Skip to content


Harry Cassin
Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding
Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman
Senior Editor

Bill Steinman
Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin
Editor at Large

Elizabeth K. Spahn
Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington
Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
Contributing Editor

Bill Waite
Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets
Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong
Contributing Editor

Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

XKeyscore evens the score

We spent time as a young lawyer in the former Soviet Union, trying to help clients crack open some of the richest oil and gas deposits on earth.

It was great work and ultimately fruitful. But we admit to a lack of humility, not only back then but more recently, whenever our thoughts turned to that ‘Evil Empire.’

That, however, was before the Guardian’s revelations of our own government’s snooping, topped by this week’s stories about XKeyscore, an NSA tool that collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet.’

Circa ’88 to ’91, we contrasted the Free World with the USSR’s ‘surveillance state.’ That made it easy to tell everyone apart. And we thought it explained all you needed to know. In Moscow, for example, we had to deal with bored looking guys who would follow us around, leaving strange gifts in the hotel room to show they were watching.

Spooky yes. And proof, we thought, of the rightness of our Us-and-Them worldview. But that spooky stuff in Moscow was nothing compared to XKeyscore.

We’re not saying there’s a moral equivalence between the Yanks and the Soviets née Russians. The two don’t share a common history or experience and their outcomes have usually been very different. And nothing beats capitalism. So let’s leave that debate for another time and place.

Back then, though, we were willing to believe anything about the Sovs. If they had secret laws, as was rumored, it was our job to protect the clients. So we drafted clauses referring to ‘local laws, both published and unpublished.’ That last bit always seemed ridiculous — and a perfect indicator of why the USSR was so completely different from the U.S.

Since then we’ve learned a lot about the NSA and the invisible Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so we know better.

Young men, the Book of Books says, glory in their strength. Whereas older men, if we’re lucky, might finally learn the hard lesson that Us and Them aren’t always so different after all.


Richard L. Cassin is the Publisher and Editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

Share this post



  1. You left out 1 inconvenient fact. What the Kremlin did, and Beijing and Hanoi and Pyongyang do, is for keeping dictators in power. PRISM and XKeyscore is for protecting citizens.

  2. George Orwell's "Big Brother" has become reality.

  3. The similarity is superficial, the Soviet operation was manually controlled by human actors & the records were maintained on hard copy which, accordinlg to an archivist friend with experience in the Ukraine, had to be accessed manually as well.. The current US databases can be digitally searched & correlated. The databases are the real problem, they will surely be hacked & misused in the future perhaps for making civil decisions involving medical care or employment. The databases & drones cannot be the only effective methods of combating Islamic hegemony. We must redefine the ownership & privacy of communications & destroy the databases.

Comments are closed for this article!