Trump's Picks For AG & CIA Happy To Undermine Civil Liberties, Increase Surveillance

from the this-is-a-bad-start dept

This is (unfortunately) not a huge surprise, but it appears that a Trump administration is going to be much worse for civil liberties and surveillance. Earlier today, Donald Trump named his choices to head the CIA — Rep. Mike Pompeo — and to be the next Attorney General — Senator Jeff Sessions — and both have terrible records on surveillance, civil liberties and whistleblowing. They also are problematic in other areas, but in the areas where we cover, it’s not looking good.

Let’s start with Pompeo. In an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal back in January of this year, Pompeo called for expanding surveillance powers rather than limiting them. He criticized the USA Freedom Act and any other attempt to even moderately cut back on surveillance and said we had to go the other direction, claiming “What?s needed is a fundamental upgrade to America?s surveillance capabilities.”

Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database. Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed. That includes Presidential Policy Directive-28, which bestows privacy rights on foreigners and imposes burdensome requirements to justify data collection.

While (at least) that same editorial did say that a backdoor on encrypted products “would do little good,” he’s no fan of encryption. He just thinks that if you use it, it should be considered a “red flag” that you’re up to no good:

There has been much debate about whether providers of communications hardware and software in the U.S. should be obliged to give the government backdoor access. Such a mandate would do little good, since terrorists would simply switch to foreign or home-built encryption. New technologies can cloak messages in background noise, rendering them difficult to detect.

Forcing terrorists into encrypted channels, however, impedes their operational effectiveness by constraining the amount of data they can send and complicating transmission protocols, a phenomenon known in military parlance as virtual attrition. Moreover, the use of strong encryption in personal communications may itself be a red flag.

In another opinion piece for the National Review, he attacks reformers and those who support Ed Snowden while announcing his own bill to give the NSA greater surveillance powers:

Those who today suggest that the USA FREEDOM Act, which gutted the National Security Agency?s (NSA) metadata program, enables the intelligence community to better prevent and investigate threats against the U.S. are lying. I use that word intentionally, because these candidates know better. Less intelligence capacity equals less safety. To share Edward Snowden?s vision of America as the problem is to come down on the side of President Obama?s diminishing willingness to collect intelligence on jihadis. No Republican candidate who does that is worthy of our vote.

I have just introduced the Liberty through Strength Act II in the House of Representatives to restore the NSA?s tools. We cannot expect our intelligence professionals to prevent terrorist attacks while handcuffing them at the same time.

Just to be extra clear: Pompeo doesn’t just dislike Ed Snowden, he has declared him a traitor who should be “given a death sentence.”

It’s absolutely the case that we have not been able to secure all the American information that we needed to, and that we’ve had the traitor Edward Snowden steal that information. He should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence for having put friends of mine, friends of yours, who served in the military today, at enormous risk, because of the information he stole and then released to foreign powers.

Pompeo has also defended the CIA’s torture program against critics:

?These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots,? and, ?The programs being used were within the law, within the constitution.?

There’s also the fact that Pompeo has basically no experience in the intelligence community. He was an Army officer and a businessman, only entering Congress a few years ago. In that link, Motherboard quotes someone from the intelligence community questioning how Pompeo is qualified to run the CIA:

?None of us believe that a couple of years in the Army followed by sitting on a committee in Congress qualifies anyone for any position in the CIA, much less as the Director,? a former military officer who also worked in the intelligence community told Motherboard on condition of anonymity. ?We believe that the ongoing nepotism used to select unqualified and in some cases, dangerous people for leadership in these key positions may well lead to a catastrophic failure for the United States.?

So, yes, here’s someone with little actual experience in intelligence, but who is absolutely sure the answer is greater surveillance of Americans, and who supports programs that have been declared to be torture. And they’re putting him in charge of the CIA.

On to Sessions. He’s also a huge supporter of increased surveillance, and not a fan of civil liberties. Going back a decade ago, Sessions very publicly supported President George W. Bush’s surveillance programs that included warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

?This is a reasonable assertion of executive power, and it?s more than an academic discussion,? Sessions said. ?There are 3,000 Americans who have no civil rights today because they were killed as a result of communications from foreign terrorist organizations who called in to sleeper cells who then carried out the catastrophic 9/11 attacks. President Bush?s surveillance program authorizes only an intercept of an international call or email in which one of the parties is connected to al Qaeda. I think the terrorist surveillance program is a reasonable response.?

For what it’s worth, Sessions is wrong here. The surveillance program — as we later learned — enabled much, much, much more than that, and included mass surveillance on the communications data of millions of Americans. And the “connection to Al Qaeda” was expanded to include many hops away, and much more than Al Qaeda. But as far as I can tell, Sessions never admitted that his statement was wrong or changed his views on Presidential surveillance powers. Just this year, Sessions spoke out against encryption on mobile phones in discussing the legal fights between Apple and the FBI:

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama questioned Cook?s position. “Coming from a law enforcement background, I believe this is a more serious issue than Tim Cook understands,” Sessions said. He said accessing phones is critical to law enforcement.

“In a criminal case, or could be a life and death terrorist case, accessing a phone means the case is over. Time and time again, that kind of information results in an immediate guilty plea, case over,” Sessions said. He added that the ability for government to access a phone should not be abused.

He’s also spoken out vehemently against NSA reform that limits surveillance, complaining about the very modest changes in the USA Freedom Act.

In 2006, the National Security Agency transitioned the bulk telephone-metadata acquisition program authorized under the president?s Terrorist Surveillance Program to the business-records court-order authority of Section 215. Since shortly after 9/11, this program has been helping to keep Americans safe by acquiring non-content call records, i.e., telephone numbers and the date, time, and duration of a call. This program has yielded invaluable intelligence that has helped prevent attacks and uncovered terrorist plots. Nevertheless, the Obama administration has built up unnecessary barriers that sacrifice the fragile operational efficiency of the program without actually accomplishing anything in terms of data security.

He claimed this despite the fact that this article was published years after it had been revealed that the government had never relied on the Section 215 data to save lives, and even where it was used, other means were used to stop any kind of attack.

On top of that, just recently, Sessions tried to massively expand the surveillance powers of the Justice Department, in an amendment he tried to attach to ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) Reform. We’ve been calling for ECPA Reform for many, many years, but to stop warrantless surveillance and data collection. But Sessions’ plan was to make it even easier for law enforcement to get data, so long as they “declared it was an emergency.”

A provider of electronic communication service or remote computing service shall disclose to a governmental entity a wire or electronic communication (including the contents of the communication) and a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber or customer if a representative of the governmental entity reasonably certifies under penalty of perjury that an emergency involving the danger of death or serious physical injury requires disclosure without delay.

And, the thing is, many companies will help out law enforcement voluntarily in such situations. But Sessions was trying to make it mandatory, which would be massively abused.

And that doesn’t even touch on Session’s horrific history concerning civil rights, which generally doesn’t bode well for his views on related civil liberties.

I know that we’d heard from some Trump supporters telling us that they believed he wouldn’t be as bad on surveillance as Obama or Bush. But, so far, it certainly looks like he’s worse, given who he is planning to appoint.

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Comments on “Trump's Picks For AG & CIA Happy To Undermine Civil Liberties, Increase Surveillance”

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Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Wondering

Me too, given that Stalin was a brutal authoritarian. This is not a partisan issue, labels are just the difference in flavour, that’s all.

It’s authoritarianism — whoever is doing it — that we should be calling out every time we see it and no one ought to get a pass just because he or she is flying the flag for a particular team. Who’s with me? They can’t divide us if we’re united and we’re harder to divide once we understand that we’ve got much more in common than we often realise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: He’s Not Even President Yet ...

Lying about what? Half of what he said in the campaign was contradictory nonsense intended to sucker gullible fools into voting for him. But his AG and CIA director picks show that he supports torture and expanded, unconstitutional mass surveillance. If you read a bit more you will see that they are also racist, fundamentalist christian, bloodthirsty hawks. When he says “great again”, what he actually means is “a smouldering crater”.

Jair says:

Re: Re: He’s Not Even President Yet ...

Something you should realize, AC, is the basic fact that not everyone who says they’re a Christian really is. No one who honestly is would support the things these guys do. By their actions you will know them, as Jesus himself said. So please be aware that that part of your description of them is inaccurate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: He’s Not Even President Yet ...

Don’t try to compare a religion to a single individual, though I can’t possibly search for all religions in existence it is more than possible that a terrible person exist’s a a beliver, or rather, supposed believer of any given faith.
There should also be terrible atheisths as well.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Here I sit
broken hearted
I tried to vote
and only farted.

But really, here’s the thing, the harder you squeeze the more the juice comes out and the more juice that comes out the bigger the mess and the bigger the mess the less juice you have and when you run out of juice and you just keep squeezing in self-righteous indignation the ground becomes nourished and writhes beneath you and you learn, slowly, that you are being squeezed and you are being eaten and you are bleeding and only then do you see the error – you should have squeezed harder, you should have squeezed faster and you should have squeezed over a bowl because all is now lost and there’s shit everywhere and you’re bleeding. And you crawl towards the Tree of Liberty looking for more fruit and there is none. At last, we are safe.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I imagined an imaginary scene from an imaginary play with .. deference to these poignant words:
The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13 states independent 11 years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Let's compare shall we?

Pompeo on Snowden:

It’s absolutely the case that we have not been able to secure all the American information that we needed to, and that we’ve had the traitor Edward Snowden steal that information. He should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence for having put friends of mine, friends of yours, who served in the military today, at enormous risk, because of the information he stole and then released to foreign powers.

And now Pompeo on torture:

“These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots,” and, “The programs being used were within the law, within the constitution.”

So, expose government ‘misconduct’ in the form of indiscriminate spying on the american public = Traitor deserving nothing less than a death sentence.

Torture prisoners = Patriot, undeserving of scorn for serving the country by torturing and killing people.

Oh yeah, this absolutely seems like someone with sane and reasonable standards, someone I absolutely want to be put in a position of power, willing and able to use it to shape things how he wants them to be.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: None of these nominations are surprising

They fell for the partisan nonsense that keeps people at each other’s throats for no good reason.

Obama is a neocon. Trump is not a neocon but he is very much further to the right than Obama ever was.

Neocon is not a left wing position: American Congressional politics is dominated by the right and the far right. Yes, there are some progressives and liberals (these are quite different from each other) and perhaps a few real lefties but they don’t have much power in either House.

All that SJW nonsense you read about is extremist progressivism. They’re not all like that and few of them would advocate having government take over all enterprise and ban private property.

If we can all accept that not everyone who disagrees with us is the most extreme example of the opposite position we can imagine, we’ll be able to work together to campaign against the shredding of our civil liberties that’s about to come our way. Remember, any new laws will have to go through Congress for approval. If we all work together we can campaign against them. Representatives still have to answer to the electorate so let’s stay calm and be ready to support anyone who’s on our side on the particular issues we need support for. We can argue about our differences later.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not sure politicians do either. I mean, the circumstances under which the original application made sense are drastically different or none-existant.

The way laws are written and the way they are applied would make any of the founding fathers turn in their grave. That is not a partisan issue or an issue regressives like Trump can change.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, that’s true. Neither is any better than the other. They’re each the worst choice possible on a range of issues, some of which they differ on.

Hillary, however, is capable of being embarrassed. Trump is not. That capability could have been exploited to wring more concessions on surveillance, etc., out of her. Heck, she turned her tail on TPP when she thought she might lose out to Bernie! And yes, we know she’d have put it right back on the table citing RCEP and how China and India are working with a range of Pacific nations and freezing out the USA.

But now Trump is here and don’t worry, you can expect to hear something similar from him. He’s already broken his other promises, why not this one?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Even Pence was gracious about the affair. It is merely Trump doing his Trump thing of belittling everyone daring to critizise him. Nothing to see, move along.

The problem only really starts when he is doing something rather than flapping his mouth. People generally ignore Trumps words since they hold so little meaning or sense. It will be another story entirely when his TEA-party entourage starts work. Then we will see what the congress republicans are made of…

Steve R. (profile) says:

Comapared to the Alternative?

Trump won the election, so criticisms evaluating Trumps potential impacts on civil liberties and surveillance are
germane. Nevertheless, had Hillary won; there would have been a high probability that an article similar to this one would have been written. Hillary, was unabashedly for “BIG” government. That simplicity implies greater erosion of civil liberties and greater surveillance.

On one occasion, Hillary was asked about encryption; her response indicated that she did not understand encryption and couched her answer in gobbledygook worthy of many science fiction scripts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Doom and gloom

Really, so only the left gets to blame someone for 8 years? I agree, it is on Trump, but Trump has been the president elect for less than a week and it is already a foregone conclusion that we are screwed. Trump overcame great odds to be elected, he had to not only beat the Democratic candidate, he had to beat rigged debates, a media stacked against him, rigged polls and his own party. Now that he has been elected, the hounds have not relented. I am willing to wait and see what happens. I am surely not taking the word of the left anymore.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Doom and gloom

** race war, gender war and class war**

That was not down to Obama. That was neoliberalism falling on its face while the Right went nuts and blamed immigrants, minorities, and government itself for the problems caused by hoarding unearned wealth and robbing workers by not paying them enough to live on.

Meanwhile, the liberals, progressives, and what Americans tend to think of as the left decided to blame poor white people for voting for the wrong representatives and harangued them for taking the wrong side in the culture wars.

It’s a case of authoritarians seeking out a scapegoat to blame and a boogeyman to fear while utterly refusing to resolve the problem as the status quo keeps them rolling in dough.

Stop falling for partisan lies and get ready to fight for your civil rights. You are just as much at risk as the rest of us and we need you on side.

Anon says:

Small Ray of Hope (and Change?)

First good point of all this is.. it’s all the Republican party. So all the “bad stuff” for four years will be Republican – giving the Democrats the opportunity to claim the high road protecting rights (much like Black Lives Matter has done for police over-reach), more loudly as the news gets worse about civil rights violations and government intrusiveness. Hopefully, too the new generation of Democrats learns from Sanders’ success what people want; and from the flack Clinton got over voting for the Iraq invasion, that it is never too early to vote conscience over political expedient.

I also wonder if the impeachment trial of Donald Trump is almost inevitable given his erratic behavior – and Democrats will find it just karma to vote against impeachment of the president so as to keep a reminder of 2016 around for the 2020 election. Who would want to give Pence a chance to be the reasonable figurehead for anti-democratic oppressive policies?

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