs. The Council members take the evidence provided and, using cutouts, approach many “one percenters” who have been involved in questionable activities and offer them a deal: cooperate or face exposure. So begins the long slide of CEOs, businessmen, politicians, and many others quietly working to support the NSA.

Naturally, the Council’s work is both expensive and dangerous. An “off the books” intelligence agency must be created, security established, records maintained. Because the NSA cannot even acknowledge their existence, the Council is forced to fund themselves — by taking part of the ill-gotten gains from those who have done wrong. Despite good intentions, the lure of wealth and power is intoxicating and slowly the Council members work to change laws to “fix” America. Voting restrictions to prevent fraud are emplaced. More extensive internet surveillance laws arise to combat the scourge of child pornography. One “liberal” Supreme Court Justice with questionable finances in Malta was induced to vote for a ruling exempting “unbiased” software scrutiny from Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search, thereby providing solid legal cover for ADAM and laying the foundation for the expansion of the surveillance state.

The conspiracy theorists had it backwards. Rather than the one-percent acting in their own best interests and suborning government, the NSA suborned the one-percent. Meanwhile, foreign intelligence agencies across the planet, many of whom have fewer legal restrictions than the NSA, have found it even easier to implement their own ADAM-inspired programs. Country after country is cooperating to exchange financial information over their citizens, allowing the various country’s governments to solidify their hold on power. Working cooperatively in many cases, this information is being readily exchanged by those who recognize the opportunities present. The entire world is becoming a surveillance state.

By now the NSA has long realized that the Privy Council is acting independently, but they are limited in their efforts to stop it. By quietly reaching out to powerful individuals who have been "cleared" by ADAM, they have been putting together a coalition to expose the Privy Council. The Privy Council gets word of this and the next, reluctant step is taken: the plans for a coup are laid.

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