Is the U.S. Government Spying on Costa Ricans and Storing Their Personal Data?

Costa Rica is no stranger to surveillance; it has always been Central/South America's hub of eavesdropping.  Back in the early 1980s the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica was undergoing a remodeling and when finished, the roofs were covered with various sizes of satellite dishes and antennas. These CIA surveillance equipment targeted the conflict areas of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and various hot zones in South America. With support of the U.S. Government, Costa Rica’s internet and communications grew faster than any Central/South American country.

Websites, emails, VoIP (Skype, Google video etc.), and smartphones now play a major role in Costa Rica's everyday life.  Now add Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other Social Media websites, Ticos and expats have opened themselves to the world … with said, and their privacy.

Collecting personal information or data mining is not new; it has been going on since the Cold War, and with the U.S. Patriot Act (after 9-11), this eavesdropping intensified. However, it has always been "simple" data mining that had court authorization, which was collected, reviewed and then deleted!

Americans were lead to believe data mining only targeted landline/cell calls and open wave devices like shortwave. However,  in the past 4-5 years, internet guru's, and those with malicious means like crackers and [black hat] hackers knew governments were spying on the innocent (easy prey) and used certain counter measures.

Counter measures? – in the case of black hat hackers, they use complex stealth systems like jumping from IP address, to IP address and using decrypted ways, means and methods for hiding their identity –  to the simplicity of Internet gurus, who see  those "Unknown" bots indexing various websites and in some cases, be able to ban certain IP addresses.

In the last 6 months we have seen an major increase in robots/bote indexing Tico Times Directory. It used to be Google and Yahoo were the main indexers, not any more - we get indexed thousands of times a month by "Unknown," bots.

As for Tico Times Directory/Blog,  in the last 6 months we have seen an major increase in robots/bots indexing us. It used to be Google and Yahoo were the main indexers, not any more – we get indexed thousands of times a month by "Unknowns," and other webmasters we have talked to have seen simular results.

When it came to protecting your privacy, your data, and all for FREE, the increase of using such websites services like Anonymouse has jumped 500%.

Last week the general public learned how much an easy prey they were, when a whistle blower reveled the top secret program of the National Security Agency (NSA) called, PRISM, where every call, every email, every Web-based VoIP  will be  monitored and stored at the new National Security Administration (NSA) datacenter of a million sq. in Utah in its war against terrorism.  This may be, perhaps, the largest in with world that can store around 5 zetabytes (5 TRILLION gigabytes) at the cost of around $250 billion US tax dollars. It uses over 65 megawatts of electricity with an annual bill of $40 million. This is very expensive data mining.

This data mining center was first disclosed by the New York Times in 2005: claiming that the NSA was engaged in widespread wiretapping of Americans with the consent of firms like AT&T and Verizon.

The legal defense of the NSA at the time; they ONLY wiretapped suspected terrorists and ONLY did it with court orders, denying any type of civil liberties violations. Then added,  the center's real use would be try and crack NSA's complex AES encryption, the cryptographic standard certified by the NSA and by 2009 it would be for military and government use and considered uncrackable in any amount of time relevant to mortals. With said, the whole ordeal of privacy got buried in governmental red-tape, until now.

NSA massive one million sq. ft. database center in Utah.

It is also said the final price tag of this mega database, will be over a trillion dollars, a face-slap at taxpayers especially with the Sequester;  an automatic budget cuts that threatened hundreds of thousands of jobs, and cut vital services for children, seniors, people with mental illness and our men and women in uniform.

Obviously, this has caused major controversy and outcry when the true use of PRISM was pushed in taxpayer's faces. 

What has also happened, opposing party members (Democrats and Republicans)  have join forces, both in support and/or against this unauthorized eavesdropping.  Recent polls show that over 90% of Americans disapproved of this snooping or spying, quoting the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Bob Bechel, a liberal commentary and others scathingly criticized the White House and the NSA secret grab of Americans' phone records. In another survey, only 5% now trust the U.S. Government, which has been a huge blow to the Obama administration.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a massive lawsuit against the NSA and others are expect to follow suit.

This all started when a  29-year-old intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden (using the code name “Verax,” truth-teller in Latin), cautiously approached a Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman about disclosing some dramatic state secrets on intelligence gathering.

Within 72 hours, Snowden had a "shocking" PowerPoint presentation describing PRISM, it was not only a top-secret surveillance program, but it went to new extreme when it targeted and  gathered intelligence from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley companies. Snowden then fled to China.  Some called, Snowden, a “Hero" and others called him, a "Traitor."

So, what were the reactions of the Internet giants?

  • "WTF?” was Google CEO Larry Page first responds and stated that “any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.” However, Google legal eagles, immediately,  sent a cover-your-ass and publicly announced  letter to Obama and company, that they will have to prove the NSA is not spying on it users.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called media reports about PRISM “outrageous,” stating that “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers.” adding, “We only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifier.”
  • Microsoft said in a statement , “If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data, we don’t participate in it.”
  • “The notion that Yahoo! gives any federal agency vast or unfettered access to our users’ records is categorically false,” wrote Yahoo’s Ron Bell last Saturday. “Of the hundreds of millions of users we serve, an infinitesimal percentage will ever be the subject of a government data collection directive.”

One of the other shocking items that Edward Snowden disclosed, the NSA has been hacking into China and "others" for years. So, what prevents NSA hacking into Facebook, Google, Yahoo etc.? In the last 4 years, all the Internet giants have had major security breaches.

In an interesting turn of events, in Jan, 2010 Google confirmed it had been the target of a “highly sophisticated” and coordinated hack attack against its corporate network. It said the hackers had stolen intellectual property and sought access to the "Gmail accounts."  Google, in a bold and very cool move countered by hacking back.

Google "claimed" the attack originated from China. Unfortunately, Google can't prove the Chinese involvement was 100 percent.

Now this is what is interesting, when Google asked the FBI to help, they got the pussy-footing and never "really" received help. Hummm, what does this tell you?

Anonymous” the notorious hacker anti-government group, boasted that they infiltrated (hacked) PRISM,

Google was not the only one in this hack attacks, which are said to have targeted at least 34 companies in the technology, financial and defense sectors, have been dubbed “Operation Aurora” by the security Internet firm of McAfee due to the belief that this is the name the hackers used for their mission and claimed the attack came from China.

Strangely enough, the Aurora was a rumored mid-1980s American reconnaissance or surveillance aircraft. Interesting speculation, if McAfee secretly knew these hacks originated from NSA, and why they named it, Aurora.

On June 7th, “Anonymous” the notorious hacker anti-government group, boasted that they infiltrated (hacked) PRISM, and had gained access to Obama’s Skype Account.

In support of the hack, Anonymous leaked a cache of internal Department of Defense (DOD) documents. The documents are from 2008, shortly after the NSA began its just-unveiled PRISM spying program, and outlines key portions of the DOD's, DOJ, and NSA "strategic vision" for monitoring and controlling (spying and manage) information.  Anonymous claimed some of those documents targeted, were some of the big boys of the Internet, but did not mentioned which ones.

Anonymous, also discovered these documents were being shared around the globe with the United States' international partners, which no-doubt included Costa Rica.

Just about every morning in Liberia, Costa Rica, at the other end of the runway, eight Americans zipped into tan flight suits aboard a massive P-3 white surveillance plane.

During the Nicaragua conflict (1979-1990), Costa Rica's then President Rodrigo Carazo Odio (May, 1978- May 1982) gave the U.S, the green light to operate secret bases inside of Costa Rica, to gather intelligent information on the Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction Government in Nicaragua  and to aid and support the Contras who were fighting against the Sandinistas. Now we add the on-going war on drugs and this has given the U.S. an open book to spy on every Central America country.

It is no secret that during President Obama visit in May, 2013 with President Laura Chinchilla, one of their main topics was "How to increase the war on drugs." With said, an agreement was made that the U.S. would increase their intercepting, tracking, recording, and storing all communications within the borders of Costa Rica.

Every Costa Rican has known for years, the U.S. is patrolling its skies and waters.

The U.S. is equipping Costa Rica’s law enforcement with high-tech gear ranging from night vision goggles to a "$2 million satellite and radio communications station" on the Pacific Coast linked to the U.S. anti-drug command in Key West, then this data is forward to NSA's main headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and once completed to the new Utah's storage facilities where PRISM operates.  The U.S. spent more than $18.4 million in direct security to Costa Rica last year and its easy to see why outside sources are seeing the overall U.S. costs will excede $50 million.

Now using a combination of sophisticated AWACs like the E-3 Sentry and other aircraft, surface ships, technology, and intelligence agencies directed at Central America, and you now have countries whose peoples privacy and civil liberties are under seize.

The "Pure Life" phrase has transposed into a country of "Pure Surveillance."

If there is a hint of good news, the deciphering of this massive amount of data takes an ungodly amount of time.

In other words, as a DEA agent is getting INTEL chatter between drug Cartels, dealers, and users, it is also picking up the chatter of an married Gringo bragging about how he had the best time at the De Rey to his U.S. buddies [via Skype]. Normally this is relatively a safe bet of discretion  and non-threatening (except if his wife finds out) … and who really cares about embarrassing some dumb Gringo for being unfaithful ….  but for how longAnd what could be the overall consequences?

What about people like Edward Snowden, who may use this for blackmail and extortion? There is currently around, 500,000 government contractors with security clearances who have access to this information. To think for one second there are not a few hundred dishonest personal, you are still drinking Koolaid.

During this weeks Senatorial Hearings FBI Director Robert Mueller claims these “secret government surveillance programs” are conducted legally, but ALSO added, government cannot complete with the private sector to get highly qualified people, nor can they guarantee the people they hire are honest.

So there is nothing to prevent personal information from being leaked and/or used for extortion and blackmail as Snowden proved that point, exclusively.

If Costa Rican's think for one second that cell or Skype calls or email you just made or sent was not under some type of surveillance  …  I rest my case!


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  1. After the resignation of President Richard Nixon, congressional investigations in the United States revealed the depths of domestic and political surveillance from the 1950's through the 1970s. A number of laws limiting the power of the government to spy on U.S. citizens were enacted. One such law, the Foreign Intelligence Act (FISA) of 1978, governed the electronic eavesdropping of U.S. citizens in national security investigations.
    The Oklahoma City bombings by Timothy McVeigh resulted in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and a number of Patriot Act type provisions on surveillance were a result.
    In 2008 the Justice Department proposed a new domestic spying measure that would make ir easier  for state and local police to collect intelligence about Americans, share the sensitive data with ferderal agencies, and retain it for at least 10 years. This proposal included an overhaul of FBI procedures for gathering intelligence and investigating terrorism cases within the U.S. borders. That same year, the Bush Administration released an executive order that guided the organization of federal spy agencies.
    Good article. But eavesfdropping is nothing new to people around the world or the people of the United States. Why are we acting so alarmed when we know this has always been an integral apart of our everyday lives?

    • Because for the first time, major Social Media websites, like Facebook, who have over a billion users, and whose users have always demanded some for of privacy, this has big time breached the trust. Privacy is a huge issue, and the NSA has now shown to the people, they can do anything they damn well please and without legal cause. In other words Big Brother is watching and George Orwells 1948 book, "1984" about a chilling prophecy about the future of governement control, may now  become reality.

  2. From Tambor says:

    I see these planes flying overhead all the time, now it makes me wonder. this is not good!

  3. Barba Becken says:

    Love Anonymous when they published that video on those students that raped that girl. Never thought that Costa Rica had privacy issues until now :(

  4. Peter says:

    Nicely researched article, I fully agree with the authors conclusion.

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