July 30, 2013

The NSA is lying again -- how STOOPID are we?

In the on-going tits-for-tat between the White House and the world (Western cyberwarriors versus Chinese cyberspies; Obama and will-he-won't he scramble his forces to intercept a 29 year old hacker who is-flying-isn't-flying; the ongoing search for the undeniable Iranian cassus belli, the secret cells in Apple and Google that are too secret to be found but no longer secret enough to be denied), and one does wonder...

Who can we believe on anything? Here's a data point. This must be the loudest YOU-ARE-STOOPID response I have ever seen from a government agency to its own populace:

The National Security Agency lacks the technology to conduct a keyword search of its employees’ emails, even as it collects data on every U.S. phone call and monitors online communications of suspected terrorists, according to NSA’s freedom of information officer.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” Cindy Blacker told a reporter at the nonprofit news website ProPublica.

Ms. Blacker said the agency’s email system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” the website reported Tuesday.

One word: counterintelligence. The NSA is a spy agency. It has a department that is mandated to look at all its people for deviation from the cause. I don't know what it's called, but more than likely there are actually several departments with this brief. And they can definately read your email. In bulk, in minutiae, and in ways we civilians can't even conceive.

It is standard practice at most large organizations — not to mention a standard feature of most commercially available email systems — to be able to do bulk searches of employees’ email as part of internal investigations, discovery in legal cases or compliance exercises.

The claim that the NSA cannot look at its own email system is either a) a declaration of materially aiding the enemy by not completing its necessary and understood role of counterintelligence (in which case it should be tried in a military court, being wartime, right?), or b) a downright lie to a stupid public.

I'm inclined to think it's the second (which leaves a fascinating panopoly of civilian charges). In which case, one wonders just how STOOPID the people governing the NSA are? Here's another data point:

The numbers tell the story — in votes and dollars. On Wednesday, the House voted 217 to 205 not to rein in the NSA’s phone-spying dragnet. It turns out that those 217 “no” voters received twice as much campaign financing from the defense and intelligence industry as the 205 “yes” voters.

.... House members who voted to continue the massive phone-call-metadata spy program, on average, raked in 122 percent more money from defense contractors than those who voted to dismantle it.

.... Lawmakers who voted to continue the NSA dragnet-surveillance program averaged $41,635 from the pot, whereas House members who voted to repeal authority averaged $18,765.

So one must revise ones opinion lightly in the face of overwhelming financial evidence: Members of Congress are financially savvy, anything but stupid.

Which makes the voting public...

Posted by iang at July 30, 2013 10:02 AM | TrackBack

Aren't the NSA computers seperated into various different secrecy levels (public, secret, top-secret, ...), and shut off with the airgap firewalls? I guess that might be a reason for the difficulty to have a central place that provides access to all the emails, since that is not allowed in their security manual. I guess they need one such place for every secrecy level they invented, and you have to choose the secrecy level you are looking for.

Posted by: PG at July 31, 2013 03:24 PM

Yep, that is likely what is going through NSA's collective bureaucratic mind as an excuse. However, the FoI request is a higher order thing than a security manual, it's a request under law. They could claim that their dealings with the National Geographic were covered by national security, etc, but that's likely to backfire as well -- it doesn't pass the laugh test.

As you know, we solved this problem elsewhere, perhaps there's some consulting in it ;-)

Posted by: Iang at August 1, 2013 04:17 AM

Back at an open congressional hearing on March 12, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No sir … not wittingly.” As we all now know, he was lying.

We also now know that Clapper knew he was lying. In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that aired this past Sunday, Clapper was asked why he answered Wyden the way he did. He replied:

“I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked [a] ‘when are you going to … stop beating your wife’ kind of question, which is … not answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no. So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying, ‘No.’ ”


Posted by: Collect? at August 1, 2013 10:25 PM

Surveillance. Every time we pick up the phone, the NSA makes a note of whom we spoke to, when we spoke to him, and for how long—and it’s been doing this for seven years. After the call-tracking program was exposed, few people thought twice about attaching the label “surveillance” to it. Government officials, though, have rejected the term, pointing out that this particular program doesn’t involve the NSA actually listening to phone calls—just keeping track of them. Their crabbed definition of “surveillance” allows them to claim that the NSA isn’t engaged in surveillance even when it quite plainly is.

Collect. If an intelligence official says that the NSA isn’t “collecting” a certain kind of information, what has he actually said? Not very much, it turns out. One of the NSA’s foundational documents states that “collection” occurs not when the government acquires information but when the government “selects” or “tasks” that information for “subsequent processing.” Thus it becomes possible for the government to acquire great reams of information while denying that it is “collecting” anything at all.

Relevant. The NSA’s call-tracking program is ostensibly based on the Patriot Act’s Section 215, a provision that allows the government to compel businesses to disclose records that are “relevant” to authorized foreign intelligence investigations. The theory, it seems, is that everybody’s phone records are relevant today because anybody’s phone records might become relevant in the future. This stretches the concept of “relevance” far beyond the breaking point. Even the legislator who wrote Section 215 has rejected the government’s theory. If “relevance” is given such a broad compass, what room is left for “irrelevance”?

Targeted. The call-tracking program is only one of the NSA’s surveillance efforts. Another is what’s been branded PRISM, a program that involves the acquisition of the contents of phone calls, emails, and other electronic communications. Americans need not worry about the program, the government says, because the NSA’s surveillance activities are “targeted” not at Americans but at foreigners outside the United States. No one should be reassured by this. The government’s foreign targets aren’t necessarily criminals or terrorists—they may be journalists, lawyers, academics, or human rights advocates. And even if one is indifferent to the NSA’s invasion of foreigners’ privacy, the surveillance of those foreigners involves the acquisition of Americans’ communications with those foreigners. The spying may be “targeted” at foreigners, but it vacuums up thousands of Americans’ phone calls and emails.

Incidental. Because the government’s surveillance targets are foreigners outside the United States, intelligence officials describe the acquisition of Americans’ communications as “incidental.” But the truth is that the statute behind PRISM—the FISA Amendments Act of 2008—was intended to let the government conduct warrantless surveillance of these very communications. In the debate that preceded passage of the law, intelligence officials told Congress that it was Americans’ communications that were of most interest to them. Indeed, when some legislators introduced bills that would have barred access to these communications without a warrant, President Bush said he would veto them. (One of those bills, incidentally, was introduced by then–Sen. Barack Obama.)

Inadvertent. The PRISM program sweeps up Americans’ purely domestic communications, too. Officials have said that the collection of domestic communications is “inadvertent,” but PRISM’s very design makes the collection of Americans’ domestic communications perfectly predictable. This is in part because the NSA presumes that its surveillance targets are foreigners outside the United States unless it has specific information to the contrary. In 2009, the New York Times reported that the NSA’s collection of purely domestic communications under the 2008 statute had been “significant and systemic.”

Minimize. What does the NSA do with communications that are acquired “incidentally” or “inadvertently”? As intelligence officials have told the courts and Congress, so-called “minimization” procedures limit the NSA’s retention and use of information about American citizens and permanent residents. Here again, though, the terminology is grossly misleading. The 2008 statute gives the NSA broad latitude to retain Americans’ communications, share them with other agencies, and even share them with foreign governments. The NSA’s own documents suggest that the agency retains Americans’ communications indefinitely if they include “foreign intelligence information,” a term defined so broadly that it encompasses any conversation relating to foreign affairs. Even communications that don’t include foreign intelligence information are retained for as long as five years.

No. When James Clapper was asked at a March Senate hearing whether the NSA was collecting information about millions of Americans, he answered, “No,” and then, after a pause, “not wittingly.” As Clapper has now conceded, the correct answer was simply “yes.”

Posted by: unwords at August 1, 2013 10:30 PM

NYT on lying NSA: ... The Obama administration’s credibility on intelligence suffered another blow Wednesday as the chief of the National Security Agency admitted that officials put out numbers that vastly overstated the counterterrorism successes of the government’s warrantless bulk collection of all Americans’ phone records.

Pressed by the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing, Gen. Keith B. Alexander admitted that the number of terrorist plots foiled by the NSA’s huge database of every phone call made in or to America was only one or perhaps two — far smaller than the 54 originally claimed by the administration. ...

Posted by: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics ... at October 7, 2013 04:12 AM

Over on WaPo:

"Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other elected officials?"

That's the question Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put to the National Security Agency's chief in a bluntly worded letter Friday. It seems, however, that the agency cannot categorically say no.

Sanders didn't use the word "spy" lightly. He was careful to define his terms, indicating he meant the collection of phone records from personal as well as official telephones, "content from Web sites visited or e-mails sent," and data that companies collect but don't release to the public.

When asked by The Washington Post, an NSA spokesman said that the agency's privacy safeguards are effective at covering all Americans.

"Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons," the spokesman said.

Posted by: y'all have the same protections! at January 5, 2014 03:28 AM
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