Report details creation of massive surveillance programs in US

The New York Times is has received a redacted classified report that provides details to the massive spying program launched against American citizens by George W. Bush, without complying with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Excerpt:

For example, it explains how the Bush administration came to tell the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Royce C. Lamberth, about the program’s existence in early 2002.

James A. Baker, then the Justice Department’s top intelligence lawyer, had not been told about the program. But he came across “strange, unattributed” language in an application for an ordinary surveillance warrant and figured it out, then insisted on telling Judge Lamberth. Mr. Baker is now the general counsel to the F.B.I.

It also says that Mr. Baker developed procedures to make sure that warrant applications using information from Stellarwind went only to the judges who knew about the program: first Judge Lamberth and then his successor, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

The White House would not let Judge Kollar-Kotelly keep a copy of a letter written by a Justice Department lawyer, John C. Yoo, explaining the claimed legal basis of the program, and it rejected a request by Attorney General John Ashcroft to tell his deputy, Larry Thompson, about the program.

* * *

In 2003, after Mr. Yoo left the government, other Justice Department officials read his secret memo approving the program — most of which has not been made public — and concluded that it was flawed.

Among other things, the report said, Mr. Yoo’s reasoning was premised on the assumption that the surveillance act, which requires warrants for national security wiretaps, did not expressly apply to wartime situations. His memo did not mention that a provision of that law explains how it applies in war: The warrant rule is suspended for the first 15 days of a war.

You can review the released report here.

Mitch McConnell pushes to continue telephone meta-data collection through 2020

McConnell is shameless. He is using a maneuver designed to block debate on his proposal. Currently the program is set to expire on June 1.

The legal authority enabling the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone metadata collection program that Edward Snowden exposed two years ago is set to expire June 1. But not if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others have their way.

The Republican from Kentucky introduced the legislation (PDF) late Tuesday that would allow the once-secret program, authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, to continue through 2020. McConnell invoked a rule that bypasses the usual committee vetting process, enabling the bill to go directly to the Senate floor, where a vote has not been scheduled.

The measure, which immediately drew criticism from privacy advocates and some members of Congress, allows the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to essentially rubber-stamp government requests for so-called “business records” held by just about any institution, including the phone companies. Interpreted to require the telcos to cough up millions upon millions of calling records about their customers, it requires them to provide the National Security Agency with the phone numbers of both parties in a call, calling card numbers, the length and time of the calls, and the international mobile subscriber identity (ISMI) number for mobile callers. The NSA keeps a running database of that information, saying that it runs queries solely to combat terrorism.

The bulk data collection program has not proven effective in stopping terrorist attacks, and it is both expensive and anti-privacy to boot. It is time to end the surveillance society in this country and around the world. Contact your Senators.

Massive leak of ISIS documents shows ruthlessness, not religion, as driver

Der Spiegel has gained access to papers of an Iraqi officer (now dead) who planned the Islamic State’s takeover in Syria.

Excerpt:

Aloof. Polite. Cajoling. Extremely attentive. Restrained. Dishonest. Inscrutable. Malicious. The rebels from northern Syria, remembering encounters with him months later, recall completely different facets of the man. But they agree on one thing: “We never knew exactly who we were sitting across from.”

In fact, not even those who shot and killed him after a brief firefight in the town of Tal Rifaat on a January morning in 2014 knew the true identity of the tall man in his late fifties. They were unaware that they had killed the strategic head of the group calling itself “Islamic State” (IS). The fact that this could have happened at all was the result of a rare but fatal miscalculation by the brilliant planner. The local rebels placed the body into a refrigerator, in which they intended to bury him. Only later, when they realized how important the man was, did they lift his body out again.

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi was the real name of the Iraqi, whose bony features were softened by a white beard. But no one knew him by that name. Even his best-known pseudonym, Haji Bakr, wasn’t widely known. But that was precisely part of the plan. The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein‘s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was.

But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated. SPIEGEL has gained exclusive access to the 31 pages, some consisting of several pages pasted together. They reveal a multilayered composition and directives for action, some already tested and others newly devised for the anarchical situation in Syria’s rebel-held territories. In a sense, the documents are the source code of the most successful terrorist army in recent history.

The entire detailed article is eye-opening and worth a full read.

Apple Watch charge seems to last all day

A major question on whether the Apple Watch will indeed last all day, as suggested by Apple, seems to have been answered. Apple has lifted an embargo on journalists who have received the watch for testing, and the reviewers seem to agree with the estimated time daily time for the watch prior to recharge at night.

From MacRumors:

Apple lifted the embargo for large websites to publish their Apple Watch reviews this morning, providing us with detailed insight about various functions of the device. Battery life in particular has been one area of interest for several prospective Apple Watch buyers, and most early reviews found the Apple Watch to fulfill its promise of all-day battery life on a single charge.

Well-known tech journalist Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal offers one of the better looks at the Apple Watch’s battery life in her video of using the device in day-to-day life. The video keeps track of how much battery life the Apple Watch uses while Stern goes about her daily routine in New York, with the device fully charged at 7:30 AM and having five percent remaining at just past midnight.

Mashable has a handy compilation of all the reviews, both good and not so good.

The DEA is providing information to prosecutors not disclosed to the accused

Reuters has a fascinating story describing the use of clandestine information to bring cases against Americans in a way that may well be unconstitutional.

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

“I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.

“It is one thing to create special rules for national security,” Gertner said. “Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”

Since the true sources of the information are being kept secret, defendants have no way to question the veracity of the sources of such information. Hopefully, this disclosure will allow defense attorneys to challenge cases successfully.

Decades of surveillance (updated)

USA Today is reporting that the government started collecting data on citizens’ international telephone calls a decade prior to 9/11.

For more than two decades, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed logs of virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking, current and former officials involved with the operation said. The targeted countries changed over time but included Canada, Mexico and most of Central and South America.

Federal investigators used the call records to track drug cartels’ distribution networks in the USA, allowing agents to detect previously unknown trafficking rings and money handlers. They also used the records to help rule out foreign ties to the bombing in 1995 of a federal building in Oklahoma City and to identify U.S. suspects in a wide range of other investigations.

The Justice Department revealed in January that the DEA had collected data about calls to “designated foreign countries.” But the history and vast scale of that operation have not been disclosed until now.

How Americans can ever trust the government to protect their privacy, and comply with the Constitution, is a real puzzle. Secret data collection by the government is apparently unstoppable in the current political environment. Shameful.

Update: The EFF has agreed to represent Human Rights Watch, a civil liberties group, in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the DEA’s massive data collection program.

Human Rights Watch, a nonpartisan organization that fights human rights abuses across the globe, filed suit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration late Tuesday for illegally collecting records of its telephone calls to certain foreign countries as part of yet another government bulk surveillance program. The group is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has launched a series of legal challenges against unconstitutional government surveillance.

“The DEA’s program of untargeted and suspicionless surveillance of Americans’ international telephone call records—information about the numbers people call, and the time, date, and duration of those calls—affects millions of innocent people, yet the DEA operated the program in secret for years,’’ said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. “Both the First and Fourth Amendment protect Americans from this kind of overreaching surveillance. This lawsuit aims to vindicate HRW’s rights, and the rights of all Americans, to make calls overseas without being subject to government surveillance.”