The League of The South
Home Introduction to League of The South How to join League of The South blog Contact the League of The South League Members Section

Is the government spying on you - Part 1 Carnivore
by Mike Crane, Morganton Georgia

This is of course a hot topic these days on both the internet and in the conventional media. But just how easy is it to find the answer? Well, any journalist can find out quickly just by asking an Administration spokesman.

The answer is: "Of course not!" or a more eloquent form of double-speak which says the same thing or says nothing at all.

Now for all adults who no longer believe in the tooth fairy and the availability of a free lunch, perhaps we should look at some public record history and facts of interest on the subject. But remember: the government goes trillions of dollars into debt every year just to protect us--and especially the children--and they will always tell us what they presume we need to know.

Once again, this is not secret information; it is public record, and the early articles in this series will have been public record in some cases for over ten years. If the recent revelations of government spying have been a surprise or shock to you, you need to upgrade your sources of information.

Let's start with a project, developed and deployed with YOUR (and your grandchildren's) MONEY, called Carnivore.


Carnivore (software)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Carnivore was a system implemented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that was designed to monitor email and electronic communications. It used a customizable packet sniffer that can monitor all of a target user's Internet traffic. Carnivore was implemented in October 1997. By 2005 it had been replaced with improved commercial software such as NarusInsight.

1 Configuration
2 Controversy

Configuration: The Carnivore system was a Microsoft Windows-based workstation with packet-sniffing software and a removable disk drive. This computer must be physically installed at an Internet service provider (ISP) or other location where it can "sniff" traffic on a LAN segment to look for email messages in transit. The technology itself was not highly advanced — it used a standard packet sniffer and straightforward filtering. The critical components of the operation were the filtering criteria. To accurately match the appropriate subject, an elaborate content model was developed.

Controversy: Several groups expressed concern regarding the implementation, usage, and possible abuses of Carnivore. In July 2000, the Electronic Frontier Foundation submitted a statement to the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary United States House of Representatives detailing the dangers of such a system. The Electronic Privacy Information Center also made several releases dealing with it.

The FBI countered these concerns with statements highlighting the target-able nature of Carnivore. Assistant FBI Director Donald Kerr was quoted as saying:

The Carnivore device works much like commercial "sniffers" and other network diagnostic tools used by ISPs every day, except that it provides the FBI with a unique ability to distinguish between communications which may be lawfully intercepted and those which may not. For example, if a court order provides for the lawful interception of one type of communication (e.g., e-mail), but excludes all other communications (e.g., online shopping) the Carnivore tool can be configured to intercept only those e-mails being transmitted either to or from the named subject. ... [it] is a very specialized network analyzer or "sniffer" which runs as an application program on a normal personal computer under the Microsoft Windows operating system. It works by "sniffing" the proper portions of network packets and copying and storing only those packets which match a finely defined filter set programmed in conformity with the court order. This filter set can be extremely complex, and this provides the FBI with an ability to collect transmissions which comply with pen register court orders, trap & trace court orders, Title III interception orders, etc.... ...It is important to distinguish now what is meant by "sniffing." The problem of discriminating between users' messages on the Internet is a complex one. However, this is exactly what Carnivore does. It does NOT search through the contents of every message and collect those that contain certain key words like "bomb" or "drugs." It selects messages based on criteria expressly set out in the court order, for example, messages transmitted to or from a particular account or to or from a particular user.

After prolonged negative coverage in the press, the FBI changed the name of its system from "Carnivore" to the more benign-sounding "DCS1000." DCS is reported to stand for "Digital Collection System"; the system has the same functions as before. The Associated Press reported in mid-January 2005 that the FBI essentially abandoned the use of Carnivore in 2001, in favor of commercially available software, such as NarusInsight (a mass surveillance system).


This system was developed at great labor and expense and was quite a sophisticated system in the late 1990s. As we all know, computer capability and technology advances rapidly in a just a few years. It isn't long until yesterday's "latest and greatest" is rendered obsolete. So that fact that the system was retired in 2001 tells us that it was replaced by something that could do even more.

But just this single public record item points out that since 1997 the government has been deploying sophisticated systems whose purpose was to store, read, and analyze the communications between two or more individuals by intercepting these communications at ISPs (Internet Service Providers).

Note that this system was connected to a LAN. Also note that its typical connection would have been at an ISP communications center. In the 1990s this was by far the predominate method of communication because all of the "telcos" (land line service providers) also provided internet services. In the late 1990s the majority of the internet connections were still 9600 Baud modems but 256KB DSL (or higher) was steadily gaining in percentage of users. This was added for the younger folks who may be reading this—Christopher Columbus didn't use the GPS on his iPhone to locate America!

This system did have limitations. The amount of traffic it could process was limited by the slower computers of that day. It could not fully read and analyze some encrypted data, such as, for example, https: websites, as this required either collaboration of the ISP or more computing power than was available in the unit (however, its stored data could be transferred to the decryption centers if warranted). So don't ever forget the very extensive funding that has been spent on code breaking systems. Do you think they just sit there idle?

But for the 1990s this was one of the most advanced spy systems ever developed.

Two points in closing. First this system was developed with tax payer money in the Clinton Administration. Second this system was capable of doing the targeted monitoring based upon court orders that the government claims is it goal - 16 years ago.

The next article will use more public records to look at some of the details that are known about Carnivore. This will set the stage for its replacement and the interesting background of the company that developed its replacement.

Continue to Part 2.

Learn more about the League of The South:

What is The League of the South?
by Dr Michael Hill - LS President

Copyright 1995-2014 AD League of the South, All Rights Reserved