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Why Does the NSA Engage in Mass Surveillance of Amer?

man_slut

TRIBE Member
Okay... I'm not a math wiz and I know some of you may be. So I am posting this article in an effort to determine if the NSA's spying program on millions and millions of Americans in an effort to fight terrorism is statistically possible... This article states that the current program and it's stated objective is statistaclly imposible and mainly a product of paranoia (duh). I would have to disagree with the program but only from a constitutional perspective.

Here is the article:

May 24, 2006

The Politics of Paranoia and Intimidation
Why Does the NSA Engage in Mass Surveillance of Americans When It's Statistically Impossible for Such Spying to Detect Terrorists?
By FLOYD RUDMIN

The Bush administration and the National Security Agency (NSA) have been secretly monitoring the email messages and phone calls of all Americans. They are doing this, they say, for our own good. To find terrorists. Many people have criticized NSA's domestic spying as unlawful invasion of privacy, as search without search warrant, as abuse of power, as misuse of the NSA's resources, as unConstitutional, as something the communists would do, something very unAmerican.

In addition, however, mass surveillance of an entire population cannot find terrorists. It is a probabilistic impossibility. It cannot work.

What is the probability that people are terrorists given that NSA's mass surveillance identifies them as terrorists? If the probability is zero (p=0.00), then they certainly are not terrorists, and NSA was wasting resources and damaging the lives of innocent citizens. If the probability is one (p=1.00), then they definitely are terrorists, and NSA has saved the day. If the probability is fifty-fifty (p=0.50), that is the same as guessing the flip of a coin. The conditional probability that people are terrorists given that the NSA surveillance system says they are, that had better be very near to one (p_1.00) and very far from zero (p=0.00).

The mathematics of conditional probability were figured out by the Scottish logician Thomas Bayes. If you Google "Bayes' Theorem", you will get more than a million hits. Bayes' Theorem is taught in all elementary statistics classes. Everyone at NSA certainly knows Bayes' Theorem.

To know if mass surveillance will work, Bayes' theorem requires three estimations:

1) The base-rate for terrorists, i.e. what proportion of the population are terrorists.

2) The accuracy rate, i.e., the probability that real terrorists will be identified by NSA;

3) The misidentification rate, i.e., the probability that innocent citizens will be misidentified by NSA as terrorists.

No matter how sophisticated and super-duper are NSA's methods for identifying terrorists, no matter how big and fast are NSA's computers, NSA's accuracy rate will never be 100% and their misidentification rate will never be 0%. That fact, plus the extremely low base-rate for terrorists, means it is logically impossible for mass surveillance to be an effective way to find terrorists.

I will not put Bayes' computational formula here. It is available in all elementary statistics books and is on the web should any readers be interested. But I will compute some conditional probabilities that people are terrorists given that NSA's system of mass surveillance identifies them to be terrorists.

The US Census shows that there are about 300 million people living in the USA.

Suppose that there are 1,000 terrorists there as well, which is probably a high estimate. The base-rate would be 1 terrorist per 300,000 people. In percentages, that is .00033% which is way less than 1%. Suppose that NSA surveillance has an accuracy rate of .40, which means that 40% of real terrorists in the USA will be identified by NSA's monitoring of everyone's email and phone calls. This is probably a high estimate, considering that terrorists are doing their best to avoid detection. There is no evidence thus far that NSA has been so successful at finding terrorists. And suppose NSA's misidentification rate is .0001, which means that .01% of innocent people will be misidentified as terrorists, at least until they are investigated, detained and interrogated. Note that .01% of the US population is 30,000 people. With these suppositions, then the probability that people are terrorists given that NSA's system of surveillance identifies them as terrorists is only p=0.0132, which is near zero, very far from one. Ergo, NSA's surveillance system is useless for finding terrorists.

Suppose that NSA's system is more accurate than .40, let's say, .70, which means that 70% of terrorists in the USA will be found by mass monitoring of phone calls and email messages. Then, by Bayes' Theorem, the probability that a person is a terrorist if targeted by NSA is still only p=0.0228, which is near zero, far from one, and useless.

Suppose that NSA's system is really, really, really good, really, really good, with an accuracy rate of .90, and a misidentification rate of .00001, which means that only 3,000 innocent people are misidentified as terrorists. With these suppositions, then the probability that people are terrorists given that NSA's system of surveillance identifies them as terrorists is only p=0.2308, which is far from one and well below flipping a coin. NSA's domestic monitoring of everyone's email and phone calls is useless for finding terrorists.

NSA knows this. Bayes' Theorem is elementary common knowledge. So, why does NSA spy on Americans knowing it's not possible to find terrorists that way? Mass surveillance of the entire population is logically sensible only if there is a higher base-rate. Higher base-rates arise from two lines of thought, neither of them very nice:

1) McCarthy-type national paranoia;

2) political espionage.

The whole NSA domestic spying program will seem to work well, will seem logical and possible, if you are paranoid. Instead of presuming there are 1,000 terrorists in the USA, presume there are 1 million terrorists. Americans have gone paranoid before, for example, during the McCarthyism era of the 1950s. Imagining a million terrorists in America puts the base-rate at .00333, and now the probability that a person is a terrorist given that NSA's system identifies them is p=.99, which is near certainty. But only if you are paranoid. If NSA's surveillance requires a presumption of a million terrorists, and if in fact there are only 100 or only 10, then a lot of innocent people are going to be misidentified and confidently mislabeled as terrorists.

The ratio of real terrorists to innocent people in the prison camps of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Kandahar shows that the US is paranoid and is not bothered by mistaken identifications of innocent people. The ratio of real terrorists to innocent people on Bush's no-fly lists shows that the Bush administration is not bothered by mistaken identifications of innocent Americans.

Also, mass surveillance of the entire population is logically plausible if NSA's domestic spying is not looking for terrorists, but looking for something else, something that is not so rare as terrorists. For example, the May 19 Fox News opinion poll of 900 registered voters found that 30% dislike the Bush administration so much they want him impeached. If NSA were monitoring email and phone calls to identify pro-impeachment people, and if the accuracy rate were .90 and the error rate were .01, then the probability that people are pro-impeachment given that NSA surveillance system identified them as such, would be p=.98, which is coming close to certainty (p_1.00). Mass surveillance by NSA of all Americans' phone calls and emails would be very effective for domestic political intelligence.

But finding a few terrorists by mass surveillance of the phone calls and email messages of 300 million Americans is mathematically impossible, and NSA certainly knows that.

Floyd Rudmin is Professor of Social & Community Psychology at the University of Tromsø in Norway. He can be reached at frudmin@psyk.uit.no

LINK
 

TrIbAlNuT

TRIBE Member
I think it is pretty evident by now that the NSA, FBI, CIA or any other US agency can’t nor wants to catch terrorists. They seem to be more interested in catching Americans that exude a “un-American” attitude about Bush's and the Republican's agenda.
 
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solgrabber

TRIBE Member
Bayes' theorem (also known as Bayes' rule) is a result in probability theory, which relates the conditional and marginal probability distributions of random variables. In some interpretations of probability, Bayes' theorem tells how to update or revise beliefs in light of new evidence.

The probability of an event A conditional on another event B is generally different from the probability of B conditional on A. However, there is a definite relationship between the two, and Bayes' theorem is the statement of that relationship.

As a formal theorem, Bayes' theorem is valid in all interpretations of probability. However, frequentist and Bayesian interpretations disagree about the kinds of things to which probabilities should be assigned in applications: frequentists assigned probabilities to random events according to their frequencies of occurrence or to subsets of populations as proportions of the whole; Bayesians assign probabilities to propositions that are uncertain. A consequence is that Bayesians have more frequent occasion to use Bayes' theorem. The articles on Bayesian probability and frequentist probability discuss these debates at greater length.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayes'_theorem
 

man_slut

TRIBE Member
Boo said:
moved to tinfoil hat-conspiracy forum
Oh really... why is this a conspiracy theory when it's well documented and known (in all mass and independent media)that the NSA is keeping phone records of over 30 million Americans?

Do you think it's okay for the government to track your phone calls? This qualifies as conspiracy theory to you? Are you fucking kidding me? Your comment is so frigin lame its just as useless as calling someone "anti-Semitic" in a ridiculous attempt to discredit or embarrass someone.

Go back to your life thinking that government is good and never question anyone's motives, as that is crazy conspiracy talk! That’s a good citizen.

*gives Boo a nice little pat on head*
 

solgrabber

TRIBE Member
Funny the amount of people who still resort to the tinfoil hats considering they never bother to post anything factual themselves.

Should we be laughing at them or really be feeling sorry for them instead?
 
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Onthereals

TRIBE Member
This whole wiretap thing looks like its going to be used more to blackmail potential opponents than to catch terrorists. I've heard they've started to listen in on journalists already. (or have been for a while) I dont understand why there arent daily protests in Washington? Oh ya, no one cares. Or maybe Americans think only hippies protest, and none of them want to be that! LOL hippies and conspiracy theorists need to start calling themselves these terms ironically like some black people and the n word, and maybe they'll start being cool again. Oh yah, and also communists.
 

Ditto Much

TRIBE Member
Onthereals said:
This whole wiretap thing looks like its going to be used more to blackmail potential opponents than to catch terrorists. I've heard they've started to listen in on journalists already. (or have been for a while) I dont understand why there arent daily protests in Washington? Oh ya, no one cares. Or maybe Americans think only hippies protest, and none of them want to be that! LOL hippies and conspiracy theorists need to start calling themselves these terms ironically like some black people and the n word, and maybe they'll start being cool again. Oh yah, and also communists.


Hey as long as a 24 costs less than 10 bucks its pretty hard to get people all that pissed off, well sober and pissed off anyway.
 

Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
Onthereals said:
This whole wiretap thing looks like its going to be used more to blackmail potential opponents than to catch terrorists. I've heard they've started to listen in on journalists already. (or have been for a while) I dont understand why there arent daily protests in Washington? Oh ya, no one cares. Or maybe Americans think only hippies protest, and none of them want to be that! LOL hippies and conspiracy theorists need to start calling themselves these terms ironically like some black people and the n word, and maybe they'll start being cool again. Oh yah, and also communists.

Gonzales Says Prosecutions of Journalists Are Possible
 

atbell

TRIBE Member
Ditto Much said:
Hey as long as a 24 costs less than 10 bucks its pretty hard to get people all that pissed off, well sober and pissed off anyway.
A drugged populus, got a love it.

I'm surprised the right hasn't begun tyring to legalzie more drugs.

Pot and video games would shut up another huge chunk of people.

:rolleyes:
 
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