Tag: Metadata

Oct 30

US Spying: “An Institutional Obsession”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Former constitutional lawyer and columnist on civil liberties and U.S. national security issues for The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to discuss how US spying in out allies has become an institutionalized obsession with surveillance.

The spat over U.S. spying on Germany grew over the weekend following reports the National Security Agency has monitored the phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel since as early as 2002, before she even came to office. The NSA also spied on Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, after he refused to support the Iraq War. NSA staffers working out of the U.S. embassy in Berlin reportedly sent their findings directly to the White House. The German tabloid Bild also reports President Obama was made aware of Merkel’s phone tap in 2010, contradicting his apparent claim to her last week that he would have stopped the spying had he known. In another new disclosure, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports today the NSA tracked some 60 million calls in Spain over the course of a month last year. A delegation of German and French lawmakers are now in Washington to press for answers on the allegations of U.S. spying in their home countries.

Jay Ackroyd at Eschaton thought this part of the lengthy interview deserved to be highlighted:

    So, for the top national security official in the United States to go to the Senate and lie to their faces and deny that the NSA is doing exactly that which our reporting proved that the NSA was in fact doing is plainly a crime, and of course he should be prosecuted, and would be prosecuted if we lived under anything resembling the rule of law, where everybody is held and treated equally under the law, regardless of position or prestige. Of course, we don’t have that kind of system, which is why no Wall Street executives have been prosecuted, no top-level Bush officials were prosecuted for torture or warrantless eavesdropping, and why James Clapper hasn’t been prosecuted despite telling an overt lie to Congress. And what’s even more amazing, though, Amy, is that not only has James Clapper not been prosecuted, he hasn’t even lost his job. He’s still the director of national intelligence many months after his lie was revealed, because there is no accountability for the top-level people in Washington.

   And the final thing to say about that is, there’s all kinds of American journalists who love to go on television and accuse Edward Snowden of committing all these grave and horrible crimes. They’re so brave when it comes to declaring Edward Snowden to be a criminal and calling for [inaudible]. Not one of them has ever gone on television and said, “James Clapper committed crimes, and he ought to be prosecuted.” The question that you just asked journalistically is such an important and obvious one, yet not-none of the David Gregorys or Jeffrey Toobins or all these American journalists who fancy themselves as aggressive, tough reporters, would ever dare utter the idea that James Clapper ought to be arrested or prosecuted for the crimes that he committed, because they’re there to serve those interests and not to challenge or be adversarial to them.

Jay also pointed out e-mail exchange between Glenn and Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York Times, in an op-ed by Keller.

Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?

by Bill Keller

Much of the speculation about the future of news focuses on the business model: How will we generate the revenues to pay the people who gather and disseminate the news? But the disruptive power of the Internet raises other profound questions about what journalism is becoming, about its essential character and values. This week’s column is a conversation – a (mostly) civil argument – between two very different views of how journalism fulfills its mission.

Glenn Greenwald broke what is probably the year’s biggest news story, Edward Snowden’s revelations of the vast surveillance apparatus constructed by the National Security Agency. He has also been an outspoken critic of the kind of journalism practiced at places like The New York Times, and an advocate of a more activist, more partisan kind of journalism. Earlier this month he announced he was joining a new journalistic venture, backed by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, who has promised to invest $250 million and to “throw out all the old rules.” I invited Greenwald to join me in an online exchange about what, exactly, that means.

It’s long but worth the read.  

Oct 17

The NSA: Bigger Is Not Better

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In the case of the NSA’s scooping up and storing all that private data, they ran into a glitch, too much information makes the job of surveillance harder

The volume of NSA contacts collection is so high that it has occasionally threatened to overwhelm storage repositories, forcing the agency to halt its intake with “emergency detasking” orders. Three NSA documents describe short-term efforts to build an “across-the-board technology throttle for truly heinous data” and longer-term efforts to filter out information that the NSA does not need.

Spam has proven to be a significant problem for NSA – clogging databases with data that holds no foreign intelligence value. The majority of all e-mails, one NSA document says, “are SPAM from ‘fake’ addresses and never ‘delivered’ to targets.”

In fall 2011, according to an NSA presentation, the Yahoo account of an Iranian target was “hacked by an unknown actor,” who used it to send spam. The Iranian had “a number of Yahoo groups in his/her contact list, some with many hundreds or thousands of members.”

The cascading effects of repeated spam messages, compounded by the automatic addition of the Iranian’s contacts to other people’s address books, led to a massive spike in the volume of traffic collected by the Australian intelligence service on the NSA’s behalf.

After nine days of data-bombing, the Iranian’s contact book and contact books for several people within it were “emergency detasked.”

LOL. The NSA has a spam problem.

Meanwhile, the head of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander has had to admit to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he lied back in June about those 54 terrorists plots he claimed were “thwarted” by the agency’s phone surveillance program.

Alexander admitted that only 13 of the 54 cases were connected to the United States. He also told the committee that only one or two suspected plots were identified as a result of bulk phone record collection.

Leahy was not happy. “We’re told we have to (conduct mass phone surveillance) to protect us, and the statistics are rolled out that they’re not accurate,” he said. “It doesn’t have the credibility here in the Congress, it doesn’t have the credibility with this chairman and it doesn’t have the credibility with the country.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, in an op-ed behind a paywall, the committee chair, Sen Dianne Feinstein trotted out the old “9/11 be very afraid” canard and repeated the debunked Alexander lie.

Consider the case of 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar, who was being watched by the CIA while he was in Malaysia. U.S. intelligence agencies failed to connect the dots before the attack to recognize that al-Mihdhar had flown with (future) hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi to Los Angeles in January 2000.

Intelligence officials knew about an al Qaeda safe house in Yemen with ties to al-Mihdhar as well as the safe house’s telephone number, but they had no way of knowing if anyone inside the U.S. was in contact with that phone number in Yemen. Only after 9/11 did we learn that al-Mihdhar, while living in San Diego, had called the safe house. [..]

Working in combination, the call-records database and other NSA programs have aided efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorism in the U.S. approximately a dozen times in recent years, according to the NSA. This summer, the agency disclosed that 54 terrorist events have been interrupted-including plots stopped and arrests made for support to terrorism. Thirteen events were in the U.S. homeland and nine involved U.S. persons or facilities overseas. Twenty-five were in Europe, five in Africa and 11 in Asia.

Can everyone say say Richard Clark.

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick points out none of what Sen. Feinstein said is true:

First off, as has been explained over and over again, the intelligence community already had certain tools in place to discover such phone calls. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have the information — they did. It was that they failed to “connect the dots.” In other words, they had too much information which obscured the important information they needed. [..]

Note the all important “and other NSA programs” language here. Also the use of “terrorist events” not plots. And, remember, those “thirteen events… in the U.S. homeland,” have since been whittled down to only one that actually relied on the call records program that she’s defending — and that wasn’t a terrorist plot but a cab driver in San Diego sending some cash to a Somali group judged to be a terrorist organization.

So, we have elected representatives and high paid appointees blatantly lying and getting away with it to protect their turf with no one is holding them accountable,

Oct 14

Sam Adams Award

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In Russia, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden appeared in public for the first time since he was grated asylum by the Russian government. He met with other whistleblowers and activists to receive the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence.

RT News interviewed whistleblowers and activists Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Andrews Drake, Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley in their studio after the award was presented.

Aug 30

Joining the Party

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

It was announced last week that The Guardian and The New York Times had formed a partnership to report on the documents the were leaked by Edward Snowden in relationship to the involvement of the UK’s GCHQ. The arrangement came after the British government demanded that The Guardian hand over the NSA files in their possession. Instead, The Guardian choose to destroy the records that were in their UK offices.

Journalists in America are protected by the first amendment which guarantees free speech and in practice prevents the state seeking pre-publication injunctions or “prior restraint”.

It is intended that the collaboration with the New York Times will allow the Guardian to continue exposing mass surveillance by putting the Snowden documents on GCHQ beyond government reach. Snowden is aware of the arrangement.

The collaboration echoes that of the partnership forged in 2010 between the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel in relation to WikiLeaks’s release of US military and diplomatic documents.

In a more quiet arrangement, ProPublica, a unique nonprofit investigative reporting group of former journalists, has also partnered with The Guardian but it is not yet known on they will focus. ProPublica has won two Pulitzer Prizes for its reporting on national and investigative reporting.

Charles Pierce, at Esquire’s Politics Blog has been following the NSA story and the unique poutrage over Snowden and The Guardian‘s journalist Glenn Greenwald that ignited a laughable mini blog war. He offered a couple of amusingly precise observations on the Snowden effect:

The current state of play seems to be centered on the new family fun game, How Much Of A Dick Is Glenn Greenwald Anyway? I decline to play. It is a stupid, wasteful exercise because, frankly, the vessel doesn’t matter to me. The information that it carries is the only thing that matters. What has Edward Snowden, International Man Of Luggage, revealed that isn’t true? I don’t want to hear that we all knew it already. I don’t want quibbling about how the data sweeps work, and how they might not be as horrible as they’re being made out to be because I don’t trust the people making that argument. I don’t to hear about how the fudging of the details of David Miranda’s arrest somehow lessens the credibility of what we now know. I don’t want to hear how it may have inconvenienced our all-too-human-mistake-prone heroes in the NSA, who are they all, all honorable men. What do we know now because of the revelations that is not true? The fact remains that we do not know any of this without Snowden’s revelations to Greenwald and, thereby, to the world. The national conversation is not even happening. The NSA is not owning up to its all-too-human mistakes. The FISA Court isn’t retroactively flexing to prove it isn’t the intelligence community’s poodle. The authoritarian impulse has not even been given the brief pause we currently enjoy. None of this happens without Snowden and Greenwald and, as a citizen, I could care less that people think Glenn Greenwald is full of himself. Don’t invite him to dinner.

Charles then jogs the memories of those who care to have forgotten how Iran/Contra began:

For the benefit of anyone for whom reading is perhaps not fundamental, Glenn Greenwald’s personality, and the peripatetic globe-trotting of Edward Snowden, are not the story here. If you decide to make them the story, then you are taking yourself off the real story, and that’s your fault, not Greenwald’s or Snowden’s. Unless, of course, you think the Times, and now ProPublica, are acting the way Lyndon LaRouche’s people did. I remind folks who get caught up in the vessel and miss what’s inside that, on November 3, 1986, there was an oddball story in an obscure Lebanese weekly newspaper called al-Shiraa about arms transfers in the Middle East. This story was flatly denied by everyone in this country — including President Ronald Reagan — and al Shiraa was treated as though it was being put out by two guys with a mimeograph machine in their mother’s basement. This, boys and girls, was how the Iran-Contra scandal began. The government “hit back.” It didn’t matter. The story remained the story. And, it could be argued, the country never really caught up with what al Shiraa reported.

The country and the world have Snowden and Greenwald to thank for holding the current administration to its promise of transparency, their personal lives and beliefs are irrelevant.  

Aug 02

XKeyscore: Another NSA Program Exposed

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

As a hearing on reining in the secret surveillance program was taking place, another “tool” in the NSA’s collection of on-line data was revealed to the public.

Senate Panel Presses N.S.A. on Phone Logs

by Charlie Savage and David E. Sanger, The New York Times

Senators of both parties on Wednesday sharply challenged the National Security Agency’s collection of records of all domestic phone calls, even as the latest leaked N.S.A. document provided new details on the way the agency monitors Web browsing around the world.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the chairman, Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, accused Obama administration officials of overstating the success of the domestic call log program. He said he had been shown a classified list of “terrorist events” detected through surveillance, and it did not show that “dozens or even several terrorist plots” had been thwarted by the domestic program.

“If this program is not effective it has to end. So far, I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen,” Mr. Leahy said, citing the “massive privacy implications” of keeping records of every American’s domestic calls.

XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’

by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

• XKeyscore gives ‘widest-reaching’ collection of online data

• NSA analysts require no prior authorization for searches

• Sweeps up emails, social media activity and browsing history

• NSA’s XKeyscore program – read one of the presentations

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.

The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian’s earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

The files shed light on one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing “real-time” interception of an individual’s internet activity.

All In host Chris Hayes talks about the new efforts at transparency and the latest NSA revelations courtesy of Edward Snowden with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian.

With the crackdown on whistleblowers and failure to pursue the crimes they revealed, one wonders just how far is the US from becoming the Soviet Russia of the 21st century.

Jul 23

At Least Obama Now Honest About Trashing the Fourth Amendment

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

On Thursday the White House was mum on whether they would seek renewal of the “secret” court order that allows the NSA to collect the phone records and e-mails of Americans without due process.

Officials declined to discuss what action they intend to take about the order at the center of the current surveillance scandal, which formally expires at 5pm Friday. [..]

On Thursday, the administration would not answer a question first posed by the Guardian six days ago about its intentions to continue, modify or discontinue the Verizon bulk-collection order. The White House referred queries to the Justice Department. “We have no announcement at this time,” said Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon. The NSA and office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to questions.

At a hearing on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee, the top lawyer for the director of national intelligence, Robert S Litt, was asked by the chairman, Bob Goodlatte, if the administration thought if a surveillance program “of this magnitude … could be indefinitely kept secret from the American people?”

Litt answered, “well, we tried.”

Since the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, the White House decided on Friday to come clean that they would continue to violate the Fourth Amendment with impunity:

In an unprecedented move prompted by the Guardian’s disclosure in June of the NSA’s indiscriminate collection of Verizon metadata, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has publicly revealed that the scheme has been extended yet again.

The statement does not mention Verizon by name, nor make clear how long the extension lasts for, but it is likely to span a further three months in line with previous routine orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa). [..]

The decision to go public with the latest Fisa court order is an indication of how the Obama administration has opened up the previously hidden world of mass communications surveillance, however slightly, since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the scheme to the Guardian.

Earlier on Friday, ODNI lawyer, Litt, told the Brookings Institute that the intelligence chiefs would consider NSA data collection changesbut continued defending the unconstitutional program:

“It is, however, not the only way that we could regulate intelligence collection,” Litt said. “We’re currently working to declassify more information about our activities to inform that discussion,” particularly concerning the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. [..]

“That could be a significant problem in a fast-moving investigation where speed and agility are critical, such as the plot to bomb the New York City subways in 2009,” Litt said.

But Litt also noted: “All of the metadata we get under this program is information that the telecommunications companies obtain and keep for their own business purposes.”

He acknowledged in the beginning of his speech: “There is an entirely understandable concern that the government may abuse this power.”

In response to a question about the legality of the program, Litt also suggested that congress could pass a law permitting the NSA to collect the records.

“You’d have to make sure that it enables the kind of flexibility and operational agility that we need to conduct the collection,” Litt said. “We don’t think a new statute is necessary. We think we have the authority. But obviously, if Congress thinks a new statute is appropriate for this, Congress can provide that.”

Brilliant, let’s pass another unconstitutional law. Way to go, Barack.

Jul 10

Global Spying By US Is An Outrage

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

At his blog, Glenn Greenwald posted that he had written an article for O Globo, the large Brazilian newspaper based in Rio de Janeiro revealing that millions of Brazilians emails and calls, too, had been scooped up by the US spy program. This followed on the news in Der Spiegel that gave a detailed account of the mass collection of data from the electronic communications of Germans. The Brazilian government is now demanding an explanation from the US.

The foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, expressed “deep concern” about a report that appeared in O Globo newspaper at the weekend, which detailed how the US National Security Agency (NSA) had conducted extensive spying activities in Brazil.

Based on documents provided by Snowden, the O Globo story showed how the US had been carrying out covert surveillance on ostensibly friendly nations. Similar reports in Europe and Hong Kong have sparked indignation in recent weeks.

After the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, called in cabinet ministers to discuss the issue, the government issued a statement of concern.

After the flight carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria over the suspicion that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board, Bolivia and two other Latin American countries, Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum. The offers spark some rather undiplomatic responses from elected officials on the Sunday talk shows. The most notable was from Sen. Robert Menedez (D-NJ) who, after calling for sanctions against the three countries, told Meet the Press‘s David Gregory:

“I’m not surprised by the countries that are offering him asylum,” Menendez said Sunday. “They like sticking it to the United States.”

The second half of Glenn Greenwald’s interview with Snowden that was taped in Hong Kong by Laura Poitras on 6 June 2013 was posted at The Guardian.

Edward Snowden: ‘The US government will say I aided our enemies’

Juan Cole had this to say about the NSA spying and the Obama administration

The general disappointment with the Obama administration on issues of surveillance, drone warfare, the surge in Afghanistan, extension of the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich, labor issues and the environment felt by anyone to the left of David Brooks appears to be a factor in Snowden’s whistleblowing. He must also have been frustrated to see Senators such as Ron Wyden (D-OR) muzzled and unable to tell the American people forthrightly what was troubling him about the secret interpretation of the USA Patriot Act (which is of course the most unpatriotic piece of legislation ever passed). Muzzling a sitting senator about an issue of clear public concern surely is unconstitutional. You can’t have a democracy that way. Snowden knew this and is trying to restore what we lost to the National Security Super-State.

Jul 03

The Fall Out from NSA Spying Here and Abroad

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

As the United States scrambles to cover up the contradictory web if lies it has woven over the NSA spying, the Europeans have expressed their displeasure and threatened to scuttle talks on the trade agreement with the US. This left President Barack Obama, who has been touring Africa, trying to mend fences:

After the Guardian’s disclosure that US agencies were secretly bugging the French embassy in Washington and France’s office at the UN in New York, (French president, François) Hollande called for an immediate halt to the alleged spying.

“We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies,” he said. “We ask that this stop immediately … There can be no negotiations or transactions in all areas until we have obtained these guarantees, for France but also for all of the European Union … We know well that there are systems that have to be checked, especially to fight terrorism, but I don’t think that it is in our embassies or in the European Union that this threat exists.”

(German chancellor, Angela) Merkel delivered her severest warning yet on the NSA debacle. “We are no longer in the cold war,” her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said. “If it is confirmed that diplomatic representations of the European Union and individual European countries have been spied upon, we will clearly say that bugging friends is unacceptable.”

Seibert said Berlin was keen on the trade talks with Washington, but qualified that support: “Mutual trust is necessary in order to come to an agreement.” [..]

Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, likened the NSA to the Soviet-era KGB and indirectly suggested a delay in the talks. Greens in the European parliament, as well as in France and Germany, called for the conference to be postponed pending an investigation of the allegations. They also called for the freezing of other data-sharing deals between the EU and the US, on air transport passengers and banking transactions, for example, and called for the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, to be granted political asylum in Europe. French Greens asked Hollande to grant Snowden asylum in France.

Back in the US, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is still in hot water despite for his halfhearted letter of apology to Congress for “erroneous” responses to questions he was given days before.

But Clapper did not say in the letter why he had taken him until June to correct the mistake. Senator Wyden’s spokesman made it clear on Monday that the senator had made attempts to get Clapper to correct the record before the revelations in the Guardian, but was rebuffed. “Senator Wyden had a staff member contact the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on a secure phone line soon after the March hearing to address the inaccurate statement regarding bulk collection on Americans.

“The ODNI acknowledged that the statement was inaccurate but refused to correct the public record when given the opportunity. Senator Wyden’s staff informed the ODNI that this was a serious concern.

“Senator Wyden continued to raise concerns about the government’s reliance on secret law in the weeks following the hearing, prior to the Guardian publishing its first story several weeks later.”

A bipartisan group of senators expressed their displeasure  and accused Clapper of intentionally misleading congress to prevent a public discussion of secret interpretations of the Patriot Act thus undermining public trust in government.

A week ago, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) wrote Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, that documents on its web site intended to clarify the two surveillance programs, Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of FISA, were ” misleading and inaccurate.” The “fact sheet” were scrubbed from the web site shortly after the senators complaint.

Following a complaint from two senators, the National Security Agency has removed from its website two fact sheets designed to shed light on and defend a pair of surveillance programs. Users now trying to access the documents detailing surveillance under legal authorities known as Section 215 and Section 702 receive an error message when they try to load the fact sheets. [..]

The documents, still available here, were published in the wake of revelations about the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs. They sought to highlight the safeguards the NSA uses to make sure American communications aren’t caught up in its surveillance – or if they are, what the NSA does to remove identifying information about U.S. citizens. Wyden and Udall, both of whom sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have long called for more transparency on how the NSA protects Americans’ privacy — but said the NSA’s fact sheets gave the wrong impression.

Meanwhile in Russia Edward Snowden remains at the Moscow airport without a valid passport. With his asylum options shrinking, he has withdarwn his request for  asylum with Russia after President Vladimir Putin required he stop leaking information about the US spy programs.

Icelandic investigative journalist and spokesperson for WikiLeaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson appeared with Amy Goodman and Aaron Mate on today’s Democracy Now blasting the United States for leaving Snowden “stateless.”



Transcript can be read here

Jun 29

Even a Former Stasi Agent Says It’s a Bad Idea

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Obama Spy Net photo ObamaSpyNet_zpsa63a3f0b.jpg You know you’ve screwed up when an agent from one of the most secretive and notorious spy agencies tells you so. A former lieutenant colonel in the now defunct East German secret police, the Stasi, Wolfgang Schmidt was “appalled” saying that ” gathering such a broad, seemingly untargeted, amount of information is obvious”

“It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

Now the Ecuadoran government has broken its trade pact with the United States to prevent it from being used as “blackmail” over the request for asylum from Edward Snowden.

The waiving of preferential trade rights followed threats from members of the US congress to drop the ATPA in July, when it is due for renewal, unless Ecuador toed the line on Snowden.

“Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, nor does it trade with principles or submit them to mercantile interests, however important those may be,” said Fernando Alvarado, the communications secretary.

“Ecuador gives up, unilaterally and irrevocably, the said customs benefits.”

Meanwhile the US Army has blocked access to parts of The Guardian website to preserve ‘network hygiene’

A spokesman said the military was filtering out reports and content relating to government surveillance programs to preserve “network hygiene” and prevent any classified material appearing on unclassified parts of its computer systems.[..]

The Pentagon insisted the Department of Defense was not seeking to block the whole website, merely taking steps to restrict access to certain content.

But a spokesman for the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (Netcom) in Arizona confirmed that this was a widespread policy, likely to be affecting hundreds of defence facilities.

Besides being an illogical in its defense of leaked information that is now public knowledge, the dogs forbid, these young GI’s should know what it is they’re defending.

At least the Senate isn’t slacking on asking for an explanation. In bipartisan letter, 26 Senators are seeking answers from intelligence chief James Clapper over scale of and justification for NSA surveillance

The senators accuse officials of making misleading statements and demand that the director of national intelligence James Clapper answer a series of specific questions on the scale of domestic surveillance as well as the legal justification for it.

In their strongly-worded letter to Clapper, the senators said they believed the government may be misinterpreting existing legislation to justify the sweeping collection of telephone and internet data revealed by the Guardian. [..]

They ask Clapper to publicly provide information about the duration and scope of the program and provide examples of its effectiveness in providing unique intelligence, if such examples exist.

The senators also expressed their concern that the program itself has a significant impact on the privacy of law-abiding Americans and that the Patriot Act could be used for the bulk collection of records beyond phone metadata. [..]

In addition to raising concerns about the law’s scope, the senators noted that keeping the official interpretation of the law secret and the instances of misleading public statements from executive branch officials prevented the American people from having an informed public debate about national security and domestic surveillance.

At the National Rifle Association heads will be exploding. As Marcy Wheeler noted at emptywheel, one of the questions the Senators asked is a “loaded gun”:

It can be used to collect information on credit card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information, and a range of other sensitive subjects. And the bulk collection authority could potentially be used to supersede bans on maintaining gun owner databases, or laws protecting the privacy of medical records, financial records, and records of book and movie purchases. [Marcy’s emphasis]

At Hullabaloo, David Atkins points out a few problems with the arguments defending the government. He makes two very valid points that should be embarrassing for certain defenders of President Obama and the NSA spying:

In all the manufactured outrage against Snowden for leaking and Greenwald for doing his job as a journalist, there have been two main strains of thought. The first is that whatever the government does in the name of “national security” should be accepted without question, that if one is sworn to secrecy one should never reveal secrets under any circumstance, and that journalistic freedom of speech itself should be called into question if it interferes in any way with whatever government officials say they’re doing in the name of “national security.”

That is a fascist argument that has no place in civil American society, and that should embarrass anyone who uses it.

The second argument is about equal application of rule of law, and it carries a little more moral weight. That argument centers around balance of powers and the notion that it should not be up to random individuals to determine what secrets should remain secrets based on their own moral compass. It’s based around notions of universal rule of law, and is not a fascist one but an institutionalist one. It’s the argument that animates much of the anti-Snowden left.

But for anyone to argue that point with credibility, one must also oppose the rampant leaks coming from inside the government apparatus as well.[..]

If someone denounces Snowden and Greenwald but claims to be to the left of Peter King, they must also denounce the government’s selective leaks and demand prosecution of those involved, or lose all credibility and claims to intellectual consistency. To selectively defend or extol lawbreaking behavior depending on who is in office and what issue is being defended, is the worst sort of political hackery and hypocrisy.

All In host Chris Hayes points to the unequal and uneven response to leaked information that advances the Pentagon’s agenda and leaked information that doesn’t.

On that note this:

The Criminal NSA

by Jennifer Stisa Granick and Christopher Jon Sprigman, The New York Times

THE twin revelations that telecom carriers have been secretly giving the National Security Agency information about Americans’ phone calls, and that the N.S.A. has been capturing e-mail and other private communications from Internet companies as part of a secret program called Prism, have not enraged most Americans. Lulled, perhaps, by the Obama administration’s claims that these “modest encroachments on privacy” were approved by Congress and by federal judges, public opinion quickly migrated from shock to “meh.”

It didn’t help that Congressional watchdogs – with a few exceptions, like Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky – have accepted the White House’s claims of legality. The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, have called the surveillance legal. So have liberal-leaning commentators like Hendrik Hertzberg and David Ignatius.

This view is wrong – and not only, or even mainly, because of the privacy issues raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics. The two programs violate both the letter and the spirit of federal law. No statute explicitly authorizes mass surveillance. Through a series of legal contortions, the Obama administration has argued that Congress, since 9/11, intended to implicitly authorize mass surveillance. But this strategy mostly consists of wordplay, fear-mongering and a highly selective reading of the law. Americans deserve better from the White House – and from President Obama, who has seemingly forgotten the constitutional law he once taught.

America’s Animal Farm: Snowden and the Squealer

by Jonathan Turley, law professor Georgetown University

For many, the recent disclosure of massive warrantless surveillance programs of all citizens by the Obama administration has brought back memories of George Orwell’s 1984. Such comparisons are understandable not only with the anniversary of the book occurring the very week of the disclosures but the Administration’s “doublethink” interpretations of common terms like “transparency” and “privacy.” According to President Obama, the secret surveillance program is not only entirely “transparent” but something of a triumph of privacy.

Yet, another Orwell book seems more apt as the White House and its allies try to contain the scandal: Animal Farm.

Orwell wrote the fanciful account of a farm society of animals at the end of World War II during a period of authoritarian power and government propaganda. The farm government proclaimed equality of all animals but, as the pig Squealer explained, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” As our leaders joined together on television to bloviate about the need to capture and try the “traitor” Snowden, they were affirming a system of laws that seems to apply to the governed exclusively.

Jun 27

Spying on Each Other

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The revelation of a federal program to “Keep America Safe” got little notice amidst the hullabaloo over the hunt for Edward Snowden. McClatchy News reported on The pervasive program created under the Obama administration to stop leaks and “security threats,” requiring “federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.”

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.

Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage. [..]

As part of the initiative, Obama ordered greater protection for whistleblowers who use the proper internal channels to report official waste, fraud and abuse, but that’s hardly comforting to some national security experts and current and former U.S. officials. They worry that the Insider Threat Program won’t just discourage whistleblowing but will have other grave consequences for the public’s right to know and national security.

The program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans, according to these current and former officials and experts. Some non-intelligence agencies already are urging employees to watch their co-workers for “indicators” that include stress, divorce and financial problems.

in an unusual Sunday article at Esquire’s Politics Blog, Charles Pierce’s reacted to this program with these remarks:

(T)he Obama administration is the most fertile environment for paranoids since the Nixon people first cut a check to Egil Krogh. [..]

You want “Nixonian”? This, right here, this is Nixonian, if Nixon had grown up in East Germany. You’ve got the entire federal bureaucracy looking for signs of “high-risk persons or behaviors” the way Nixon sent Fred Malek out to count the Jews. You’ve got created within the entire federal bureaucracy a culture of spies and informers, which will inevitably breed fear and deceit and countless acts of interoffice treachery. (Don’t like your boss at the Bureau Of Land Management? Hmm, he looks like a high-risk person. Tell someone.) And this is the clincher.

   Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States,” says a June 1, 2012, Defense Department strategy for the program that was obtained by McClatchy.

And, out in Yorba Linda, there is a dark stirring deep in the earth, and a faint chuckling is heard in the midnight breeze. [..]

No, Mr. Current President, this is not business as usual. This is not even the NSA sifting through e-mails and phone calls. This is giving Big Brother a desk in every federal agency and telling him to go to work.



Transcript can be read here

For nearly two years, the White House has waged a program called “Insider Threat” that forces government employees to remain on the constant lookout for their colleagues’ behavior and to report their suspicions. It targets government officials who leak any information, not just classified material. All of this leads McClatchy to warn: “The [Insider Threat] program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations.” We’re joined by the reporter who helped break the story, Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence reporter for McClatchy Newspapers. Landay also discusses his reporting that revealed how drone strikes carried out in Pakistan over a four-year period ran contrary to standards set forth publicly by President Obama.

This is what a police state looks like.

Jun 24

Edward Snowden Has Left Hong Kong: Up Date

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Up Date: Fugitive Snowden seeks asylum in Ecuador: foreign minister

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, visiting Vietnam, tweeted: “The Government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. #Snowden.”

NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden has left Hong Kong arriving in Moscow aboard a commercial flight, presumably on his way to a third country for asylum.

In a statement, WikiLeaks said the 30-year-old was heading to a democratic country “via a safe route” for asylum purposes and that the organisation was assisting at his request. Snowden had been in hiding in Hong Kong since identifying himself as the source of revelations on US surveillance programmes.

His flight from US authorities, which want to charge him with espionage, appeared set to continue with an onward flight west from Moscow to Havana on Monday. From there, various reports indicated that he would try to get to either Caracas or Quito.

The Hong Kong government said on Sunday he had left of his own accord “through a lawful and normal channel” and said the request filed by the US did not fully comply with legal requirements. Pointedly, it also said it wanted Washington to clarify Snowden’s claims that the US had hacked targets in the territory.

He was accompanied by one of Julian Assange’s closest advisers, Sarah Harrison.

On Friday, Snowden was charged with espionage under the 1917 law. He becomes the eighth whistleblower to be charged under the act by the Obama administration, which has used the charge more than any other president.

Snowden, 29, is charged with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorised person, according to court documents.

The head of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander stated that Snowden has “caused irreversible damage to US.” This coming from the man who lied to congress and has admitted publicly that the surveillance had violated the Fourth Amendment.

Have I mentioned that David Gregory is a hack and an embarrassment for NBC?

Good luck to Mr. Snowden.

Jun 19

“Tell Me What You Do”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

To quote a phrase from a well known blogger at a formerly liberal, progressive web site:

Don’t tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

I give you President Barack Obama defending the Bush Administrations surveillance state.

Obama Defends Authorization of Surveillance Programs

by Peter Baker, The New York Times

“Some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney,’ ” Mr. Obama told Charlie Rose on his PBS interview show. “Dick Cheney sometimes says, ‘Yeah, you know, he took it all lock, stock and barrel.’ My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather, are we setting up a system of checks and balances?” [..]

Yet like Mr. Cheney, who appeared on “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend, Mr. Obama defended the effectiveness of surveillance programs in heading off threats to the United States. “The one thing people should understand about all these programs, though, is they have disrupted plots, not just here in the United States but overseas as well,” he said. He added that while other factors were at work, “we are increasing our chances of preventing a catastrophe like that through these programs.”

Partial transcript:

Barack Obama: Well, in the end, and what I’ve said, and I continue to believe, is that we don’t have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security. That’s a false choice. That doesn’t mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program, in any given action that we take. So all of us make a decision that we go through a whole bunch of security at airports, which when we were growing up that wasn’t the case…. And so that’s a tradeoff we make, the same way we make a tradeoff about drunk driving. We say, “Occasionally there are going to be checkpoints. They may be intrusive.” To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom. I don’t think anybody says we’re no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports.

Charlie Rose: But there is a balance here.

Barack Obama: But there is a balance, so I’m going to get to your – get to your question. The way I view it, my job is both to protect the American people and to protect the American way of life, which includes our privacy. And so every program that we engage in, what I’ve said is “Let’s examine and make sure that we’re making the right tradeoffs.” Now, with respect to the NSA, a government agency that has been in the intelligence gathering business for a very long time –

Charlie Rose: Bigger and better than everybody else.

Barack Obama: Bigger and better than everybody else, and we should take pride in that because they’re extraordinary professionals; they are dedicated to keeping the American people safe. What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not. They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and unless they – and usually it wouldn’t be “they,” it’d be the FBI – go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause….

So point number one, if you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order. That’s the existing rule. There are two programs that were revealed by Mr. Snowden, allegedly, since there’s a criminal investigation taking place, and they caused all the ruckus. Program number one, called the 2015 Program, what that does is it gets data from the service providers like a Verizon in bulk, and basically you have call pairs. You have my telephone number connecting with your telephone number. There are no names. There is no content in that database. All it is, is the number pairs, when those calls took place, how long they took place. So that database is sitting there. Now, if the NSA through some other sources, maybe through the FBI, maybe through a tip that went to the CIA, maybe through the NYPD. Get a number that where there’s a reasonable, articulable suspicion that this might involve foreign terrorist activity related to Al-Qaeda and some other international terrorist actors. Then, what the NSA can do is it can query that database to see did any of the – did this number pop up? Did they make any other calls? And if they did, those calls will be spit out. A report will be produced. It will be turned over to the FBI. At no point is any content revealed because there’s no content that –

Charlie Rose: So I hear you saying, I have no problem with what NSA has been doing.

Barack Obama: Well, let me – let me finish, because I don’t. So, what happens is that the FBI – if, in fact, it now wants to get content; if, in fact, it wants to start tapping that phone – it’s got to go to the FISA court with probable cause and ask for a warrant.

Charlie Rose: But has FISA court turned down any request?

Barack Obama: The – because – the – first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.

Charlie Rose: Should this be transparent in some way?

Barack Obama: It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court…. The whole point of my concern, before I was president – because some people say, “Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.” Dick Cheney sometimes says, “Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock, and barrel.” My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program, not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee – but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works.

Now, one last point I want to make, because what you’ll hear is people say, “Okay, we have no evidence that it has been abused so far.” And they say, “Let’s even grant that Obama’s not abusing it, that all these processes – DOJ is examining it. It’s being renewed periodically, et cetera – the very fact that there is all this data in bulk, it has the enormous potential for abuse,” because they’ll say, you know, “You can – when you start looking at metadata, even if you don’t know the names, you can match it up, if there’s a call to an oncologist, and there’s a call to a lawyer, and – you can pair that up and figure out maybe this person’s dying, and they’re writing their will, and you can yield all this information.” All of that is true. Except for the fact that for the government, under the program right now, to do that, it would be illegal. We would not be allowed to do that.

Charlie Rose: So, what are you going to change? Are you going to issue any kind of instructions to the Director of National Intelligence, Mr. Clapper, and say, “I want you to change it at least in this way”?

Barack Obama: Here’s what we need to do. But before I say that – and I know that we’re running out of time, but I want to make sure I get very clear on this. Because there has been a lot of mis-information out there. There is a second program called the 702 program. And what that does is that does not apply to any U.S. person. Has to be a foreign entity. It can only be narrowly related to counter-terrorism, weapons proliferation, cyber hacking or attacks, and a select number of identifiers – phone numbers, emails, et cetera. Those – and the process has all been approved by the courts – you can send to providers – the Yahoos or the Googles, what have you. And in the same way that you present essentially a warrant. And what will happen then is that you there can obtain content. But again, that does not apply to U.S. persons. And it’s only in these very narrow bands. So, you asked, what should we do? …What I’ve said is – is that what is a legitimate concern – a legitimate critique – is that because these are classified programs – even though we have all these systems of checks and balances, Congress is overseeing it, federal courts are overseeing it – despite all that, the public may not fully know. And that can make the public kind of nervous, right? Because they say, “Well, Obama says it’s okay – or Congress says it’s okay. I don’t know who this judge is. I’m nervous about it.” What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program, number one. And they are in that process of doing so now so that everything that I’m describing to you today, people, the public, newspapers, etc., can look at because frankly, if people are making judgments just based on these slides that have been leaked, they’re not getting the complete story.

Number two. I’ve stood up a privacy and civil liberties oversight board, made up of independent citizens including some fierce civil libertarians. I’ll be meeting with them. And what I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation, not only about these two programs, but also the general problem of data, big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.

Charlie Rose: Let me just ask you this. If someone leaks all this information about NSA surveillance, as Mr. Snowden did…. Did it cause national security damage to the United States, and therefore, should he be prosecuted?

Barack Obama: I’m not going to comment on prosecution…. The case has been referred to the DOJ for criminal investigation… and possible extradition. I will leave it up to them to answer those questions.

Keep in mind that this president employs and supports two known liars, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander, both of whom have continuously lied to Congress about the surveillance programs. This president has approved unchecked wiretapping something he said he would end when campaigning for office.

Mr. Obama has said he does not believe he has violated the privacy of any American but this is what he does.

So what does he believe? Certainly not the Constitution and our right to protection from illegal searches.

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