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

Posts Tagged ‘Transparencey’

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.

 

U.S. “Signature Strikes” Ramdomly Kill Thousands Of Unidentified “Suspicious” Muslims: The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Oldspeak: “My Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world. –President Barack Obama, Feburary, 2013. “While four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period. The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual. In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes. Despite that, the administration has never publicly spoken about signature strikes. Basic questions remain unanswered. The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.” –Cora Currier and Justin Elliott. One of these things is not like the other.

Related Stories:

Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes

How Does the U.S. Mark Unidentified Men in Pakistan and Yemen as Drone Targets?

By Cora Currier and Justin Elliott @ Pro Publica:

The nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director has prompted intense debate on Capitol Hill and in the media about U.S. drone killings abroad. But the focus has been on the targeting of American citizens – a narrow issue that accounts for a miniscule proportion of the hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen in recent years.

Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period.

The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual.

In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes.

Despite that, the administration has never publicly spoken about signature strikes. Basic questions remain unanswered.

What is the legal justification for signature strikes? What qualifies as a “signature” that would prompt a deadly strike? Do those being targeted have to pose a threat to the United States? And how many civilians have been killed in such strikes?

The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.

“How, for example, does the Administration ensure that the targets are legitimate terrorist targets and not insurgents who have no dispute with the United States?” asked three senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in a letter to Attorney General Holder last May.

The legislators sent a second letter in December. Republicans on the committee joined in sending another letter this month. All have gone unanswered, according to committee staff.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently sent his own letter to Brennan asking several pointed questions on signature strikes.

“How do ‘signature strikes’ square with your statement that targeted killing operations are only approved when a targeted individual poses a ‘significant threat to U.S. interests?’” McCain asked, quoting a speech Brennan gave on drone strikes last April.

“How can the Administration be certain it is not killing civilians in areas, like many parts of Yemen and Pakistan, where virtually all men, including civilians, carry weapons?” the letter continued.

A McCain spokesman said the senator had not received a response. The White House declined to comment for this story.

When Obama administration officials publicly address drone strikes, they focus on thwarting imminent threats and targeting Al Qaeda leaders, including U.S. citizens.

Brennan, for example, said at his confirmation hearing that a lethal strike only occurs when “the intelligence base is so strong and the nature of the threat is so grave and serious, as well as imminent, that we have no recourse.” He was talking only about strikes targeting U.S. citizens, not signature strikes.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is now threatening to filibuster Brennan’s nomination until he answers questions on the U.S. citizen issue. And the Justice Department “white paper” leaked to NBC this month outlines the legal rationale for drone strikes, but only in cases when they target U.S. citizens who are also Al Qaeda leaders.

“What about the people who aren’t U.S. citizens and who aren’t on a list?” asks Naureen Shah, a human rights and counterterrorism expert at Columbia Law School. Of the few thousand people killed, Shah notes, “it’s hard to believe all of these people are senior operational leaders of Al Qaeda.”

The hazy history of ‘signature strikes’

The first public reference to a signature strike appears to have been in February 2008, when the New York Times reported a change in drone strike policy, negotiated between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“Instead of having to confirm the identity of a suspected militant leader before attacking, this shift allowed American operators to strike convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run, for instance, so long as the risk of civilian casualties is judged to be low,” the Times reported.

Over the next few years, they became the majority of strikes conducted in Pakistan, according to media reports citing unnamed officials.

The new policy contributed to an increase in strikes in Pakistan – up to a high of about 120 in 2010 – and also to an increase in the number of low-level militants or foot soldiers killed, according to a New America Foundation analysis.

It’s not clear how much evidence is needed to justify a strike. In media reports, U.S. officials have offered scenarios of signature strikes hitting training camps or fighters who might cross the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The CIA reportedly uses drone surveillance and other intelligence to try to ensure those targeted are in fact militants.

Other officials, however, have described the policy more loosely – one calling it a “‘reasonable man’ standard.”

Asked what the standard is for who could be hit, former Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter recently told an interviewer: “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40. My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s – well, a chump who went to a meeting.”

It is also next to impossible to say which attacks are signature strikes.

The names of militant leaders killed in strikes are often confirmed by officials in news reports. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. knew who was there ahead of the strike. One unnamed former military official claimed last year that the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there.”

Conversely, strikes in which little information emerges on who was killed could be failed attempts to hit specific individuals. (According to the New Yorker, it took as many as 16 strikes to kill Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.)

The outcomes of strikes are often disputed. In one apparent signature strike two years ago, unnamed U.S. officials told the Associated Press that they had targeted a group that “was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to Al Qaeda, and all ‘acted in a manner consistent with AQ (Al Qaeda)-linked militants.’” The U.S. said about 20 militants were killed. But Pakistani officials said it had been a meeting of tribesmen and villagers provided evidence to the AP that 38 civilians were killed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the attack prompted a debate in the White House about whether signature strikes and strikes on low-level fighters were worth the diplomatic risks.

The pace of strikes in Pakistan has tapered off since 2010, in large part because of deteriorating diplomatic relations with Pakistan, according to Bill Roggio, who tracks strikes for the Long War Journal.

Last spring the U.S. reportedly expanded signature strikes to Yemen, though administration officials said there were stricter standards than in Pakistan and evidence of a threat to the U.S. or U.S. interests was required. Officials referred to the attacks with a new phrase, “Terror Attack Disruption Strikes.”

That tighter standard is reportedly also part of the Obama administration’s new guidelines for the targeted killing program. (The CIA’s strikes in Pakistan will be exempt from any new rules for at least another year, according to the Washington Post.)

The legal debate

Brennan was asked about signature strikes last April but sidestepped the question. He replied: “You make reference to signature strikes that are frequently reported in the press. I was speaking here specifically about targeted strikes against individuals who are involved.”

He continued that “everything we do, though, that is carried out against Al Qaeda is carried out consistent with the rule of law, the authorization on the use of military force, and domestic law… that’s the whole purpose of whatever action we use, the tool we use, it’s to prevent attack [sic] and to save lives.”

The idea of killing members of an enemy force without knowing their identities isn’t itself controversial.

“In a traditional conflict, there is no requirement that you know every single person’s identity before you strike, so long as there are reasonable grounds for determining that the target is part of the enemy force,” said Jennifer Daskal, a professor at Georgetown Law School and a former attorney in the Justice Department during the first Obama administration.

But legal observers hotly debate the bounds of the drone war, and who qualifies as a member of the enemy force. “In the conflict with a clandestine enemy like Al Qaeda, that determination is much harder,” said Daskal.

While President Obama pledged in his State of the Union address to be more transparent about drone policy, the administration appears to maneuvering to avoid sharing additional information with Congress.

According to the New York Times, the administration may opt to share information on last year’s Benghazi attack with Republican senators to avoid revealing any more legal memos on the drone war to Democratic senators.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., has said that her committee reviews videos of strikes.But she also recently said that the committee has long sought all of the legal opinions on drone strikes – and that the administration has withheld most of the opinions.