"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Secrecy’

Senator Where Art Thou? : The Surveillance Reforms Obama Supported Before He Was President

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Sen. Barack Obama in 2005. The White House has opposed efforts to rein in NSA snooping, but as a senator, Obama supported substantial reforms. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Oldspeak: “Yes. 7 more instances of Senator Obama saying and doing one thing & President Obama saying and doing THE EXACT OPPOSITE. This is really getting old. O_o Doublethink par excellence. Don’t believe the hype!” –OSJ

By Kara Brandeisky @ Pro Publica:

When the House of Representatives recently considered an amendment that would have dismantled the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program, the White House swiftly condemned the measure. But only five years ago, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. was part of a group of legislators that supported substantial changes to NSA surveillance programs. Here are some of the proposals the president co-sponsored as a senator.

As a senator, Obama wanted to limit bulk records collection.

Obama co-sponsored a 2007 bill, introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would have required the government to demonstrate, with “specific and articulable facts,” that it wanted records related to “a suspected agent of a foreign power” or the records of people with one degree of separation from a suspect. The bill died in committee. Following pressure from the Bush administration, lawmakers had abandoned a similar 2005 measure, which Obama also supported.

We now know the Obama administration has sought, and obtained, the phone records belonging to all Verizon Business Network Services subscribers (and reportedly, Sprint and AT&T subscribers, as well). Once the NSA has the database, analysts search through the phone records and look at people with two or three degrees of separation from suspected terrorists.

The measure Obama supported in 2007 is actually similar to the House amendment that the White House condemned earlier this month. That measure, introduced by Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and John Conyers, D-Mich., would have ended bulk phone records collection but still allowed the NSA to collect records related to individual suspects without a warrant based on probable cause.

The 2007 measure is also similar to current proposals introduced by Conyers and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

As a senator, Obama wanted to require government analysts to get court approval before accessing incidentally collected American data.

In Feb. 2008, Obama co-sponsored an amendment, also introduced by Feingold, which would have further limited the ability of the government to collect any communications to or from people residing in the U.S.

The measure would have also required government analysts to segregate all incidentally collected American communications. If analysts wanted to access those communications, they would have needed to apply for individualized surveillance court approval.

The amendment failed 35-63. Obama later reversed his position and supported what became the law now known to authorize the PRISM program. That legislation — the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 — also granted immunity to telecoms that had cooperated with the government on surveillance.

The law ensured the government would not need a court order to collect data from foreigners residing outside the United States. According to the Washington Post, analysts are told that they can compel companies to turn over communications if they are 51 percent certain the data belongs to foreigners.

Powerpoint presentation slides published by the Guardian indicate that when analysts use XKeyscore — the software the NSA uses to sift through huge amounts of raw internet data — they must first justify why they have reason to believe communications are foreign. Analysts can select from rationales available in dropdown menus and then read the communications without court or supervisor approval.

Finally, analysts do not need court approval to look at previously-collected bulk metadata either, even domestic metadata. Instead, the NSA limits access to incidentally collected American data according to its own “minimization” procedures. A leaked 2009 document said that analysts only needed permission from their “shift coordinators” to access previously-collected phone records. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., has introduced a bill that would require analysts to get special court approval to search through telephone metadata.

As a senator, Obama wanted the executive branch to report to Congress how many American communications had been swept up during surveillance.

Feingold’s 2008 amendment, which Obama supported, would have also required the Defense Department and Justice Department to complete a joint audit of all incidentally collected American communications and provide the report to congressional intelligence committees. The amendment failed 35-63.

The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community told Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Udall, D-Co. last year that it would be unfeasible to estimate how many American communications have been incidentally collected, and doing so would violate Americans’ privacy rights.

As a senator, Obama wanted to restrict the use of gag orders related to surveillance court orders.

Obama co-sponsored at least two measures that would have made it harder for the government to issue nondisclosure orders to businesses when compelling them to turn over customer data.

One 2007 bill would have required the government to demonstrate that disclosure could cause one of six specific harms: by either endangering someone, causing someone to avoid prosecution, encouraging the destruction of evidence, intimidating potential witnesses, interfering with diplomatic relations, or threatening national security. It would have also required the government to show that the gag order was “narrowly tailored” to address those specific dangers. Obama also supported a similar measure in 2005. Neither measure made it out of committee.

The Obama administration has thus far prevented companies from disclosing information about surveillance requests. Verizon’s surveillance court order included a gag order.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Google have filed motions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking permission to release aggregate data about directives they’ve received. Microsoft has said the Justice Department and the FBI had previously denied its requests to release more information. The Justice Department has asked for more time to consider lifting the gag orders.

As a senator, Obama wanted to give the accused a chance to challenge government surveillance.

Obama co-sponsored a 2007 measure that would have required the government to tell defendants before it used any evidence collected under the controversial section of the Patriot Act. (That section, known as 215, has served as the basis for the bulk phone records collection program.) Obama also supported an identical measure in 2005.

Both bills would have ensured that defendants had a chance to challenge the legalityof Patriot Act surveillance. The Supreme Court has since held that plaintiffs who cannot prove they have been monitored cannot challenge NSA surveillance programs.

Those particular bills did not make it out of committee. But another section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires that the government tell defendants before it uses evidence collected under that law.

Until recently, federal prosecutors would not tell defendants what kind of surveillance had been used.

The New York Times reported that in two separate bomb plot prosecutions, the government resisted efforts to reveal whether its surveillance relied on a traditional FISA order, or the 2008 law now known to authorize PRISM. As a result, defense attorneys had been unable to contest the legality of the surveillance. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., later said that in both cases, the government had relied on the 2008 law, though prosecutors now dispute that account.

On July 30, the Justice Department reversed its position in one bomb plot prosecution. The government disclosed that it had not gathered any evidence under the 2008 law now known to authorize sweeping surveillance.

But that’s not the only case in which the government has refused to detail its surveillance. When San Diego cab driver BasaalySaeedMoalin was charged with providing material support to terrorists based on surveillance evidence in Dec. 2010, his attorney, Joshua Dratel, tried to get the government’s wiretap application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The government refused, citing national security.

Dratel only learned that the government had used Moalin’s phone records as the basis for its wiretap application — collected under Section 215 of the Patriot Act — when FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce cited the Moalin case as a success story for the bulk phone records collection program.

Reuters has also reported that a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit uses evidence from surveillance to investigate Americans for drug-related crimes, and then directs DEA agents to “recreate” the investigations to cover up the original tip, so defendants won’t know they’ve been monitored.

As a senator, Obama wanted the attorney general to submit a public report giving aggregate data about how many people had been targeted for searches.

Under current law, the attorney general gives congressional intelligence committees a semiannual report with aggregate data on how many people have been targeted for surveillance. Obama co-sponsored a 2005 bill that would have made that report public. The bill didn’t make it out of committee.

Despite requests from Microsoft and Google, the Justice Department has not yet given companies approval to disclose aggregate data about surveillance directives.

As a senator, Obama wanted the government to declassify significant surveillance court opinions.

Currently, the attorney general also gives congressional intelligence committees “significant” surveillance court opinions, decisions and orders and summaries of any significant legal interpretations. The 2005 bill that Obama co-sponsored would have released those opinions to the public, allowing redactions for sensitive national security information.

Before Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the Obama Justice Department had fought Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking surveillance court opinions. On July 31, the Director of National Intelligence released a heavily redacted version of the FISA court’s “primary order” compelling telecoms to turn over metadata.

In response to a request from Yahoo, the government also says it is going to declassify court documents showing how Yahoo challenged a government directive to turn over user data. The Director of National Intelligence is still reviewing if there are other surveillance court opinions and other significant documents that may be released. Meanwhile, there are severalbills in Congress that would compel the government to release secret surveillance court opinions.

High Level Congressional Staffer Speaks: An Insider’s View Of The Administration’s Response To NSA Surveillance Leaks

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm
Jennifer Hoelzer U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (R) shows off a current version of the computer game "Oregon Trail" on his iPhone while playing the the original version on an Apple IIGS with his Communications Director Jennifer Hoelzer (C) after a news conference about the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) October 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. Wyden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called for the ECPA legislation to be updated so to ensure that the government must get a warrant from a judge before tracking our movements or reading our private communications.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (R) and his Communications Director Jennifer Holelzer play the computer game “Oregon Trail” on an Apple IIGS after a news conference about the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) October 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. Wyden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called for the ECPA legislation to be updated so to ensure that the government must get a warrant from a judge before tracking our movements or reading our private communications.

Oldspeak: “ A big part of the reason the American people are having a hard time trusting their government is that the public’s trust in government is harmed every time the American people learn that their government is secretly doing something they not only assumed was illegal but that government officials specifically told them they weren’t doing. Hint: When the American people learn that you lied to them, they trust you less.

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust their President when he says he respects democratic principles, when his actions over the course of nearly five years demonstrate very little respect for democratic principles.

I think the American people would be more likely to trust the President when he says these programs include safeguards that protect their privacy, if he — or anyone else in his administration — seemed to care about privacy rights or demonstrated an understanding of how the information being collected could be abused. Seriously, how are we supposed to trust safeguards devised by people who don’t believe there is anything to safeguard against?” –Jennifer Hoelzer

“Pay no attention President Obama’s or anyone else associated with the administrations’ assurances. There is no real congressional oversight of NSA or most of the deep surveillance state.  There are no effective safeguards against surveillance abuse. They have no intention of  revealing the “legal” rationale for continued blatant violations of Americans’ constitutional, civil & privacy rights. Or changing anything related to bulk collection of your data outside of window dressing “regulation”.  Be careful. take precautions. Use the Tor Network to browse the internet anonymously.” –OSJ

Related Story:

Loophole Shows That, Yes, NSA Has ‘Authority’ To Spy On Americans — Directly In Contrast With Public Statements

Former NSA Boss Calls Snowden’s Supporters Internet Shut-ins; Equates Transparency Activists With Al-Qaeda

By Jennifer Hoelzer @ Tech Dirt:

In a bit of fortuitous timing, this week we had asked former deputy chief of staff for Ron Wyden, Jennifer Hoelzer, to do our weekly “Techdirt Favorites of the Week” post, in which we have someone from the wider Techdirt community tell us what their favorite posts on the site were. As you’ll see below, Hoelzer has a unique and important perspective on this whole debate concerning NSA surveillance, and given the stories that came out late Friday, she chose to ditch her original post on favorites and rewrite the whole thing from scratch last night (and into this morning). Given that, it’s much, much more than a typical “favorites of the week” post, and thus we’ve adjusted the title appropriately. I hope you’ll read through this in its entirety for a perspective on what’s happening that not many have.

Tim Cushing made one of my favorite points of the week in his Tuesday post “Former NSA Boss Calls Snowden’s Supporters Internet Shut-ins; Equates Transparency Activists With Al-Qaeda,” when he explained that “some of the most ardent defenders of our nation’s surveillance programs” — much like proponents of overreaching cyber-legislation, like SOPA — have a habit of “belittling” their opponents as a loose confederation of basement-dwelling loners.” I think it’s worth pointing out that General Hayden’s actual rhetoric is even more inflammatory than Cushing’s. Not only did the former NSA director call us “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twenty-somethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years,” he equates transparency groups like the ACLU with al Qaeda.

I appreciated this post for two reasons:

First of all, it does a great job of illustrating a point that I’ve long made when asked for advice on communicating tech issues, which is that the online community is as diverse and varied as the larger world we live in. Of course, we are more likely to come across the marginal opinions of twenty-somethings with social anxiety online because, unlike the larger world, the Internet gives those twenty-somethings just as much of an opportunity to be heard as a Harvard scholar, a dissident protesting for democracy or General Hayden himself.

Sure, it can be infuriating to read scathingly hostile comments written by troubled individuals who clearly didn’t take the time to read the post you spent countless hours carefully writing (not that that has ever happened to me) but isn’t one of the things that makes the Internet so darn special its unwavering reminder that free speech includes speech we don’t appreciate? Of course, that’s a point that tends to get lost on folks — like General Hayden — who don’t seem to understand that equating the entirety of the online world with terrorists is a lot like posting a scathing comment to a story without reading it. You can’t expect someone to treat you or your opinion with respect — online or anywhere else — when you’re being disrespectful. And I can imagine no greater disrespect for the concepts of transparency and oversight than to equate them with the threats posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda.

But my main reason for singling out Tim’s post this week is that Hayden’s remark goes to the heart of what I continue to find most offensive about the Administration’s handling of the NSA surveillance programs, which is their repeated insinuation that anyone who raises concerns about national security programs doesn’t care about national security. As Tim explains this “attitude fosters the “us vs. them” antagonism so prevalent in these agencies dealings with the public. The NSA (along with the FBI, DEA and CIA) continually declares the law is on its side and portrays its opponents as ridiculous dreamers who believe safety doesn’t come with a price.”

To understand why I find this remark so offensive, I should probably tell you a little about myself. While the most identifying aspect of my resume is probably the six years I spent as U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s communications director and later deputy chief of staff, I started college at the U.S. Naval Academy and spent two years interning for the National Security Council. I had a Top Secret SCI clearance when I was 21 years old and had it not been for an unusual confluence of events nearly 15 years ago — including a chance conversation with a patron of the bar I tended in college — I might be working for the NSA today. I care very deeply about national security. Moreover — and this is what the Obama Administration and other proponents of these programs fail to understand — I was angry at the Administration for its handling of these programs long before I knew what the NSA was doing. That had a lot to do with the other thing you should probably know about me: during my tenure in Wyden’s office, I probably spent in upwards of 1,000 hours trying to help my boss raise concerns about programs that he couldn’t even tell me about.

Which brings me to my next favorite Techdirt post of the week, Mike’s Friday post entitled “Don’t Insult Our Intelligence, Mr. President: This Debate Wouldn’t Be Happening Without Ed Snowden,” which is a much less profane way of summing up my feelings about the President’s “claim that he had already started this process prior to the Ed Snowden leaks and that it’s likely we would [have] ended up in the same place” without Snowden’s disclosure.

“What makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation,” Obama said. “It’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.”

I hope you won’t mind if I take a moment to respond to that.

Really, Mr. President? Do you really expect me to believe that you give a damn about open debate and the democratic process? Because it seems to me if your Administration was really committed those things, your Administration wouldn’t have blocked every effort to have an open debate on these issues each time the laws that your Administration claims authorizes these programs came up for reauthorization, which — correct me if I am wrong — is when the democratic process recommends as the ideal time for these debates.

For example, in June 2009, six months before Congress would have to vote to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the Obama Administration claims gives the NSA the authority to collect records on basically every American citizen — whether they have ever or will ever come in contact with a terrorist — Senators Wyden, Feingold and Durbin sent Attorney General Eric Holder a classified letter “requesting the declassification of information which [they] argued was critical for a productive debate on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.”

In November 2009, they sent an unclassified letter reiterating the request, stating:

“The PATRIOT Act was passed in a rush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sunsets were attached to the Act’s most controversial provisions, to permit better-informed, more deliberative consideration of them at a later time. Now is the time for that deliberative consideration, but informed discussion is not possible when most members of Congress – and nearly all of the American public – lack important information about the issue.”

Did President Obama jump at the opportunity to embrace the democratic process and have an open debate then? No. Congress voted the following month to reauthorize the Patriot Act without debate.

In May 2011, before the Senate was — again — scheduled to vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, Senators Wyden and Udall — again — called for the declassification of the Administration’s secret interpretation of Section 215. This time, in a Huffington Post Op-Ed entitled “How Can Congress Debate a Secret Law?” they wrote:

Members of Congress are about to vote to extend the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for four more years, even though few of them understand how those provisions are being interpreted and applied.

As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have been provided with the executive branch’s classified interpretation of those provisions and can tell you that we believe there is a significant discrepancy between what most people — including many Members of Congress — think the Patriot Act allows the government to do and what government officials secretly believe the Patriot Act allows them to do.

Legal scholars, law professors, advocacy groups, and the Congressional Research Service have all written interpretations of the Patriot Act and Americans can read any of these interpretations and decide whether they support or agree with them. But by far the most important interpretation of what the law means is the official interpretation used by the U.S. government and this interpretation is — stunningly –classified.

What does this mean? It means that Congress and the public are prevented from having an informed, open debate on the Patriot Act because the official meaning of the law itself is secret. Most members of Congress have not even seen the secret legal interpretations that the executive branch is currently relying on and do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. Even if these members come down to the Intelligence Committee and read these interpretations themselves, they cannot openly debate them on the floor without violating classification rules.

During the debate itself, Wyden and Udall offered an amendment to declassify the Administration’s legal interpretation of its Patriot Act surveillance authorities and, in a twenty minute speech on the Senate floor, Wyden warned that the American people would one day be outraged to learn that the government was engaged in surveillance activities that many Americans would assume were illegal, just as they were every other time the national security committee has tried to hide its questionable activities from the American people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMAX_Frj8xM&feature=player_embedded

Fun aside: As you can see in the video, to underscore the point that hiding programs from the American people rarely goes well for the Administration, I had my staff make a poster of the famous image of Oliver North testifying before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearing. I really wanted to replace North’s face with the words “insert your photo here,” but we didn’t have the time.

Did President Obama welcome an open debate at that time?

No. Congress voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years and the only point we — as critics — could raise that might be confused with debate was a hypothetical argument illustrated with a twenty-year-old picture of Oliver North. And, again, Senator Wyden couldn’t even tell me what he was so concerned about. In strategy meetings with me and his Intelligence Committee staffer, I had to repeatedly leave the room when the conversation strayed towards details they couldn’t share with me because I no longer had an active security clearance. “You know, it would be a lot easier if you could just tell me what I can’t say?” I’d vent in frustration. They agreed, but still asked me to leave the room.

And that was just the Patriot Act. Did the President — who now claims to welcome open debate of his Administration’s surveillance authorities — jump at the opportunity to have such a debate when the FISA Amendments Act came up for reauthorization?

No. Not only did the Administration repeatedly decline Senator Wyden’s request for a “ballpark figure” of the number of Americans whose information was being collected by the NSA last year, just a month after the Patriot Act reauthorization, the Senate Intelligence Committee attempted to quietly pass a four year reauthorization of the controversial surveillance law by spinning it as an effort to: “Synchronize the various sunset dates included in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to June 1, 2015;” So, I guess if this was part of the Administration’s plan to publicly debate the NSA’s surveillance authorities, the plan was for the debate to take place in 2015?

And, as I explained in an interview with Brian Beutler earlier this summer, that is just a fraction of the ways the Obama Administration and the Intelligence Communities ignored and even thwarted our attempts to consult the public on these surveillance programs before they were reauthorized. In fact, after the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in which Wyden attempted to close the FAA’s Section 702 loophole, which another important Techdirt post this week explains, “gives the NSA ‘authority’ to run searches on Americans without any kind of warrant,” I — as Wyden’s spokesperson — was specifically barred from explaining the Senator’s opposition to the legislation to the reporters. In fact, the exact response I was allowed to give reporters was:

“We’ve been told by Senator Feinstein’s staff that under the SSCI’s Committee Rule 9.3, members and staff are prohibited from discussing the markup or describing the contents of the bill until the official committee report is released. The fact that they’ve already put out a press release does not lift this prohibition.

That’s right, supporters of a full scale reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act put out a press release explaining why this was a good thing, while explicitly barring the Senator who voted against the legislation from explaining his concerns.

Months later, the FISA Amendments Act, which the Administration contends authorizes its PRISM program, passed without the open debate that the President now contends he wanted all along. And, again, I’m only touching on a fraction of the efforts just Senator Wyden made to compel the administration to engage the American people in a democratic debate. I, obviously, haven’t mentioned the Director of National Intelligence’s decision to lie when Wyden “asked whether the NSA had collected ‘any type of data at all on millions of Americans.'” (Btw: Given that Wyden shared his question with the ODNI the day before the hearing, I am highly skeptical that Clapper’s decision to lie was made unilaterally.) Or the fact that the Obama Administration repeatedly fought lawsuits and FOIA requests for, again — not sources and methods — but the Section 215 legal interpretation that the Administration claims authorizes its surveillance authorities.

The below is an excerpt from a March 2012 letter that Wyden and Udall sent the Obama Administration urging them to respect the democratic process:

The Justice Department’s motion to dismiss these Freedom of Information Act lawsuits argues that it is the responsibility of the executive branch to determine the best way to protect the secrecy of intelligence sources and methods. While this is indeed a determination for the executive branch to make, we are concerned that the executive branch has developed a practice of bypassing traditional checks and balances and treating these determinations as dispositive in all cases. In other words, when intelligence officials argue that something should stay secret, policy makers often seem to defer to them without carefully considering the issue themselves. We have great respect for our nation’s intelligence officers, the vast majority of whom are hard-working and dedicated professionals. But intelligence officials are specialists — it is their job to determine how to collect as much information as possible, but it is not their job to balance the need for secrecy with the public’s right to know how the law is being interpreted. That responsibility rests with policy makers, and we believe that responsibility should not be delegated lightly.

But, as Mike’s last post on Friday explains, “President Obama flat out admitted that this was about appeasing a public that doesn’t trust the administration, not about reducing the surveillance.” Mike’s insight continues:

Even more to the point, his comments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of why the public doesn’t trust the government. That’s because he keeps insisting that the program isn’t being abused and that all of this collection is legal. But, really, that’s not what the concern is about. Even though we actually know that the NSA has a history of abuse (and other parts of the intelligence community before that), a major concern is that scooping up so much data is considered legal in the first place.

I’d go even further than that and argue that a big part of the reason the American people are having a hard time trusting their government is that the public’s trust in government is harmed every time the American people learn that their government is secretly doing something they not only assumed was illegal but that government officials specifically told them they weren’t doing. Hint: When the American people learn that you lied to them, they trust you less.

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust their President when he says he respects democratic principles, when his actions over the course of nearly five years demonstrate very little respect for democratic principles.

I think the American people would be more likely to trust the President when he says these programs include safeguards that protect their privacy, if he — or anyone else in his administration — seemed to care about privacy rights or demonstrated an understanding of how the information being collected could be abused. Seriously, how are we supposed to trust safeguards devised by people who don’t believe there is anything to safeguard against?

I think it’s understandably hard for the American people to trust the President when he says his Administration has the legal authority to conduct these surveillance programs when one of the few things that remains classified about these programs is the legal argument that the administration says gives the NSA the authority to conduct these programs. This is the document that explains why the Administration believes the word “relevant” gives them the authority to collect everything. It’s also the document I’d most like to see since it’s the document my former boss has been requesting be declassified for more than half a decade. (A reporter recently asked me why I think the Administration won’t just declassify the legal opinion given that the sources and methods it relates to have already been made public. “I think that’s pretty obvious,” I said. “I believe it will be much harder for the Administration to claim that these programs are legal, if people can see their legal argument.”)

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust the President when his administration has repeatedly gone out of its way to silence critics and — again — treat oversight as a threat on par with al Qaeda. As another great Techdirt post this week — US Releases Redacted Document Twice… With Different Redactions — illustrates, many of the Intelligence Community’s classification decisions seem to be based more on a desire to avoid criticism than clear national security interests. And as Senator Wyden said back in 2007, when then CIA Director Hayden (yes, the same guy who thinks we’re all losers who can’t get laid) attempted to undermine oversight over his agency by launching an investigation into the CIA’s inspector general, “people who know that they’re doing the right thing aren’t afraid of oversight.”

Which reminds me of the Techdirt post this week that probably haunted me the most. Ed Snowden’s Email Provider, Lavabit, Shuts Down To Fight US Gov’t Intrusion. Mike uses the post to explain that Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of Labavit — the secure email service that provided Edward Snowden’s email account — decided to shut down his email service this week.

Not much more information is given, other than announced plans to fight against the government in court. Reading between the lines, it seems rather obvious that Lavabit has been ordered to either disclose private information or grant access to its secure email accounts, and the company is taking a stand and shutting down the service while continuing the legal fight. It’s also clear that the court has a gag order on Levison, limiting what can be said.

The part that haunted me, though, was a line Levon included in his email informing customers of his decision:

“I feel you deserve to know what’s going on,” he wrote. “The first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this.”

He’s right, isn’t he? If these aren’t the moments the First Amendment was meant for, what are? Moreover, if the Administration is so convinced that its requests of Labavit are just, why are they afraid to hold them up to public scrutiny?

In his book, Secrecy: The American Experience, former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan included a quote from a 1960 report issued by the House Committee on Operations which I believe provides a far better response than anything I could write on my own:

Secrecy — the first refuge of incompetents — must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society for a fully informed public is the basis of self government. Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than its people.

Which brings me to my final point (at least for now) I think it’s awfully hard for the American people to trust the President and his administration when their best response to the concerns Americans are raising is to denigrate the Americans raising those concerns. Because, you see, I have a hard time understanding why my wanting to stand up for democratic principles makes me unpatriotic, while the ones calling themselves patriots seem to think so little of the people and the principles that comprise the country they purport to love.

 

Big Brother Is Prism: NSA Is Watching All Communications Over Phones, Facebook Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, Skype, Pal Talk, AOL & You Tube

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Prism Oldspeak:”It is a massive surveillance state of exactly the kind that the Church Committee warned was being constructed 35 years ago… the idea that the PATRIOT Act enables bulk collection, mass collection of the records of hundreds of millions of Americans, so that the government can store that and know what it is that we’re doing at all times, even when there’s no reason to believe that we’ve done anything wrong, that is ludicrous“. –Glenn Grunwald

If Someone want’s to know why their government has decided to go on fishing expedition through every personal record or private document – through library books they’ve read and phone calls they’ve made – this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear their plea, no jury will hear their case. This is just plain wrong.” –Senator Barack Obama, 2005, On The USA Patriot Act.

I came in with a healthy skeptcism about these programs. My team evaluated them, we scrubbed them thoroughly, we actually expanded the oversight. But my assessment… was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachment… on privacy in getting phone numbers and durations without a name attached, and looking at content that – [I decided] net, it was worth us doing. Some other folks may have a different assessment. I think it’s important to recognize you can’t have 100 percent security and also 100 percent privacy, and also zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society….In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.” –President Barack Obama, 2013 

AHAHA! HA! My man went from “This is just plain wrong.” to “we scrubbed them throughly” and…decided it was worth doing.” My people Big Brother is OFFICIALLY watching you.  Obama was nice enough to scrub it down and balance it out for you, placing some of the burdens for surveillance on government and some on oligarchical collectivist corporations. We are living in the age of the painless concentration camp. Assume all your digital communications are insecure. I wonder though, when was it that society made these choices? When did “society” choose to be systematically surveilled during an endless war? To do away with, privacy safeguards, transparency, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from unlawful search & seizure, summary execution and indefinite detention? I think when Obama said “society” he meant the elites and the imperial institutions they control. If you look at what he said that way, it makes a lot more sense, as I’m fairly certain most of the people who live and suffer in this society did not make those “tough choices”.  The good news about this though is there are more and more leaks springing in the secret U.S. Government. This is the third whisleblower to speak the truth about Big Brother. Thomas Drake and Willam Binney preceded him. Hopefully, conscientious patriots will continue to expose the lies, illegality and anti-democratic actions of the Secret Corporatocracy. ”

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A Massive Surveillance State”: Glenn Greenwald Exposes Covert NSA Program Collecting Calls, Emails

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By Glenn Grunwald @ The U.K. Guardian:

Prism

A slide depicting the top-secret PRISM program.

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.

Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.

In a statement, Google said: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”

Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. “If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,” one said.

An Apple spokesman said it had “never heard” of Prism.

The NSA access was enabled by changes to US surveillance law introduced under President Bush and renewed under Obama in December 2012.

The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information. The law allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US.It also opens the possibility of communications made entirely within the US being collected without warrants.

Disclosure of the Prism program follows a leak to the Guardian on Wednesday of a top-secret court order compelling telecoms provider Verizon to turn over the telephone records of millions of US customers.

The participation of the internet companies in Prism will add to the debate, ignited by the Verizon revelation, about the scale of surveillance by the intelligence services. Unlike the collection of those call records, this surveillance can include the content of communications and not just the metadata.

Some of the world’s largest internet brands are claimed to be part of the information-sharing program since its introduction in 2007. Microsoft – which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan “Your privacy is our priority” – was the first, with collection beginning in December 2007.

It was followed by Yahoo in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple, which joined the program in 2012. The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online.

Collectively, the companies cover the vast majority of online email, search, video and communications networks.

Prism

The extent and nature of the data collected from each company varies.

Companies are legally obliged to comply with requests for users’ communications under US law, but the Prism program allows the intelligence services direct access to the companies’ servers. The NSA document notes the operations have “assistance of communications providers in the US”.

The revelation also supports concerns raised by several US senators during the renewal of the Fisa Amendments Act in December 2012, who warned about the scale of surveillance the law might enable, and shortcomings in the safeguards it introduces.

When the FAA was first enacted, defenders of the statute argued that a significant check on abuse would be the NSA’s inability to obtain electronic communications without the consent of the telecom and internet companies that control the data. But the Prism program renders that consent unnecessary, as it allows the agency to directly and unilaterally seize the communications off the companies’ servers.

A chart prepared by the NSA, contained within the top-secret document obtained by the Guardian, underscores the breadth of the data it is able to obtain: email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more.

PRISM slide crop
The document is recent, dating to April 2013. Such a leak is extremely rare in the history of the NSA, which prides itself on maintaining a high level of secrecy.

The Prism program allows the NSA, the world’s largest surveillance organisation, to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders.

With this program, the NSA is able to reach directly into the servers of the participating companies and obtain both stored communications as well as perform real-time collection on targeted users.

The presentation claims Prism was introduced to overcome what the NSA regarded as shortcomings of Fisa warrants in tracking suspected foreign terrorists. It noted that the US has a “home-field advantage” due to housing much of the internet’s architecture. But the presentation claimed “Fisa constraints restricted our home-field advantage” because Fisa required individual warrants and confirmations that both the sender and receiver of a communication were outside the US.

“Fisa was broken because it provided privacy protections to people who were not entitled to them,” the presentation claimed. “It took a Fisa court order to collect on foreigners overseas who were communicating with other foreigners overseas simply because the government was collecting off a wire in the United States. There were too many email accounts to be practical to seek Fisas for all.”

The new measures introduced in the FAA redefines “electronic surveillance” to exclude anyone “reasonably believed” to be outside the USA – a technical change which reduces the bar to initiating surveillance.

The act also gives the director of national intelligence and the attorney general power to permit obtaining intelligence information, and indemnifies internet companies against any actions arising as a result of co-operating with authorities’ requests.

In short, where previously the NSA needed individual authorisations, and confirmation that all parties were outside the USA, they now need only reasonable suspicion that one of the parties was outside the country at the time of the records were collected by the NSA.

The document also shows the FBI acts as an intermediary between other agencies and the tech companies, and stresses its reliance on the participation of US internet firms, claiming “access is 100% dependent on ISP provisioning”.

In the document, the NSA hails the Prism program as “one of the most valuable, unique and productive accesses for NSA”.

It boasts of what it calls “strong growth” in its use of the Prism program to obtain communications. The document highlights the number of obtained communications increased in 2012 by 248% for Skype – leading the notes to remark there was “exponential growth in Skype reporting; looks like the word is getting out about our capability against Skype”. There was also a 131% increase in requests for Facebook data, and 63% for Google.

The NSA document indicates that it is planning to add Dropbox as a PRISM provider. The agency also seeks, in its words, to “expand collection services from existing providers”.

The revelations echo fears raised on the Senate floor last year during the expedited debate on the renewal of the FAA powers which underpin the PRISM program, which occurred just days before the act expired.

Senator Christopher Coons of Delaware specifically warned that the secrecy surrounding the various surveillance programs meant there was no way to know if safeguards within the act were working.

“The problem is: we here in the Senate and the citizens we represent don’t know how well any of these safeguards actually work,” he said.

“The law doesn’t forbid purely domestic information from being collected. We know that at least one Fisa court has ruled that the surveillance program violated the law. Why? Those who know can’t say and average Americans can’t know.”

Other senators also raised concerns. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon attempted, without success, to find out any information on how many phone calls or emails had been intercepted under the program.

When the law was enacted, defenders of the FAA argued that a significant check on abuse would be the NSA’s inability to obtain electronic communications without the consent of the telecom and internet companies that control the data. But the Prism program renders that consent unnecessary, as it allows the agency to directly and unilaterally seize the communications off the companies’ servers.

When the NSA reviews a communication it believes merits further investigation, it issues what it calls a “report”. According to the NSA, “over 2,000 Prism-based reports” are now issued every month. There were 24,005 in 2012, a 27% increase on the previous year.

In total, more than 77,000 intelligence reports have cited the PRISM program.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, that it was astonishing the NSA would even ask technology companies to grant direct access to user data.

“It’s shocking enough just that the NSA is asking companies to do this,” he said. “The NSA is part of the military. The military has been granted unprecedented access to civilian communications.

“This is unprecedented militarisation of domestic communications infrastructure. That’s profoundly troubling to anyone who is concerned about that separation.”

A senior administration official said in a statement: “The Guardian and Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This law does not allow the targeting of any US citizen or of any person located within the United States.

“The program is subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress. It involves extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-US persons outside the US are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about US persons.

“This program was recently reauthorized by Congress after extensive hearings and debate.

“Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.

“The Government may only use Section 702 to acquire foreign intelligence information, which is specifically, and narrowly, defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This requirement applies across the board, regardless of the nationality of the target.”

Additional reporting by James Ball and Dominic Rushe

Systems Collapse When The Irrational Is Considered Rational

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Oldspeak:“One of the most essential, and immutable facts of life on this planet. So basic, so simple, yet supposedly educated, thoughtful, and experienced men have systematically, intentionally and aggressively ignored it. We see the results before us. 1930’s era inequality, upward transfer and concentration of wealth, intractable debt, 6 wars, a wholly co-opted, corporatized, and corrupted political class, controlled by an unseen and unelected shadow government controlled primarily by global bankers and power brokers. ‘A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.’ –Woodrow Wilson, after signing the Federal Reserve into existence. So the system collapses, the corporatocracy profits off of it, further concentrating wealth and power in their hands, leaving the People ever more vulnerable and helpless against their smiling and reassuring domination, while simultaneously depriving the People of their inalienable rights to protest, dissent and resist. I fear only when the seductive and alluring artifice of this cosmetic, consumption, competition, communitainment, and copulation-driven unreality that’s been engineered for us to exist in starts to fall away will the People consciously awaken to actual reality, and by then, it will be too late.  There’s a question that I find rattling around in my head when I walk the streets of New York, with millions bustling by blissfully oblivious to reality…. ‘What happens when it all falls down? When this entirely unsustainable way of life we hold so dear, the infinite growth model, the technology, the incessant communitainment distractions, the destruction in the name of peace, the convenience, the plentiful food, water, and energy, what happens when all that is no longer sustainable and goes away?’ More of us need to devote more time and energy to answering those questions because the time is fast approaching when we will have no choice but to.  “Ignorance is Strength.“, “Freedom is Slavery.” “War is Peace.

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By Danny Schecter @ Disinformation:

Oh thank you, Wikipedia, for this definition:

“Irrationality is cognition, thinking, talking or acting without inclusion of rationality. It is more specifically described as an action or opinion given through inadequate reasoning, emotional distress, or cognitive deficiency. The term is used, usually pejoratively, to describe thinking and actions that are, or appear to be, less useful or more illogical than other more rational alternatives.”

And what about this one? Market Psychology?  This term is defined in the Investopedia this way:

“The overall sentiment or feeling that the market is experiencing at any particular time. Greed, fear, expectations and circumstances are all factors that contribute to the group’s overall investing mentality of sentiment.”

Q: What do we have when we put the two together?

A: The current madness and market mayhem.

S&P’s downgrade is being blamed for the market panic even though all the business media expected a downgrade and initially minimized its potential impact. The ratings agency blamed the government’s failure to deal with the debt including the stalemate in Congress.

The Republicans, predictably blamed Obama and the Democrats went after the Tea Party as the culprits behind the market plunge. But then, investors who at first denied that a downgrade would be significant overreacted to it by pumping more money into government treasuries adding to government debt.

The Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart’s sensible reaction: “are you f*cking kidding me?”

Does this make any sense?

We are taught to think of businessmen and their minions as absolute worshipers of objective truth as they allegedly practice “due diligence” to confirm underlying facts and insure that their decisions are based on research and thoughtful decisions.

That’s what we are taught—but is that what they do?

In fact, the “smartest guys in the room” as the Enronians were called proved to be the dumbest, buying into a warped worldview, and then, believing their own hype leading to decisions that brought the house down.

And that’s what happens again and again, over and over, as panic seizes The Street followed by a herd of decision makers making bad decisions.

Paul Farrell has written about this phenomenon on Marketwatch.

He speaks of all the too-greedy-to-fail fatheads running Wall Street? And, unfortunately, Main Street America’s 95 million irrational and self-sabotaging investors

Yes, all of us! We’re Americans. Don’t confuse us with the facts, with reality. We’re the greatest in history, a legend in our own minds. And a rapidly mutating virus is spreading this lethal pandemic far beyond the shores of Lake Wobegon. Yes, folks, the “Lake Wobegon Effect” is hard-wired in America’s brain, an illusion of superiority, a smug arrogance where each knows we are the best, the chosen ones.

Warning: The Lake Wobegon Effect is the single best summary of today’s stock market psychology, high frequency trading, behavioral economics theories and the new science of irrationality … and it’s sucking the life out of America’s soul. Here, listen to more of these arrogant musings surfacing everywhere from deep in our collective brains.

So forget all of our devices, our forever present blackberries, iPhones, iPads and Bloomberg terminals with their enhanced graphics and multiple sources. Alas, there’s no panic button that gives you a quick dose of financial history, perspective or context. Our hi-tech world often leads to repeating low-tech mistakes in a speeded up environment driven byall those dazzling terminals. TVscreens blazing and the pundits buzzing.

Farrell reminds us of a psychological game called “The Invisible Gorilla.”

He calls it “one of the most famous psychological demos ever. Subjects are shown a video, about a minute long, of two teams, one in white shirts, the other in black shirts, moving around and passing basketballs to one another. They are asked to count the number of aerial and bounce passes made by the team wearing white, a seemingly simple task.”

Stop. Test yourself before you read on. What does “The Invisible Gorilla” study tell you about the brains of folks gambling in Wall Street’s casinos? Where billions of shares, trillions of dollars, stocks, bonds, derivatives trade daily? What’s “invisible” to you?”

Institutionalized Irrationality—perhaps even insanity— helped cause the financial crisis as the federal inquiry commission pointed out quoting an appraiser who watched the real estate industry underwrite loans with no collateral over and over again:

“I see a lot of irrationality,” he added. He said he was unnerved because people were saying, “It’s different this time”—a rationale commonly heard before previous collapses.”

Many writers of distinction could see the irrational trumping the rational coming, as I wrote in my book Plunder that came out a month before the 2008 crash.

I quoted Mark Twain, America’s greatest man of letters, He once asked, “Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.” (His novella, The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg, was written while he was in Europe on the run from creditors.)

Fast forward a century or more as business and political leaders alike try to make sense of a relatively sudden and unexpected market meltdown in the summer of 2007 then again in 2008 and then again this past week.

Ultimately perhaps Twain’s insight will lead to great novels that will capture the corruption of the underlying culture that allowed so many financial manipulations and so much greed, avarice, and irrationality in this era in the way that great writers of economic upheaval in America like Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, or Jack London castigated theirs.

It seems to have always been true, as a friend who watched his multi- ethnic city of Sarajevo implode into a bloody genocidal war in Bosnia years ago confided to me, “Only fiction has to be plausible. Real life has no such constraint.”

As a journalist with perhaps less fictional imagination than I need, I can only try to probe deeply into some of the forces that took our economy down in such an unexpected way at a time when our national leaders were looking elsewhere and thought they saw the only threat to our country coming from terrorists hiding in caves in far away lands.

They – and I include among them, representatives of both parties, and most of our mass media – ignored cries for help from victims of predatory lenders dating back into the 1990s, and, then, for years warnings from David Walker, the Comptroller of our Currency and head of the Government Accounting Office (GAO) that our growing debt burden could lead to a sudden collapse threatening our national security. He had been labeled “Dr. Gloom” for his sobering prognostications. In February, 2008, he stepped down from government, frustrated by his inability to promote changes.

A closer look, usually in times of crisis, offers a window into another kind of financial world, a world of panic and fear, where irrationality is the order of the day, an irrationality that goes by the name of “Market Psychology.”

Forget the bulls or the bears…this is a world of sharks deeply in need of shrinks.

When things go well, the wizards of Wall Street are anointed by the media as geniuses. When they don’t, you get Time Magazine’s condescending putdown of “Wall Street’s mad scientists blowing up the lab again.”

This kind of humor seems out-of-place when we are talking about what many fear has lead to the collapse or at least a severe wounding of the global economy with millions of jobless and homeless victims who believed in the system until it failed them.

And yet, as we saw in the great manufactured budget stalemate in Washington, members of Congress were and still are prepared to trigger a collapse in the name of a naïve but rigid ideology.

Some of us argue with them thinking our facts can refute theirs but at bottom, fanaticism is not neutralized by rational argument. You need countervailing power and a willingness to fight for another vision.

Filmmaker and News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org.