Tag Archive: Metadata

Jun 25 2013

Spying on Each Other

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 23 2013

Edward Snowden Has Left Hong Kong: Up Date

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 18 2013

“Show Me What You Do”

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.

Jun 14 2013

The 4th Amendment Need Not Apply

At Crooks and Liars, Suzie Madrak points out an important fact about private government contractors, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to them:

This has been an ongoing scandal in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Attorney Susan L. Burke represented several groups of plaintiffs (including Abu Ghraib detainees and female soldiers who had been sexually assaulted) in lawsuits in which she tried to overturn the civil immunity of government contractors. She has not been successful, and the federal government continues to subcontract with private companies to do things that would be illegal if they did them themselves. So keep that in mind as you read these NSA stories.

She highlights an interview with 70’s whistleblower, Chris Pyle at Democracy Now, who disclosed the military’s spying on civilian politics and worked for three congressional committees to end it.

Pyle discovered the Army and CIA were spying on millions of Americans engaged in lawful political activity while he was in the Army working as an instructor. His revelations prompted Senate hearings, including Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence, ultimately leading to a series of laws aimed at curbing government abuses. Now teaching constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College, Pyle says the NSA is known for attacking its critics instead of addressing the problems they expose.



Full transcript can be read here

CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Yes. The forerunner of the PRISM system that Snowden disclosed was called Trailblazer. It wasted $1 billion on private contracts. It replaced a much less expensive system called ThinThread, which had more privacy protections and had been developed inside the government. Now, the reason that private contractors get this business is because members of Congress intercede with them with government agencies. And we now have a situation where members of the Intelligence Committee and other committees of Congress intercede with the bureaucracy to get sweetheart contracts for companies that waste taxpayers’ money and also violate the Constitution and the privacy of citizens. This is a very serious situation, because it means that it’s much more difficult to get effective oversight from Congress. [..]

CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, we all want to protect the security of the country. We all want to protect the Constitution. But when government agencies are totally unaccountable, we can’t do that. Members of Congress do not go to those briefings, even if they’re offered, because once you go to the briefing, then you can’t talk about what you’ve been told, because it’s classified. So the briefing system is designed to silence Congress, not to promote effective oversight.

Members of Congress don’t want to spend time on oversight. They’re too busy raising money. New members of the House of Representatives this winter were told by the Democratic Campaign Committee that they should spend between four and six hours a day dialing for dollars. They have no time to do the public’s business. They’re too busy begging for money. President Obama himself attended 220 fundraisers last year. Where does he get the time to be president when he’s spending so much time asking wealthy people for money to support his campaign? [..]

CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, it’s true. The NSA doesn’t want to hire people like you and me. We don’t know enough about the Internet. That said, it’s important to note that the vice chairman of Booz Allen happens to be Mike McConnell, who was former director of NSA and of national intelligence. There is a revolving door between high government positions and private corporations, and this revolving door allows these people to make a great deal more money upon leaving the government, and then being rented back to the government in a contractor capacity. And that’s part of the corruption of the system. [..]

CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, yes. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, only binds the government, doesn’t bind corporations. That’s a serious problem. The reason we have privatization of prisons, in some ways, is for governments to escape liability. They put the liability on the private corporations that run the prisons, and they just charge their liabilities as an operating cost.

(All emphasis by Suzie.)

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, only binds the government, doesn’t bind corporations.

Got that? This is the key to the rational behind privatizing everything from schools and prisons to national security. Keep it in mind as you read anything about the NSA whistleblowing and Edward Snowden.

DSWright at FDL News Desk hits the nail on the head, Freedom isn’t free:

The National Security Agency along with the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies of the U.S. government has been swapping information with private companies. In exchange for private companies giving the intelligence agencies information on their users, the private companies receive access to classified intelligence. The Corporate State indeed.

   Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said.

   These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency. The role of private companies has come under intense scrutiny since his disclosure this month that the NSA is collecting millions of U.S. residents’ telephone records and the computer communications of foreigners from Google Inc (GOOG). and other Internet companies under court order.

No wonder the tech firms did not complain about spying on American citizens, they were getting compensation in the form of access to classified intel. So now Wall Street gets to see classified intelligence? No wonder there were no prosecutions, they’re on the team. Too Big To Fail, Too Big To Jail, and too important to National Security. The National Security Agency along with the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies of the U.S. government has been swapping information with private companies. In exchange for private companies giving the intelligence agencies information on their users, the private companies receive access to classified intelligence. The Corporate State indeed. [..]

No wonder the tech firms did not complain about spying on American citizens, they were getting compensation in the form of access to classified intel. So now Wall Street gets to see classified intelligence? No wonder there were no prosecutions, they’re on the team. Too Big To Fail, Too Big To Jail, and too important to National Security.

Quid pro quo, as well, as liability protection, all on the tax payer’s dime.

Jun 13 2013

Metadata: More Intrusive Than You Think

Metadata:

Simply put, metadata is data about data. It is descriptive information about a particular data set, object, or resource, including how it is formatted, and when and by whom it was collected. Although metadata most commonly refers to web resources, it can be about either physical or electronic resources.

Sounds harmless, so how bad could it be? According to mathematician and former Sun Microsystems engineer Susan Landau who was interviewed by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, it’s worse than many might think:

“The public doesn’t understand,” she told me, speaking about so-called metadata. “It’s much more intrusive than content.” She explained that the government can learn immense amounts of proprietary information by studying “who you call, and who they call. If you can track that, you know exactly what is happening-you don’t need the content.”

For example, she said, in the world of business, a pattern of phone calls from key executives can reveal impending corporate takeovers. Personal phone calls can also reveal sensitive medical information: “You can see a call to a gynecologist, and then a call to an oncologist, and then a call to close family members.” And information from cell-phone towers can reveal the caller’s location. Metadata, she pointed out, can be so revelatory about whom reporters talk to in order to get sensitive stories that it can make more traditional tools in leak investigations, like search warrants and subpoenas, look quaint. “You can see the sources,” she said. When the F.B.I. obtains such records from news agencies, the Attorney General is required to sign off on each invasion of privacy. When the N.S.A. sweeps up millions of records a minute, it’s unclear if any such brakes are applied.

Metadata, Landau noted, can also reveal sensitive political information, showing, for instance, if opposition leaders are meeting, who is involved, where they gather, and for how long. Such data can reveal, too, who is romantically involved with whom, by tracking the locations of cell phones at night.

Ms. Landua joined Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now to explain just how intrusive the government’s collection of metadata is.



Transcript can be read here.

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