NSA’s Personal Propagandist For CBS Officially Takes Counterterrorism Job Everyone Knew He Was Getting
When 60 Minutes did its hack PR job for the NSA a few weeks ago, lots of people called out the fact that the reporter who handled the segment, John Miller, wasn’t just a former intelligence official working for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (which oversees the NSA), but that he was widely rumored to have worked out a deal for a new job for the NYPD, heading up “counterterrorism.” Even though there were multiple reports at the time, including one that claimed it was a “99.44% done deal,” when asked about it, Miller lied. He told a reporter, “you know as much about this as I do.”
That was clearly Miller lying — something that Miller has had an issue with in the past — as the “rumor” is now confirmed and Miller has accepted his job doing “counterterrorism” for the NYPD. And while some might say that doing counterterrorism for a city police force is different than working for national intelligence, that’s only because you’re not familiar with the NYPD, which has set up something of a shadow NSA/CIA to do all sorts of activities not normally associated with a police force.
And, of course, since the press was clearly familiar with Miller’s expected role, it raises serious questions about why 60 Minutes allowed the puff piece to move forward with a seriously conflicted “journalist.” While Miller has lashed out at critics, rather than respond to a single point raised, the brand that comes out worst in all this is clearly CBS and 60 Minutes — which basically let an intelligence official do an entire propaganda piece on the NSA. 60 Minutes used to be about hard hitting journalism. Now, apparently, they think it’s “journalism” to shill for the surveillance state.
Over the past few months, I’ve certainly wondered quite a bit about just how bad the NSA seems to be at recognizing how the public feels concerning what it’s doing. This week’s revelations about tracking mobile phone locations was incredible because folks at the NSA must have known that information about this program was in Snowden’s collection, and yet when they were asked about collecting location info a few months ago, they made statements that would clearly look bad, when put next to the truth:
“We don’t get any cell site or location information as to where any of these phones were located.” — Keith Alexander
These phones. Under this program. But under this other program we collect pretty much everything. Beyond that, the various “code names” the NSA uses are somewhat revealing as well. Lots of people commented on the insanity of calling the giant database FASCIA. But, at the very least, you could argue that the NSA never expected those code names to be made public. And with the misleading statements, they were still holding out hope that maybe, just maybe, a meteor would magically flatten Glenn Greenwald, Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras before the info got out.
But… how about when the US intelligence community actually does something publicly. Like live tweeting the launch of a new spy satellite. Apparently, they slap the most unsubtle logo on it that you can imagine.
Yes, it’s an octopus, with tentacles reaching all over the globe. And the tagline is “Nothing is Beyond Our Reach.”
Sure. They’re spies. This is what they do. But, somehow, you’d think that maybe, just maybe, someone with a tiny bit of sense back there at the office of the director of national intelligence would think that, “gee, a lot of people around the globe are pretty fucking angry at us for all the spying we’re doing right now. maybe we shouldn’t be spitting in their faces, mocking their concerns, and reminding them that we’re blatantly evil people who really don’t give two shits about their privacy.”
Of course, that would take some actual recognition of what anyone thinks of them, and that doesn’t seem to be part of the way that the US intelligence community operates.
President Barack Obama’s special panel of “independent” experts charged with reviewing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic spying programs is actually lacking in independence.
For starters, the panel assembled to determine if the NSA has violated Americans’ civil liberties consists of five members—four of whom have previously worked for Democratic administrations.
One member is Michael Morell, who served in the Central Intelligence Agency under Obama as deputy director, and twice served as acting director.
The other three with Democratic ties are Peter Swire, former Office of Management and Budget privacy director under President Bill Clinton; Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism coordinator under Clinton and later for President George W. Bush; and Cass Sunstein, Obama’s former regulatory czar.
The fifth panel member is Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago, who was an informal adviser to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and is now helping develop Obama’s presidential library. Stone previously went on record as saying that the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone records is constitutional.
“No one can look at this group and say it’s completely independent,” Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute and vice president at the New America Foundation, told the Associated Press after attending one of the panel’s meetings.
Michelle Richardson, an ACLU legislative counsel who attended one meeting for civil liberties groups, said her organization “would have liked a more diverse group” for the panel.
Another sign that the group lacks independence is in its name—“Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.”
The AP’s Stephen Braun noted that “the panel’s official name suggests it’s run by” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
In fact, Obama’s announcement in August that the review group would be established by DNI James Clapper triggered a wave of criticism. Obama tried to quell the outcry by assuring the country that Clapper would neither run the panel nor select its members.
But there is more than the panel’s name that suggests DNI oversight. The panel’s so-called outside experts work inside offices provided by the DNI. And it is the DNI’s press office that coordinates all press statements and interview requests.
Another point of criticism stems from Clapper’s decision to exempt the panel from the U.S. Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires such committees to conduct open meetings and notify the public about their activities. Indeed, it has been reported that during recent weeks the panel’s meetings have been closed to the public even when no classified material was discussed.
There appears to be no formal directive stating that the panel should operate independently of the Obama administration. In fact, the situation is quite the opposite. An official White House memorandum actually provides the panel with instructions for areas to emphasize in its review: whether U.S. spying programs advance foreign policy, protect national security, and are safe from leaks.
In his August 9th press conference regarding the establishment of this panel, Obama promised that the “outside experts” will “consider how we can…make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used.” But nowhere in the White House memo is the panel instructed to investigate surveillance abuses.
The panel’s report is due by December 15. On that date it is not to be made public, nor is it to be delivered to the press. Rather, it will be submitted to the White House for review.
To Learn More:
Close Ties Between White House, NSA Spying Review (by Stephen Braun, Associated Press)
NSA Spying Review Panel Appointed by Obama Set to Whitewash Surveillance Abuses (by Kevin Gosztola, Dissenter)
Surveillance Privacy: Obama Orders Fox to Guard Chicken Coop (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
- Obama’s NSA ‘Independent’ Review Clearly a Public Relations Move (reason.com)
- NSA Spying Review Panel Appointed by Obama Set to Whitewash Surveillance Abuses (dissenter.firedoglake.com)
Majority of Americans say Director of National Intelligence Clapper should be prosecuted for perjury
An overwhelming majority of Americans say James Clapper, the spy master who lied to Congress about domestic surveillance, should be prosecuted for perjury, results from a new survey show.
During a congressional hearing in March, Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said the National Security Agency (NSA) did not collect phone and Internet data on millions of ordinary Americans, a response he later admitted was “clearly erroneous.”
Commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Credo and conducted by Public Policy Polling in five states, a new survey finds that huge majorities of Americans want Clapper prosecuted for lying to Congress.
In response to the question, “Do you think the Director of National Intelligence should be prosecuted for perjury?” 68 percent of voters in Texas and 69 percent in Kentucky said the spy chief should be prosecuted.
In the Democratic states of California and Hawaii, 54 percent and 58 percent of voters, respectively, said they want him prosecuted. In Iowa, 65 percent of voters said the same.
Recent revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the previously secret surveillance programs have sparked a heated national debate about government transparency and privacy issues in the United States, putting the Obama administration on the defensive.
In a move to dampen the controversy, President Barack Obama outlined a number of steps last Friday to increase transparency and reform some aspects of the NSA.
However the president’s four-point reform packaged provoked a backlash when it was implied that Clapper was being appointed to head an “independent group” of “outside experts” to oversee the government’s surveillance programs.
The White House later denied Clapper would lead the independent review, saying the director had to be involved for administrative reasons as the panel would need security clearance and access to classified information.
A Guide to the Deceptions, Misinformation, and Word Games Officials Use to Mislead the Public About NSA Surveillance
It’s been two months since President Barack Obama first said that he welcomes a debate about NSA surveillance, which he once again reiterated last week at his press conference. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to have a real debate about a subject when the administration constantly and intentionally misleads Americans about the NSA’s capabilities and supposed legal powers.
Infamously, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper was forced to apologize for lying to Congress about whether the government was collecting information on millions of Americans, but that was merely the tip of the administration’s iceberg of mendacity and misdirection. At this point, it seems nothing the government says about the NSA can be taken at face value.
NSA’s Bizarro Dictionary
The latest example comes from the New York Times last week, which reported that the NSA is “searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country.” Despite the fact that millions of people’s communications are collected in bulk, the NSA says that this isn’t “bulk collection.” From the NYT story:
The senior intelligence official argued, however, that it would be inaccurate to portray the N.S.A. as engaging in “bulk collection” of the contents of communications. “ ‘Bulk collection’ is when we collect and retain for some period of time that lets us do retrospective analysis,” the official said. “In this case, we do not do that, so we do not consider this ‘bulk collection.’ ”
In other words, because the NSA does some sort of initial content searches of the bulk communications that they collect, perhaps using very fast computers, then only keep some unknown subset of that greater bulk for a later date, no “bulk collection” occurs. This is ridiculous. No matter how you slice it, the NSA is mass collecting and searching millions of American communications without a warrant.
Keep in mind that officials have previously said communications aren’t even “collected” when they are intercepted and stored in a database for long periods of time, much less “bulk collected.” Orwell would be impressed.
We’ve long documented the NSA’s unbelievable definitions of ordinary words like “collect,” “surveillance,” and “communications,” publishing a whole page of them last year. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer has added to the NSA’s bizarro dictionary, with words like “incidental,” “minimize” and even “no.”
The fact is, no one should have to read and parse a sentence a half-dozen times, plus have access to a secret government dictionary, in order to decipher its meaning. Yet, that’s apparently how the administration wants this debate to proceed.
When government officials can’t directly answer a question with a secret definition, officials will often answer a different question than they were asked. For example, if asked, “can you read Americans’ email without a warrant,” officials will answer: “we cannot target Americans’ email without a warrant.” As we explained last week, the NSA’s warped definition of word “target” is full of so many holes that it allows the NSA to reach into untold number of Americans’ emails, some which can be purely domestic.
“Under this Program” Dodge
Another tried and true technique in the NSA obfuscation playbook is to deny it does one invasive thing or another “under this program.” When it’s later revealed the NSA actually does do the spying it said it didn’t, officials can claim it was just part of another program not referred to in the initial answer.
This was the Bush administration’s strategy for the “Terrorist Surveillance Program”: The term “TSP” ended up being a meaningless label, created by administration officials after the much larger warrantless surveillance program was exposed by the New York Times in 2005. They used it to give the misleading impression that the NSA’s spying program was narrow and aimed only at intercepting the communications of terrorists. In fact, the larger program affected all Americans.
Now we’re likely seeing it as part of the telephone records collection debate when administration officials repeat over and over that they aren’t collecting location data “under this program.” Sen. Ron Wyden has strongly suggested this might not be the whole story.
From Downright False to Impossible to Understand
Some statements by government officials don’t seem to have any explanation.
The night before the New York Times story on “vast” warrantless searches of Americans’ communications came out, Obama told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, “We don’t have a domestic spying program.” Mr. President, what do you call collecting the phone records of all Americans and searching any email sent by an American that happens to cross the border? That sounds a lot like a domestic spying program.
Similarly, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently said this: “[T]he government cannot listen to an American’s telephone calls or read their emails without a court warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause.” Leaked documents and, honestly, the FISA Amendments Act itself show Feinstein’s statement simply isn’t true—if Americans are talking to a “target” their telephone calls are listened to and their emails can be read without a warrant (and that doesn’t even include the searching of Americans’ communications that are “about a target”). All of those searches are done without a court order, much less a warrant based on probable cause.
Previously, President Obama has called the inherently secret FISA court “transparent,” to the befuddlement of just about everyone. A court that has issued tens of thousands of secret orders, while creating a secret body of privacy and Fourth Amendment law, is not “transparent” by any measure.
Just last week, the president claimed he would appoint an “independent” board of “outside” observers to review the surveillance programs, only to put DNI Clapper—the same man who lied to Congress and the public about the scope of the program—in charge of picking the members. The White House has since backtracked, but the DNI still will report the group’s findings to the President.
These are not all of the misleading statements, merely just a few that stick out at the moment. If the president is serious about transparency, he can start by declassifying the dictionary his administration is using to debate, and start speaking straight to the American public. A one-sided presentation of the facts, without straightforward answers to the public’s questions, isn’t really a debate at all.
- The NSA is turning the internet into a total surveillance system
- Confessed Liar To Congress, James Clapper, Gets To Set Up The ‘Independent’ Review Over NSA Surveillance
- Jennifer Hoelzer’s Insider’s View Of The Administration’s Response To NSA Surveillance Leaks
- Pro-NSA Editorial Flails Wildly, Snarks At Internet Users And Claims Those Challenging NSA’s Reach ‘Hate Obama’
Confessed Liar To Congress, James Clapper, Gets To Set Up The ‘Independent’ Review Over NSA Surveillance
Well, this is rather incredible. Remember on Friday how one of President Obama’s efforts to get people to trust the government more concerning the NSA’s surveillance efforts was to create an “outside” and “independent” board to review it all? Specifically, he said:
Fourth, we’re forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies. We need new thinking for a new era. We now have to unravel terrorist plots by finding a needle in the haystack of global telecommunications. And meanwhile, technology has given governments — including our own — unprecedented capability to monitor communications.
So I am tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities — particularly our surveillance technologies. And they’ll consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy — particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public. And they will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy.
Okay. Outside, independent. Sure, that might help. Except, that was Friday. Today is Monday. And, on Monday we learn that “outside” and “independent” actually means setup by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper — the same guy who has already admitted to lying to Congress about the program, and has received no punishment for doing so. This is independent? From this we’re supposed to expect real oversight?!? This is from the letter sent to Clapper:
I believe it is important to take stock of how these technological advances alter the environment in which we conduct our intelligence mission. To this end, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I am directing you to establish a Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies (Review Group).
The Review Group will assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust. Within 60 days of its establishment, the Review Group will brief their interim findings to me through the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the Review Group will provide a final report and recommendations to me through the DNI no later than December 15, 2013.
In case you didn’t catch that, he’s asking Clapper to first create and set up this “outside” and “independent” review group… and then to have the group report its findings back to Clapper. The same strong defender of the program who flat out lied to Congress about it. If this was about “restoring the trust” of the American people that the government isn’t pulling a fast one over on them, President Obama sure has a funny way of trying to rebuild that trust. This seems a lot more like giving the concerns of the American public a giant middle finger.
Here we go: “NSA admits listening to U.S. phone calls without warrants”:
“A requirement of the 2008 law is that the NSA “may not intentionally target any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.” A possible interpretation of that language, some legal experts said, is that the agency may vacuum up everything it can domestically — on the theory that indiscriminate data acquisition was not intended to “target” a specific American citizen.”
Gathering everything is OK. Also:
“Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell indicated during a House Intelligence hearing in 2007 that the NSA’s surveillance process involves “billions” of bulk communications being intercepted, analyzed, and incorporated into a database.
They can be accessed by an analyst who’s part of the NSA’s “workforce of thousands of people” who are “trained” annually in minimization procedures, he said. (McConnell, who had previously worked as the director of the NSA, is now vice chairman at Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden’s former employer.)”
As far as the NSA is concerned, gathering everything without warrants is legally permitted, and once they have it, NSA analysts who are ‘trained’ to NSA standards are legally allowed to listen to whatever they want. Gathering everything is actually better than getting a FISA warrant for a particular target.
PRISM is going to take over the entire discussion, and, lo and behold, it is not that bad. Get a few more keys for the ‘lockbox’, and all will be deemed to be well.
The three big questions concerning Total Information Awareness are:
- economic – can we pay to store all this information?;
- technical – can we develop search engines that will allow us to handle all this information without becoming paralyzed by the sheer volume of it (remember that Simon’s big straw man was the ridiculousness of having FBI agents listen to all the conversations!!!), the traditional problem with totalitarian states?; and
- legal – in a country with constitutional protections for basic liberties, how is any of this allowed?
The NSA believes it has an answer to the first two of these problems, and just needs to fool Americans into believing that the presence of those scary Moooooooslims under their beds justifies a bit of bending of the constitution to finesse the legal problem. Some tinkering will be done to PRISM, and everybody will go back to sleep.
The final step will be to continue to expand the exploitation of the information as a method of social control using blackmail or something like blackmail – even the awareness that there is information out there that could be used for blackmail will start to influence behavior, particularly repressing any kind of political protest (not that there is much of that anyway) – and to use the insider information to siphon up whatever wealth is not yet in the hands of the 1% (it is a fun fact that Booz Allen is owned by the Carlyle Group).
- Why Did Edward Snowden Go to Hong Kong?
- NSA Document Leak Proves Conspiracy To Create Big Brother Style World Control System
- DOJ launches criminal probe of NSA leaker
- US security officials said NSA leaker, journalist should be ‘disappeared’ – report
- Government Spying: Should We Be Shocked?
- Boundless Informant: NSA’s complex tool for classifying global intelligence
- The NSA’s Favorite Weasel Word To Pretend It’s Claiming It Doesn’t Spy On Americans
- The “Congress knew” defense
- NSA memo pushed to ‘rethink’ 4th Amendment
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper being grilled by Sen. Ron Wyden • Screenshot
In March 2013, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) put the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on the spot on NSA’s dragnet style surveillance of American citizens.
Wyden had been briefed (according to his comments here) on the ongoing program that is now known as PRISM. At the hearing on March 12 before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden appeared to be trying to expose this program to Congress and the general public.
The senator was likely taken by surprise when Director Clapper appeared to directly deny the existence of the program Wyden was aware of, which is probably why he asked Clapper to repeat himself. The following is from the hearing:
Wyden: And this is for you, Director Clapper, again on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer the NSA director was at a conference and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘…the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is completely false.’ The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
Clapper: “No, sir.”
Wyden: “It does not.”
Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”
Wyden: “All right. Thank you. I’ll have additional questions to give you in writing on that point, but I thank you for the answer.”
Wyden is on the Intelligence Committee and knew what he was asking about. He was not phishing with this question; rather, he was specifically asking about what we now know as PRISM and trying to get Clapper to discuss this issue with Congress. And Clapper, who could clearly have said something along the lines of “any program of that nature would be classified…” instead chose to answer the question, which he likely knew was referring to PRISM, in a way that he knew, or should have known, would mislead Congress.
Wyden seems to have done everything he could to shed light on this information for the American people without violating American law. He previously asked the NSA for a “ballpark estimate” on how many Americans are being spied upon under FISA. The NSA responded that they could not answer the question: “Obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of his office…An IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons.”
Wyden’s question to Clapper was quite explicit: he asked, does the NSA collect “any type of data.” And Clapper said no. If the reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere on PRISM are accurate, then this statement appears to be a lie.
Clapper was asked to clarify his remarks on Thursday and told the National Journal, “What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. I stand by that.”
This is an interesting “update” to his comment and logical damage control. But this is not necessarily clear either. Wittingly means “with full knowledge and deliberation.” The Powerpoint released last week, if facts substantiate what has already been reported, appears to show that in the PRISM program the NSA is wittingly and deliberately collecting information on millions of Americans.
Clapper’s statement appears to be untrue; however, legal experts may be able to parse it in a different way. If it wasn’t a lie it appears to be clearly misleading.
Lying to Congress is an extremely serious offense, although few have been found guilty. Roger Clemens was indicted for lying to Congress (but ultimately found innocent of perjury). Many of the cases of individuals convicted of lying to Congress arose from Watergate, including President Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, and Nixon’s Chief of staff, H.R Haldeman.
Executive officials can be impeached for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” As a non-criminal matter, there are serious grounds to argue that lying to Congress is among the most severe potential “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Lying to a Grand Jury was the grounds for President Clinton’s impeachment; and that was lying to a grand jury, not lying to Congress when Congress is the relevant oversight branch. Furthermore, lying to Congress while Congress is performing oversight impedes a Congressional inquiry and investigation; Clinton’s lying to a Grand Jury did not impede Congressional functioning. This may be a poor example, because many disagreed with Clinton’s impeachment. The point is only that Clapper’s statement rises to or even exceeds previous standards for impeachment. (Impeachment is the House essentially “indicting” an Executive official which would require the Senate to convict for ultimate removal.)
Under the Constitution, Congress has a few major roles: to pass legislation and to oversee the Executive branch. The Intelligence Committee was specifically created to oversee the Intelligence Community in the wake of systemic abuses from the 1960s and 1970s. This oversight of intelligence organizations is critical to protecting average citizens from abuses that were well documented, including the wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. But this oversight process can only work if members of the Executive branch are honest with Congress. Members of the Executive branch know this, and these high stakes are precisely why in confrontations between the Executive and the Legislative branch, sometimes Executive branch officials try to refuse to appear before Congress – citing executive privilege.
Clapper’s statement appears to have misled the relevant Congressional Committee, and more importantly, misled Members of Congress who don’t receive the information that the Intelligence Committee receives. Ultimately these statements misled the general public. This obfuscation of the truth inhibited the Intelligence Committee from performing proper oversight, which is the primary role of the Intelligence Committee. There is little point in having an oversight committee for intelligence if members of the intelligence community can simply lie when asked questions before a hearing.
Misspeaking at a hearing may be a mistake. Misspeaking before the Intelligence Committee is an extremely grievous mistake. But even more egregious here is that Clapper had ample time to correct the record and apparently failed to do so. Statements made at hearings are not coffee shop like discussions; rather, they are carefully prepared in advance. If Clapper did not have a prepared answer for this question, it’s extremely likely that the NSA counsel would have reviewed his statement after the hearing – putting him on notice that if his statement was incorrect he had the obligation to correct it. In fact, if the NSA’s counsel knew that Clapper was lying or misspeaking, he may have had a legal obligation to tell Clapper to inform the Committee of his misstatement. And, under a similar procedure for lying at court, if Clapper refused to correct the record then the Counsel may have had an obligation to tell the Committee anyway. This gives some perspective on the legal severity of lying to a congressional committee.
President Obama has claimed that Congress was aware of all ongoing programs of this nature. The Administration can’t have it both ways. It can’t claim that Congress was in the loop and signed off when the Director of National Intelligence appears to have at best misled and at worst lied to the relevant oversight branch.
Our entire national security infrastructure was restructured because of the major scandals in the 1960s and 70s which ultimately culminated in the Church and Pike Committees. The Congressional Intelligence Committees were created to oversee the intelligence community and protect against abuses. The Committees were designed particularly to ensure protection of American citizens’ civil liberties. If the PRISM program represents the most significant and controversial ongoing intelligence operations impacting civil liberties in the past forty years (so we hope), then shouldn’t misleading the relevant committee be treated as among the most serious offenses that an executive official can commit? If not, how can Congress have any ability to oversee intelligence operations at all? If being in charge of the intelligence community, as Clapper is, and misleading the relevant committee overseeing your operations when they are trying to investigate is not a “high crime and misdemeanor,” then what other forms of misbehavior would meet that threshold? What message would it send to other governmental officials when asked to speak to Congress?
Check out my testimony on cell phone unlocking at the House Judiciary Committee hearing last week.
Derek Khanna (@DerekKhanna and Facebook.com/derekkhanna) is the maverick former Republican staffer and civil liberties advocate whose op-eds on cell phone unlocking went viral in January. He is now a Yale Law
Well, well. In the aftermath of the revelations that the NSA is getting records of every phone call from Verizon, followed up by the news that most of the biggest tech companies are supposedly giving direct access to the NSA, the intelligence community is responding the same way it always does: with weasel words. First up, you can see Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s statement about the spying, which we’ll be discussing again in a bit.
But, a bunch of folks have been reasonably pointing out that Clapper appears to have lied to Congress. Of course, it’s not like this wasn’t easily called. Two years ago, we wrote about Clapper’s answers to Senators Wyden and Udall, which we pointed out was a ridiculous answer that was clearly sidestepping the real questions. However, looking over that letter again now, and having become a bit more familiar with the weasel words the NSA likes to use, it’s easy to look at Clapper’s statement and explain why he can “stand by it” while the clear implication of it was the opposite of what he meant.
You asked whether communications of Americans have been collected… Section 702 of the FAA [FISA Amendments Act] explicitly prohibits the intentional targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located in the United States or United States persons located abroad. The Intelligence Community has put in place a variety of procedures, which have been approved by the FISA Court as required by law, to ensure that only persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States are targeted and to prevent the intentional acquisition of any communications as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known to be located in the United States. Guidelines are also required by law to ensure compliance with other limitations on FAA collection, including the requirement that a U.S. person may not be intentionally targeted under section 702. If it is discovered that a target has entered the U.S. or is a U.S. person, he or she is promptly detargeted and reports are made as appropriate to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the FISA Court. Moreover, when communications from persons located in the United States are collected because they are communicating with a lawful target, the privacy and civil liberty rights of U.S. persons are protected through the careful implementation of the procedures required under the FAA to “minimize the acquisition and retention, and prohibit the dissemination ‘of information about U.S. persons.’”
Most people would read this to be him saying that they do not spy on Americans. And that’s obviously what he’s trying to imply. But that’s not what he’s actually saying. He’s using the NSA’s favorite weasel word: “target.” Now, most people assume that means one of the people on the call must be outside the US. But, you could — if you were devious intelligence official trying to mislead Congress and the American public (hypothetically) — interpret the word “target” to mean “if we, in general are ‘targeting’ foreign threats, no matter what they might be like, and this information we’re collecting might help in that process, then we can snarf up this data.”
In other words, most people think that “target” would mean one of the people on the phone. But, the NSA means “this overall investigation is about targeting foreign threats, so we can take whatever data we want because the goal is to stop foreign threats with it — and therefore our mandate not to spy on Americans doesn’t apply.”
So, it shouldn’t be particularly surprising to see that the administration’s “response” to this is to highlight, yet again, that this only “targets” non-US persons:
Information collected through a U.S. government surveillance program that taps into the servers of internet companies targets only non-U.S. persons living outside the United States, a senior administration official said on Thursday.
The U.S. law that allows the collection of data under this program does not allow the targeting of any U.S. citizen or of any person located in the United States, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Right, but whether or not they’re “targeting” a person, is separate from whether or not they’re spying on the data of Americans. As long as it’s all part of a process that “targets” non-US persons, they can claim that they’re playing by the rules.
Given that, however, I don’t see how Clapper can reasonably standby the following statements:
Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
Clapper: No sir.
Wyden: It does not?
Clapper: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly.
Clapper is insisting that he didn’t lie in his comments, but he then pretends that he was only talking about email:
What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. I stand by that.
Except, that’s not what he was asked, nor was it what he said. He was specifically asked if the NSA collects any type of data at all, and he said no. Up above, he was using weasel words, but here it looks like he was flat out lying directly to Congress. Usually, Congress doesn’t like that.
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Alarmist corporate media coverage of the “threat” from Iran is everywhere, thanks to a Senate appearance yesterday by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
But Clapper said very little in his remarks that would justify the propagandistic coverage we’re seeing. His main point was that Iran could launch attacks if it felt threatened. It is hard to see how this is particularly surprising. Clapper pointed to the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington D.C. as evidence that Iran seems more eager to assert itself, perhaps even inside the United States. But there were many people who raised serious questions about that rather implausible scenario (which involved hiring a Mexican drug gang to carry out the assassination).
As the Wall Street Journal reported (one of the few corporate outlets I saw pushing back against the official alarmism):
There is still widespread doubt that an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador was authorized at the highest levels in Tehran, said Karim Sadjadpour, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“If that’s the only data point, I think it’s a stretch to conclude that the regime is now looking to commit acts of terror on U.S. soil,” he said.
That kind of caution was in short supply on the network newscasts. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (1/31/12) announced:
Iran’s threat. Not just the nuclear program. Tonight, U.S. intelligence warns Iran may be prepared to strike on American soil.
Williams called Clapper’s testimony a “chilling new assessment about the scope of the threat from Iran.” As correspondent Andrea Mitchell explained, “Experts warn that the U.S. is even more vulnerable than Israel if Iran retaliates or launches a pre-emptive bomb plot…. Soft U.S. targets like embassies throughout the Persian Gulf, and 90,000 American troops in Afghanistan, next door to Iran.”
It wasn’t until the end of Mitchell’s report that any notes of caution were sounded:
Still, intelligence officials told the Senate today they don’t think Iran has taken the final step, deciding to build a bomb. But Israel does think Iran has crossed that red line, and U.S. officials say if attacked, Iran would not hesitate to retaliate against both Israel and the U.S.
So Iran is a substantial threat, though then again it might not even be developing the weapons the U.S. and Israel claim are in the works. And really, the “threat” seems mostly that Iran might be ready to respond to an attack on its country–something virtually any country in the world would do.
But for sheer propaganda value, ABC World News‘ January 31 broadcast would be tough to top.
First, start with alarming graphic:
Then Pentagon correspondent Martha Raddatz announced, “The saber rattling from Iran has been constant.”
Match that with threatening B-roll footage from the enemy country. Weapons on display at a military parade, for instance:
Iran “may be more ready than ever to launch terror attacks in the United States,” Raddatz explained. Cue footage of apparently menacing soldiers:
Don’t forget to show the enemy county’s leader (or, rather, a close approximation) meeting with other Official Enemies. Like this:
And why not one more, while reminding viewers that such figures “have little love for the U.S.”:
It’s important to remember, amidst all this hoopla, that it is U.S. military officials and the president who have regularly threatened that “no options” are “off the table” in dealing with Iran. That is code for using nuclear weapons–and Barack Obama’s latest repetition of that apocalyptic threat got a standing ovation from Congress.
It is hard to argue honestly that the real escalation is coming from the Iranian side. But that’s what propaganda is for.