Ryan Lizza writes: On March 12, 2013, James R. Clapper appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss the threats facing America. Clapper, who is seventy-two, is a retired Air Force general and Barack Obama’s director of National Intelligence, in charge of overseeing the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and fourteen other U.S. spy agencies. Clapper is bald, with a gray goatee and rimless spectacles, and his affect is intimidatingly bureaucratic. The fifteen-member Intelligence Committee was created in the nineteen-seventies, after a series of investigations revealed that the N.S.A. and the C.I.A. had, for years, been illegally spying on Americans. The panel’s mission is to conduct “vigilant legislative oversight” of the intelligence community, but more often it treats senior intelligence officials like matinée idols. As the senators took turns at the microphone, greeting Clapper with anodyne statements and inquiries, he obligingly led them on a tour of the dangers posed by homegrown extremists, far-flung terrorist groups, and emerging nuclear powers.
“This hearing is really a unique opportunity to inform the American public to the extent we can about the threats we face as a nation, and worldwide,” Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and the committee’s chairman, said at one point. She asked committee members to “refrain from asking questions here that have classified answers.” Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, asked about the lessons of the terrorist attack in Benghazi. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, asked about the dangers of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Toward the end of the hearing, Feinstein turned to Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, also a Democrat, who had a final question. The two senators have been friends. Feinstein held a baby shower for Wyden and his wife, Nancy Bass, before the birth of twins, in 2007. But, since then, their increasingly divergent views on intelligence policy have strained the relationship. “This is an issue where we just have a difference of opinion,” Wyden told me. Feinstein often uses the committee to bolster the tools that spy agencies say they need to protect the country, and Wyden has been increasingly concerned about privacy rights. For almost a decade, he has been trying to force intelligence officials like Clapper to be more forthcoming about spy programs that gather information about Americans who have no connection to terrorism.
Wyden had an uneasy kind of vindication in June, three months after Clapper’s appearance, when Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the N.S.A., leaked pages and pages of classified N.S.A. documents. They showed that, for the past twelve years, the agency has been running programs that secretly collect detailed information about the phone and Internet usage of Americans. The programs have been plagued by compliance issues, and the legal arguments justifying the surveillance regime have been kept from view. Wyden has long been aware of the programs and of the agency’s appalling compliance record, and has tried everything short of disclosing classified information to warn the public. At the March panel, he looked down at Clapper as if he were about to eat a long-delayed meal. [Continue reading...]
Jeff Jarvis writes: Whose side are you on? That is the question MP Keith Vaz asked Alan Rusbridger last week when he challenged the Guardian editor’s patriotism over publishing Edward Snowden’s NSA and GCHQ leaks.
And that is the question answered today by eight tech giants in their letter to the White House and Congress, seeking reform of government surveillance practices worldwide. The companies came down at last on the side of citizens over spies.
Of course, they are also acting in their own economic (albeit enlightened) self-interest, for mass spying via the internet is degrading the publics’, clients’, and other nations’ trust in the cloud and its frequently American proprietors. Spying is bad for the internet; what’s bad for the internet is bad for Silicon Valley; and — to reverse the old General Motors saw — what’s bad for Silicon Valley is bad for America.
But in their letter, the companies stand first and firmly on principle. They propose that government limit its own authority, ending bulk collection of our communication. They urge transparency and oversight of surveillance, which has obviously failed thus far. And they argue against the balkanization of the net and the notion that countries may insist that data respect national borders.
Bravo to all that. I have been waiting for Silicon Valley to establish whether it collectively is a victim or a collaborator in the NSA’s web. I have wondered whether government had commandeered these companies to its ends. I have hoped they would use their power to lobby for our rights. And now I hope government — from Silicon Valley’s senator, NSA fan Dianne Feinstein, to president Obama — will listen.
This is a critical step in sparking real debate over surveillance and civil rights. It was nice that technology companies banded together once before to battle against the overreaching copyright regime known as SOPA and for our ability to watch Batman online. Now they must fight for our fundamental — in America, our constitutional — rights of speech and assembly and against unreasonable search and seizure. ‘Tis a pity it takes eight companies with silly names to do that. [Continue reading...]
The makeup of the band of corporate reformists seems to have been dictated by PowerPoint, which is to say, everyone named on the slides leaked by Snowden wants to salvage their reputation. But the problem with this type of appeal for reform is that it’s no different from the kind that might be made by any toothless advocacy group. Indeed, if these companies just want to present a wish-list of the kind of reform they claim they would like to see, then it’s pretty obvious that if no such reform is forthcoming then it will be back to business as usual.
The only thing about which we can be absolutely confident is that now, as always, corporations will act in accordance with what they determine are their own interests.
The Center for Public Integrity: Most intelligence-related spending by the U.S. government is subject to independent scrutiny and monitoring by a small number of people — primarily, the 40 lawmakers assigned to the House and Senate intelligence committees, plus the roughly 100-member staffs of those two committees.
The lawmakers are meant to provide a key check on waste, fraud, abuse, and potential illegalities, since intelligence-related spending and activities are ordinarily well outside the public’s view.
According to a new report, however, every single one of those lawmakers has received campaign funds from twenty of the largest contractors providing intelligence services to the Defense Department, which accounted for a signficant portion of the nation’s overall $75.4 billion intelligence budget in 2012.
The total, election-related benefits for current intelligence committee members, including ex-officio members, provided by companies in the industry they directly oversee amount to at least $3.7 million from the companies’ PACs and employees since 2005, according to the report released Dec. 9 by Maplight.org, a nonpartisan group that investigates campaign finance issues.
The Guardian reports: To the National Security Agency analyst writing a briefing to his superiors, the situation was clear: their current surveillance efforts were lacking something. The agency’s impressive arsenal of cable taps and sophisticated hacking attacks was not enough. What it really needed was a horde of undercover Orcs.
That vision of spycraft sparked a concerted drive by the NSA and its UK sister agency GCHQ to infiltrate the massive communities playing online games, according to secret documents disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The agencies, the documents show, have built mass-collection capabilities against the Xbox Live console network, which has more than 48 million players. Real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms, from those Orc hordes in World of Warcraft to the human avatars of Second Life. There were attempts, too, to recruit potential informants from the games’ tech-friendly users.
Online gaming is big business, attracting tens of millions of users worldwide who inhabit their digital worlds as make-believe characters, living and competing with the avatars of other players. What the intelligence agencies feared, however, was that among these clans of elves and goblins, terrorists were lurking. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The WikiLeaks staffer and Snowden collaborator Sarah Harrison has criticised Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder who is setting up a new journalism venture with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, for his involvement in the 2010 financial blockade against WikiLeaks.
In her first interview since leaving Moscow for Berlin last month, Harrison told German news weekly Stern: “How can you take something seriously when the person behind this platform went along with the financial boycott against WikiLeaks?”
Harrison was referring to the decision in December 2010 by PayPal, which is owned by eBay, to suspend WikiLeaks’ donation account and freeze its assets after pressure from the US government. The company’s boycott, combined with similar action taken by Visa and Mastercard, left WikiLeaks facing a funding crisis.
“His excuse is probably that there is nothing he could have done at the time,” Harrison continued. “Well, he is on the board of directors. He can’t shake off responsibility that easily. He didn’t even comment on it. He could have said something like: ‘we were forced to do this, but I am against it’.”
Harrison joined WikiLeaks from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and worked with the organisation on the Afghan war logs and leaked cables projects. She now works on the WikiLeaks legal defence team, although she has no legal qualifications, and was catapulted to fame when she accompanied Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, on his flight from Hong Kong to Russia in June 2013.
Referring to Omidyar’s plans to set up a new media organisation, in which the former Guardian writer Greenwald – who wrote a number of stories from the Snowden revelations – will play a central part, Harrison said: “If you set up a new media organisation which claims to do everything for press freedom, but you are part of a blockade against another media organisation, then that’s hard for us to take it seriously. But I hope that they stick to their promises”. [Continue reading...]
Mathew J. Schwartz writes: Dear antivirus vendors: Are you aiding and abetting National Security Agency (NSA) spying?
That’s the subject of an open letter, sent in October to leading antivirus vendors, from 25 different privacy information security experts and organizations. The letter asks the vendors to detail whether they’ve ever detected state-sponsored malware or received a government request to whitelist state-sponsored malware, and how they would respond to any such requests in the future.
The letter, sent from Dutch digital rights foundation Bits of Freedom, requested that the firms respond by November 15. “Please let us know if you feel that you cannot, or cannot fully, answer any of the above questions because of legal constraints imposed upon you by any government,” it said.
“Since we learned that the NSA has surreptitiously weakened Internet security so it could more easily eavesdrop, we’ve been wondering if it’s done anything to antivirus products,” letter signatory Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer of BT, said in a blog post. “Given that it engages in offensive cyberattacks — and launches cyberweapons like Stuxnet and Flame — it’s reasonable to assume that it’s asked antivirus companies to ignore its malware. We know that antivirus companies have previously done this for corporate malware.”
As of two weeks ago, however, only six security vendors — ESET, F-Secure, Kaspersky Lab, Norman Shark, Panda, and Trend Micro — had responded to the request for information. [Continue reading...]
Janet Reitman writes: Early one morning last December, Glenn Greenwald opened his laptop, scanned through his e-mail, and made a decision that almost cost him the story of his life. A columnist and blogger with a large and devoted following, Greenwald receives hundreds of e-mails every day, many from readers who claim to have “great stuff.” Occasionally these claims turn out to be credible; most of the time they’re cranks. There are some that seem promising but also require serious vetting. This takes time, and Greenwald, who starts each morning deluged with messages, has almost none. “My inbox is the enemy,” he told me recently.
And so it was that on December 1st, 2012, Greenwald received a note from a person asking for his public encryption, or PGP, key so he could send him an e-mail securely. Greenwald didn’t have one, which he now acknowledges was fairly inexcusable given that he wrote almost daily about national-security issues, and had likely been on the government’s radar for some time over his vocal support of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. “I didn’t really know what PGP was,” he admits. “I had no idea how to install it or how to use it.” It seemed time-consuming and complicated, and Greenwald, who was working on a book about how the media control political discourse, while also writing his column for The Guardian, had more pressing things to do.
“It felt Anonymous-ish to me,” Greenwald says. “It was this cryptic ‘I and others have things you would be interested in. . . .’ He never sent me neon lights – it was much more ambiguous than that.”
So he ignored the note. Soon after, the source sent Greenwald a step-by-step tutorial on encryption. Then he sent him a video Greenwald describes as “Encryption for Journalists,” which “walked me through the process like I was a complete idiot.”
And yet, Greenwald still didn’t bother learning security protocols. [Continue reading...]
Mike Masnick writes: We all know that Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have been hinting strongly about the NSA tracking people’s location via mobile phone location data. Since the Snowden documents started getting reported on, Wyden especially had ramped up his hints that mobile phone location data still undisclosed would be the real shocker. Back in October, it was revealed that the NSA had done a “pilot program” in the US to track people’s locations via their mobile phones, but stopped the program and never used the data. In response to that, Senator Wyden hinted that there was much more to come:
“After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law-abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security,” Mr. Wyden said.
It would appear that “the real story secret” has started to come out via some new Snowden documents reported on in the Washington Post by Bart Gellman and Ashkan Soltani. Basically, while the NSA may not be spying on the location of Americans in the US via their mobile phones, they appear to be collecting location data of pretty much anyone all over the rest of the world to the tune of 5 billion records a day — so much info that the NSA was having trouble storing it all (now you know what some of the Bluffdale datacenter in Utah is for).
The NSA cannot know in advance which tiny fraction of 1 percent of the records it may need, so it collects and keeps as many as it can — 27 terabytes, by one account, or more than double the text content of the Library of Congress’s print collection.
The location programs have brought in such volumes of information, according to a May 2012 internal NSA briefing, that they are “outpacing our ability to ingest, process and store” data. In the ensuing year and a half, the NSA has been transitioning to a processing system that provided it with greater capacity.
The NSA defends the program by saying that it uses the location data to find “unknown associates of known intelligence targets.” Basically, it’s tracking where everyone goes, just in case people end up spending time with people the NSA deems as being terrorists. However, that also means that the NSA has an astounding amount of really personal data on where pretty much everyone goes outside of the US, including who they meet with. The ability to abuse that data should be rather obvious. From that data, you can not only determine private business meetings, but you can figure out what doctors people go to, if they’re cheating on their spouse, etc. And, given last week’s revelations that the NSA has no qualms (at all) about using data on non-terrorists to embarrass them for the sake of embarrassing them, it’s not difficult to see how the NSA might do the same over information gleaned from this vast trough of location information. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.
The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool. [Continue reading...]
How the NSA is tracking people right now (infographic)
Andrea Peterson writes: In conversations with The Washington Post over Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani’s recent story on cellphone location tracking, an intelligence agency lawyer told Gellman, “obviously there is no Fourth Amendment expectation in communications metadata.” But some experts say it’s far from obvious that the 1979 Supreme Court case on which the administration bases this view gives the government unfettered power to scoop up Americans’ cellphone location data. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: Microsoft plans to encrypt data flowing through all of its communication, productivity and other services as it seeks to reassure users in the United States and beyond that it will guard their personal information from snooping governments, the company announced Wednesday night.
The encryption initiative, approved by company executives last week, comes as many of the nation’s top technology firms scramble to protect their reputations after months of revelations about how the National Security Agency and its foreign counterparts have siphoned off massive amounts of user information, including e-mails, video chats, address books and more.
“The goal is clear: We want to be sure that governments use legal processes rather than brute force to access user data,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said in an interview. [Continue reading...]
Yesterday I got a new pair of glasses and as the optician made sure they were spotless, I was amused to see she was using a cloth in the form of a small British flag — a Union Jack.
“It’s fortunate that the British don’t view their flag the same way Americans view theirs, otherwise I might take offense,” I told her. She seemed to have no idea what I meant as I alluded to American traditions regarding the respectful handling of Old Glory.
The ambiguity of British national identity is embedded right in the structure of the flag, with its English, Scottish, and Irish elements.
If Scotland votes in favor of independence next September, perhaps there should be a debate about whether the Union Jack retains its St Andrew’s Cross — St. Andrew being Scotland’s patron saint. Maybe the time will have come to toss out the name and concept of a United Kingdom.
Following yesterday’s parliamentary interrogation of the newspaper’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, by British MPs, The Guardian reported:
In perhaps the most unexpected exchange of the session, [Keith] Vaz [chairman of the home affairs select committee] asked Rusbridger if he loved his country – an apparent reference to critics of the Guardian who have accused it of weakening its security. Vaz [who was born in Aden, which is now part of Yemen] asked : “You and I were both born outside this country, but I love this country. Do you love this country?”
Rusbridger [who was born in Northern Rhodesia, which later became Zambia]: “I’m slightly surprised to be asked the question but, yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can, in this country, discuss and report these things.”
Vaz: “So the reason why you’ve done this has not been to damage the country, it is to help the country understand what is going on as far as surveillance is concerned?”
Rusbridger: “I think there are countries, and they’re not generally democracies, where the press are not free to write about these things, and where the security services do tell editors what to write, and where politicians do censor newspapers. That’s not the country that we live in, in Britain, that’s not the country that America is and it’s one of the things I love about this country – is that we have that freedom to write, and report, and to think.”
Mindful of the way his answer would be reported, Rusbridger did not hesitate to identify himself as a patriot, but even if this was not Vaz’s intention, the mere asking of the question brought to the hearing a tinge of McCarthyism.
As much as Britain has marched in lockstep with the United States since 9/11, its susceptibility to engage in slavish imitation has not extended as far as politicians or other public figures feeling duty-bound to sport Union Jack lapel buttons. Fortunately, for the British, the flag remains an ambiguous symbol.
If Rusbridger had been born in Edinburgh instead of Rhodesia, Vaz might have refrained from raising the question of patriotism. After all, if the vote on independence was phrased in the most emotive way, it could simply ask those being polled: which country do you love more: Britain or Scotland?
No doubt the voters themselves will largely be confronting more practical questions about economics and the future and their choice will not be wholly guided by sentiment.
Both in Britain and America and elsewhere, the ultimate test of patriotic loyalty goes far beyond love of country.
Are you willing to die for your country?
Even during an era in which martyrdom has become identified with religious extremism, not many Americans view the willingness to die while defending the United States as an expression of extremism. And yet those Americans who have been called on in recent years to demonstrate that willingness have disproportionately been under-privileged.
In contrast, those Americans who are willing to send other Americans to die for their country, have rarely even been willing to give up their job — let alone sacrifice their life — for the sake of the nation.
Before anyone makes a bold declaration about the extent and depth of their love of country, it’s worth asking: what do you mean by “love” and “country”?
Is this love simply another name for blind obedience? And do we confuse countries with their national emblems?
Wisely, Rusbridger qualified his love of Britain by identifying some of the things that make it lovable — such as freedom of expression and the ability to publish without seeking permission from a state censor. But the mere fact that he was being questioned was indicative of a trend being pushed by those who prize loyalty and obedience to state-defined interests, more than they prize a free and independent press.
Countries can change fast and one of the surest signs they are changing for the worse is when journalists are accused of being insufficiently patriotic.
Had Rusbridger been more blunt he might have said: I love what my country represents but not what it is becoming.
Tim Cushing writes: Trying to pry information loose from the NSA is nearly impossible. The ODNI has been dropping documents related to the NSA’s various surveillance programs, but that’s as a result of a lawsuit, something that goes completely unacknowledged at the ODNI’s site. People requesting a peek into what the NSA has collected on them PERSONALLY have been universally met with a boilerplate response that “neither confirms nor denies” the existence of this data.
MuckRock has been filing dozens of FOIA requests in hopes of freeing up info on the many contractors employed by the NSA. Unsurprisingly, this has met with little success. While it did manage to secure 16 pages on French security firm Vupen, its other requests have been met with claims that no responsive documents have been found. This is hard to believe considering some of the requests are about known NSA contractors.
But one recent response went past baffling into the realm of the surreal in its assertion that the keywords MuckRock sought info on were just too “wide open” to be useful.
A search for overly broad keywords such as “CNO” and “computer network attack” would be tantamount to conducting a manual search through thousands of folders and then reading each document in order to determine whether the document pertains to a contract.
So, the agency that claims to be able to sift through millions of pieces of communications and data somehow claims it can’t wrangle its own data. Of course, the NSA can’t even search its own internal email, so asking it to run a keyword search for contract documents is probably out of the question. But this assertion by the NSA is a bit puzzling, as it almost implies a lot of what’s being searched for isn’t even digitized, as MuckRock points out. [Continue reading...]
Once upon a time, you might have said that someone “disappeared.” But in the 1970s in Argentina, Chile, and elsewhere, that verb grew eerily more active in its passive form. He or she no longer “disappeared,” but “was disappeared” — up to 30,000 Argentineans by their own military in the course of an internal struggle that came to be known as “the dirty war.” Those gone were the “desaparecidos.”
There is something so deeply, morally repugnant about disappearing another human being, no matter how or where or why it’s done, that it’s hard to express. Yet in twenty-first century America, the possibilities for disappearing people in new and inventive ways may be migrating online, as former State Department whistleblower and TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren suggests in his latest post. Tom Engelhardt
Welcome to the memory hole
Disappearing Edward Snowden
By Peter Van Buren
What if Edward Snowden was made to disappear? No, I’m not suggesting some future CIA rendition effort or a who-killed-Snowden conspiracy theory of a disappearance, but a more ominous kind.
What if everything a whistleblower had ever exposed could simply be made to go away? What if every National Security Agency (NSA) document Snowden released, every interview he gave, every documented trace of a national security state careening out of control could be made to disappear in real-time? What if the very posting of such revelations could be turned into a fruitless, record-less endeavor?
Am I suggesting the plot for a novel by some twenty-first century George Orwell? Hardly. As we edge toward a fully digital world, such things may soon be possible, not in science fiction but in our world — and at the push of a button. In fact, the earliest prototypes of a new kind of “disappearance” are already being tested. We are closer to a shocking, dystopian reality that might once have been the stuff of futuristic novels than we imagine. Welcome to the memory hole.
Even if some future government stepped over one of the last remaining red lines in our world and simply assassinated whistleblowers as they surfaced, others would always emerge. Back in 1948, in his eerie novel 1984, however, Orwell suggested a far more diabolical solution to the problem. He conjured up a technological device for the world of Big Brother that he called “the memory hole.” In his dark future, armies of bureaucrats, working in what he sardonically dubbed the Ministry of Truth, spent their lives erasing or altering documents, newspapers, books, and the like in order to create an acceptable version of history. When a person fell out of favor, the Ministry of Truth sent him and all the documentation relating to him down the memory hole. Every story or report in which his life was in any way noted or recorded would be edited to eradicate all traces of him.
The Guardian reports: The UN’s senior counter-terrorism official is to launch an investigation into the surveillance powers of American and British intelligence agencies following Edward Snowden’s revelations that they are using secret programmes to store and analyse billions of emails, phone calls and text messages.
The UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC said his inquiry would also seek to establish whether the British parliament had been misled about the capabilities of Britain’s eavesdropping headquarters, GCHQ, and whether the current system of oversight and scrutiny was strong enough to meet United Nations standards.
The inquiry will make a series of recommendations to the UN general assembly next year. [Continue reading...]
Mike Masnick writes: It appears that the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, are recognizing that their strategy for keeping their co-dependent relationship with the NSA going is failing and that the American public and an increasingly large segment of Congress no longer believes their bogus claims. Perhaps that’s because every time they open their mouths, it takes all of about an hour before many of their claims are completely debunked, if not outright mocked for obviously being bogus. So their latest strategy? To basically yell “Ooga Booga Terrorists!” as loud as they can to try to scare people based on absolutely nothing. [Continue reading...]