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'Connect the Dots' -- An Alternative to NSA Bulk Surveillance?

The National Security Agency's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah.

The National Security Agency's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. // Rick Bowmer/AP File Photo

Last month, the National Research Council concluded there is no technological replacement for the National's Security Agency's mass surveillance and therefore should not be fully replaced.

“No software-based technique can fully replace the bulk collection of signals intelligence,” the report stated.

But there may in fact be a viable alternative -- and it’s been around for more than a decade, according to J. Kirk Wiebe, a former NSA analyst.  

Wiebe, who created this alternative surveillance technique, spent three decades at NSA and received its second-highest award, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award.

The idea behind Wiebe’s alternative is simple. It boils down to “connect the dots,” he said Saturday at an event sponsored by the Newseum and the Washington, D.C. Public Library.

“It's basically an approach to surveillance that relies on old police tried-and-true investigation that says find a suspect, find a clue, pursue it, chase it down, see if it's accurate," Wiebe said. "If it's not, hopefully, you have another clue."

Essentially, the system replaces bulk collection of phone records with a color-coded system for tracking potential suspects: Red denotes a Constitutionally protected U.S. citizen. A yellow code indicates a potential target of interest, either overseas or domestic. And green represents a known terrorist suspect.

“I can build a map of your relationships,” Wiebe said. “Your family, your business, your school friends -- all of them with dots and connecting bars, and I can protect them with encryptions and not let anyone know who those people actually are." 

Despite creating it 12 years ago, Wiebe said he has only shown the PowerPoint presentation laying out his alternative method to select few people.

The NSA surveillance “is the biggest attack on the Constitution in the history of this nation, because essentially what they've done is put the soldiers that King George wanted to put in the Colonial home . . . they put them in all our homes and on our smartphones and computer,” Wiebe said.

The independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board didn’t go quite that far.

But last week, the board released a progress report calling on President Barack Obama to end the NSA's bulk telephone records program, noting the administration could do so without legislative action.

Still, Wiebe said Americans shouldn’t fear NSA surveillance.

“I want you to be active, in a serious way," he said. "Write letters, go on websites, whoever is your Congress person … tell them, you want accountability on mass surveillance.”

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