They See You When…

In today’s multi-topic column in the SF Chronicle, Jon Carroll takes on the difference between “uninterested” and “disinterested”, the decline in the latter, and the misuse of the former. I can’t add anything to what he says, beyond cheering him on. You may find my support for his position surprising, given my lack of concern over the use of “literally” to mean “figuratively”. The difference is that in the case of uninterested/disinterested, the correct interpretation is usually not obvious from context. Anyway, go read the column.

But that’s actually a side-issue, and isn’t actually why I wanted to call the column to your attention. The most important part of the column is the one in which Mr. Carroll discusses a workaround for the NSA’s snooping that I think merits some additional conversation. Says he, “It may be that, if you’re an enemy of the state or just a private citizen yearning for a life without surveillance, you’d be safest if you just wrote a letter.” In short, he suggests that the Postal Service doesn’t open your mail, and, should you burn your letters after reading them, the NSA can’t reconstruct the contents. Thus, it’s a much safer alternative to email.

Break out the tin-foil hats, folks (I’ll take a foil fedora, please. Better coverage than the traditional beanie, and much more stylish.) Could it be that Edward Snowden was actually a mole planted by the Postal Service to boost postal revenues and save Saturday mail delivery? Let’s look at the evidence.

One meme I hear over and over again is that the Post Office makes most of its money from delivering junk mail. If true, that would cast doubt on the conspiracy theory, as a spike in personal mail usage wouldn’t affect the major revenue source. It turns out, however, that it’s not true. As the New York Times pointed out in August, first-class mail is “the largest revenue source” for the Postal Service. Revenue from junk mail is about two-thirds what first-class mail brings in, and is only slightly ahead of package delivery revenue. Combine that information with the knowledge that first-class revenue actually declined by more than 3% in the third quarter, and the idea starts to look reasonable. If the Postal Service can reverse the decline in their big moneymaker, they might not just survive, but show a profit.

But wait, there’s a piece of information that Jon Carroll missed. The New York Times also reported that the Postal Service “…takes a photograph of every letter and package mailed in the United States…and…provides the photos to law enforcement agencies that request them…” That gives a record of every letter you send, who you send it to, and when. In short, exactly the same metadata that the NSA is collecting from cellular carriers.

Mr. Carroll suggests that using the mail system will allow you to run your illicit ferret smuggling operation without detection because law enforcement can’t read your letter setting up the meet. However, they can observe via the metadata that you have a pattern of sending letters to known ferret fanciers. Clearly this would be grounds for enhanced surveillance; a GPS tracker planted on your car would quickly reveal your covert trips to the secluded rest stop near the border where you exchange ferrets for cash.

I think this makes it clear that Edward Snowden is not working for the Postal Service, but is actually an NSA plant working a double-blind operation. The NSA, aware that the public would eventually find out about the cellular snooping program, is using Snowden to redirect communications into a different channel which is less efficient for terrorists (slower and more prone to data loss), but just as easily monitored.

You doubt me? Just ask yourself one simple question: “Who was paying Edward Snowden during the entire time he was gathering information on NSA practices?” That’s right, follow the money and consider: it was the NSA itself! Not exactly a disinterested third party. QED.