Today is the 5-year anniversary of this weblog, so this time we will look back at the main developments and the highlights from the 108 articles that have been published here so far.
The very first posting was on January 18, 2012, and contained a video about the White House Situation Room, providing a nice look at the telecommunications equipment used at the highest level of the US government.
The first header of this weblog from January 2012, showing communications equipment
in the watch center of the US National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)
Initially, this weblog was called Top Level Telecommunications, as it was the intention to write about the communications equipment used by high-level government and military officials.
This fills a gap, because about crypto equipment for secure communications, there were already some very good websites, like those from Jerry Proc and the Dutch Crypto Museum, while for example the White House Museum and Cryptome provided great photos of the phones used by the US president, but without a more technical description of their functions.
In this way, a range of articles were written about the various phones used by president Obama. Then in October 2012 there was an extensive piece about the most important and exclusive communications link in the world: the Washington-Moscow Hotline. For many people it was an eye-opener that there were actually no red telephones on this hotline.
Besides the phones of the US president, there were articles describing the telephone equipment used by the Israeli prime minister, by the Dutch queen, by the popes, as well as by North-Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
Also provided were a list of highly secure mobile phones and a solution by General Dynamics to secure high-end commercial smartphones.
The second header of this weblog from October 2013, showing the NSA's National Security
Operations Center (NSOC), with the old name, but also the new domain name
Then, in June 2013, the Snowden-leaks started, which would result in the largest number of highly secret documents about NSA and GCHQ ever published. For this weblog, they provided a unique opportunity to describe the modern ways of intercepting communications as detailed as the methods to protect them and so the focus shifted from Top Level Telecommunications and Communications Security (COMSEC) to Signals Intelligence (SIGINT).
After for example new insights into the PRISM program and slides about other collection programs, it was described that the NSA tool BOUNDLESSINFORMANT only shows metadata and that the screenshots from BOUNDLESSINFORMANT can be misleading, which was eventually confirmed in February 2014 when it came out that the Dutch government tried to hide the truth about metadata collection as shown in the BOUNDLESSINFORMANT charts.
Carefully studying the original NSA documents made clear that they often did not support the stories in the press or the way they were presented by Snowden himself. The NSA presentations and reports made clear that the agency is extremely capable in intercepting communications, but they show no evidence for global mass surveillance in the sense that all our communications are continuously monitored, stored and analysed.
Other examples: in July 2014, Glenn Greenwald came with a last big story that was intended to prove that NSA was spying on ordinary American citizens, but actually the original document shows that it was not NSA, but FBI that monitored 5 Americans. In February 2015 it was reported that NSA and GCHQ had stolen SIM card keys from companies like Gemalto, but this didn't put "billions of cellphones" at risk as this was clearly an operation for tactical military purposes.
This kind of close and critical examination of the Snowden documents became an almost unique feature of this weblog as only very few other people took the time and effort for similar analysis.
Although sometimes controversial, the articles about the Snowden-revelations became highly appreciated by a very wide range of people, which led to a huge increase of readers and also of followers of the twitter-account @electrospaces.
The name Electrospaces was initially chosen for the URL of this weblog (http://electrospaces.blogspot.com) and is derived from Electrospace Systems Inc. (ESI), a former company that manufactured the sophisticated and futuristic looking telephone devices used for the Defense Red Switch Network (DRSN) and therefore also by the US president and the military leadership.
With this weblog now being not only about top level telecommunications equipment anymore, and the need for a short name on twitter, the initial name was replaced by Electrospaces.net, which also became the new and easier-to-use domain name. Accordingly the new name was presented on the header of this weblog as of January 2016.
Fans of top level telecommunications equipment were not forgotten, with articles about State Department red phones, the phones of NSA director Alexander, those of US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and of the Dutch prime minister. A final comprehensive overview of the presidential communications equipment under Barack Obama combines the information from earlier postings about Obama's phones.
Meanwhile, this weblog provided the first description of NSA's largest cable tapping program: DANCINGOASIS and identified the DRTBOX and the DRT surveillance systems for collection of wireless signals for tactical military purposes. And there was a detailed overview of FAIRVIEW: Collecting foreign intelligence inside the US.
The Snowden documents also revealed an overwhelming number of NSA codewords, internal organizational designators and the SIGADs which denote collection facilities, for which separate lists were compiled here in order to keep track of them - and they are still the most complete ones available.
Other lists contain codewords from GCHQ, CSE and BND and explain the numerous abbreviations and acronyms found in the disclosed documents. For a better understanding of the context, an overview of the complicated US classification system, as well as of NSA's legal authorities was created.
The current header of this weblog from January 2016, still showing the NSA's National
Security Operations Center (NSOC) but now with the new name Electrospaces.net
and the three topics which are covered here.
A range of articles became dedicated to developments in Germany: starting with how secure the Merkel-Phone is and how NSA targeted her mobile phone to an extensive coverage of the hearings of the parliamentary commission that investigates spying by NSA and the cooperation between NSA and BND (twitter hashtag: #NSAUA).
These seemingly endless hearings are transcribed by volunteers of the German digital rights organization Netzpolitik.org, but as they reveal many interesting details that confirm or complement things from the Snowden-documents, it proved to be worthwhile to summarize them here in English too.
Some notable results from these hearings were many interesting details about the joint NSA-BND operation Eikonal, which was recognized as being part of NSA's RAMPART-A program here for the first time, as well as that BND didn't care much about foreign NSA selectors.
In collaboration with the French weblog about intelligence & defence Zone d'Intérêt, articles were published about what if Google was an intelligence agency, followed by analysis of the new intelligence laws in France and the Netherlands, with articles about similar laws of other countries to follow in the future.
Finally, some numbers: the most popular article on this weblog became the one about how Obama's BlackBerry was secured from April 2013 with over 100.000 pageviews. Second is a piece from July 2014 about the new phones aboard Air Force One with was read about 72.000 times. Third comes a detailed description of INCENSER, or how NSA and GCHQ are tapping internet cables which got some 65.000 pageviews. The overall total of pageviews for this weblog is currently almost 2,3 million!
- Met Nerds om Tafel: S01E14 – Geheime Diensten en Edward Snowden met Peter Koop
- Washingtonian: 5 Questions for a Dutch Blogger Who’s Obsessed With the White House’s Phones