James Clapper Plays More Word Games In The Official Denial Of French Phone Data Collection Leak
from the nothing-means-anything-it-used-to-mean dept
James Clapper has finally officially responded to the recent leak published by French newspaper Le Monde, which indicated the NSA had gathered data on 70 million phone calls and intercepted an untold number of them. While his statement is preferable to his office's first response ("blah blah completely legal blah blah subject to rigorous oversight"), it really does nothing more than affirm the intelligence community's fondness for word games.
Recent articles published in the French newspaper Le Monde contain inaccurate and misleading information regarding U.S. foreign intelligence activities. The allegation that the National Security Agency collected more than 70 million “recordings of French citizens’ telephone data” is false.It's all semantics, whether the NSA's defenders are discussing abilities vs. authority or whether or not a collection occurred "under this program." In this case, Clapper takes a convoluted statement ("recordings… of telephone data") and chooses to present both allegations (collected phone data/recorded calls) as completely false by cherry-picking a single badly written (or translated) sentence.
While we are not going to discuss the details of our activities, we have repeatedly made it clear that the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. The U.S. collects intelligence to protect the nation, its interests, and its allies from, among other things, threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
When the story first broke, there was some confusion as to whether the NSA had recorded 70 million calls or simply collected metadata, in part due to the wording used by Le Monde. The Washington Post clarified this by pointing out that the NSA collected metadata on 70 million phone calls and intercepted certain calls to certain phone numbers. Even Le Monde itself broke this down further, highlighting the fact that the NSA utilized a handful of collection processes.
"The agency has several collection methods," Le Monde said. "When certain French phone numbers are dialled, a signal is activated that triggers the automatic recording of certain conversations. This surveillance also recovers SMS and content based on keywords."Clapper addresses none of these activities and simply focuses on the one sentence that gives him plausible (and convoluted) deniability.
In essence, the foreign collection (although, in the NSA's hivemind, a collection doesn't actually occur until an agent searches the, uh, collected data) is almost identical to the NSA's Section 215 collections. Vast amounts of metadata grabbed simply because there's no legal basis preventing it.
The rest of his statement is mostly true -- almost every country spies on other countries. This has been the status quo for years, and while the French government has made lots of noise about this recent leak, it seems to be largely using this as an opportunity to reroute outrage and criticism away from its own domestic spying.
The constant refrain of "terrorism" and "WMDs" is to be expected as well, but it hardly explains the repeatedly surfacing evidence that the agency also spies on foreign corporations, something that sounds more like industrial espionage than ensuring national security.
Clapper winds things up by telling readers France and America are still best friends and, somewhat chillingly, "we will continue to cooperate on security and intelligence matters going forward." I know this is probably meant to sound like a cheery "we'll give you a head's up if we need your citizens' phone data," but given the cozy relationship the NSA has with the UK's GCHQ and others, it sounds more like "we'll show you ours if you'll show us yours." Nations cooperating on security matters seems like a good idea, but when a government begins sharing the unfiltered results of its domestic surveillance with foreign nations while requiring little more than a "gentleman's agreement" that the data won't be abused, it's time to start worrying again.