(Needless to say, the former director neglected to mention that the court was not informed that the bureau’s “evidence” for the warrants was unverified hearsay paid for by the Clinton campaign.)
The pearl-clutching was predictable. Less than a year ago, we learned the Obama administration had used a confidential informant — a spy — to approach at least three Trump campaign officials in the months leading up to the 2016 election, straining to find proof that the campaign was complicit in the Kremlin’s hacking of Democratic emails.
As night follows day, we were treated to the same Beltway hysteria we got this week: Silly semantic carping over the word “spying” — which, regardless of whether a judge authorizes it, is merely the covert gathering of intelligence about a suspected wrongdoer, organization or foreign power.
James Comey (from left), Donald Trump and William Barr Getty Images
There is no doubt that the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign. As Barr made clear, the real question is: What predicated the spying? Was there a valid reason for it, strong enough to overcome our norm against political spying? Or was it done rashly? Was a politically motivated decision made to use highly intrusive investigative tactics when a more measured response would have sufficed, such as a “defensive briefing” that would have warned the Trump campaign of possible Russian infiltration?
Last year, when the “spy” games got underway, James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, conceded that, yes, the FBI did run an informant — “spy” is such an icky word — at Trump campaign officials; but, we were told, this was merely to investigate Russia. Cross Clapper’s heart, it had nothing to do with the Trump campaign. No, no, no. Indeed, the Obama administration only used an informant because — bet you didn’t know this — doing so is the most benign, least intrusive mode of conducting an investigation.
Me? I’m thinking the tens of thousands of convicts serving lengthy sentences due to the penetration of their schemes by informants would beg to differ. (Gee, Mr. Gambino, I assure you, this was just for you own good . . .) And imagine the Democrats’ response if, say, the Bush administration had run a covert intelligence operative against Obama 2008 campaign officials, including the campaign’s co-chairman. Surely David Axelrod, Chuck Schumer, The New York Times and Rachel Maddow would chirp that “all is forgiven” once they heard Republicans punctiliously parse the nuances between “spying” and “surveillance”; between “spies” and “informants”; and between investigating campaign officials versus investigating the campaign proper — and the candidate. Read the rest of this entry »
The House memo reveals disturbing facts about the misuse of FISA.
Now we know why the FBI tried so hard to block release of the House Intelligence Committee memo. And why Democrats and the media want to change the subject to Republican motivations. The four-page memo released Friday reports disturbing facts about how the FBI and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court appear to have been used to influence the 2016 election and its aftermath.
The White House declassified the memo Friday, and you don’t have to be a civil libertarian to be shocked by the details. The memo confirms that the FBI and Justice Department on Oct. 21, 2016 obtained a FISA order to surveil Carter Page, an American citizen who was a relatively minor volunteer adviser to the Trump presidential campaign.
The memo says an “essential” part of the FISA application was the “dossier” assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele and the research firm Fusion GPS that was hired by a law firm attached to the Clinton campaign. The memo adds that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December 2017 that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought” without the dossier.
This is troubling enough, but the memo also discloses that the FBI failed to inform the FISA court that the Clinton campaign had funded the dossier. The memo says the FBI supported its FISA application by “extensively” citing a September 2016 article in Yahoo News that contained allegations against Mr. Page. But the FBI failed to tell the court that Mr. Steele and Fusion were the main sources for that Yahoo article. In essence the FBI was citing Mr. Steele to corroborate Mr. Steele.
Unlike a normal court, FISA doesn’t have competing pleaders. The FBI and Justice appear ex parte as applicants, and thus the judges depend on candor from both. Yet the FBI never informed the court that Mr. Steele was in effect working for the Clinton campaign. The FBI retained Mr. Steele as a source, and in October 2016 he talked to Mother Jones magazine without authorization about the FBI investigation and his dossier alleging collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The FBI then fired Mr. Steele, but it never told the FISA judges about that either. Nor did it tell the court any of this as it sought three subsequent renewals of the order on Mr. Page. Read the rest of this entry »
Radio host and commentator Mark Steyn on liberal media dismissing the revelation of Susan Rice unmasking Trump associates under surveillance, decrying the story as a ‘diversion’ from the Russian collusion scandal.
…As the facts about who surveilled whom during the transition get sorted out, it is useful to remember why Trump’s team and his supporters have reason to be suspicious, thanks to a long documented history of Obama using shady surveillance tactics on both political opponents and international allies. Rhodes himself knows this history but that doesn’t seem to matter as he once again attempts to make people believe he fell out of the sky and onto Twitter on January 21st, 2017.
To help jog Rhodes’ memory, below are all the documented instances of the Obama administration using and in some cases abusing surveillance.
1. Fox News reporter James Rosen
In 2013 the news broke that Eric Holder’s Justice Department had spied on James Rosen. Obama’s DOJ collected Rosen’s telephone records as well as tracked his movements to and from the State Department from where he reported. Rosen was named as a possible co-conspirator in a Justice Department affidavit. Rosen claims that his parents phone line was also swept up in the collection of his records and DOJ records seem to confirm that. Despite the targeting of Rosen, there were no brave calls to boycott the White House Correspondents Dinner.
2. Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA
CIA officers penetrated a network used to share information by Senate Intel committee members, including Sen. Diane Feinstein, the committee’s Democrat chair. The bombshell New York Times report went on to disclose:
The C.I.A. officials penetrated the computer network when they came to suspect that the committee’s staff had gained unauthorized access to an internal C.I.A. review of the detention program that the spy agency never intended to give to Congress. A C.I.A. lawyer then referred the agency’s suspicions to the Justice Department to determine whether the committee staff broke the law when it obtained that document. The inspector general report said that there was no “factual basis” for this referral, which the Justice Department has declined to investigate, because the lawyer had been provided inaccurate information. The report said that the three information technology officers “demonstrated a lack of candor about their activities” during interviews with the inspector general.
The Obama White House defended CIA director John Brennan’s actions and response. Imagine that.
3. Prism In 2013, it was revealed how the Obama administration and NSA were facilitating a secret government mass surveillance program called Prism, because the name Orwell would have been too obvious, I guess. Read the rest of this entry »
Mark Moore reports: Former President Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice asked for the identities of Americans in intelligence reports that are connected to officials on President Trump’s campaign and transition teams, according to a report Monday citing US officials.
A National Security Council review of the government’s policy on “unmasking” the identities of Americans caught up in incidental surveillance revealed Rice’s requests, Bloomberg reported.
The identities of citizens collected are normally redacted from the intelligence reports and are designated as something like “US Person One,” Bloomberg reported.
Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the NSC’s senior director for intelligence, uncovered Rice’s multiple requests related to the Trump transition in February while conducting the review and alerted the White House General Counsel’s Office, which undertook another review of Rice and told him to stop his investigation into the unmasking, the website reported.
The intelligence documents contained summaries of conversations monitored between foreign officials talking about the Trump transition. They also contained some instances of communication between Trump associates and foreign officials, the report said.
Officials travelling with Mrs May have been issued with temporary mobile phones and email addresses in an attempt to evade Chinese state hackers.
Security advisers are also warning staff not to keep gifts they receive and to be particularly wary of electronic devices, such as free computer memory sticks, mobile phone SIM cards or chargers which they are offered by their Chinese hosts.
One Whitehall source said security chiefs had warned them that hotel rooms used during the summit were likely to be bugged. “We have been told that if you feel uncomfortable about people seeing you naked, you should get changed under your bedclothes,” the source said.
Damian McBride, left, was then prime minister Gordon Brown’s special advisor CREDIT: BRUCE ADAMS/REX
British security agencies regard China as one of the most aggressive nations when it comes to launching cyber-attacks against western governments and businesses, as well as posing a major espionage threat to the UK.
Chinese technological expertise has prompted security concerns at the highest levels of government and British intelligence.
There are fears that Chinese intelligence agents will use their capability to intercept emails and phone calls and to install spy software on computers during the summit.
However, one of the gravest threats posed by foreign spies is also one of the oldest: the honey trap.
During Mr Brown’s visit to China in 2008, one of the No 10 officials accompanying the then Prime Minister reportedly fell prey to a “beautiful” female Chinese spy. She went back to his hotel room, drugged him, stole his mobile phone and documents from his briefcase.
The incident was described by Mr Brown’s former spin doctor, Damien McBride, in his 2013 memoir, Power Trip.
The No 10 team was “accosted on one side by a beautiful posse of Chinese girls and on the other side by an equivalent group of Russian blondes”, Mr McBride said.
Even before our resident security expert could warn us that their interest was not to be taken at face value, we looked up and saw one of our number disappearing up the stairs to the exit with one of the girls, beaming back at us.
He woke up the following morning “minus his Blackberry and half the contents of his briefcase”.
The official also had a “‘very bad headache, owning to the Mickey Finn nightcap his overnight companion had administered to him in his hotel room”.
In the surveillance area, I believe the public is mostly wrong.
Andrew C. McCarthy writes: Should private companies that provide users with encryption technology be required to assist law-enforcement and intelligence services to defeat that technology? This question is a more pressing one in the wake of November’s Paris terrorist attacks. But it is a very tough question that has vexed both the government and providers of communications services for years.
“The problem is that encryption technology has gotten very tough to crack and very widely available. Consequently, if terrorists or other high-level criminals are using it to carry out schemes that endanger the public, government agents cannot penetrate the communications in real time.”
Part of what makes it so difficult is the new facts of life. As I noted during the debate over the NSA’s bulk-collection of telephone metadata, we are operating in a political environment that is night-and-day different from the aftermath of 9/11. Back then, a frightened public was demanding that the government do a better job of collecting intelligence and thwarting terrorist plots. Of course that sentiment was driven by the mass-murder of nearly 3,000 Americans, coupled with the destruction of the World Trade Center and a strike against the Pentagon. But it also owed in no small measure to the fact that government had done such an incompetent job gathering and “connecting the dots” prior to the attacks. There was a strong public sense that intelligence agencies needed an injection of muscle.
“That they have a legal basis to conduct surveillance is beside the point; all the probable cause in the world won’t help an agent who lacks the know-how to access what he’s been authorized to search.”
Today, the public’s sense tends in the other direction. There have been spectacular abuses of government power (e.g., IRS scandal), and intrusive security precautions infused by political correctness (e.g., airport searches). Americans understandably suspect that government cannot be trusted with enhanced authorities and that many of its tactics are more about the appearance of security than real security.
This makes it a very uphill environment in which to suggest, as FBI Director Jim Comey has recently done, that communications providers should provide the government with keys to unlocking their encryption technology – encryption-key repositories or what is often called “backdoor” access.
The problem is that encryption technology has gotten very tough to crack and very widely available. Consequently, if terrorists or other high-level criminals are using it to carry out schemes that endanger the public, government agents cannot penetrate the communications in real time. That they have a legal basis to conduct surveillance is beside the point; all the probable cause in the world won’t help an agent who lacks the know-how to access what he’s been authorized to search. Read the rest of this entry »
Drones are being used to capture video footage that shows construction progress at the Sacramento Kings’ new stadium.
Will Knight writes: For some construction workers, any thoughts of slacking off could soon seem rather quaint. The drones will almost certainly notice.
“It’s not new to the construction industry that there would either be people standing and observing operations, or that there would be fixed cameras. Yes, making this autonomous has a different feeling for the workers.”
The workers building a lavish new downtown stadium for the Sacramento Kings in California are being monitored by drones and software that can automatically flag slow progress.
“But you have to keep in mind that it’s not really questioning the efficiency of the workers, it’s questioning what resources these guys need to be more efficient.”
The project highlights the way new technologies allow manual work to be monitored and scrutinized, and it comes as productivity in other areas of work, including many white collar jobs, is being tracked more closely using desktop and smartphone software.
Software developed at the University of Illinois can show different stages of construction.
“We highlight at-risk locations on a site, where the probability of having an issue is really high. We can understand why deviations are happening, and we can see where efficiency improvements are made.”
— Mani Golparvar-Fard, an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering at the University of Illinois, who developed the software with several colleagues
Once per day, several drones automatically patrol the Sacramento work site, collecting video footage. That footage is then converted into a three-dimensional picture of the site, which is fed into software that compares it to computerized architectural plans as well as a the construction work plan showing when each element should be finished. The software can show managers how the project is progressing, and can automatically highlight parts that may be falling behind schedule.
“We highlight at-risk locations on a site, where the probability of having an issue is really high,” says Mani Golparvar-Fard, an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering at the University of Illinois, who developed the software with several colleagues. It can show, for example, that a particular structural element is behind schedule, perhaps because materials have not yet arrived. “We can understand why deviations are happening, and we can see where efficiency improvements are made,” Golparvar-Fard says.
Such additional scrutiny is controversial. It raises worries over worker privacy, for instance, and fears that people may be encouraged to work excessive hours.
Another project involves tracking the activity of individual construction workers in video footage.
“Such additional scrutiny is controversial. It raises worries over worker privacy, for instance, and fears that people may be encouraged to work excessive hours.”
Golparvar-Fard concedes that this could be an issue, but he defends the idea. “It’s not new to the construction industry that there would either be people standing and observing operations, or that there would be fixed cameras,” he says. “Yes, making this autonomous has a different feeling for the workers. But you have to keep in mind that it’s not really questioning the efficiency of the workers, it’s questioning what resources these guys need to be more efficient.” Read the rest of this entry »
The final vote divided Senate Republicans, with 23 voting ‘yes’ and 30 voting ‘no,’ and senators seeking re-election in 2016 split on the issue
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress approved sweeping changes Tuesday to surveillance laws enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks, eliminating the National Security Agency’s disputed bulk phone-records collection program and replacing it with a more restrictive measure to keep the records in phone companies’ hands.
“This is a step in the wrong direction…does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens. And it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool form our warfighters at exactly the wrong time.”
— Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Two days after Congress let the phone-records and several other anti-terror programs expire, the Senate’s 67-32 vote sent the legislation to President Barack Obama, who said he would sign it promptly.
“This legislation will strengthen civil liberty safeguards and provide greater public confidence in these programs,” Obama said in a statement. The bill signing could happen late Tuesday or early Wednesday, but officials said it could take at least several days to restart the collection.
The legislation will revive most of the programs the Senate had allowed to lapse in a dizzying collision of presidential politics and national security policy. But the authorization will undergo major changes, the legacy of agency contractor Edward Snowden‘s explosive revelations two years ago about domestic spying by the government.
“I applaud the Senate for renewing our nation’s foreign intelligence capabilities, and I’m pleased this measure will now head to the president’s desk for his signature.”
— House Speaker John Boehner
In an unusual shifting of alliances, the legislation passed with the support of Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, but over the strong opposition of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell failed to persuade the Senate to extend the current law unchanged, and came up short in a last-ditch effort Tuesday to amend the House version, as nearly a dozen of his own Republicans abandoned him in a series of votes.
“This is a step in the wrong direction,” a frustrated McConnell said on the Senate floor ahead of the Senate’s final vote to approve the House version, dubbed the USA Freedom Act. He said the legislation “does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens. And it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool form our warfighters at exactly the wrong time.”
“Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”
— George Orwell
The legislation remakes the most controversial aspect of the USA Patriot Act — the once-secret bulk collection program that allows the National Security Agency to sweep up Americans’ phone records and comb through them for ties to international terrorists. Over six months the NSA would lose the power to collect and store those records, but the government still could gain court orders to obtain data connected to specific numbers from the phone companies, which typically store them for 18 months.
It would also continue other post-9/11 surveillance provisions that lapsed Sunday night, and which are considered more effective than the phone-data collection program. These include the FBI’s authority to gather business records in terrorism and espionage investigations and to more easily eavesdrop on suspects who are discarding cellphones to avoid surveillance.
In order to restart collection of phone records, the Justice Department will need to obtain a new order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Read the rest of this entry »
The programs of the past can be characterized as “proximate surveillance,” in which the government attempted to use technology to directly monitor communication themselves. The programs of this decade mark the transition to “oblique surveillance,” in which the government more often just goes to the places where information has been accumulating on its own, such as email providers, search engines, social networks, and telecoms.
Apologists will always frame our use of information-gathering services like a mobile phone plan or Gmail as achoice.
Both then and now, privacy advocates have typically come into conflict with a persistent tension, in which many individuals don’t understand why they should be concerned about surveillance if they have nothing to hide. It’s even less clear in the world of “oblique” surveillance, given that apologists will always frame our use of information-gathering services like a mobile phone plan or Gmail as a choice.
We Won’t Always Know When We Have Something To Hide
As James Duane, a professor at Regent Law School and former defense attorney, notes in his excellent lecture on why it is never a good idea to talk to the police:
Estimates of the current size of the body of federal criminal law vary. It has been reported that the Congressional Research Service cannot even count the current number of federal crimes. These laws are scattered in over 50 titles of the United States Code, encompassing roughly 27,000 pages. Worse yet, the statutory code sections often incorporate, by reference, the provisions and sanctions of administrative regulations promulgated by various regulatory agencies under congressional authorization. Estimates of how many such regulations exist are even less well settled, but the ABA thinks there are ”nearly 10,000.”
If the federal government can’t even count how many laws there are, what chance does an individual have of being certain that they are not acting in violation of one of them?
The complexity of modern federal criminal law, codified in several thousand sections of the United States Code and the virtually infinite variety of factual circumstances that might trigger an investigation into a possible violation of the law, make it difficult for anyone to know, in advance, just when a particular set of statements might later appear (to a prosecutor) to be relevant to some such investigation.
For instance, did you know that it is a federal crime to be in possession of a lobster under a certain size? It doesn’t matter if you bought it at a grocery store, if someone else gave it to you, if it’s dead or alive, if you found it after it died of natural causes, or even if you killed it while acting in self defense. You can go to jail because of a lobster.
If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations. You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.