Senators Wyden & Udall Ask If The NSA Is So Confused About Its Own Capabilities, Why Do We Trust Them With All That Data?

from the because-reasons dept

Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have put forth another statement about the recently declassified documents about the NSA's surveillance efforts. As you may remember, one of the points made by the NSA in its defense was that its surveillance systems were so complex that no one person actually understood them all. That leads to a rather obvious question... If the NSA can't even keep track of how its systems work, how can we trust them to know that the system isn't being abused (or that it's accurately doing what the NSA claims):
“Documents declassified last week clearly show that court orders authorizing the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records were consistently violated by the NSA. These documents also show that the government repeatedly made serious misrepresentations to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when seeking authorization to conduct this bulk collection. The intelligence community’s defense was that these violations were occurring because no one had a full grasp of how the bulk collection program actually worked.

"If the assertion that ineptitude and not malice was the cause of these ongoing violations is taken at face value, it is perfectly reasonable for Congress and the American people to question whether a program that no one fully understood was an effective defense of American security at all. The fact that this program was allowed to operate this way raises serious concerns about the potential for blind spots in the NSA’s surveillance programs. It also supports our position that bulk collection ought to be ended.

"The government’s misrepresentations inevitably led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court being consistently misinformed as it made binding rulings on the meaning of U.S. surveillance law. This underscores our concern that intelligence agencies’ assessments and descriptions about particular collection programs — even significant ones — are not always accurate. It is up to Congress, the courts and the public to ask the tough questions and require intelligence officials to back their assertions up with actual evidence. It is not enough to simply defer to these officials’ conclusions without challenging them.”
TL;DR? If the NSA doesn't understand its own capabilities, how can they insist that it's used reasonably and judiciously?

There are, of course, two basic answers to this. The first, is that the NSA was lying about why it failed to properly inform the FISA Court as to its actions. The second is that the NSA is a complete disaster and it really has no clue about its own systems. The NSA would like people to believe the latter, even if most people seem to believe the former. What Wyden and Udall are making clear is that if the the latter is true, then it suggests the NSA needs much more oversight. I would imagine that if the former is true, there are reasons why the NSA needs more oversight as well. So, perhaps the much shorter version of all of this is that the NSA has made it clear it needs much more outside oversight.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Mega1987 (profile), Sep 17th, 2013 @ 6:43am

    Brainwave Overload.
    nuff said...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Ninja (profile), Sep 17th, 2013 @ 7:32am

    It all depends on the goal of such programs. If it's widely known that criminals will avoid doing business using any methods that are mainstream or are prone to surveillance then what's the goal of such programs? If a terrorist/criminal naturally assumes even before the leaks that even if he uses mainstream channels to disguise his operations he will be targeted due to encryption or something why would said person/entity use such services?

    The cynic in me says the goal is not to provide security or find terrorists. If that's the case then the questions being asked are the wrong ones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 7:38am

    i think another question that needs to be asked and to get an extremely honest answer (sorry, cant stop laughing!!) is, given the total muddle the NSA is in, how does it know what information was actually relieved from it by Snowden and how much did it give away by itself? if it doesn't know what information it's got, how can it know what it has lost, given away or had stolen?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 7:51am

    'The fact that this program was allowed to operate this way raises serious concerns about the potential for blind spots in the NSA’s surveillance programs'

    it was allowed to carry on operating like this because of what else it was doing, knowingly or not and because of the amount of information it was hoovering into the bag! what it was doing and how it was doing it was unimportant to those running the schemes. what was being achieved was the important thing and that was, gathering EVERYTHING, regardless of what, from whom, about what and from where!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 8:10am

    Typical Situation Room

    Ops Tech: Got a contact from Queda 3, he's calling someone named Fred.
    Ops Analyst: Where's that Fred?
    Ops Tech: Looks like the Los Angeles area.
    Ops Analyst: Drill down on him.
    Ops Tech: Connection is listed at a junk yard.
    Ops Analyst: 'Calling supervisor'...Sir, we have a contact from Queda 3 connecting with someone called Fred at a junkyard in Los Angeles. Recommend full out assault on the compound.
    Ops Supervisor: Anyone cross referenced that number with the criss-cross directory?
    Ops Analyst: Ahhh, checking now, it is a business registered to Fredd Sanford.
    Ops Supervisor: Did you say Fredd? Double check that spelling.
    Ops Analyst: I am looking right at it. Double D's, sir.
    Ops Supervisor: How old are you?
    Ops Analyst: 22 sir.
    Ops Supervisor: Check to see if he has a son, and then check listings for '70's sitcoms, get me some aspirin, and don't call me again today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Thomas, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 9:29am

    Plausible deniability

    I think the NSA actually wants people to believe they're lying with no way of proving it. That makes them look competent with no recourse to stop them.

    I mean afterall, shouldn't an intelligence agency be good at lying?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 10:03am

    Re: Plausible deniability

    Sort of. What they need to be is invisible. After all, Satan's greatest trick was convincing the world he didn't exist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Felipente (profile), Sep 17th, 2013 @ 12:09pm

    I wonder, who else has already stolen or even bought this data to use it for commercial or criminal ventures.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 4:35pm


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 6:56pm

    Re: Typical Situation Room

    I'd be looking at double D's too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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