The US government has, famously, been unable to agree critical budget amendments since 2013. Even the NSA has proven susceptible to these budget constraints. Up to last week, the government security service was facing an inability to pay its 25,000 web-monitoring staff.
“We realized that we needed to think out of the box to fund our own activities,” says General Hank Mephisto, a senior NSA spokesman. “We’ve been collecting metadata on just about everyone everywhere for almost a decade. We know.”
“We wanted to do something that would support the US business edge around the world, as well as generate value from the resource we have created for the American people,” says Professor Shirley De’Ville, a senior analyst tasked with coming up with solutions for assisting critical state departments to finance their budget needs.
“This exclusive deal will permit our clients in insurance, banking, healthcare, employment recruitment and childcare to have the most detailed view on applicants than ever before,” says Voland Iblis, Chief Marketing Officer for the secretive investment consortium which is licensing the data to clients. “This resource gives us more information on individuals around the world than Google, Facebook and Twitter put together. We value that data at twelve dollars per person, per year.”
By comparison, Facebook makes about US$20 per US user from advertising revenue, according to their latest financial results, and about US$10.50 each for its 1.2 billion users across the world, so the NSA data would appear to be good value.
The US$ 95 billion deal is for a ten-year contract and will enable the NSA to finance a series of data centers permitting them to process even more personal data than ever before. Analysts are concerned about the secretive nature of the consortium managing the licenses, but there appear to be at least 15 major financial management firms which could easily afford the US$ 9.5 billion per year.
“It’s a huge win for the American people,” says Lilith Mohini, personal spokesperson for the US President.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
In the early 1970s the US government discovered that a Soviet Pacific Fleet base in Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula was linked to the Fleet’s headquarters in Vladivostok via a cable under the Sea of Okhotsk. The Sea was well within Soviet territorial waters and defended by a network of sound detection devices along the seabed. There was also plenty of Soviet military shipping.
Despite this, the Americans felt the opportunity was too good to miss. In October 1971, the USS Halibut, a customized submarine, was sent deep into the Sea of Okhotsk. Divers working from the submarine in 120 meters of water wrapped a 6.1 meter-long device around the cable which would be able to record all communications made over it. Once a month divers returned to the site, replaced the tapes and delivered the old ones to US intelligence services. Over time the US placed an ever greater number of listening devices on Soviet cables around the world.
In 1980, Ronald Pelton, dissatisfied with his pay and position at the NSA, walked into the Soviet embassy and told them about the operation for a payoff of US$ 35,000. It wasn’t till 1981, however, that the Soviets recovered the device and so ended the US operation.
In June 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that between 8 February and 8 March 2013 NSA collected about 124.8 billion telephone data items and 97.1 billion computer data items throughout the world, including in Germany, United Kingdom and France. The NSA has never stopped monitoring and recording the transmissions of the world’s telecommunications systems.
October 2013: Governing by Crisis
On 17 October, the US Government eventually passed a bill extending the Treasury’s US$ 16.7 trillion borrowing limit enabling the US to continue to pay for its debts and borrow to finance their deficit.
Between the 1 January 2013 fiscal cliff and the October deficit ceiling debacles, the US is lurching from crisis to crisis. The instability is gradually taking its toll with numerous state agencies – from the Centers for Disease Control to the various national parks – being forced to send staff home. 700,000 of the 2.1 million Federal employees were told not to come to work. Many of those worked for the Pentagon and they were quickly recalled.
The great fear, though, is what happens when this all plays out again in 2014?
November 2014: The same, only worse
President Barack Obama is now considered one of the lamest of sitting ducks. More than a year after the launch of Obamacare, only 127,000 people have managed to register for universal healthcare via healthcare.gov. While the Republicans still haven’t managed to reverse the Affordable Care Act, they haven’t needed to.
“The website still doesn’t work properly and I’m not overly troubled that anyone will care when it eventually does. The deed is done and no-one is interested anymore,” says Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
With two years left of his term, Obama may as well not be in office at all. The House and Senate are so polarized that no bills can be passed and the crisis has spilled over to the rest of the world, decimating Europe’s fragile economic recovery.
Left to their own devices, the various Federal entities are having to cut costs and services. Ordinarily this wouldn’t affect the military but the US$ 15 billion project for the F35 Joint Attack Fighter is unexpectedly cancelled, stranding Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and causing 87,000 job losses.
While some military pundits are outraged, more astute observers feel that this will permit more focused investment on drones and cheaper remote attack solutions.
Low voter turnout for Congressional and Senate elections only reinforces the rancor and despondency of the electorate. Democrat victory in the House is matched by Republican victory in the Senate. Government will still be polarized.
October 2015: US deficit falls as economy contracts
Americans seem to be getting used to not having much Federal government. States have taken over national parks and museums. The military has suffered through a much needed review and gutted many wasteful programs. The Centers for Disease Control has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund their US activities.
The NSA, though, issues a worrying alert. “Yes, we’re able to monitor all communications across the world, but we’re unable to process that information,” says General Keith Alexander, having recently been reinstated by President Obama. “We are exposed daily to the activities of terrorists and pedophiles and we are unable to stop them!”
The NSA budget is classified, but rumors emerge that the agency is in desperate need of US$ 5 billion of bridging finance just to keep their massive data centers operational.
In October 2015, they appoint BlackRock as strategic market commercialization advisors to look at ways the NSA could monetize their assets. “It’s a bad day when the NSA has to become subject to market forces,” says one military insider. “I believe this will be good for the American people,” says Voland Iblis, a senior consultant at BlackRock.
September 2016: A government that pays for itself
President Obama finally has good news. Flanked by General Hank Mephisto of the NSA and Lilith Mohini of the US Food and Drug Administration, he looks very spry for someone just out of surgery.
“Today I can announce that a series of initiatives has permitted us to run a balanced budget for the first time since 2001,” he says, to applause.
This has been brought about despite continuing gridlock in government. A series of astute marketing and partnership deals has led to massive surpluses at some departments in support of others. The most important deal is that of the NSA.
“Our colleagues at the NSA have shared their surplus in support of the needs of both the FDA and the CDC,” says Mohini. “Without them, we have been running the risk of poor regulatory enforcement of food and medical production, as well as limited monitoring of disease outbreaks.”
“We are encouraged that our services not only keep America safe but also our people healthy and our economy thriving,” says General Mephisto.
“This exclusive deal will permit our clients in insurance, banking, healthcare, employment recruitment and childcare to have the most detailed view on applicants than ever before,” says Voland Iblis, Chief Marketing Officer for the advertising consortium. “This resource gives us more information on individuals around the world than Google, Facebook and Twitter put together.”
The US$ 95 billion deal is for a ten-year contract and will permit the NSA to finance a series of data centers permitting them to process even more personal data than ever before.
The press conference is openly hostile to the announcement. “Who are in this consortium and where do they get that much money?” asks Natalie Hodges from Bloomberg News.
“Our clients will pay US$12 per year per person for a full profile,” says Iblis. “We have a database of over 1.5 billion people across Europe, the US, Australia, Canada, and many emerging markets. These are the sorts of people looking to buy health insurance, personal loans, motor cars, holidays and media devices. We have already signed service contracts with thirty-five major banks, eighty insurers and over 120 different financial services and retail firms. We’re not having a problem financing the US$ 9.5 billion a year we need to support this contract. As for who constitutes the consortium? I’m afraid that is subject to the Patriot Act and National Security Letters. It would be illegal for me to tell you or for you to know.”
A leaked report appears to indicate that BlackRock, an investment management company with over US$ 5 trillion in directly controlled assets, could be one member of the consortium. Analysts realise that more than 15 US-based companies could easily afford the capital. If Facebook users are worth US$9.50 each and they only share the information they want to, how much would it be worth if you had access to everything about them? A price of US$12 per person seems about right.
While few companies are openly declaring that they intend to use the new resource it is clear that demand will be massive. “We’re certainly open to business interests outside the US, but only to our friends. I’m afraid certain countries will be left out in the cold,” says Iblis.
“It’s a brave new world,” says Obama.