Wyden Siren: Coats Is Answering A Different Question About Surveillance Of US Persons

from the tricky-coats dept

Remember, folks, when Senator Ron Wyden asks certain questions or suggests something nefarious is going on behind the scenes, you’d best listen. Time and time again over the past six years or so, whenever he’s brought up such an issue, he’s been right. Some on Twitter have now dubbed this the Wyden Siren. Pay attention when Wyden is hinting at something. So… it’s time to pay attention. On Thursday, Wyden sent a letter to Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, complaining that he is answering a different question than the one Wyden asked. This is, of course, a fairly typical move in political circles, but especially in the intelligence community. You word answers in very tricky ways, such that you know the public will be misled, but if pressed in the future, you can argue that your answer was not untruthful — just semantically misleading in the extreme.

This case goes back to Wyden questioning Coats on June 7th about whether Section 702 can be used to collect purely domestic communications. There were already some people screaming “Wyden Siren” on Twitter about the question, even to the point of arguing that the question was setting up Coats the way that James Clapper was setup a few years back (in which he lied about NSA surveillance on Americans). Coats stated that such a thing would be against the law — leading Marcy Wheeler to point out not only that the statement is incorrect, but that Coats signed a memo saying it’s incorrect.

After the hearing, as Wyden’s new letter to Coats points out, Coats gave Wyden an answer. But, as Wyden now points out, it was an answer to a different question:

Dear Director Coats:

At the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s open hearing on June 7, 2017, I asked you the following question and requested a yes or no response: “Can the government use FISA Act Section 702 to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic.” You responded: “Not to my knowledge. It would be against the law.” After the hearing, in response to questions from reporters, the ODNI sent the following:

“Section 702(b)(4) plainly states we ‘may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.’ The DNI interpreted Senator Wyden’s question to ask about this provision and answered accordingly.

That was not my question. Please provide a public response to my question, as asked at the June 7, 2017, hearing.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,
Ron Wyden

Pay attention, folks. The Wyden Siren is blaring… and that usually means more awful surveillance revelations will be coming soon…

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Comments on “Wyden Siren: Coats Is Answering A Different Question About Surveillance Of US Persons”

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57 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

ha h aha...

have you stopped beating your wife yet?

Whatever. Mr Wyden is surfing for brownie points. When congress decides to actually do something about it, they will. Until then… bluster. nothing but bluster.

Tell Wyden to go home and pack up his bags, I don’t see him getting anything meaningful done. Sure I like that at least someone is doing something but if that effort is going to be weak he is more likely to cause damage instead of repair.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: Wyden sent another letter

“For him” I wanted to add. But then I considered the available amount of intelligent, conscientious, outspoken and politically active U.S. citizens.

I have to admit the deal doesn’t look good for America either. I mean, look what they are electing for president these days out of desperation more than anything else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wyden sent another letter

As a Wyden supporter and a constituent who has voted for him repeatedly, I fully support his efforts. His progress isn’t a result of lack of effort but a result of the opposition that he faces. And even if he fails to make changes, at least he is fighting the good fight.

How much is your senator doing for your interests and the interests of the country?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Wyden sent another letter

My senator is doing jack fucking shit. Like around here, I have to face an uphill battle against sycophantic idiots. My only recourse is to attempt to verbally beat some sense into these idiots.

Yes I appreciate what Wyden is doing at least “something”. You are right that at least there is a voice up there, but has Wyden done anything to force the issue? (that is NOT a rhetorical question). He is not my guy so I do not watch him as close as my worthless fuck, but based on TD’s reporting, most of his actions are light touch, designed to look like tough questioning, but really is not when it comes down to it. I know how to sound tough too. But the intel community has been calling his bluff for long enough. He is either playing games or just too scare to do anything more than he is. Any maybe that is a smart play… I just cannot consider it genuine at the moment.

congress has mostly done nothing on just about everything. all they do is break the constitution by passing illegal laws that are shit and giving government agencies law making power which was NOT granted to them by the Constitution.

Well, it’s not like anyone here actually gives a fuck about that either, so who actually cares, amiright?

BearGriz72 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Wyden sent another letter

Remember that as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden is given far more information and access than the public and even the rest of Congress, so he already knows a lot more than we do, but he has classification restrictions and non-disclosure agreements that he has to follow.

Therefore, sometimes all he can do is drop hints to point us (that are paying attention anyway) in the right direction. Just because he’s not being more aggressive, doesn’t mean he’s playing it soft, he may not have a choice in the matter. After all, if he breaks those rules, then he looses his position & access (and possibly even goes to jail)… Then nobody is there to try and shine a light into those dark little corners that the intelligence community likes to hide in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wyden sent another letter

And yet, Senator Wyden both remains in office, is not assaulted with espionage charges, AND provides us signals that we need to be paying attention to things.

Snowden, on the other hand, despite being a public hero, has espionage charges hanging over his head, and having delivered the secrets he had access to, has access to no further ones.

Resigning, which is effectively what Snowden did, and what you are asking Wyden to do, can only be done once (per person). And after which, you no longer have influence at the institution you resigned from.

David says:

Re: Re: Wyden sent another letter

Wyden’s approach demonstrates that the NSA does not consider the Senate their superiors and reports but rather their enemies that they need to trick using word games and deception in order to cajoole them out of more money for their sinister unlawful purposes.

You really need to fire the entire department lead and try them for treason, if necessary a few times in a row, until the message of who they are serving and who they are reporting to gets across.

When the Senate asks a question, they need to provide answers. And answers are words that are reasonably expected to convey the requested information to the person asking it. Not some marginally mathematically correct uttering that serves to detract from the information.

This is not a question of whether they are playing the right kind of word games, and until they get that point in questions of national security, identity, and lawfulness, they need to be reminded that their oaths of office are not sophistry either.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: ha h aha...

have you stopped beating your wife yet?

I’m not sure how that expression is pertinent to the conversation at hand. I don’t see any examples of trick questions in the story, only evasive answers.

Whatever. Mr Wyden is surfing for brownie points. When congress decides to actually do something about it, they will. Until then… bluster. nothing but bluster.

You understand that Wyden is part of Congress, yes?

Tell Wyden to go home and pack up his bags, I don’t see him getting anything meaningful done. Sure I like that at least someone is doing something but if that effort is going to be weak he is more likely to cause damage instead of repair.

How do you figure? I acknowledge that Wyden is a lonely figure whose efforts haven’t resulted in the reforms I’d like to see. But in what way are we worse off than we would be if nobody was speaking out about these issues?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ha h aha...

“I’m not sure how that expression is pertinent to the conversation at hand. I don’t see any examples of trick questions in the story, only evasive answers.”

Trick Questions & Trick Answers… get it yet? It has everything to do with being dishonest in discussion about the problem. I guess I over estimated my crowd here?

“You understand that Wyden is part of Congress, yes?”

The same congress were Republicans quickly submitted bills to repeal Obamacare KNOWING that it would only vetoed by Obama? They just did that to appease base. Now that they have power… well you see how dishonest they are. I don’t really see much else from Wyden other than bluster. When you are the lone warrior on a hill you get you to say a lot because you don’t have to worry about consequences since he knows no one is giving him any serious time.

“How do you figure? I acknowledge that Wyden is a lonely figure whose efforts haven’t resulted in the reforms I’d like to see. But in what way are we worse off than we would be if nobody was speaking out about these issues?”

Like another poster said… Snowden has done more for America than Bush, Congress, Obama, or Trump. It’s sad that most American just don’t give a flying fuck. Like most of the mouth pieces around TD. You all are too busy focusing on window dressings and meaningless ideals. Next election most people here are only going to do one thing. Vote in another Obama or Trump depending on their political color.

I notice that a lot of snowflakes already flagged my post. Struck a nerve, did I? But I get it, far easier to join the mindless crowd and follow like an obedient human.

Chip says:

Re: Re: Re: ha h aha...

I really sruck a nerve, you sypophantic idiots! You can tell I said something smart because of how stupid everyone thinks it was! It is you who are all stupid! I am smart! you can tell I am smart because I keep saying it all the time! That’s how you know somebody is smart!

Every nation eats the Paint chips is Deserves!

Anonymous Coward says:

He already knows the answer

Since we know that multiple agencies can have access to the raw feed of intelligence gathered by the NSA, he clearly is using reasoning skills to put two and two together based on the evidence. If he is seeing access to domestic communication based intelligence, it has to be coming from somewhere.

Of course we could just let one of the other four eyes do the collecting and then pass it on, it isn’t a domestic issue at all in that case.

Chip says:

Re: Re:

Guess I overestimate the crowd here! Again!

The Linguistic Trickery is “obvious.” So “obvious” that I don’t have to Eplain it or provide any Supporting evidence, like all the brilliant, very smart “statements” that I always make here, because I am “very smart” and you are all sycophantic idots. I am so “Smart” that I don’t have to “prove” or “support” or “back up” any of my claims, ever, even though I have, a lot of times, I just don’t have any examples, because I am very Smart.

Every nation eats the Paint chips it Seserves!

My_Name_Here says:

For what it's worth

I checked on twitter. I searched for #wydensire Wyden Siren and wydensiren. I got a total of 6 items, 2 from the same guy.

So when you say ” Some on Twitter have now dubbed this the Wyden Siren.” it appears that the only one to really do so is a guy called Zack Whittiker. Taking over / under bets on you either knowing the guy or even that you may have worked together on things.

6 posts is not a twitter trend. By those standards, “qwerty” is a monster term, better watch it!

My_Name_Here says:

Re: Re: For what it's worth

There is much more to disagree with (such as Wyden playing very narrow word games), but I was merely pointing out that the whole framing or the article is bordering on deceptive.

It’s almost as if Techdirt was trying to create a phrase to promote Wyden in 2020 or something.

Philip (profile) says:

Am I missing something?

Can somebody explain this for me?

That was not my question

"Can the government use FISA Act Section 702 to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic."

"Not to my knowledge. It would be against the law." […] "Section 702(b)(4) plainly states we ‘may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.’"

I don’t get it. That answers the question to the T. Wyden said Can. He did not say Has or Would.

What am I missing here? Does Wyden not know about English grammar? You ask if you can: Yes, I can, but would I? That’s a different question. Can does not imply action. It only states if the possibility exists to for action.

Philip (profile) says:

Re: Re: Am I missing something?

i.e. Is he’s asking if there are any legal loop holes in the text?

It just seems pretty obvious the answer would be "no": The text of the law says the government "may not intentionally" – that’s a very obvious answer "No, the government cannot use 702 to intentionally collect[…]"

So, is he really asking if there’s anyway the government can interpret 702 differently to allow it?

This is why people get frustrated in government. People answer to the text. And people get pissed off: "That’s what what I meant"

Yes, I get there’s a lot of shit the other way, too: they answer to the "text" without answer the question. However, in this instance, Wyden’s intended meaning of the question is clearly–based on Coats’s reply–not obvious.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Am I missing something?

Wyden’s intended meaning of the question is clearly–based on Coats’s reply–not obvious.

I disagree. When a high-ranking intelligence official is asked "would it be possible for your agency to [x]" and the official responds, "that would be illegal," he knows exactly what the intent of the question was and is deliberately evading it.

Philip (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Am I missing something?

"would it be possible for your agency to [x]"

I touched on that already:

Does Wyden not know about English grammar? You ask if you can: Yes, I can, but would I? That’s a different question. Can does not imply action. It only states if the possibility exists to for action.

"Would" and "could/can" mean two different things. Wyden clearly stated "Can" not "Would."

Coats stated they cannot, show him the text clearly states they cannot. Nowhere, in either statements, did "would" ever come up.

Philip (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Am I missing something?

Side Note: I understand “would it be possible” would also mean “can.”

However, in this contact of his question, ‘Can’ would mean: “Can the government”, in which Coats stated, the document says the government cannot.

Do note, nowhere in Wyden’s question, to the text, did he ask “would/can” Coats’s agency, which you implied.

Yes. Text of the sentence. What word used matters so much, whether you’re asking or answering.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Remember, folks, when Senator Ron Wyden asks certain questions or suggests something nefarious is going on behind the scenes, you’d best listen.”

Why? Nothing has ever been forthcoming from this person. Nothing. Of course, he knows the answers to the questions he is asking. When the ones he asks the questions of refuse to acknowledge said questions he remains the only one with the answers, because despite any threat that he may reveal the answer when others will not, he has never done so. Not once. Not ever. There is nothing special about Wyden at all. Not one thing.

Quit trumping fellow jews because they’re jews. You’re too systematic about doing that to “not be doing that”. YOU’RE DOING THAT.

My toejam has more credibility than Wyden (and you).

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