Earlier this week, Firedoglake reported on an internal NSA document circulated on November 22 that provides talking points for employees to defend the NSA to their friends and family. The two-page document includes five main points and a bulleted list of evidence to support each point.
Posts Tagged ‘government secrecy’
While Congress mulls over dozens of competing proposals to reign in the NSA’s domestic dragnet spying activities, the agency continues to run circles around Congress and the courts, while continuing to co-opt the Obama White House.
At a time like this, it may help to rememeber some of the pithy reflections on NSA spying that comedians have shared, like:
- “Germany is mad at the United States for the NSA eavesdropping. This, ladies and gentlemen, from the country that gave us the Gestapo.” –David Letterman
- “Due to the government spy scandal, sales of the classic George Orwell book ’1984′ have skyrocketed. So the fallout is worse than we thought. It’s making Americans read.” –Conan O’Brien
- “President Obama said he welcomes a national debate over our surveillance policies. He said that’s a debate we wouldn’t have had five years ago. Five years ago? It’s a debate we wouldn’t have had two weeks ago if they all hadn’t gotten caught.” –Jay Leno
- “Mr. President, no one is saying you broke any laws. We’re just saying it’s a little bit weird you didn’t have to.” –The Daily Show’s John Oliver
If these jokes don’t prompt a laugh at your next cocktail party, consider focusing your friends on the laughable job that Congress has done in overseeing domestic spying over the past decade. Unfortunately, there seem to be no shortage of clowns involved in this ongoing sordid enterprise.
In June 2013, The Guardian broke the first story on the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The story revealed that the NSA was gathering the phone records of millions of Verizon customers in the United States. Since June, there has been a deluge of revelations as more documents have been released to the public, showing that the NSA is also gathering massive amounts of user data from companies like Google and Facebook, gaining access to encrypted messages, identifying drone targets, and spying on foreign leaders.
The information from the Snowden documents has in turn shocked and enraged people around the world, motivating politicians and communities to take action. As the full scope of NSA surveillance is revealed, it is challenging to fully comprehend the meaning of the documents and the larger significance they hold for the political process and everyday life.
On July 29th, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), received a letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) responding to his questions around the Bureau’s use of drones. Sen. Paul made it clear that he will not pursue his inquiry further at this time, clearing the way for the eventual confirmation of James Comey to lead the Bureau.
But while the FBI’s letter does provide some meager answers, what is more notable about the correspondence between the Senator and the FBI is the lack of real information it reveals.
Much like National Security Agency (NSA) spying, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts, and other secret law, the government has made clear yet again that policies and procedures that purportedly protect civil liberties will not be revealed to the public. Perhaps the secrecy is because those policies do not, in fact, include adequate protections.
As we reported a few weeks ago, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, current FBI director Robert Mueller admitted that the FBI uses drones to conduct domestic surveillance. When questioned further, he admitted that the Bureau was only “in the initial stages” of developing policies and procedures for the drone program.
The day after the hearing, Senator Paul issued an open letter to Director Mueller asking for specifics on the program by July 1. He requested transparency on the secretive program, including the number of drones the FBI has, whether they are (or could be) armed, and what privacy protections are or will be in place. Unsurprisingly, the FBI declined to respond. Senator Paul sent a follow up letter on July 9th again requesting a response.
Members of Congress sensitive to constitutional limits on executive power have introduced no fewer than a dozen bills to curtail NSA spying. Most of them would do nothing to address the most recent disclosures from journalist Glenn Greenwald. Until the full scope of NSA spying is revealed to the public, congressional remedies for constitutional violations will remain insufficient.
Unfortunately, while Snowden’s disclosures may enable further facts to finally emerge about NSA abuses, transparency is generally waning despite President Obama’s rhetorical commitment to it.
The latest revelations of NSA domestic spying include new information about the government’s ability to intercept social network communications, email metadata and content, and other online content–all without a judicial warrant.
Beyond the particular details about Xkeyscore, however, lies a more disturbing implication: neither the press, nor the public, nor even Congress have any idea of the full extent to which the NSA is spying on Americans.
And if the latest results from the war on whistleblowers is any indication, each of these sectors will remain in the dark going forward, executive abuses will continue to mount, and our system of constitutional checks & balances will creak as executive secrecy continues to impede review from either Congress or the courts.
Congress legislating in the dark…
The same day that the Guardian revealed the NSA’s's ability to casually intercept online communications even in social networking applications like Facebook, Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) revealed how little she knows about the operations of an agency she is charged to oversee.
This commentary was written by John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute. It was originally published on July 22, 2013.
“Logic may indeed be unshakeable, but it cannot withstand a man who is determined to live. Where was the judge he had never seen? Where was the High Court he had never reached? He raised his hands and spread out all his fingers. But the hands of one of the men closed round his throat, just as the other drove the knife deep into his heart and turned it twice.” – Franz Kafka, The Trial
In a bizarre and ludicrous attempt at “transparency,” the Obama administration has announced that it asked a secret court to approve a secret order to allow the government to keep spying on millions of Americans, and the secret court has granted its request.
Late on Friday, July 19, 2013, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)—a secret court which operates out of an undisclosed federal building in Washington, DC—quietly renewed an order from the National Security Agency to have Verizon Communications hand over hundreds of millions of Americans’ telephone records to government officials. In so doing, the government has doubled down on the numerous spying programs currently aimed at the American people, some of which were exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who temporarily pulled back the veil on the government’s gigantic spying apparatus.
As a sign of just how disconnected and out-of-touch with reality those in the Beltway are, National Intelligence Director James Clapper actually suggested that declassifying and publicly disclosing the government application was a show of good faith by the government. The order, submitted by the federal government and approved by the FISC, is set to expire every three months and is re-approved without fail. This is the bizarre logic which now defines American governance: it doesn’t matter if we spy on you without your consent, so long as you know that we’re doing it, and so long as we give the impression that there is a process by which a court reviews the order.
There is an excellent FAQ regarding the NSA data collection controversy. It provides a great overview of exactly what the NSA has been doing, lo, these many years. Among the many questions answered are:
1) What information does the NSA collect and how?
2) Does the NSA record everything about everyone, all the time?
3) Does the NSA need an individualized warrant to listen to my calls or look at my emails?
Perhaps the most chilling aspect of this data collection nightmare is a quote from a former Stasi (Communist East Germany’s secret police) Lieutenant Colonel Wolfgang Schmidt:
You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true…So much information, on so many people…
Not surprisingly, according to the McClatchy article, “Germans are dismayed at Obama’s role in allowing the collection of so much information.”
A wonderful film depicting the horror of data collection by the Stasi and its effects on the people involved is the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 2007 Best Foreign Film, “The Lives of Others.” It’s well worth your time to see it.
taking and analyzing a cheek swab of [an] arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerpringting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent, focusing on the huge privacy invasion concerns represented by DNA swabbing prior to conviction.
This decision is clearly cause for concern. What’s more, it should be viewed as part and parcel of a growing surveillance state, in which everyone’s bodies are cataloged, their movements tracked, and their beliefs recorded. The old idea of the Fourth Amendment, which was created specifically in order to protect us from government tyranny, is nearly dead.
Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, acknowledged that swabbing for DNA qualifies as a search under the Fourth Amendment. However, he argues, it is a minimal intrusion and requires only a balancing of privacy concerns and legitimate government interests. He focuses on the comparison between taking DNA and fingerprinting, which is done mainly for the purposes of identifying arrestees.
The thrust of questioning and argument during oral argument belies this focus. While the government fell back on the arrestee identification argument, it initially argued that taking DNA samples would help solve unsolved crimes. Questions from several Justices in the majority made it clear that they appreciate the crime-solving aspect of DNA, beyond the identification aspect. Justice Scalia’s dissent explains why this matters.
Last night, I appeared alongside renowned investigator James Bamford, whistleblower advocate Jesselyn Radack, and privacy and open government expert Ginger McCall on Thom Hartmann’s television program The Big Picture. Video from our interview (my first comments start at 7:05) is below, and here’s audio from my appearance on WBAI’s Five O’Clock Shadow with Robert Knight just a few hours earlier.
Several issues remain muted in much of the discussion about the NSA, its offensive and unAmerican spying programs, and the escalating crisis in the Washington establishment favoring imperial executive power over the constitutional legacy of the Republic created by our founders.
I address issues relating to executive secrecy, and one relating to corruption, below.
President Obama’s speech yesterday, presenting his vision of a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, included welcome rhetoric about the importance of constitutional principles, including Due Process and rights to dissent. It may represent the high watermark for civil liberties since his inauguration five years ago.
It is disappointing, given his thoughtful words, that he ignored so many inconvenient truths. From extrajudicial assassination to free speech and freedom of the press, from the need to address root causes of terrorism to partnership with American Muslims, the president promoted important principles but papered over reality.
The reaction by Republican senators was even worse. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) foolishly suggested that “The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” and suggested doubling down on many of the same failed Bush-era policies from which President Obama finally signaled long overdue independence yesterday.
Due Process: Gitmo
The president forcefully spoke about the need to close Guantánamo Bay, and also lifted his moratorium on releasing Yemeni detainees whom the government has cleared for release, despite the clamor among conservative lawmakers who prefer to indefinitely detain anyone accused of terror without trial.
Yet the president’s words reflected important principles that his own administration has routinely violated. Col. Morris D. Davis, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo who resigned his position to challenge torture (and serves on the BORDC advisory board), agreed that “It’s great rhetoric. But now is the reality going to live up to the rhetoric?”
The president criticized restrictions on resettling detainees cleared for release imposed by Congress early in his administration. But he has the authority to resettle those detainees through a separate process, if he were willing to certify the release of particular individuals—which he has avoided in order to avoid the political risk.
Due Process: Drone strikes
President Obama also pledged more congressional oversight of drone strikes, responding to sustained controversy and reiterating a promise from his State of the Union address in January that he has yet to fill.