Mass U.S. surveillance targeting journalists and lawyers seen as threat to American democracy

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I, spy: Edward Snowden in exile

The Guardian reports: Fiction and films, the nearest most of us knowingly get to the world of espionage, give us a series of reliable stereotypes. British spies are hard-bitten, libidinous he-men. Russian agents are thickset, low-browed and facially scarred. And defectors end up as tragic old soaks in Moscow, scanning old copies of the Times for news of the Test match.

Such a fate was anticipated for Edward Snowden by Michael Hayden, a former NSA and CIA chief, who predicted last September that the former NSA analyst would be stranded in Moscow for the rest of his days – “isolated, bored, lonely, depressed… and alcoholic”.

But the Edward Snowden who materialises in our hotel room shortly after noon on the appointed day seems none of those things. A year into his exile in Moscow, he feels less, not more, isolated. If he is depressed, he doesn’t show it. And, at the end of seven hours of conversation, he refuses a beer. “I actually don’t drink.” He smiles when repeating Hayden’s jibe. “I was like, wow, their intelligence is worse than I thought.”

Oliver Stone, who is working on a film about the man now standing in room 615 of the Golden Apple hotel on Moscow’s Malaya Dmitrovka, might struggle to make his subject live up to the canon of great movie spies. The American director has visited Snowden in Moscow, and wants to portray him as an out-and-out hero, but he is an unconventional one: quiet, disciplined, unshowy, almost academic in his speech. If Snowden has vices – and God knows they must have been looking for them – none has emerged in the 13 months since he slipped away from his life as a contracted NSA analyst in Hawaii, intent on sharing the biggest cache of top-secret material the world has ever seen.

Since arriving in Moscow, Snowden has been keeping late and solitary hours – effectively living on US time, tapping away on one of his three computers (three to be safe; he uses encrypted chat, too). If anything, he appears more connected and outgoing than he could be in his former life as an agent. Of his life now, he says, “There’s actually not that much difference. You know, I think there are guys who are just hoping to see me sad. And they’re going to continue to be disappointed.” [Continue reading...]

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Document shows it was the FBI, not the NSA, that monitored 5 Americans

electrospaces.net: [O]n July 9, 2014, Glenn Greenwald published an article which he earlier announced as being the grand finale of the Snowden-revelations. It would demonstrate that NSA is also spying on ordinary American citizens, something that would clearly be illegal.

The report is titled “Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On” and it tells the story of Faisal Gill, Asim Ghafoor, Hooshang Amirahmadi, Agha Saeed and Nihad Awad whose e-mail addresses were found in an NSA file from the Snowden-trove. Although the article confusingly mentions both FBI and NSA, many people and media got the impression that this was the long-awaited major NSA abuse scandal.

But as we will show here, the document that was published contains no evidence of any involvement of the NSA in this particular case. Everything indicates that it was actually an FBI operation, so it seems not justified to have NSA mentioned in the article. [Continue reading...]

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Edward Snowden condemns Britain’s emergency surveillance bill

The Guardian reports: The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has condemned the new surveillance bill being pushed through the UK’s parliament this week, expressing concern about the speed at which it is being done, lack of public debate, fear-mongering and what he described as increased powers of intrusion.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian in Moscow, Snowden said it was very unusual for a public body to pass an emergency law such as this in circumstances other than a time of total war. “I mean we don’t have bombs falling. We don’t have U-boats in the harbour.”

Suddenly it is a priority, he said, after the government had ignored it for an entire year. “It defies belief.”

He found the urgency with which the British government was moving extraordinary and said it mirrored a similar move in the US in 2007 when the Bush administration was forced to introduce legislation, the Protect America Act, citing the same concerns about terrorist threats and the NSA losing cooperation from telecom and internet companies. [Continue reading...]

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‘Diplomatic earthquake’ as Germany halts spy cooperation with U.S.

IntelNews.org reports: The German government has instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice, according to media reports. The move follows news that Berlin requested on Thursday the immediate removal from Germany of the United States Central Intelligence Agency chief of station — essentially the top American official in the country. The request came after two German citizens, one working for the BND, Germany’s main external intelligence organization, and one working for the country’s Federal Ministry of Defense, were allegedly found to have been secretly spying for the US. German media reported on Thursday that the temporary halt in Berlin’s intelligence collaboration with Washington applies across the spectrum, with the exception of areas directly affecting tactical security concerns for Germany, such as the protection of its troops in Afghanistan, or defending against immediate terrorist threats. Sources in the German capital claimed that the removal of the CIA station chief was technically a “recommendation for his departure”, and did not constitute an official diplomatic expulsion. However, German observers described the incident as a “diplomatic earthquake”, which would have been unthinkable as a policy option for the German government, barring actions against “pariah states like North Korea or Iran”. [Continue reading...]

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The FBI’s dirty little secret: The NSA wasn’t the only one snooping on ordinary Americans

Shane Harris writes: Believe it or not, some officials at the National Security Agency are breathing a sigh of relief over Glenn Greenwald’s new exposé on the government’s secret surveillance of U.S. citizens. That’s because it’s the FBI that finds itself in the cross-hairs now, in a story that identifies by name five men, including prominent Muslim American civil rights activists and lawyers, whose emails were monitored by the FBI using a law meant to target suspected terrorists and spies. The targets of the spying allege that they were singled out because of their race, religion, and political views — accusations that, if true, would amount to the biggest domestic intelligence scandal in a generation and eclipse any of the prior year’s revelations from documents provided by leaker Edward Snowden.

After a year in which the digital spies at the NSA have taken unrelenting heat on Capitol Hill and in the media, it’s rare for the FBI to come under scrutiny — and that’s surprising, given the central role that the bureau plays in conducting surveillance operations, including all secret intelligence-gathering aimed at Americans inside the United States. “It’s an important point of distinction that it was the FBI directing this, not the NSA,” said a former senior intelligence official, welcoming the shift in focus away from the beleaguered spy agency to its often-overlooked partner.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has been frequently cast as the judicious and measured army of the war on terror, the home to interrogation experts who know how to coax secrets out of detained terrorists without resorting to the “enhanced techniques” of the CIA. But now, the FBI, and with it the Justice Department, finds itself exposed for spying on Americans who were never accused of any crime, and in the position of having to defend and explain its reasoning for taking that intrusive step. [Continue reading...]

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I am a Muslim-American leader, and the NSA spied on me

Nihad Awad writes: As a student at the University of Minnesota decades ago, the more I learned about America’s history, the more I was inspired by our Founding Fathers. They were initially voices of dissent, who stood up and spoke on issues they thought would advance this country, with the understanding that it would not endear them to the powers of the day. This was the foundation for the Bill of Rights and the ideals that every American remains proud to enjoy to this day.

I am saddened, but not surprised, by recent revelations that I am on the list of Muslim-American leaders who have been targets for NSA surveillance. My First Amendment rights have been compromised simply because, over the years, I have expressed my views on issues relevant to public discourse. The fact that I have been individually targeted puts me on a list with very good company.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was spied on, along with Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald and boxer Muhammad Ali. Earlier this year, it came to light that the CIA had spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee, a Congressional body charged with oversight of the CIA.

Senator Frank Church, who led investigations in the 1970s uncovering FBI, CIA and NSA surveillance and illegal activity targeting minority activists, was spied on. In 1975 Church warned, “If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny.” [Continue reading...]

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Exposed: FBI and NSA spying on law-abiding Muslim-American leaders

The Intercept reports: The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap” — short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also “are or may be” engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens.

The spreadsheet shows 7,485 email addresses listed as monitored between 2002 and 2008. Many of the email addresses on the list appear to belong to foreigners whom the government believes are linked to Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Among the Americans on the list are individuals long accused of terrorist activity, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who were killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

But a three-month investigation by The Intercept — including interviews with more than a dozen current and former federal law enforcement officials involved in the FISA process — reveals that in practice, the system for authorizing NSA surveillance affords the government wide latitude in spying on U.S. citizens. [Continue reading...]

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In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are

The Washington Post reports: Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.

The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address. [Continue reading...]

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German man arrested as spy implicates U.S.

The New York Times reports: In the latest turn in the yearlong tensions with Germany over American spying, a German man was arrested this week on suspicion of passing secret documents to a foreign power, believed to be the United States. The American ambassador, John B. Emerson, was summoned to the Foreign Office here and urged to help with what German officials called a swift clarification of the case.

The arrest came as Washington and Berlin were trying to put to rest a year of strains over the National Security Agency’s monitoring of Germans’ electronic data, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, and just months after the collapse of an effort by Germany to strike a “no spy” accord with the White House.

While the White House and American intelligence officials refused to comment on the arrest, one senior American official said that reports in the German news media that the 31-year-old man under arrest had been working for the United States for at least two years “threaten to undo all the repair work” the two sides have been trying to achieve.[Continue reading...]

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German student under NSA scrutiny, reports say

The New York Times reports: A 27-year-old informatics student in southern Germany was identified in news reports on Thursday as the first German citizen known to be under surveillance by the National Security Agency since it was revealed last year that the agency had once tapped the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The news came on the same day that two former American security officials testified to a parliamentary inquiry about reports of sweeping digital surveillance and monitoring in Germany by American intelligence, which touched off a major controversy and put strains on German-American relations.

The student, Sebastian Hahn of Erlangen in Bavaria, said he had been active for six years in the Tor network, a group that works to encrypt digital communications, and that he had rented space on a computer in Nuremburg that he said was one of several around the world that direct other computers involved in Tor. Two German state broadcasting channels reported that there was evidence that the N.S.A. was tracking the Nuremberg computer as part of an operation called “XKeyscore.” A server at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is used by Roger Dingledine, a well-known web activist, was also tracked in the operation, the German broadcasters reported. [Continue reading...]

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Sen. Wyden releases details of backdoor searches of Americans’ communications

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., released the following statement in response to a letter provided by the Office of Director of National Intelligence, which details the number of backdoor searches performed by U.S. intelligence agencies. As this response makes clear, intelligence agencies are searching through communications collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – an authority that Congress intended to be used to target foreigners – and are deliberately conducting warrantless searches for the communications of individual Americans.

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has now responded to my longstanding question regarding warrantless searches for Americans’ emails and other communications, and I appreciate the candid and straightforward nature of their reply.

When the FBI says it conducts a substantial number of searches and it has no idea of what the number is, it shows how flawed this system is and the consequences of inadequate oversight. This huge gap in oversight is a problem now, and will only grow as global communications systems become more interconnected. The findings transmitted to me raise questions about whether the FBI is exercising any internal controls over the use of backdoor searches including who and how many government employees can access the personal data of individual Americans. I intend to follow this up until it is fixed.

While intelligence officials have often argued that it is impossible to estimate how many Americans’ communications are getting swept up by the government under Section 702, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has noted that the NSA acquires more than two hundred and fifty million Internet communications every year using Section 702, so even if US communications make up a small fraction of that total, the number of U.S. communications being collected is potentially quite large. The scale of this activity seems to be something that could be conducted pursuant to probable cause warrants, particularly given the exceptions that are included in the bipartisan bicameral legislation that I and others have proposed.

I and other reformers in Congress have argued that intelligence agencies should absolutely be permitted to search for communications pertaining to counterterrorism and other foreign threats, but if intelligence officials are deliberately searching for and reading the communications of specific Americans, the Constitution requires a warrant. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation that I and other reformers have supported would permit the government to conduct these searches pursuant to a probable cause warrant or emergency authorization, and it would include an exception for searches for individuals who are believed to be in danger.

Last week the House of Representatives voted 293-123 to require a warrant for these searches, and I’ll be urging my colleagues in the Senate to follow suit. Reformers believe that it is possible to protect Americans’ security and American liberty at the same time, and the American public expects nothing less.”

The full ODNI response is available here. The letter came in response to a question by Sen. Wyden during an open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 5.

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In surprise vote, House backs NSA limits

The Hill reports: A proposal to block intelligence agencies from conducting warrantless and “backdoor” searches of U.S. communications passed in the House late Thursday night.

Adopted 293-123, with one member voting present, the amendment to the 2015 Defense appropriations bill would prohibit the search of government databases for information on U.S. citizens without a warrant. It would further cut off funding for the CIA and National Security Agency to build security vulnerabilities, or “backdoors,” into domestic tech products or services for surveillance purposes. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) was the only member to vote present.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), the chief sponsor of the bipartisan amendment, said it would limit the controversial NSA spying.

“The American people are sick of being spied on,” Massie said. [Continue reading...]

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Spying gone wild: NSA claims it can’t control its own data collections systems

The Washington Post reports: The National Security Agency recently used a novel argument for not holding onto information it collects about users online activity: it’s too complex.

The agency is facing a slew of lawsuits over its surveillance programs, many launched after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information on the agency’s efforts last year. One suit that pre-dates the Snowden leaks, Jewel v. NSA, challenges the constitutionality of programs that the suit allege collect information about American’s telephone and Internet activities.

In a hearing Friday, U.S. District for the Northern District of California Judge Jeffrey S. White reversed an emergency order he had issued earlier the same week barring the government from destroying data that the Electronic Frontier Foundation had asked be preserved for that case. The data is collected under Section 702 of the Amendments Act to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

But the NSA argued that holding onto the data would be too burdensome. “A requirement to preserve all data acquired under section 702 presents significant operational problems, only one of which is that the NSA may have to shut down all systems and databases that contain Section 702 information,” wrote NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett in a court filing submitted to the court.

The complexity of the NSA systems meant preservation efforts might not work, he argued, but would have “an immediate, specific, and harmful impact on the national security of the United States.” Part of this complexity, Ledgett said, stems from privacy restrictions placed on the programs by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“Communications acquired pursuant to Section 702 reside within multiple databases contained on multiple systems and the precise manner in which NSA stays consistent with its legal obligations under the [FISA Amendments Act] has resulted from years of detailed interaction” with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Department of Justice, Ledgett wrote. NSA regularly purges data “via a combination of technical and human-based processes,” he said.

The government’s explanation raises more concerns, said Cindy Cohn, EFF’s legal director. “To me, it demonstrates that once the government has custody of this information even they can’t keep track of it anymore even for purposes of what they don’t want to destroy,” she said in an interview. [Continue reading...]

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65 things we know about NSA surveillance that we didn’t know a year ago

Electronic Frontier Foundation: It’s been one year since the Guardian first published the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, that demonstrated that the NSA was conducting dragnet surveillance on millions of innocent people. Since then, the onslaught of disturbing revelations, from disclosures, admissions from government officials, Freedom of Information Act requests, and lawsuits, has been nonstop. On the anniversary of that first leak, here are 65 things we know about NSA spying that we did not know a year ago: [Continue reading...]

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Internet giants erect barriers to spy agencies

The New York Times reports: Just down the road from Google’s main campus here, engineers for the company are accelerating what has become the newest arms race in modern technology: They are making it far more difficult — and far more expensive — for the National Security Agency and the intelligence arms of other governments around the world to pierce their systems.

As fast as it can, Google is sealing up cracks in its systems that Edward J. Snowden revealed the N.S.A. had brilliantly exploited. It is encrypting more data as it moves among its servers and helping customers encode their own emails. Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo are taking similar steps.

After years of cooperating with the government, the immediate goal now is to thwart Washington — as well as Beijing and Moscow. The strategy is also intended to preserve business overseas in places like Brazil and Germany that have threatened to entrust data only to local providers.

Google, for example, is laying its own fiber optic cable under the world’s oceans, a project that began as an effort to cut costs and extend its influence, but now has an added purpose: to assure that the company will have more control over the movement of its customer data. [Continue reading...]

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NSA: Inside the five-eyed vampire squid of the internet

Duncan Campbell writes: One year after The Guardian opened up the trove of top secret American and British documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) sysadmin Edward J Snowden, the world of data security and personal information safety has been turned on its head.

Everything about the safety of the internet as a common communication medium has been shown to be broken. As with the banking disasters of 2008, the crisis and damage created – not by Snowden and his helpers, but by the unregulated and unrestrained conduct the leaked documents have exposed – will last for years if not decades.

Compounding the problem is the covert network of subornment and control that agencies and collaborators working with the NSA are now revealed to have created in communications and computer security organisations and companies around the globe.

The NSA’s explicit objective is to weaken the security of the entire physical fabric of the net. One of its declared goals is to “shape the worldwide commercial cryptography market to make it more tractable to advanced cryptanalytic capabilities being developed by the NSA”, according to top secret documents provided by Snowden.

Profiling the global machinations of merchant bank Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone in 2009, journalist Matt Taibbi famously characterized them as operating “everywhere … a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.

The NSA, with its English-speaking “Five Eyes” partners (the relevant agencies of the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada) and a hitherto unknown secret network of corporate and government partners, has been revealed to be a similar creature. [Continue reading...]

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NSA reform bill finds few allies before Senate intelligence committee

The Guardian reports: Senators on the intelligence committee expressed deep doubts about curbing the National Security Agency’s broad data collection powers as the upper legislative chamber begins to consider a landmark surveillance bill that passed the House last month.

Lawmakers attacked the USA Freedom Act as insufficiently protective of both privacy and national security as intelligence and law enforcement officials, who now back the bill, conceded that under its provisions they would still have access to a large amount of US phone and other data.

Deputy attorney general James Cole told the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday that the bill allows the NSA to collect information “two hops“, or degrees removed from a targeted phone account. “It gives us the prospective collection, it gives us a wider range of information that we wouldn’t have under normal authorities,” he said.

That account bothered three Democratic privacy advocates on the panel – Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Colorado’s Mark Udall and New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich – but most of the consternation shown by the panel came from the opposite direction, indicating that a surveillance bill whose privacy protections have been largely weakened will still face a difficult road in the Senate.

The panel’s leaders, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia – both of whom remain staunch advocates of the bulk domestic phone metadata collection that the bill is aimed at ending – feared that restricting the volume of data to which the NSA has access will leave the US vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

In some cases, the panel, charged with overseeing the intelligence agencies and preventing abuse, advocated greater authorities for the surveillance agency than the NSA itself requested. [Continue reading...]

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