On Saturday, U.S. intelligence officials released new information regarding two controversial National Security Agency surveillance programs. The intelligence officials claim that NSA surveillance halted potential terrorist plots in over 20 nations, including the United States. Additionally, they claim that the NSA’s database of millions of phone records is queried relatively rarely — only 300 phone numbers were checked against the database, according to the officials.
A top House Republican calling for the prosecution of journalists who leaked classified details of the NSA’s eavesdropping programs clarified on Wednesday that he wants the U.S. government to go after one in particular: the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald.
Greenwald and reporters for the Washington Post originally broke news last week about secret NSA surveillance programs. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said on Tuesday that they should be prosecuted for doing so. But when asked about that statement on Fox News on Wednesday, the New York Republican said he just wants Greenwald taken down, because, King claimed, Greenwald said will release the names of CIA operatives around the world:
HOST MEGYN KELLY: To take it another step and to say the journalists who published the information, the guys who published what he leaked, that they should face prosecution that is news. Do you believe that? Do you stand by that, both Greenwald and the Washington Post reporter?
KING: I’m talking about Greenwald. Greenwald, not only did he disclose this information he has said that he has the names of CIA agents and assets around the world and they’re threatening to disclose that. [...]
KELLY: What is the difference between Glenn Greenwald who broke this story in the Guardian who is an American citizen but he’s living abroad and James Rosen and the Associated Press?
KING: James Rosen never said he was going to release information that was going to kill Americans. He was never going to disclose the names of CIA agents and operatives around the world the way Greenwald is saying he is threatening to do.
While Greenwald has said that he will report on more newsworthy secret information that was allegedly provided to him by a former NSA contractor, he has never said he plans to expose or out any CIA agents. And as this blog has previously noted, there is no known example of a U.S. official prosecuting a journalist for their own reporting or publication of material. Doing so would be an unprecedented expansion of government invasion into the free press, and would prompt an immediate deluge of constitutional challenges as a violation of the First Amendment.
A Republican congressman claimed on the House floor on Tuesday that members of Muslim communities in the United States have not condemned acts of Islamic extremist terrorism against the U.S. and therefore are complicit in those and any future attacks.
Noting that it has been two months since the Boston Marathon bombing, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) said the supposed silence from Muslim leaders on terrorism is “deafening,” adding that it’s “sad, but perhaps most importantly it’s dangerous.” Listing off a number terrorist acts committed by Islamic extremists, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and several more recent failed plots, Pompeo blamed the leaders of the Islamic community for not doing more to prevent these actions, hinting that they could be complicit in the deaths they’ve caused. “Instead of responding, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts, and more importantly still, in those that may well follow,” Pompeo accused.
“I know not all Muslims support these actions,” Pompeo said, but lamented that “the silence in the face of extremism coming from the best funded Islamic advocacy organizations and many mosques across America is deafening.”
But Muslim leaders in the U.S. have been anything but silent in the face of extremism. Immediately after the identity of the alleged Boston bombers was revealed, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a statement in response condemning terrorism. “As Americans, we are a united force against any form of tyranny, whether it be in the form of terrorism or otherwise,” CAIR executive director Basim Elkarra said. “Terrorism has no allegiance to faith or ethnicity, and we have been witness to that over the past few years. What happened in Boston and Watertown last week does not reflect on anyone except for those who carried it out. It is not a reflection of ethnic identity, religion, or national affiliation.”
Likewise, Muslim communities around the country have made clear their disdain for terrorism. In the aftermath of Boston, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society began organizing a workshop to prevent further Muslim youths from being radicalized on the Internet. Similarly, the Muslim Public Affairs Council partnered with the New America Foundation to work on the issue of tackling extremism and promoting moderate Islam in an age of digital radicalization. In fact, in the years since 9/11, Muslim-American leaders have condemned terrorism — from the failed Christmas Day bombing of a plane landing in Detroit to the 2005 London bombings to the very idea of terrorism — unequivocally. Pompeo’s questioning their stance against terror shows a deafness that affected his colleague Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and indeed many Americans over the last decade.
Pompeo also misses that Muslim communities have actually been instrumental in thwarting more than a dozen terrorist attacks since 2001. Across the border, in Canada, the Toronto Muslim community was key in preventing an attack on a joint U.S.-Canadian railway line. In the most recent Pew Research Center survey of the U.S. Muslim community, taken in 2011, found that 64 percent of U.S. Muslims felt there was little or no support for extremism in their communities. Instead, Muslims found themselves targets of increased violence and harassment after Boston.
Edward Snowden, the IT contractor who is said to have leaked classified documents on the NSA’s telephone and data spying programs, is currently believed to be somewhere in Hong Kong and has said he would seek asylum “in a country with shared values,” possibly Iceland (however unlikely that scenario is).
While it’s not known whether Snowden has made any requests, the Russians said they would consider it. “If such an appeal is given, it will be considered. We’ll act according to facts,” said a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The comments were met with wide support from Russian lawmakers.
“Listening to telephones and tracking the internet, the US special services broke the laws of their country. In this case, Snowden, like Assange, is a human rights activist,” said Alexey Pushkov, head of the Russian Duma’s international affairs committee.
Bloomberg reports: A Pentagon cybersecurity budget outline calls for spending almost $23 billion through fiscal 2018, as efforts are expanded on initiatives from protecting computer networks to developing offensive capabilities.
Reuters reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Monday that Israel was ready to confine Jewish settlement expansion to the blocs of occupied territory it wants to keep under any peace deal with the Palestinians, in a nod to U.S. efforts to revive stalled negotiations.
A senior member of the House Intelligence committee announced on Monday that he plans to introduce a bill to repeal the Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) Congress passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The proposal — put forth by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) — notes that many of al-Qaeda core’s top leaders and those responsible for the attacks — including Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — are either dead or in prison and that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that AQ core has been so “degraded” that “probably unable to carry out complex, large-scale attacks in the West.” The measure proposes sunsetting the 9/11 AUMF to coincide with the transition of U.S. military forces out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
“Schiff’s legislation finds that the [AUMF] now poorly defines those who pose a threat to the country, and that it should expire concurrent with the end of our combat role in Afghanistan,” a statement on Schiff’s website says:
“When Congress passed the AUMF shortly after 9/11, we did not intend to authorize a war without end,” said Rep. Adam Schiff. “The cessation of our combat mission in Afghanistan next year is a logical end point for an authorization that now provides a poor description of the groups which threaten us, and an increasingly precarious legal rationale for going after them. As the President observed recently, if we don’t define the nature of the threat we face, it will define us.”
In his major national security speech last month, President Obama said he wanted to work with Congress on changing or repealing the AUMF because the nature of counterterrorism has changed and the authority granted by Congress has become outdated.
“The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self,” Obama said. “Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.”
Congress is responding to calls to rein in the more far-reaching aspects of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism polices. Democrats are joining Republicans in calling for more oversight of the targeted killing program and the Hill recently reported that some “defense lawmakers” are considering a measure to tighten the scope of those individuals the program targets. (HT: Lawfare)
The Guardian on Sunday revealed the identity of the whistleblower — and his request — who leaked classified information about the National Security Agency’s massive program that collects phone and internet data records of foreigners and Americans.
As an employee with government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, Edward Snowden had access to some of the most secret intelligence programs run by the CIA and the NSA. “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” he said in an interview with the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
Snowden explained why he thinks the average person should be concerned about the government’s surveillance abilities:
GREENWALD: Why should people care about surveillance?
SNOWDEN: Because even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capabilities of these systems increases every year, consistently, by orders of magnitude and it’s getting to the point, you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call. And then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made. Every friend you’ve ever discussed something with and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life an paint anyone in the context of a wrong-doer.
The NSA's Utah data center view from a nearby highway (Credit: Forbes)
New revelations that the NSA has continued to secretly suck up information associated with domestic phone calls are not only a reminder that Bush era surveillance programs live on (albeit with slightly more judicial oversight) under the Obama administration — they are an opportunity to consider the very real possibility that the NSA is also collecting a similar treasure trove of non-communications content data related to email. Information like email senders and recipients and time stamps is often seen by the government as analogous to the type of phone metadata Verizon was ordered to turn over and under the Foreign Information Surveillance Act (FISA) re-authorization, that data and possibly more could be gathered with the same type of secret order.
Here’s why this might already be happening:
Email information was gathered in the Bush era warrantless wiretapping program. According to the initial New York Times reporting that exposed Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, not only calls, but “international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States” were also intercepted. According to summary from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and testimony from a former AT&T technician, a “splitter” was installed at his place of work that created a complete copy of the internet traffic received — email, browsing requests, etc –- and diverted to a room controlled by the NSA.
The NSA is building the intelligence community’s largest data center out in the Utah desert. Set to go online this September, the Data center, will consume $40 million worth of electricity per year and have a data storage and processing capacity that would enable it to break down encryption and keep logs of all internet traffic in the United States. In April, officials commenting on speculation about the data centers said “one of the biggest misconceptions about NSA is that we are unlawfully listening in on, or reading emails of, U.S. citizens,” but that statement explicitly does not say that is not collecting non-communications content data. As Kashmir Hill of Forbes discovered, the data center also doesn’t like visitors, especially those wielding cameras.
The Administration won’t reveal how many Americans’ emails the NSA has collected and reviewed without a warrant. This implies that FISA has been used to intercept the content of email communications on a broader scale than currently known and may be evidence that the agency would not have a problem with the dragnet collection non-content data. And Members of Congress have said the bulk data collected by the NSA under the Patriot Act go further than the public knows, or would be comfortable with. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) wrote in 2012 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, “We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act.”
The NSA has a history of data hoarding, and officials acknowledge it engaged in “overcollection” of email information in the past–including email content. In 2009, the New York Times reported the NSA had intercepted phone calls and emails in a way that went beyond its legal authority to do so as part of a “significant and systemic” process. This again goes beyond non-content communications, suggesting that the collection of this kind of data would not be seen as a significant privacy invasion by the agency. John V. Parachini, director of the Intelligence Policy Center at the RAND Corp, says the NSA “collects an amount of information equivalent to the store of knowledge housed at the Library of Congress” every six hours.
Of course, none of this is hard evidence that the NSA is participating in the type of dragnet data siphoning the Guardian leak reveals they were gathering about domestic phone calls from Verizon. But considering the stated goal of that program to sift through vast amounts of data to make national security connections and the increasing reliance of society on the internet for communications, it seems like it would be an unlikely oversight on the NSA’s behalf if they weren’t pursuing similar surveillance capabilities over email.
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.
Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.
The White House defended the program in a statement on Thursday, saying the phone data is a “critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States.”
An administration official said “It allows counter terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”
House lawmakers are reportedly considering requiring changes to rules that guide U.S. counterterrorism operations in an effort rein in some of the more far-reaching aspects of the Obama administration’s targeted killing program.
President Obama in a major speech last week said that he would begin the process of putting tighter restrictions on his administration’s counterterrorism policies, including calling for a revision or an outright repeal of the 2001 Authorization of Military Force Congress past after 9/11 giving the president wide powers to militarily confront terrorists abroad.
However, an outline of the White House’s policy guidance on counterterrorism missions abroad released after the President’s speech says that the U.S. has the authority to “use all available tools of national power to protect the American people from the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its associated forces [emphasis added].”
According to the Hill, “defense lawmakers” want to require the President and the Defense Department “to review all groups or individuals now characterized as ‘associated forces’ under the current rules” as the “associated forces” language can be broadly interpreted to justify targeting those who do not pose a direct threat to the United States.
While it’s unclear who is advocating for the changes, the Hill says a spokesperson for the House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) disputed that the changes are being debated.
“I believe we are still in a long, drawn-out conflict with Al Qaeda. to somehow argue that Al Qaeda is ‘on the run’ comes from a degree of unreality that, to me, is really incredible,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said in response to Obama’s speech last week, adding, “To somehow think we can bring the [AUMF] to a complete closure contradicts the reality of the facts on the ground.”
The number of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison who the military says are participating in the current hunger strike has reached record-highs this week; and perhaps more troubling, the number of hunger strikers the military says are being force-fed — a practice experts say violatesinternational law and could amount to torture — has also reached a new highs. The increasingly deteriorating situation at Guantanamo comes despite President Obama’s renewed pledge to close the Gitmo prison, and the details he presented in a recent speech on how to get that process started.
Gitmo detainees began their hunger strike on Feb. 6 to protest what they said was the guards’ mistreatment of their Qurans. On March 18, the military said 21 detainees were on hunger strike and 8 of those were receiving “enteral feeds,” also known as being force-fed or tube-fed. On Thursday, Gitmo officials say a record high of 36 hunger strikers are being force-fed and 103 detainees are refusing food in what has grown into a mass protest against their general plight and indefinite detention at the world’s most expensive prison.
The Gitmo hunger strike gained widespread attention after the New York Times published an op-ed last month by a detainee who described the harrowing process of being force-fed — which involves medical staff inserting a tube through the nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach. “I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed,” the detainee wrote in the Times. Another detainee has reportedly said it feels like a razor blade being pulled down your throat while another called the force-feeding process “agony.”
However, one issue surrounding the Gitmo hunger strike that has received little attention is just how big it is, and the military’s willingness, or lack thereof, to disclose the true nature of the protest. While it’s not only unclear how many Gitmo detainees are actually participating in the hunger strike, there’s also uncertainty about how many hunger strikers are being force-fed, and indeed, about what the military means when it says a hunger striker is being force-fed.
Detainee lawyers have said that for public relations reasons, Gitmo authorities have throughout the hunger strike sought to find ways to minimize the numbers of those refusing food. “The military kept denying that it was a hunger strike as long as it could and then it had to begin admitting — and it did this slowly — that there was a hunger strike,” Gitmo detainee lawyer David Remes told ThinkProgress. Remes and other lawyers believe the number of detainees on hunger strike is closer to 130. But, Remes adds, “Our numbers are now so close that it really doesn’t matter.” Read more