Eric Schmidt: "We were attacked by the Chinese in 2010, we were attacked by the NSA in 2013. These are facts."
— Kontra (@counternotions) March 8, 2014
When listening to the NSA speak publicly, one must always parse its statements extremely carefully. Why? Because it redefines the standard meaning of words freely. Bruce Schneier, a noted security expert, offers the following example:
Indeed, ever since Snowden provided reporters with a trove of top secret documents, we’ve been subjected to all sorts of NSA word games. And the word “collect” has a very special definition, according to the Department of Defense (DoD). A 1982 procedures manual (pdf; page 15) says: “information shall be considered as ‘collected’ only when it has been received for use by an employee of a DoD intelligence component in the course of his official duties.” And “data acquired by electronic means is ‘collected’ only when it has been processed into intelligible form.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper likened the NSA’s accumulation of data to a library. All those books are stored on the shelves, but very few are actually read. “So the task for us in the interest of preserving security and preserving civil liberties and privacy,” says Clapper, “is to be as precise as we possibly can be when we go in that library and look for the books that we need to open up and actually read.” Only when an individual book is read does it count as “collection,” in government parlance.
So, think of that friend of yours who has thousands of books in his house. According to the NSA, he’s not actually “collecting” books. He’s doing something else with them, and the only books he can claim to have “collected” are the ones he’s actually read.
This is why Clapper claims – to this day – that he didn’t lie in a Senate hearing when he replied ”no” to this question: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
- NSA and GCHQ: Intelligence Gathering Turns Into Public Manipulation (wikileaks-forum.com)
Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.
In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.
Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy”.
Of course, no one outside the NSA knows for sure. But the timeline of the release of the code matches documents created by the NSA and released by Edward Snowden.
- Timing of SSL bug fuels conspiracy theories about Apple and the NSA (idownloadblog.com)
- Apple Patches One Security Hole, Leaves Open Another (recode.net)
Previously, I described the actions of Australia’s security services in contacting the NSA regarding intercepted communications between attorneys in the US and their clients in Indonesia.
It has taken a fair bit of time, but the ABA has now responded with this letter. In my view, the letter is a weak response and one unlikely to result in any change in the NSA’s weak minimization procedures.
- American Bar Association Asks NSA Whether It Respects Attorney-Client Communications of Lawyers (matthewaid.com)
- Australia, NSA, lawyers tangle in spy case (pcworld.com)
AT&T this week released its first transparency report purporting to show the number of governmental requests for information concerning the company’s customers. The total number released was over 300,000 requests. However, that cannot possibly be true.
Why? Well, perhaps you have heard once or twice over the past few months that the nation’s telecom providers have transferred metadata on virtually all US customers to the NSA under the so-called “215 metadata program”. AT&T has around 80 Million customers, and virtually all of those customers metadata was handed over to the NSA. Yet, the transparency report includes none of them.
AT&T this week released for the first time in the phone company’s 140-year history a rough accounting of how often the U.S. government secretly demands records on telephone customers. But to those who’ve been following the National Security Agency leaks, Ma Bell’s numbers come up short by more than 80 million spied-upon Americans.
AT&T’s transparency report counts 301,816 total requests for information — spread between subpoenas, court orders and search warrants — in 2013. That includes between 2,000 and 4,000 under the category “national security demands,” which collectively gathered information on about 39,000 to 42,000 different accounts.
There was a time when that number would have seemed high. Today, it’s suspiciously low, given the disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the NSA’s bulk metadata program. We now know that the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is ordering the major telecoms to provide the NSA a firehose of metadata covering every phone call that crosses their networks.
An accurate transparency report should include a line indicating that AT&T has turned over information on each and every one of its more than 80 million-plus customers. It doesn’t.
* * *
The end result, observes Kevin Bankston, the policy director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, is that Obama’s so-called reform has spawned a misleading report that provides false comfort to AT&T customers — and all Americans.
“Not only is this a complete failure when it comes to providing transparency around bulk data being handed over,” Bankston says, “it is affirmatively misleading to the average reader of the transparency report who would conclude that no bulk data handover ever happened.”
They lied to us, to put it bluntly. James Clapper lied directly to the Congress. And he keeps lying. Does anyone believe for a second his new excuse for brazenly deceiving the public he is supposed to serve? He’s all contrite now and claiming that the massive NSA program should have been disclosed early on after 9/11. Fine. But his credibility is effectively over. If an official has lied directly to the public before, he can do so again. And, as Ed Morrissey notes,
Clapper still defends the 215 program as both constitutional and effective, even though the administration’s own select panel concluded the opposite on both points after its investigation. Another group reached the same conclusion about the effectiveness of the 215 program last month.
The only reason Clapper is still in his job is because the president wants him there. No other conceivable defense is possible.
And the obloquy directed at Snowden and, to a lesser extent, the journalists who aided him, is thereby rendered moot. No one can deny that Snowden exposed something our democracy needs to know about, as Clapper now acknowledges. That makes it a text-book case of whistle-blowing, however unwisely Snowden has acted since. And that’s why the journalistic community, despite misgivings, has rightly rallied behind Greenwald, Poitras, MacAskill and Gellman who helped break the stories. The Polk Award is a big deal – and Pulitzers may follow.
I guess what I’m saying is that whatever the ethical questions about the leak of highly classified material, the US government has behaved so mendaciously, secretly and covertly that the question about Snowden is basically over. You can try to smear him and others. But you can no longer deny that they exposed government lies about matters of serious constitutional import.
I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program [telephone meta-data collection]—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had.
What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation. [If it had been disclosed immediately after 9/11], I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.
– James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, offering yet another justification for continuing an abusive surveillance program. In my view, even if the disclosure had come shortly after 9/11, the country still would have opposed the program, given its invasive collection of reams of data on all Americans by the Federal government. (via The Daily Beast)
- James Clapper: Americans Wouldn’t Haven’t Minded Super-Secret Surveillance if They Had Known About it All Along. (reason.com)
- NSA Collection of Citizens’ Phone Records Shouldn’t Have Been Secret, Spy Chief Admits (dissenter.firedoglake.com)
- DNI Clapper: We Should’ve Come Clean About Phone Surveillance (swampland.time.com)
Demonstrating that Edward Snowden is in fact a whistleblower, four journalists who have reported on documents Snowden provided have won the prestigious George Polk Awards in Journalism for 2013, as reported in The New York Times.
The four winners who disclosed the N.S.A. surveillance were Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post. Their articles, which won the Polk Award for national security reporting, were based on documents leaked by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden.
- Props to Greenwald and Poitras (balloon-juice.com)
- Reporting Based on NSA Leaks Wins Polk Award – ABC News (abcnews.go.com)
Responding to a question about recent reports that the NSA collects data on only 20% to 30% of calls involving U.S. numbers, [Keith] Alexander acknowledged that the agency doesn’t have full coverage of those calls. He wouldn’t say what fraction of the calls NSA gets information on, but specifically denied that the agency is completely missing data on calls made with cell phones.
“That part is not true,” he said. “We don’t get it all. We don’t get 100% of the data. It’s not where we want it to be, but it has been sufficient to go after the key targets that we’re going after.”
So there you have it. The lie that was promulgated last week to the effect that cellphone metadata is not being collect by the NSA is false. According to the Director of the NSA.
I guess we should have expected this, but it is now confirmed based on a document captured by Edward Snowden and reported by The New York Times.
A top-secret document, obtained by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, shows that an American law firm [Mayer Brown] was monitored while representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States. The disclosure offers a rare glimpse of a specific instance in which Americans were ensnared by the eavesdroppers, and is of particular interest because lawyers in the United States with clients overseas have expressed growing concern that their confidential communications could be compromised by such surveillance.
By the way, this was simple economic intelligence, not a situation involving US security. More here.
According to the recently released World Press Freedom Index for 2014, the United States now ranks 46th on the list. The US ranked at 32 for 2013. US press freedoms are now weaker than those in Estonia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and South Africa, among others.
Why did the US fall so far and fast? Make a guess.
Here is what the Press Freedom Index said about there ranking of the US:
USA AND BRAZIL – NEW WORLD GIANTS THAT SET A BAD EXAMPLE
One is a superpower and the other an emerging power. One for a long time was the embodiment of an established democracy where civil liberties reign supreme. The other created the conditions for developing a powerful civil society during the Lula years (2003-2010) on the basis of a democratic constitution adopted just three years after the end of two decades of military dictatorship (1964-1985). Rich in diversity, the United States and Brazil should have given freedom of information a supreme position both in their laws and their social values. Unfortunately the reality falls far short of this.
In the United States, 9/11 spawned a major conflict between the imperatives of national security and the principles of the constitution’s First Amendment. This amendment enshrines every person’s right to inform and be informed. But the heritage of the 1776 constitution was shaken to its foundations during George W. Bush’s two terms as president by the way journalists were harassed and even imprisoned for refusing to reveal their sources or surrender their files to federal judicial officials.
There has been little improvement in practice under Barack Obama. Rather than pursuing journalists, the emphasis has been on going after their sources, but often using the journalist to identify them. No fewer that eight individuals have been charged under the Espionage Act since Obama became president, compared with three during Bush’s two terms. While 2012 was in part the year of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 2013 will be remember[ed] for the National Security Agency computer specialist Edward Snowden, who exposed the mass surveillance methods developed by the US intelligence agencies.
The whistleblower is the enemy. Hence the 35-year jail term imposed on Private Chelsea/Bradley Manning for being the big WikiLeaks source, an extremely long sentence but nonetheless small in comparison with the 105-year sentence requested for freelance journalist Barrett Brown in a hacking case. Amid an all-out hunt for leaks and sources, 2013 will also be the year of the Associated Press scandal, which came to light when the Department of Justice acknowledged that it had seized the news agency’s phone records.
- Freedom of the press in 2014 by Reporters Without Borders (wired.com)
- ‘No Country for Brave Journalists’: US Plummets in Press Freedom Rankings (commondreams.org)
- America Just Finished 46th in a Press Freedom Contest (theatlantic.com)
Glenn Greenwald, writing in The Intercept, lays out the long history of political officials deploying scare tactics to cause their constituents to feel fear and fall in line. And such officials also lie to stop transparency that is necessary for the electorate to evaluate the performance of the government. It is worth a full read.
James Clapper, President Obama’s top national security official, is probably best known forhaving been caught lying outright to Congress about NSA activities, behavior which (as some baseball players found out) happens to be a felony under federal law. But – like torturers and Wall Street tycoons before him – Clapper has been not only shielded from prosecution, and not only allowed to keep his job; he has has now been anointed the arbiter of others’ criminality, as he parades around the country calling American journalists “accomplices”. Yesterday, as Wired’s Dave Kravets reports, the “clearly frustrated” Clapper went before a Senate committee (different than the one he got caught lying to) to announce that the Snowden disclosures are helping the terrorists:
We’re beginning to see changes in the communications behavior of adversaries: particularly terrorists. A disturbing trend, which I anticipate will continue . . . Terrorists and other adversaries of this country are going to school on U.S. intelligence sources, methods, and tradecraft. And the insights they’re gaining are making our job in the intelligence community much, much harder. And this includes putting the lives of members or assets of the intelligence community at risk, as well as those of our armed forces, diplomats, and our citizens.
As Kravets notes, “Clapper is not the most credible source on Snowden and the NSA leaks.” Moreover, it’s hardly surprising that Clapper is furious at these disclosures given that “Snowden’s very first leak last June” – revelation of the domestic surveillance program – “had the side-effect of revealing that Clapper had misled the public and Congress about NSA spying.” And, needless to say, Clapper offered no evidence at all to support his assertions yesterday; he knows that, unlike Kravets, most establishment media outlets will uncritically trumpet his claims without demanding evidence or even noting that he has none.
It appears that the NSA does not currently collect telephone meta data on all US phone calls. Specifically, they apparently collect metadata on cellular calls. That is the good news.
But don’t get too excited. The bad news is that they are desperately trying to collect metadata on all US cellphone calls. Via The New York Times:
On Friday, The Washington Post reported that the N.S.A. is currently taking in data on less than 30 percent of phone calls. The article also said the agency had been collecting nearly all records about Americans’ phone calls in 2006, and that the N.S.A. was now trying to restore comprehensive coverage.
- Report: NSA bulk metadata program doesn’t cover cellphones (arstechnica.com)
- The NSA’s Phone Metadata Connect-The-Dots Program Only Collects 30 Percent of Calls (thewire.com)
- Secret surveillance court accepts two of Obama’s NSA metadata reforms (electronista.com)