Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms fail to safeguard civil liberties
For Reason, Ronald Bailey writes: In January, President Barack Obama made a much-anticipated speech at the Department of Justice outlining proposed reforms of the domestic surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA). The secretive spy agency has taken a public battering ever since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began blowing the whistle on its clandestine collection of basically every American’s telephone records.
“We will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities, and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons,” the president proclaimed. Unfortunately, Obama’s proposed changes to domestic surveillance programs are not nearly transparent enough, and fail to adequately protect the privacy of Americans.
In January, the federal government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent agency charged by Congress with advising the president on the privacy and civil liberties repercussions relating to fighting terrorism, concluded that the NSA’s domestic surveillance “implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value.” How limited? “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”
The oversight board recommended that the surveillance program be terminated. In his speech, the president said that he had consulted with the board. Yet he did not heed its advice.
Instead of ending the unconstitutional domestic telecommunications spying program, Obama offered what he insisted were “a series of concrete and substantial reforms.” These include a new executive order on signals intelligence-that is, data connected with private communications-instructing surveillance agencies that “privacy and civil liberties shall be integral considerations.”
The order further admonishes intelligence bureaucrats to make sure their spying actually provides some benefit greater than the embarrassment officials will surely suffer should they be disclosed. This is the “front page test,” or how officials would feel if what they are doing were reported on the front page of a newspaper. If discovery equals discomfort, then maybe they shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »
“Lenin, whose spirit still infuses the government of Russia had a name for people like Mr. Snowden – ‘useful idiots,’ he said, idealists so-called who served the interests of Lenin’s country,” Will said. “We don’t need to listen to Snowden anymore giving us lectures about the virtues of an open society when he chooses to go to earth in Putin’s Russia…”
“Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?”
Snowden also asked if increasing “the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations” is justification for placing societies under surveillance.
“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law. We don’t have mass system of such interception.And according to our law it cannot exist.”
“Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by the society and the law, and are regulated by the law.”
“They would believe that this kind of behavior could actually be politically negotiated away, and that would be a very disturbing message for the people who provide America with intelligence.”
Eliana Johnson writes: The intelligence community would see the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as a signal of the administration’s willingness grant clemency to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, according to former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden. “They would believe that this kind of behavior could actually be politically negotiated away, and that would be a very disturbing message for the people who provide America with intelligence,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday.
“It’s almost a sign of desperation that you would throw this into the pot just to keep the Israelis talking with the Palestinians.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has conducted warrantless searches of Americans’ communications as part of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations that target foreigners located outside of the U.S., the administration’s top intelligence official confirmed in a letter to Congress disclosed Tuesday.
These searches were authorized by a secret surveillance court in 2011, but it was unclear until Tuesday whether any such searches on Americans had been conducted.
The recent acknowledgement of warrantless searches on Americans offers more insight into U.S. government surveillance operations put in place after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The government has broadly interpreted these laws to allow for the collection of communications of innocent Americans, practices the Obama administration maintains are legal. But President Obama has promised to review some of these programs to determine whether the government should be conducting this type of surveillance at all.
Our government is always hiding something
For USA Today, Betty Medsger writes: The Obama administration has used the Freedom of Information Act to increase rather than decrease government secrecy. In 2013, it increased use of exemptions to bar release of requested files by 22% over the previous year, according an analysis by the Associated Press. The government fully denied or redacted large portions of files in 36% of the 704,394 requests submitted
There also was a substantial increase in citing national security concerns as reason for withholding information. The administration did so 8,496 times in 2013 – more than double the rate in President Obama’s first year in office. The National Security Agency censored records or denied FOIA requests 98% of the time in 2013.
This growing disregard for openness is especially disappointing from a president who, on his first full day in office, announced he would have the most transparent administration in history. It is evident not only in the administration’s handling of FOIA requests, but also in the recent CIA dispute with the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee over the committee’s report on the government’s use of torture in the aftermath of 9/11 and in the scope and nature of mass surveillance by the NSA, known because of files made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The need to reverse this trend is evident in the critical role the FOIA has played in revealing secrets that, once public, led to major reforms. The revelation of COINTELPRO, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s secret illegal operations, is an example of the fundamental importance of the FOIA.
Untruthful and Untrustworthy Government
The massaging of critical data undermines our society
Victor Davis Hanson writes: Transparency and truth are the fuels that run sophisticated civilizations. Without them, the state grinds to a halt. Lack of trust — not barbarians on the frontier, global warming or cooling, or even epidemics — doomed civilizations of the past, from imperial Rome to the former Soviet Union.
The United States can withstand the untruth of a particular presidential administration if the permanent government itself is honest. Dwight Eisenhower lied about the downed U-2 spy plane inside the Soviet Union. Almost nothing Richard Nixon said about Watergate was true. Intelligence reports of vast stockpiles of WMD in Iraq proved as accurate as Bill Clinton’s assertion that he never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.
Presidents fib. The nation gets outraged. The independent media dig out the truth. And so the system of trust repairs itself.
What distinguishes democracies from tinhorn dictatorships and totalitarian monstrosities are our permanent meritocratic government bureaus that remain nonpartisan and honestly report the truth.
The Benghazi, Associated Press, and National Security Agency scandals are scary, but not as disturbing as growing doubts about the honesty of permanent government itself. Read the rest of this entry »
DAVID E. SANGER and NICOLE PERLROTH reporting for the NYT: American officials have long considered Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, a security threat, blocking it from business deals in the United States for fear that the company would create “back doors” in its equipment that could allow the Chinese military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and government secrets.
“The documents were disclosed by The New York Times and Der Spiegel, and are also part of a book by Der Spiegel, “The N.S.A. Complex.” The documents, as well as interviews with intelligence officials, offer new insights into the United States’ escalating digital cold war with Beijing.”
But even as the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from Huawei, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks.
The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen, China’s industrial heart, according to N.S.A. documents provided by the former contractor Edward J. Snowden. It obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.
One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawai and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear. But the plans went further: to exploit Huawai’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries — including both allies and nations that avoid buying American products — the N.S.A. could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.
“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products,” the N.S.A. document said. “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products,” it added, to “gain access to networks of interest” around the world. Read the rest of this entry »
By unilaterally retreating from online oversight, the White House pleased regimes that want to control the Web
L. Gordon Crovitz writes: The Internet is often described as a miracle of self-regulation, which is almost true. The exception is that the United States government has had ultimate control from the beginning. Washington has used this oversight only to ensure that the Internet runs efficiently and openly, without political pressure from any country.
This was the happy state of affairs until last Friday, when the Obama administration made the surprise announcement it will relinquish its oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, which assigns and maintains domain names and Web addresses for the Internet. Russia, China and other authoritarian governments have already been working to redesign the Internet more to their liking, and now they will no doubt leap to fill the power vacuum caused by America’s unilateral retreat.
“The Obama administration has now endangered that hallmark of Internet freedom.”
Why would the U.S. put the open Internet at risk by ceding control over Icann? Administration officials deny that the move is a sop to critics of the National Security Agency’s global surveillance. But many foreign leaders have invoked the Edward Snowden leaks as reason to remove U.S. control—even though surveillance is an entirely separate topic from Internet governance.
“This treaty, which goes into effect next year, legitimizes censorship of the Web and the blocking of social media.”
For The Daily Caller, Giuseppe Macri reports: The United States Department of Commerce gave up control of the organization charged with managing the Internet’s core infrastructure Friday as a result of mounting global pressure born out of the backlash over global National Security Agency surveillance. Read the rest of this entry »
Andy Greenberg writes: Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the first name that comes to mind as a champion of privacy. But the seemingly endless revelations of NSA surveillance programs has inspired Facebook’s founder to call up no less than President Obama himself to defend his users from government intrusion.
“They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst…”
– Zuckerberg’s statement
On Thursday Zuckerberg posted a statement on Facebook calling on the U.S. government to take more measures to respect users’ privacy and security. “The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat,” reads his statement. “I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future. Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”
“We work together to create this secure environment and make our shared space even better for the world,” Zuckerberg’s statement reads. “This is why I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the US government…”
Though Zuckerberg never explicitly names the NSA in his statement, his comments follow news of NSA programs that have potentially allowed spying on Facebook users for years–particularly the majority of those users outside the United States. The initial stories on the NSA’s PRISM program last July cited NSA slides that made Facebook appear to have given direct backdoor access to its servers, a notion Zuckerberg and others have vehemently denied.
[Check out Andy Greenberg's book "This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers" at Amazon]
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.