Ron Wyden: 'Plenty' Of Domestic Surveillance Programs Still Unexposed

from the also:-screw-the-CIA dept

In a few months, we’ll be marking the second anniversary of the first Snowden leak. The outraged responses of citizens and politicians around the world to these revelations has resulted in approximately nothing in those 24 months. There have been bright spots here and there — where governments and their intelligence agencies were painted into corners by multiple leaks and forced to respond — but overall, the supposed debate on the balance between security and privacy has been largely ignored by those on Team National Security.

Here in the US, multiple surveillance reforms were promised. So far, very little has been put into practice. The NSA may be forced to seek court approval for searches of its bulk phone metadata, but otherwise the program rolls on unimpaired and slightly rebranded (from Section 215 to Section 501).

Senator Ron Wyden — one of the few members of our nation’s intelligence oversight committees actively performing any oversight — isn’t happy with the lack of progress. In an interview with Buzzfeed’s John Stanton, Wyden points out that not only has there been little movement forward in terms of surveillance reform, there actually may have been a few steps backward.

Wyden bluntly warned that even after the NSA scandal that started with Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the Obama administration has continued programs to monitor the activities of American citizens in ways that the public is unaware of and that could be giving government officials intimate details of citizens’ lives.

Asked if intelligence agencies have domestic surveillance programs of which the public is still unaware, Wyden said simply, “Yeah, there’s plenty of stuff.

One place there’s definite regression — at least in terms of attitude, if not results — is the push to give intelligence and law enforcement agencies “keys” to encrypted communications, whether in the form of unicorns “golden keys” or pre-installed backdoors in hardware and software. Wyden recognizes the dangers inherent to these demands — the ones these agencies won’t admit exist.

“I’m going to fight that with everything I’ve got … Once the good guys have the keys, the bad guys have the keys and this is going to be incredibly damaging to innovation,” Wyden said.

Wyden blames the current intelligence reform stasis on two key figures, as well as the administration that bends over backwards to oblige them.

Wyden made clear he has little faith serious changes will be made so long as the current leaders of the intelligence community, like Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan, retain their jobs. “The ways this works is, these are individuals who serve at the pleasure of the president … [and] the president wants them there.”

“All of these officials … work for the president of the United States, so you can ask him about it. But I don’t have confidence in [CIA Director] Brennan,” Wyden added bluntly.

No reason why he should. As he points out earlier in the interview, the hacker-esque actions the CIA deployed against Senate staffers during the crafting of the Torture Report would get an ordinary person thrown in jail.

The intelligence community may be avoiding any serious reforms thanks to an all-too-gracious administration, but they haven’t found a way to shake Wyden — someone who knows that not receiving an answer to a pointed question can sometimes be as powerful as wrestling admissions from tight-lipped surveillance defenders.

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Comments on “Ron Wyden: 'Plenty' Of Domestic Surveillance Programs Still Unexposed”

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18 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Wyden Knows

I can’t say enough good about the man, but given his intimate knowledge of these programs there are many opportunities to enter this information into public record. IANAL but it seems time to use his parliamentary immunity to let us know more than these vague and frankly, unhelpful, statements.

We KNOW there are illegal and unconstitutional programs, give us the evidence to fight successful court cases to stop them. That seems the only way to enact meaningful reform. Congressional oversight is a complete farce.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

As he points out earlier in the interview, the hacker-esque actions the CIA deployed against Senate staffers during the crafting of the Torture Report would get an ordinary person thrown in jail.

But unfortunately, Wyden, who gets it, is a member of Congress, and throwing someone in jail is one of the things explicitly prohibited to Congress by the Constitution.

Anonymous Coward says:

I really hope i'm wrong about this, but...

The cynic in me can’t help but see the political expediency of Wyden’s actions. They aren’t toothy enough that he would take flak for an eventual terrorist attack after enacting meaningful reform, and his warnings are boisterous enough to be able to say “see, I told you so!” after inevitable government abuses. Either way, they perpetuate the status quo and appease his constituency.

Anonymous Coward says:

So instead of exposing them in the Senate because he has immunity, he’s just going to wait it out until they take him out of the Intelligence Committee (if he’s not out already – I haven’t paid attention to that) and until the NSA makes it so he loses his next election, just like Mark Udall.

I swear if we get a “good” privacy-conscious president at the next election (it would take a miracle, I know), and he still doesn’t do it then, I’ll lose all my respect for Wyden then.

Anonymous Coward says:

what has been achieved, more than anything, is extra surveillance on citizens under the false banner of stopping ‘child porn’ and ‘terrorism’. those topics never have and never will be of any concern whatsoever! the aim has always been and always will be encroaching into the lives of ordinary people simply because it is much easier than trying to find actual ‘bad guys’!
if someone can state exactly how many REAL terrorist plots have been stopped and how many REAL child pornography rings have been destroyed, maybe, just maybe people would hold some credence to what the governments are doing. i’ll bet though, when push comes to shove, there haven’t been a single one! there have been plenty of FBI instrumented plots killed off but that’s all. there is even doubt now cast on the supposed ‘Boston Bomber’ because of the fabricated evidence and unchecked ‘facts’!
now move over to the UK and look at the crap storm that’s been stirred up there! i’ll bet Cameron never envisaged anything like the crock of shit that’s showing now and involving not just former Tory MPs but members of former TORY governments! so much for the Tory party being squeaky clean and the others, namely Labour Party, being the scum of the earth! karma yet again is a funny old thing!!

A Cow says:

We are winning this war

The outraged responses of citizens and politicians around the world to these revelations has resulted in approximately nothing in those 24 months.

I wouldn’t say that. The ‘collect it all’ policy appears mostly unaffected in the five eyes states. But there has been movement in other governments (e.g. EU throwing out data retention). The private sector has been shamed into pushing back (e.g. Apple moving to default encryption). The US Tech Sector has lost contracts (e.g. Verizon contract in Germany being cancelled, China dropping US tech). Other leakers have been inspired (e.g. the watchlist one at The Intercept). Technological solutions have started to come out (e.g. HTTPS Everywhere, Mozilla is building TOR into Firefox). Legal approaches have already had some successes (e.g. recent UK admission of illegality of spying, various cases resulting in document releases). And culturally a popular resistance is growing (e.g. ‘CitizenFour’ won Best Documentary Oscar, ‘American Sniper’ got…’Best Sound’ or something). This is just off the top of my head. I’m sure a better list of results could be compiled.

I think the most important results will be cultural. After Snowden and the Torture revelations there is no going back to the USA empire being seen as “the good guys”. I believe that we will see increasingly open contempt for Washington in the coming years. But this is not a war that will be won in the short-term. It is not even just about the mass surveillance. It is inseparable from the US perma-war in the Middle East and the general shift towards authoritarianism in the West (and especially the Anglophone countries). Don’t say we are losing the war. It’s bad for morale. And, all things considered, I don’t think it is actually true.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We are winning this war

Most of the tech advancements, while they should be encouraged, aren’t really effective against mass surveillance. HTTPS and other transport encryption is near-worthless as long as we rely on centralized authorities that can be subverted (Lavabit, Gemalto, CA’s). Full disk encryption has its use cases, but offers no protection against mass surveillance.

Our best bets are open source software and hardware, reproducible builds, and decentralized communication networks encrypted with keys the users control. All of the above are in direct conflict with the business models of most technology enterprises. With the economic incentive persisting to create and maintain centralized structures users have to blindly trust, there is little hope for a technological solution to be adopted by anyone but the most dedicated and privileged enough to worry about such things.

justme says:

Political Failure!

This is mainly a political failure, the failure to recognize that the extremist are not always those external forces opposing policies that violate our founding principles, but the one’s given a seat at the table who are advocating for policies that violate those principle’s.

And ultimately, it is the responsibility of the President and Congress to ensure that the final policies are consistent with our constitutional principles and protect the right granted to us as citizen’s. And it is that failure to recognize that, by design, many of there advisers have a very narrow and extreme view of the issue’s. And regardless of that advise it is our elected leaders who are responsible with balancing the issues before enacting policy decisions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Political Failure!

When the representative body have lost the confidence of their constituents, when they have notoriously made sale of their most valuable rights, when they have assumed to themselves powers which the people never put into their hands, then indeed their continuing in office becomes dangerous to the state, and calls for an exercise of the power of dissolution.
— Thomas Jefferson

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Power of dissolution

Jefferson was referring to the power of force. If you can get about 5% of the population to actively support you (that is, provide for the infrastructure of your dissolution effort).

Guns are nice, but in a well-run pacifistic campaign or sabotage campaign they probably aren’t necessary.

(It’s probably good to have a rifle on your hearth anyway.)

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