NSA Tries To Justify Its Surveillance Programs With Ridiculous Assertions
from the what-a-joke dept
As President Obama was laying out his “plan” in response to the public’s concerns over NSA spying, both the DOJ and the NSA released some documents defending the various programs. I would imagine it will surprise none of you that these documents are chock full of hilarious and misleading claims. Let’s highlight a few, starting with the NSA’s document, which is shorter, more general and covers all the various programs more broadly. It’s also a complete joke. We’ll get to the DOJ one in another post.
In his May 2013 address at the National Defense University, the President made clear that we, as a Government, need to review the surveillance authorities used by our law enforcement and intelligence community professionals so that we can collect information needed to keep us safe and ensure that we are undertaking the right kinds of privacy protections to prevent abuse.
Somehow, I think this document has a lot more to do with Ed Snowden’s leaks a month later than the speech Obama gave in May…
After the al-Qa’ida attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the 9/11 Commission found that the U.S. Government had failed to identify and connect the many “dots” of information that would have uncovered the planning and preparation for those attacks.
Actually, the Commission said that you had collected all that information, but you failed to connect the pieces. Collecting more data does not help with that problem. In fact, the very heads of the Commission that you’re citing in defense of these programs have come out publicly to say that the NSA has gone way too far with these programs. So, yeah, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
We strive to achieve this through a system that is carefully designed to be consistent with Authorities and Controls and enabled by capabilities that allow us to Collect, Analyze, and Report intelligence needed to protect national security.
As always, the NSA goes back to its authority rather than what it’s actually doing and what its abilities are.
This process will often involve the collection of communications metadata — data that helps NSA understand where to find valid foreign intelligence information needed to protect U.S. national security interests in a large and complicated global network. For instance, the collection of overseas communications metadata associated with telephone calls — such as the telephone numbers, and time and duration of calls — allows NSA to map communications between terrorists and their associates.
Well, yes, and also map out communications between everyone else. But, here’s where the NSA has some fun. They claim that collecting all that metadata is actually good for American’s privacy because by using it to map out networks among real terrorists it means they don’t actually go after your stuff:
This strategy helps ensure that NSA’s collection of communications content is more precisely focused on only those targets necessary to respond to identified foreign intelligence requirements.
Did you catch that? They only spy on all of us so they know how to avoid spying on all of us.
For a variety of reasons, including technical ones, the communications of U.S. persons are sometimes incidentally acquired in targeting the foreign entities. For example, a U.S. person might be courtesy copied on an e-mail to or from a legitimate foreign target, or a person in the U.S. might be in contact with a known terrorist target.
In those cases, minimization procedures adopted by the Attorney General in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are used to protect the privacy of the U.S. person.
The same “minimization procedures” that say if you use encryption, you might be evil so they don’t have to protect your privacy any more. Very convincing.
FISA regulates certain types of foreign intelligence collection including certain collection that occurs with compelled assistance from U.S. telecommunications companies.
I just love the lyrical phrase “compelled assistance.” That’s called “we’re the government, we have guns and jails, and you have the info we want, fork it over.”
The Government cannot conduct substantive queries of the bulk records for any purpose other than counterterrorism.
Right, but don’t ask us about those time when we feed info to the DEA and IRS and then instruct them to launder it so they can pretend they didn’t get it from us. Because, you know… that’s getting a bit personal.
The BR FISA program is used in cases where there is believed to be a threat to the homeland. Of the 54 terrorism events recently discussed in public, 13 of them had a homeland nexus, and in 12 of those cases, BR FISA played a role.
“Played a role.” Except that multiple Senators have now said you’ve presented absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the BR FISA program (Section 215 of the Patriot Act) has “helped thwart or prevent” any terrorist plots.
Scope and Scale of NSA Collection
According to figures published by a major tech provider, the Internet carries 1,826 Petabytes of information per day. In its foreign intelligence mission, NSA touches about 1.6% of that. However, of the 1.6% of the data, only 0.025% is actually selected for review. The net effect is that NSA analysts look at 0.00004% of the world’s traffic in conducting their mission — that’s less than one part in a million. Put another way, if a standard basketball court represented the global communications environment, NSA’s total collection would be represented by an area smaller than a dime on that basketball court.
A dime on a basketball court? Huh? Also, almost nothing in the above statements is believable given earlier revelations. Also, what the hell do they mean by “touches”? Collected? Searched? Looked at closely? Fondled lovingly?
In addition to NSA’s compliance safeguards, NSA personnel are obligated to report when they believe NSA is not, or may not be, acting consistently with law, policy or procedure. This self-reporting is part of the culture and fabric of NSA. If NSA is not acting in accordance with law, policy or procedure, NSA will report through its internal and external intelligence oversight channels, conduct reviews to understand the root cause, and make appropriate adjustments to improve.
This is guffaw inducing. If you haven’t yet, now might be a good time to reread Jane Mayer’s 2011 article about what the federal government did to Thomas Drake, Bill Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe for doing exactly that. The idea that this is a part of the “culture and fabric of the NSA” is laughable. That article describes the insanity of former director Michael Hayden in absolutely flipping out when Binney and Wiebe went behind his back and through the “official” channels.
The NSA has absolutely no credibility on this subject, and the claims in this document are simply laughable.