The NSA Turns Everyone Into A 'Threat To National Security' By Instantly Classifying All Data It Scoops Up

from the and-the-people-you-talk-to?-also-threats dept

Now that it’s common knowledge the NSA is collecting metadata on pretty much any American with a working phone and/or internet connection, some Americans are trying to find out what’s been collected. Multiple FOIA requests have been sent to the NSA, but each one is receiving the same form letter — one that states that any information, including affirmation or denial, would result in “exceptionally grave damage” to national security.

The DailyKOS has a writeup on another citizen’s attempt to get some info on their info, only to be stonewalled by the NSA’s rejection form letter. David Gershon Harris, the author of the DailyKOS piece, says that “dozens of others” have received similar letters.

It’s not as if there aren’t protections in place that allow redactions of certain information. The problem with the letter this person (IT specialist Clayton Seymour) received is that it points to a specific executive order.

[T]he central problem is this: Seymour’s letter from the NSA points to Executive Order 13526, signed by President Obama in 2009, as justification for the NSA’s FOIA exemption.

This order signed by Obama established a uniform system for classifying national security information, and stipulates that “information shall not be considered for classification unless its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security.”

This qualification appears in section 1.4 of the executive order, after which follow many categories of information which may be marked as classified. The category the NSA points to in justifying the classification of all its data is this:

“(c) intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology”

By securing the metadata on millions of Americans through covert action, the NSA has given itself an “out.” It will never have to reveal this information via a response to a FOIA request because all data collected is, by this definition, instantly classified. The use (or abuse) of this executive order implies something very unseemly about the NSA’s thought processes.

The NSA, it seems, has classified every single piece of data on American citizens that it has seized and saved, even benign data culled from people like Seymour, who are no threat to U.S. national security.

What does this mean? In the eyes of the NSA, every person in the US who has had data collected covertly (in order to skirt Fourth Amendment protections), is a “threat to national security.” The gathered data, even if incidentally gathered in the pursuit of terrorists, is instantly classified and stashed away securely. FOIA requests won’t pry it loose.

There’s no way the NSA truly believes every American is a threat, but that hasn’t stopped it from gathering up everything it can and locking it up. The data that is supposed to be flushed from the system or otherwise protected from abuse by its holders? You can’t have access to that either. Even the data it doesn’t need has been given the same protection as that which could cause “identifiable or describable damage to national security.”

This is the NSA’s America. Everyone’s a security threat. It just a matter of connecting the dots.

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Comments on “The NSA Turns Everyone Into A 'Threat To National Security' By Instantly Classifying All Data It Scoops Up”

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Anonymous Coward says:

in other words, democracy doesn’t exist anymore, ‘it has been removed from the system’. the USA is now as officially as it can be without being classed officially a Police State! if everyone is a ‘threat to National Security, how long before we are all rounded up, locked in internment camps while we wait to be deported to a country as yet undecided? after that has happened, how will the few hundred manage to exist then? how will they manage to find each other? how long will it take before the numbers are reduced further, because ‘in the end, there can be only one’!

hasn’t anyone actually realised what is going on here? how the people are being re-classed and if you ‘don’t measure up, you’re out! those in charge want to really be in control, turning law enforcement into a private army, is the easiest way to achieve that. citing ‘national security’ is the way of giving out nothing, but getting in everything!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I am curious, I’ve read so many comments callin the US a “Police State”.

What exactly do you mean by “Police State”?

Read for a clearer picture, it’s like you guys don’t even know the word.

Here’s a small introduction:

“Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism[1][2] that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. Fascists seek to unify their nation through a totalitarian state that promotes the mass mobilization of the national community,[3][4] relying on a vanguard party to initiate a revolution to organize the nation on fascist principles.[5] Hostile to liberal democracy, socialism, and communism, fascist movements share certain common features, including the veneration of the state, a devotion to a strong leader, and an emphasis on ultranationalism and militarism. Fascism views political violence, war, and imperialism as a means to achieve national rejuvenation[3][6][7][8] and asserts that stronger nations have the right to obtain land and resources by displacing weaker nations.[9]”

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Interesting that the definition of fascism you quote doesn’t include what is perhaps it’s most unique defining feature.

As Mussolini (the father of fascism) said: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

But you’re right. “fascism” and “police state” tend to be used as generalized terms of insult by a certain segment of the population, just as “communism” and “anarchism” are used as generalized terms of insult by a different segment. All of those usages are technically wrong.

The US is not technically a police state, but it is technically a fascist one. The two, however, often go hand-in-hand.

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Police state

A police state is a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the population. A police state typically exhibits elements of totalitarianism and social control, and there is usually little or no distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive.

The inhabitants of a police state experience restrictions on their mobility, and on their freedom to express or communicate political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement. Political control may be exerted by means of a secret police force which operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional state.[2]

Is this matches the current view of the US by TD commenters?

TaCktiX (profile) says:

Weasel Words in the Extreme

I am greatly irritated that the NSA is essentially using weasel words to cover up the fact that while obeying the letter of that executive order, they aren’t obeying its spirit, or the letter and spirit of any higher laws (namely, the Constitution and its 4th Amendment). Classifying intelligence on known terrorists I’m fine with (because such things would require some form of probable cause that is establishable), but classifying everything IN CASE it deals with terrorists or terrorism in general is both sloppy and flaunting the spirit of the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Weasel Words in the Extreme

These people would have you believe that the words of a bunch of old men written long ago no longer have any bearing on modern society, the fourth amendment just gets in the way, giving people time to cover their tracks.

However, the very opposite is true, the fourth amendment has more importance today than it ever did, far beyond whats its creators envisioned. Nonetheless those old men, among them the likes of John Adams (actually he was the main person behind it) were wise enough to write a law that still is relevant, perhaps more so almost 300 years later.

While the British may not coming anymore, the same forces are at work once again.

TheLastCzarnian (profile) says:

Re: Re: Weasel Words in the Extreme

I agree. There is a segment of the US population that believe that there should be a “ruling” class called the “government.” The “rulers” utilize the revolving door between government jobs and executive private sector jobs, while the “ruled” empower the “rulers” by accepting and encouraging this behavior, often genuinely believing that the “rulers” deserve this preference, while others of the “ruled” support the system in the hopes of becoming one of the “rulers”.
There is a name that the players often use to describe this game that they play: Patriotism.
I say that, in a country where the people are supposed to rule, that this game is the very antithesis of Patriotism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Weasel Words in the Extreme

People have forgotten what it means to be a real patriot.

Its not a movie, not a game, and not a distorted sense of nationalism.

Its men like Adams, Jefferson, and Washington, and thousands of others who stood up in defiance against a tyrannical ruler, knowing full well that doing so could be the end of them, some succeeded, some failed, but all were patriots.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Weasel Words in the Extreme

?The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.?
― Thomas Paine

?My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.?
― Mark Twain

Transmitte (profile) says:

So, in essence, the NSA(and whatever other agencies are involved), hoovering up all this information, to protects us from the “Evil Boogem’s” has become for all intents and purposes a terrorist itself.

Think about it. Everything we do/have done/are doing electronically is being stored, even if it’s not looked at or used(immediately), but in the event we may do something, they have this treasure trove of info to play “Sword of Damocles” on us. I never lived in fear of a terrorist attack, even after the events of September 2001, now however, I live in fear of a government that is allegedly trying to protect me by keeping tabs on me and everything I do, just in case something happens, to me or by me. Hell, the terrorists abroad have already won, just by watching our government turn itself inside out with actions like this.

How is that living in a free society? How is that freedom? You tell me, cause I’m damn sure interested in finding out.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re:

The CIA created and to this day funds and supplies Al Qaeda. They use them in order to create proxy wars and political turmoil so that they perpetuate the threat of terrorism and justify military involvement. This way, the government justifies all of its extensive power grabs at the expense of our rights, hence the TSA, NSA, DHS, etc. UN inspectors went into Syria and found that it was in fact the Al Qaeda-backed rebel forces we’ve been arming that used Sarin gas. Gee, where’d they acquire that deadly chemical agent? DARRR.

Anonymous Coward says:

Explain this please...

Section 1.1. Classification Standards. (a) Information may be originally classified under the terms of this order only if all of the following conditions are met:

(1) an original classification authority is classifying the information;

(2) the information is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the United States Government;

(3) the information falls within one or more of the categories of information listed in section 1.4 of this order; and

(4) the original classification authority determines that the unauthorized disclosure of the information reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism, and the original classification authority is able to identify or describe the damage.

Since when does phone record metadata generated for the logs owned by a telco, on servers owned by a telco, for the use in billing and troubleshooting the service provided by a telco meet the criteria of section 2 of the order given that the order explicitly says that ALL criteria applies or the information is not classified.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Explain this please...

By that interpretation, the copy that Snowden has isn’t under their control and therefore not classified even if the copy they have is. The original purpose, owner, and control of the data is not the government. The only way that section makes any sense is if it applies to the original generation of the data, not a copy.

Eponymous Coward says:

Logic then dictates that...

If I reveal my metadata online, or elswhere, then I am exposing classified information. Now one would think that I am beyond legal jeopardy since it is my information, but that may not be the case for my metadata is also part of others’ metadata profile. It isn’t hard for me to imagine a near future where persons are purposefuly prosecuted along similar lines to this because of their opposition to such programs. It will be like NSLs for all citizens and openly talking about our data is a violation of it. Sure, it sounds absurd now, but I feel this may be where we are headed!

Eponymous Coward says:

Re: Logic then dictates that...


I may not have made my point totally clear, in that I don’t mean talking about these programs will be the grounds for the prosecution. That will just get their attention of you as an opponent to their programs. What I mean is more an analog to the CFAA where they will contort these situations, especially if you’re transparent with your own data to prove a point, to prosecute you and remove you as a piece from the board. Thus the next Aaron won’t just be just facing felonies over the CFAA, but also those for exposing classified information to the public. I hope this clears up what I think will become the new battle ground; government will mandate us to keep our data secret so that only they have access to it (through our providers of course).

Anonymous Coward says:

Its fun to bitch, but the FOIA game has rules.

Any experienced researcher or reporter will tell you that FOIA requests are a peculiar game with any agency, but especially so with the military and the intelligence services. They will also tell you that before you can request information with FOIA, it must be declassified. Outrage level does not change this. You’re reading about people who are trying to request classified data.

At least they’re not sending you the records with 100% of the text redacted in black, making them able to say they fulfilled the request.

If you read the whole letter, it actually does give an explanation of why they cannot disclose anything, and it is worth the time to read it. Being a Government agency, there’s no shortage of rules and laws they must observe.

James Bamford’s books on the NSA are excellent reading. Based on what I read, the agency is not the real issue, it’s what the executive branch has been tasking them with since 2001.

The letters are sent out by a Pamela Philips, the FOIA officer for the NSA. I think Ms. Phillips is fully deserving of a tasteful flower arrangement (sans microphone, you scamps) and a bottle of wine, to help compensate for the unholy s-storm she must be enduring at this time.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Couple of points:

-Claiming that everything they scoop up, or even acknowledging the fact that they are doing so is classified is a clear abuse of the classification system, as you can’t honestly claim that Everything that they do, or all the data they have is so vitally important to national security as to deserve to be classified.

Not to mention it sets a dangerous precedent. If all it takes to ignore a FOIA request is the ability to say ‘That’s classified’, without any further explanations or checks on what can and cannot be classified, it’s only a matter of time until all government agencies classify everything as standard procedure, because at that point, why not?

-Telling people that their own information cannot be released to them, or even acknowledged to exist due to ‘security concerns’ isn’t exactly any more reasonable than sending an entirely redacted document, so not sure why you’re holding that up as though it’s a ‘good for them’ move.

I will given them this at least, refusing the request altogether does seem to be more mature than sending fully redacted documents, which just screams pettiness on the part of the one sending it, so there is that.

Bergman (profile) says:

If the entirety of the American People are threats to national security, then they are the enemies of that security.

But a citizen of the US making war on the United States is treason.

Any official who asserts that he is the enemy of The People should be the subject of an immediate grand jury investigation into the possibility that he was being truthful about being a traitor.

Anonymous Coward says:

This executive order is complete nonsense, it states that:
(a) In no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to:
(1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;

(2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency;
And yet it seems to me that they are doing just that.

Not only that but there is also another bit in there that allows them to review any information sought out by a FOIA request for classification, before responding to it.
(d) Information that has not previously been disclosed to the public under proper authority may be classified or reclassified after an agency has received a request for it under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552), the Presidential Records Act, 44 U.S.C. 2204(c)(1), the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552a), or the mandatory review provisions of section 3.5 of this order only if such classification meets the requirements of this order and is accomplished on a document-by-document basis with the personal participation or under the direction of the agency head, the deputy agency head, or the senior agency official designated under section 5.4 of this order. The requirements in this paragraph also apply to those situations in which information has been declassified in accordance with a specific date or event determined by an original classification authority in accordance with section 1.5 of this order.

Anonymous Coward says:

Have anybody used WarVOX?

It gives you a taste of what the NSA could be doing.

There is an entire talk on Youtube on the subject.
Search for:
HD MOORE – Acoustic Intrusions

You can use the data collected by simply recording thousands of phone calls.

Identify equipment by fingerprint acoustics. Every vendor use a different way to make phones answer, fax have unique tones, modems start with unique sounds and so forth, even PSTO systems have tones that are instructions and if you record those you can do some funny things with it.

People trust telephones, they shouldn’t, in the past recording was difficult, technology changed that, now anyone can record a phone call and analyze it, heck you can even get the location of the dude without a court order.

SHODAN: How I Met Your Router – From Exploit To Physical Location

The NSA are not the only ones with those capabilities, others are doing it too and the public will just be roadkill in this race.

Here is the thing, hackers are actually on the side of the public, well most of them are, some are not, but they are the ones that can and will develop the tools the public need to secure itself from the NSA and their kind.

Do you read this Obama?

I am sure you are reading it.

By the way, the phone acoustic fingerprinting reminds me of how doctors do differential diagnosis of something.

Maybe hacker doctors should look at acoustic fingerprints to help diagnose patients, people make a lot of noises and have a lot of pains and symptoms, put all into a database and let it correlate what is what, patterns always emerge.

Bill says:

You almost got away with it.

Now that it’s common knowledge the NSA is collecting metadata on pretty much any American with a working phone and/or internet connection, some Americans are trying to find out what’s been collected. Multiple FOIA requests have been sent to the NSA, but each one is receiving the same form letter — one that states that any information, including affirmation or denial, would result in “exceptionally grave damage” to national security.

Bam! Dots connected! I always knew it.

Dirkmaster (profile) says:

If everything they collect is classified....

but much of it is freely available. That means that others could collect it too. That would mean that they have unauthorized access to classified materials.

I’m thinking that all those Big Data Advertising companies will need to be raided and shut down.

And then every ISP will have to be raided and shut down, since they have all the classified info as well, and they certainly don’t all have security clearances that would allow them to access this data.

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