The Controversy Over Ted Cruz Possibly Revealing 'Classified' Info During The Debate Shows Stupidity Of Overclassification

from the what-did-he-reveal-exactly? dept

During the GOP Presidential debate earlier this week, there was something of an awkward moment when Ted Cruz was defending the USA Freedom Act and Marco Rubio seemed to hint at the idea that Cruz had just revealed classified information. Here was the basic exchange, which came after Rubio attacked Cruz for supporting the USA Freedom Act and not for renewing section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Cruz argued that the USA Freedom Act actually gives the NSA more ability to track terrorists.
It strengthened the tools of national security and law enforcement to go after terrorists. It gave us greater tools and we are seeing those tools work right now in San Bernardino.

And in particular, what it did is the prior program only covered a relatively narrow slice of phone calls. When you had a terrorist, you could only search a relatively narrow slice of numbers, primarily land lines.

The USA Freedom Act expands that so now we have cell phones, now we have Internet phones, now we have the phones that terrorists are likely to use and the focus of law enforcement is on targeting the bad guys.

[...]

And the reason is simple. What [Rubio] knows is that the old program covered 20 percent to 30 percent of phone numbers to search for terrorists. The new program covers nearly 100 percent. That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism, and he knows that that’s the case.
In response to this, Rubio suggested that Cruz may have revealed something that he should not have:
Let me be very careful when answering this, because I don’t think national television in front of 15 million people is the place to discuss classified information. So let me just be very clear. There is nothing that we are allowed to do under this bill that we could not do before.
This was partially amusing, given that Rubio has a bit of a history with leaking classified info about this very program -- though, perhaps that's why he's now trying to be extra careful.

In response to this however, Senate Intel Committee boss Richard Burr initially said that he had asked the Intelligence Committee to "look at it" and "see if there was any validity" to the claims that Cruz had revealed classified information. A few hours later, Burr, along with Senator Dianne Feinstein said that the Committee wasn't going to investigate Senator Cruz's statements, contrary to Burr's earlier statement.

Of course, as Marcy Wheeler points out, by Burr saying that he was going to investigate this, he more or less confirmed Cruz's statement that USA Freedom expanded the NSA's ability to collect internet phone metadata (i.e., Skype and the like) along with more mobile phone data. Of course, the statement about the NSA only getting "20 to 30%" of phone records isn't secret. It was revealed by the Washington Post nearly two years ago, seconded by the Wall Street Journal (which argued it was actually less than 20%).

Of course, as Julian Sanchez explains in detail, none of this is really new -- it's just that the whole thing is a bit confusing:
Because 215 previously provided only for the acquisition of existing business records, but not the creation of new records — such as records of call info purged of location data — some carriers may have been either unwilling or unable to comply with the new records orders as applied to mobile telephony records. The USA Freedom Act explicitly provides for data to be produced in a format specified by the government, and requires carriers to provide the government with any “technical assistance” needed to conduct queries, which would resolve any such obstacles, assuming they had not already been dealt with by that point. Thus, Cruz could be right that, when compared with at least the summer 2013 iteration of the bulk telephony program, the successor program authorized by USA Freedom would allow the NSA to run queries across the entirety of the calling records held by companies, rather than the more limited subset of (mostly landline) records government had then been collecting under the 215 authority. At the same time, of course, the quantity of records actually held by the government would nevertheless be drastically reduced, because they would only receive the much smaller number of records actually responsive to specific queries.

Nevertheless, Rubio could be right that, in a different sense, there is “nothing we are allowed to do under this bill that we were not allowed to do before.” That’s not literally entirely accurate, since the language allowing government to specify the format of records and requiring the provision of “technical assistance” are indeed new. But the old version of Section 215 clearly did, in general, allow the government to obtain cell phone records — as, indeed, do many other authorities, including National Security Letters. While NSA was apparently, at least temporarily, not obtaining such records under this one particular program for a variety of reasons, they certainly had the legal authority to obtain cellular call detail records — and, indeed, had even previously obtained call records including location information — pursuant to Section 215 and a host of other authorities. In short, even if Cruz is right that USA Freedom helps bring cell records back within the scope of the program that will replace NSA’s bulk collection, Rubio can simultaneously be correct to say there’s nothing qualitatively new on that score. When the government obtains cellular telephony records under this new program, it will do so pursuant to specific, targeted Section 215 orders — something that the government has clearly had the ability to do all along.
But here's the thing that struck me about all of this: why is any of this "classified" in any way in the first place? Law enforcement has long had the ability to tap phones or get targeted phone records. That's been well-known for ages -- and yet criminals still use those things. Revealing the fact that such surveillance can occur shouldn't be classified in the least. It should be out in the open where it can be debated. The new powers under the USA Freedom Act, which are both broader in scope and more limited at the same time (in that they need to be more targeted) don't reveal anything particularly useful to terrorists. They still know that the NSA is trying to track them, and it has the power to do so. It always has. There is no need to classify that, and the idea that it might even trigger an investigation is ridiculous.

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  • identicon
    Glenn, 17 Dec 2015 @ 4:05pm

    Well, sure, I mean, We The People might find out what the govt. is overspending our money on.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2015 @ 9:22pm

    Marco Rubio is a smug little jackass. Owned body and soul by the likes of AT&T and friends. At least I found out about him before it was too late. He and Jeb are quite a pair, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. As a Republican, Ben Carson was the only one on stage I had any real respect for, but as an outsider he doesn't know how the "game" is played, speak up Ben. Trump is a filthy rich blowhard, if we have to hear from his mouth about his wealth and intelligence one more time I will vomit my guts out. He, and fat cats like him, are a big part of our problem. Looks like Bernie is the only one worth my support. As for Billary, don't even get me started...the divide and conquer bullshit isn't going to get it this time around.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 18 Dec 2015 @ 12:23am

      Re:

      "As a Republican, Ben Carson was the only one on stage I had any real respect for, but as an outsider he doesn't know how the "game" is played"

      As an outsider, I have to ask why you respect that man, other than his medical career. He seems to lack a firm grasp of anything outside of his medical speciality, from social issues to taxation to scientific matters. Also, from what I can see, the only thing separating Trump from the rest of the field is the fact that Trump doesn't have the filter that stops him from saying the stuff they all imply.

      Is there something I'm missing?

      "As for Billary, don't even get me started...the divide and conquer bullshit isn't going to get it this time around."

      So, who do you think will actually win, if you reject the leading Democratic candidate and reject the majority of the leading Republicans? I hope Sanders gets some traction, but he seems like an outside chance and sadly the US system is still a guaranteed two horse race.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2015 @ 7:18am

        Re: Re:

        The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.

        Why is it a bad thing to vote in someone who is not a died int he wool politician? Knowing how to play the game on capital hill is actually a skill not worth having.

        The Democrats are seeking to destroy America by importing all of the worlds poor, and the Republicans are looking for a cheap worker supporting the same.

        Both are corporate whores, and its a flippin joke to vote in a lunatic like sander's. None of these RICH politicians have any remote connection to the American people anymore and this entire season of debates shows just how stupid YOU, the OTHER GUY, and Every American Citizen is by letting the narrative drive how they will vote rather than waking the fuck up and driving narrative themselves.

        We are gone and it is all down hill from here, until insurrection that is. No telling what sort of bullshit will happen after that.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 22 Dec 2015 @ 2:21am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Why is it a bad thing to vote in someone who is not a died int he wool politician?"

          It's not. But, that person's lack of experience in office must be tempered by some other positive quality. Even if their ideas a good, they will still fail if they cannot navigate the system to implement their ideas. This is the same in any field, yet politics seems to be the only one where people would say "he's a great candidate because he's never done the job before" with a straight face.

          On top of that, who is in the running that's both a good candidate and not a career politician? Carson? As I've said, he seems very poor at anything that isn't directly related to his field of brain surgery. Trump or Fiorina? They both have a legacy of driving the companies they were in charge of into the ground. They profited personally, but at the expense of a lot of others.

          Even before I get into the social politics of those people that I disagree with, they seem like poor candidates. Supporting someone like that just because they're not a politician seems a little dumb.

          "The Democrats are seeking to destroy America by importing all of the worlds poor, and the Republicans are looking for a cheap worker supporting the same."

          Well, sure, if you simplify things to a joke and outright lie about certain things, this is true.

          "None of these RICH politicians have any remote connection to the American people anymore and this entire season of debates shows just how stupid YOU, the OTHER GUY, and Every American Citizen"

          Ah, random assumptions always make these arguments very foolish. Hint: not everyone on the internet is American. But, the crap that goes on in your political system affects the whole world, so lots of people with zero direct say in the matter still have an opinion.

          Anyway, so this *should* be the point where you suggest who would be a better candidate. But, you haven't addressed that. If you want your fellow citizens to agree with you, perhaps you should try explaining why they should.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2015 @ 11:29pm

    sounds more like Rubio using scare tactics to shut up his opponent. "Better stop saying what I don't like or I am going to have you sent to prison"

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2015 @ 4:44am

    unfortunately privacy=fallacy

    all your calls are belong to us

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

  • icon
    scatman09 (profile), 18 Dec 2015 @ 4:59am

    besides...

    we don't elect the president, anyway--the electoral college does

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2015 @ 8:33am

      Re: besides...

      True to a point. We do elect the electors to the Electoral College.

      If we must continue to have the Electoral College can we at least get it reformed so it more accurately reflects the popular vote? When a president is elected by a landslide in the Electoral College BUT over 50% of the popular vote was for somebody else is that really democracy?

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

  • icon
    got_runs? (profile), 18 Dec 2015 @ 4:56pm

    Ted Cruz has a lot of dead unicorns in his closet.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2015 @ 6:46pm

    If I had revealed something like this...

    I would probably be spending a long time in Federal prison. But, of course, America has different laws for different people.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2015 @ 8:19pm

    I can't help but feel the USA Freedom Act is a trojan horse. It even has a misleading trojan horse name.

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


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