Mark Mazzetti reports: The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.
“As you are aware, the C.I.A. has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal C.I.A. review, and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy…”
– Senator Mark Udall
The agency’s inspector general began the inquiry partly as a response to complaints from members of Congress that C.I.A. employees were improperly monitoring the work of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to government officials with knowledge of the investigation.
The committee has spent several years working on a voluminous report about the detention and interrogation program, and according to one official interviewed in recent days, C.I.A. officers went as far as gaining access to computer networks used by the committee to carry out its investigation.
The events have elevated the protracted battle — which began as a fight over who writes the history of the program, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the American government’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks — into a bitter standoff that in essence is a dispute over the separation of powers and congressional oversight of spy agencies.
The specifics of the inspector general’s investigation are unclear. But several officials interviewed in recent days — all of whom insisted on anonymity, citing a continuing inquiry — said it began after the C.I.A. took what Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, on Tuesday called an “unprecedented action” against the committee. Read the rest of this entry »
Move over, GI Joe, there’s a new action figure in town: fugitive US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden.
ThatsMyFace.com, based in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon, is marketing a 12-inch (30-centimeter) likeness of the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor for $99, it said Tuesday on its website.
It comes appropriately dressed in a blue shirt, casual trousers and black high-top basketball shoes, though grey-striped business suit, Indiana Jones and combat uniform options are available.
Now the Director of National Intelligence admits it would have been better if Washington had acknowledged the surveillance in the first place…
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset, we wouldn’t have had the problem we had.”
The American public and most members of Congress were kept in the dark for years about a secret U.S. program to collect and store such records of American citizens on a massive scale.The government’s legal interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act that granted the authority for this dragnet collection was itself a state secret.
The program makes it easy for the president to spy on and blackmail his enemies
Glenn Harlan Reynolds writes: Most of the worry about the National Security Agency’s bulk interception of telephone calls, e-mail and the like has centered around threats to privacy. And, in fact, the evidence suggests that if you’ve got a particularly steamy phone- or Skype-sex session going on, it just might wind up being shared by voyeuristic NSA analysts.
But most Americans figure, probably rightly, that the NSA isn’t likely to be interested in their stuff. (Anyone who hacks my e-mail is automatically punished, by having to read it.) There is, however, a class of people who can’t take that disinterest for granted: members of Congress and the judiciary. What they have to say is likely to be pretty interesting to anyone with a political ax to grind. And the ability of the executive branch to snoop on the phone calls of people in the other branches isn’t just a threat to privacy, but a threat to the separation of powers and the Constitution.
John Glaser writes: In what many described as yet another indication of a monumental shift happening in the Grand Old Party, the Republican National Committee last week passed a resolution calling for an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
But the party’s apparent shuffling to a more limited government, civil liberties-conscious platform may not be as genuine as some believe.
The RNC’s resolution, which passed by an “overwhelming majority,” declares “the mass collection and retention of personal data is in itself contrary to the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Looking back I’m amazed we all seemed so surprised. Over the last decade, pretty much every arm of American authority invoked “homeland security” as an excuse to acquire boatloads of new technology, and used it to help expand their power and authority to unprecedented levels. There is nothing at all exceptional about the NSA’s massive overreach. It was only keeping up with the Joneses — FBI, DEA, Border Patrol, police forces everywhere — who have all been busy doing exactly the same thing.
The impoverished city of Oakland is spending more than $10 million on a “Domain Awareness Center” surveillance hub for its cops, and cameras that track every license plate they see. Baltimore and NYC track license plates, too. Meanwhile,according to the LA Times, “Unmanned aircraft from an Air Force base in North Dakota help local police with surveillance,” and Motherboard reports: The Border Patrol’s fleet of Predator drones were loaned out 248 times in 2012, to “unnamed sheriff’s departments, the Department of Defense, the DEA, the Texas Rangers, and even the Bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs.”
From the IRS to the NSA, Americans have reasons not to trust the Obama Administration
His answer: 9.5. Other tax experts on the panel called it “awful,” and said that it has done “tremendous damage.”
I think that’s right. And I think that the damage extends well beyond the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, I think that the government agency suffering the most damage isn’t the IRS, but the National Security Agency. Because the NSA, even more than the IRS, depends on public trust. And now that the IRS has been revealed to be a political weapon, it’s much harder for people to have faith in the NSA.
‘I Think A Lot Of The Privacy People Don’t Understand That We Still Occupy The Role Of The Great Satan’Posted: January 19, 2014
From NRO’s The Corner, Betsy Woodruff writes: Dianne Feinstein decried NSA critics on Meet the Press this morning, saying the government is much less intrusive than corporations and that privacy advocates don’t understand the extent of the threat that terrorism poses to the United States.
“This was a thief, who we believe had some help, who stole information the vast majority had nothing to do with privacy.” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who heads up the intel panel, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview that will air Sunday. “Our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines have been incredibly harmed by the data that he has taken with him and we believe now is in the hands of nation-states.” NBC released an excerpt of the interview late Saturday.
Gary Schmitt writes: Thankfully, President Obama is not a doctor. If he was and you happened to visit him in his office and mentioned that you were worried about the potential for lung cancer, he’d immediately put you under, open you up, and pull out a lung—or, at least, that’s the logic that seems to be guiding his decisions on NSA’s collection programs. Yes, no one has found any evidence that NSA has broken the law, invaded constitutionally-protected privacy rights, or is about to. But never mind, it’s the very possibility that someday, somehow, NSA will jump the tracks that requires the president now to unduly complicate the use of what he admits has been an important counterterrorism tool.
Charles Krauthammer praised the president’s NSA speech as the “best use of Obama’s rhetorical powers of dazzling with very little content since the ‘08 campaign.”
On Friday night’s Special Report, Krauthammer characterized President Obama’s reforms to the United States’ surveillance as
“90 percent smoke and mirrors, and very little substantive change, which is what we need.”
Joel B. Pollak reports: President Barack Obama announced Friday that John Podesta, his new “counselor” and the political operative responsible for creating the institutional left in Washington, will be the appointed “to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy” in the aftermath of revelations about the National Security Agency’s electronic spying programs. When he joined the White House last month, Podesta’s focus was said to be “climate change.”
The president’s speech contained little news. It was a classic Obama set-piece, designed to demonstrate that he understands both sides of a complex argument, while delegating responsibility to third parties and taking steps that reinforce the interests and goals of the hard left. In this instance, Obama left final decisions about where to store NSA data to Congress, while making sure that Podesta is in charge of the consultative process as a whole.
Death by Data: How Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ Prefigured the Nightmare of the Modern Surveillance StatePosted: January 17, 2014
“Kafkaesque” is a word much used and little understood. It evokes highbrow, sophisticated thought but its soupçon of irony allows those who use it to avoid being exact about what it means. When the writers of Breaking Bad titled one of their episodes Kafkaesque, they were sharing a joke about the word’s nebulousness. “Sounds kind of Kafkaesque,” says a pretentious therapy group leader when Jesse Pinkman describes his working conditions. “Totally Kafkaesque,” Jesse witlessly replies.
[Amazon: Kafka's The Trial and Kafka: The Decisive Years by Reiner Stach]
If the word is widely misused, it is also increasingly valuable. Last year, when the attorney and author John W Whitehead wrote about the US National Security Agency scandal in an article headlined “Kafka’s America”, the reference to Kafka clearly made sense:
“We now live in a society in which a person can be accused of any number of crimes without knowing” what exactly he has done. He might be apprehended in the middle of the night by a roving band of Swat police. He might find himself on a no-fly list, unable to travel for reasons undisclosed. He might have his phones or internet tapped based upon a secret order handed down by a secret court, with no recourse to discover why he was targeted. Indeed, this is Kafka’s nightmare and it is slowly becoming America’s reality”
We live in a world of covert court decisions and secret bureaucratic procedures and where privacy is being abolished – all familiar from Kafka’s best-known novel, The Trial. This year marks the centenary of the book’s composition, though it was not published until after Kafka’s death, in 1925.
Douglas Rushkoff writes: The crises arrive from everywhere, and all at once. The responses do, too. New allegations about NSA eavesdropping, for instance, pop up on Twitter before the White House has had a chance to fully spin the last set. A Cabinet secretary is presumed ripe for firing over a botched health care website even before the site’s problems are fully diagnosed. The pauses between an event and a response to it—the space in which public opinion was once gauged—is gone, and now the feedback is indistinguishable from the initial action. The verdict, the takeaway, the very meaning behind what is happening is more elusive than ever before. We cobble together narratives and hunt for conclusions. Millions of social media posts per minute are parsed and analyzed as if those vast bits of opinion, conjecture and fancy somehow coalesce into a story.
But they don’t.
Welcome to the world of “present shock,” where everything is happening so fast that it may as well be simultaneous. One big now. The result for institutions—especially political ones—has been profound. This transformation has dramatically degraded the ability of political operatives to set long-term plans. Thrown off course, they’re now often left simply to react to the incoming barrage of events as they unfold. Gone, suddenly, is the quaint notion of “controlling the narrative”—the flood of information is often far too unruly. There’s no time for context, only for crisis management.
Jared Newman reports: By now we’ve learned a lot about how the NSA intercepts private communications, whether it’s tapping into fiber optic cables, bugging laptopsbefore they’re delivered to customers or just collecting mounds of data from tech companies upon request.
Still, a new company called Blackphone believes it can create a smartphone that’s safe from government snooping. Blackphone promises secure phone calls, texts, file transfers and video chats, along with private browsing and anonymized activity through a virtual private network. The phone is a partnership between Silent Circle, which offers encrypted communications services, and Madrid-based phone maker Geeksphone.