In response to a public records request, the super-snooping spy agency from US says it doesn't have the technology
The NSA is a "supercomputing powerhouse" with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.
But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees' email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology.
"There's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately," NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.
The system is “a little antiquated and archaic," she added.
I filed a request last week for emails between NSA employees and employees of the National Geographic Channel over a specific time period. The TV station had aired a friendly documentary on the NSA and I want to better understand the agency's public-relations efforts.
A few days after filing the request, Blacker called, asking me to narrow my request since the FOIA office can search emails only “person by person," rather than in bulk. The NSA has more than 30,000 employees.
I reached out to the NSA press office seeking more information but got no response.
“It’s just baffling,” says Mark Caramanica of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “This is an agency that’s charged with monitoring millions of communications globally and they can’t even track their own internal communications in response to a FOIA request.”
Federal agencies’ public records offices are often underfunded, according to Lucy Dalglish, dean of the journalism school at University of Maryland and a longtime observer of FOIA issues.
But, Daglish says, “If anybody is going to have the money to engage in evaluation of digital information, it’s the NSA for heaven’s sake.”
Medical developments from around the world
Transparency in Drug Research
There is a move to push pharmaceutical companies to be more transparent in clinical trials. Activists, including Dr Peter Doshi, a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, want public access to all the data from clinical trials. “The current system, the activists say, is one in which the meager details of clinical trials published in medical journals, often by authors with financial ties to the companies whose drugs they are writing about, is insufficient to the point of being misleading,” quoted The New York Times in their story titled “Breaking the Seal on Drug Research”. Similar efforts are being made in Europe. Naturally, the pharmaceutical industry is trying very hard to stop this move.
HIV Vaccine Found Useless
A US government study, called the ‘HVTN 505 clinical trial’, kicked off in 2009. It had enrolled about 2,500 people in 19 cities, all men who have sex with men and transgender people who have sex with men. Half of the sample received an experimental vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health; the other half received dummy, or placebo, shots.
A safety review on 22 April 2013 found that volunteers who had received the vaccine later than those who received the dummy injection became infected with HIV. Overall, 41 cases of HIV infection occurred in the volunteers who received the experimental vaccine and 30 cases of HIV infection occurred among the recipients who received the dummy injection. The safety review also showed that the vaccine failed to reduce viral load among volunteers who acquired HIV infection at least 28 weeks after joining the study.
Women Deaths from Painkiller Overdose
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which showed increase in painkiller overdose-related deaths among women, received extensive coverage. Dr Thomas Frieden, of CDC, spoke of the magnitude of the problem. Dr Frieden said that prescription opiates kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined. He also said, “It’s tragic and unacceptable when we lose even one child to an avoidable injury.”
Unnecessary Cholesterol Testing
JAMA Internal Medicine, a part of the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) network, reported that about one-third of individuals who have heart disease undergo cholesterol testing more frequently than recommended. More than 9,000 patients out of about 27,000 had additional lipid panels in the 11 months after they achieved their low-density lipoprotein (LDL) goal of less than 100mg/dL. That was not necessary and could be dangerous. These seemingly inexpensive tests add up when done frequently.
Daily Painkillers Use May Increase CV Risk
The New York Times reported that “an authoritative and ambitious new analysis that included data from over 600 trials, including detailed case histories of more than 350,000 patients, concludes that people who take high doses of painkillers daily increase their cardiovascular risk by as much as a third, compared with those taking a placebo.” It also said: “the one exception is naproxen, which may actually have a protective effect against heart attacks.” The findings were published in The Lancet. I had written decades ago that painkillers do kill!
Smoking on the Decline in US
The prevalence of smoking among US adults declined from 24.7% in 1997 to 20.9% in 2005, and further from 20.6% in 2009 to 18.0% in 2012, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even in India, the rate is declining among the literate masses. Beedi business has shrunk significantly.