Congress Fast-Tracks Bill That Would Give DHS Agencies Access To NSA Collections

from the natsec-promiscuity dept

As a parting gift to the incoming president, Barack Obama approved information-sharing rules which gave sixteen federal agencies access to unminimized NSA collections. The whole list of agencies involved in the information sharing can be found at the ODNI’s (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) website:

Two independent agencies—the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA);

Eight Department of Defense elements—the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency (NGA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and intelligence elements of the four DoD services; the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

Seven elements of other departments and agencies—the Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence; the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis and U.S. Coast Guard Intelligence; the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of National Security Intelligence; the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; and the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

Yes, the collected communications can be masked to protect the identities of US persons, but that call is made on a case-by-case basis by the NSA and there are several government officials with the power to demand unminimized access.

This just isn’t enough sharing, apparently. Patrick G. Eddington of CATO reports a new bill is being quickly and quietly pushed through the House to expand this sharing to several more federal agencies.

Introduced on April 26 by Rep. John Katko (R-NY), the “Improving Fusion Centers’ Access to Information Act” (HR 2169) is designed to plug any “information gaps” in state “fusion centers” by modifying the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to require DHS to

identify Federal databases and datasets, including databases and datasets used, operated, or managed by Department components, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of the Treasury, that are appropriate, in accordance with Federal laws and policies, to address any gaps identified pursuant to paragraph (2), for inclusion in the information sharing environment and coordinate with the appropriate Federal agency to deploy or access such databases and datasets;

The DHS is already on the list of agencies with access to NSA collections. This bill would allow it to give underling agencies access to the same info. Some notable three-letter agencies on that list include CBP, ICE, and TSA. While the NSA’s collections are supposed to serve a national security purpose, the FBI uses its access for standard criminal investigations. There’s no reason to believe these agencies won’t do the same.

But the bill has friends everywhere in the House. The bill was passed after 40 minutes of debate, thanks to a suspension of normal voting rules. The normal concerns for national security were voiced, but nothing was said of the NSA collection’s routine use in routine, domestic criminal investigations. That Congress considers expanded information sharing with domestic security agencies “non-controversial” (hence the sped-up voting process) is an indication of the majority’s view of the privacy/security balancing act.

Worse, if the bill becomes law, the worst, most ineffective parts of the DHS will be given access to data and communications gathered by the NSA. Fusion centers — which are already known for being mostly useless, when not actively doing damage to Constitutional rights — will have even more information to misuse. The bill would give bicycles to fish in all 50 states. The only thing guaranteed is the new powers will be used badly. Eddington quotes from a 2012 report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which found DHS Fusion Centers to be expensive, useless, and a harm to the public.

The Department of Homeland Security estimated that it had spent somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion in public funds to support state and local fusion centers since 2003, broad estimates that differ by over $1 billion.

The investigation found that DHS intelligence officers assigned to state and local fusion centers produced intelligence of “uneven quality – oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”

This is where the NSA’s collections will ultimately end up: in the hands of DHS branch offices that do little more than repeatedly screw up. Only now, they’ll be able to do significantly more harm to Americans’ civil liberties. Add to that the routine clusterfuck that is the CBP, ICE, and TSA, and you have a recipe for massive Fourth Amendment violations under the pretense of national security.

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Comments on “Congress Fast-Tracks Bill That Would Give DHS Agencies Access To NSA Collections”

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Anonymous Coward says:

My Theory

Obama was a nobody not too long ago and his personal information would have been collected along with everyone else that doesn’t matter. He suddenly is a politician in Illinois and the blackmail on him made him the perfect candidate. He is propelled to office with minimal fuss and once there, he makes move after move to increase the powers and abilities of the people who put him there. At the very end, he pushes this through, knowing exactly what it entails, but his own guilt keeps him from speaking up.

Anonymous Coward says:


“But the bill has friends everywhere in the House. The bill was passed after 40 minutes of debate, thanks to a suspension of normal voting rules.”

So please clearly state the specific “problem” you are hinting at here.

Your Constitutional, duly elected representatives voted for this bill– do you somehow object to that governmental procedure ?

Were these Congressmen somehow acting outside their authority ? What’s your beef here ?

If you can’t identify the “problem” — you have little hope of solving it.

Instead of constant hand wringing over endless minutiae of perceived Potomac malpractice, please attempt a more fundamental look/analysis on what is causing all this stuff that you don’t like. (CAUTION: this requires deep thinking)

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: ??

The "problem" is manifold. Let’s start with blind voting along party lines, where bills like this are rushed through without any real debate. Then we can talk about how poorly our "representatives" actually represent the will of the people, thanks to rampant Gerrymandering and unfettered campaign contributions. Then maybe we can discuss this culture of "collect everything" that is pervasive among agencies which are not headed by elected officials, even though it’s been shown time and again that, not only is the data subject to abuse, but it doesn’t actually perform the prescribed function, the signal gets lost in the noise. We might then finish up with the thought that laws aren’t a great benchmark for determining the wrongdoings of those who make the laws, because, as the saying goes, who watches the watchers?

Problems are easy. Solutions are what require deep thought.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ??

“The “problem” is manifold”

Manifold = “many & varied” = totally unhelpful to the discussion here

if your elected representatives are voting “blind” — why do they do that ?

keep asking “Why” at every step of event sequence and that will lead you to the root problem, eventually

{Hint: it’s a system problem}

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: ??

no, its a citizen problem.

The system is not broken, the people are.

If the people shuffled off the bullshit party doctrines and said, I don’t care that you are a member of my party you are corrupt so I will not vote for you, a lot of shit would get fixed and damn fast too!

We “The People” are broken, ignorant, and accepting of corruption.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Apparently this still needs to be said regularly

We build a civilization from the people we have, not the people we wish we had.

Ours are pretty much the same kind of people all other nations have to work with. That people don’t vote their consciences, or cannot fathom their own best interests are failures of a system that didn’t take them into account.

Give the US Constitution a break: It was an early attempt at Western democracy. And it’s just very difficult to start over again, especially when everyone who has power wants to keep it for themselves.

It may mean we have to break it to fix it, or at least reach a crisis critical enough. I thought Bush was that crisis when he lead us into a war on false pretenses, used mercenaries to commit war crimes and institutionalized extrajudicial detention and torture.

But apparently that wasn’t bad enough. So now we have Trump.

I bet he’s not bad enough either. Not bad enough for us to unify and force change under threat of mass revolt.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Apparently this still needs to be said regularly

We’ve not figured out what “bad” means, Uriel. Currently our moral relativism permits “our” guy to behave as badly as he likes as long as he behaves badly to the other side. As long as this persists, it doesn’t matter how bad the guy in the White House gets — he could be ancient Roman emperor bad and his supporters would cheer him on as long as he sticks it to the other side.

Those of us who engage in partisan pattycake are to blame for this. It will end when they knock it off and put country first, not party.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 The advantages of being raised by television and cinema?

I guess having grown up watching TV and movies, there were certain common indicators that a guy was the bad guy. And common indicators that a given society was an oppressive dystopia (usually based on Nazi Germany or the USSR).

So when those things appeared in our own societies being done by our own leaders, it lead me to start going something’s not right.

The true horror is when pundits and neighbors started justifying that this is okay. Torture? Really? WTF?

I wrote a blog piece about a year ago discussing the deal-with-the-devil as a literary device, noting that once we decide the devil is real, that things or someones are evil by definition, it’s a short step to deciding how anything we do to them is justifiable.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 The advantages of being raised by television and cinema?

Aye, there’s the rub; it’s the point at which we decide that due process is an impediment to justice. The problem I have with moral relativism is that the particular morality in play at any time doesn’t necessarily align with my interests, particularly if I’ve been labeled “the bad guy” for failure to walk in lockstep with the echo chamber mentality of whoever I’m arguing with at the time.

As I’ve noted myself, this is due to the abandonment of traditional values. Conservatism doesn’t mean what it used to mean, and I’ve got a problem with that.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: ??

You seem to have missed the point entirely. It appears that you’re operating on the assumption that there is a single core problem that is the source of everything. If so, you’re either naive, or attempting to push a particular agenda, or both. Either way, sorry to break it to you, but there is no magic bullet that can fix everything. When I say that the problem is manifold, that is exactly what I mean; we are dealing with a cascade of interconnected problems. There are no easy answers, there is no single aspect at which we can point to say “that’s the cause of everything, fix that and we’re good”. I wish there were, but this isn’t a story, where we all join together to stop the big bad and save the day. This is reality, and, unfortunately, in reality shit is complicated. All we can do is attempt to fix the problems one by one, but even that’s easier said than done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not absolutely sure they are working under the same God as most good folk in America.. just saying why else all the paranoia. It probably has a lot to do with 200+ years of melting pot invitations to nations around the world making it extremely difficult to know who’s on who’s side knowing also who’s in charge doesn’t help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Actually, both parties should be shitting their collective pants about their piles of dirty laundry seeing the light of day…

But nobody ever considers the risk of granting themselves additional powers, even though those powers get passed on to their opponents when an election is lost.

Moral of the story: Don’t make any self-serving rules that you wouldn’t want your worst enemy to be able to use against you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sadly there is Mutually Assured Destruction related courtesy in place with politicians. While they might grumble about prior corruption and prosecuting them – they never prosecute the previous administration no matter how egregious their offenses because they don’t want to face prosecution under the precedent they set.

They have to /really/ screw up and get caught during their administration or afterwards to break that protection.

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