Stop Letting NSA's Defenders Lie; There Have Been Many Significant Abuses

from the don't-let-them-get-away-with-it dept

We’ve been hearing regularly from the NSA’s biggest defenders — including former NSA boss Michael Hayden, current head of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers and President Obama — that despite all of the revelations about the NSA, there hasn’t been any evidence of abuses. We’ve discussed over and over and over again why that’s clearly untrue. Over at the Guardian, Trevor Timm has done an excellent job laying out in detail how President Obama and others are simply lying when they say there’s been no evidence of abuses by the NSA. He details example after example of abuses that have come to light. Here’s just one which shows not just abuses, but a pattern of regular abuse:

For years, as new data came into the NSA’s database containing virtually every phone call record in the United States, analysts would search over 17,000 phone numbers in it every day. It turns out only about 1,800 of those numbers – 11% – met the legal requirement that the NSA have “reasonable articulable suspicion” that the number was involved in terrorism.

What were the other 89% of the numbers being searched for? We’re not exactly sure. But we do know that five years after the metadata program was brought under a legal framework, the Fisa court concluded it had been “so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall … regime has never functioned effectively”.

Part of the issue, of course, is that the NSA’s defenders, including the President, seem to be trying to redefine the word “abuse” just as they’ve tried to redefine lots of other common English words concerning their surveillance efforts.

One reason might be that, like many other words, the NSA has a different definition of “abuse” than most people. After LOVEINT was brought up to Director of National Intelligence general counsel Robert Litt on a conference call with reporters, he replied:

I’m using abuse in a slightly more limited term. I’m not talking about the LOVEINT kind of thing, but people using surveillance for political purposes or to spy on Americans more generally or anything like that, as opposed to individual people screwing up.

Apparently to qualify as “abuse”, the surveillance has to be on a massive scale, wilful, in bad faith, hidden from the Fisa court, and it has to about political views. Spying on loved ones or unauthorized spying on criminal behavior does not count.

Even worse, as Timm points out (and as we’ve discussed in the past), the LOVEINT disclosures revealed that many of those very willful abuses were only “discovered” years later when they were self-reported, meaning that there’s a very good chance that there are many more abuses that were never discovered or reported.

But, of course, there’s an even larger issue. Abusing the programs (no matter how you define that) presupposes the programs themselves are legitimate. That’s highly questionable.

With all that said, it’s unclear why we’re quibbling over whether or not the government truly abused the data it has. The programs themselves are an abuse. A primary reason the founding fathers declared independence from the British was in protest of “general warrants” – the idea that the police could seize everything in a given neighborhood, only to go through it afterwards and find the criminal.

The Fourth Amendment requires particularized, individual court orders, and as long as the NSA is collecting such a vast database on every innocent person in the United States, and then searching it at their own discretion, they are abusing our constitution.

As Timm says, we don’t allow police to search our homes or listen to phone calls without individual warrants and then say it’s okay so long as they “don’t abuse” what they discover. We say that those searches themselves are an abuse and unconstitutional. The same should be true of the NSA’s efforts. They’re all an abuse. An abuse of the Constitution and basic rights.

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Comments on “Stop Letting NSA's Defenders Lie; There Have Been Many Significant Abuses”

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Anonymous Coward says:

obligatory “lol mike terrorist!” post.

Aside from that, I’m absolutely dumbfounded as to why no one is even considering the immense blackmail opportunity the NSA and whoever controls them now has.

Nixon was proverbially burned at the stake for just tapping a phone in an office because it may incriminate his opposing political party. The NSA has every phone, computer, and wristwatch bugged. Yet no one seems to care that they not only have infinite resources to incriminate, but also infinite resources to frame and defame opposing ideologies and parties.

I suspect politicians who wanted to cut their funding might suddenly be ‘outed’ as pedophiles in the coming years if they don’t sit down and behave like good pawns. All that would take is a .zip file ‘mysteriously’ dropped onto someone’s gmail account. Or a text message ‘suddenly’ being sent from someone’s phone.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That assumes the blackmail angle isn’t already happening.

Hypothetically, if it were being used in that manner, it would certainly explain just how stridently some politicians defend the NSA and it’s actions, no matter how much new information comes out showing the abuses of the system, and how the defenders of it have lied pretty much the entire time when defending it.

Alternatively, they could be doing such to fulfill their half of a deal to land a lucrative, multimillion dollar ‘job’ in one of the companies/agencies affected after they leave office, or could have decided that the public can just shove off, the power and ‘rights’ of the government, which they are a part of, is the only thing that they care about defending.

Really, when you consider the possibilities, the blackmail angle is probably the one they come out looking ‘best’, as the others imply corruption in one form or another.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It is highly probable that many of the upper crust sleep better at night knowing that while the NSA is actively collecting all the metadata of everyone, the attempts by the enemies of the US who are attempting to spy on the political leaders of the US are being also collected and traced by the NSA monitoring all devices. Just another tricky day for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

The NSA doesn’t even considering “seizing and searching” of everyone’s data as a 4th amendment abuse. With thinking like that, it’s pretty clear that a lot of what we consider abuses, NSA doesn’t, which is why they keep coming out and saying “there have been no abuses”. If you interpret the Constitution, and many other laws in the same twisted way that they do, then I guess you could say there are no abuses, but they’ve clearly abused their powers even under their own policies, but even that won’t admit.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I wonder if they are just hoping to distract the faithful by trying to turn the issue into how a word is applied.

The longer they can keep the focus on the word games, the less time anyone looks at what those words are being used to describe. Once they come to terms on the terms used, they can declare the problem solved and hopefully the world will focus on a new scandal. It’s a plan that has worked before, but I think this time there is no way to stop it.

I don’t really care what they call it, it is unconstitutional in deed and act. The fact they need secret papers no one can see to make it “constitutional” is an affront to this nation.

They are liars, untruthtellers, speaking with forked tongues, politicians, saving their own asses, whatever phrase gets you there… they have lied and keep lying. If you lied to your boss like this you’d be fired, why are the rules different for them? They work for the American people, and perhaps it is time we remind them of that.

Diode Dan says:

Re: See the Big Picture

[“…a pattern of regular abuse” by NSA and the highest officials in government…]



This is the fundamental nature of government itself — people given/seizing the power to rule & control other people.

Has your Constitution and right-to-vote protected you form all this ? No, not at all. The illusion that “the people” control the government is a grand deception that works very effective. The common people grumble (like in this blog), but government power/abuse grows steadily.

Government itself is the problem; this NSA stuff is merely a symptom. The rule of law was lost long ago in America — government officials are above the law — they know it and act accordingly — from your local cops all the way up to Capitol Hill & Pennsylvania Avenue.

So what’s your plan to fix the basic problem ??

Beech says:

No Proof of Classified Information

What cheeses me off the most of all is the fact they claim there’s been no “proven” “abuses” “found.” Well, no shit. Everything about the operation is classified. Even if there were huge amounts of abuses, what are the odds the NSA would declassify them? So, basically, what the supporters are pointing out is that so far there are 0 instances of what the NSA would define as “abuse” that the NSA has deigned to mention.

What Mike Rodgers et al. are basically trying to do is make their opponents prove a negative. A CLASSIFIED TOP SECRET negative. Unless they want to subject the agency to a public, independent review, conducted in broad daylight, composed by a board of people who are financially motivated to find wrongdoing in the agency, then they should shut up about the fact that there aren’t any declassified abuses. Assume the abuses are there until they are proven not to be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No Proof of Classified Information

“Well, no shit. Everything about the operation is classified.”

then why did Snowman not ‘leak/steal’ them ??

suddenly ‘everything is classified’, that’s now officially BULLSHIT..

you are claiming ‘abuses’ because you are assuming abuses, that’s a strong argument.

Anonymous Coward says:

This whole mockery of the daffinitions of words of the English language to make it legal tells you right off the bat they know beyond a doubt it is illegal and needs lying and stretching the truth to the point of breaking in order to justify it. The very idea we have a secret court to deal with it tells you a lot too. A secret court, dealing with secret topics, making secret rulings the citizens aren’t allowed to know about is not democracy in action. There is a whole new reason to be ignorant of the law that does float now in court.

This won’t blow over. It’s not just the US citizens pissed off. The whole globe has gotten up in arms about it to the point they are starting to refuse to do business with US companies over this spying. Cisco with a 40% drop in profits for the quarter in China? I’ve heard others saying that Cloudflare is not to be considered. Facebook, Yahoo!, AT&T, and Microsoft are all receiving heavy damage from it as well. Out of those 4 the most deserving are AT&T and Microsoft. AT&T for willing to do the bidding for cash. Microsoft for having a built in NSA back door, revealed in their RC OS that was forgotten to be renamed, plainly labeled with the NSA on it.

It’s time for heads to roll. I personally have reached the point I believe nothing I hear from the NSA apologists because of all the previous lying that has taken place. The last poll of the American people say they no longer trust this government at all by a wide percentage. That’s not exactly by the people for the people when those sorts of views come up.

It is time to end this war mentality and take back our country. If Washington wants to deal with budgetary matters that are so threatening our country to bankruptcy they can start with killing off all this wild funding for fusion centers that have proven worthless, the TSA which has yet to catch one real terrorist, DHS which sounds more like it belongs to Nazi Germany than to the US just by its title, and the NSA with all it’s requirements of new multimillion dollar facilities that have to be filled with all the equipment it takes to run supercomputers and house a nations’ communications.

It’s time for a lot of things to happen in this country, such as charging those guilty of busting this nations economy. It’s not corporations that do illegal things, it’s the people that run them and direction them. These major bankers need to be held responsibility for their major parts in cratering the economy. Politicians feet need held to the fire to ensure it is done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s not corporations that do illegal things, it’s the people that run them and direction them

Its the entire corporate world shielding those directing the corporations to illegally create the smokescreens, political jesters, rapers and pillagers of this nation’s and other nations’ wealth and resources, creating the turmoil and supplying all sides of wars around the world with all the ammo.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

corporations are made of people, they have people in them, that does not make them ‘people’.

TD is not opposed to re-daffiniting words either!

Definition “Corporation

“An association of individuals, created by law or under authority of law, having a continuous existence IDDEPENDENT OF THE EXISTANCE OF ITS MEMBERS.

Guess you like to redefine words too!

DOlz (profile) says:

Let's try something different

The defenders of these programs weasel, twist, and abuse the language in ways that make “1984” and The Red Queen look like amateurs. So how about instead of them telling why these programs don’t violate the Fourth Admendment, why don’t they tell us what they think would be a violation of the Fourth Admendment. That might give us a starting point to start reining them in.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

The wisdom of the Founding Fathers

I find it interesting that the oath taken by all military service personnel involves swearing to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Not defend the government, not defend the people, not defend the White House, not even defend “America”, but the Constitution.

I think they were thinking very many moves ahead — Kasparov-level chess — when they wrote that oath. I think they were looking ahead to the day when (not if) the federal government got too powerful and too corrupted by special interests and became what Washington and his forces fought against. On that day, whether it’s soon or still a century off, the people will decide that enough is enough and start an armed insurrection, and whatever despot dares to pretend that he or she is a “President of the United States of America” at that time will declare martial law.

The plan must be that, if it ever gets that bad and that happens, a substantial fraction of the military service will remember that oath, and will side with the insurrection and turn their weapons upon the corrupted central government, helping to overthrow it and restore a democratic rule that once again upholds the Constitution.

They anticipated that what they’d pulled off — leading a ragtag force to eventual victory against a 1770s military trying to project force from across an ocean when traveling or even communicating across it took weeks — would be a lot harder in the future, with an insurrection facing a military with more advanced weapons in that military’s own backyard, and figured the only hope for freedom then would be if much of that military, advanced weapons and all, chose the good side.

Of course, what they could not have anticipated is drones. If we get a Nehemiah Scudder in 2016 and things get even worse, the insurrection will stand a good chance; if it’s not until 2116 it’s likely that a big military composed of human beings will have been entirely replaced with obedient machines which took no oaths. But maybe by then the issue will be moot — one way or another.

And insurrection not long after 2016 no longer seems like it’s especially unlikely. As this article notes, Americans again face the specter of a powerful government using general warrants, not only to root out “terrorists” but also (avowedly!) to dig up the dirt on inconvenient people for blackmail or smearing purposes. They’re probably looking into Glenn Greenwald’s sexual proclivities even as I type this. Most of the escalation needed to reach levels of dissatisfaction not seen since 1776 has already taken place.

Whoever wins the 2016 election is going to have to tread extremely carefully … or else just come clean and end all of the really egregious stuff, and usher in real transparency, enough that everyone can see that it’s ended and there’s no dark places where it could still be hiding. There’s still a chance to avert a violent outcome here. But the window of opportunity for that seems to be closing rapidly.

Just Sayin' says:

Logical fail

” there’s a very good chance that there are many more abuses that were never discovered or reported. “

There is also a good chance that pigs fly and have light blue underbellies so we can see them.

There are possible abuses, yes, but few proven ones in light of the amount of data collected. You use the same logic to damn patents and copyright, looking at a few extreme cases and ignoring the massive, overwhelmingly huge number of times where everything is normal.

Then again, we won’t talk about the abuses on Techdirt of holding comments in moderation until they are no longer relevant. Since I know it happens to me, I say that” there’s a very good chance that there are many more abuses that were never discovered or reported. “

Eat it.

Whatever (profile) says:

Robert Litt's Version of English

[T]he NSA has a different definition of “abuse” than most people. After LOVEINT was brought up to Director of National Intelligence general counsel Robert Litt on a conference call with reporters, he replied: “I’m using abuse in a slightly more limited term.”

Right. Litt meant that nobody has ever, EVER, used NSA powers to listen to giraffes in the Cleveland Zoo mate. That’s the “abuse” he was talking about. Am I the only one who thinks he speaks precisely?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Robert Litt's Version of English

What you want to harass the giraffes?

PETA Drones are watching you.

Before some go out and say how absurd that is, well wait until people realize the next big trend crowd sourced surveillance where a lot of cities are instead of bying and installing cameras letting private persons do it and they just collect information like location of the camera and contact information that can include even the best hours to contact the owner of the camera to retrieve footage which law enforcement is happy to use.

Also as Bruce Schneier noted things are starting to morph on the surveillance arena, you can get paid for looking at footage if you do any real work.

It seems a lot of people like to play “where is friggin’ Waldo” more than just a hobby.

Anonymous Coward says:

apart from getting those mentioned above to stop lying, there has to be something done to stop this FISA Court from endorsing the abuse by the NSA (and others, i dont doubt). as long as the ‘rubber stamp’ keeps being applied, it makes no difference who else is involved and whether they are lying or not. if the actual programs themselves are anabuse, then stop them from being given the ‘go ahead’ to carry on! everyone outside of the security services and the President think there are multiple abuses. there is only one judge who has ruled in this way and his ruling is going to be appealed. we all know which way the appeal is going to go (and what is going to be done to ensure the appeal judges vote against the original ruling). we also all know what is going to happen to the judge who made the original ruling. he will fall off the Planet, never to be heard from again! that sort of abuse is even worse than the original abuse! to be able to get a ruling completely turned over, because of the power that is being wielded, is a disgrace, especially from the nation that still portrays itself as the one of freedom and privacy!

Anonymous Coward says:

US is at war.

The United States of America is at war. It is a government that has been challenged to the ultimate threat of destruction by an element in the world building allies and gaining stronger footholds in some nation’s politics and approval for their challenge to not just the political system of the United States, but of all people, its citizens, who have never done anything against these elements.

You better believe with all your might, we are all in this fight together. Stop doing service to those who would eat your children by condemning the US for its practices that enable them to better protect this nation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: US is at war.

The point is what it is, not sure where your confusion originates.

A prior post claimed “US is at war” and it was pointed out that Congress did not declare it so. That is their job, in case you were unaware. A bunch of numb nuts run around claiming they can take away your liberty, property, whatever because “we are at war”, and they do not even have to have a majority of your representatives concur on the declaration. Seriously wtf is so difficult to understand?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: US is at war.

It’s like saying that a five-year-old has challenged an adult man and the latter must therefore turn his home into a high security fortress, with all implications for fellow inhabitants. And also declare a “war” on the five-year-old. Who, surely, can do some damage, but the actions of the adult are way disproportionate and make me think that the real reason for all the high security (checks) is control of the fellow inhabitants.

Stopping arming the five-year-olds of the world and stopping turning them into crazy shooters who (only initially) follow one’s lead would be a much better policy.

Daniel Scheinhaus (profile) says:

The Basis for an NSA

It’s ironic that a President who was/is a trained constitutional lawyer is the power behind violation of constitutional principles. The reasons for his violation are the actual problems. When he became President of the U.S., two realities converged. The U.S. had been recently extending its’ empire more forcefully in Africa, the Caucasus region, the Middle East and Inner Asia. Empire building creates violent enemies. Backlash and fear of backlash from these enemies push the Empire leaders to take away rights of their people. These rights were won in the after the American Revolution when the new government was not at all envisioning becoming an empire. In fact, the inclination was to avoid involvement in Europe and everywhere else. The only sure way to win back the rights of the people is to end empire building and acquiring more enemies — people who are nationalistic about their own nations and cultures.

FM Hilton (profile) says:


Just like they’ve been trying to redefine the word torture.

As if there are shades of abuse.

It’s an either “All of the above” or “none of the above” category.

A pattern of abuse leads to wholesale acceptance of that abuse, which we all know is the SOP in Washington.

“Well I don’t need to worry-I have nothing to hide!” comes from that line of thinking-until it gets you busted in breaking some vague law that you never knew existed.

It’s called ‘magical thinking’ and it’s a dangerous mix of stupidity, cupidity and ignorance. Far too common in today’s world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dear NSA,
This is how due process works:
Step 1: An officer of the law sees something suspicious or has something suspicious reported to him.
Step 2: The officer takes this probable cause to a court and requests a warrant.
Step 3: IF AND ONLY IF the warrant is granted the officer is allowed to spy on the suspicious person in greater detail.
Due process is NOT “spy on people UNTIL you find probable cause, then spy even more”
Thank you for your time,
Anonymous Coward.
P.S. I didn’t bother directly sending this to you as I figure you will find it anyway.

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