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FBI Uncovers Another Of Its Own Plots, Senator Feinstein Responds By Saying We Should Censor The Internet

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | April 3, 2015

As you may have heard, yesterday the FBI “uncovered” yet another of its own terrorist plots, the latest in a very long line of “terrorist plots” the FBI has “uncovered” — in which the details always show that it was an undercover FBI “informant” (often doing this to get off leniently for some other issue), who more or less goads hapless, naive people, into a “plot” that had no real chance of ever happening. This appears to be the same sort of thing.

Still, politicians never leave an opportunity like this unexploited, and so in jumps Senator Dianne Feinstein, arguing that the only proper way to deal with this is to, of course… censor the internet:

I am particularly struck that the alleged bombers made use of online bombmaking guides like the Anarchist Cookbook and Inspire Magazine. These documents are not, in my view, protected by the First Amendment and should be removed from the Internet.

For what it’s worth, Dianne Feinstein’s “view” is wrong. The Anarchist Cookbook is very much protected by the First Amendment. While the book is banned in other countries, who don’t have the equivalent of the First Amendment, it’s perfectly legal in the US. The FBI/DOJ has extensively investigated the Anarchist’s Cookbook in particular over the years, and as far back as 1997 directly told Senator Feinstein that she could not ban it. This is from the DOJ back in 1997:

Senator Feinstein introduced legislation during the last Congress in an attempt to fill this gap. The Department of Justice agrees that it would be appropriate and beneficial to adopt further legislation to address this problem directly, if that can be accomplished in a manner that does not impermissibly restrict the wholly legitimate publication and teaching of such information, or otherwise violate the First Amendment.

The First Amendment would impose substantial constraints on any attempt to proscribe indiscriminately the dissemination of bombmaking information. The government generally may not, except in rare circumstances, punish persons either for advocating lawless action or for disseminating truthful information — including information that would be dangerous if used — that such persons have obtained lawfully.

And yet, Feinstein’s first response to the FBI uncovering yet another of its own plots is to go back to trying to censoring the internet in direct violation of the First Amendment? Yikes.

Oh, and even worse… in keeping with the fact that this plot was actually created by the FBI itself, guess where the two “terrorist wannabes” got the Anarchist Cookbook? From the undercover FBI agent! From the criminal complaint itself [pdf]:

On or about Novermber 2, 2014, the UC [Undercover Officer] met with VELNTZAS and SIDDIQUI. When VELENTZAS was reading a book called “Chemistry: The Central Science,” the UC asked how this book was going to benefit them. VELENTZAS stated that they could practice at her house, but could not leave any residue. The UC stated that practicing at the house was not a good idea because the people living in the apartment below VELENTZAS might hear loud noises, referring to noises from explosions. VELENTZAS said she could always tell her neighbors that she dropped some bookshelves. The UC and VELENTZAS then discussed the fact that the UC had downloaded The Anarchist Cookbook. VELENTZAS suggested the UC print out the parts of the book that they would need. During the conversation, the UC stated, “We read chemistry books with breakfast. Like, who does that?” VELENTZAS responded, “People who want to make history.”

The complaint also lists many other books and magazines and web pages that the various people read throughout, and later has one of the wannabe terrorists thanking the undercover agent for introducing The Anarchist’s Cookbook to her.

As for the other document that Feinstein wants to censor, Inspire is Al Qaeda’s magazine. And, again, reading through the complaint you see that it was actually the undercover agent who brought the magazine. The wannabe terrorist did ask the undercover agent to get it, and eventually it was the undercover agent who actually got it. Velentzas keeps asking the undercover agent to find a copy of Inspire, over and over again in the complaint until eventually the agent complies:

On or about December 24, 2014, the UC visited VELENTZAS and brought the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire magazine, as previously requested by VELENTZAS.

In other words, in neither case did the would be terrorists get the “bad” material from the internet. In both cases it came from the undercover FBI agent.

Meanwhile, it seems like the only real result of this ridiculous statement will be for Feinstein to drive ever more awareness to the old Anarchist’s Cookbook, so yet another generation of teenagers can discover it and think they’ve found something totally cool online.

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | 2 Comments

Hypocrisy and the Surveillance Stand-Off

Feinstein and the CIA

By Binoy Kampmark | Dissident Voice | March 15, 2014

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s blistering attack on the CIA’s conduct in searching the computers used by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was deemed a remarkable salvo. The search was engendered by the Committee’s official request for a final version of the named “Internal Panetta Review”. The Review had been created for internal use by the CIA as a record of assessing what documents should be turned over to the Committee in connection with its investigation of the torture program. Once the CIA got wind that their precious internal documentation was finding its way into the hands of the committee, the hackers got itchy.

Senator Feinstein herself charged the CIA with violating the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and Executive Order 12333. This raises the first problem. The CFAA is a legislative creation that exempts authorised law enforcement and intelligence activities. Legal commentary from former Chief Counsel for the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence, Chris Donesa at Lawfare (March 12) puts the question as whether “the CIA’s investigation and search was in fact ‘lawfully authorised’ or merely a pretext for deliberate efforts to obstruct or interfere with the SSCI investigation.”

The point is valid – after all, the CIA may well have been doing what it is empowered to do – snoop, hack and conduct “counter” intelligence activities, even against a Congressional committee. A gray area exists in the CFAA as to the rights of access set by the owner and operator of the necessary computers. The Washington political establishment have only themselves to blame if that was the case. The demon is merely consuming its creators.

One thing Donesa is willing concede is that the agreement and understanding between the CIA and the SSCI was significant in its violation. In so doing, it has raised questions touching on the separation of powers “and, more importantly, the budget and authorities of any Agency that dares to breach it.” He is concerned, in fact, that the SSCI was also rather cheeky, scurrying off with documents at points befitting the CIA’s own conduct. A subpoena might have been sought, but was conspicuously lacking. Feinstein herself alluded to such behaviour, largely because the CIA had shown form in destroying evidence, notably videotapes.

There have been occasional remarks that the CIA would have been justified in chasing down the source of leaks in the event that a confidential document had found its way into “unauthorised” channels. Sometime in 2010, Feinstein claims that SSCI staff accessed documents connected with the Panetta Review. Feverish speculation is making its way around the intelligence traps as to whether that access was warranted, the result of intentional disclosure by the CIA, or an illicit revelation of a whistleblower.

Given the CIA’s well established reputation for gold medal incompetence, it might very well be that the agency enabled, quite unwittingly, the Committee access to the Review documents. The jury may well be out on that one for some time to come. In either case, be it the whistleblower thesis, or that of unwitting disclosure, the episode has brushed up, if not scraped, a good deal of constitutional gunk. James Madison would not so much be turning as standing up in his grave.

Not all have warmed to Feinstein’s agitated response. A split has developed in Senate ranks. Republicans are concerned, but many would prefer to await the findings of a full investigation into the matter. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was particularly concerned. “If what they’re saying is true about the CIA this is Richard Nixon stuff. This is dangerous to democracy. Heads should roll. People should go to jail, if it’s true.” Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) was less certain. “Right now we don’t know what the facts are” (NPR, March 11).

Neither Feinstein, nor the CIA, can claim much of a high ground in this debate. The SSCI was the subject of a hacking enterprise, a snooping venture that would have been appropriate for the Senator in other cases. In fact, the rationale employed by the CIA was the very one that she has been defending with almost manic determination. If classified documents find their way into certain hands (that is, the likes of Edward Snowden), revealing the extent of state abuse, the messenger is the one at fault.

Given Feinstein’s legislative efforts to shore up the surveillance state, and her inflexible stance in limiting reform to the intelligence community, this would have come as a rude, yet richly deserved rebuke. In Snowden’s own words on the episode, this involved “an elected official [who] does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies” only to be scandalized “when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at: bkampmark@gmail.com.

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , , , | Leave a comment

Dianne Feinstein: NSA Would Never Abuse Its Powers Because It’s ‘Professional’

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | January 21, 2014

Senator Dianne Feinstein, as we’ve noted, seems to have this weird blindness to even the very idea that the NSA might abuse its powers, despite a long history of it doing exactly that. The history of the US intelligence community is littered like a junk yard with examples of massive abuses of power by intelligence folks. And yet, Feinstein seems shocked at the idea that anyone questions the NSA’s ability to abuse the system. Why? Because the NSA is “professional.” Appearing on Meet the Press this weekend, Feinstein just kept repeating how “professional” the NSA is as if that was some sort of talisman that wards off any potential of abuse. First, host David Gregory pointed to reporter Bart Gellman’s claim that President Obama’s NSA reforms will allow for the expansion of the NSA’s collecting personal data on “billions of people around the world, Americans and foreign citizens alike” and told Feinstein that didn’t seem like it was protecting people’s privacy. And Feinstein went straight to her “but they’re professionals!” argument:

Well, I would disagree with Mr. Gellman. I think that what the president has said is that he wanted to maintain the capability of the program. That, as Chairman Rogers said, it has not been abused or misused. And it is carried out by very strictly vetted and professional people.

Of course it has been “abused” and “misused,” but let’s not let details get in the way.

Later in the interview, Gregory asks Feinstein to comment on Rep. Mike Roger’s totally unsubstantiated (and contradicted by nearly everyone else in the know) claims that Ed Snowden was working for Russian intelligence, and Feinstein bizarrely returns to talking about just how “professional” NSA staffers are.

DAVID GREGORY:
And do you agree with Chairman Rogers that he may have had help from the Russians?

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
He may well have. We don’t know at this stage. But I think to glorify this act is really to set sort of a new level of dishonor. And this goes to where this metadata goes. Because the N.S.A. are professionals. They are limited in number to 22 who have access to the data. Two of them are supervisors. They are vetted. They are carefully supervised. The data goes anywhere else. How do you provide that level of supervision?

Of course, Ed Snowden was also “vetted” and “professional.” And Feinstein seems to think he may have been working for the Russians, which seems to suggest that any of the other “vetted” and “professional” NSA employees might be abusing their position as well. And, I mean, I’m sure the NSA analysts who listened in on phone sex calls between Americans and then shared them around the office were also “vetted” and “professional.”

In fact, I’d think pretty much the entirety of human history concerning intelligence efforts suggests that abuse is almost always carried out by people who are “vetted” and “professional.” And that’s exactly what has most people so concerned about these programs and what the NSA is doing. No matter how well-meaning, well-trained or well-vetted people are, the temptation and ability for abuse is way too strong. Just last week, we were quoting a bunch of “vetted” and “professional” NSA folks talking about how they fantasized about murdering Ed Snowden. Those comments don’t sound particularly professional at all. They sound like people who shouldn’t be allowed within miles of people’s private data. But Feinstein apparently sees no problems with those kinds of people having the ability to search through your private data. Because they’re “professional.”

January 21, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Feinstein And Rogers Try To Scare Americans With Ooga Booga Terrorism Threats

333587_Dianne Feinstein

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | December 2, 2013

It appears that the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, are recognizing that their strategy for keeping their co-dependent relationship with the NSA going is failing and that the American public and an increasingly large segment of Congress no longer believes their bogus claims. Perhaps that’s because every time they open their mouths, it takes all of about an hour before many of their claims are completely debunked, if not outright mocked for obviously being bogus. So their latest strategy? To basically yell “Ooga Booga Terrorists!” as loud as they can to try to scare people based on absolutely nothing.

Feinstein and Rogers did a little dance on Sunday political TV shows insisting that “the terrorism threat is increasing” and we’re all going to die if we stop trying to make sure the NSA actually, you know, respects the Constitution. Asked if we were “safer” now than a year or two years ago, Feinstein kicked off the FUD:

“I don’t think so,” Feinstein replied. “I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that. The fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs. Trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnetometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups than ever. And there is huge malevolence out there.”

And Rogers quickly followed:

“I absolutely agree that we’re not safer today for the same very reasons,” he said. “So the pressure on our intelligence services to get it right to prevent an attack are enormous. And it’s getting more difficult.”

Of course, Feinstein’s claim that “terror is up worldwide” is — as is so often the case with her (and Rogers’) claims about terrorism — sorta true, but highly misleading. Yes, recent stats show an uptick in terrorist attacks and fatalities in 2012 — but you can also see that it’s highly variable. Earlier in the year, before the 2012 numbers came out, people were commenting on the fact that terror attacks and fatalities around the globe had been on the decline since 2007. Terrorism is highly variable and dependent on a few big successful attacks. Furthermore, if we look at attacks on the US, we find that there have basically been next to none in the US since 2001. You could make the case that 16 people have died in US “terrorist” attacks since 2001 (including the 13 soldiers killed by Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood), but you have to have a very broad definition of terrorism to do so.

Nearly all of the “terrorist” attacks in that original report that Feinstein is obviously relying on, appear to take place in areas that are considered war zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And, um, I hate to bring this part up, but part of the reason why those are war zones is because, you know, the US invaded both places. This isn’t to say that there aren’t terrorists out there who would like to attack the US. There clearly are. But it seems highly misleading to make the claims that both Feinstein and Rogers are making here, as the “data” they’re talking about don’t show any heightened risk in the US at all.

Either way, this whole thing — having both appear together, both making vague “we’re all going to die” statements without any details to back it up combined with an exceptionally misleading use of statistics — suggests that this is the typical FUD. It’s Feinstein and Rogers shouting “terror” in a crowded theater, because they know that they’ve already lost public opinion on this, and are quickly losing Congress as well.

December 2, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Feinstein’s Fake NSA Reform Bill Could Actually Make It Easier For NSA To Record Your Phone Calls

No! NSA surveillance hasn’t foiled a single terror plot

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | November 1, 2013

We already pointed out that Dianne Feinstein’s fake NSA reform bill is being positioned by her as real reform, when all it really does is codify the (probably currently illegal) status quo. Even worse, Feinstein is using highly misleading language to pretend that the bill “bans” the very things that it clearly allows. It’s about as dishonest a statement about a bill as you can imagine.

We had noted in our original post that the talk about how the bill would prohibit the collection of “content of communications under Section 215” was a red herring. One of the NSA’s go-to talking points is that there’s “no surveillance” on the Section 215 collections because it’s “just metadata.” They keep repeating this claim over and over again that the leaked programs do not involve collecting the “content” of calls, pretending that this is what everyone’s been complaining about. That statement alone is disingenuous. Most people following this know that the Section 215 collections don’t involve the content of communications. What we’re complaining about is the metadata collection, because that’s very revealing. Separately, while the NSA may not collect contents “under this program,” they absolutely do under other programs.

But, the actual language here may be even worse. It may be so misleading that the language being held up to “prohibit” the collection of actual call content is worded in a way that actually will allow for greater content collection. As Julian Sanchez notes at that link, the ban on content collection is only for “bulk data collection,” which could be interpreted to mean it’s okay for non-bulk collections, which most people believe 215 isn’t regularly used for today.

The problem is, under canons of judicial interpretation, a narrow and explicit prohibition on getting content under bulk orders for communications records could easily be read to imply that content can be acquired via non-bulk orders, or even via bulk orders for other types of records. At present, it is not clear whether the statute allows for the acquisition of contents under 215, but there are strong arguments it does not—though, of course, I’d argue the Constitution would forbid this even if the statute didn’t. Under this law, though, a clever Justice Department lawyer could plausibly argue that a prohibition on content collection under one very specific type of 215 order would be senseless and redundant unless Congress intended for content to be accessible under 215 orders generally—and Courts generally have to interpret the law in a way that avoids making any provision redundant.

And, as Sanchez further points out, this isn’t a theoretical concept. The Justice Department has already used exactly this type of argument to allow for the bulk data collection in the first place:

This is not at all a hypothetical concern. In 2006, Congress amended Section 215 to add special “protections” for educational and medical records. What Congress didn’t know is that, because those records are already protected under other federal laws, and 215 contained no language explicitly overriding those statutes, the Justice Department had determined that 215 simply could not be used to access those types of records—an interpretation that was reversed after the “protections” were added. Congress, in other words, inadvertently expanded the scope of 215 while trying to limit it—a fact that was discovered only later, when a report by the Inspector General revealed the unintended consequences of the amendment.

This is yet another example of the really evil word games the NSA and its defenders will use to increase spying, while pretending they’re doing the opposite. Now would be a good time to reach out to your Senator to let them know that the Feinstein bill is absolutely unacceptable.

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | 3 Comments

Five Reactions To Dianne Feinstein Finally Finding Something About The NSA To Get Angry About

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | October 29, 2013

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Liberal Hawk

Dianne Feinstein, the NSA’s biggest defender in the Senate (which is ridiculous since she’s also in charge of “oversight”) has finally had enough. It’s not because she finally understands how crazy it is that the NSA is spying on every American, including all of her constituents in California. It’s not because she finally realized that the NSA specifically avoided letting her know about their widespread abuses. No, it’s because she just found out that the NSA also spies on important people, like political leaders around the globe. It seems that has finally ticked off Feinstein, who has released a scathing statement about the latest revelations:

“Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed. Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.

“With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies—including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany—let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.

“Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers. The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort.

There are so many different possible reactions to this. Let’s go to list form to go through a few:

  1. Most people seem a hell of a lot less concerned about spying on political leaders than the public. After all, you kind of expect espionage to target foreign leaders. It seems incredibly elitist for Feinstein to show concern about spying on political leaders, and not the public. It shows how she views the public as opposed to people on her level of political power. One of them doesn’t matter. The other gets privacy.
  2. For all the bluster and anger from Feinstein about this, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s mandate is only about intelligence activities that touch on US persons, so it’s not even clear that she has any power over their activities strictly in foreign countries targeting foreign individuals. Why she seems to have expected the NSA to let her know about that when the NSA itself has been pretty explicit that avoids telling Congress about anything it can reasonably avoid telling them.
  3. Feinstein has referred to Ed Snowden’s leak as “an act of treason.” Now that they’ve revealed something that she believes is improper and deserving of much greater scrutiny, is she willing to revisit that statement?
  4. Given that Feinstein has been angrily banging the drum for months about how her oversight of the intelligence community shows that everything’s great, and there’s no risk of rogue activity — yet now she’s finally admitting that perhaps the oversight isn’t particularly comprehensive, is she willing to admit that her earlier statements are reasonably considered hogwash and discredited? She even says in her statement: “Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs.” And yet she’s been claiming that oversight has been more than enough for years?
  5. The cynical viewpoint: Feinstein knows the USA Freedom Act is coming out Tuesday, and that it has tremendous political momentum. Sooner or later she was going to have to admit that NSA surveillance was going to be curbed. Did she just happen to choose this latest bit of news for a bit of political theater to join the “time to fix the NSA” crowd?

There are plenty of other things that could be added to the list, but the whole situation seems fairly ridiculous considering about whom we’re talking.

October 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Snowden Rebuts Sen. Feinstein’s Claims That The NSA’s Metadata Collection Is ‘Not Surveillance’

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | October 25, 2013

Ed Snowden has briefly stepped up to the mic to rebut Dianne Feinstein’s claims that the NSA’s bulk phone records collections are “not surveillance.” While he didn’t specifically name Feinstein, it’s pretty clear who his comments are directed towards, what with the senator putting in overtime over the past few weeks defending the agency’s cherished but useless Section 215 collections haystacks that are definitely not collections (according to the Intelligence Dictionary.)

“Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA’s hands,” Snowden said in a statement Thursday.

“Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They’re wrong.”

f02ea3b63917470084142dbb21404def-e1320171727121-300x336Her op-ed for the USA Today stated the following:

The call-records program is not surveillance.

Why is it not surveillance? Feinstein claimed, in direct contradiction to someone who’s seen most of the inner workings of the agency’s programs, that because it doesn’t sweep up communications or names, it isn’t surveillance. Also, she pointed out that surveillance or not, it’s legal. So there.

Maybe Feinstein considers the term “surveillance” to mean something closer to the old school interpretation — shadowy figures in unmarked vans wearing headphones and peering through binoculars.

Of course, this kind of surveillance contained many elements completely eliminated by the combination of the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act, and a very charitable reading of the Third Party Doctrine. You know, the sort of stuff those shadowy men used to utilize: warrants, targeted investigations, reasonable suspicion, a grudging working relationship with the Fourth Amendment…

That’s all gone now. The courts have declared that sweeping up business records on millions of Americans is no more a violation of the Fourth Amendment than gathering metadata on a single person. The NSA has warped the definition of “surveillance” just as surely as they’ve warped the definition of “relevant.” The wholesale, untargeted gathering of millions of “transactions” from internet and phone activity doesn’t seem to resemble what anyone might historically think of as “surveillance,” but it’s surveillance nonetheless.

Sure, the NSA may not look at everything it gathers, but it has the capability to do so and it shows no interest in letting any of its dragnets be taken out of commission. The NSA’s defenders downplay the agency’s many intrusions by first playing the “legal” and “oversight” cards and, when those fail to impress, belittle their critics by trotting out condescending statements like, “The NSA isn’t interested in Grandma’s birthday phone call or the cat videos you email to your friends.”

Well, no shit. We’re hardly interested in that, either. We’re not worried about the NSA looking through tons of inane interactions. We know it doesn’t have the time or inclination to do so. We’re more concerned it’s looking at the stuff it finds interesting and amassing databases full of “suspicious” persons by relying on algorithms and keywords — a fallible process that robs everything of context and turns slightly pointed hay into the needles it so desperately needs to justify its existence.

What makes this even more frightening is that the agency then hands this unfiltered, untargeted, massive collection of data off to other agencies, not only in the US but in other countries, subjecting innocent Americans’ data to new algorithms, keywords and mentalities, increasing the possibility of false positives.

But what we’re mainly concerned about is the fact that an agency that claims its doing this to combat terrorism can’t seem to come up with much evidence that its programs are working. The NSA has deprived us of civil liberties while delivering next to nothing in terms of security. Americans have been sold out to a data-hungry beast, and even if it’s not officially “surveillance,” it’s still completely unacceptable.

October 25, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beware of Poison Pill Spying Reform

By Robyn Greene | ACLU | October 10, 2013

In the wake of revelations over the last few months about massive NSA surveillance programs that violate the privacy of millions of innocent Americans, members of the congressional Intelligence Committees have begun to draft legislation that they say will reform these authorities. There’s just one problem – unlike reform bills proposed by other members of Congress, the Intelligence Committees’ bills might do more to entrench domestic surveillance programs than rein them in.

At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) described her proposals, and one thing is clear: they won’t fix anything. In fact, they may even make government surveillance worse. They include:

These changes would represent significant expansions of the NSA’s domestic surveillance authorities under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, an already overly broad law that authorizes the suspicionless surveillance and collection of millions of Americans’ communications, including the contents of their emails.

Sen. Feinstein’s proposal also wouldn’t reform the bulk collection of Americans’ call records but actually put Congress’s stamp of approval on the unconstitutional and indiscriminate surveillance program. Her tweak to the program includes:

The purpose of this reform, according to Sen. Feinstein, is “to change but preserve [the] program.” She is clear that she has no intention to fix the law or to rein in the dragnet collection of Americans’ call records. These changes would merely limit who can access the records and would codify the requirement that there be a “reasonable articulable suspicion that a phone number is associated with terrorism in order to query it.” This does not limit the current “3 hops” rule that may be sweeping up millions of additional Americans’ numbers into NSA databases or add any additional privacy protections.

To be fair, Sen. Feinstein’s proposals do include reporting requirements, such as making public the number of phone numbers queried by the NSA each year, and accountability measures, such as Senate confirmation of the director of the NSA. While these proposals for increased transparency and oversight would be important additions to these surveillance programs, they do not fix them. They do not stop the NSA’s mass surveillance of millions of innocent Americans.

As Congress considers the two dozen bills that have been introduced so far, it should ensure that, at a minimum, reforms include:

  • Ending bulk collection of Americans’ information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act;
  • Prohibiting suspicionless, dragnet collection of Americans’ communications under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act;
  • Increasing transparency of domestic surveillance programs with public reporting by the government and private sector, and limiting the issuance of gag orders associated with national security informational requests; and
  • Allowing public judicial review of the NSA’s sweeping surveillance programs.

The good news is that dozens of members of Congress – like Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) – are already hard at work to pass fixes that would take big steps toward reining in the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs. And don’t forget that Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) got the House within 7 votes of defunding the bulk call records collection program altogether this summer. The momentum for reform is strong.

Despite this, Feinstein and some of her colleagues in the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are working on a proposal that would expand the NSA’s domestic surveillance authorities. In just a few short hours, the Senate Intelligence Committee will mark it up in secret, without even publicly releasing the initial draft language.

Americans are tired of excessive surveillance and secrecy. It’s time for Congress to legislate on these programs in the daylight and to pass real reforms.

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sen. Feinstein’s Husband Reaps Profits from Post Office Closings

By Ken Broder | AllGov | September 30, 2013

The conventional wisdom is that the Internet, competition from the innovative private sector and sky-high pension costs of pampered federal employees are killing the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The only hope is to slash costs, scale back services, sell off unnecessary assets and shift the business of mail delivery to more efficient private owners.

It’s not true. The post office is being savaged for thinly-disguised political reasons, including the enrichment of a few select individuals. Investigative journalist Peter Byrne says California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, is one of those profiting mightily.

The postal service’s August financial report (pdf) showed a net operating profit of $182 million with one month left in the fiscal year, and improved revenues over the previous year. But, as post office critics would be quick to point, it still had a net operating loss of $4.95 billion. How can that be?

In 2006, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which forced the USPS—which pays its own way and does not receive money from the federal budget—to prefund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years. The Postal Service was ordered to pay for the benefits of workers it hasn’t even hired and do it an accelerated time frame, a requirement not demanded of any other federal government agency.

The law instantly put the post office on the verge of bankruptcy and unleashed a movement to villainize and privatize the service. Unions would take a beating, private carriers would get a boost and $85 billion in hard assets could be sold to those who would know how to properly monetize them.

One of those in the know is Blum, chairman of C.B. Richard Ellis (CBRE), which has the exclusive contract to handle sales of post office property, according to Byrne. In his e-book Going Postal, Byrne cites an audit by Postal Service Inspector General David C. Williams that questions a “fundamental change” in policy that allowed, for the first time, a single outsourced firm to manage all sales and leasing of postal real estate, rather than handling it in-house.

The result, Williams wrote, “are conflict of interest concerns.”

CBRE was hired as exclusive agent for the postal service in June 2011 and proceeded to sell millions of dollars worth of property. By Byrne’s count, CBRE “arguably” sold 52 properties for $66 million less than their assessed value ($79 million if you toss out the nine properties that sold above assessed value). Most of the sales did not involve distressed properties, perhaps ravaged by the economic downturn, and tended to be in economically healthy neighborhoods.

“The sales were mostly of central downtown buildings, with parking, in wealthy or revitalizing neighborhoods that attracted restaurant, boutique, and residential developers, or modern, suburban office buildings and warehouses, also with ample parking that attracted high-tech industrial firms,” Byrne wrote. “In other words, the most saleable postal properties were the ones most likely to command prices that exceeded their assessed values.”

Byrne also found that 20% of the portfolio was sold to business partners or clients of CBRE, while it took up to a 6% commission in 34 of the 52 transactions. CBRE appeared to act as an agent for both the Postal Service and buyers in many of the transactions, contrary to customary property sales, according to Byrne.

On Wednesday, USPS announced that it would ask Congress to let it raise the price of a stamp 3 cents next January 26 because of its “precarious financial condition.”

“Of the options currently available to the Postal Service to align costs and revenues, increasing postage prices is a last resort that reflects extreme financial challenges,” USPS Board of Governors Chairman Mickey Barnett wrote in a letter to customers.

To Learn More:

Going Postal (East Bay Express excerpt from a book by Peter Byrne)

Senator Diane Feinstein’s Husband Selling Post Offices to Cronies on the Cheap (Naked Capitalism)

Contracting of Real Estate Management Services (U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General)

The Selling of the Venice Post Office: More than a Touch of Evil (by Greta Cobar, Save the Post Office)

Feinstein Derails Assertions that Husband Is Chief Bidder on High-Speed Rail (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Congress Struggles to Deliver Solution to Postal Problem It Created (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

September 30, 2013 Posted by | Corruption | , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Surprise: NSA Stores All Metadata It Collects For At Least A Year, Even If It Has Nothing To Do With Anything

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | September 30, 2013

The latest revelation from the Snowden docs published by The Guardian is that the NSA’s MARINA metadata system for internet data stores the information it gets for up to a year.

“The Marina metadata application tracks a user’s browser experience, gathers contact information/content and develops summaries of target,” the analysts’ guide explains. “This tool offers the ability to export the data in a variety of formats, as well as create various charts to assist in pattern-of-life development.”

The guide goes on to explain Marina’s unique capability: “Of the more distinguishing features, Marina has the ability to look back on the last 365 days’ worth of DNI metadata seen by the Sigint collection system, regardless whether or not it was tasked for collection.” [Emphasis in original.]

Note that this is different than the phone metadata that people have been talking about. This is “internet” metadata — so browser history, contacts, etc. In other words, the kind of stuff that Dianne Feinstein accidentally admitted the US is scooping up by the boatloads by tapping the internet’s backbone with help from US telcos.

The fact that they can look through it even if it hasn’t been “tasked for collection” is pretty big. It again shows how the NSA keeps saying one thing (such as claiming they only keep data on people they’re “targeting”) is simply false. The NSA continues to redefine things. Information isn’t “collected” until it’s searched. And it’s apparently not “stored” until it’s moved into a different database than this one.

How does anyone take these guys seriously?

September 30, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feinstein’s Senate Committee Defends NSA Phone Surveillance, Pushes Bill to Retain It

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | September 28, 2013
Senator Dianne Feinstein

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee made it clear this week that they see no reason to halt the National Security Agency’s controversial program that collects records of Americans’ phone calls.

Led by the panel’s chair, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), a majority of the committee indicated during a hearing on Thursday that they want the NSA to keep using the once-secret program, but under certain conditions.

Feinstein and the committee’s top Republican, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, plan to draft new legislation by next week that would require the NSA to file public reports on the calling log database.

The bill would also mandate that the agency reduce the number of years that it stores the database’s contents. Currently, the NSA says that it stores the records for five years.

In addition, Feinstein wants the Senate to have confirmation authority over new NSA directors.

At the same time, the Democratic lawmaker is willing to broaden the agency’s power to wiretap without court approval a foreigner’s cellphone for at least one week when that person travels to the United States.

Another provision would demand that the NSA send lists of the phone numbers it searches, along with explanations for doing so, to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for review.

Critics of the NSA’s domestic surveillance have called for ending the phone-records program altogether. These advocates include two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, who have introduced a tougher reform bill.

But it appears unlikely Wyden’s bill will get past Feinstein’s committee, since Feinstein says the call log program is legal and “necessary for our nation’s security,” according to The New York Times.

To Learn More:

Senators Push to Preserve N.S.A. Phone Surveillance (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)

Feinstein Outlines NSA Changes (by Brendan Sasso and Kate Tummarello, The Hill)

“Independent Experts” Reviewing NSA Spying Have Ties to Intelligence Community (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Left and Right Unite to Sue NSA over Telephone Records Surveillance (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Political Moves: How Dianne Feinstein Cut Off One Of The Few Attempts At Actual Oversight By Senate Intelligence Committee

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | September 27, 2013

We’ve already covered how Dianne Feinstein used the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to play games with the English language, while Senator Dan Coats used it to rant against all you stupid Americans for not trusting the NSA, but there have been some actual attempts to have the Senate Intelligence Committee perform its actual duty of oversight. Both Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall — who have been trying to raise these questions for years — actually had specific questions for the assembled panel, but the panel (mainly Keith Alexander) did its best to completely avoid answering the questions, then used political gamesmanship to block Wyden from asking followups.

Wyden used his question to highlight what he’s been hinting at for years, that it’s almost certain that the NSA has collected bulk data on the locations of Americans (something not yet officially revealed, and which they’ve sort of tried to deny for a while). Wyden has been asking versions of this question for a few years (and trying to pass legislation blocking this kind of thing for nearly as long). But watch how Keith Alexander never actually answers the question:

Wyden: Now with respect to questions, let me start with you Director Alexander, and, as you all know, I will notify you in advance so that there won’t be any surprise about the types of issues we are going to get into. And Director Alexander, Senators Udall, Heinrich and I and about two dozen other senators have asked in the past whether the NSA has ever collected or made any plans to collect Americans’ cell-site information in bulk. What would be your response to that?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Senator, on July 25, Director Clapper provided a non-classified written response to this question amongst others, as well as a classified supplement with additional detail. Allow me to reaffirm what was stated in that unclassified response. Under section 215, NSA is not receiving cell-site location data and has no current plans to do so. As you know, I indicated to this committee on October 20, 2011, that I would notify Congress of NSA’s intent to obtain cell-site location data prior to any such plans being put in place. As you may also be aware….

Note the word games: “under Section 215.” He does not say whether they’ve used some other authority to do so. And then he’s just repeating talking points so Wyden flat out cuts him off:

Wyden: General, if I might. I think we’re all familiar with it. That’s not the question I’m asking. Respectfully, I’m asking, has the NSA ever collected or ever made any plans to collect Americans’ cell-site information. That was the question and we, respectfully General, have still not gotten an answer to it. Could you give me an answer to that?

Alexander: We did. We sent that — as you’re also aware I expressly reaffirmed this commitment to the committee on June 25, 2013. Finally, in the most recent and now declassified opinion renewing this program, the FISA court made clear in footnote number five that notice to the court in a briefing would be required if the government were to seek production of cell-site location information as part of the bulk production of call detail records. Additional details were also provided in the classified supplement to Director Clapper’s July 25th response to this question. So what I don’t want to do, Senator, is put out in an unclassified forum anything that’s classified there so I’m reading to you exactly. So we sent both of these to you. I saw what Director Clapper sent and I agree with it.

Wyden: General, if you’re responding to my question by not answering it because you think that’s a classified matter that is certainly your right. We will continue to explore that because I believe this is something the American people have a right to know whether the NSA has ever collected or made plans to collect cell-site information. I understand your answer. I’ll have additional questions on the next round. Thank you, Madam Chair.

First off, Alexander’s answer shows that, contrary to the assertions of some staunch NSA defenders, it is entirely possible to answer a question by saying “there is more information in classified documents that shouldn’t be shared in an open setting.” Some have tried to excuse James Clapper’s lies to Congress by suggesting he couldn’t have said more or less what Alexander said here.

Second, note the doublespeak that Alexander is engaged in here. Even asked, again, to answer the basic question, Alexander pulls an “under this program” type of answer, suggesting (again) that American location data either has been, or is planned, to be collected in bulk. That is worrisome, and should not be classified information. Rather it should be open to public debate as to whether or not it’s appropriate.

But here’s where the political gamesmanship came in. Committee chair Dianne Feinstein gave Senators only five minutes each for their questions. It seemed like a majority of this “oversight” committee didn’t actually ask any questions, but rather, like Coats, simply filibustered angrily at the American public or press for not trusting the NSA. But when actual questions were asked, not enough time was given to get a straight answer. At the very end of the hearing, after most of the other Senators had left, Senator Wyden made a perfectly normal request: could he ask his followup questions. He noted that he just had two questions and both could be asked within an additional five-minute window. Senator Susan Collins, who had similarly filibustered during her own five minutes (focusing mainly on knocking down a complete strawman: falsely insisting that people were upset that the NSA was using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to record all phone calls, when everyone knows that it’s just about call records, not call contents), objected to Wyden’s request because she thought everything would go in order. It was pure political gamesmanship.

So instead of getting to conduct more actual oversight by having the committee ask important questions of the surveillance bosses, the panel, instead, moved on to the “second part” of the hearing, which involved two staunch non-governmental NSA defenders who basically sat down to talk about the awesomeness of being able to spy on everyone. Ben Wittes opened with a “joke” about how the NSA’s director of compliance John DeLong, mocked the level of scrutiny the NSA was under by pointing out that if he had typos in a document he’d have to reveal that to some oversight authority. Har har. This was useless. There was no reason to have them testify, and they were given a hell of a lot more time than the Senators actually asking questions.

That time could have been used to actually conduct oversight. Instead, we got nothing. Throughout the panel Senators pointed out that the American public doesn’t trust the NSA right now (though, they often blamed the public and the press for this, rather than the direct actions and statements of the NSA). If they wanted a lesson in how not to build up that trust, holding a completely toothless “oversight” hearing was a pretty good start.

After Wyden, Udall also asked some specific questions, in which the deputy Attorney General basically just repeated the FISA Court ruling saying that “relevant” has been redefined by the intelligence community to mean basically anything that the intelligence community feels is “necessary” to its investigations, and seems to think that it’s a good thing that this is a “low bar.” He completely ignores the basics of the 4th Amendment, as well as recent Supreme Court decisions on the topic.

I’ve included the video of both Wyden and Udall’s questions below, so you can see the less than 20 minutes of the two-hour session where actual serious questions were asked.

September 28, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment