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Hypocrisy Over Alleged Russian ‘Hacking’

By Michael Brenner | Consortium News | December 30, 2016

The psychodrama over the alleged but unsubstantiated Russian hacking of Democratic emails to influence the U.S. presidential election has yet to reach its climax. Already, though, it has earned nomination as the most surreal and passionate work of fiction of the Twenty-first Century.

In all the excitement, it is easy to lose perspective. Perhaps the biggest piece of the untold story is the United States government’s pioneering role in electronic surveillance and hacking. We seem to have forgotten that the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency eavesdropped on heads of state in Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Iraq, Venezuela – and, at last count, several score other capitals. Also, the United Nations Secretary General, the President of the European Union Commission, the European Central Bank and God knows whom else.

This was not coincidental. It was part of a calculated strategy approved by two successive Presidents to monitor all electronic communications around the globe. Author James Bamford and other knowledgeable experts have provided us with a detailed history of the program.

Yet, the U.S. — as presented to us by the mainstream media and most commentators reflecting Official Washington –is portrayed as the innocent among the main protagonists. The plot line represents America as the victim of unprovoked cyber aggression by the Russians and, in other circumstances, the Chinese – these attacks coming out of the blue, an aggressive blow in an assumed contest for global dominance between the powers.

Is any of this true? Frankly, we haven’t even seen the proof. But let’s assume that there is an element of truth to it (leaving apart the nonsense about a Kremlin plot to manipulate and then destroy American democracy).

On the Offensive

Let us recall that it was the United States that launched the first cyber attacks – some years ago by the NSA. This history is detailed in the Snowden documents whose authenticity never has been questioned. We succeeded in trespassing on the computer networks of several Chinese government agencies and individuals. We boasted about our success in intra-governmental communications. Those occurred at a time when related documents now in the public realm revealed the NSA’s ambition to tap into every electronic communications network in the world and laid out a program for achieving that goal.

Simultaneously, the United States was launching offensive assaults on Iran. The targets there included not just their nuclear research facilities but also critical centers for the oil and gas industry. These are acts of war. Yet there was never a mandate from any international body for doing so, nor a casus belli. We did it in collaboration with the Israelis because we made the unilateral judgment that aggression was in our national interest. Now we are outraged that others are doing what we have done. This is rank hypocrisy. It also is not very bright. For the initial actions made the casual assumptions that the U.S. would always have an advantage; therefore, the setting of norms and rules was unnecessary and undesirable. The same logic operated in regard to drones and targeted assassinations.

Conditions now have changed and now the U.S. is vulnerable to attack. The option of negotiating international rules of the road and perhaps formal regulations is slipping away. We will have to live with the chaotic mess that we have created.

Whatever thinking the NSA did on the subject (and perhaps other agencies) bears an uncanny resemblance to Air Force General Curtis LeMay’s attitude toward nuclear strategy: An emphasis on offense because it played to our advantage; defense only in the form of “massive retaliation” which – for Lemay – was the strategic cover for massive first strike; and a conviction that this was an unavoidable zero-sum game played for the highest stakes. In other words, cowboy strategy. And it is cowboy strategic thinking that has ruled in the NSA.

Cyber Army

The most revealing article on this appeared in WIRED in July 2014 by James Bamford. Army General Keith Alexander, who was NSA director from 2005 to 2014, revealed the full scope of his ambition. Here are some of the article’s more noteworthy quotes: “For years, U.S. General Keith Alexander has been amassing a secret cyber army. Now it’s ready to attack. … Alexander’s forces are formidable – thousands of NSA spies, plus 14,000 cyber troops. … Endgame hunts for hidden security weaknesses that are ripe for exploitation.”

Plans included a “launch on warning” doctrine calling for a massive cyber-retaliation against anyone who launched a strategic attack on sensitive U.S. computers. Its code name was “MonsterMind.” But preparations for the Great Cyber War evidently left no time to keep track of smaller attacks (such as the alleged hacking of Democratic emails) or else its radar was badly defective.

[Also see THE INTERCEPT of Oct. 10, 2014, “Core Secrets: NSA Saboteurs in China and Germany” by Peter Maass and Laura Poitras.]


Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. mbren@pitt.edu

December 31, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Whistleblowers sue DOJ, FBI, and NSA for malicious prosecution, civil rights violations

RT | August 28, 2015

Five whistleblowers are suing the Justice Department, National Security Agency, FBI and their former directors for violating their constitutional and civil rights after they complained about government waste and fraud through proper channels.

According to the complaint, filed in Washington, DC’s federal district court, all five were subjected to illegal searches and seizures, raids on their homes and places of business, false imprisonment, and cancellation of their security clearances after they complained about government waste and fraud at the NSA.

Four of the five whistleblowers worked at the National Security Agency: Thomas Drake, Ed Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe and William Binney. The fifth, Diane Roark, worked at the Department of Energy. They are seeking some $100 million in damages.

The plaintiffs blew the whistle on the wasteful abandonment of a short-lived surveillance program called THINTHREAD which was being built by the NSA, but was then scuttled in favor of a more expensive program less protective of Americans’ communications.

The plaintiffs had worked on developing the THINTHREAD program, which was capable of effectively performing the technical work required by the NSA at the low cost of $4 million. The program was dumped at the direction of Lt. General Michael Hayden in favor of an outside contract for an expensive program called TRAILBLAZER, which ended up costing the government $4 billion. The TRAILBLAZER program never worked properly and was abandoned in 2006.

The plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Department of Defense arguing that, in using an outside contractor, the agency was committing fraud and wastefully misusing taxpayer dollars. The Department of Defense inspector general issued a scathing report on the abuse.

In response, the complaint argues, the NSA concocted a story claiming the whistleblowers were responsible for leaking information on the NSA’s surveillance of Americans to The New York Times. As a result, the Department of Justice conducted a series of raids that disrupted the plaintiffs’ lives and livelihoods.

The plaintiffs argue that the raids were retaliatory as the government had already determined that they had had nothing to do with the disclosures to the New York Times. The real leaker was a former lawyer who worked at DOJ with the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Among the six named defendants are two former NSA directors, Michael Hayden and Keith Alexander, and former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The complaint alleges that the FBI, NSA and DOJ’s actions violated the plaintiffs’ protections under the 1998 Whistleblower Protection Act, and violated their First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights.

The whistleblowers are seeking punitive damages in excess of $100 million in compensation for the loss of wages and employment they incurred as a result of the defendants’ alleged callous and reckless indifference.

While the raids and harassment took place in 2006 and 2007, the suit is only being brought now because the plaintiffs were only able to access all of the details concerning their case in 2013, after court documents were unsealed.

August 28, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception | , , , , , | Leave a comment

NSA Still Not Sure What Snowden Took, But May Try To Pre-empt Future Leaks

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | November 15, 2013

We’ve been among those who have suggested that the best way for the NSA to deal with the upcoming NSA leaks is to just stop lying and come clean about what they’re doing. It’s such a crazy suggestion that even former NSA boss Bobby Ray Inman has suggested it as well. It looks like the NSA is considering revealing something, but it’s likely to be pretty limited:

With respect to other information held by Snowden and his allies but not yet publicized, the NSA is now considering a proactive release of some of the less sensitive material, to better manage the debate over its surveillance program.

“We’re working on how do we do that,” says Richard Ledgett, the NSA official in charge of the agency’s response to the Snowden disclosures.

This came following a story about Keith Alexander claiming that Snowden may have taken “up to 200,000” documents with him — a number that has generated some headlines. Of course, when you read the details, you realize that while Alexander quoted a range that had 200,000 as the ceiling, it also notes that officials at the NSA “remain unsure which documents he downloaded for leaking to the media.” Yes, nearly six months in, they still don’t know what he took. And this is the agency saying that they have such great audits that no one can abuse their systems? Really?

Glenn Greenwald has already mocked the claim of 200,000 documents (and, I was pretty sure in the past he had put the number in the tens of thousands — closer to 60,000). But, once again, we’re left wondering how the NSA can claim it has controls in place when it still has no idea what happened. Either way, open on up, NSA. Let’s see what you’ve got. I’m sure that each attempt to spin things will be quickly debunked by actual documents from Snowden.

November 16, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The blame game: NSA chief points finger at US diplomats in spy scandal

RT | November 1, 2013

In an unexpected twist in the NSA scandal, spy chief Keith Alexander has blamed US diplomats for ordering surveillance on EU politicians. Meanwhile, State Secretary John Kerry has admitted espionage “reached too far,” alleging it was on “automatic pilot.”

Indicating a rift between the White House and the NSA, Director of the spy organization, Keith Alexander, has accused “policy makers” and “diplomats” for dictating the targets for surveillance. In a heated exchange, former ambassador to Romania, James Carew Rosapepe, challenged Alexander to justify spying on US allies, reported the Guardian.

“We all joke that everyone is spying on everyone,” he said. “But that is not a national security justification,” said Rosapepe.

Alexander replied sharply to the question, alleging ambassadors had a hand in ordering spy activities.

“That is a great question, in fact as an ambassador you have part of the answer. Because we the intelligence agencies don’t come up with the requirements, the policymakers come up with the requirements,” Alexander said.

He added sarcastically: “One of those groups would have been, let me think, hold on, oh! – ambassadors.”

Passing the buck

As the NSA points the finger at the Obama Administration for ordering the mass surveillance of European citizens, the White House is seeking to distance itself from the scandal, intimating the NSA was acting of its own volition.

Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the accusations, that the NSA recorded millions of European citizens’ telephone calls, in a video conference to London on Thursday. Kerry conceded that US surveillance had “reached too far” and stated that the NSA had been conducting its espionage on “automatic pilot.”

“In some cases, I acknowledge to you, as has the president, that some of these actions have reached too far, and we are going to make sure that does not happen in the future,” Kerry said, stressing an inquiry is currently underway to reassess American intelligence gathering programs.

Washington came under fire this week when a delegation from the EU came to get answers over the NSA’s activities in Europe. According to the revelations released by former CIA worker, Edward Snowden, to the press, the US not only targeted regular citizens, but also businessmen and high-profile politicians.

The White House did not give many answers to the delegation, they instead sought to justify espionage in Europe as a measure to protect against terrorism.

“It is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in us being attacked,” Alexander told the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. He went on to say that the US only collected data related to warzones in the Middle East.

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Which is Worse…Obama is Lying about Not Knowing NSA Eavesdropping Details or that he Really Didn’t Know?

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | October 29, 2013

328835_Barack-ObamaDid he know, or didn’t he? That’s the question surrounding President Barack Obama since it was revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on the private communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Obama has been put in the embarrassing position of either admitting that he authorized the NSA to tap into the cell phone and email communications of the leaders of Germany and other allied countries, or that during his presidency spy agencies have been allowed to do as they wish without his knowledge even though many of their programs were already in place before Obama entered the White House.

Media reports out of Germany over the weekend indicated that Obama did know what the NSA was doing, going back several years in fact.

The German tabloid Bild alleged that Obama was personally briefed in 2010 about the operation to target Merkel’s phone by the NSA’s director, Keith Alexander, and that he authorized it to continue.

Another story, published in Der Spiegel, said the U.S. had been spying on Germans from the U.S. embassy in Berlin since 2008, and that surveillance of Merkel may have began as early as 2002.

In response to the stories, the NSA denied that Alexander met with Obama to discuss the controversial program.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) cited numerous unnamed sources who said the White House didn’t learn of the NSA spying until this past summer, when the operation against Merkel was shut down. It quoted a senior NSA official as saying, “These decisions are made at NSA. The president doesn’t sign off on this stuff.”

But that could mean Obama was in the dark for years about NSA activities.

“Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them,” the WSJ’s Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous reported.

If that’s the best spin the administration can put on the scandal, it still leaves Obama open to criticism that he’s allowed a multi-billion-dollar spy agency to run amok and pry into the communications of whomever it wishes.

To Learn More:

If Obama Didn’t Know About Merkel Spying, Who Was It For? (by Jon Queally, Common Dreams)

Obama Unaware as U.S. Spied on World Leaders: Officials (by Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous, Wall Street Journal)

Barack Obama ‘Approved Tapping Angela Merkel’s Phone 3 Years Ago’ (by Philip Sherwell and Louise Barnett, The Telegraph)

October 29, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

NSA Claims It Doesn’t Do Online Attacks; That’s A Different Organization… Run By The NSA

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | October 14, 2013

There are times you just shake your head and wonder who the NSA top officials think they’re kidding with their statements. Take, for example, some recent comments from the NSA’s number two guy in charge, Chris Inglis, the Deputy Director, who gave an interview to the BBC where he tried to paint the NSA as not being quite as bad as everyone says, but admitted that there could be more transparency. That’s all the usual stuff, but the following tidbit caught my eye:

The job of the NSA, Mr Inglis said, was to exploit networks to collect intelligence in cyberspace and to defend certain networks – but not carry out destructive acts.

“NSA had a responsibility from way back, from our earliest days, to both break codes and make codes,” he said. “We have a responsibility to do intelligence in a space we once called the telecommunications arena – now cyberspace – and the responsibility to make codes or to defend signals communications of interest.

“That’s different than what most people conceive as offence or attack in this space.”

That task of destructive cyber attack, if ordered, lies with the US military’s rapidly expanding Cyber Command.

Except, as we’ve noted more than a few times, US Cyber Command is the NSA. It’s run by Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, and it’s housed in the same place as the NSA. For all intents and purposes, US Cyber Command is the NSA, and Alexander has no problem at all swapping hats depending on what’s most convenient. He regularly tries to talk about “protecting the network” when it suits him, ignoring that the same efforts he’s looking at (greater access to corporate networks) would also make it much easier for the NSA and US Cyber Command to launch offensive attacks — which Snowden’s leaks proved the NSA did hundreds of times.

Pretending the two are different, and that the NSA only focuses on “breaking codes and making codes” is yet another bogus claim from an NSA official, adding to a very long list.

October 14, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

NSA chief admits govt collected cellphone location data

RT | October 02, 2013

The director of the National Security Agency admitted this week that the NSA tested a program that collected cellphone location data from American citizens starting in 2010, but suspended it shortly after.

Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of both the NSA and the United States Cyber Command, told lawmakers in Washington early Wednesday that the secretive pilot program was taken offline in 2011, but that the intelligence community may someday in the future make plans to routinely collect location data about US citizens.

Alexander briefly discussed the program during a Senate hearing on the Hill early Wednesday that focused on the data provided to the government through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, including programs that were exposed earlier this year by unauthorized disclosures attributed to contractor-turned-leaker Edward Snowden.

Only days earlier, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) asked Alexander during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing if the NSA was collecting location data on American citizens.

“I’m asking, has the NSA ever collected, or ever made any plans to collect, American cell site information?”  Wyden asked last Thursday.

The NSA, Alexander responded at the time, “is not receiving cell-site location data and has no current plans to do so.”

During this Wednesday’s hearing, Alexander explained that, “In 2010 and 2011, NSA received samples in order to test the ability of its systems to handle the data format, but that data was not used for any other purpose and was never available for intelligence analysis purposes.”

According to a written copy of the statement obtained by The New York Times before Wednesday’s hearing, Alexander said that location information is not being collected by the NSA under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Alexander did not discuss if any other laws are being implemented to otherwise allow for the collection and analysis of location data.

Moments after Alexander revealed the pilot program before the Senate committee, he said that the NSA may someday want to seek approval from Washington to revive that initiative as part of a fully functioning intelligence gathering operation.

“I would just say that this may be something that is a future requirement for the country, but it is not right now,” Alexander said.

Alexander’s statement regarding the new defunct program was expected, and obtained by The New York Times moments before Wednesday’s hearing was underway. Times reporter Charlie Savage wrote that morning that information about the pilot project was only recently declassified by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and that the draft answer obtained by the paper and later read aloud by Alexander was prepared in case he was asked about the topic.

Still unsatisfied by the intelligence community’s explanation about the collection of cellphone location data, Sen. Wyden supplied the Times with a response suggesting that the truth behind the NSA’s activities isn’t being fully acknowledged by the intelligence community.

“After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law-abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security,” Wyden said.

In March, Wyden asked Clapper to say if the NSA was collecting personal information on millions of Americans. The intelligence director dismissed that allegation, then later apologized to the Senate for offering a “clearly erroneous” response.

“Time and time again, the American people were told one thing about domestic surveillance in public forums, while government agencies did something else in private,” Wyden told the Senate Intelligence Committee panel of witnesses last week, which included Alexander, Clapper, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

During last week’s meeting, Wyden said he “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.”

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, 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

Senators say the NSA is still lying to Congress – NSA removes fact sheets

RT | June 25, 2013

Two Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence say the National Security Agency provided “inaccurate” and “misleading” information to the American public about the government’s vast surveillance operations.

Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall sent a letter to NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander on Monday asking him to make revisions to a set of fact sheets that were released by his agency to quell concerns about domestic surveillance in the wake of leaked documents attributed to former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden earlier this month.

The Guardian newspaper has been publishing top-secret documents provided by Snowden that he says proves the NSA operates secretive spying programs that retain information on United States citizens under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Snowden claims those two statutes are abused in order to surveil American citizens, an argument Gen. Alexander’s office recently attempted to counter by releasing a four-page set of bullet points outlining what the US government can and can’t do under federal law.

According to Sens. Wyden and Udall, the NSA’s response isn’t in-tune with what they’ve been told of the programs. “We were disappointed to see that this fact sheet contains an inaccurate statement about how the Section 702 authority has been interpreted by the US government,” they write Gen. Alexander. “In our judgment this inaccuracy is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are.”

But while the fact sheets have been made available online, Wyden and Udall can’t explain in their public letter what their allegations are in reference to since the lawmakers’ own knowledge of the clandestine operations are not allowed to be discussed, even among the constituents who elected them to the Senate. Instead, they wrote that they’ve “identified this inaccurate statement in the classified attachment” sent to Alexander.

Elsewhere, the lawmakers rejected the NSA’s claim that, “Any inadvertently acquired communication of or concerning a US person must be promptly destroyed if it is neither relevant to the authorized purpose nor evidence of a crime.”

“We believe that this statement is somewhat misleading,” replied the senators, “in that it implies that the NSA has the ability to determine how many American communications it has collected under Section 702, or that the law does not allow the NSA to deliberately search for the records of particular Americans. In fact, the intelligence community has told us repeatedly that it is ‘not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority’ of the FISA Amendments Act.”

In a tweet sent out Monday evening, Sen. Wyden again said the FISA fact sheet included a “significant inaccuracy.”

Nowhere does the senators’ response include allegations of any discrepancies in the Section 215 fact sheet, but both Wyden and Udall have raised questions about how the government interprets that provision previously. “We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted Section 215,” they wrote in a joint letter to Attorney General Eric Holder last year. “As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when they public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”

In their letter to Gen. Alexander this week, both Udall and Wyden wrote that they believe the US government should have “broad authorities to investigate terrorism and espionage,” and that it’s possible to “aggressively pursue terrorists without compromising the constitutional rights of ordinary Americans.”

“Achieving this goal depends not just on secret courts and secret congressional hearings, but on informed public debate as well,” they wrote.

But while Sens. Udall and Wyden have been long critical of surveillance powers provided through FISA and the PATRIOT Act, their take on the revelations exposed by Mr. Snowden differs drastically with that of President Barack Obama and many leading figures of his administration. Mr. Obama, Gen. Alexander and Mr. Holder have all defended the practices used by the NSA and say that no constitutional violations occur due to privacy safeguards in place, as have Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” President Obama said earlier this month.

With respect to Section 702 and Section 215, Obama said, “These are programs that have been authorized by broad bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006. And so I think at the onset it is important to understand that your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing.”

Edward Snowden revealed himself as the contractor responsible for the leaks published by The Guardian less than one week after the paper first began releasing information on the programs. He gave several interviews in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow where he remains today, according to both the US and Russian presidents. The anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks announced Monday that Snowden has asked for asylum from several countries, including Iceland and Ecuador.

June 26, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ugly Truth Behind Obama’s Cyber-War

By ALFREDO LOPEZ | CounterPunch | March 22, 2013

Last week, a top U.S. government intelligence official named James Clapper warned Congress that the threat of somebody using the Internet to attack the United States is “even more pressing than an attack by global terrorist networks”. At about the same time, Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency, announced that the government is forming 13 teams to conduct an international “cyber offensive” to pre-empt or answer “Internet attacks” on this country.

This, as they say, means war.

Clapper issued his melodramatic assessment during an appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. As Director of National Intelligence, he testified jointly with the heads of the CIA and FBI as part of their annual “Threat To the Nation” assessment report.

While undoubtedly important, these “threat assessment” appearances are usually a substitute for sleeping pills. The panel of Intelligence honchos parades out a list of “threats” ranked by a combination of potential harm and probability of attack. Since they began giving this report (shortly after 9/11), “Islamic fundamentalist terrorist networks” have consistently ranked number one. Hence the sleep-provoking predictability of it all.

But Clapper’s ranking of “cyber terrorism” as the number one threat would wake up Rip Van Winkle.

“Attacks, which might involve cyber and financial weapons, can be deniable and unattributable,” he intoned. “Destruction can be invisible, latent and progressive.” After probably provoking a skipped heartbeat in a Senator or two, he added that he didn’t think any major attack of this type was imminent or even feasible at this point.

So why use such “end of the world” rhetoric to make an unfeasible threat number one?

The answer perhaps was to be found in the House of Representatives where, on that same day, Gen. Alexander was testifying before the Armed Services Committee about, you got it, “cyber-war”.

Besides being head of the NSA, Alexander directs the United States Cyber Command. I’m not joking. Since 2010, the United States military has had a “Cyber Command”, comprised of a large network of “teams” some of whose purpose is to plan and implement what he called “an offensive strategy”.

Up to now, the Obama Administration’s stated policy has been to prioritize protection and defense of its own Internet and data systems and, unsurprisingly, those of U.S. corporations. Now we realize that the President has been cooking another dish on the back burner. When these military leaders talk about “offensive strategy”, they mean war and in warfare, the rules change and warriors see democracy as a stumbling block at least and a potential threat at worst.

Is there a “cyber threat”? Sure, just like there’s a “personal security threat” at your front door. You live among other humans and a few of them sometimes rob people. The Internet is a neighborhood of two billion people in constant communication. To do what it was developed to do, it has to be an open, world-wide communications system and people can exploit that by harming your website or stealing your data if you don’t protect these things adequately. Developing protections is part of what technologists in every setting, including government services, do every day and they do it well, minimizing the incidence of an on-line hack.

That’s contemporary society. You lock the door to your house, turn on your car alarm on and protect your computer’s data. Most of the time it’s unnecessary but you do it for those rare occasions that it might be called for.

You do not, however, break into a thief’s home, kill him or her and wipe out everyone in the house. That’s what President Obama is proposing. No longer is this Administration interested in just “protection of data”; it now plans to pre-emptively attack data operations and Internet systems in other countries. The non-euphemistic term for this kind of “offensive strategy” is hacking and hacking takes two forms: data theft and disruption of service. In other words, the government plans to do what it throws people in jail for doing.

Clearly, this isn’t only about data theft or service disruption. It’s entwined with the political conflicts Washington has with other countries like China and Iran. The Internet is now another battlefield and this offensive strategy gives our government another weapon in its ceaseless war on the world.

While this weapon might sound benign, almost game-like, compared to other military adventures, it is actually a vicious and punishing strategy promising a festival of unavoidable collateral damage.

A “cyber offensive” can target just about anything in a country (like the computers running an Iranian power plant) and, depending on how the Internet systems are inter-connected, almost automatically cut service to people, schools, hospitals, security services and governments themselves. This is the digital version of nuclear warfare, horrific for its impact and its fundamental immorality.

When the announcements were made, the mainstream media flew into a frenzy of evaluation and analysis. Is this cyber threat real, commentators asked? Most of them found that, at this point, it isn’t. But that’s not the point and it isn’t the real threat.

The carefully planned and coordinated Clapper/Alexander testimony provides a pretext for the array of repressive Internet-governing laws, strategies and programs the Administration already has in place. Their purpose is a ratcheting control of the Internet by the government, a redefinition of our constitutional rights and the eviscerating of our, and the world’s, freedoms. Now, with this “cyber war” scenario, these measures can be more easily defended and made permanent.

We can group those laws and programs into three categories.

 ”Extreme Data Collection”

The Obama Administration is building a huge data center in Bluffdale, Utah whose role is to capture and store all data everyone in this country (and most of the world) transmits. You read that right.

“Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication,” wrote James Bamford in Wired Magazine, “including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”

While having your entire on-line life tracked and stored in Utah is pretty creepy, the more pressing issue is how government officials plan to use this data and how they are collecting it. To mine its value, they need to order it to make searches, filtering and lists possible. You need a strategy and while Obama officials have been pretty open about what they’re building, they are closed-mouth about what they intend to do with it.

We know they are working hard on developing code-breaking technology which would allow them to read data which is super-encrypted, the last wall of privacy and protection we have. We also know that, to get this data, they have a remarkable system of surveillance that includes direct capture (capturing data from your on-line sessions), satellite surveillance and the tapping (through easily available data captures) of major information gatherers like Google and Yahoo. The fact that they plan to open this center in September, 2013 means that the intense surveillance and data gathering is in place. You are now never alone.

This is the kind of information on “the enemy” they need in a cyber-war but this information is about us and so the question pertains: who is the enemy here?

“Internet Usage Restriction”

If you’re conducting a war, you can’t have people running around the battlefield trading information and distributing it because, after all, you need secrecy. But collecting and distributing information is entirely what the Internet is about.

No reasonable person expects the entire shut-down of the Internet but the curtailment of on-line expression is now happening and getting worse, re-defining the meaning of free speech and making it an embattled concept.

Under the law, for instance, any corporation or individual can claim you are violating their copyright and demand you remove offending material from a website. You can challenge and litigate that but it doesn’t really matter because, under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act your web hosting service faces huge penalties if they keep the site on-line and the copyright violation is proven. So, to avoid the legal fees and the risk, they’ll just wipe your website. This happens all the time.

If the hosting service stands strong — as some progressive providers do — the people claiming the violation will just go “upstream” to the company that provides your web hosting service’s connection to the Internet and, to avoid legal problems, that “upstream provider” will just unplug the server. Servers host many websites, sometimes in the hundreds, and other services and so not only do you lose your site but everyone else on the server has theirs taken off-line. And this happens without even going in front of a judge.

Sure, there is still robustly exercised “freedom of speech” on the Internet. But the laws are in place to curtail it and, if the government wants, it can (and will) curtail. It’s a modern-day version of benevolent dictatorship which can, as history demonstrates, become pretty darn malevolent pretty fast.

“Selective Repression”

There are hundreds of criminal cases against Internet activists world-wide right now and scores in the United States. The ones most of us are most familiar with, those involving Aaron Swartz and Bradley Manning, are only the tip of the frightening iceberg.

A day after the testimony before Congress, for example, federal authorities announced the case of a techie named Matthew Keys . Keys, who worked for a TV station in Los Angeles owned by the Tribune Company, is accused of leaking a username and password to an activist from the well-known hacker organization Anonymous. Authorities say the Anonymous activist used that user/password combo to satirically alter a headline on the website of the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times.

Keys is now charged with conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer; transmitting information to damage a protected computer and attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer. Each count carries a 10 year jail sentence, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. For giving someone who changed a headline a username and password!

Last year, we at May First/People Link were raided by the FBI which literally stole a server from one of our server installations in New York City. They were investigating terroristic emails from some lunatic to people at the University of Pittsburgh and the dozens of servers this bozo used included one of ours. We have some anonymous servers which means there are no records of who used them, no traces… no information about the person sending the email; it’s to protect whistle-blowers and others needing total anonymity.

The FBI knew this but they stole the server anyway and then, about a week later, put it back. They never informed us of any of this. We found out because one of our techies went into the server installation and found one of the servers gone and installed a hidden camera which caught the agents when they returned the machine.

If all these developments seem disturbing to you, that’s justified. These repressive and intrusive measures target the very essence and purpose of the Internet. Created as a way for people to communicate with each other world-wide, this marvel of human interaction is now being turned into a field across which countries shoot programming bombs at each other while repressing and even punishing ordinary people’s communication: dividing us, perpetuating the feeling of loneliness that’s a constant in today’s societies and crippling the struggles for change that combat the division and loneliness and depend on the Internet to do it.

The Internet’s true purpose is to bring the world’s people closer to each other. The Obama Administration is doing just the opposite. It would advisable for those of us who have consistently opposed and fought against wars of all kinds to view this “cyber war” as an equally dangerous and destructive threat.

ALFREDO LOPEZ is the newest member of the TCBH! collective. A long-time political activist and radical journalist, and founding member of the progressive web-hosting media service MayFirst/PeopleLink, he lives in Brooklyn, NY

March 22, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

NSA Chief Appears to Deny Ability to Warrantlessly Wiretap Despite Evidence

By Trevor Timm | EFF | March 21, 2012

The former NSA official held his thumb and forefinger close together. “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says. — Wired Magazine, April 2012

Last week, in Wired Magazine, noted author James Bamford reported on an expansive $2 billion “data center” being built by the NSA in Utah that will house an almost unimaginable amount of data on its servers, along with the world’s fastest supercomputers. Part of the purpose of this new center, according to Bamford, is to store “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”

In the Wired article, Bamford interviewed former NSA official William Binney, a “crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network.” Binney further shed light on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, first exposed by the New York Times in 2005 and the subject of EFF’s long running suit Jewel v. NSA, which challenges the constitutionality of the NSA’s program.

The NSA claims it only has access to emails and phone calls of non-U.S. citizens overseas, but Binney provides more detail to the many previous reports by the New York Times, USA Today, New Yorker, and many more that the program indeed targets US based email records. In the 11 years since 9/11, Binney estimates 15 to 20 trillion “transactions” have been collected and stored by the NSA. From the Wired article:

He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US. The network of intercept stations goes far beyond the single room in an AT&T building in San Francisco exposed by a whistle-blower in 2006. “I think there’s 10 to 20 of them,” Binney says. “That’s not just San Francisco; they have them in the middle of the country and also on the East Coast.”

The Director of NSA, General Keith Alexander, testified at a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) grilled him on the details of the Wired story. He appeared to deny the main points of the article, including that the NSA was intercepting emails, phone calls, Google searches, and phone records of individuals in the United States—as well as the technical capabilities of the program’s software described by Binney. But perhaps more strangely, Alexander also seemed to claim the NSA did not have the technical ability to collect Americans’ emails and Internet traffic even if it weren’t required to get a warrant:

Gen. Alexander: In the United States we’d have to go through the FBI process, a warrant to get that and serve it to somebody to actually get it.

Rep. Johnson: But you do have the capability of doing it?

Gen. Alexander: Not in the United States.

Rep. Johnson: Not without a warrant?

Gen. Alexander: We don’t have the technical insights in the United States, in other words, you have to have something to intercept or some way of doing that. Either by going to a service provider with a warrant, or you have to be collecting in that area. We’re not authorized to collect, nor do we have the equipment in the United States to actually collect that kind of information. (emphasis ours)

In our lawsuits, EFF has provided evidence that the NSA operated a monitoring center out of AT&T’s switching facility in San Francisco that has the ability to do exactly what Gen. Alexander says the NSA can’t.  In light of all the evidence, it is hard to take comfort from Gen. Alexander’s apparent denial.  In previous discussions of the warrantless wiretapping program, the government has used crabbed and unusual definitions of words to make misleading statements that also seem like denials but turn out to be largely word games.

In one prominent example, then Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden said in a 2006 statement: “Let me talk for a few minutes also about what this program is not. It is not a driftnet over Dearborn or Lackawanna or Freemont grabbing conversations…”  Later, when confronted with evidence of a wider drift net program during his confirmation hearing, he explained “I pointedly and consciously downshifted the language I was using. When I was talking about a drift net over Lackawanna or Freemont or other cities, I switched from the word ‘communications’ to the much more specific and unarguably accurate ‘conversation.’”

Notably, the NSA’s interpretation of what it means to “collect” communications seems to be quite limited.  Under Department of Defense regulations, information is considered to be “collected” only after it has been “received for use by an employee of a DoD intelligence component,” and “[d]ata acquired by electronic means is ‘collected’ only when it has been processed into intelligible form[,]”  So, under this definition, if the communications of millions of ordinary Americans were gathered and stored indefinitely in Utah, it would not be “collected” until the NSA “officially accepts, in some manner, such information for use within that component.”

The illegality of warrantless wiretapping, however, does not depend on when the NSA officially accepts the information or processes it into intelligible form (whatever that means).  Americans’ privacy and constitutional protections do and should not hinge on word games.  We are looking forward to establishing, in the Jewel v. NSA case, a simpler proposition: that the government can’t spy on anyone, much less everyone, without a warrant.

~

on March 23, 2012

Recently a report by Wired magazine revealed the details of a spy center in Bluffdale, Utah. It says that the National Security Agency has turned its surveilance apparatus on the US and its citizens, including phone calls and emails. This week the NSA chief testified to Congress and took questions about his agency’s ability – both legally and physically – to spy on US citizens and denied that this is happening. Trevor Timm, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation believes otherwise – he brings his take on the issue.

March 22, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | 1 Comment