Former NSA Boss: We Don't Data Mine Our Giant Data Collection, We Just Ask It Questions

from the um,-that's-the-same-thing dept

General Michael Hayden, the former head of both the NSA and the CIA, has already been out making silly statements about how the real “harm” in the latest leaks is it shows that the US “can’t keep a secret.” However, he’s now given an even more ridiculous interview trying to defend both the mass dragnet collection of all phone records and the PRISM collection of internet data. In both cases, some of his claims are quite incredible. Let’s start with this whopper, in which he claims that they don’t do any data mining on the mass dragnet data they collect, they just “ask it questions.”

HAYDEN: It is a successor to the activities we began after 9/11 on President Bush’s authority, later became known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

So, NSA gets these record and puts them away, puts them in files. They are not touched. So, fears or accusations that the NSA then data mines or trolls through these records, they’re just simply not true.

MARTIN: Why would you be collecting this information if you didn’t want to use it?

HAYDEN: Well, that’s – no, we’re going to use it. But we’re not going to use it in the way that some people fear. You put these records, you store them, you have them. It’s kind of like, I’ve got the haystack now. And now let’s try to find the needle. And you find the needle by asking that data a question. I’m sorry to put it that way, but that’s fundamentally what happens. All right. You don’t troll through the data looking for patterns or anything like that. The data is set aside. And now I go into that data with a question that – a question that is based on articulable(ph), arguable, predicate to a terrorist nexus. Sorry, long sentence.

I’m not sure if Hayden is just playing dumb or what, but asking it questions is data mining. What he describes as asking it questions is exactly what people are afraid of. It’s exactly the kind of data mining that people worry about. On top of that, just the fact that he flat out admits that they’re putting together the haystack to “try to find the needle” is exactly the kind of issue that people are so concerned about. The whole point of the 4th Amendment is that you’re not allowed to collect the haystack. You’re only supposed to be able to, on narrow circumstances, go looking for the needle with proper oversight. Yet, here, he admits that there’s no such oversight once they have that haystack:

MARTIN: May I back up? Do you have to have approval…

HAYDEN: No.

MARTIN: …from the FISA court…

HAYDEN: No.

MARTIN: …which is the intelligence surveillance court established in order to go in and ask that question.

You have had a generalized approval, and so you’ve got to justify the overall approach to the judge. But you do not have to go to the judge, saying, hey, I got this number now. I’ll go ahead and get a FISA request written up for you. No, you don’t have to do that.

That should be a “wow” moment right there, because it also appears to contradict President Obama’s claim that “if anybody in government wanted to go further than just that top-line data … they’d have to go back to a federal judge and — and — and indicate why, in fact, they were doing further — further probing.” Furthermore, he’s basically admitting that they basically give the FISA Court some vague reason why they need every possible record on phone calls, and then there’s no oversight by the court on how those are used, other than vague promises from the NSA that they’re not being abused for data mining — but just for “asking questions,” which is data mining.

Moving on to PRISM. Hayden’s responses are equally astounding. He’s asked about the fact that the NSA has admitted that they try to make a determination of if the person is foreign and have a system to determine if they’re 51% sure that a person is foreign in deciding whether or not to keep their data. As the interviewer notes, 51% “seems mushy.” Hayden’s response is ridiculous:

Yeah, well, actually, in some ways, you know, that’s actually the literal definition of probable, in probable cause.

Um, whether or not that’s the standard for probable cause is meaningless. Probable cause is the standard used to determine if someone can be arrested (or to have a search done). It is not the standard for determining if the person is foreign or not, subjecting them to mass surveillance by the NSA. The 4th Amendment requires probable cause for a search, but not probable cause in foreignness, rather probable cause in criminal activity. Is Hayden honestly suggesting that being foreign is probable cause of criminality? Because that’s insane.

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Comments on “Former NSA Boss: We Don't Data Mine Our Giant Data Collection, We Just Ask It Questions”

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78 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

He refuses to discuss it with you when your agenda was proven to not actually be discussion.

LMAO! I have tried for YEARS to get Mike to discuss his posts on the merits. He has proved hundreds and hundreds of times that he’s incapable/unwilling to back up what he publishes. I LOVE the excuses you guys make for why he’s too dishonest and chicken shit to defend what he writes. It’s awesome!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Who is he going to discuss it with?

The 5-year-old throwing a tantrum and spamming the word milk? The troll who has nothing to say about whine about the phrase being used to accurately describe the situation? The insane person who can barely form a coherent thought before launching into inanity?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Only an idiot intent on calling Mike names would make the assertion that Mike was the person who said it violates the 4th amendment. Or do you only read your news from TD?”

Of course Mike thinks it violates the Fourth Amendment. He’s waiting for someone to give a plausible reason why so he can repeat it ad nauseam. .

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

http://www.outlookseries.com/A0988/Security/3896_Jameel_Jaffer_ACLU_NSA_PRISM_Violates_First_Fourth_Amendment_Rights_Jameel_Jaffer.htm

http://www.neontommy.com/news/2013/06/nsas-prism-surveillance-program-flouts-fourth-amendment

http://www.teapartytribune.com/2013/06/11/fourth-amendment-violations-and-big-brother-all-rolled-into-one/

Maybe you could just read the linked articles when Mike does talk about PRISM, but that would actually be work, wouldn’t it? Here are some more articles discussing it, though I know you won’t bother clicking them. Admit it, you’re just trolling, which makes you unworthy of anyone’s time or effort.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I want to discuss the Fourth Amendment issue with Mike, not read some linked-to article that he’s impliedly adopting yet unwilling to discuss. But he doesn’t do discussion on the merits, which is probably the right call on his part. When he does try and discuss constitutional law issues he comes out looking like a total moron. I’m reminded of times he’s pulled one sentence from a Supreme Court case out of context and put that out like it settles the issue. LOL!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

But to address your links…

http://www.outlookseries.com/A0988/Security/3896_Jameel_Jaffer_ACLU_NSA_PRISM_Violates_First_Fourth_ Amendment_Rights_Jameel_Jaffer.htm

That just makes the conclusory statement that PRISM “violates . . . the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment.” Just like the ACLU’s complaint, it doesn’t even begin to do any analysis of the claim. It just states the claim without any analysis whatsoever.

http://www.neontommy.com/news/2013/06/nsas-prism-surveillance- program-flouts-fourth-amendment

That just makes a similar unfounded claim that PRISM “violates the spirit of the Fourth Amendment,” whatever that means. There is no analysis whatsoever.

http://www.teapartytribune.com/2013/06/11/fourth-amendment-violations-and-big-brother-all-rolled-into-one/

That one makes a curious claim: “However, the government must show that there was ?probable cause? for the search, meaning some form of evidence must be brought forth showing that there?s good reason to suspect an individual of a particular transgression, and only then can said search be deemed Constitutional.” No citation is provided for the claim that probable cause is the standard, nor is it clear that this is even a search. See Smith v. Maryland: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_v._Maryland

I don’t know whether it violates the Fourth Amendment. I’d have to spend a day or two researching and thinking about it. I took Con Crim Pro a few years ago, and I’d have to refresh myself on the nuances. But I haven’t seen anyone actually make the argument that it does. If someone has some actual analysis, I’d love to see it.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

On actually reading the fourth amendment, it’s really hard for me to imagine how the spying doesn’t violate it. The language is pretty clear.

I realize that layer upon layer of lawyering has hopelessly confused much, if not most, of the Constitution and is the primary way that the government evades clear Constitutional mandates. And for this reason, case law and deep analysis should be viewed with a powerfully cynical eye.

I think the onus isn’t on us to show how it’s unconstitutional, though. The onus is on the government to show why it is Constitutional.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think you failed to actually quote the “asking it questions” part:

HAYDEN: Well, that’s – no, we’re going to use it. But we’re not going to use it in the way that some people fear. You put these records, you store them, you have them. It’s kind of like, I’ve got the haystack now. And now let’s try to find the needle. And you find the needle by asking that data a question. I’m sorry to put it that way, but that’s fundamentally what happens. All right. You don’t troll through the data looking for patterns or anything like that. The data is set aside. And now I go into that data with a question that – a question that is based on articulable(ph), arguable, predicate to a terrorist nexus. Sorry, long sentence.

Anonymous Coward says:

be honest guys. when your ass is against the wall, you’re gonna come out with anything and everything to either make out that what you’re doing is ok, or to make out that you haven’t done anything wrong in the first place. whichever tack is taken, it’s complete bull shit, just trying to pass the buck or deflect the blame!

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re:

“be honest guys. when your ass is against the wall, you’re gonna come out with anything and everything to either make out that what you’re doing is ok, or to make out that you haven’t done anything wrong in the first place. whichever tack is taken, it’s complete bull shit, just trying to pass the buck or deflect the blame!”

Oh, your right, I did that, when I was 6.

I was raised that you ALWAYS take responsibility for your actions, and I do.

I mess up at work, and I will flat out say it. “I messed up, it won’t happen again!”

I get pulled over by a cop and he asks “Do you know why I pulled you over?” “Yes Sir” I say, “I was doing 78 in a 65.”

No need to hide anything.

Oh and their ass isn’t against the wall. Hell they will probably get raises and promotions.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The whole point of the 4th Amendment is that you’re not allowed to collect the haystack. You’re only supposed to be able to, on narrow circumstances, go looking for the needle with proper oversight.”

Citation needed. Do you have any actual analysis, or just more of your trademarked conclusory statements?

“The 4th Amendment requires probable cause for a search, but not probable cause in foreignness, rather probable cause in criminal activity. Is Hayden honestly suggesting that being foreign is probable cause of criminality? Because that’s insane.”

I think you missed the point. If they are probably foreign, then the Fourth Amendment probably doesn’t apply to them. So they don’t need probable cause, or other, to search.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“”The whole point of the 4th Amendment is that you’re not allowed to collect the haystack. You’re only supposed to be able to, on narrow circumstances, go looking for the needle with proper oversight.”

Citation needed. Do you have any actual analysis, or just more of your trademarked conclusory statements?”

Uh, the 4th Amendment is that citation.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Specifically you have to be SPECIFIC if you want to collect data on someone. Not, collect everything and then be specific about what you ask the collection of data at a later date about last week.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If they are probably foreign, then the Fourth Amendment probably doesn’t apply to them.

Not true:

The Fourth Amendment is not specifically limited to citizens. For Fourth Amendment purposes, the word ?people? encompasses non-citizens who have ?developed sufficient connection? with the United States to be considered part of the ?national community.? United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259 (1990).

(from here: http://www.lexisnexis.com/lawschool/study/outlines/html/crimpro/crimpro01.htm)

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not true:

The Fourth Amendment is not specifically limited to citizens. For Fourth Amendment purposes, the word ?people? encompasses non-citizens who have ?developed sufficient connection? with the United States to be considered part of the ?national community.? United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259 (1990).

The 14th Amendment made the 4th Amendment apply to everyone within the borders of the US, not just citizens. This was kinda the point of the 14th Amendment. Some states, after the American Civil War, thought that they would infringe on the rights of the African-American slaves because they weren’t citizens. The 14th Amendment made the protections of the Constitution apply to everyone, whether or not they were citizens.

Your case study appears to make it even broader than the borders of the US, as anyone outside of the US, not a citizen, but with sufficient connection to the US as protected by the Constitution as well.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

the word ?people? encompasses non-citizens who have ?developed sufficient connection? with the United States to be considered part of the ?national community

Considering that the US is the biggest damn meddler in the concerns of other countries and people, that must include everyone on the planet by now, surely? /sarc

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The 4th amendment doesn’t apply to them if they ARE foreign, not PROBABLY foreign. Mike didn’t bring up probable cause in relation to the question asked, Hayden did and if the 4th amendment doesn’t apply, why even bring up probable cause? Hayden’s response makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 4th amendment applies to everyone

The 4th amendment doesn’t apply to them if they ARE foreign, …

You are wrong. The 4th amendment, as part of the bill of rights, applies to everyone, foreign or not, citizen or not. Actually, to be more precise, the BOR is a set of restrictions on government actions against individuals.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: 4th amendment applies to everyone

I stand corrected on the 4th amendment not applying to foreigners. Still the argument fails. I’ll amend my statement.

IF the 4th amendment doesn’t apply to foreigners, then it wouldn’t apply to them because they ARE foreign, not PROBABLY foreign. Probability of being foreign nothing to do with whether a search or seizure of private data is justified when no probable cause for wrong doing is able to be presented.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

‘I’m pretty sure probably cause is “beyond a resonable doubt”, which I’m 51% sure isn’t 51%.’

And as you just proved, 51% isn’t very certain. You’re just wrong here. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is what you need to convict someone of a crime, which is NOT the same as probable cause, which you can use to get a warrant. If the standard was the same for both, then warrants would be pointless, since you’d already have enough evidence to convict the person.

According to Wikipedia, one definition of probable cause is “a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true”

Jason says:

So POTUS lied, then?

That’s what it seems like.

I mean I’m sure he lies all the time, but forget the campaign lies and little fudgings here and there and your every day equivocation, or the lies about what some proposed policy is going to do and then changing it later to do something else kind of lies

He directly lied to the American people point blank about existing policy, the very policy he’s under fire for.

Said in no uncertain terms “This policy doesn’t do that, it only does this,” when in fact it did EXACTLY THAT.

Anyone?

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: So POTUS lied, then?

No, Mike is conflating things (something he usually rails against).

Hayden was talking about asking questions about the meta-data. The President said that after querying the meta-data if they want to actually tap that phone number, then they have to go back and get a warrant.

Hayden wasn’t saying that at all.

I’d argue it’s bad that they can query the data all they want without oversight, but it isn’t content which is what the President was talking about.

At least it isn’t content that we know of…yet.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re: So POTUS lied, then?

The President said that after querying the meta-data if they want to actually tap that phone number, then they have to go back and get a warrant.

So instead of lying, Obama is obfuscating instead? Saying “Hey look it’s not so bad that the NSA has every single detail of your associations and contacts and much of the content of your communications and can do whatever the hell they want with the data without asking anyone because look over here – they need a warrant to listen to what you say on the phone!”
Yeah, that’s much better…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: So POTUS lied, then?

The average citizen doesn’t have a clue about what “metadata” is. So he is speaking to the masses that see this story and interpret it to mean that the NSA is listening to their phone conversations. Not that this is an excuse. The fact remains that he campaigned on promising to fight to end these sorts of policies and practices and has done nothing but expand and defend them.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So POTUS lied, then?

The average citizen doesn’t have a clue about what “metadata” is

Which is exactly the problem – and instead of explaining what metadata is in this case, which would probably scare the hell out of most people as much or more, he goes with “but it’s OK we don’t listen to phone calls, honest!”. Also carefully refraining from mentioning the other data they get to scarf up like the theory that emails older than 6 months are “abandoned” and therefore don’t need a warrant either.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So POTUS lied, then?

So he is speaking to the masses that see this story and interpret it to mean that the NSA is listening to their phone conversations.

Yes, even though the distinction is completely unimportant. He wants to convince everyone that spying on the metadata is somehow not spying and is perfectly fine, when in fact it’s fully as invasive, if not more so, than actually listening to the calls.

out_of_the_blue says:

NPR interview: soft, safe, sane voice, no confrontation.

Just enough queries to make the propaganda sound like an interview. Designed to calm fears and put matters to rest. A government organ with direct taxpayer and tax-deductible corporate funding, plus a tiny fraction from well-intentioned saps. Positioned as an “alternative” to commercial sources, but actually as pro-government.

The major problem that when everyone is to blame, no one is to blame. Any anger is slowly but surely being diffused and de-fused, then all will go on as before.

And it’s being ROLLED BACK (including Mike excusing Google!) as I’ve predicted for a LIMITED HANGOUT psyop:

Is Edward Snowden’s story unravelling? Why the Guardian’s scoop is looking a bit dodgy

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100221535/is-edward-snowdens-story-unravelling-why-the-guardians-scoop-is-looking-a-bit-dodgy/

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: NPR interview: soft, safe, sane voice, no confrontation.

That Telegraph article is a bit dodgy. It makes three points, two of which are vague, weak attempts at smearing Snowden’s character and are not disputing the substantive claims he’s made.

The third, and last, point it makes is this:

Extremetech points out that it is a programme that has hidden in public sight, that Prism is in fact, ?the name of a web data management tool that is so boring that no one had ever bothered to report on its existence before now. It appears that the public Prism tool is simply a way to view and manage collected data, as well as correlate it with the source.?

There is such a public tool called Prism, however the company that makes it states without qualification that their software has absolutely nothing to do with the NSA Prism project.

The Telegraph article is meaningless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I can come up with a much more efficient algorithm that is only 1% less accurate.

Flip a coin.

Tails: you are a foreigner.
Heads: you are not.

But seriously, what Hayden was saying about probable cause is troubling. Probable cause should be several steps above a coin toss. Being 51% sure is not enough. If we start going down that path, we might as well start issuing law enforcement some magic 8-balls.

Anonymous Coward says:

The government is using the NSA to collect data from companies like Mircosoft about its users.
Microsoft makes the the Xbox One
Xbox One is equipped with an always online with a camera.
So by the transitive property…
The government wants to watch me in my underwear while I check my email and order a pizza?

slopoke says:

The Type of Data Mining

What I find interesting about this is he’s telling us the system, as used, is worthless for fighting terrorism. The only valid reason to collect all this data in a “war against terror” is to do Google style analytics on the whole of the data set to determine e.g who’s likely to bomb the Boston Marathon. This will never work (see below) but it’s the only rational reason for this kind of database. Instead Hayden’s saying that they find a likely suspect and then trawl the data to find out what he’s up to. Really? That methodology works pretty well for political repression (Petraeus anyone). But for terrorists who are actively trying to fly below the radar not so much.

As for the Google type analysis, that is proven to not work against terrorism because of the problem with false positives.

Let’s say the NSA has a system that correctly flags terrorists 99% of the time. Let’s also say that this system only gets it wrong (flags an innocent person) 1% of the time. Pretty good yes? No. There are around 300 million people in the US. For sake of argument let’s say that there are 300 potential terrorists running around. Under the NSA’s system they would correctly flag 297 of those terrorists. Not bad. The problem is they would also flag 3 million innocent people as being terrorists. Who are those 297 real terrorist among the 3 million innocents? False positives for targeted advertising is no big deal. For catching terrorists it is.

Big data mining systems for catching terrorists just can’t work. And the NSA knows this. So the purpose of this data collection is either something else or it just doesn’t work. Like persecuting a political opponent if he’s done something to irritate you or someone else in the administration.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Probably cause?

Yeah, well, actually, in some ways, you know, that’s actually the literal definition of probable, in probable cause.

But we’re talking law, where just about everything means something other than what the literal definition of the words are.

It seems to me that 51% is not “probable cause” but is more like “reasonable suspicion”.

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