OSLO/ RIO DE JANEIRO (Dagbladet): The Norwegian military intelligence service collects vast amounts of signal intelligence, known as «sigint». In Afghanistan alone NIS collected 33 million registrations from telecommunication during 30 days around Christmas 2012, according to their own revelations.
Additionally they listen to satellites and radio communication in our own region. The listening post in Vardø, close to the Russian-Norwegian border at the top of Europe, is basically a giant ear eastward. The collection of data has grown out of hand and the Norwegian spies have not been able to use all their collections.
Handeling of this big data is becoming an increasingly important part of the intelligence services' surveillance programs worldwide. The NSA program to monitor email communications and web surfing all over the world, XKeyscore, collected 41 billion records during a 30-day period in 2012. Enormous computing power and storage capacity is needed to process the data and find the needles in the haystacks.
Snowden The Norwegian Inteligence Service (NIS) is also nauseous from the unmanageable amounts of data it is served daily. This is partly the reason why NSA now purchases a supercomputer codenamed Steelwinter. This information comes from a document Edward Snowden took from NSA and has later shared with Dagbladet. The document, marked «top secret» is a summary of how the NSA sees the collaboration with Norway after a meeting between the two services in March 2013.
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The supercomputer NIS buys is a derivation of the so-called Windsor Blue supercomputer.
«NIS is in the process of acquiring STEEL WINTER (a WINDSORBLUE derivative supercomputer ) and has entered into a partnership with NSA - cryptanalysis ( ...) service to develop applications of mutual benefit» the document says.
«Windsor Blue» is the name of a program for supercomputers at the American IT-giant IBM. The company is working towards creating a so-called exascale supercomputer which means it can make a quintillion - 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 - calculations per second.
- Exascale computers have not yet been build, but when we get there, such a computer would be about 20 times more powerful than the largest supercomputer we know today, says associate professor Anne C. Elster at NTNU university in Trondheim, Norway.
This machine is in China, and according to Elster about 30,000 times more powerful than the new game console Playstation 4. Gaming computers with their powerful graphics cards are the fastest computers available on the mass marked today.
The document does not say when the computer will be delivered, but in addition to the actual purchase, NIS has entered into a partnership with NSA to develop software for decryption. Some of the most interesting data NIS collects are encrypted, and the extensive processes for decryption require huge amounts of computing power.
- It is not possible to crack strong cryptography even with today's most powerful computers, says researcher and cryptologist Havard Raddum at Simula and the University of Bergen.
But many do not use strong enough encryption or parts of the encryption key may already be familiar to those trying to crack the code.
- Then, a supercomputer would be helpful, he says.
Tranfers to NSA
NIS sources states that the purpose of the acquisition is to analyze large amounts of data and find the needles they're looking for in the haystacks. They also want to do more of this work in Norway. As it is now, and has been in the past, large amounts of data is being sent to the NSA to be analyzed there.
The parliamentary body for oversight of the Norwegian intelligence services, the EOS-committee, states in their latest report that NIS now will reduce the transmission of large amounts of data:
«The Committee has also been informed that a new form of data exchange is under development, shifting to smaller but more targeted exchange of data», the report says. This new system will be ready in 2014.
NIS top Kjell Grandhagen is not willing to comment on the computer other than saying this:
- NIS handles larges amounts of data and need a relatively high computing power.
He emphasizes that the service under any circumstance do not monitor Norwegians in Norway.
- Our service can not monitor Norwegians in Norway, and we neither do so. There is full national control over the information that is shared with other countries. The Parliament?s intelligence oversight committee controls this continuously. Partners who receive information from the Norwegian intelligence cannot share that with others without our consent, Grandhagen says.
Quadrupled budget The new supercomputer is a boost for NISs capacity to analyze their own data and is part of a major investment program.
«NIS has received a four-fold increase (approximately US$100M) in their budget to support this effort», the document says.
The budget increase of about 600 million Norwegian kroners, is spread over the next five years. Over the last years NISs total annual budget has been around 1,1 billion kroners (about US$ 185 million). Dagbladet has learned that the investment in Steelwinter is made within this framework.
Quantum computing The NSA is wagering so heavily on decryption that they are now involved in efforts to build the next generation of supercomputers. Even the most powerful machines available today are not powerful enough for the NSA. Therefore, they established «The penetrating Hard Targets » - project where they sponsor and participate in research on so-called quantum computers, according to a document Washington Post received from Edward Snowden. This is a brand new technology and if the engineers get this working it will be possible to create computers that are many times more powerful than the most powerful supercomputers available today.
- They are quite far from being able to make a quantum computer now, but if they manage it would have revolutionized the possibilities of cracking encryption. A quantum computer would crack most known encryption methods, Raddum says.
The Windsor Blue project has at least been around since 2011 and the research is being done on a computer lab in Yorktown Heights, an hour's drive north from New York City in the United States.
- It is IBM who makes these super computers and they have been called something with "blue" since the days when chess player Gary Kasparov played against «Deep Blue» in 1997, Thomas Drake says.
He is a former manager at NSA and worked in the spy organization until 2007.
Drake had to quit at NSA after he warned of widespread surveillance of Americans. He was charged with espionage, but ended up as a free man with one year on probation and community service for having abused state equipment.
- Why would Norway need such a supercomputer?
- This is all about capacities, and this will give Norway the opportunity to analyze and understand. Such capabilities are useful with the sheer volume of data we have to deal with in the digital underworld.
But he also says that the internal competition between spy organizations means that many now wants the hottest computing power possible to come by.
- I have to smile when I hear this. This is also a "me too"-thing. No one is happy with what they have. It is like everyone wants to upgrade their mobile phone or PC to something bigger, faster, and one that can do more things. There is a technology tyranny that you always want an upgrade.
The same mechanisms were at work when Drake worked for the NSA.
- At the NSA there was always fun to bring someone to the Tordello building, the main computer building. There we are talking about the super - super - computers. We brought guests in there and let them see the big flashing machines, Drake says.