After Paris attacks, CIA director rekindles debate over surveillance

Scott Shane writes: A diabolical range of recent attacks claimed by the Islamic State — a Russian airliner blown up in Egypt, a double suicide bombing in Beirut and Friday’s ghastly assaults on Paris — has rekindled a debate over the proper limits of government surveillance in an age of terrorist mayhem.

On Monday, in unusually raw language, John Brennan, the C.I.A. director, denounced what he called “hand-wringing” over intrusive government spying and said leaks about intelligence programs had made it harder to identify the “murderous sociopaths” of the Islamic State.

Mr. Brennan appeared to be speaking mainly of the disclosures since 2013 of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of phone and Internet communications by Edward J. Snowden, which prompted sharp criticism, lawsuits and new restrictions on electronic spying in the United States and in Europe.

In the wake of the 129 deaths in Paris, Mr. Brennan and some other officials sounded eager to reopen a clamorous argument over surveillance in which critics of the spy agencies had seemed to hold an advantage in recent years.

“As far as I know, there’s no evidence the French lacked some kind of surveillance authority that would have made a difference,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “When we’ve invested new powers in the government in response to events like the Paris attacks, they have often been abused.”

The debate over the proper limits on government dates to the origins of the United States, with periodic overreaching in the name of security being curtailed in the interest of liberty. This era of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in some ways resembles battles that American and European authorities fought in the late 1800s with anarchists who carried out a wave of assassinations and bombings, provoking a huge increase in police powers, said Audrey Kurth Cronin, a historian of terrorism at George Mason University.

Since then, there were the excesses of McCarthyism exploiting fears of Communist infiltration in the 1950s, the exposure of domestic spying and C.I.A. assassination plots in the 1970s, and the battles over torture, secret detention and drone strikes since Sept. 11, 2001. [Continue reading…]


Judge deals a blow to NSA data collection program

The New York Times reports: A federal judge on Monday partly blocked the National Security Agency’s program that systematically collects Americans’ domestic phone records in bulk just weeks before the agency was scheduled to shut it down and replace it. The judge said the program was most likely unconstitutional.

In a separate case challenging the program, a federal appeals court in New York on Oct. 30 had declined to weigh in on the constitutional issues, saying it would be imprudent to interfere with an orderly transition to a replacement system after Nov. 29.

But on Monday, in a 43-page ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon of United States District Court for the District of Columbia wrote that the constitutional issues were too important to leave unanswered in the history of the program, which traces back to after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and came to light in 2013 in leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor. [Continue reading…]


British government’s new plans for mass surveillance welcomed by opposition

The Guardian reports: New surveillance powers will be given to the police and security services, allowing them to access records tracking every UK citizen’s use of the internet without any judicial check, under the provisions of the draft investigatory powers bill unveiled by Theresa May.

It includes new powers requiring internet and phone companies to keep “internet connection records” – tracking every website visited but not every page – for a maximum of 12 months but will not require a warrant for the police, security services or other bodies to access the data. Local authorities will be banned from accessing internet records.

The proposed legislation will also introduce a “double-lock” on the ministerial approval of interception warrants with a new panel of seven judicial commissioners – probably retired judges – given a veto before they can come into force.

But the details of the bill make clear that this new safeguard for the most intrusive powers to spy on the content of people’s conversations and messages will not apply in “urgent cases” – defined as up to five days – where judicial approval is not possible.

The draft investigatory powers bill published on Wednesday by the home secretary aims to provide a “comprehensive and comprehensible” overhaul of Britain’s fragmented surveillance laws. It comes two-and-a-half years after the disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden of the scale of secret mass surveillance of the global traffic in confidential personal data carried out by Britain’s GCHQ and the US’s National Security Agency (NSA).

It will replace the current system of three separate commissioners with a senior judge as a single investigatory powers commissioner.

May told MPs that the introduction of the most controversial power – the storage of everyone’s internet connection records tracking the websites they have visited, which is banned as too intrusive in the US and every European country including Britain – was “simply the modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill”.

Her recommendations were broadly welcomed by the shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, but received a more cautious welcome from the former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis, the former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister. [Continue reading…]


If you’re not paranoid, you’re crazy

Walter Kirn writes: I knew we’d bought walnuts at the store that week, and I wanted to add some to my oatmeal. I called to my wife and asked her where she’d put them. She was washing her face in the bathroom, running the faucet, and must not have heard me—she didn’t answer. I found the bag of nuts without her help and stirred a handful into my bowl. My phone was charging on the counter. Bored, I picked it up to check the app that wirelessly grabs data from the fitness band I’d started wearing a month earlier. I saw that I’d slept for almost eight hours the night before but had gotten a mere two hours of “deep sleep.” I saw that I’d reached exactly 30 percent of my day’s goal of 13,000 steps. And then I noticed a message in a small window reserved for miscellaneous health tips. “Walnuts,” it read. It told me to eat more walnuts.

It was probably a coincidence, a fluke. Still, it caused me to glance down at my wristband and then at my phone, a brand-new model with many unknown, untested capabilities. Had my phone picked up my words through its mic and somehow relayed them to my wristband, which then signaled the app?

The devices spoke to each other behind my back—I’d known they would when I “paired” them—but suddenly I was wary of their relationship. Who else did they talk to, and about what? And what happened to their conversations? Were they temporarily archived, promptly scrubbed, or forever incorporated into the “cloud,” that ghostly entity with the too-disarming name?

It was the winter of 2013, and these “walnut moments” had been multiplying—jarring little nudges from beyond that occurred whenever I went online. One night the previous summer, I’d driven to meet a friend at an art gallery in Hollywood, my first visit to a gallery in years. The next morning, in my inbox, several spam e-mails urged me to invest in art. That was an easy one to figure out: I’d typed the name of the gallery into Google Maps. Another simple one to trace was the stream of invitations to drug and alcohol rehab centers that I’d been getting ever since I’d consulted an online calendar of Los Angeles–area Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Since membership in AA is supposed to be confidential, these e‑mails irked me. Their presumptuous, heart-to-heart tone bugged me too. Was I tired of my misery and hopelessness? Hadn’t I caused my loved ones enough pain? [Continue reading…]


AT&T helped U.S. spy on internet on a vast scale

The New York Times reports: The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.

While it has been long known that American telecommunications companies worked closely with the spy agency, newly disclosed N.S.A. documents show that the relationship with AT&T has been considered unique and especially productive. One document described it as “highly collaborative,” while another lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.”

AT&T’s cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities, according to the documents, which date from 2003 to 2013. AT&T has given the N.S.A. access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks. It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T. [Continue reading…]


NSA will not be allowed to keep old phone records

The New York Times reports: Analysts at the National Security Agency will no longer be permitted to search a database holding five years of Americans’ domestic calling records after Nov. 29, the Obama administration said on Monday.

Legislation enacted in June barred the N.S.A. from collecting Americans’ calling records after 180 days, but did not say what would happen to the data already gathered. Under a new system laid out by the USA Freedom Act, the government will not hold the bulk data, which is used to analyze links between callers in search of terrorism suspects.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to say whether the government would keep using the data collected under the old procedures or would purge it after the new system is in place. [Continue reading…]


Laura Poitras sues U.S. government to find out why she was repeatedly stopped at the border

The Intercept reports: Over six years, filmmaker Laura Poitras was searched, interrogated and detained more than 50 times at U.S. and foreign airports.

When she asked why, U.S. agencies wouldn’t say.

Now, after receiving no response to her Freedom of Information Act requests for documents pertaining to her systemic targeting, Poitras is suing the U.S. government.

In a complaint filed on Monday afternoon, Poitras demanded that the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence release any and all documentation pertaining to her tracking, targeting and questioning while traveling between 2006 and 2012. [Continue reading…]


Most people don’t like being spied on by the U.S. and oppose drones

Pew Research Center: Revelations about the scope of American electronic surveillance efforts have generated headlines around the world over the past year. And a new Pew Research Center survey finds widespread global opposition to U.S. eavesdropping and a decline in the view that the U.S. respects the personal freedoms of its people. But in most countries there is little evidence this opposition has severely harmed America’s overall image.

In nearly all countries polled, majorities oppose monitoring by the U.S. government of emails and phone calls of foreign leaders or their citizens. In contrast, Americans tilt toward the view that eavesdropping on foreign leaders is an acceptable practice, and they are divided over using this technique on average people in other countries. However, the majority of Americans and others around the world agree that it is acceptable to spy on suspected terrorists, and that it is unacceptable to spy on American citizens.

Another high-profile aspect of America’s recent national security strategy is also widely unpopular: drones. In 39 of 44 countries surveyed, majorities or pluralities oppose U.S. drone strikes targeting extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Moreover, opposition to drone attacks has increased in many nations since last year. Israel, Kenya and the U.S. are the only nations polled where at least half of the public supports drone strikes. [Continue reading…]


XKEYSCORE: NSA’s Google for the world’s private communications

The Intercept reports: One of the National Security Agency’s most powerful tools of mass surveillance makes tracking someone’s Internet usage as easy as entering an email address, and provides no built-in technology to prevent abuse. Today, The Intercept is publishing 48 top-secret and other classified documents about XKEYSCORE dated up to 2013, which shed new light on the breadth, depth and functionality of this critical spy system — one of the largest releases yet of documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA’s XKEYSCORE program, first revealed by The Guardian, sweeps up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords, and other private communications. XKEYSCORE is fed a constant flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network, among other sources, for processing. As of 2008, the surveillance system boasted approximately 150 field sites in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, as well as many other countries, consisting of over 700 servers. [Continue reading…]


Constructing a cyber superpower

DefenseNews reports: The site of an Army golf course named for US President Dwight Eisenhower, one long drive from the National Security Agency, is an active construction site, the future of US military cyber.

Where there were once bunkers, greens and tees is a large gray building due to become an NSA-run 600,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art server farm, a skeletal structure that will one day house US Cyber Command’s joint operations center, with plots reserved for individual Marine Corps and Navy cyber facilities.

The plans reflect the growth in ambition, manpower and resources for the five-year-old US Cyber Command. One measure of this rapid expansion is the command’s budget — $120 million at its inception in 2010 rising to $509 million for 2015.

Another measure is the $1.8 billion in construction at Fort Meade, much of it related to Cyber Command. Though Cyber Command’s service components and tactical teams are spread across the country, the headquarters for Cyber Command, the NSA and Defense Information Systems Agency make Fort Meade a growing hub for military cyber.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a new cyber strategy that acknowledges in the strongest terms that the Pentagon may wage offensive cyber warfare. The strategy emphasizes deterrence and sets up a reliance on the commercial technology sector, hinging on a push to strengthen ties between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon. [Continue reading…]


France denounces revelations of spying by NSA

The New York Times reports: The French government on Wednesday reacted angrily to revelations about extensive eavesdropping by the United States government on the private conversations of senior French leaders, including three presidents and dozens of senior government figures.

President François Hollande called an emergency meeting of the Defense Council on Wednesday morning to discuss the revelations published by the French news website Mediapart and the left-leaning newspaper Libération about spying by the National Security Agency.

He spoke with President Obama on Wednesday afternoon and made clear “the principles that must govern relations between allies on intelligence matters,” the Élysée Palace said in a statement, adding that senior French intelligence officials would soon travel to the United States for discussions. [Continue reading…]


FISA Court skips talking to privacy advocates

National Journal reports: The secretive court that oversees U.S. spying programs selected to not consult a panel of privacy advocates in its first decision made since the enactment earlier this month of major surveillance reform, according to an opinion declassified Friday.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opted to forgo appointing a so-called “amicus” of privacy advocates as it considered whether the USA Freedom Act could reinstate spying provisions of the Patriot Act even though they expired on June 1 amid an impasse in the Senate.

The Court ruled that the Freedom Act’s language — which will restore the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of U.S. call data for six months before transitioning to a more limited program — could revive those lapsed provisions, but in assessing that narrow legal question, Judge Dennis Saylor concluded that the Court did not first need confer with a privacy panel as proscribed under the reform law. [Continue reading…]


Snowden leak: Governments’ hostile reaction fuelled public’s distrust of spies

The Guardian reports: The hostile reaction of the British and US governments to the Snowden disclosures of mass surveillance only served to heighten public suspicion of the work of the intelligence agencies, according to an international conference of senior intelligence and security figures.

The recently published official account of a Ditchley Foundation conference last month says one of the event’s main conclusions was that greater transparency about the activities and capabilities of the security services would be essential if their credibility was to be preserved and enhanced around the world.

The account of the conference chaired by Sir John Scarlett, the former head of MI6, was published on Friday and makes clear the foundation recognised the widespread public unease following the revelations and that the conditions of data collection about individuals and who has access to it are legitimate areas of concern. [Continue reading…]


Snowden’s files and the files Snowden took: Is Glenn Greenwald playing dumb?

An article in Britain’s Sunday Times this weekend, claimed: “Russia and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.”

Glenn Greenwald writes:

The government accusers behind this story have a big obstacle to overcome: namely, Snowden has said unequivocally that when he left Hong Kong, he took no files with him, having given them to the journalists with whom he worked, and then destroying his copy precisely so that it wouldn’t be vulnerable as he traveled. How, then, could Russia have obtained Snowden’s files as the story claims — “his documents were encrypted but they weren’t completely secure ” — if he did not even have physical possession of them?

The only way this smear works is if they claim Snowden lied, and that he did in fact have files with him after he left Hong Kong.

In fact, the article says nothing about how the files were allegedly obtained by Russian and China, while Greenwald claims the only way they could have been accessed would be directly from Snowden.

Yet in 2013, Greenwald told the Daily Beast that Snowden “has taken extreme precautions to make sure many different people around the world have these archives to insure the stories will inevitably be published.”

So aside from Snowden himself (who if taken at his word, no longer possesses the files) there many different people (we don’t know how many or who they all are) who also have or had the files.

Are we to assume that each and every one of them is an unfailing master of digital security and these files could never have been obtained by a third party?

In a world where a data security company like Kaspersky can get hacked, I wouldn’t put it outside the realms of possibility that by some means or other, Russia and/or China might have gained access to the files Snowden took.

There are, however, several reasons to question this report — not because it came from anonymous sources, or necessitates believing the Snowden has lied — but because had these sources been able to substantiate their claims with credible evidence, they would most likely have turned to a better newspaper.


UK under pressure to respond to latest Edward Snowden claims

The Guardian reports: Downing Street and the Home Office are being challenged to answer in public claims that Russia and China have broken into the secret cache of Edward Snowden files and that British agents have had to be withdrawn from live operations as a consequence.

The reports first appeared in the Sunday Times, which quoted anonymous senior officials in No 10, the Home Office and security services. The BBC also quoted an anonymous senior government source, who said agents had to be moved because Moscow gained access to classified information that reveals how they operate.

Privacy campaigners questioned the timing of the report, coming days after a 373-page report by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, which was commissioned by David Cameron. Anderson was highly critical of the existing system of oversight of the surveillance agencies and set out a series of recommendations for reform. [Continue reading…]