How to get picked up by the NSA

By Theresa Breuer on August 12th, 2013

We know we are being watched. Thanks to Edward Snowden, the man with balls as big as Vladimir Putin’s, Prism, Tempora and XKeyscore are no longer meaningless (and, let’s face it, dumb-sounding) terms to us. But here’s the thing: Most of the programs the NSA is using are collecting metadata only. So how can you be sure that anyone actually cares about what you say on Skype, write in your text messages or post on Facebook? For all you narcissists out there who think they deserve more attention, here is The Kernel’s guide to making sure you’re getting monitored.

One

Get connected as much as possible. Online, that is. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, email, Skype and LinkedIn – you don’t want to miss out on any of the social networks. Long conversations while strolling through the park or whispering sweet nothings in your girlfriend’s ear are going to make it really hard for the NSA to monitor you. In times where intelligence agencies use computer programs rather than agents in the field, your chances of talking to a real spy are pretty slim. So the more active you are on the internet, the higher the chances that something you do will be considered suspicious.

Two

Be lazy. Don’t encode anything. Using anonymity networks like Tor is just making it more difficult for the NSA to monitor your communication. Man, but now I went to one of those cryptoparties where I learnt how to encode all my shit. Luckily for you, the system also works the other way around: If you have nothing better to do, encrypt everything really, really well. It will make them wonder why you do it, and thus get their attention. The principle is simple: If you can’t convince them, confuse them.

Three

Travel. Preferably to the Middle East or Central Asia. As you might have noticed, our governments have taken a liking to these regions. If you prefer other places in the world, don’t worry. You’ll be happy to know that as a foreigner you are a suspect for living abroad alone. I mean, what the hell are you doing there ? Why are you writing emails to your friends back home in a language that is different from the one spoken in the country you’re currently in? For the NSA, it’s always worth checking out.

Here’s a  tip for those not having the time or the money to go abroad: just write your emails in a different language. Should you lack the necessary language skills – اتكلم العربية – use the Internet. After all, what is Google Translate for? Hell, they have so many different languages on that website, sit back and relax while the NSA is desperately looking for someone on staff who speaks Telugu.

If your life is even sadder and you can neither travel nor find any friends to write emails to, here’s another idea: Attach documents to an empty email, preferably in a suspicious language and packed with alarming words like “Taliban”, “Hamas”, or “Osama bin Laden”. Then don’t send it to anyone. It’s an old terrorist trick: Instead of sending their mail, they just create one email account for many people, write something, and leave it in the draft folder. By accessing the account alternately, they can leave messages for one another without actually ever sending them.

Four

Be blunt. It doesn’t help your cause if you develop some smart-ass code language. Take Daniel Bangert for example, a 28-year-old German guy  from Griesheim. There’s nothing special about this small town near Frankfurt – apart, that is, from the military facility nearby. The so-called Dagger Complex is operated on behalf of the NSA. A couple of weeks ago, Bangert invited people on Facebook to take a walk around the facility, “to explore the threatened habitat of the NSA and maybe even see some real spies”. A joke, obviously.

But the police contacted Bangert not once, not twice, but three times. After the US military had alarmed the German forces, they called him at 7 o’clock in the morning to talk about his Facebook post. A couple of minutes later, another police force was ringing his doorbell, ready to interrogate him.

He answered all their questions truthfully, only to receive another call, suggesting he should officially announce the walk as a demonstration, to make sure he wouldn’t get arrested for “snooping around”. They also suggested that he better not talk to anyone or publish anything about the police visiting him. He did both – but is still a free man.

If you’re still struggling to get attention, consider going properly rogue and publishing a blog post announcing your intention to assassinate someone famous. Just don’t get on the wrong side of the law. Saying you want to kill Obama or Janet Napolitano is likely to get you more surveillance that you probably want.