GCHQ Neglected To Tell Its Overseers That The NSA Granted Widespread Access To PRISM Databases

from the oversight! dept

Ryan Gallagher, over at The Intercept, has a report on some previously unreleased Snowden documents, detailing how GCHQ was given a taste of widespread access to the NSA PRISM database as well as its bulk metadata collections during the London Olympics in 2012, and that they were basically begging for continuous unrestricted access to those databases. At the time of the documents, the NSA had not yet given GCHQ such access (beyond that one shot during the Olympics) but apparently seemed receptive to the idea. That wasn’t the most interesting part of the article, however. After all, what kind of spies would they be if they weren’t constantly seeking more access to the troves of info that the NSA had been collecting as well. The part that struck me as just as noteworthy is that it appears that GCHQ hid its level of access to the NSA databases from its overseers in Parliament:

[Julian] Huppert, the member of Parliament, served on a committee that reviewed – and recommended against – a push from the British government for more powers to access private data before the Snowden materials became public last year.

At no point during that process, Huppert says, did GCHQ disclose the extent of its access to PRISM and other then-secret NSA programs. Nor did it indicate that it was seeking wider access to NSA data – even during closed sessions held to allow security officials to discuss sensitive information. Huppert says these facts were relevant to the review and could have had a bearing on its outcome.

“It is now obvious that they were trying to deliberately mislead the committee,” Huppert told The Intercept. “They very clearly did not give us all the information that we needed.”

One of the common themes that these revelations keep re-emphasizing is that the intelligence community keeps insisting that they won’t abuse their powers because of their strong “oversight.” And yet, every time we get a chance to look more closely at the actual oversight, we find that the oversight is almost non-existent. The intelligence community is as cagey and misleading in private classified sessions as they are in public.

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Comments on “GCHQ Neglected To Tell Its Overseers That The NSA Granted Widespread Access To PRISM Databases”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Putting it mildly

‘And yet, every time we get a chance to look more closely at the actual oversight, we find that the oversight is non-existent.’

Fixed for accuracy.

Both the NSA and GCHQ have shown no hesitation in misleading, obstructing, and flat out lying to those that are supposed to provide ‘oversight’ over them, with absolutely zero repercussions for their actions.

Making it worse, the ones providing the ‘oversight’ only know what the spy agencies let them know, as they either can’t, or won’t, investigate the agencies themselves, relying instead on what they’re told by the agencies in question.

When the ones providing the ‘oversight’ have to rely on the ‘honesty’ of the ones they’re supposed to be watching, it’s not a case of ‘almost no oversight’, but just plain ‘no oversight at all’.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Putting it mildly

That’s because they use the magic word whenever anyone attempts to carry out oversight: “Terrorism.”

Why can’t you tell us what you are or are not looking at? Terrorism.

How can I be sure you’re not looking at the private data of regular citizens? Terrorism.

Why do I have to ask for permission to carry out oversight? Terrorism.

The fact that our representatives keep falling for this schtick is the problem.

mcinsand (profile) says:

as long as there are no consequences

As long as there are no consequences for either evading oversight or for overseers looking the other way, nothing will change. Errant behavior will never change without motivation, and these people have consistently, constantly, and forcefully reminded us that loyalty to principles and the Constitution is not motivation.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘we find that the oversight is almost non-existent’ and that when any questioning is done by specific Intelligence Committees, charged with the job of ensuring the security forces actions are legal, they are misled and downright lied to! then you get the politicians who back the agencies, until, that is, they find out they are under surveillance as well. suddenly the spying is not quite so legal!!

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