ODNI 'Releases' Month-Old Public Document, Pats Self On Back For Its 'Transparency'

from the the-ODNI-tumblr,-home-of-presidential-copypasta dept

Another announcement has been issued by the Director of National Intelligence’s tumblr blog (I’ll take “sentences that didn’t exist before 2013 for $1000,” Alex), this one supposedly alerting followers to some new guidance on signals intelligence.

Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-28 – Signals Intelligence Activities establishes a process for determining the permissible uses of nonpublicly available signals intelligence that the United States collects in bulk. It also directs the Director of National Intelligence to “maintain a list of permissible uses of signals intelligence collected in bulk” and make the list “publicly available to the maximum extent feasible, consistent with the national security.”

Consistent with that directive, I am hereby releasing the current list of permissible uses of nonpublicly available signals intelligence that the United States collects in bulk.

Now, we’re used to the ODNI obscuring the actual origins of its releases. Wording is usually deployed that gives each document release the appearance of being prompted solely by the ODNI’s innate desire to be as transparent as possible with the American public. Not a single sentence has ever been used to acknowledge the fact that these documents were forced out of the ODNI’s tightly-clenched fist by an EFF lawsuit or Snowden’s leaks. It’s “transparency,” but pronouncing it the way the ODNI does means saying it through gritted teeth.

This announcement is equally as misleading. James Clapper hasn’t “released” anything here. All he’s done is quote a small part of PPD-28, a document that was originally released by the White House alongside President Obama’s NSA reform speech back on January 17th. So, once again the ODNI pats itself on the back for “releasing” a document it didn’t even “release.” This was issued by the administration itself and has been available for public viewing for nearly a month.

What Clapper highlights here is the limitations on raw intelligence gathered by bulk collections. Presumably, the rules listed here are going forward, considering they’ve been broken in the past. (This can also be found on page 4 of the embedded PPD.)

As of Jan. 17, 2014, nonpublicly available signals intelligence collected by the United States in bulk may be used by the United States “only for the purposes of detecting and countering:

Espionage and other threats and activities directed by foreign powers or their intelligence services against the United States and its interests;

Threats to the United States and its interests from terrorism;

Threats to the United States and its interests from the development, possession, proliferation, or use of weapons of mass destruction;

Cybersecurity threats;

Threats to U.S. or allied Armed Forces or other U.S. or allied personnel; and

Transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion related to the other purposes named above.”

Here’s what it can’t be used for:

“in no event may signals intelligence collected in bulk be used for the purpose of suppressing or burdening criticism or dissent; disadvantaging persons based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion; affording a competitive advantage to U.S. companies and U.S. business sectors commercially;” or achieving any purpose other than those identified above.

Well, it’s tough to make a call on the deliberate suppression of criticism and dissent, other than the chilling effect untargeted, bulk surveillance tends to have. (Remember Groklaw shutting down?) The same goes for “disadvantaging persons.” The NSA isn’t really interested in small-scale discriminatory acts when it’s got millions of communications to track. But the commercial espionage angle bears discussing, seeing as it has been caught doing exactly that. So, if these are the rules, they must be as Clapper has stated: something that began on January 17th of this year. Prior acts of espionage are apparently granted amnesty.

The NSA’s programs are disconcerting enough. The ODNI’s insistence on adding a layer of disingenuousness over the top of every “release” just makes it worse. There’s no move towards transparency here. It’s the same old intelligence community reacting the same way it always has — holding its cards close until forced to show them.

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