NSA Boss & Defenders Insist NSA Can't Abuse Surveillance Systems; Forgets To Mention It Already Has

from the just-saying dept

As NSA boss Keith Alexander was in Vegas to present at the Black Hat conference this week, much of the attention has been paid to the fact that he was heckled by audience members, though others in attendance said that the audience was "mostly supportive" of Alexander's statements. Either way, I'd like to focus in on a key point that he made, when he claimed that NSA analysts wouldn't abuse their surveillance powers, because they're audited and trained not to break the rules:
“The assumption is our people are just out there wheeling and dealing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have tremendous oversight over these programmes. We can audit the actions of our people 100%, and we do that,” he said.

[....] Should anyone in the NSA try to circumvent that, in defiance of policy, they would be held accountable, he said: “There is 100% audibility.” Only 35 NSA analysts had the authority to query a database of US phone records, he said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Rogers, who really doesn't know when to give up, went out on Twitter to "defend" the leaks about XKeyscore, insisting that they're magically immune from abuse because of "legal constraints, comprehensive training and layers of oversight built into all NSA programs."

You see, that sounds great... except for the fact that we already know that they have abused those powers. Back in 2009, it was revealed that NSA analysts viewed former President Bill Clinton's emails:
An anonymous former intelligence analyst tells reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau that during much of the Bush years, the NSA “tolerated significant collection and examination of domestic e-mail messages without warrants.” Reportedly, one of the accessed domestic e-mail accounts belonged to former President Bill Clinton.
This same report gets to the supposed "training" that Alexander insists helps to prevent abuse:
The former analyst added that his instructors had warned against committing any abuses, telling his class that another analyst had been investigated because he had improperly accessed the personal e-mail of former President Bill Clinton.
I can just imagine sitting in that "training" in which the NSA says don't look at people's emails, because someone once looked at Bill Clinton's emails. That seems more like daring them to spy on emails. It's telling them "holy shit, you can look at famous and powerful people's emails." And, of course, that's not the only story of abuse. A year earlier, it was reported that NSA linguists listened in on phone sex calls between Americans living abroad.
Adrienne Kinne, a former U.S. Army Reserves Arab linguist, told ABC News the NSA was listening to the phone calls of U.S. military officers, journalists and aid workers overseas who were talking about "personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism."

David Murfee Faulk, a former U.S. Navy Arab linguist, said in the news report that he and his colleagues were listening to the conversations of military officers in Iraq who were talking with their spouses or girlfriends in the United States.

According to Faulk, they would often share the contents of some of the more salacious calls stored on their computers, listening to what he called "phone sex" and "pillow talk."
So, forgive us for being skeptical when Alexander and Rogers insist that abuse is basically impossible because of "oversight" and "training." We've already seen that abuse occur. As far as I know, the NSA still hires analysts from the human race, and with that comes people who are given great responsibility -- and the ability to give in to temptation, such as scouring a former President's emails. To claim that there isn't any abuse just isn't credible.

Filed Under: abuse, keith alexander, mike rogers, nsa, nsa surveillance, privacy


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2013 @ 10:41am

    So who does Alexander want to point to showing that everyone is following the laws and that no abuse is possible? So far, every agency that has some sort of protection has abused this.

    One recalls the FBI and their NSLs. Which has been shown over and over to have been abused. Alexander is not a creditable source, working inside the NSA and bound by the non-disclosure of confidentiality and security agreements. What I am hearing here is the same BS that comes out every time one of them opens their mouth to defend the current policies. Mainly it boils down to being too much trouble to have to go to a judge and get the necessary permissions to actually be legal in the sense of obeying the Constitution. The whole thing is a scam to get around the intent and purpose of the law.

    Every time one of these court cases comes up against just what they are doing it is a mad scramble between the executive branch and security branches to claim either no standing or national security interests. It's been done enough we all get the picture of why those excuses are being used. It's purpose is to prevent anyone from knowing how bad they are breaking the law. Each revealing that comes out just makes them look worse because those revealings are cut from lies patched together to try and make it appear better than it is.

    If there was ever a scandal, you are staring at it.

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