The National Security Agency (NSA) has refused to release four seconds of a recording made in the Richard Nixon White House more than 40 years ago, claiming the disclosure would expose a reference to Vietnam War peace talks and American government spying capabilities of the time.
The four-second segment, recorded on January 12, 1973 by Nixon chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, has been sought by researcher Ken Hughes of the University of Virginia, who has studied the Nixon-era tapes. It contains information related to negotiations between the U.S. government and the government of South Vietnam connected to the war.
But the NSA rejected Hughes’ request, claiming the brief recording “would reveal information that would impair U.S. cryptologic systems or activities,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told Bloomberg in an email.
Bloomberg was also told by the National Archives that the segment must be kept a secret because it could reveal “the identity of a confidential human source, a human intelligence source” or a “relationship with an intelligence or security agency of a foreign government or international organization.”
Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio reported: “Historians say the redacted segment probably refers to a threat by former President Lyndon Johnson to expose an illegal attempt by Nixon’s presidential campaign to derail the 1968 Paris peace talks on ending the Vietnam War.”
To Learn More:
Classified: Why Is Obama Keeping Secret Four Seconds of a Nixon-Era Tape? (by Anthony Capaccio, Bloomberg )
Nixon White House Tapes (Wikipedia)
New Technology Takes Aim at Notorious Watergate Tape Gap (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
A 36-year veteran of America’s Intelligence Community, William Binney resigned from his position as Director for Global Communications Intelligence (COMINT) at the National Security Agency (NSA) and blew the whistle, after discovering that his efforts to protect the privacy and security of Americans were being undermined by those above him in the chain of command.
The NSA data-monitoring program which Binney and his team had developed — codenamed ThinThread — was being aimed not at foreign targets as intended, but at Americans (codenamed as Stellar Wind); destroying privacy here and around the world. Binney voices his call to action for the billions of individuals whose rights are currently being violated.
William Binney speaks out in this feature-length interview with Tragedy and Hope’s Richard Grove, focused on the topic of the ever-growing Surveillance State in America.
Over the past several years mainstream news outlets have conveyed a litany of cyber doomsday scenarios on behalf of ostensibly credible public officials. Breathless intimations of the End Times. The stuff of Hollywood screenplays. However a recent statement by the U.S. intelligence community pours a bucket of cold water over all of this. Yes, Virginia, It turns out that all the talk of cyber Armageddon was a load of bunkum. An elaborate propaganda campaign which only serves as a pretext to sacrifice our civil liberties and channel an ocean of cash to the defense industry.
Looking back the parade of scare stories is hard to miss. For example, in late 2012 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.” Former White House cybersecurity official Paul B. Kurtz likewise spoke of a threat which he referred to as a “cyber Katrina.” Former NSA director Mike McConnell claimed that a veritable Cyberwar was on and chided the public “are we going to wait for the cyber equivalent of the collapse of the World Trade Centers?” Yet another NSA director, Keith Alexander, described cyberattacks as constituting “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.” And finally, Vanity Fair magazine published a hyperbolic article entitled “A Declaration of Cyberwar” wherein the NSA’s Stuxnet attack against Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities was likened to a cyber “Hiroshima.”
Yet the 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. intelligence community submitted recently to the Senate Armed Services Committee has explicitly conceded that the risk of “cyber Armageddon” is at best “remote.” In other words, it’s entirely safe to ignore the hyperbolic bluster of the Cult of Cyberwar. Despite what we’ve been told the Emperor is naked.
What society has witnessed is what’s known in the public relations business as threat inflation. It’s a messaging tool that’s grounded in human emotion. Faced with ominous prophecies by trusted public servants the average person seldom pauses to consider the likelihood of ulterior motives or perform a formal quantitative risk assessment. Most people tacitly cede to the speakers’ authority —given that most speakers are, or were, high-ranking officials— and accept their graphic worst-case scenarios at face value.
The American public saw threat inflation back in the 1950s when American leadership hyperventilated over the imaginary Missile Gap. We saw it once again before the invasion of Iraq when President Bush spoke of a nuclear “smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” And after reading through the various cyber metaphors described earlier it’s hard not to recognize the fingerprints of threat inflation at work.
The goal of threat inflation is to stir up anxiety, to foment a profound sense of apprehension so that the public is receptive to marketing pitches emerging from the defense industry. Studies conducted by accredited research psychologists demonstrate that anxious people will choose to be safe rather than sorry. In the throes of an alleged crisis, anxious people aren’t necessarily particular about the solution as long as it’s presented as a remedial measure; they don’t care much about the ultimate cost or the civil liberties they relinquish. They’re willing to pay a steep price to feel safe again.
So it is that American intelligence services have raised a global panopticon and in doing so engaged in clandestine subversion programs that span entire sectors of the economy. Speaking to the public our leaders justify mass surveillance in terms of protecting the American public against terrorists. Speaking to each other intelligence officers disparage iPhone users as ‘zombies’ who pay for their own monitoring. This sharp contrast underscores an insight provided by whistleblower Ed Snowden in an open letter to Brazil. In particular Snowden stated that “These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”
This process, of capitalizing on deftly manufactured emotional responses, has been called securitization and it puts the economic and political imperatives of corporate interests before our own. An allegedly existential threat like cyber Armageddon can presumably justify any cost in the throes of a crisis mentality. This is exactly what powerful groups are betting on.
But just because there are several types of insurance doesn’t mean consumers should go out and buy all of them. Prudent buyers won’t pay any price to be safe, they purchase coverage strategically. There are prices that clear-headed people won’t pay. Something to remember when the term “national security” appears in public debate.
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. But sometimes that’s the easy part.
When it comes to cybersecurity, it seems everyone in Washington admits we have a problem. It’s in the solutions phase where things really start to fall apart for policymakers.
Instead of focusing on ways to make our data (and the devices we store it on) more secure, Washington keeps offering up “cybersecurity” proposals that would poke huge holes in privacy protections and potentially funnel tons of personal information to the government, including the NSA and the military.
Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee met behind closed doors to mark up the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015. They voted 14–1 to advance the bill, with Senator Wyden offering the lone no vote.
Unfortunately, by all accounts, CISA is one of those privacy-shredding bills in cybersecurity clothing.
If you remember CISPA, the information-sharing bill that fell under the weight of its privacy failings last Congress and even drew a veto threat from President Obama, the problems with CISA might sound a little too familiar. This bill is arguably much worse than CISPA and, despite its name, shouldn’t be seen as anything other than a surveillance bill – think Patriot Act 2.0.
The bill could also pose a particular threat to whistleblowers – who already face, perhaps, the most hostile environment in U.S. history – because it fails to limit what the government can do with the vast amount of data to be shared with it under this proposal. CISA would allow the government to use private information, obtained from companies on a voluntary basis (and so without a warrant) in criminal proceedings – including going after leakers under the Espionage Act.
If you are wondering how giving companies a free pass to share our personal information with the government will make our data more secure, you aren’t alone. We’ve already written about why real cybersecurity doesn’t need to sacrifice our privacy.
The ACLU also recently joined with a broad coalition to remind the committee about some of these problems – problems which have not been adequately addressed in the Senate’s proposal.
The letter reads, in part:
We now know that the National Security Agency (NSA) has secretly collected the personal information of millions of users, and the revelation of the programs has created a strong need to rein in, rather than expand, government surveillance. CISA disregards the fact that information sharing can – and to be truly effective, must – offer both security and robust privacy protections. The legislation fails to achieve these critical objectives by including: automatic NSA access to personal information shared with a governmental entity; inadequate protections prior to sharing; dangerous authorization for countermeasures; and overbroad authorization for law enforcement use.
You can read the full letter, and view the full list of signatories, here.
Some rarely discussed truths shaping contemporary American democracy
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | March 12, 2015
Many people still think of the CIA as an agency designed to help American presidents make informed decisions about matters outside the United States. That was the basis for President Truman’s signing the legislation which created the agency, and indeed it does serve that role, generally rather inadequately, but it has become something far beyond that.
Information is certainly not something to which any reasonable person objects, but the CIA has two houses under its roof, and it is the operational side of the CIA which gives it a world-wide bad reputation. The scope of undercover operations has evolved to make the CIA into a kind of civilian army, one involving great secrecy, little accountability, and huge budgets – altogether a dangerous development indeed for any country which regards itself as a democracy and whose military is forbidden political activity. After all, the CIA’s secret operational army in practice is not curtailed by restrictions around politics, many of its tasks having been quite openly political. Yes, its charter forbids operations in the United States, but those restrictions have been ignored or bent countless times both in secret programs like Echelon (monitoring telephone communications by five English-speaking allies who then share the information obtained, a forerunner to the NSA’s recently-revealed collection of computer data) and years of mail-opening inside the United States or using substitutes to go around the rule, as was likely the case with the many Mossad agents trailing the eventual perpetrators of 9/11 inside the United States before the event.
As with all large, powerful institutions over time, the CIA constantly seeks expansion of its means and responsibilities, much like a growing child wanting ever more food and clothing and entertainment. This inherent tendency, the expansion of institutional empire, is difficult enough to control under normal circumstances, but when there are complex operations in many countries and tens of billions in spending and many levels of secrecy and secret multi-level files, the ability of any elected politicians – whose keenest attention is always directed towards re-election and acquiring enough funds to run a campaign – to exercise meaningful control and supervision becomes problematic at best. The larger and more complex the institution becomes, the truer this is.
Under Eisenhower, the CIA’s operational role first came to considerable prominence, which is hardly surprising considering Eisenhower was a former Supreme Commander in the military, the military having used many dark operations during WWII, operations still classified in some cases. In his farewell address, it is true, Eisenhower gave Americans a dark warning about the “military-industrial complex,” but as President he used CIA dark operations extensively, largely to protect American corporate interests in various parts of the world – everything from oil interests to banana monopolies in Central America. Perhaps, he viewed the approach as less destructive or dangerous or likely to tarnish America’s post-WWII reputation than “sending in the Marines,” America’s traditional gang of paid-muscle for such tasks, but, over the long term, he was wrong, and his extensive use of CIA operations would prove highly destructive and not just tarnish America’s image but totally shatter it. It set in motion a number of developments and problems which haunt America to this day.
In the 1950s, the CIA was involved in a number of operations whose success bred hubris and professional contempt for those not part of its secret cult, an attitude not unlike that of members of an elite fraternity or secret society at university. The toppling of disliked but democratic governments in Guatemala and Iran and other operations had, by about the time of President Kennedy’s coming to power in 1960, bred an arrogant and unwarranted belief in its ability to do almost anything it felt was needed. The case of Cuba became a watershed for the CIA and its relationship with Presidents of the United States, President Eisenhower and his CIA having come to believe that Castro, widely regarded by the public as a heroic figure at the time, had turned dangerous to American corporate and overseas interests and needed to be removed. Fairly elaborate preparations for doing so were put into place, and parts of the southern United States became large secret training grounds for would-be terrorists selected from the anti-Castro exile community by CIA officers in charge of a project which dwarfed Osama bin Laden’s later camp in the mountains of Afghanistan.
A just-elected President Kennedy was faced with a momentous decision: whether to permit and support the invasion of neighboring Cuba, great effort and expense having gone into the scheme. Kennedy supported it with limited reservations, reservations which became the source of the deepest resentment by the old boys at the CIA looking for someone to blame for the invasion’s embarrassing public failure. The truth is the CIA’s plans were ill-considered from the beginning, the product of those arrogant attitudes bred from “successes” such as Guatemala. Cuba was not Guatemala, it had a far larger population, fewer discontented elements to exploit, a cohort of soldiers freshly-experienced from the revolution against former dictator Batista, and Castro was widely regarded as a national hero. The Bay of Pigs invasion never had a chance of success, and the very fact that the CIA put so many resources into it and pressured the President to have it done shows how badly it had lost its way by that time.
That failure of the invasion, a highly public failure, created a serious rift between the President and the CIA. When the President, in an unprecedented act, fired three senior CIA figures, holding them responsible for the fiasco, we can only imagine the words which echoed in the halls of Langley. CIA plots against Castro nevertheless carried right on. America was an intensely hostile place on the matter of communism at that time, its press continuously beating the drums, and no President could afford politically to appear even slightly indifferent. Kennedy himself was not quite the peace-loving figure some of his later admirers would hold him to be. He was a work in progress, and he gave speeches often colored by strident martinet and jingo phrases. Secret attempts were made to assassinate Castro, and the Kennedys, at that time, undoubtedly would have been pleased had they succeeded.
Again, in some these attempts, the CIA went to great and genuinely weird lengths, including an arrangement with Mafia figures, something the public did not know until the 1975 Church Committee looking into illegality in CIA operations. Rumors and threats of another invasion, likely often fed by the CIA itself as psychological warfare against Cuba, led to the confrontation known as the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. Here, more than ever, the President was ill-served by the CIA and the Pentagon. They wanted an immediate invasion of Cuba when U2 spy cameras detected what appeared to be missile installations under construction, utterly unaware that Russia already had battlefield-ready tactical nuclear weapons mounted on short-range missiles ready to repel an invasion.
The 1975 Church Senate Committee looking into earlier illegality came into being because a number of sources were suggesting the CIA had been engaged in assassination and other dark practices, matters which at that time quite upset the general public and some decent politicians. The names in rumors included Lumumba of Congo, Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Diem of Vietnam, Schneider of Chile, and others, but since only part of the Church Report was released we cannot know the full extent of what had been going on. Another possible name is Dag Hammarskjöld of the UN. It is perhaps a key measure of how far things have deteriorated with the CIA that the Church Committee today appears almost naïve. Following the committee’s report, President Ford issued an Executive Order banning assassinations. This was replaced just a few years later by an Executive Order of Ronald Reagan’s, Reagan being a great fan of dark operations, having appointed one of the more dangerous men ever to hold the title of CIA Director, William Casey.
The CIA, of course, now runs a regular assassination air force which has killed thousands of innocent people apart from the intended targets, themselves individuals proved guilty of nothing under law. The CIA today thinks nothing of using mass killing to reach desired goals, the Maidan shootings of innocent people demonstrating in Kiev being an outstanding example, shootings which precipitated a coup last year in Ukraine against an elected government. And then there are the trained and armed maniacs which were set loose upon the people of Syria to do pretty much whatever they pleased.
Kennedy managed to resist demands for invasion in 1962, perhaps his one great achievement as President, and he took another path which eventually led to an agreement with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. That agreement, which included America’s pledge not to invade Cuba, made Kennedy a marked man. He was hated by the fanatical and well-armed Cuban émigré community, and he was hated by all the men who had devoted a fair part of their lives to eliminating Castro, the émigrés’ recruiters, trainers, handlers, and suppliers – members all of the CIA country club set whose commie-hatred was so intense it could make the veins in their foreheads pop. Some at the CIA were undoubtedly even further irked by backchannel communications which opened up between Kennedy and Khrushchev, and tentative efforts to open something of that nature with Castro. They weren’t supposed to know about these efforts, but they almost certainly did.
It is difficult today for people to grasp the intensity of anti-communist and anti-Castro feelings that pervaded America’s establishment in 1963, more resembling a religious hysteria than political views. One thing is absolutely clear, Kennedy’s assassination was about Cuba, and it was conceived out of a simmering conviction that Kennedy literally was not fit to be President. No important person who ever expressed a quiet opinion on the matter – including Mrs. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and some members of the Warren Commission – ever believed the fantasy story fashioned by the Warren Commission. Neither did informed observers abroad – the Russian and French governments for example later expressed their views – as well as a great many ordinary Americans.
Other facts about Kennedy undoubtedly added to the volatile reactions of the plotters, facts not known by the public until decades later, one fact in particular was his relatively long and intense affair with Mary Pinchot Meyer, a highly intelligent woman, socialite, and former wife of a senior CIA agent, Cord Meyer, who for a time ran Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Kennedy and Mary Meyer are said to have had long talks about world affairs and prospects for peace, and she also is said to have introduced Kennedy to marijuana and LSD, he, given his chronic back pain, willing to try almost anything. She kept a diary which was known to the CIA’s James Angleton because he was discovered searching for it after her mysterious, professional hit-style murder in 1964 (small calibre bullet by a gun held to the head). One can only imagine the raised eyebrows of CIA officials when they learned about drugs and Mary’s influence on Kennedy (could some of their numerous meetings possibly not have been bugged?). Double betrayal over Cuba, backchannel communications with Russia, and drugs and sex with an artistic, intellectual type – those surely would have made the men who decided the fates of leaders in much lesser places extremely uneasy about the future.
My focus is not the assassination, but I’ve gone into some length because I believe it was a defining event in relations between future Presidents and the CIA. After this, every President would work under its rather frightening shadow.
Lyndon Johnson was ready from day one to give the CIA anything it wanted. Whether Johnson was involved in the assassination as some plausibly believe, or whether he was just intimidated by those involved – after all, like all bullies, Johnson was at heart a coward as he demonstrated numerous times. He wasn’t long in launching the most vicious and pointless war since World War II with the cheap trick of a story about an attack upon American ships. The CIA got right into the fun in 1965 with its Operation Phoenix, which over some years involved tens of thousands of silent assassinations of village leaders and others by night-crawling Special Forces soldiers guided to their targets by CIA agents.
Like all the CIA’s more lunatic operations – this one just kept running until at least 1972 – chalking up a toll of murders estimated as high as 40,000 and proving a complete failure in its goal of securing America’s artificial rump-state of South Vietnam. It was madness to be involved in Vietnam, and it proved in the end infinitely more embarrassing and destructive to America’s morale and reputation than the Bay of Pigs invasion, but then more than a few people who knew and worked with Johnson have said that he was pretty much mad himself. The CIA fed Johnson the kind of things he wanted to hear, but the War in Vietnam was always characterized by poor intelligence, and when the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched the huge, surprise of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, Washington was hit by an earthquake, and a lot of people suddenly understood Vietnam was a lost cause. Johnson, always the coward, his party starting to split into factions over the matter, announced his resignation not long after.
Of course, the truth is that the information side of the CIA’s house has never been very good at its work. Apart from the abject failures of Vietnam, the CIA is said to have never once got the most critical assessments of the Cold War era, those of the Soviet Union’s economic and military strength, anywhere close to accurate. There were many reasons for that, but the perceived need to exaggerate your enemy’s strength to inflate the size of CIA budgets was an important one. Whether Big Intelligence ever really works in obtaining reliable information and reliable information which will be used by politicians is certainly a topic open for discussion. The most successful information-gathering intelligence service of the early Cold War, the KGB, often had its sometimes remarkable material questioned or cast aside by Stalin.
Richard Nixon’s demise in the Watergate scandal likely was served up by CIA dirty tricks. The Watergate break-in was in mid-1972, although it took more than two years before Nixon resigned. Some of the old CIA hands who worked for Nixon’s secret “plumber’s unit,” a private operations group which did jobs like breaking in to the Watergate Hotel offices of the Democrats, had a history going back to the assassination. They undoubtedly kept Langley informed of what steps they were being ordered to take. Nixon was a problem for some of the CIA’s darkest secrets: he was jealous and bitter towards the Kennedys for beating him in the 1960 election (he also knew election fraud was used), and he had an obsessive curiosity about the assassination, having made a number of attempts to ascertain just what happened for which he was rebuffed.
A possible second reason for the CIA’s wanting to dump Nixon was the deteriorated situation in Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords were signed early in 1973, however there is evidence that Nixon and Kissinger actually put forward their proposals in the hope that they would be rejected and Congress then would allow them a free hand in seeking a clearer victory. But by that time even the CIA recognized the war in Vietnam could not be won by conventional means and that the interests of the United States were being damaged by its continuation. Despite press blurbs about peace, Nixon always desperately wanted to triumph in Vietnam, having gone so far in secret as to discuss the possibility of using nuclear weapons on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Despite various speculations, we have never learned just what Nixon’s burglars were after at the Watergate, and the reason for that may just well be the CIA’s having baited him with false information about what might be discovered there. The job very likely was deliberately sabotaged when old CIA hands do things like sloppy door-taping. The neat little trick alerted a security guard and led to the whole long Watergate Affair and Nixon’s eventual resignation, just the kind of neat outcome operations-types love to chuckle over at expense account lunches.
George H. W. Bush senior, the man for whom the Langley headquarters is named was more than a short-term appointed CIA Director. He had a long but never acknowledged background in the CIA, a fact which has come to light from a few references in obscure documents obtained by assassination researchers over decades. He almost certainly was involved with the operations against Castro before the assassination. He was likely America’s first official CIA President. One of the regular activities of the CIA abroad is to pay secret pensions to likely future leaders in select countries so that they will be both beholden and in a position to be compromised. They do this in dozens of significant countries as part of an effort to control future relations with America. So why not take a similar approach to leadership inside the United States? The first clear example was George H. W. Bush whose single term as President gave the CIA several schemes abroad dear to their hearts, including setting up Saddam Hussein for invasion after his foolish invasion of Kuwait (done following the seeming approval of the United States’ ambassador to Iraq), and the invasion of Panama in 1989. Panama’s General Noriega had apparently done the unforgivable thing of setting up “honey traps” in which American diplomats and CIA officials were photographed having sex, giving Noriega a powerful weapon against Washington’s interference. So he was set up on drug charges – which may or may not have been true, but they were not the business of American justice – other provocations were arranged like a silly stunt about an American sailor being beaten up, and Noriega’s country promptly was invaded.
Of course George Bush Junior was not CIA, lacking the fundamental requirement of a decent brain. But his presidency was effectively America’s first dual presidency, with Dick Cheney serving as senior partner despite his lesser title, and Dick Cheney was CIA-connected, having served as Secretary of Defense under George Bush’s father, overseen such operations as Desert Storm, and after George H. W.’s election defeat, serving as Chairman and CEO of Halliburton, a gigantic oil services company which operates all over the globe. Such companies – in much the same fashion as large American news organizations such as Time-Life, CBS, or The New York Times – notoriously are well connected with the CIA. Because companies like Halliburton operate in scores of countries, deal with strategic resources, travel to remote sites, and often have access to important figures, they provide perfect cover for CIA agents and other intelligence assets. The Bush-Cheney period was certainly a golden one for the CIA in terms of institutional growth and new projects. Many ugly projects now making our world a less secure place were started in this period.
The CIA now is so firmly entrenched and so immensely well financed – much of it off the books, including everything from secret budget items to peddling drugs and weapons – that it is all but impossible for a president to oppose it the way Kennedy did. Obama, who has proved himself a fairly weak character from the start, certainly has given the CIA anything it wants. The dirty business of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is one project. The coup in Ukraine is another. The pushing of NATO’s face right against Russia’s borders is still another. Several attempted coups in Venezuela are still more. And the creation of a drone air force for extrajudicial killing in half a dozen countries is yet another. They don’t resemble projects we would expect from a smiley-faced, intelligent man who sometimes wore sandals and refused to wear a flag pin on his lapel during his first election campaign.
More than one observer has speculated about Obama’s being CIA, and there are significant holes in his resume which could be accounted for by his involvement. He would have been an attractive candidate for several reasons. Obama is bright, and the CIA employs few blacks in its important jobs. He also might have been viewed as a good political prospect for the future in just the way foreign politicians are selected for secret pensions. After all, before he was elected, there were stories about people meeting this smart and (superficially) charming man and remarking that they may just have met a future president.
If Obama is not actually CIA, then he is so intimidated that he pretty much rubber stamps their projects. A young, inexperienced President must always be mindful of that other young President whose head was half blown off in the streets of Dallas. Moreover, there are some shady areas in Obama’s background around drugs and perhaps other matters which could be politically compromising. The CIA is perfectly capable of using anything of that nature for political exposure while making it look as though it came from elsewhere.
So, when people write of America’s secret government or of its government within the government, it is far more than an exaggeration. It is actually hard to imagine now any possibility of someone’s being elected President and opposing what the CIA recommends, the presidency having come to resemble in more than superficial ways the Monarchy in Britain. The Queen is kept informed of what Her government is doing, but can do nothing herself to change directions. Yes, the President still has the power on paper to oppose any scheme, and then so does the Queen simply by refusing her signature, but she likely could exercise that power just once. In her case the consequence would be an abrupt end to the Monarchy. In a President’s case, it would be either a Nixonian or Kennedyesque end.
Do you hear that? It’s starting.
The predictable drumbeat of dire warnings about what will happen if portions of the Patriot Act – the post-9/11 law being used to conduct controversial NSA dragnet surveillance – are allowed to expire on June 1 has already begun.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, issued what is likely to be the first of many vague warnings from the intelligence community on Monday. Faced with the expiration of the part of the Patriot Act that allows the bulk collection of information about Americans’ phone calls, Clapper brought out the favored hypothetical of the surveillance hawk: An unspecified attack will occur, which would have been prevented if Congress had reauthorized the dragnet collection of Americans’ phone calls.
“If that tool is taken away from us… and some untoward incident happens that could have been thwarted if we had had it,” Clapper said, “I hope that everyone involved in that decision assumes the responsibility.”
There’s just one problem with this particular bit of emotional blackmail, however. The pesky, rather inconvenient fact is that the government’s mass surveillance programs operating under Section 215 of the Patriot Act have never stopped an act of terrorism. That is not the opinion of the NSA’s most ardent critics, but rather the findings of the president’s own review board and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. This program has had over a decade to prove its value, and yet there is no evidence that it has helped identify a terrorism suspect or “made a concrete different in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”
In less than three months, Section 215 will expire unless Congress takes action to extend that authority. As that deadline approaches, we will be hearing more from folks in the intelligence community who would like to see the program continued indefinitely.
Congress would do well to remember that this is a program that is sweeping up vast amounts of data on innocent Americans in violation of their constitutional rights. It’s also one that, despite the rhetoric, has not succeeded in making us any safer. In fact, even Director Clapper has expressed support for some reform of Section 215.
The drumbeat of doom is only going to get louder between now and June. But it can’t drown out the truth. Surveillance reform is urgently needed to rein in out of control government spying and to restore our rights.
According to various publications in the American and foreign media, the United States has created a global system of cyber espionage that allows the interception and processing of personal data around the globe in violation of fundamental human rights. Tapped phones, intercepted short messages, supervised discussions in social networks and stolen emails – this is the ugly reality we are living in. The NSA and other units of the United States Intelligence Community are more than capable of breaching any mobile operating system, be it iOS, Android or BlackBerry OS.
In 2011 US intelligence agencies successfully finished the development of geo-location tracking software that allows the NSA to collect and save more than five billion location records of mobile users around the world on a daily basis, and then through a special program labeled CO-TRAVELER analyze and monitor the movement of certain individuals that could be of interest for Washington. In addition, since 2010 information on social contacts of US citizens, their personal data, including telephone calls, Internet logs, bank codes, insurance data is being processed by intelligence agencies on a regular basis.
The NSA’s secret project codenamed Boundless Informant seeks to establish control over “information space.” According to The Guardian it has been able to collect the data on 97 billion phone calls worldwide since March 2013.
The global electronic intelligence net Echelon (AUSCANNZUKUS or Five Eyes), that was established by the US in cooperation with the UK back in 1947, allowed the intelligence agencies of the the Untied States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Turkey and other countries to exchange secret information, including the records on their respective citizens.
Yet another secret project codenamed Prism established by the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), allowed intelligence agencies to establish close partnerships with major IT companies back in 2007, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. Such cooperation allows the secret services to read private e-mails and monitor the transfer of files throughout global information space. This allows the NSA to control sovereign leaders, business representatives and foreign diplomats as has been repeatedly reported on by various international media outlets.
However, Washington doesn’t seem to be satisfied with its “progress” since it continues funding and developing new secret projects that would not simply allow the United States to retain an effective control over global information space, but to influence web users worldwide to its own advantage as well.
Thus, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity Agency (IARPA) in recent years has started a number of research programs to manipulate social networks.
Programs for analysis of the socio-cultural content of language (Socio-Cultural Content in Language – SCIL Program) is implemented in order to develop algorithms, methods and technologies that could enable the intelligence community to supervise the activities of various non-governmental organizations that do not agree with the social policies of certain governments. The development of this program is dictated by the need to recognize the content of messages transmitted over the Internet, taking into account linguistic differences and dialects.
IARPA in close collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology is also developing a program codenamed Reynard, which aims at studying the phenomena of social dynamics in so-called virtual worlds such as MMOs. This particular study is carried out in the interest of the security agencies in order to assess the political mood of the population and taking proactive measures once it changes.
The intelligence community is also sponsoring the development of the Aladdin program designed for automated analysis and description of video content (Automated Low-Level Analysis and Description of Diverse Intelligence Video – VACE). The main goal of this program is to provide intelligence analysts with automated search capabilities to track videos that could be of interest for them. Videos for analytical processing can come from different sources – television, surveillance cameras, regular pictures, interviews or even footage shot by drones. The footage is systematized by time and place to identify certain individuals and determine the sequence of their actions which may be in certain semantic relations to present-day events.
Currently, IARPA implemented a program called Babel, which aims at developing effective speech recognition software in different languages and dialects.
Washington and its agencies are literally spending billions of taxpayer dollars annually under the convenient guise of the “war on terror”, which in fact turns out to be a hidden war against its own citizens, now deprived of basic human rights. But what makes it even worse is that it’s pushing its satellite countries to launch an all-out offensive against the civil liberties of Europe and beyond.
Almost all wars begin with false flag operations.
The coming conflicts in North Korea and Russia are no exception.
Mass public hysteria is being manufactured to justify aggression against Moscow and Pyongyang, in retaliation for acts attributed to the North Korean and Russian governments, but orchestrated and carried out by the CIA and the Pentagon.
The false flagging of North Korea: CIA weaponizes Hollywood
The campaign of aggression against North Korea, from the hacking of Sony and the crescendo of noise over the film, The Interview, bears all the markings of a CIA false flag operation.
The hacking and alleged threats to moviegoers has been blamed entirely on North Korea, without a shred of credible evidence beyond unsubstantiated accusations by the FBI. Pyongyang’s responsibility has not been proven. But it has already been officially endorsed, and publicly embraced as fact.
The idea of “America under attack by North Korea” is a lie.
The actual individuals of the mysterious group responsible for the hacking remain conveniently unidentified. A multitude of possibilities—Sony insiders, hackers-for-hire, generic Internet vandalism—have not been explored in earnest. The more plausible involvement of US spying agencies—the CIA, the NSA, etc. , their overwhelming technological capability and their peerless hacking and surveillance powers—remains studiously ignored.
Who benefits? It is illogical for Pyongyang to have done it. Isolated, impoverished North Korea, which has wanted improved relations with the United States for years (to no avail), gains nothing by cyber-attacking the United States with its relatively weak capabilities, and facing the certainty of overwhelming cyber and military response. On the other hand, Washington benefits greatly from any action that leads to regime change in North Korea.
But discussion about Pyongyang’s involvement—or lack of—risks missing the larger point.
This project, from the creation of The Interview to the well-orchestrated international incident, has been guided by the CIA, the Pentagon, and the State Department from the start. It is propaganda. It is a weapon of psychological warfare. It is an especially perverted example of military-intelligence manipulation of popular culture for the purpose of war.
There is nothing funny about any of it.
The Interview was made with the direct and open involvement of CIA and Rand Corporation operatives for the express purpose of destabilizing North Korea. Star and co-director Seth Rogen has admitted that he worked “directly with people who work in the government as consultants, who I’m convinced are in the CIA”. Originally conceived to be a plot taking place in an “unnamed country”, Sony Pictures co-chairman Michael Lynton, who also sits on the board of the Rand Corporation, encouraged the film makers to make the movie overtly about murdering Kim Jong-Un. Bruce Bennett, the Rand Corporation’s North Korean specialist, also had an active role, expressing enthusiasm that the film would assist regime change and spark South Korean action against Pyongyang. Other government figures from the State Department, even operatives connected to Hillary Clinton, read the script.
The infantile, imbecilic, tasteless, reckless idiots involved with The Interview, including the tasteless Rogen and co-director Evan Goldberg, worked with these military-intelligence thugs for months. “Hung out” with them. They do not seem to have had any problem being the political whores for these Langley death merchants. In fact, they had fun doing it. They seem not to give a damn, or even half a damn, that the CIA and the Pentagon have used them, and co-opted the film for an agenda far bigger than the stupid movie itself. All they seem to care about was that they are getting publicity, and more publicity, and got to make a stupid movie. Idiots.
The CIA has now succeeded in setting off a wave of anti-North Korea war hysteria across America. Witness the ignorant squeals and cries from ignorant Americans about how “we can’t let North Korea blackmail us”, “we can’t let Kim take away our free speech”. Listen to the ridiculous debate over whether Sony has the “courage” to release the film to “stand up to the evil North Koreans” who would “blackmail America” and “violate the rights” of idiot filmgoers, who now see it as a “patriotic duty” to see the film.
These mental midgets—their worldviews shaped by the CIA culture ministry with its endorsed pro-war entertainment, violent video games, and gung-ho shoot ‘em ups—are hopelessly brain-curdled, irretrievably lost. Nihilistic and soulless, as well as stupid, most Americans have no problem seeing Kim Jong-Un killed, on screen or in reality. This slice of ugly America is the CIA’s finest post-9/11 army: violent, hate-filled, easily manipulated, eager to obey sheeple who march to whatever drumbeat they set.
And then there are the truly dumb, fools who are oblivious to most of reality, who would say “hey lighten up, it’s only a comedy” and “it’s only a movie”. Naïve, entitled, exceptionalist Americans think the business of the war—the murderous agenda they and their movie are helping the CIA carry out —is all just a game.
The CIA’s business is death, and that there are actual assassination plans in the files of the CIA, targeting heads of state. Kim Jong-Un is undoubtedly on a real assassination list. This is not funny, either.
The real act of war
The provocative, hostile diplomatic stance of the Obama administration speaks for itself. Washington wanted to spark an international incident. It wants regime change in Pyongyang, does not care what North Korea or China think, and does not fear anything North Korea will do about it.
On the other hand, imagine if a film were about the assassination of Benjamin Netanyahu and the toppling of the government in Tel Aviv. Such a film, if it would ever be permitted even in script form, would be stopped cold. If it made it through censors that “magically” never slowed down The Interview (and yes, there is censorship in America, a lot of it) Obama would personally fly to Tel Aviv to apologize. At the very least, Washington would issue statements distancing themselves from the film and its content.
Not so in the case of The Interview. Because American elites actually want the Kim family murdered.
Despite providing no proof of North Korean involvement, President Barack Obama promised a “proportional response”. Promptly, North Korea’s Internet was mysteriously shut down for a day.
Unless one is naïve to believe in this coincidence, all signs point to US spy agencies (CIA, NSA, etc.) or hackers working on behalf of Washington and Langley.
Given the likelihood that North Korea had nothing to do with either the hacking of Sony, the initial pulling of the movie (a big part of the publicity stunt, that was not surprisingly reversed) or the “blackmailing” of moviegoers, the shutting down of North Korea’s Internet was therefore a unilateral, unprovoked act of war. Washington has not officially taken responsibility. For reasons of plausible denial, it never will.
Perhaps it was a dry run. A message. The US got to test how easily it can take down North Korea’s grid. As we witnessed, given overwhelming technological advantage, it was very easy. And when a war against Pyongyang begins in earnest, American forces will know exactly what they will do.
The US is flexing its Asia-Pacific muscles, sending a message not only to Pyongyang, but to China, a big future target. Some of the other muscle-flexing in recent months included the anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong (assisted by the CIA and the US State Department), ongoing provocations in the South China Sea over disputed oil, and new defense agreements that place new anti-missile systems and missile-guided naval vessels to the region.
The bottom line is that America has once again been mobilized into supporting a new war that could take place soon. The CIA and Sony have successfully weaponized a stupid movie, making it into a cause and a battle cry.
If and when bombs fall on North Korea, blood will be on the hands of the makers of The Interview, every single executive who allowed it to be made, and the hordes who paid to see it.
If America were a decent, sane society, The Interview would be exposed, roundly denounced, boycotted and shunned. Instead it is celebrated.
The CIA should be condemned. Instead, Seth Rogen hangs out with them. America, increasingly dysfunctional, loves them. Obeys them.
The false flagging of Russia
Regarding The Interview, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich issued a statement in sympathy with North Korea, correctly calling the film’s concept aggressive and scandalous, and decried the US retaliatory response as counterproductive and dangerous to international relations.
Of course. Washington has no interest in improved international relations.
The Russians should know.
Like Kim Jong-Un, Vladimir Putin has been vilified, demonized and false-flagged, incessantly. If Kim is today’s object of ridicule, Putin is Evil Incarnate.
Consider the hysterical, desperate provocations by Washington in recent months.
A US-NATO coup, engineered by the CIA, toppled the government of Ukraine, planting a pro-US neo-Nazi criminal apparatus on Russia’s doorstep. The CIA and its worldwide network of propagandists pinned the blame on Putin and Russia for aggression, and for obstructing “democracy”.
The MH-17 jetliner is downed by Ukrainian operatives, with the support of the CIA, Mi-6, etc. etc. This false flag operation was blamed on Russia— “Putin’s Missile”. The US and NATO are still trying to pin these murders on Putin.
The war against the Islamic State—a massive CIA false flag operation—seeks to topple the Assad government as well as to militarily counter Russia. The ongoing Anglo-American conquest of regional oil and gas supplies, and energy transport routes is also aimed at checkmating Russia and China across the region.
The US and NATO have attacked the Russian federation with sanctions. The US and Saudi Arabia have collapsed oil prices, to further destroy the Russian economy. Full-scale military escalations are being planned. The US Congress is pushing new legislation tantamount to an open declaration of war against Russia.
What next? Perhaps it is time for the CIA to produce a Seth Rogen-James Franco movie about assassinating Putin. Another “parody”. Or how about a movie about killing Assad, or anyone else the United States wants to make into a Public Enemy? Don’t think Langley isn’t working on it.
The return of the Bushes (who were never gone)
In the midst of all escalating war hysteria comes news that Jeb Bush is “actively exploring” running for president in 2016. The long predicted return of the Bush family, the kings of terrorism, the emperors of the false flag operation, back to the White House appears imminent.
The CIA will have its favorite family back in the Oval Office, with a true CIA scion to manage the apocalyptic wars likely to be launched in earnest in the next two years: Russia/Ukraine, North Korea, the Middle East.
Jeb Bush will “finish the job”
The 2016 presidential “contest” will be a charade. It is likely to put forth two corrupt establishment political “friends” posing as adversaries, when in fact, they are longtime comrades and conspirators. On one side, Hillary (and Bill) Clinton. On the other side, Jeb Bush, with George H.W., George W. and all of the Bush cronies crawling back out of the rotten woodwork. The fact is that the Clintons and Bushes, and their intertwined networks, have run the country since the 1980s, their respective camps taking turns in power, with Obama as transitional figurehead (his administration has always been run by neoliberal elites connected to the Clintonistas, including Hillary Clinton herself).
The collective history of the Bushes stretches back to the very founding of the American intelligence state. It is the very history of modern war criminality. The resume is George H.W. Bush—the CIA operative and CIA Director—is long and bloody, and littered with cocaine dust. The entire Bush family ran the Iran-Contra/CIA drug apparatus, with the Clintons among the Bush network’s full partners in the massive drug/weapons/banking frauds of that era, the effects of which still resonate today. And we need not remind that the Bush clan and 9/11 are responsible for the world of terror and false flag foreign policy and deception that we suffer today.
While it remains too early to know which way the Establishment will go with their selection (and it depends on how world war shakes out between now and 2016), it is highly likely that Jeb Bush would be the pick.
Hillary Clinton has already been scandalized—“Benghazi-ed”. Jeb Bush, on the other hand, has ideal Establishment/CIA pedigree. He has waited years for the stupid American public to forget the horrors that his family—Georges H.W. and W.— brought humanity. And now Americans , with their ultra-short memories, have indeed forgotten, if they had ever understood it in the first place.
And the American public does not know who Jeb Bush is, beyond the last name. Jeb Bush, whom Barbara Bush always said was the “smart one”, has been involved in Bush narco-criminal business since Iran-Contra. His criminal activities in Florida, his connection with anti-Castro Cuban terrorists and other connections are there, for those who bother to investigate them. His Latin American connections—including his ability to speak fluent Spanish, a Latin wife and a half-Latin son (George P. Bush, the next up and coming political Bush)—conveniently appeals to the fastest-growing demographic, as well as those in the southern hemisphere drug trade. Recent Obama overtures towards the Latino demographic—immigration, Cuba—appear to be a Democratic Party move to counter Jeb Bush’s known strengths in the same demographic.
Today, in the collective American mind, Kim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin are “the bad guys”. But the mass murdering war criminal Bushes are saints. “Nice guys”.
A Jeb Bush presidency will be a pure war presidency, one that promises terror, more unspeakable than we are experiencing now, lording it over a world engulfed in holocaust.
This is not a movie.
Today, in a hushed courtroom in Washington, D.C., not far from the now-empty halls of Congress, a federal appeals court heard arguments in Klayman v. Obama, a challenge to the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata first revealed by Edward Snowden. If you have ever made a phone call, or received a phone call, this case has implications for your personal privacy and you should pay close attention to what happens next.
The appeal follows a December win for Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer and activist and the plaintiff in the case, where a district court judge ruled the program was likely unconstitutional. Today, government lawyers attempted to argue that this program should be allowed to continue.
The arguments hinged on a central question: Is the warrantless, non-targeted surveillance currently being conducted by the NSA, which is scooping up data on all (or almost all) calls made or received on U.S. telephone networks, a violation of the Fourth Amendment?
The government tried to argue that it is not. They claim that their searches of this massive call record database are reasonable, and that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers one dials.
But, as EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn argued on behalf of both EFF and the ACLU as friends of the court, the government has no right to scoop up such a massive amount of personal information about Americans in the first place.
The truth is, the NSA’s bulk collection of the phone records of all Americans is fundamentally different than putting a trace on the phone of an individual suspected of wrongdoing. The sheer scale of this program means that we are all suspects, or at least potential suspects, in the eyes of our government.
Think about the impact of knowing that your every phone interaction is being logged by the government. This kind of surveillance has even greater implications for lawyers and journalists, who have to worry about protecting the confidentiality of clients and sources. The phrase “chilling effect” seems insufficient to describe the potential loss to our society, to our whole way of life, as we slowly begin to censor ourselves because we know that the government is always monitoring our communications.
This is contrary to the very nature of a democracy, where people are supposed to hold their government to account. Who will be willing to speak out against an abusive government when that government knows all our deepest, darkest secrets?
Governments are by nature interested in acquiring more power, and today, more than ever, information is power. We should not be surprised that the government wants to know who Americans are speaking with, and for how long, and how often. We rely on the Constitution, and on the other branches of government, to provide a check on that desire.
Today, we asked the court to provide that check and to declare bulk collection of American’s telephone metadata unconstitutional.
(To read the ACLU and EFF’s amicus brief in Klayman v. Obama, click here.)
We’ve filed our reply brief in the appeal of Smith v. Obama, our case challenging the NSA’s mass telephone records collection on behalf of Idaho nurse Anna Smith. The case will be argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal on December 8, 2014 in Seattle, and the public is welcome to attend.
Another case challenging the telephone records program, Klayman v. Obama, will be argued on November 4 in Washington DC before the DC Circuit and EFF will be participating as an amicus.
The Smith v. Obama case records are all here: but we thought we’d highlight three of the more outrageous arguments the government made, and our responses debunking them.
Mrs. Smith doesn’t think her phone records are any of the government’s business. That’s why, only a few days after the Guardian published a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealing the government’s bulk collection of the telephone records of millions of innocent Americans, she sued. Smith v. Obama challenges the government’s collection of call detail records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Mrs. Smith is represented by her husband, attorney Peter Smith, along with the ACLU, EFF, and Idaho State Rep. Luke Malek.
The district court said it felt bound to dismiss her claims because of a 1979 Supreme Court case, Smith v. Maryland. That case involved the collection of the phone numbers dialed by a criminal suspect over the course of three days. It’s one of the cornerstones of the so-called “third party doctrine,” the idea that people have no expectation of privacy in information they entrust to others—and it’s outdated to say the least.
The centerpiece of Mrs. Smith’s case is the issue of whether the government’s collection of our telephone records in bulk, and retention of those records for five years, triggers the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The warrant requirement applies if there is a legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy in those records. And if the warrant requirement applies, the collection is unconstitutional, since there is no warrant (everyone agrees that the secret FISA Court rulings allowing the bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act are NOT warrants).
We argue that there is a legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy violated by the bulk collection of telephone records, because unlike the narrow situation the Supreme Court considered in 1979, they can reveal an incredible amount of sensitive information. For example, in one short-term study of only a few months of telephony metadata from 546 people, researchers at Stanford were able to identify one plausible inference of a subject obtaining an abortion; one subject with a heart condition; one with multiple sclerosis; and the owner of a specific brand of firearm.The government wants the court to simply ignore these differences. Alternately, the government argues that even if there is an expectation of privacy, it is so small compared to the government’s interest that the warrant requirement can be ignored, under something called the “special needs” test (more on that below).
But, as we emphasize our reply brief, this is wrong, in part because we are living in what member of the President’s Review Group Professor Peter Swire calls the “Golden Age of Surveillance.” As we argue: “technological advances have vastly augmented the government’s surveillance power and exposed much more personal information to government inspection and intrusive analysis. If courts ignored this reality, the essential privacy long preserved by the Fourth Amendment would be eliminated.”
The Government’s Arguments
So with that background, let’s look at three of the most troubling claims the government makes.
Call Detail Records Don’t Actually Identify People
The government still claims with a straight face that call detail records don’t reveal private information, because they “do not include information about the identities of individuals,” including “the name, address, [or] financial information” of any telephone subscribers.
That’s technically true, of course, but who cares? It’s not like this prevents the government from identifying you in less than a millisecond after it gets your telephone number. Last time we checked, the government did have access to, say, telephone books and the many public online services that can do reverse number lookup. That’s why we point out that: “phone numbers are every bit as identifying as names. Indeed, they are more so: while many people in the country may share the same name, no two phone subscribers share the same number.”
It’s pretty ridiculous for the government to continue to try to convince the court that the absence of the names in calling records represents any real privacy protection for the millions of Americans whose records are collected. It plainly does not.
We Have to Collect Everything for the Program to Work. But We’re Not Collecting Everything.
The government tries to challenge Mrs. Smith’s standing to sue by repeatedly alleging that the call detail records “program has never encompassed all, or even virtually all, call records and does not do so today.” It claims that the case should be dismissed because Mrs. Smith cannot immediately “prove” that her records were included. Of course, that’s not how litigation works. Mrs. Smith has good reason to believe that her records have been included—the government’s own public statements give her good reason. The district court properly rejected this argument, but the government continues to press it on appeal.
The government also seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth here, since, as we note in our brief:“In explaining the program to Congress and the public…the government has emphasized not only that the program is comprehensive, but that this comprehensiveness is the key to its utility.”
In fact, Robert Litt, General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told Congress: “In order to find the needle that matched up against that number, we needed the haystack, right. That’s what the premise is in this case.” And NSA Deputy Director John Inglis defended the program by saying: “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack you need the haystack. So you wouldn’t want to check a database that only has one third of the data, and say there’s a one third chance that I know about a terrorist plot, there’s a two thirds chance I missed it because I don’t have that data.”
So to get the case dismissed they want to convince the court that they aren’t really collecting “virtually all” of the telephone records, but their public justifications rely on the fact that they are. So either they are collecting Mrs. Smith’s records, along with every other Verizon Wireless customer—Verizon is the second largest wireless service in the U.S. after all—or they are not very good at meeting their own stated goals. Which is it, government?
And that goes right to the heart of the government’s next argument:
Bulk Telephone Records Collection Isn’t Necessary to Protect Us—But Is Still Allowed Under the “Special-Needs Doctrine”
The government’s fallback argument is that even if the call detail records triggered the Fourth Amendment, a warrant is still not required under a narrow legal precedent called the “special-needs doctrine.” It allows warrantless searches of a few small categories of people who have a reduced privacy expectation, like students in schools or employees who handle dangerous equipment. It also only applies when compliance with probable-cause and warrant requirements would be “impracticable” and the government’s primary goals are not law enforcement.
The first problem here is that the millions of ordinary Americans affected by the government’s bulk collection do not have a reduced expectation of privacy in the records of their telephone calls. The privacy interests here are great, since with a trail of telephone records, the government can learn extremely sensitive information.
The second problem is that no less than the White House itself has said that the government can accomplish its goals without bulk telephone records collection. This has been confirmed by the President’s two hand-picked panels as well as several Congressmembers who have seen the intelligence information. As we point out in our reply brief, the best the government can say about the program is that it “enhances and expedites” certain techniques it uses in its investigations. So getting a warrant isn’t impracticable, it’s just, at most, inconvenient. But as we point out: “If efficiency alone were determinative, the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement would have no force at all.”
The special-needs argument is especially concerning because if the courts were to accept it, the special-needs doctrine could become an exception that swallows the Fourth Amendment’s rule against general searches. It could, de facto, create a national security exception to the Constitutional rights enjoyed by ordinary, nonsuspect Americans, something the founders plainly did not do when they created this country in the midst of a national security crisis.
We expect an interesting argument on December 8.
High-Level NSA Official Tied To Husband’s Private Signals Intelligence Business, Has A Second Business That Owns A Plane
Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston has uncovered more evidence linking the NSA’s SIGINT (signals intelligence) director to a number of private contractors known to do business with the US government — perhaps even the agency itself.
Roston previously exposed the close ties between Teresa Shea’s position and her husband James’ employer, DRS Signal Solutions, a company focused on “SIGINT systems.” Not only that, but business records indicated that James Shea apparently runs Telic Networks, another SIGINT-focused business operating out of their hometown (Ellicott City, Maryland).
Needless to say, neither Teresa Shea, her husband, her husband’s employer, nor the NSA itself have offered anything in the way of comments on this suspicious-looking arrangement. The NSA did offer some boilerplate about “robust internal controls,” but simultaneously stiff-armed Buzzfeed’s request for Teresa Shea’s financial disclosure statements, citing the National Security Act of 1959. (This citation is also agency boilerplate, or at least was until Jason Leopold challenged it with a lawsuit. This move forced former NSA head Keith Alexander’s financial disclosure statements out of its hands. In light of this recent decision, it appears Shea’s statements will be released as well.)
This all looked conflicted enough, but Roston has uncovered more suspicious-looking information.
Yet another company, apparently focused on the office and electronics business, is based at the Shea residence on that well-tended lot.
This company is called Oplnet LLC.
Teresa Shea, who has been at the NSA since 1984, is the company’s resident agent.
The company’s articles of organization, signed by Teresa Shea, show that the firm was established in 1999 primarily “to buy, sell, rent and lease office and electronic equipment and related goods and services.” An attorney who also signed the document, Alan Engel, said he couldn’t comment on client matters.
Roston and Buzzfeed were unable to come up with any hard evidence linking Teresa Shea’s home business with federal contracts, but it did uncover a very interesting purchase.
Records show Oplnet does own a six-seat airplane, as well a condominium property with an assessed value of $275,000 in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Flight records for this aircraft show it has made a majority of its landings at three airports — one of them being Ft. Meade, Maryland, home of the NSA. It is not uncommon for people who own their own planes to actually set up a company to own that plane for a variety of legal and tax reasons — and it’s possible that’s what’s happened here — though it is notable that James Shea has a pilot’s license, while Teresa does not.
Perhaps it’s indicative of nothing at all, other than the overwhelming gravitational pull of the Beltway. But then, there’s this timeline.
1984 – Teresa Shea joins the NSA as an engineer working in SIGINT issues.
1990 – James Shea sets up Sigtek, Inc., which goes on to receive “hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts with the federal government, according to a federal contracting database.”
1999 – Teresa Shea registers Oplnet, using their home address.
2000 – James Shea sells Sigtek, Inc. for $20 million to a British firm, while remaining listed as President of the company.
2007 – James Shea sets up Telic Networks, his newest SIGINT-focused company. This too is “based” at the Sheas’ shared home address.
2010 – Teresa Shea is promoted to Director of SIGINT. Nearly simultaneously, James Shea is named vice president of major SIGINT contractor DRS Signal Solutions.
Much of the Sheas’ shared success hinges on SIGINT — both the government’s expansion of dragnet surveillance and simultaneous growth of SIGINT-focused contractors. Maybe there’s nothing to this, but the silence from everyone involved seems to indicate there’s at least the “appearance of impropriety,” if not flat-out misconduct and abuse of power.
More will be known when (and always appended when dealing with the NSA, if ) Shea’s financial disclosure documents are released. At the very least, they’ll at least confirm the information Buzzfeed has dug up and prevent the NSA from boilerplating this whole situation into non-existence. The NSA is taking a second look at Keith Alexander’s post-NSA activities. If it’s willing to go that far, it’s willing to dig up dirt on lower-level officials. You can’t be too careful in the intelligence business these days, not with the eyes of legislators, activists and a whole bunch of pissed-off Americans watching your every move.
The US routinely shares private information about its citizens of Arab and Palestinian descent with Israel, the New York Times revealed yesterday.
In an Op-Ed in the newspaper, James Bamford said that the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden told him that the US “routinely passed private, unedited communications to Israel”.
Documents leaked by Snowden reveal that the US passes on “unevaluated and unminimised transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content,” to Unit 8200, an elite Israeli intelligence department.
He said the intercepts included communications of Arab and Palestinian-Americans, whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the information.
Whistleblower Snowden said this is ”one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen”, Bamford reported.
Bamford cited a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and Unit 8200 outlining transfers that have occurred since 2009.
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, is wanted by the US on espionage charges after leaking thousands of secret NSA documents.
He claimed asylum in Russia, where he has been granted a three-year residency that allows him to travel abroad.