from the oh-really? dept
These are sobering findings.Indeed.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Nov 30th 2012 3:40am
These are sobering findings.Indeed.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Nov 29th 2012 12:02pm
By mid-September, just under three months after my initial request went in, I was informed that they’d identified the reports I was looking for and forwarded them to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) for a declassification review, which they expected would be completed by early November. Joy! Would we actually get information about an intelligence program out of the government without a lawsuit? Maybe even in time to have a semi-informed public debate?Once again, this seems to raise questions about the process here -- and how much of it really has to do with law enforcement officials being careful... and how much of it is purely political, seeking to hide damaging information that might impact the FAA renewal.
Well, no. ODNI informed me earlier this month that they were wrapping up their review and redaction Any Day Now, at which point… their redacted version would be forwarded, one at a time, to every other intelligence agency whose activities were referenced in the report. At each agency, it would go to the back of the line of FOIA requests, exactly as though it had just been submitted for the first time. Estimated time before a heavily censored version of these reports see the light of day: Another six months. At least. By which time, it won’t matter much what these reports say about NSA’s use of its sweeping powers, because Congress will have already given them another five years of spying authority.
Notice what this means in practice: Even though a court has already established, thanks to an ACLU lawsuit, that they are legally required to release redacted versions of these reports to the public on request, a cumbersome bureaucratic process effectively guarantees that it takes a solid year to get this information out, which means at best you’re working with what the assessment found two reports ago, allowing the government to assert that they’ve fixed whatever problems were found. In this case, the timing of the review process conveniently guarantees that whatever we learn will come far too late to influence this year’s vote on FAA powers, but be old news by the time Congress takes up the question again. It’s a little hard to swallow the claim that all this delay is remotely necessary: Are we really supposed to believe that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will be so slipshod about letting sensitive classified information through that their work has to be independently double checked by every other intelligence agency? And that this process has to take six months or longer, even after ODNI has done their initial review and redaction? Of course it doesn’t: This is a bureaucratic procedure designed, not to protect national security, but to allow stalling on the release of politically inconvenient information that the courts won’t allow to be completely hidden from the public.
What we should really be asking is why I had to submit this request at all. In his first days in office, after all, President Obama issued a directive not only urging agencies to err on the side of disclosure, but to adopt a policy of proactive release of documents likely to be of public interest. Surely if there were any doubt about the public interest in the use of sweeping surveillance powers, it should have been put to rest after the ACLU won release of the earliest compliance reports. So why didn’t the Justice Department follow President Obama’s directive and draft these reports with an eye toward preparing a declassified public version, knowing full well that civil liberties groups would come asking? Well, because then they wouldn’t be able to obfuscate and delay for months and months. Because then the public might be able to have an informed discussion about the secret surveillance powers we’ve given our spy agencies before we vote to extend them. Heaven forfend.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Nov 14th 2012 1:41pm
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Sep 14th 2012 10:06am
The most common refrain from FAA supporters was that the law only concerned surveillance targeting “foreigners in foreign lands”—meaning it could not possibly affect the rights of Americans. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), in an impressive display of lung power, delivered a five minute floor shout to this effect. “This bill has nothing to do with Americans on American soil,” Gowdy thundered, “This bill doesn’t implicate the Bill of Rights, any more than it implicates any other part of our Constitution, unless you think that foreign nationals who are on foreign land fall within the protections of the United States Constitution.” But Gowdy has to know that this is false, because the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has already ruled on at least one occasion that surveillance authorized by the FAA did violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on “unreasonable searches and seizures.”Similarly, we've seen how the NSA absolutely refuses to say how many Americans have been spied upon using these tools, claiming that it's impossible to know (or that it would violate their privacy to find out -- seriously). But, Sanchez notes that, despite the NSA insisting it's impossible to know, that didn't stop Representatives from claiming they just knew.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) was slightly more equivocal, seemingly acknowledging that the law might permit surveillance of Americans, but that this would happen only very rarely. The mystery here is how he could possibly know that. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has repeatedly asked the NSA for a rough ballpark estimate of how many Americans—100? 1,000? 100,000?—have had their communications caught up in the agency’s FAA dragnets. If Rep. Rogers were correct, you’d expect the answer to be “almost none”—but instead the agency has repeatedly insisted that it is unable to provide even an approximate figure. Unless Rep. Rogers somehow knows things about the NSA’s databases that the NSA does not know, he can’t have any real basis for this claim.And then there's Rep. Dan Lungren. Earlier, we had noted that when there were discussions during hearings about the FAA, he brushed off concerns about spying on Americans by saying he hadn't seen any such evidence so it couldn't be true. Of course, he didn't bother to seek out any such evidence by asking the NSA to provide the data. And here he was even worse, making bizarre claims in support of expanding the FISA Amendments Act that seem to go completely against reality.
Finally, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) suggested that the necessity of the FAA was demonstrated by the failures of intelligence leading up to 9/11. After all, the 9/11 Commission had again and again emphasized the central failure to “connect the dots” that would have revealed an imminent attack before it occurred—and to “connect the dots,” Lungren asserted, intelligence agencies would need still more expansive power to first “collect the dots.” This is, in a way, the most breathtakingly erroneous statements heard during Wednesday’s floor debates, because turns the 9/11 Commission’s findings completely on their head. Their report conspicuously did not identify a lack of legal authority to conduct surveillance as a serious problem: If anything, the trouble was that agencies were drowning in information they lacked the capacity to analyze and put to use. Perversely, Lungren trades on a familiar phrase—”connect the dots”—to utterly invert the Commission’s diagnosis of the causes of 9/11.So... if you're keeping track at home, the reasons the House approved this horrible bit of legislation with massive loopholes that allows the NSA to spy on us is because it can't be used to spy on us (even though it can), it bars the collection of domestic communication (except in nearly every case that it does not), it's barely been used on Americans (except that the NSA claims it's impossible to tell how many Americans it's been used on) and we need it to "connect the dots" on terrorism (even though it doesn't help connect the dots, but merely to provide even more dots, many of which will distract from the important dots).
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Sep 12th 2012 3:35pm
”Intelligence is the lifeblood of our ability to defend ourselves,” he said. Moments later, he added: “Are we to believe that the Fourth Amendment applies to the entire world?”But, uh, the concern isn't with the rest of the world. Even without the FISA Amendments Act, the NSA already had the right to seek info on foreign communications. They have no 4th Amendment rights, so that's not even an issue. The issue is that the FISA Amendments Act appears to include some weasel words that have been twisted by the government to suggest that it can spy on Americans too. But Gowdy misleads the public by pretending, falsely, that this is about foreigners? It's not. Has he asked the NSA how many Americans it's spied on? Even the NSA has admitted that it's violated the 4th Amendment under the act in spying on Americans... but Gowdy pretends this is just about foreigners? How do you stand up and call yourself a "Representative" when you can't even get the very basics right?
For example, an authorization targeting “al Qaeda”—which is a non-U.S. person located abroad—could allow the government to wiretap any telephone that it believes will yield information from or about al Qaeda, either because the telephone is registered to a person whom the government believes is affiliated with al Qaeda, or because the government believes that the person communicates with others who are affiliated with al Qaeda, regardless of the location of the telephone.Take that and expand it, and you've basically given the feds and the NSA a blank slate to spy on Americans by claiming that if it believes the spying will yield information about a threat, then it's fine. And our "Representatives" are standing up and -- either through ignorance or straight-up dishonesty -- are pretending that this is about spying on foreigners only. Shameful.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Sep 11th 2012 11:25am
If you find this worrisome (and you should), the ACLU has set up an an action page to contact your elected officials and ask them to do their jobs and find out the details before just rubber-stamping the extension of the FISA Amendments Act.
After four years, you’d hope that some basic information or parameters of such a massive spying program would be divulged to the public, or at least your rank-and-file member of Congress, but they haven’t. Only a small handful of members have either personally attended classified briefings or have staff with high enough clearances to attend for them. Sen. Ron Wyden—who has been on the Senate Intelligence Committee for years—has even been stonewalled by the Obama administration for a year and a half in his attempts to learn basic information about the program, such as the number of Americans who have had their communications intercepted under the FAA.
Yet the House ambles on, ready to rubber stamp another five years of expansive surveillance that can pick up American communications without meaningful judicial oversight and without probable cause or any finding of wrongdoing. Instead of blind faith in the executive branch, every member of the House should demand that the administration publicly disclose the following before proceeding with reauthorization:
Copies of FISA court opinions interpreting our Fourth Amendment rights under the FAA, with redactions to protect sensitive information (the Department of Justice can write summaries of law if necessary); A rough estimate of how many Americans are surveilled under the FAA every year; A description of the rules that govern how American information picked up by FAA surveillance is protected.
Can you believe that 435 members of Congress who have sworn to uphold the Constitution are about to vote on a sweeping intelligence gathering law without this basic information?
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Aug 28th 2012 1:59pm
Binney expressed terrible remorse over the way some of his algorithms were used after 9/11. ThinThread, the "little program" that he invented to track enemies outside the U.S., "got twisted," and was used for both foreign and domestic spying: "I should apologize to the American people. It's violated everyone's rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world."Now, the NY Times has something of a following, including a short documentary feature about Binney and his whistleblowing over the NSA's domestic spying. It's really worth watching as it very simply highlights how vast the domestic spying effort is, however powerful it can be -- and also how the NSA dances around the fact that it's not allowed to spy on Americans. They claim that as long as they're not actually looking at the content they record and store directly, it's just collecting the info and not actually spying on people. That is, they think that acquiring all this data is fine, so long as they don't directly query the info. But... as Binney explains, his algorithms (which have likely been updated quite a bit) can still go through all this info and build basic "profiles" of just about anyone. It's really worth watching, if only to wonder how anyone thinks this is acceptable.
I have been detained at the border more than 40 times. Once, in 2011, when I was stopped at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and asserted my First Amendment right not to answer questions about my work, the border agent replied, “If you don’t answer our questions, we’ll find our answers on your electronics.”’ As a filmmaker and journalist entrusted to protect the people who share information with me, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to work in the United States. Although I take every effort to secure my material, I know the N.S.A. has technical abilities that are nearly impossible to defend against if you are targeted.All of this attention, by the way, is to question why Congress is so intent on re-authorizing the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) which is what gives the NSA a pass on much of this spying, thanks to a "secret interpretation" of the law, which the public is not allowed to even know about. If this sounds like the sort of thing that shouldn't be allowed in a free and open society, you're just beginning to grasp the problem.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Aug 23rd 2012 4:08pm
What’s missing, however, is a reliable way of keeping track of who sees what, and who watches whom. After T.I.A. was officially shut down in 2003, the N.S.A. adopted many of Mr. Poindexter’s ideas except for two: an application that would “anonymize” data, so that information could be linked to a person only through a court order; and a set of audit logs, which would keep track of whether innocent Americans’ communications were getting caught in a digital net.And let's not even waste time discussing how the NSA actually had a much cheaper program that actually did have safeguards, because the guy who exposed the world to that almost end up in jail for a few decades.
The N.S.A. came up with more dead ends than viable leads and put a premium on collecting information rather than making sense of it.Of course, that doesn't mean people's privacy isn't being violated (something even the NSA itself will admit when forced -- though it still refuses to say how many Americans are having their privacy violated). So the end result is that the NSA is collecting all of this data, violating people's privacy (and, most likely, the 4th Amendment). And, out of that they're turning up very little in the way of useful leads.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Aug 22nd 2012 10:38am
“If FISA’s reference to ‘common carrier’ were interpreted in accord with the Communications Act,” Kris and Wilson explain, explicitly citing the Brand X decision, “information (such as e-mail) being carried on a cable owned and offered by a cable modem service provider would not be a ‘wire communication’ under FISA, and acquisition of such information would not be ‘electronic surveillance’ under” the definition that applies to traditional phone calls.Sanchez provides a lot more detail, which is worth reading in full, because it's quite complex. However, it suggests that the Bush administration's focus on "deregulating" cable may have undercut the NSA's "spy on everyone" program through a simple definition change. The FAA, then, was put in place (partly) to once again enable the NSA to get access to a bunch of live communications legally, whereas it's quite possible that the FISA court had found, in light of Brand X, that the efforts had been against the law. Now, you can argue that the change due to the Brand X decision is no big deal, because it was just clarifying some rules, and dealing with antiquated language in the statute. But, again, since so much of this happened in secret, if Sanchez's story is accurate, it more or less allowed the government to write very broad rules, such as those now allowing such broad surveillance.
So the FISA Amendments Act allows the government to target foreigners and capture conversations with Americans — with no warrant required, so long as they aren’t actually trying to wiretap the American via a technical loophole.Sanchez goes on to point out that if this story is accurate, and if the FISA court had basically upended the feds' spying program becuase of some definitional issues, a more reasonable and transparent approach would simply be to work together with lawmakers and civil liberties experts to actually focus in on the specific problem. Instead, it appears they may have used this loophole to massively expand spying capabilities, with no public oversight at all.
But if the government’s problem is an inability to reliably determine the location of parties to a communication, it’s not clear why we should be confident that interception under this broad new authority can reliably avoid acquiring many purely domestic communications. Even if it can, blanket authority to acquire the international communications of Americans — with no requirement that the foreign side of the conversation be suspected of any connection to terrorism or espionage‹seems like an incredibly broad way of addressing the issue.
Perhaps Kris and Wilson are correct that a narrower solution to the problem would have been unworkable. On the other hand, perhaps legislators would have tried a bit harder to craft a viable narrow solution if they, and the general public, had clearly understood exactly what the problem was.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Aug 2nd 2012 10:14am
Not long after Binney quit the N.S.A., he says, he confided his concerns about the secret surveillance program to Diane Roark, a staff member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the agency. Roark, who has flowing gray hair and large, wide-set eyes, looks like a waifish poet. But in her intelligence-committee job, which she held for seventeen years, she modeled herself on Machiavelli’s maxim that it is better to be feared than loved. Within the N.S.A.’s upper ranks she was widely resented. A former top N.S.A. official says of her, “In meetings, she would just say, ‘You’re lying.’ ”While Roark was not charged in the same process that resulted in charges against Drake, there was a search conducted, and computers taken. She's now sued the US government, seeking the return (many years later) of the computers seized, as well as findings that the feds actions were unconstitutional.
Roark agrees that she distrusted the N.S.A.’s managers. “I asked very tough questions, because they were trying to hide stuff,” she says. “For instance, I wasn’t supposed to know about the warrantless surveillance. They were all determined that no one else was going to tell them what to do.”
Plaintiff asks that the Court find unconstitutional the following Government actions and claims:To be honest, these kinds of lawsuits rarely get very far, but it should be interesting to watch either way...the Government's activities and assertions... that infringe on citizen speech and communications under the First Amendment to the Constitution and on property rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments.
the manner in which the Government investigated, managed and prolonged her case. Plaintiff contends that the actions taken against her constitute retaliation for her whistleblower activities and execution of her Congressional oversight responsibilities that revealed inefficenicy, contract fraud, the persistent waste of billions of dollars on a single ill-conceived program that was never built, plus illegal and unconstitutional operations.
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