Oh, Sure, Now Congress Is Serious About Asking NSA About Surveillance On Americans

from the about-freaking-time,-goodlatte dept

For many, many years, Senator Ron Wyden has been directly asking the US intelligence community a fairly straightforward question (in his role as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee): just how many Americans are having their communications swept up in surveillance activities supposedly being conducted on foreigners under the FISA Amendments Act (FISA being Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). Wyden started asking way back in 2011 and got no answers. His continued questioning in 2013 resulted in Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lying to Congress in a public hearing, which Ed Snowden later claimed was a big part of the inspiration to make him leak documents to the press.

Just last month, we noted that Wyden had renewed his request for an accurate depiction of how many Americans have had their communications swept up, this time asked to new Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats. Unfortunately, for all these years, it's basically felt like Senator Wyden tilting at a seeming windmill, with many others in Congress basically rolling their eyes every time the issue is raised. I've never understood why people in Congress think that these kinds of things can be ignored. There have been a few attempts by others -- notably on the House Judiciary Committee -- to ask similar questions. Almost exactly a year ago, there was a letter from many members of the HJC, and there was a followup in December. But, notably, while there were a number of members from both parties on that letter, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, did not sign the letter, meaning that it was unlikely to be taken as seriously.

Suddenly, though, it seems that the ins-and-outs of Section 702, and how the "incidental" information it collects on Americans is used has taken on a much wider interest, following President Trump's misleading suggestion that President Obama tapped his phone lines, and some Trump supporters trying to twist typical 702 surveillance to justify those remarks. Either way, if that leads people to actually look at 702, that may be a good result out of a stupid situation. And, thus, we get to this surprising moment, in which Goodlatte has actually sent a similar letter to Coats (along with ranking member John Conyers) asking about the impact of 702 surveillance on Americans. And since (for reasons that are beyond me) Reuters refuses to link to the actual source materials, you can read the full letter here or embedded below.

The letter demands an answer by April 24th. And, yes, it's notable that Goodlatte has signed on, because Section 702 is up for reauthorization at the end of the year, and if Goodlatte is not on board with reauthorization, then the NSA is going to have some difficulty in getting it through.

You have described reauthorization of Section 702 as your "top legislative priority." Although Congress designed this authority to target non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States, it is clear that Section 702 surveillance programs can and do collect information about U.S. persons, on subjects unrelated to counterterrorism. It is imperative that we understand the size of this impact on U.S. persons as our Committee proceeds with the debate on reauthorization.

The letter then even points to Coats' response to Wyden during Coats' confirmation hearing that he was "going to do everything I can to work with Admiral Rogers in NSA to get you that number." Of course, back in December, it was said that the intelligence community might finally deliver that number... in January. And it's now April. Still, with Goodlatte finally taking an interest in this, it's a sign that the NSA can't just coast by and continue to completely ignore this.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 3:47pm

    You were doing really go there....

    until you had to equivocate about Trump being wrong in his tweet.

    So the Obama admin was using the NSA to get transcripts of conversations from members of the Trump campaign, but since that wasn't actual old fashioned wire tapping, like actually tapping the wires, then Trump's lying amirite?

    The thing this entire episode shows us is that the NSA is spying on EVERYONE, and the Obama admin used that for political purposes and this is DANGEROUS.

    To agree with you in spirit. I sure don't want Trump spying on his political enemies through the NSA either.

    AND is it blatantly OBVIOUS that the Obama admin created the new surveillance sharing rules so they could barf out transcripts of conversations far and wide to guarantee they would be leaked. Super unethical, and the ONLY reason for their last minute rule change.

    You, and Wyden are right that this spying is bad. But Trump being Trump has no bearing on whether it should be stopped cold. The answer to "should the spying stop" is an unequivocal "YES".

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 4:22pm

      Re: You were doing really go there....

      "So the Obama admin was using the NSA to get transcripts of conversations from members of the Trump campaign, but since that wasn't actual old fashioned wire tapping, like actually tapping the wires, then Trump's lying amirite?

      The thing this entire episode shows us is that the NSA is spying on EVERYONE, and the Obama admin used that for political purposes and this is DANGEROUS."

      Like Trump, you too are missing the important thing that normal people refer to as "evidence."

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 7:22pm

        Don Wyden Quixote

        "...for all these years... Senator Wyden tilting at a seeming windmill..'


        Yeah, there's absolutely no hard "evidence" that the NSA spys on anyone! It's all hearsay & conjecture.

        It's highly probable that the NSA is just a phony 'shell' organization designed to fool foreign powers into thinking the U.S. has some huge, fantastic super hi-tech intelligence outfit listening to everything worldwide.

        Have you ever personally seen hard "evidence" that the NSA really exists ??

        Dopey Trump even thought the Federal spooks were listening in on Trump Tower. Everybody knows that Obama wouldn't personally crawl around the Trump Tower basement putting alligator clips on copper telephone wires -- so Trump's accusations are obvious lunacy.

        Besides, Trump is now only the U.S.President' with full legal access to every classified record & secret that exists in the government -- so how the heck would he now know anything about secret surveillance ??

        Ron Wyden's approach just needs another 150 years to show good results. Just give it some time... some other Senators are starting to come around.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 7:32pm

          Re: Don Wyden Quixote

          You have no idea what you're babbling about.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2017 @ 12:01pm

            Re: Re: Don Wyden Quixote

            Sorry bro, you're the one babbling.

            Obviously OP's main point is, "You, and Wyden are right that this spying is bad. But Trump being Trump has no bearing on whether it should be stopped cold. The answer to "should the spying stop" is an unequivocal "YES"."

            ...but all you seem to want to do is to drag the conversation off point with your basic-b!tch, partisan hackery.

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

            • identicon
              andy, 8 Apr 2017 @ 1:13pm

              Re: Re: Re: Don Wyden Quixote

              This is pathetic, we are talking about shutting down a system that monitors foreign agents for very important intel, all because that system uncovered multiple white house admins contacting and doing business illegally and secretly with amongst others Russian spies.

              How the hell did America get to the stage that because the president has been found to be involved in treasonous acts that now the system that found him out must be shut down...if anything i would say it needs to be strengthened.

              And what American people are being caught with this 702 bill not the average person no they have absolutely no reason to contact Russian officials or spies do they, and not politicians as they are American politicians they would not be doing anything wrong would they ...damn this is so crazy and i hope that the country grows a spine and strengthens this law that allows monitoring of amongst others Russian spies.

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

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2017 @ 4:12pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Don Wyden Quixote

                ...we are talking about shutting down a system that monitors foreign agents for very important intel... ...DERRRRRP (i.e., the entire rest of what you wrote)..."

                Well you're right about one thing, this is pathetic.

                First, NO ONE - not Binney, Drake, Snowden, EFF, ACLU, or even Greenwald - is talking about shutting down legitimate surveillance. So please stop embarrassing yourself by suggesting that is the case. Either you're incredibly misinformed, lamely attempting to propagandize (yeah, I'm talking to you TLAs), or your just dumb.

                Second, if American presidents were ever going to get prosecuted for treasonous acts (like, I don't know, allocating billions of taxpayer dollars to their corporate buddies by illegally invading a country that posed no physical threat to the United States), then many would have already be doing life in a federal prison.

                Third, your "what American people are being caught with this 702 bill" line of reasoning is a belligerent combination of the "nothing to hide" argument (an argument that has been completely debunked btw) and conspicuously ignoring the fact that the powers granted under the 702 bill (along with all the other illegitimate/illegal/unjust violations of the 4th Amendment) can and will ALSO be used to crush legitimate dissent (not to mention, will be used for domestic corporate espionage and however else the small group of people in possession of everyone's secrets seeks to personally benefit from them). ...So, NO, you effin' brainiac, it's not the foreign spy surveillance that everyone is concerned with - it's the fake oversight, warrantless, domestic mass surveillance cancer in our society that is damaging our collective calm.

                Your proposition that the warrantless spying (and indefinite storage of that data) without probably cause, with little-to-no effective oversight, on every single American citizen/business, is that it is for the purpose of "keeping us all safe" is so insanely unlikely to be true, that I have to assume you saying so is either based on a vested interest in promoting that belief - or some form of mental retardation.

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 7 Apr 2017 @ 4:25pm

      Re: You were doing really go there....

      So the Obama admin was using the NSA to get transcripts of conversations from members of the Trump campaign, but since that wasn't actual old fashioned wire tapping, like actually tapping the wires, then Trump's lying amirite?

      Trump explicitly stated that Trump Tower was tapped, and that Obama was personally responsible. He was not referring to the Obama administration when he said "bad (or sick) guy", because the administration is not a guy.

      He did not say anything about incidental data collection, either; he very clearly implied that it was targeted at him, Candidate Trump.

      The "he was referring to surveillance by the Obama Administration general" excuse is something the Trump Administration came up with later to make the very stupid things he said sound less stupid.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2017 @ 9:50am

        Re: Trump explicitly stated that

        `

        Jeeez -- this was a casual Tweet from Trump, not a formal National Security Position Paper.

        Trump is notorious for broad, imprecise, bold, off the cuff statements. Trump-Haters routinely castigate him for sloppy word choice and syntax --but on this Tweet the Haters suddenly want to interpret Trump with extreme precision on word choice. Totally hypocritical by the Haters.

        Here's the Trump tweet:

        > " Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! "
        — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

        The general term "wires tapped" was even in quotes -- but the Haters somehow determined (with absolute certainty) that the term could ONLY mean 1920's style physical connections to actual telephone wires (by Obama personally).

        Just amazing that all the Trump-Haters could read Trump's mind and know exactly what he meant, even though he repeatedly refuted their self-serving interpretation!

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 8 Apr 2017 @ 1:15pm

          Re: Re: Trump explicitly stated that

          So people should assume by default Trump is either babbling and/or lying when he says something, and treat what he says accordingly?

          In your focus on 'wires tapped' and the weird idea that people think Obama personally installed the surveillance(seriously, who is saying that?) you miss the point Thad was trying to make.

          First, Trump says that his communications in Trump tower were tapped. Not Trump Tower in general that just so happens to include him, his communications.

          Second, he says that Obama did it. Not the 'Administration', not the 'Obama Administration', Obama, implying that Obama personally ordered it done.

          Unless you want to go back to the 'empty blather' bit the tweet seems pretty clear in saying that Obama ordered his communications tapped, something for which I have seen no evidence presented to date, making it a blatant lie.

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

        • icon
          Eldakka (profile), 10 Apr 2017 @ 7:56pm

          Re: Re: Trump explicitly stated that

          Jeeez -- this was a casual Tweet from Trump, not a formal National Security Position Paper.

          When you are standing as a candidate for any high office in government (president, VP, congressman), but especially for president, there is no such thing as a casual anything in public.

          Everything you say or do in public is significant, has consequences, and is analysed for meaning.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 4:00pm

    The question Wyden should have asked is " how many Senators are having their communications watched." this would have got their attention right quick.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 5:00pm

      Re:

      No it would not.

      Check out Feinstein's own history. She tossed a fit when she found that NSA tapped her systems and then proceeded to shut the fuck up.

      The intelligence community has a lot of our dirty as fucking politicians over a barrel. I don't think they will be doing much of anything.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Apr 2017 @ 5:04pm

      Re:

      "None that I am aware of."

      "None?"

      "Not wittingly."

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

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 7 Apr 2017 @ 5:10pm

    Don't bother with the Congressional bloviating. This occurs on a regular basis and everyone involved knows it means only one thing. Reps will bitch and moan, then reauthorize the bill overwhelmingly. SSDD

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 5:50pm

    Over a year isnt a mistake.

    "some Trump supporters trying to twist typical 702 surveillance to justify those remarks."

    The remarks wouldnt be justified, except it has now come out that for over a year the incidental collection of others was going on without the proper procedures taking place. Also, susan rice on multiple occasions went after that information? Did I misread the news from multiple sources beyond fox news?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 6:54pm

      Re: Over a year isnt a mistake.

      Feel free to share with the class.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 7:36pm

      Re: Over a year isnt a mistake.

      Yes, Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, did her job as National Security Advisor, when examining perfectly legal surveillance and incidental collection, which the National Security Advisor does.

      Go learn something, and preferably not from a guy who believes Pizzagate is real and date rape doesn't exist.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2017 @ 12:08pm

        Re: Re: Over a year isnt a mistake.

        Perhaps if the corporate media didn't get caught lying / misleading so much (or if their propaganda wasn't so lame), Pizzagate would have died a long time ago (as discussed here).

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2017 @ 3:39pm

        Re: Re: Over a year isnt a mistake.

        The constitutionality of the law behind the surveillance is highly questionable. The legality of the surveillance itself is unknown - not enough details are public as to how the information was collected. The devil is in the details.

        You're entitled to your own opinions but you're not entitled to your own facts.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 8 Apr 2017 @ 6:16pm

          "It's not that we think you broke the law that worries us... it's the fact that you didn't Need to."

          It's even crazier than that actually. I can't recall who said it originally, but when the whole NSA thing broke one of the responses was along the lines of how it was less worrying that what was being done was illegal than that it might very well be legal.

          That the laws have been twisted to such a degree that mass, indiscriminate spying on the american public might very well be within the laws, despite what I imagine most people would think the laws would say on the subject.

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

  • identicon
    AC, 7 Apr 2017 @ 7:47pm

    Meh

    This will either blow up or get hushed up, depending on how the intelligence community sways. Yes, obviously everyone in the US gets spied on - and since that is illegal, the previous administration could either rely on our allies to spy on us and give us the information (not illegal)* or get a secret FISA court approval on questionable grounds and proceed to unmask and declassify the information so it could be widely disseminated and leaked for political purposes.
    * we do the same for them

    No, it wasn't "wiretapping" since no wires were involved, but it's pretty plainly functionally indistinguishable. Oh, and of course Obama wasn't involved at all, only the people he appointed to his cabinet like Susan Rice and other officials to be named. He was too busy golfing, obviously.

    Leading from behind has the benefit of providing lots of fall guys between you and the underside of the bus.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Cowherd, 7 Apr 2017 @ 7:56pm

    "Yes, Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, did her job as National Security Advisor, when examining perfectly legal surveillance and incidental collection, which the National Security Advisor does."

    So, you are saying that it would be fine for the current National Security Advisor to do the same thing to say, Barry Obama? I'm sure his name comes up a lot in international conversations, so incidentally collecting conversations involving him, unmasking the names involved and sharing the contents with over a dozen government agencies should be no issue, right?

    Yeah, since she was just doing her job to do any less than the same thing now would be wrong. You know, because National Security.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Apr 2017 @ 8:47pm

    It's just words. The oligarchs that control the two parties all support authoritarianism and a perpetual war economy.

    In the age of the internet, hiding behind an cloak of "national security", and using brute force to put down resistance, is the only way for the old factions to remain in power.

    Expect more moves towards militarization and authoritarianism as their grip on power loosens. I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to bring the draft back soon.

    Change will not come from the parties.

    It will come from people understanding how the parties and government work, and withdrawing the support that they probably don't known they are giving.

    Here's a tip. Turn off the TV. Stop reading their newspapers. Stop buying as much of their shit as possible. Stop looking away. Don't be dumb or greedy or unethical because it's easier.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2017 @ 11:33am

      Re:

      And once you've gone to the trouble of becoming aware of the reality of the situation, the obviousness of it all becomes somewhat overwhelming. I now find myself in a near constant state of disbelief as to how, yet again, the public is being duped into supporting their "leaders" actions when those actions are so obviously not in the public's best interests. Again. Doh!

      I very much agree with what you've written. However, rather than advising people to "stop reading their newspapers", I'd recommend they instead read them for the insight they offer as to how the oligarchs/plutocrats are currently conspiring - as their newspapers/TV provide an excellent window for deducing/extrapolating/reasoning their probable motivations (i.e., what they're currently up to). It's not a perfect science, but it can prove useful (not to mention, hilarious - as their propaganda is truly terrible - only matched by how terrible is the general public's critical reasoning).

      Here's some tips for getting started:

      For a very basic overview as to how the corporate press is used to propagandize for the plutocrats best interests (over the public's) you can watch this video which outlines the main points in Chomsky's, Manufacturing Consent (skip to 2:30 for a description of the 'propaganda model').

      Whenever reading any article, ask:

      1. What is the framing?
      2. What does that framing exclude?
      3. Who does that framing benefit in terms of increased control of resources/power?
      4. Who does that framing hurt/marginalize in terms of decreased control of resources/power?

      ...and forever pay the most attention to: The actual results of their actions over time (versus their stated mission / lip service).

      Keep fighting the good fight!

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

  • identicon
    gezzerx, 8 Apr 2017 @ 10:29pm

    Cred-ability

    It matters not what the US Government or the NSA says because they have lied to many times to the American public before, they have no cred-ability ! ! !

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


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