Daily Archive: 08/16/2013

Aug 16 2013

A Mine Of Salt

Transcript

NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds

By Barton Gellman, Washington Post

Published: August 15

The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused the U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.

In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.



The May 2012 audit, intended for the agency’s top leaders, counts only incidents at the NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters and other ¬≠facilities in the Washington area. Three government officials, speak¬≠ing on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said the number would be substantially higher if it included other NSA operating units and regional collection centers.



In October 2011, months after the program got underway, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the collection effort was unconstitutional. The court said that the methods used were “deficient on statutory and constitutional grounds,” according to a top-secret summary of the opinion, and it ordered the NSA to comply with standard privacy protections or stop the program.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has acknowledged that the court found the NSA in breach of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but the Obama administration has fought a Freedom of Information lawsuit that seeks the opinion.

Generally, the NSA reveals nothing in public about its errors and infractions. The unclassified versions of the administration’s semiannual reports to Congress feature blacked-out pages under the headline “Statistical Data Relating to Compliance Incidents.”



Under NSA auditing guidelines, the incident count does not usually disclose the number of Americans affected.

Court: Ability to police U.S. spying program limited

By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post

Published: August 15

The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy. Without taking drastic steps, it also cannot check the veracity of the government’s assertions that the violations its staff members report are unintentional mistakes.

“The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” its chief, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, said in a written statement to The Washington Post. “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders.”



The court’s description of its practical limitations contrasts with repeated assurances from the Obama administration and intelligence agency leaders that the court provides central checks and balances on the government’s broad spying efforts. They have said that Americans should feel comfortable that the secret intelligence court provides robust oversight of government surveillance and protects their privacy from rogue intrusions.

President Obama and other government leaders have emphasized the court’s oversight role in the wake of revelations this year that the government is vacuuming up “metadata” on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications.

“We also have federal judges that we’ve put in place who are not subject to political pressure,” Obama said at a news conference in June. “They’ve got lifetime tenure as federal judges, and they’re empowered to look over our shoulder at the executive branch to make sure that these programs aren’t being abused.”

Privacy advocates and others in government have voiced concerns about the ability of overseers to police secret programs of immense legal and technological complexity. Several members of the House and Senate intelligence committees told The Post last week that they face numerous obstacles and constraints in questioning spy agency officials about their work.

N.S.A. Often Broke Rules on Privacy, Audit Shows

By CHARLIE SAVAGE, The New York Times

Published: August 16, 2013

Another newly disclosed document included instructions for how N.S.A. analysts should record their rationales for eavesdropping under the FISA Amendments Act, or F.A.A., which allows wiretapping without warrants on domestic networks if the target is a noncitizen abroad. The document said analysts should keep descriptions of why the people they are targeting merit wiretapping to “one short sentence” and avoid details like their names and supporting information.

“While we do want to provide our F.A.A. overseers with the information they need, we DO NOT want to give them any extraneous information,” it said.

A brief article in an internal N.S.A. newsletter offered hints about a known but little-understood episode in which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found in 2011 that the N.S.A. had violated the Fourth Amendment. The newsletter said the court issued an 80-page ruling on Oct. 3, 2011, finding that something the N.S.A. was collecting involving “Multiple Communications Transactions” on data flowing through fiber-optic networks on domestic soil was “deficient on statutory and constitutional grounds.”

NSA under renewed fire after report finds it violated its own privacy rules

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Friday 16 August 2013 11.09 EDT

The Washington Post reported, with information provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, that internal NSA audits found thousands of instances where the powerful surveillance agency collected, stored and possibly searched through vast swaths of information it is not permitted to acquire.

The revelations contradict repeated assurances this summer from senior Obama administration and intelligence officials that the NSA’s programs to collect Americans’ phone records and foreigners’ communications in bulk contain adequate privacy protections.



On the few occasions when intelligence officials have publicly discussed the impact their broad surveillance powers have on Americans, they have affirmed that all problems are mere accidents and are often promptly corrected.

A July 26 letter by James Clapper, the director of US national intelligence, to senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, discussing the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans phone records assured that “safeguards and controls” provide “reasonable assurance that NSA’s activities are consistent with law and policy and help detect when mistakes do occur, as they inevitably do in activities this complex.”

Those mistakes, Clapper continued, amounted to “a number of compliance problems that have been previously identified and detailed in reports to the court and briefings to Congress as a result of Department of Justice reviews and internal oversight. However, there have been no findings of any intentional or bad-faith violations.”

Numerous intelligence and administration officials have made similar statements in congressional testimony and public speeches.

Wyden, a persistent critic of the bulk phone records collection, responded on the Senate floor that “these violations are more serious than those stated by the intelligence community, and are troubling.” Wyden did not specify what he meant, citing classification restrictions, but urged senators to read NSA’s secret compliance reports in designated congressional chambers.



In an earlier speech, to the Center for American Progress, Wyden said a “culture of misinformation” exists inside the US intelligence agencies – directed not just at US adversaries, but the US legislators that are designed to oversee them and the US public in whose name they act.

“When did it become all right for government officials’ public statements and private statements to differ so fundamentally?” Wyden asked. “The answer is that it is not all right, and it is indicative of a much larger culture of misinformation that goes beyond the congressional hearing room and into the public conversation writ large.”

Clapper is perhaps the most prominent public example of that culture.

In March, the director of national intelligence testified to Wyden that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect any type of data on millions of Americans, a statement proven untrue by the Guardian’s June publication of a Fisa court order for ongoing, bulk surveillance of Americans’ phone records.

Clapper has since apologized to Wyden, saying first that it was the “least untruthful answer” he could give publicly and later that he made a good-faith error, having “forgotten” momentarily the NSA program, conducted ostensibly under the Patriot Act, that collected precisely such data.

Civil liberties organizations reacted with outrage to the latest disclosure.

“The number of ‘compliance incidents’ is jaw-dropping. The rules around government surveillance are so permissive that it is difficult to comprehend how the intelligence community could possibly have managed to violate them so often,” Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, said in a statement.

“Obviously it’s important to know what precisely these compliance incidents involved, and some are more troubling than others. But at least some of these incidents seem to have implicated the privacy of thousands or millions of innocent people.”

‘Jaw-Dropping’ Record of Violations Reveals Perils of NSA Self-Policing

Jon Queally, Common Dreams

Published on Friday, August 16, 2013

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the ACLU, called the scale of the violations “jaw-droppping.”

“The rules around government surveillance are so permissive that it is difficult to comprehend how the intelligence community could possibly have managed to violate them so often,” said Jaffer in a statement. “Obviously it’s important to know what precisely these compliance incidents involved, and some are more troubling than others. But at least some of these incidents seem to have implicated the privacy of thousands or millions of innocent people.”

One aspect that the ACLU finds particularly worrying is the degree to which the FISA Court, designed to oversee these surveillance programs, is at the mercy of the spy agency itself when it comes to garnering information.

“That the FISA court is so reliant on the representations of intelligence officials is a real problem. In recent months, intelligence officials have made misleading and even false statements about the government’s surveillance activities,” Jaffer said. “It makes no sense at all to let the intelligence community police itself.”

Sen. Leahy calls new hearing on NSA, wants ‘straight answers’

By Jennifer Martinez, The Hill

08/16/13 11:22 AM ET

Leahy’s announcement about the additional hearing comes a day after an internal NSA audit published by The Washington Post revealed that the spy agency had repeatedly broken privacy rules or overstepped its authority.

“The American people rely on the intelligence community to provide forthright and complete information so that Congress and the courts can properly conduct oversight. I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA,” Leahy said in a statement.

“I plan to hold another hearing on these matters in the Judiciary Committee and will continue to demand honest and forthright answers from the intelligence community.”



Leahy has been critical of the surveillance programs and introduced a bill that aims to rein in the NSA’s phone data collection program.

“Using advanced surveillance technologies in secret demands close oversight and appropriate checks and balances, and the American people deserve no less than that,” Leahy said.

Pelosi: NSA report ‘extremely disturbing’

By Brendan Sasso, The Hill

08/16/13 09:40 AM ET

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said on Friday that a report that the National Security Agency broke privacy rules thousands of times per year is “extremely disturbing.”

She argued that under the law, the NSA should have reported the violations to Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court.

“Congress must conduct rigorous oversight to ensure that all incidents of non-compliance are reported to the oversight committees and the FISA court in a timely and comprehensive manner, and that appropriate steps are taken to ensure violations are not repeated,” she said in the statement.

Pelosi’s comment represents some of her harshest criticism of the NSA since leaks earlier this summer publicized the scope of the agency’s surveillance.

She voted against a House measure last month that would have curbed the NSA’s phone data collection program, but has called for greater transparency and expressed concern that there are insufficient privacy protections.

The Snowden Effect, Continued

By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

10:05AM 8/16

It’s well past time for another Church Committee — or, if you will, another Pecora Commission — dedicated to a full exposition of the surveillance state and its place in our lives and in our democracy. No half-truths. No hedging. No James Clappers, slow-dancing with perjury and obstruction of Congress. Put people under oath and compel their testimony as to what is being done in our name, especially what is being done to us in our name. If we’re going to have a “national conversation,” then let’s have a by-god national conversation, and let it be held in the place where we are supposed to have our national conversations on issues like this — in the Congress, among our elected representative, out in the open and in the light of day. Let us at least have all the information so we can decide for ourselves how to keep ourselves safe. We are not fragile children. We’re the world’s oldest democracy. We should damned well begin to raise hell and act like it.

Absent that, here’s what now should be taken as an operating procedure in any discussion of the NSA and/or the surveillance state. First, everything they say is a lie, or, at best, a quarter-truth. Second, any argument based on the fundamental premise of “Trust us,” should cause the person making the argument to be laughed out of government service forever. Third, any defense based on the alleged safeguards of either the FISA Court, or the responsible committees of the Congress is prima facie worthless, whether it comes from your favorite pundit, your favorite congresscritter, or, especially, your favorite President of the United States.

Leno Part 2

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

Aug 9, 2013

ProPublica

Aug 16 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Moment of Truthiness

We all know how democracy is supposed to work. Politicians are supposed to campaign on the issues, and an informed public is supposed to cast its votes based on those issues, with some allowance for the politicians’ perceived character and competence.

We also all know that the reality falls far short of the ideal. Voters are often misinformed, and politicians aren’t reliably truthful. Still, we like to imagine that voters generally get it right in the end, and that politicians are eventually held accountable for what they do.

But is even this modified, more realistic vision of democracy in action still relevant? Or has our political system been so degraded by misinformation and disinformation that it can no longer function?

New York Times Editorial Board: No Banker Left Behind

The Detroit bankruptcy case has been cast as a contest between bondholders and pensioners that can be resolved only by shared sacrifice.

In principle, we have no problem with that, though in practice, the pensioners’ fair share will have to take into account their extreme vulnerability: Public pensions are not federally insured and many municipal retirees do not receive Social Security.

What we do have a problem with is shared sacrifice that does not seem to apply to the big banks that abetted Detroit’s descent into bankruptcy.

John R. MacArthur: Sophistry Bestrides ‘Free-Trade’ Axis

The day before Detroit declared bankruptcy, I found The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman up to his old tricks, extolling the North American Free Trade Agreement and “free trade” in general in a column so foolish and mendacious that his editors would have been well advised to spike it.

There’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that Detroit – the symbol and former center of American industrial power – officially threw in the towel so close to publication of Friedman’s claptrap. But the timing is worth noting as President Obama is now about to give away big chunks of the remaining U.S. manufacturing base to Japan and Vietnam, among other Pacific Rim countries, through a proposed free-trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Richard (RJ) Escow: The ‘Bankization’ of America

The share of our national income which goes to corporate profit is the highest it’s been since they started tracking it in 1929, while the share going to people — as salary and wages — is the lowest. And the percentage of that corporate profit which goes to Wall Street is also the highest on record.

We’re becoming a financialized economy. Never before has the manipulation of money counted for so much and the real-world economy of people and consumer goods counted for so little.

And none of it is an accident.

Robert Naiman: Amend or Repeal the Espionage Act To Protect Journalists and Whistle-blowers

Isn’t it high time to amend or repeal the Espionage Act of 1917 so that it can’t be used to charge whistle-blowers or journalists with “aiding the enemy”?

Note that this demand is completely separable from saying that there should be no consequences for whistle-blowers who leak classified information to the media or journalists who publish classified information that is leaked to them. If I say that I am against the death penalty, it does not mean that I am against consequences for people who are found guilty of committing murder. It means that I don’t think that execution by the state should be one of those consequences. If I say that I am against the use of incarceration to punish nonviolent drug offenses, it does not mean that I am against consequences for people who are found guilty of nonviolent drug offenses. It means that I don’t think that incarceration should be one of those consequences. If I say that I am against a war – or killing Iranian civilians by cutting off their access to essential medicines, in blatant violation of international humanitarian law – to prevent Iran from “acquiring a nuclear weapons capability,” [sic] it does not mean that I think that efforts by Iran to pursue a “nuclear weapons capability” should face no consequences. The question is not whether the conduct being sanctioned should face no sanction. The question is whether “the punishment fits the crime.”

Robert C. Koehler: Stopped and Frisked by an Occupying Army

Stopping crime before it happens is a great idea, but stopping young men for “walking while black” – touted by true believers as the same thing – is a game played by an occupying army.

The tactic is called stop-and-frisk. As practiced by many police departments, including New York’s, it amounts to blatant racial profiling. Stop-and-frisk makes it impossible for young men of color to lead normal lives, to walk outside without fear of preemptive police harassment. The long-term hatred and tension it engenders does far more harm to a community than all the questionable good that proponents ascribe to it. Security based on racism is a sham.

Aug 16 2013

NSA: Oversight or Coverup?

NSA Spying: The Three Pillars of Government Trust Have Fallen

by Cindy Cohn and Mark Jaycox, Electronic Frontier Foundation

With each recent revelation about the NSA’s spying programs government officials have tried to reassure the American people that all three branches of government-the Executive branch, the Judiciary branch, and the Congress-knowingly approved these programs and exercised rigorous oversight over them. President Obama recited this talking point just last week, saying: “as President, I’ve taken steps to make sure they have strong oversight by all three branches of government and clear safeguards to prevent abuse and protect the rights of the American people.”  With these three pillars of oversight in place, the argument goes, how could the activities possibly be illegal or invasive of our privacy?

Today, the Washington Post confirmed that two of those oversight pillars-the Executive branch and the court overseeing the spying, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court )- don’t really exist. The third pillar came down slowly over the last few weeks, with Congressional revelations about the limitations on its oversight, including what Representative Sensennbrenner called “rope a dope” classified briefings. With this, the house of government trust has fallen, and it’s time to act.

Latest Leak: NSA Abused Rules To Spy On Americans ‘Thousands Of Times Each Year

by Mike Masnick, TechDirt

(T)he latest report from the Washington Post based on leaked documents shows that an audit of the NSA’s activities shows it broke privacy rules, mostly to spy on Americans, thousands of times per year:

   The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

   Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by law and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

The audit info comes from Ed Snowden’s leaks, so it seems rather incredible that President Obama, Keith Alexander and Mike Rogers didn’t seem to realize that this audit would eventually come to light, showing that they were flat out 100% lying to the American public.

That’s Not Oversight: Head Of FISC Admits He Relies On NSA’s Statements To Make Sure They’re Obeying The Law

by Mike Masnick, TechDirt

The chief judge of FISC, Reggie Walton, who has reacted angrily in the past to the claims of FISC being a “rubber stamp”, has now admitted that the FISC really can’t check on what the NSA is doing and relies on what they tell him to make sure that they’re not breaking the law.

   “The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” its chief, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, said in a written statement to The Washington Post. “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders.”

That’s not quite true. You see, with “any other court” when it comes to “enforcing compliance” things aren’t all hidden away from everyone, so there is scrutiny to make sure that there’s compliance. Not here.

Either way, this again shows just how laughable President Obama’s claims are about the FISC’s oversight abilities:

   “We also have federal judges that we’ve put in place who are not subject to political pressure,” Obama said at a news conference in June. “They’ve got lifetime tenure as federal judges, and they’re empowered to look over our shoulder at the executive branch to make sure that these programs aren’t being abused.”

Not quite. Now we know that they rely on the NSA to tell the judges what they might see if they were looking over their shoulders… and the NSA isn’t entirely truthful to FISC about that.

The latest revelation that the House Intelligence Committee withheld surveillance information from Congress before a critical vote to renew the Patriot Act has resulted in pressure from both side of the aisle and government watch dogs on committee chair Mike Rogers (R-MI). The demand is for an explanation of why a document that prepared by the justice department and intelligence community was not shared by the panel’s leadership. From Spencer Ackerman at The Guardian:

The accusations broaden the focus of the surveillance controversy from the National Security Agency to one of the congressional committees charged with exercising oversight of it – and the panel’s closeness to the NSA it is supposed to oversee.

(Michigan Republican Justin) Amash told the Guardian on Monday that he had confirmed with the House intelligence committee that the committee did not make non-committee members aware of the classified overview from 2011 of the bulk phone records collection program first revealed by the Guardian thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden. The document was expressly designed to be shared with legislators who did not serve on the panel; it appears that a corresponding document for the Senate in 2011 was made available to all senators.

“Nobody I’ve spoken to in my legislative class remembers seeing any such document,” Amash said.

Amash speculated that the House intelligence committee withheld the document in order to ensure the Patriot Act would win congressional reauthorization, as it ultimately did.

On Monday, a former senate staffer Jennifer Hoelzer, who was deputy chief of staff for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), spoke with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! on President Barack Obama’s proposed changes to reform the government’s surveillance policies and programs.



Full transcript can be read here

“Unfortunately Edward Snowden was the only means by which we have been able to have this debate,” Hoelzer says. “We, working for Senator Wyden, did everything to try to encourage the administration to bring these facts to light. We’re not talking about sources and methods, we’re not talking about sensitive materials, we’re talking about what they believed the law allows them to do.”

As Spencer Ackerman points out in his article, both Chairman Rogers and his ranking Democratic counterpart, Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, are “staunch advocates of the NSA bulk surveillance programs.”

This is the government’s definition of “oversight.”

Aug 16 2013

On This Day In History August 7

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

August 16 is the 228th day of the year (229th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 137 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1896, Gold discovered in the Yukon.

While salmon fishing near the Klondike River in Canada’s Yukon Territory on this day in 1896, George Carmack reportedly spots nuggets of gold in a creek bed. His lucky discovery sparks the last great gold rush in the American West.

Hoping to cash in on reported gold strikes in Alaska, Carmack had traveled there from California in 1881. After running into a dead end, he headed north into the isolated Yukon Territory, just across the Canadian border. In 1896, another prospector, Robert Henderson, told Carmack of finding gold in a tributary of the Klondike River. Carmack headed to the region with two Native American companions, known as Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie. On August 16, while camping near Rabbit Creek, Carmack reportedly spotted a nugget of gold jutting out from the creek bank. His two companions later agreed that Skookum Jim–Carmack’s brother-in-law–actually made the discovery.