NSA Official Says It Might Have Been Nice If The Agency Had Handled The Public Disclosure Of The Section 215 Program

from the see-also:-snooze-v.-lose dept

Now that Edward Snowden has done all the leg work, the Intelligence Community is admitting that, yeah, maybe it should have been more upfront about the phone metadata collection. The soon-to-be-former NSA Deputy Director says it might have been better for the agency to be out ahead of the disclosures, rather than forced to play defense.

Richard Ledgett, who is retiring next month, said in an interview with Reuters that disclosing the secret program would have been difficult. But, he said, doing so might have mitigated the damage done by Snowden.

"That's one where I might have to say, yes," Ledgett said in his office at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. "That's one where maybe it would have been less shocking when Snowden did what he did."

Ledgett's not alone in feeling this way. Since the leaking began back in June 2013, several current and former officials have made similar statements. For one thing, controlling the disclosure means controlling the narrative. The IC could have pointed to several things in defense of the bulk domestic collection program, including:

a.) the lawfulness of the collection
b.) the rigorous oversight
c.) the strict compliance with FISA and the FISA court
d.) it's "just metadata"

Doing so might have headed off Snowden and other leakers. Possibly. At the very least, it would have bought the NSA some time and some narrative leeway before documents began being published showing:

a.) the collection's lawfulness was dubious at best
b.) the oversight was a joke
c.) the FISA court routinely discovered abuse by the NSA
d.) metadata exposes quite a bit of a person's life, actually.

Not quite as straightforward were Ledgett's comments on the Section 702 program, which provides backdoor domestic searches for a variety of government agencies, as well as harvests millions of communications from internet backbones. During the run-up to the Section 215 reauthorization two years ago, it sometimes appeared the NSA was willing to make deep compromises on the telephone metadata program in order to spare the internet collection the same sort of Congressional scrutiny.

Since 2011, oversight committee members (well, just a couple of them, actually) have been demanding an estimate of the amount of American communications incidentally-collected by the NSA with this program. Six years later, there have been promises made but none kept. At this point, Ledgett is just another IC official making promises no one seems to have any intent of keeping.

Privacy advocates have repeatedly demanded that the government share an estimate of how many Americans are ensnared by programs authorized under Section 702.

Intelligence officials have declined to do so. But Ledgett, in remarks earlier Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the Aspen Institute, said "yes" when asked if an estimate would be provided before year end.

We'll see. Deadlines have been ignored in the past and Ledgett's on his way out the door, so these are promises he can't be held responsible for not keeping.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 24 Mar 2017 @ 10:09am

    "Deadlines have been ignored in the past and Ledgett's on his way out the door, so these are promises he can't be held responsible for not keeping. "

    And they will keep ignoring the law and their supposed bosses as long as nobody is severely punished (jailed until the demands are met). If one steals and gets away even if everybody knows he/she stole something what's going to prevent them from repeating it forever? Nothing.

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

  • icon
    DB (profile), 24 Mar 2017 @ 12:35pm

    Snowden's place in history

    It will take another decade or so, but I expect that Snowden will end up on the right side of history.

    Joe McCarthy repeatedly lied, destroying the careers of truly patriotic citizens. His name became descriptive of the evils of the whole era. I'm wondering if Clapper's phrase "least untruthful" will be remembered as the emblematic phrase of this era.

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 24 Mar 2017 @ 2:08pm

    Now that Edward Snowden has done all the leg work, the Intelligence Community is admitting that, yeah, maybe it should have been more upfront about the phone metadata collection. The soon-to-be-former NSA Deputy Director says it might have been better for the agency to be out ahead of the disclosures, rather than forced to play defense.

    That's called "spin". He doesn't truly believe that they should have revealed the program, he just wants to look good after they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2017 @ 3:09pm

      Re:

      It may just be spin from this guy, but preemptively telling about some of the shenanigans might also prevent leaks since the leaker would be painted a lot more of a "traitor" as soon as it is just the spin that would be blown. With NSA trying to clamp up and get everyone else to do the same, the damage to their trustworthyness is immense today.

      A lot of the scandal was blown up by the people around NSA (judges/politicians) starting to question if the system works, which is absolute poison for a secret service. Arguable NSA is by definition breaking the wall between domestic/foreign secret services. Historically such a combination has been a system with kingmaking powers and therefore a real threat to democracy.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2017 @ 2:35pm

    Hindsight is always 20/20. Foresight is always the problem.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Mar 2017 @ 4:35pm

    Dishonesty now or later

    Given they would have been lying either way, I'm not sure how effective their damage control would have been had they been more proactive.

    Sure they would have been able to get their version/lies out first, allowing them to better shape the narrative, but so long as the leaks still happened they still would have been dealing with evidence that contradicted what they were saying, as I don't imagine they would have been any more honest going first rather than reacting. The leaks were bad enough PR for them on their own, but their response to the leaks, doubling down and getting caught out on lie after lie after lie really did a number on their credibility, and I don't see that changing either way it went down.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 24 Mar 2017 @ 5:03pm

    I would believe him...

    if he revealed some of the other things that are in the public interest to know. Otherwise, this guy should shut the hell up and crawl under his rock.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 7:33am

    'But, he said, doing so might have mitigated the damage done by Snowden.'

    The damage was done in the creation and and purpose of these programs, no matter what agency or nation

    Pratt

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


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