NSA Needs To Give Its Rank-and-File New Talking Points Defending Surveillance; The Old Ones Are Stale
from the that's-not-really-going-to-cut-it dept
As someone deep in the trenches of NSA, where I work on a daily basis with data acquired from these programs, I, too, feel compelled to raise my voice. Do I, as an American, have any concerns about whether the NSA is illegally or surreptitiously targeting or tracking the communications of other Americans?Well, good for you. But others are worried, because it's already been shown that, in fact, yes, the NSA is both targeting and tracking communications of Americans. Now, I recognize that the NSA has redefined "targeting" and "tracking" to mean things that their plain English definitions don't mean, but for those of us who speak English, it's clear that the NSA collects data on every phone call of every American. It also does things like "three hops" analysis, which covers many Americans. Furthermore, even if Barkan isn't concerned, the FISA Court apparently felt otherwise. As we noted, just last week the government declassified documents showing how the NSA massively abused the rules set up by the FISA Court to do regular searches on incoming business records covering Americans, despite rules that said it shouldn't without a "reasonable and articulable suspicion," which the NSA didn't actually have in the majority of cases. Oh right, but I forget, the NSA also redefined "abuse," so those don't count as abuses.
The answer is emphatically, "No."
Analysts are not free to wander through all of NSA's collected data willy-nilly, snooping into any communication they please. Rather, analysts' activity is carefully monitored, recorded, and reviewed to ensure that every use of data serves a legitimate foreign intelligence purpose.Perhaps analysts are carefully monitored, but it appears that at least 1,000 sys admins had free rein to check out whatever they wanted without leaving any trail at all. You think no analysts at the NSA have figured that out as well?
We're not watching you. We're the ones being watched.Well, you're not being watched if you can cover your tracks, login as someone else, and use a variety of other tricks that outside contractors like Snowden could apparently do. And, yes, if you're collecting everyone's data, you are, in fact, watching us. That's kind of how it works by definition.
Further, NSA's systems are built with several layers of checks and redundancy to ensure that data are not accessed by analysts outside of approved and monitored channels.As already explained, that's simply not true. Or, rather, while it might be true for analysts, it's clearly not true for others, such as sys admins. And, at the same time, just last week the NSA claimed that no one actually understood how its systems worked, so how can we actually be sure that these checks and redundancy work? They clearly didn't with Snowden.
When even the tiniest analyst error is detected, it is immediately and forthrightly addressed and reported internally and then to NSA's external overseers. Given the mountains of paperwork that the incident reporting process entails, you can be assured that those of us who design and operate these systems are extremely motivated to make sure that mistakes happen as rarely as possible!And yet, there's an entire LOVINT classification for analysts spying on love interests. And those only cover the "abuses" done by someone who follows the rules and doesn't try to cover their tracks.
A myth that truly bewilders me is the notion that the NSA could or would spend time looking into the communications of ordinary Americans.Total strawman. People don't think you're randomly checking in on random people here and there, but the power to dig into anyone of interest and potentially abuse that power is immense. We've covered numerous stories of cases involving trumped up and piled on charges in this world of "three felonies a day" overcriminalization. Furthermore, it's already been revealed that the NSA has helped the DEA with evidence that then gets laundered. If someone suddenly is "of interest," the power to abuse the massive data store you have to "help out" others in law enforcement is quite a strong temptation.
Even if such looking were not illegal or very dangerous to execute within our systems, given the monitoring of our activities, it would not in any way advance our mission.Well, as noted, there are clearly ways around the monitoring system. But, more to the point, while Roger Barkan may be a truly standup guy who is focused solely on the NSA's "mission," how can he say with certainty that every other employee and contractor working for the NSA has the same moral code? He can't. The history of surveillance is littered with examples of people abusing those powers. Hell, remember when the NSA listened in on phone sex calls and shared them around the office? I'm curious if Roger Barkan can explain how that advanced the NSA's mission?
We have more than enough to keep track of -- people who are actively planning to do harm to American citizens and interests -- than to even consider spending time reading recipes that your mother emails you.Another strawman. Of course you're not "spending time" reading the recipes someone's mother sends them, but that's not what people are worried about. They're worried that if they get into some other trouble, the NSA will connect various dots to find other charges to pile on. It's not like J. Edgar Hoover did all this kind of stuff with a lot less power in ancient history.
Much of the focus of the public debate thus far has been on the amount of data that NSA has access to, which I feel misses the critical point. In today's digital society, the Big Data genie is out of the bottle. Every day, more personal data become available to individuals, corporations, and the government. What matters are the rules that govern how NSA uses this data, and the multiple oversight and compliance efforts that keep us consistent with those rules. I have not only seen but also experienced firsthand, on a daily basis, that these rules and the oversight and compliance practices are stringent. And they work to protect the privacy rights of all Americans.The oversight is stringent? Is this why members of the House Intelligence Committee weren't told about abuses, despite thousands of actual abuses? Or how about Senate Intelligence Committee boss Dianne Feinstein claiming to have not seen a key report on NSA abuses? Or, how about House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers deliberately withholding the details of some of the spying from incoming House members who had to vote on whether or not to renew one of the key surveillance programs? What about the FISA Court's chief judge admitting that his "oversight" is limited to what the NSA tells him? And, when he finally finds out the details of the program, he quite reasonably freaks out about the widespread abuse.
That's not oversight. And there's no evidence that this protects the privacy rights of Americans. The details suggest otherwise. No, you might not be reading my mom's recipes, but if you wanted to do something nefarious against certain individuals, it's pretty clear that many people within the NSA have the ability to do so. And that's a problem.
I have every confidence that when this is done, the American people will see what I have seen: that the NSA conducts its work with an uncompromising respect for the rules -- the laws, executive orders, and judicial orders under which we operate.While that may be true of Roger Barkan, how can he say that with such confidence of every other NSA employee and contractor, especially since it's already been proven false. That "uncompromising respect for the rules" seems to involve the NSA regularly reinterpreting basic English words to try to pretend they're still following the rules, while clearly going against their intent. And, let's remember, that this is the same NSA that told the FISA court that the reason it was doing full searches without warrants on incoming data was because it believed that the rules on minimization only applied to "archived data," not the new firehose of info coming in each day. Even the head of the FISA court noted this "strains credulity." This is not an "uncompromising respect for the rules." This is a shady effort to figure out any way possible to get around the rules.
If it is determined that the rules should be changed or updated, we at NSA would faithfully and effectively adapt. My NSA colleagues and I stand ready to continue to defend this nation using only the tools that we are authorized to use and in the specific ways that we are authorized to use them. We wouldn't want it any other way.Again, while that may be true for Roger Barkan, and it may be true for the majority of NSA employees and contractors, how can he say with such certainty that it's true of every American? Plenty of Americans have abused such powers in the past. What makes the current staff immune from the same temptations? The answer is absolutely nothing.
We never forget that we, too, are Americans.