Leaked Damage Assessment Shows Government Mostly Interested In Investigating Leakers, Withholding Information From Public

from the oh,-and-terrorists,-I-suppose dept

The Intercept has just released an interesting document from its Snowden stash: an unredacted damage assessment of the New York Times’ 2005 exposure of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program — a program that saw the agency monitoring the emails and phone calls of US citizens.

It’s not that the government hasn’t made damage assessments public before. It just does it very, very rarely and mostly for self-serving reasons. The most recent publications of damage assessments were in response to the Snowden leaks. The released assessments were heavily-redacted and made plenty of unfounded assertions about the damage done to the national security infrastructure by the leaks.

This 2005 damage assessment was never released. It was purely an internal document. Thanks to it being part of Snowden’s package of leaked documents, it can be read without the sort of excessive redaction the government deploys when discussing even the most inane (or obvious) aspects of national security.

Such was the internal distress at the possible exposure of this surveillance program that the government managed to delay its publication for a year. Despite its successful pushback, the assessment here is no different that the assessment of the Snowden leaks. In other words, mostly speculation backed by very little support.

The memo gives a general explanation of what terrorists might do in reaction to the information revealed. It was “likely” that terrorists would stop using phones in favor of mail or courier, and use encryption and code words. They could also plant false information, knowing the U.S. government was listening. But the leaked program had not “been noted in adversary communications,” according to the memo. It gave no specific examples of investigations or targets that had or might be impacted by the revelations.

Once you get past the obvious suggestion that terrorists will adapt communication methods in light of presumably-unknown information, you get to more detailed discussion of the NYT article itself. The assessment breaks down every statement of fact in the article and provides its corresponding level of classification.

(TS//SI//STLW//NF//OC) “President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity.”

(TS//SI//STL WIINF//OC) (NSA) “monitored the international telephone calls (communications to the U.S.) and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years … to track possible “dirty numbers” linked to Al Qaeda…”

(TS//SI//STLW//NF//OC) “NSA eavesdrops (under this program) without warrants on up to 500 people in the United States at any given time.” … the number monitored … may have reached … the thousands”

(S//SI) “Overseas, about 5,000 to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are monitored (by NSA) at one time.”

Oddly, the government considers the most obvious possible outcome of the exposure of this program (that terrorists would alter communications in light of this info) to be “classified.”

(C) (The article) would alert would-be terrorists (inside the United States) that they might be under scrutiny.

If there was a battle for American hearts and minds to be fought in the wake of this publication, you’d think the agency would want this conclusion made public (preferably with some supporting evidence), rather than bury it with other classified documents.

Nearly a decade down the road, the government has yet to offer any solid proof that the New York Times’ article resulted in compromised capabilities or surveillance programs.

“To this day we’ve never seen any evidence — despite all the claims they made to keep us from publishing — that it did any tangible damage to national security. This is further confirmation of that,” [New York Times writer Eric] Lichtblau told The Intercept.

In fact, the only clear response to the publication of this leaked info didn’t take the form of altered collection techniques or additional terrorist attacks. It took the form of a full-blown DOJ investigation, involving 25 FBI agents and five prosecutors. This too, resulted in a whole lot of nothing.

The leak and the response to it indicates the government was more worried about US citizens, rather than its foreign adversaries, finding out about what it was up to.

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Comments on “Leaked Damage Assessment Shows Government Mostly Interested In Investigating Leakers, Withholding Information From Public”

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18 Comments
TasMot (profile) says:

It was “likely” that terrorists would stop using phones in favor of mail or courier

One of the curious “misses” based on this statement is that if indeed the “terrorists” were to start using the snail-mail system instead of phones, active terrorism would take a tremendous slow-down in activity. If all of the various methods of detecting terrorist activity were made public then the terrorists are going to have to start going back to actually meeting with each other to communicate because none of the modern electronic methods are going to be unwatched. Even the meta-data that encrypted emails are passing from a suspected terrorist to someone new would mean that a better watch can be kept on the network of terrorists. Instead, the spooks are way to interested in snooping on everybody instead of slowing down or stopping the terrorists by making it too hard for the plots to develop. /rant

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Instead, the spooks are way to interested in snooping on everybody instead of slowing down or stopping the terrorists by making it too hard for the plots to develop.

Ya know, the controversy in the 80’s looking back over the Vietnam War sort of fingered the efficiency experts who’d recently gained control of the Pentagon and White House for having been among the prime factors in failure to win. “Body count” is irrelevant when your commanders are padding it with innocent water buffalos or women and children running from gunships.

We’re back to them taking the easy (and stupid) way out, yet again. History repeats, if we refuse to learn from it. This’s been a lousy century so far.

Anonymous Coward says:

there is nothing as powerful or corrupt as a government and it will blame whoever it can for as much as it can in order to not just stop the criticisms but to throw the light on something/someone other than itself! the out of sight, out of mind approach. the sad thing is that everything is forgotten about by the electorate and the same thieving, lying, corrupt ass holes get back in and it all continues unabated!!

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Security through obscurity

You have to assume that the enemy will discern your methods in short time, especially if they have any success.

I believe the OPM hack was done with old tech, then an IDS vendor gave them a demo of their latest work. Good for the IDS vendor, but it could have been stopped years ago if the machines were up to date, and many weren’t.

Cheaping out on support costs is all the rage this century. We try to bake in infallibilty at manufacture, then ignore complaints and pray to “planned obsolescence.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Terrorist, code word for, everybody

If your not with them in everything they do, yep, you guessed it, your a terrorist…….deem to dare and speak up over something they do however fucked up it may be, yep, you guessed it, your the terrorist

“When we do it, its “civilised”, when they do it, its evil”

Its ALL fucked up………being on one particular side doesnt make a thing suddenly miraculously angelic, it makes a person a big old fucking hypocrate……..with the level of influence were discussing here…….a dangerous hypocrate….

Musing alert::::
or an actual evil person playing the hypocrate card in order to get away with the evil things:::::Musing alert

*Sensei Strokes pointy white beard*

GEMont (profile) says:

The Enemy Inside the Gates

“The leak and the response to it indicates the government was more worried about US citizens, rather than its foreign adversaries, finding out about what it was up to.”

No shit. Hooda thunk it!!!

To reiterate: The Adversary IS the US citizenry. The surveillance – blackmail and character assassination – programs and things like Extraordinary Rendition ARE a direct response to the perceived threat of rebellion by the Adversary, if it discovers the simple fact that the USA has been overthrown from within by a fascist cabal, composed of American and foreign billionaire businessmen.

Lets face it folks. If you were a part of a fascist cabal of American billionaires bent on running the USA like a lawless business venture for fun and profit, you would have done exactly the same things that the USG has done – from the surveillance programs to the rewriting of the constitution – to protect your own ass from retaliation.

The Terrorist threat is a manufactured boogeyman – that allowed all of the myriad legal and constitutional (9/11) changes that made the take over of the American Government, (they already owned Finance, Media and Manufacturing), by the fascist billionaires, possible.

You are the Adversary and the USG is NOT your friend and the longer you pretend that you don’t smell the coffee, the worse this thing will get.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Enemy Inside the Gates

An absolutely acceptable, and rather expected reaction, all things considered.

But, lest ye forget, even paranoids can have real enemies.:)

If you cannot perceive the blatant reality that is shoved into your face daily, that the very people that make up the institutional foundation of the old American society, are now telling Americans to go fuck themselves over even the smallest of inquisitions, then who exactly is the mentally deficient here?

My job is not to convince anyone of anything. I could really care less. I will die soon enough and the fate of the world is then in the hands of today’s children and their children should things last that long.

My job is to simply describe what I see and hope that my words will cause some small few to read between the lines of their programming long enough to perceive what is in front of their face, without succumbing to the fear of failure, the fear of ostracism and the fear of not fitting in.

After twenty years or so, I should probably give up, since the world is very well trained to obey only the official rules and only the smallest fraction of the population – considered 2b weirdoes – is able to see outside the box, but I do enjoy the dialogue and am always amazed by the extreme limits and lengths to which the controlled will go to prove they are free spirits.

I beg your forgiveness, as this is more for my own benefit than yours.

I could not really live with myself if I did not try and prevent the inevitable.

For this reason, ridicule and defamation only offer a new opportunity to add to the original message.

Oh yeah, and I’m pissed to the gills right now – family reunion thing – and this post took like forever to write, so I really don’t give a shit right now about anything, or anyone, anywhere. 🙂

Cheers. 🙂

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If you’re referring to the CONstitution of the United States, then you are mistaken.

You see, that document no longer exists. It was rewritten after the 9/11 Psyops Coup, to suit those who engineered the take over of the USA – Your new rulers.

Its now referred to as the PROstitution of the United States, and is primarily the basis for all the new laws that you will soon be experiencing first hand over the next ten years – assuming you have an estimated annual value to the Ownership Society greater than your estimated annual upkeep.

What you smell is the rotting corpse of reason, which was discarded by Americans and most other civilians world wide, since it obviated a reality that nobody wants to accept.

It is also the odor of millions of people the world over, bending over to willingly take it up the ass daily, rather than think. A very profitable situation for a very small segment of civilization.

Say, 1% or so.

tqk (profile) says:

"The nail that sticks up will be beaten down." -- Japanese proverb.

It took the form of a full-blown DOJ investigation, involving 25 FBI agents and five prosecutors. This too, resulted in a whole lot of nothing.

I wonder what that cost. It sounds very expensive. Yet Snowden had to flee his country for telling his fellows about it. This regime (gov’t the world over ca. 1800 onward, end of The Enlightenment) has a lot to answer for. I hope for the best (but expect the worst). I wonder if anyone in Vegas tracks the odds on when it’ll happen.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: "The nail that sticks up will be beaten down." -- Japanese proverb.

After a careful review of your request to see the financial details of the cost of the Hunt for Snowden, it has been determined that this information is necessarily exempt from public disclosure on Nation Security grounds.

Were the Terrorist Horde of ISIL to realize how much money we were willing to spend chasing down one of our own who simply exposed out illegal, immoral and dictatorial operations, it is more than expected that our ISIL minions would demand a raise in pay over and above what has been apportioned for their services to America in the War on Terror.

Please remit a cheque for $2,059,453.00 to cover the costs of writing this email.

Thank you,

Director of Freedom of Information Refusal Services,
Dick Headwardly

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