James Clapper, EU play-acting, and political priorities
Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian
Wednesday 3 July 2013 09.34 EDT
Defending the Obama administration, Paul Krugman pronounced that “the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.” Really? In what conceivable sense is this not a serious scandal? If you, as an American citizen, let alone a journalist, don’t find it deeply objectionable when top national security officials systematically mislead your representatives in Congress about how the government is spying on you, and repeatedly lie publicly about resulting political controversies over that spying, what is objectionable? If having the NSA engage in secret, indiscriminate domestic spying that warps if not outright violates legal limits isn’t a “scandal”, then what is?
For many media and political elites, the answer to that question seems clear: what’s truly objectionable to them is when powerless individuals blow the whistle on deceitful national security state officials. Hence the endless fixation on Edward Snowden’s tone and choice of asylum providers, the flamboyant denunciations of this “29-year-old hacker” for the crime of exposing what our government leaders are doing in the dark, and all sorts of mockery over the drama that resulted from the due-process-free revocation of his passport. This is what our media stars and progressive columnists, pundits and bloggers are obsessing over in the hope of distracting attention away from the surveillance misconduct of top-level Obama officials and their serial deceit about it.
What kind of journalist – or citizen – would focus more on Edward Snowden’s tonal oddities and travel drama than on the fact that top US officials have been deceitfully concealing a massive, worldwide spying apparatus being constructed with virtually no accountability or oversight? Just ponder what it says about someone who cares more about, and is angrier about, Edward Snowden’s exposure of these facts than they are about James Clapper’s falsehoods and the NSA’s excesses.
What we see here, yet again, is this authoritarian strain in US political life that the most powerful political officials cannot commit crimes or engage in serious wrongdoing. The only political crimes come from exposing and aggressively challenging those officials.
Clapper under pressure despite apology for ‘erroneous’ statements to Congress
Dan Roberts in Washington and Spencer Ackerman in New York, The Guardian
Monday 1 July 2013 16.16 EDT
The US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has attempted to head off criticism that he lied to Congress over the extent of government surveillance on American citizens, with a letter to senators in which he apologised for giving “erroneous” information.
Two weeks after telling NBC news that he gave the “least untruthful answer possible” at a hearing in March, Clapper wrote to the Senate intelligence committee to correct his response to a question about whether the National Security Agency “collected data on millions of Americans”.
But the US senator who asked the question, Ron Wyden, said on Monday that Clapper’s office had admitted in private that his answer was wrong, after the March hearing. Yet the intelligence chief only corrected the record on 21 June, when disclosures by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden prompted weeks of intense public pressure.
Clapper: I gave ‘erroneous’ answer because I forgot about Patriot Act
Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian
Tuesday 2 July 2013 15.59 EDT
In the full letter, Clapper attempted to explain the false testimony by saying that his recollection failed him. “I simply didn’t think of Section 215 of the Patriot Act,” he wrote to committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (Democrat, California) on 21 June, referring to the legal provision cited to justify the mass collection of Americans’ phone data, first disclosed by the Guardian.
In his newly released letter, Clapper told Feinstein that his remarks were “clearly erroneous,” and he issued them because he was thinking instead of a different aspect of surveillance, the internet content collection of persons NSA believes to be foreigners outside of the United States.
“I apologize,” Clapper wrote. “While my staff acknowledged the error to Senator Wyden’s staff soon after the hearing, I can now openly correct it because the existence of the metadata program has been declassified.”
In statements for the past month, Wyden and his staff have said they told Clapper before the fateful hearing that he would face the question, and contacted his staff afterward to correct the record.
“The ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] 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,” Wyden spokesman Tom Caiazza said on Monday.
Clapper’s letter does not acknowledge that he had earlier told Andrea Mitchell of NBC News that he provided Wyden with the “least most untruthful” answer he could publicly offer, likening the question “in retrospect” to a “stop beating your wife kind of question.”
NSA officials ‘not always accurate’ in public statements over surveillance
Spencer Ackerman in Washington, The Guardian
Tuesday 2 July 2013 18.50 EDT
Two US senators on the panel overseeing the National Security Agency said intelligence officials were “unable” to demonstrate the value of a secret surveillance program that collected and analyzed the internet habits of Americans.
“We were very concerned about this program’s impact on Americans’ civil liberties and privacy rights, and we spent a significant portion of 2011 pressing intelligence officials to provide evidence of its effectiveness,” Wyden and Udall said in a statement late Tuesday, the first senators to acknowledge the internet metadata collection. “They were unable to do so, and the program was shut down that year.”
Shawn Turner, the chief spokesman for director of national intelligence James Clapper, who is currently under congressional fire over the truthfulness of his testimony on the surveillance efforts, told the Guardian last week that the Obama administration unilaterally ended the program for “operational and resource reasons”.
“In our judgment it is also important to note that intelligence agencies made statements to both Congress and the [Fisa] Court that significantly exaggerated this program’s effectiveness,” Wyden and Udall said. They did not elaborate.
“This experience demonstrates to us that intelligence agencies’ assessments of the usefulness of particular collection programs – even significant ones – are not always accurate. This experience has also led us to be skeptical of claims about the value of the bulk phone records collection program in particular.”
Barack Obama seeks to limit EU fallout over US spying claims
Ian Traynor in Brussels and Dan Roberts in Washington, The Guardian
Monday 1 July 2013
Barack Obama has sought to limit the damage from the growing transatlantic espionage row after Germany and France denounced the major snooping activities of US agencies and warned of a possible delay in the launch next week of ambitious free-trade talks between Europe and the US.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French president, François Hollande, demanded quick explanations from Washington about disclosures by the Guardian and Der Spiegel that US agencies bugged European embassies and offices. Berlin stressed there had to be mutual trust if trade talks were to go ahead in Washington on Monday.
Hollande went further, indicating the talks could be called off unless the alleged spying was stopped immediately and US guarantees were provided.
As Washington desperately sought to contain the diplomatic fallout from the bugging controversy, Obama acknowledged the damage done by the revelations and said the NSA would evaluate the claims and inform allies about the allegations.
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, 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.”
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.”
“This is a topic that could affect relations between Europe and the US,” said the French trade minister, Nicole Bricq. “We must absolutely re-establish confidence … it will be difficult to conduct these extremely important negotiations.”
“Washington is shooting itself in the foot,” said Germany’s conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.
“Declaring the EU offices to be a legitimate attack target is more than the unfriendly act of a machine that knows no bounds and may be out of the control of politics and the courts.”
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.
Schulz said: “I feel treated as a European and a representative of a European institution like the representative of the enemy. Is this the basis for a constructive relationship on the basis of mutual trust? I think no.”
NSA revelations: why so many are keen to play down the debate
Nick Hopkins, The Guardian
Tuesday 2 July 2013 12.51 EDT
This week there have been more revelations about the way the US spied on the EU, which followed the Guardian’s disclosures about how the British snooped on diplomats from Turkey and South Africa, among others, at the G20 summit in London four years ago. This has caused genuine fury among those targeted, particularly the Germans and the French. But their anger has been met with shoulder-shrugging indignation from former British diplomats and security experts, who say this sort of thing happens all the time.
They would hardly say anything different. In all likelihood, they have either authorised or benefited from such covert intelligence gathering, so the lack of biting analysis was entirely predictable. For those in the media unsure how to deal with Snowden, and rather hoping the complex saga would go away, this was another easy escape route: “No story here, let’s move on.”
But there is a story. It gets lost, all too conveniently, in the diplomatic rows and the character-assassinations, but ultimately it is the legacy of the Snowden files. The documents have shown that intelligence agencies in the UK and the US are harvesting vast amounts of information about millions of people. This is fact, not fantasy. They are doing this right now, on a scale that could not have been envisaged five years ago, let alone when the laws covering the collection and retention of data were drafted. They are also sharing this treasure trove of intelligence with each other, and other close allies.
Those who wail about the leaks affecting national security might consider the words of Bruce Schneier, a security specialist, who wrote in the New York Times: “The argument that exposing these documents helps the terrorists doesn’t even pass the laugh test; there’s nothing here that changes anything any potential terrorist would do or not do.”