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Jennifer Hoelzer’s Insider’s View Of The Administration’s Response To NSA Surveillance Leaks

By Jennifer Hoelzer | Techdirt | August 10, 2013

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

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

I appreciated this post for two reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did President Obama welcome an open debate at that time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jennifer Hoelzer’s Insider’s View Of The Administration’s Response To NSA Surveillance Leaks

Congressional Oversight? Dianne Feinstein Says She’s ‘Not A High-Tech Techie’ But Knows NSA Can’t Abuse Surveillance

By Mike Masnick | TechDirt | August 2, 2013

As the NSA and defenders of NSA surveillance are trying to minimize the damage from the latest leak, which revealed the details of the XKeyscore program, they’re bending over backwards to insist that this program is both limited and immune from abuse. We’ve already mentioned that the claims that it can’t be abused are laughable since there’s already a well-documented history of abuse. However, even more bizarre is the following quote from Senate Intelligence Committee boss, Senator Dianne Feinstein (a staunch defender of the surveillance programs):

Feinstein said, “I am not a high-tech techie, but I have been told that is not possible.”

Note that among Feinstein’s jobs is oversight of this program. Yet, what kind of “oversight” is it when she admits that she’s not qualified to understand the technology but “has been told” that such abuses are not possible? That doesn’t seem like oversight. That seems like asking the NSA “can this system be abused?” and the NSA saying “oh, no no no, not at all.” That’s not exactly oversight, now is it?

August 3, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Congressional Oversight? Dianne Feinstein Says She’s ‘Not A High-Tech Techie’ But Knows NSA Can’t Abuse Surveillance

The Ten Most Disturbing Things You Should Know About the FBI Since 9/11

By Matthew Harwood | ACLU | July 5, 2013

Next Tuesday, James Comey will have his first job interview for succeeding Robert Mueller as director of the FBI.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will not only have the chance to determine whether Comey is qualified for the job—and we have our concerns—but an opportunity to examine what the FBI has become since 9/11 and whether it needs to change course over the next decade.

Over the past 12 years, the FBI has become a domestic intelligence agency with unprecedented power to peer into the lives of ordinary Americans and secretly amass data about people not suspected of any wrongdoing. The recent revelation about the FBI using the Patriot Act’s “business records provision” to track all U.S. telephone calls is only the latest in a long line of abuse stemming from the expanded powers granted to the bureau since September 2001.

These abuses and bad policies, however, do not get the attention they deserve, despite serious violations of people’s civil rights and liberties. Since 9/11, the ACLU has learned of persistent FBI abuses, including domestic spying, racial and religious profiling, biased counterterrorism training materials, politically motivated investigations, abusive detention and interrogation practices, and misuse of the No-Fly List to recruit informants.

We hope Congress and the new FBI director, whoever it is, will use the information provided as a starting point to conduct a thorough evaluation of the FBI’s post-9/11 authorities, policies, and practices to identify and curb any and all activities that are illegal, ineffective, or prone to misuse.

The choice between our civil liberties and our security is a false one: we can be both safe and free.

In the interest of highlighting the worst abuses that have occurred over the last 12 years, the ACLU has put together a factsheet:

The Ten Most Disturbing Things You Should Know About the FBI Since 9/11

USA Patriot Act Abuse

The recent revelation about the FBI using the Patriot Act’s “business records provision” to track all U.S. telephone calls is only the latest in a long line of abuse. Five Justice Department Inspector General audits documented widespread FBI misuse of Patriot Act authorities (1,2,3,4,5), and a federal district court recently struck down the National Security Letter (NSL) statute because of its unconstitutional gag orders. The IG also revealed the FBI’s unlawful use of “exigent letters” that claimed false emergencies to get private information without NSLs, but in 2009 the Justice Department secretly re-interpreted the law to allow the FBI to get this information without emergencies or legal process. Congress and the American public need to know the full scope of the FBI’s spying on Americans under the Patriot Act and all other surveillance authorities enacted since 9/11, like the FISA Amendments Act that underlies the PRISM program.

2008 Amendments to the Attorney General’s Guidelines

Attorney General Michael Mukasey re-wrote the FBI’s rulebook in the final months of the Bush administration, giving FBI agents unfettered authority to investigate people without any factual basis for suspecting wrongdoing. The 2008 Attorney General’s Guidelines created a new kind of intrusive investigation called an “assessment,” which required no “factual predicate” before FBI agents could search through government or commercial databases, conduct overt or covert FBI interviews, and task informants to gather information about people or infiltrate lawful organizations. In a two-year period from 2009 to 2011, the FBI opened over 82,000 “assessments” of individuals or organizations, less than 3,500 of which discovered information justifying further investigation.

Racial and Ethnic Mapping

The 2008 Attorney General’s Guidelines also authorized “domain management assessments” which allow the FBI to map American communities by race and ethnicity based on crass stereotypes about the crimes they are likely to commit. FBI documents obtained by the ACLU show the FBI mapped entire Chinese and Russian communities in San Francisco on the theory that they might commit organized crime, all Latino communities in New Jersey and Alabama because a street gang has Latino members, African Americans in Georgia to find “Black separatists,” and Middle-Eastern communities in Detroit for terrorism investigations. The FBI’s racial and ethnic mapping program is simply racial and religious profiling of entire communities.

Unrestrained Data Collection and Data Mining

The FBI has claimed the authority to secretly sweep up voluminous amounts of private information from data aggregators for data mining purposes. In 2007 the FBI said it amassed databases containing 1.5 billion records, which were predicted to grow to 6 billion records by 2012, or equal to “20 separate ‘records’ for each man, woman and child in the United States.” When Congress sought information about one of these programs, the FBI refused to give the Government Accountability Office access. That program was temporarily defunded, but its successor, the FBI Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, currently has 360 staff members running 40 separate projects. Records show analysts are allowed to use data mining tools to establish “risk scores” for U.S. persons. A 2013 IG audit questioned the task force’s effectiveness, concluding it “did not always provide FBI field offices with timely and relevant information.”

Suppressing Internal Dissent: The FBI War on Whistleblowers

The FBI is exempt from the Whistleblower Protection Act. Though the law required it to establish internal mechanisms to protect whistleblowers, it has a long history of retaliating against them. As a result, a 2009 IG report found that 28 percent of non-supervisory FBI employees and 22 percent of FBI supervisors at the GS-14 and GS-15 levels “never” reported misconduct they have seen or heard about on the job. The FBI has also aggressively investigated whistleblowers from other agencies, leading to an unprecedented increase in Espionage Act prosecutions under the Obama administration, almost invariably targeting critics of government policies.

Targeting Journalists

The FBI’s overzealous pursuit of government whistleblowers has resulted in the inappropriate targeting of journalists for investigation, potentially chilling press freedoms. Recently, the FBI obtained records from 21 telephone lines used by over 100 Associated Press journalists, including the AP’s main number in the U.S. House of Representatives’ press gallery. And an FBI search warrant affidavit claimed Fox News reporter James Rosen aided, abetted, or co-conspired in criminal activity because of his news gathering activities, in an apparent attempt to circumvent legal restrictions designed to protect journalists. In 2010, the IG reported that the FBI unlawfully used an “exigent letter” to obtain the telephone records of seven New York Times and Washington Post reporters and researchers during a media leak investigation.

Thwarting Congressional Oversight

The FBI has thwarted congressional oversight by withholding information, limiting or delaying responses to members’ inquiries, or worse, by providing false or misleading information to Congress and the American public. Examples include false information regarding FBI investigations of domestic advocacy groups, misleading information about the FBI’s awareness of detainee abuse, and deceptive responses to questions about government surveillance authorities.

Targeting First Amendment Activity

Several ACLU Freedom of Information Act requests have uncovered significant evidence that the FBI has used its expanded authorities to target individuals and organizations because of their participation in First Amendment-protected activities. A 2010 IG report confirmed the FBI conducted inappropriate investigations of domestic advocacy groups engaged in environmental and anti-war activism, and falsified public responses to hide this fact. Other FBI documents showed FBI exploitation of community outreach programs to secretly collect information about law-abiding citizens, including a mosque outreach program specifically targeting American Muslims. Many of these abuses are likely a result of flawed FBI training materials and intelligence products that expressed anti-Muslim sentiments and falsely identified religious practices or other First Amendment activities as indicators of terrorism.

Proxy Detentions

The FBI increasingly operates outside the U.S., where its authorities are less clear and its activities much more difficult to monitor. Several troubling cases indicate that during the Bush administration the FBI requested, facilitated, and/or exploited the arrests and detention of U.S. citizens by foreign governments, often without charges, so they could be interrogated, sometimes tortured, then interviewed by FBI agents. The ACLU represents two victims of such activities. Amir Meshal was arrested at the Kenya border by a joint U.S., Kenyan, and Ethiopian task force in 2007, subjected to more than four months of detention, and transferred between three different East African countries without charge, access to counsel, or presentment before a judicial officer, all at the behest of the U.S. government. FBI agents interrogated Meshal more than thirty times during his detention. Similarly, Naji Hamdan, a Lebanese-American businessman, sat for interviews with the FBI several times before moving from Los Angeles to the United Arab Emirates in 2006. In 2008, he was arrested by U.A.E. security forces and held incommunicado for nearly three months, beaten, and tortured. At one point an American participated in his interrogation; Hamdan believed this person to be an FBI agent based on the interrogator’s knowledge of previous FBI interviews. Another case in 2010, involving an American teenager jailed in Kuwait, may indicate this activity has continued into the Obama administration.

Use of No Fly List to Pressure Americans Abroad to Become Informants

The number of U.S. persons on the No Fly List has more than doubled since 2009, and people mistakenly on the list are denied their due process rights to meaningfully challenge their inclusion. In many cases Americans only find out they are on the list while they are traveling abroad, which all but forces them to interact with the U.S. government from a position of extreme vulnerability, and often without easy access to counsel. Many of those prevented from flying home have been subjected to FBI interviews while they sought assistance from U.S. Embassies to return. In those interviews, FBI agents sometimes offer to take people off the No Fly List if they agree to become an FBI informant. In 2010 the ACLU and its affiliates filed a lawsuit on behalf of 10 American citizens and permanent residents, including several U.S. military veterans, seven of whom were prevented from returning home until the suit was filed. We argue that barring them from flying without due process was unconstitutional. There are now 13 plaintiffs; none have been charged with a crime, told why they are barred from flying, or given an opportunity to challenge their inclusion on the No Fly List.

(Find a printable PDF version here.)

July 5, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Foreign Surveillance Post-9/11: A History of Privacy Erosion

By Katitza Rodriguez, Mark Rumold and Tamir Israel | EFF | June 15, 2013

In order to fully appreciate how the revelations of this past week will impact non-Americans based outside of the United States, a little background on the legal framework on how the U.S. foreign intelligence apparatus operates is helpful. The centerpiece of this framework is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted in the late 70s. Historically, relying on a national security exception contained in the Wiretap Act, the United States government considered it had no obligation to obtain authorization from a court before intercepting communications for the purpose of national security. This changed in 1972, when the Supreme Court of the United States first held that the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement does apply to surveillance carried out in the name of national security – at least with respect to domestic threats:

Security surveillance is especially sensitive because of the inherent vagueness of the domestic security concept, the necessarily broad and continuing nature of intelligence gathering, and the temptation to utilize such surveillance to oversee political dissent. We recognize, as we have before, the constitutional basis of the President’s domestic security role, but we think it must be exercised in a manner compatible with the Fourth Amendment. In this case we hold that this requires an appropriate prior warrant procedure.

These words of caution rang true when it was later revealed that the Government’s unauthorized intelligence-gathering activities had included extensive surveillance of journalists, anti-war protestors, dissident groups and even political opponents. The congressional hearings that followed, called the Church Committee, led to what was perhaps the first comprehensive public look at the activities of the National Security Agency–a clandestine intelligence entity that had been colloquially dubbed “No Such Agency” to reflect its unique ability to defy any attempt to document or oversee its activities. Against this backdrop, FISA was passed specifically for the purpose of limiting foreign intelligence activities from being directed at U.S. persons.

While FISA was always generous in the powers it granted U.S. government agencies with respect to the surveillance of foreign agents, a series of amendments beginning with the USA PATRIOT Act and culminating with the FISA Amendment Act, 2008, transformed FISA into the vehicle for mass surveillance it is today. Notably, these amendments, as the U.S. government ultimately interpreted them:

  • (a) provided a broader set of powers under which various digital service providers were compelled to assist U.S. foreign intelligence agencies in their activities;
  • (b) removed the need for intelligence agencies to direct their activities at ‘foreign powers’ or ‘agents of foreign powers’ by making any non-U.S. person the legitimate focus of surveillance; and
  • (c) applied these extra-ordinary powers to a broader set of circumstances by removing the obligation to ensure ‘foreign intelligence’ is a primary objective for their use.

These amendments furnished the United States government with at least two powerful secret legal surveillance powers that have apparently been used by the NSA to conduct broad surveillance of both U.S. and non-U.S. persons:

  • a business records power (section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, codified as 50 USC §1861) under which the U.S. Government can compel production of ‘any tangible thing’ reasonably believed to be relevant to an authorized investigation conducted for the purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence. The government has now confirmed that it has secretly interpreted ‘any tangible thing’ to include ”all call detail records”, and its telephone metadata surveillance program is based on this power; and
  • a new general acquisition and interception power (section 702 of FISA, codified as 50 USC §1881a) that allows U.S. government agencies to compel access –possibly in real-time – to information from a diverse range of communications and data processing services. This second power has played a central role in populating the PRISM program.

Lots of problems surround the breadth of these powers and the secretive manner by which they have been interpreted. Very few substantive limits are placed on these powers. To make matters worse, these powers are interpreted secretly and are highly and effectively insulated from any adversarial challenge. This permits the government to adopt the most favourable interpretations it can devise, as has been shown in other contexts. The secret and non-adversarial context in which these interpretations are occurring is particularly problematic given the challenges inherent in applying privacy protections to technologically advanced state surveillance techniques.

Of the few existing internal limits FISA places on its powers, most relate to the need to limit exposure of U.S. persons. The only substantive protections that do not relate to this objective include a loose obligation that the powers be employed for foreign intelligence purposes, compatibility with the Fourth Amendment and the fact that both powers are subject to some limited, but highly secretive Judicial and Congressional review. None of these safeguards is highly reassuring, particularly to non-U.S. persons.

Safeguards primarily designed to limit exposure of U.S. persons

To the extent there are limitations placed on these two FISA powers, they are primarily designed to limit the exposure of U.S. persons. The business records power, for example, cannot be directed at U.S. persons solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment. The general acquisition power can only be directed at persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States and reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons. A recent leak, however, suggests that the United States Government has secretly interpreted this to require only 51% assurance of foreignness.

The general acquisition power is also subject to general minimization (§1801 (h)) and targeting (§1881a (i)(2)(B)) procedures, which must be approved by FISC. The sole objective of these requirements is to minimize the targeting, collection and retention of private information of U.S. persons. Of course, it remains secret how the specific techniques adopted seek to achieve this. The business records power also includes minimization procedures, but these only relate to minimizing the retention and dissemination of non-public information concerning U.S. persons, not, apparently, its collection (§1861 (g)(2)).

It has become clear over the past several days that the Government and FISC have secretly interpreted these various safeguards in a woefully inadequate manner that fails to achieve even the basic requirement of insulating U.S. persons from their reach. Non-U.S. persons, however, will probably be most concerned by the fact that nothing in FISA or elsewhere in U.S. law seems to effectively limit the extent to which their own online activities are being surveiled.

Next in our Spies Without Borders series, we will examine how the few protections FISA offers to individuals outside the United States provide little or no protection under US law.

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Foreign Surveillance Post-9/11: A History of Privacy Erosion

Government Spying: Should We Be Shocked?

By Ron Paul | June 9, 2013

Last week we saw dramatic new evidence of illegal government surveillance of our telephone calls, and of the National Security Agency’s deep penetration into American companies such as Facebook and Microsoft to spy on us. The media seemed shocked.

Many of us are not so surprised.

Some of us were arguing back in 2001 with the introduction of the so-called PATRIOT Act that it would pave the way for massive US government surveillance—not targeting terrorists but rather aimed against American citizens. We were told we must accept this temporary measure to provide government the tools to catch those responsible for 9/11. That was nearly twelve years and at least four wars ago.

We should know by now that when it comes to government power-grabs, we never go back to the status quo even when the “crisis” has passed. That part of our freedom and civil liberties once lost is never regained. How many times did the PATRIOT Act need renewed? How many times did FISA authority need expanded? Why did we have to pass a law to grant immunity to companies who hand over our personal information to the government?

It was all a build-up of the government’s capacity to monitor us.

The reaction of some in Congress and the Administration to last week’s leak was predictable. Knee-jerk defenders of the police state such as Senator Lindsey Graham declared that he was “glad” the government was collecting Verizon phone records—including his own—because the government needs to know what the enemy is up to. Those who take an oath to defend the Constitution from its enemies both foreign and domestic should worry about such statements.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers tells us of the tremendous benefits of this Big Brother-like program. He promises us that domestic terrorism plots were thwarted, but he cannot tell us about them because they are classified. I am a bit skeptical, however. In April, the New York Times reported that most of these domestic plots were actually elaborate sting operations developed and pushed by the FBI. According to the Times report, “of the 22 most frightening plans for attacks since 9/11 on American soil, 14 were developed in sting operations.”

Even if Chairman Rogers is right, though, and the program caught someone up to no good, we have to ask ourselves whether even such a result justifies trashing the Constitution. Here is what I said on the floor of the House when the PATRIOT Act was up for renewal back in 2011:

“If you want to be perfectly safe from child abuse and wife beating, the government could put a camera in every one of our houses and our bedrooms, and maybe there would be somebody made safer this way, but what would you be giving up? Perfect safety is not the purpose of government. What we want from government is to enforce the law to protect our liberties.”

What most undermines the claims of the Administration and its defenders about this surveillance program is the process itself. First the government listens in on all of our telephone calls without a warrant and then if it finds something it goes to a FISA court and gets an illegal approval for what it has already done! This turns the rule of law and due process on its head.

The government does not need to know more about what we are doing. We need to know more about what the government is doing. We need to turn the cameras on the police and on the government, not the other way around. We should be thankful for writers like Glenn Greenwald, who broke last week’s story, for taking risks to let us know what the government is doing. There are calls for the persecution of Greenwald and the other whistle-blowers and reporters. They should be defended, as their work defends our freedom.

June 9, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, False Flag Terrorism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Government Spying: Should We Be Shocked?

Why The NSA Can’t Be Trusted to Run U.S. Cybersecurity Programs

By Mark M. Jaycox and Lee Tien and Trevor Timm | EFF | July 30, 2012

This week, the Senate will be voting on a slew of amendments to the newest version of the Senate’s cybersecurity bill. Senators John McCain and Kay Bailey Hutchison have proposed several amendments that would hand the reins of our nation’s cybersecurity systems to the National Security Agency (NSA). All of the cybersecurity bills that have been proposed would provide avenues for companies to collect sensitive information on users and pass that data to the government. Trying to strike the balance between individual privacy and facilitating communication about threats is a challenge, but one thing is certain: the NSA has proven it can’t be trusted with that responsibility. The NSA’s dark history of repeated privacy violations, flouting of domestic law, and resistance to transparency makes it clear that the nation’s cybersecurity should not be in its hands.

In case you need a refresher, here’s an overview of why handing cybersecurity to the NSA would be a terrible idea:

  1. An executive order generally prohibits NSA from conducting intelligence on Americans’ domestic activities
    Executive Order 12333 signed by President Reagan in 1981 (and amended a few times since1), largely prohibits the NSA from spying on domestic activities:

    no foreign intelligence collection by such elements [of the Intelligence Community] may be undertaken for the purpose of acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons.

    If amended, the Cybersecurity Act would allow the NSA to gain information related to “cybersecurity threat indicators,” which would allow it to collect vast quantities of data that could include personally identifiable information of U.S. persons on American soil. Law enforcement and civilian agencies are tasked with investigating and overseeing domestic safety. The NSA, on the other hand, is an unaccountable military intelligence agency that is supposed to focus on foreign signals intelligence—and it’s frankly dangerous to expand the NSA’s access to information about domestic communications.

  2. NSA has a dark history of violating Americans’ constitutional rightsIn the 1960’s, a Congressional investigation, led by four-term Senator Frank Church, found that the NSA had engaged in widespread and warrantless spying on Americans citizens. Church was so stunned at what he found, he remarked that the National Security Agency’s “capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, andno American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything.” (emphasis added) The investigation led to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provided stronger privacy protections for Americans’ communications—that is, until it was weakened by the USA-PATRIOT Act and other reactions to 9/11.
  3. NSA has continued its warrantless wiretapping scandalIn 2005, the New York Times revealed that the NSA set up a massive warrantless wiretapping program shortly after 9/11, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and several federal laws. This was later confirmed by virtually every major media organization in the country. It led to Congressional investigations and several ongoing lawsuits, including EFF’s. Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act to granttelecom companies retroactive immunity for participating in illegal spying and severely weaken privacy safeguards for Americans communicating overseas.Since the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) passed, the NSA has continued collecting emails of Americans. A 2009 New York Times investigation described how a “significant and systemic” practice of “overcollection” of communications resulted in the NSA’s intercepting millions of purely domestic emails and phone calls between Americans. In addition, documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU, although heavily redacted, revealed “that violations [of the FAA and the Constitution] continued to occur on a regular basis through at least March 2010″— the last month anyone has public data for.
  4. NSA recently admitted to violating the Constitution.Just last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence—which oversees the NSA—begrudgingly acknowledged that “on at least one occasion” the secret FISA court “held that some collection… used by the government was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Wired called it a “federal sidestep of a major section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” and it confirmed the many reports over the last few years: the NSA has violated the Constitution.
  5. NSA keeps much of what it does classified and secretBecause cybersecurity policy is inescapably tied to our online civil liberties, it’s essential to maximize government transparency and accountability here.  The NSA may be the worst government entity on this score.  Much of the NSA’s work is exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) disclosure because Congress generally shielded NSA activities from FOIA2. Even aside from specific exemption statutes, much information about NSA activities is classified on national security grounds. The NSA has also stonewalled organizations trying to bring public-interest issues to light by claiming the “state secrets” privilege in court. EFF has been involved in lawsuits challenging the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program since 2006. Despite years of litigation, the government continues to maintain that the “state secrets” privilege prevents any challenge from being heard.  Transparency and accountability simply are not the NSA’s strong suit.

We remain unconvinced that we need any of the proposed cybersecurity bills, but we’re particularly worried about attempts to deputize the NSA as the head of our cybersecurity systems. And even the NSA has admitted that it does “not want to run cyber security for the United States government.”

Thankfully, new privacy changes in the cybersecurity bill heading towards the Senate floor have explicitly barred intelligence agencies like the NSA from serving as the center of information gathering for cybersecurity. We need to safeguard those protections and fend off amendments that give additional authority to the NSA. We’re asking concerned individuals to use our Stop Cyber Spying tool to tweet at their Senators or use the American Library Association’s simple tool to call Senators. We need to speak out in force this week to ensure that America’s cybersecurity systems aren’t handed to the NSA.

  • 1. Executive Order 12333 was amended in 2003 by Executive Order 13284, in 2004 by Executive Order 13355, and in 2008 by Executive Order 13470. The resulting text of Executive Order 12333 is available here (pdf).
  • 2. Three of the most common statutes that NSA uses to fight transparency: Section 6 of the National Security Agency Act of 1959 (Public Law 86-36, 50 U.S.C. Sec. 402 note), which provides that no law shall be construed to require the disclosure of, inter alia, the functions or activities of NSA; The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, 50 U.S.C. Sec. 403- 1(i), which requires under the Responsibilities and Authorities of the Director of National Intelligence that we protect information pertaining to intelligence sources and methods; and 18 U.S.C. Sec. 798, which prohibits the release of classified information concerning communications intelligence and communications security information to unauthorized persons.

July 31, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Why The NSA Can’t Be Trusted to Run U.S. Cybersecurity Programs