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Tags: NSA

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Making the NSA Jealous



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Ernest Istook kindly mentions my book in his Washington Times column today:

Truth is stranger than fiction in Washington D.C. Every satire about government has a real-life counterpart. Much like the runaway bureaucracy in a great recent novel, President Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is growing like a weed, while CFPB officials are busy snooping on our household finances.

In “The Weed Agency,” Jim Geraghty of National Review spins the tale of the fictitious Agency of Invasive Species within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Created by Jimmy Carter to protect America from weeds, the tiny agency hires bureaucrats who create their own empire with mega-budgets, bloated payrolls and make-believe accomplishments. They interact, Forrest Gump-style, with genuine Washington personalities and events.

The novel works because its comic fiction sounds like truth — a federal agency devoted to protecting us from weeds. Its counterpart is a real-life runaway agency, the still-new Consumer Financial Protection [Bureau]. The board’s charge is to protect consumers from greedy businesses (a term treated as meaning any business).

My fictional master bureaucrat would envy the CFPB’s funding system:

Rather than having to ask Congress for money, the CFPB siphons off part of the Federal Reserve System’s earnings before they are deposited in the U.S. Treasury. The agency’s spending has accelerated like a dragster, from $161.8 million in FY 2011 to $583.4 million for FY 2015.

Here’s an easy slam-dunk for congressional Republicans next year: Repeal the law funding the CFPB through the Federal Reserve and make it part of the traditional appropriations process. Make Obama veto it.

Also, if America is wary of the amount of personal data the NSA is collecting on them, how do they feel about the CFPB becoming a functional backup system?

In the name of protecting us, the CFPB also snoops on us. First it purchased millions of individual credit histories. Now it is establishing, in tandem with the Federal Housing Finance Agency, a “National Mortgage Database Program” to help regulators “better understand” consumer finance.

According to the Federal Register, this massive database will cover home mortgages going back to 1998 and include your name, address, telephone numbers, birth date, race/ethnicity, gender, language, religion, Social Security number, education records, military records, employment records, bank account numbers and balances, your financial history, recent events in your life, your other assets, mortgage details, credit card balance and payments, details about who lives in your household, the size of your home, number of bedrooms, etc., and even the name of your neighborhood, among other personal data.

The bureaucrats assure us that this treasure trove of personal information is safe from hacking and theft by identity thieves. That puts the CFPB on equal footing with Sony, Target, Home Depot, JP Morgan Chase, the U.S. Postal Service, the Veterans Administration and all the others who claimed their titanic data systems would never hit an iceberg.

At some point the NSA will get jealous of the CFPB’s ability to gather data on Americans.

The same administration that introduced a “Privacy Bill of Rights to Protect Consumers Online” is also collecting tons of information on you . . . in order to protect you from violations of your privacy.

Tags: NSA , Consumer Financial Protection Bureau , Ernest Istook

Is Rand Paul ‘Part of that Hate-America Crowd’?



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Allahpundit predicts that if Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) and Representative Peter King (R., N.Y.) both run for president, they’ll end up shedding blood on a debate stage.

This weekend King decreed that Rand Paul doesn’t deserve to be in the United States Senate, and that he’s “part of that hate-America crowd.

Paul argued that while Snowden deserves prosecution, he doesn’t deserve the death penalty or life in prison for any leaks of classified information.

You can always count on Peter King to make his point in the most bombastic and incendiary manner possible. Although some folks might think the terms “bombastic” and “incendiary” are more appropriately applied to the congressman’s old crowd.

As noted in today’s Jolt, it’s ridiculous to expect the United States to drop any criminal charges against Snowden, as he leaked a heck of a lot more information than just the revelations about domestic surveillance. Most of his defenders (and some of his detractors) focus on one portion of his leaks and avert their eyes from the rest.

The statement “a significant portion of Snowden’s leaks have nothing to do with domestic surveillance” is a controversial and outrageous statement among people who haven’t followed Snowden that closely, and/or don’t want to see the whole picture.

Here’s just a partial list of Snowden’s leaks that have little or nothing to do with domestic surveillance of Americans:

• The classified portions of the U.S. intelligence budget, detailing how much we spend and where on efforts to spy on terror groups and foreign states, don’t deal with Americans’ privacy. This leak revealed the intelligence community’s self-assessment in 50 major areas of counterterrorism, and that “blank spots include questions about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear components when they are being transported, the capabilities of China’s next-generation fighter aircraft, and how Russia’s government leaders are likely to respond to ‘potentially destabilizing events in Moscow, such as large protests and terrorist attacks.’” The Pakistani, Chinese, and Russian intelligence agencies surely appreciate the status report.

• Our cyber-warfare capabilities and targets don’t deal with Americans’ privacy. The revelation that the U.S. launched 231 cyber-attacks against “top-priority targets, which former officials say includes adversaries such as Iran, Russia, China and North Korea and activities such as nuclear proliferation” in 2011, has nothing to do with Americans’ privacy.

• The extent and methods of our spying on China have nothing to do with Americans’ privacy.

• ​British surveillance of South African and Turkish diplomats has nothing to do with Americans’ privacy.

• The NSA’s successful interceptions of communications of Russian president Dimitri Medvedev has nothing to do with Americans’ privacy. This is not a scandal; it is literally the NSA’s job, and now the Russians have a better idea of what messages were intercepted and when.

• Revealing NSA intercepts and CIA stations in Latin America — again, nothing to do with U.S. citizens.

• ​Revealing a U.K. secret Internet-monitoring station in the Middle East — nothing to do with U.S. citizens.

• The extent and range of NSA communications monitoring in India . . . 

• The fact that the United States has “ramped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear arms” and has “previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there,” and details of “efforts to assess the loyalties of counter­terrorism sources recruited by the CIA” . . . 

• U.S. spying on Al-Jazeera’s internal communication system . . . 

. . . what we know about al-Qaeda efforts to hack our drones . . . ​

. . . the NSA’s ability to intercept the e-mail of al-Qaeda operative Hassan Ghul . . . 

. . . the NSA’s ability to read the e-mail of the Mexican president . . . ​

. . . U.S. electronic intercepts of communications to French consulates and embassies in New York and Washington . . . 

. . . the existence of NSA surveillance teams in 80 U.S. embassies around the globe . . . 

. . . NSA spying on OPEC . . . ​

. . . NSA collecting data on the porn habits of Muslim extremist leaders in order to discredit them . . . 

. . . none of these stories have much of a tie to Americans’ privacy.

The all-or-nothing terms of the Snowden discussion are persistent and baffling, and they obscure the truth. The NSA’s willingness to vacuum up and store the communications of ordinary Americans — with no tie to terror, crime, or foreign governments at all, obliterating any remaining meaning of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution — deserves every bit of public outrage and rebuke. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Snowden is the good guy in the story. This story probably doesn’t have a good guy.

Tags: Rand Paul , Peter King , Edward Snowden , NSA

Our Bored President



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From the Los Angeles Times this morning:

If U.S. spying on key foreign leaders was news to the White House, current and former officials said, then White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.

Some U.S. intelligence officials said they were being blamed by the White House for conducting surveillance that was authorized under the law and utilized at the White House.

“People are furious,” said a senior intelligence official who would not be identified discussing classified information. “This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community.”

From a New York Times article on the formulation of Syria policy, last week:

Besides the Syrian government’s gains, there was mounting evidence that Mr. Assad’s troops had repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilians.

Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.

From Ace of Ace of Spades, last night, discussing Obama’s disconnection from the problems in his health care plan:

I saw a quote by Valerie Jarrett, recently. The quote itself is old, from 2010.

“I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. . . . He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. . . . So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. . . . He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

Ordinary people read detailed reports and take an interest in their own jobs. Obama, at least according to Jarrett’s puffery, has always felt that to be beneath him.

Why would he suddenly change simply because he’s president?

Answer: He wouldn’t.

I do not believe that smart people remain bored for long. They may be bored in a particular situation, but they will find things that interest them. Active minds seek stimulation.

If it’s true that Obama’s been “bored all his life,” I’d suggest that’s because he’s not terribly smart or curious. And not very hard working at all. Hard work, I think it’s fair to say, “bores” him, because hard work is frustrating.

We all know where Obama is at his most Alive, and it’s not reading reports or writing speeches or analyzing policy. It’s having a speech put in front of him on TelePrompters and reading it for deliriously cultish fans.

That seems to be the only thing capable of holding any of his interest.

We’re in the very best of hands! Only three more years of this!

Tags: Barack Obama , Obamacare , NSA , Syria

Remember When Obama Assured Germans the NSA Was ‘Focused on Threats to Our Security’?



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President Obama, speaking to Chancellor Merkel and the German people at a ceremony at Brandenberg Gate back in June:

James Madison is right — which is why, even as we remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism, we must move beyond a mindset of perpetual war. And in America, that means redoubling our efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo. (Applause.) It means tightly controlling our use of new technologies like drones. It means balancing the pursuit of security with the protection of privacy. (Applause.)

And I’m confident that that balance can be struck. I’m confident of that, and I’m confident that working with Germany, we can keep each other safe while at the same time maintaining those essential values for which we fought for.

Our current programs are bound by the rule of law, and they’re focused on threats to our security — not the communications of ordinary persons.

Two recent headlines:

Headline in AFP: US denies Obama knew of Merkel spying

Headline in the Daily Telegraph: Barack Obama ‘approved tapping Angela Merkel’s phone 3 years ago’

From the July 1 Morning Jolt:

If you’re a European diplomat, and you didn’t already assume that your phone calls, e-mails, and files are constantly being targeted by intelligence agencies from all kinds of countries, hostile and friendly and everything in between . . . well then, fire your counterintelligence staff. Welcome to the real world, Hans. If you’ve got information worth having, then somebody, somewhere, is trying to get it.
There’s a line of dialogue from Heat: “Assume they got our phones, assume they got our houses, assume they got us, right here, right now as we sit, everything. Assume it all.” It’s good advice for anyone connected with sensitive information, because even if U.S. intelligence agencies never contemplated snooping in those EU diplomats’ files, the Russians, Chinese, and who knows who else did it, and continue to do it, too. You’re only as secure as your countermeasures.
As an American, I’m not particularly bothered by the NSA giving a technological colonoscopy to every electronic gadget used by every European diplomat. That’s just good old-fashioned intelligence-gathering. The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment doesn’t say Jacques merde about unreasonable searches on foreign officials.
Of course, it doesn’t bother me because I’m not a European diplomat and I never really thought Obama was the embodiment of hope and change. If I had gone to that big rally in Berlin in 2008 and told my constituents that this president really was the polar opposite of George W. Bush in all the ways that mattered to those kumbaya-minded Europeans, well . . . yeah, I’d feel like a fool, too.

Tags: Germany , Angela Merkel , Barack Obama , NSA

Dear NSA: If You’re Not So Bad, Why Do Your Bosses Keep Lying to Us?



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Big Morning Jolt today, with tough questions about what to do if the worst suspicions about Syria’s alleged chemical-weapons attack are true, another look at “the Separation of Celebrity and State” (Tabitha’s great headline), what NR has had to say about pop-cultural offerings like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, and then this predictable turn in the NSA debate:

NSA: Never Straight Answers

Dear NSA and its defenders (who am I kidding, you read this as soon as I sent the e-mail):

Before you get started, let us save you some time and go over things we already know, and you don’t have to say again.

  • Yes, the threat from terrorists is real, and you guys and the rest of the intelligence and law enforcement community have a really tough job.
  • Yes, being able to intercept, read, and listen to almost any communication in the world is a big help in your mission.
  • Yes, there’s a FISA court system, although we’re having doubts about the effectiveness of its oversight.
  • Yes, there’s considerable evidence that Edward Snowden is A) off his rocker and/or B) way too cozy with Russia and China. Of course, you guys are the ones that hired him and gave him access to all the secret stuff.

The problem is every time somebody in authority tries to reassure us by describing what the NSA is doing, it turns out to be a lie. Well, either it’s a lie, or they don’t know what they’re talking about. Like when President Obama told Charlie Rose that the FISA court is “transparent.” (The court’s proceedings are entirely in secret.) Or when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says, under oath before Congress, that the NSA never gathered “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” He later claimed he misunderstood the direct question posed to him and apologized to Congress.

Or when President Obama tells Jay Leno, “we don’t have a domestic spying program” — and then we learn, as we did late Wednesday, that the NSA gathered “tens of thousands of e-mails and other electronic communications between Americans” with no connection to terrorism and a federal judge rules the government has “disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program” three times in less than three years. It’s very, very bad, according to the judge:

In the strongly worded 86-page opinion, U.S. District Judge John Bates, who was then the court’s chief judge, wrote that the “volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe.”

Bates blasted the NSA for mishandling thousands of e-mails from Americans over those three years, and said the NSA’s disclosures about its e-mail collection effort “fundamentally alters the court’s understanding of the scope of the collection . . . and requires careful re-examination of many of the assessments and presumptions underlying prior approvals.”

You guys at the NSA might be the most swell and honorable crowd this side of Dudley Do-Right, but it’s hard to believe that these programs could never be abused when everybody in charge of them keeps lying to us.

Tags: NSA , Barack Obama , James Clapper

‘Privacy and Liberty’ Debate Coming to Heritage



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Coming soon, to a Heritage Foundation stage near you . . . 

Expect us to hit all the topics: Edward Snowden, the NSA, the era of social networks, campaign data-mining . . . 

Tags: NSA , Edward Snowden

Washington Post: Official Line on NSA Programs ‘Erroneous or False’



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The front page of the Washington Post declares: “the exposure of hundreds of pages of previously classified NSA documents indicate that public assertions about these programs by senior U.S. officials have also often been misleading, erroneous or simply false.”

Since those of us outside of government have no way to independently verify what we’re told about domestic surveillance programs, every lie makes it tougher to swallow that whole “trust me” line.

The article features a sample of some of that tough congressional oversight and scrutiny that we’re constantly hearing about:

Jane Harman, a former ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that speaking about secret programs can be a “minefield” for public officials.

“Are people deliberately misleading other people? I suppose it can happen,” Harman said in an interview. Facts can be obscured through “selective declassification that means you put out some pieces but not others,” she said. “But I assume most people are acting in good faith.”

Reassuring to know that the former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee recognizes that it is theoretically possible for espionage professionals to lie.

Tags: NSA , Barack Obama , Jane Harman

Europeans Wake Up With Severe ‘Hope and Change’ Hangover.



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I return from vacation with an epic Morning Jolt, if I may say. There’s a look at the massive protesting crowds in Egypt, a dissection of the Paula Deen controversy, three key paragraphs from a particular book you’ve heard a lot about lately, and more pictures and one-liners than usual.

Man, You Europeans Were a Bunch of Suckers for Obama’s 2008 Rhetoric.

Hope and change, baby! Back in 2008, Germans overcome with enthusiasm for the Democratic presidential nominee referred to their own country as “Obamaland.”

Now . . . well, I’ll let this picture from AFP sum it up:

“Stasi 2.0.” Dang, that’s going to leave a mark. Obama’s just lucky that these latest revelations broke after he gave his overhyped Brandenburg speech.

According to Der Spiegel, the NSA has been going through the phones, computers, and who knows what else of European Union officials. If European politicians were any angrier, they would be commenting on Daily Kos. They’re so mad, Islamic Rage Boy is telling them to calm down. Alec Baldwin is imploring them to not lose their temper.

Really, they’re ticked:

Senior European Union officials are outraged by revelations that the US spied on EU representations in Washington and New York. Some have called for a suspension of talks on the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement.

Europeans are furious. Revelations that the US intelligence service National Security Agency (NSA) targeted the European Union and several European countries with its far-reaching spying activities have led to angry reactions from several senior EU and German politicians.

EU and German politicians on Sunday, however, were reacting primarily to the revelations that the US had specifically targeted the 27-member bloc with its surveillance activities. “If these reports are true, then it is abhorrent,” said Luxembourgian Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. “It would seem that the secret services have gotten out of control. The US should monitor their own secret services rather than their allies.”

Asselborn characterized the operation as a breach of trust. “The US justifies everything as being part of the fight against terrorism. But the EU and its diplomats are not terrorists. We need a guarantee from the very highest level that it stops immediately.”

A guarantee from the president of the United States that we will no longer collect intelligence on officials in EU countries? “Bzzz! Sorry Hans, wrong guess. Would you like to go for Double Jeopardy where the scores can really change?”

If you’re a European diplomat, and you didn’t already assume that your phone calls, e-mails, and files are constantly being targeted by intelligence agencies from all kinds of countries, hostile and friendly and everything in between . . . well then, fire your counterintelligence staff. Welcome to the real world, Hans. If you’re got information worth having, then somebody, somewhere, is trying to get it.

There’s a line of dialogue from Heat: “Assume they got our phones, assume they got our houses, assume they got us, right here, right now as we sit, everything. Assume it all.” It’s good advice for anyone connected with sensitive information, because even if U.S. intelligence agencies never contemplated snooping in those EU diplomats’ files, the Russians, Chinese, and who knows who else did it, and continue to do it, too. You’re only as secure as your countermeasures.

As an American, I’m not particularly bothered by the NSA giving a technological colonoscopy to every electronic gadget used by every European diplomat. That’s just good old-fashioned intelligence-gathering. The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment doesn’t say Jacques merde about unreasonable searches on foreign officials.

Of course, it doesn’t bother me because I’m not a European diplomat and I never really thought Obama was the embodiment of hope and change. If I had gone to that big rally in Berlin in 2008 and told my constituents that this president really was the polar opposite of George W. Bush in all the ways that mattered to those kumbaya-minded Europeans, well . . . yeah, I’d feel like a fool, too.

Let’s close with a few words from Obama’s speech in Berlin:

Even as we remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism, we must move beyond a mindset of perpetual war. And in America, that means redoubling our efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo. (Applause.) It means tightly controlling our use of new technologies like drones. It means balancing the pursuit of security with the protection of privacy. (Applause.)
 
And I’m confident that that balance can be struck. I’m confident of that, and I’m confident that working with Germany, we can keep each other safe while at the same time maintaining those essential values for which we fought for.
 
Our current programs are bound by the rule of law, and they’re focused on threats to our security — not the communications of ordinary persons.

Congratulations, EU officials. We don’t think you’re ordinary!

Tags: Barack Obama , NSA , Europeans

Obama Took Three Years to Find Nominees for Civil Liberties Board



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Obama to Charlie Rose, yesterday:

I’ve stood up a privacy and civil liberties oversight board made up of independent citizens, including some fierce civil libertarians. I’ll be meeting with them and what I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation not only about these two programs but also about the general problem of these big data sets because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.

The board Obama is referring to was created in 2004. Nominations and confirmation delays prevented the board from being particularly effective, and it has been particularly quiet in recent years:

President Obama came into office and fared no better. He didn’t nominate a full slate to the board until December 2011. “We did not expect it to be the first set of nominations he made . . . but we were very disappointed that it took as long as it did to get those nominations,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel at the Constitution Project, a legal watchdog. Then Obama’s nominee for chairman, David Medine, was held up by Republicans in the Senate for over a year. Among other things, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) faulted Medine for refusing to say whether or not the country is engaged in a “war on terrorism.”
Without a chairman, the board couldn’t hire staff and had no full-time members. Medine was finally confirmed last month, and he’s still putting the wheels in motion; the board doesn’t even have a website yet. Now, at last, the board might actually function as the commission intended.

Obama’s first two nominations to the board came in December 2010; three more nominations came in December 2011. The Senate confirmed four of the members in August 2012.

The American Civil Liberties Union charged that the “painfully long road reflects not only the extreme partisan gridlock of the times, but also a distinct lack of will within the executive branch to stand up a truly independent oversight body that could risk making the administration look bad.”

Tags: Barack Obama , NSA

Obama’s Sleight of Hand in His NSA Explanation



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From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Obama: 1,500–1,700 FISA Court Applications Per Year Is a ‘Surprisingly Small’ Number of Requests

Obama to Charlie Rose:

The whole point of my concern, before I was president — because some people say, “Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.” Dick Cheney sometimes says, “Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock, and barrel.” My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program.

Oh, Mr. President, you’re so, so, so certain that nobody is going to notice your verbal sleight-of-hand.

Remember, in a FISA court, there is no equivalent of a defense attorney speaking on behalf of the person being investigated. It is not an adversarial court. Nobody speaks for you, Joe Citizen. The government makes its case, and the judge either says, “okay,” or “no, I’m not convinced.” Take a guess at how that works out . . . 

Now check your guess against how often FISA courts turn down those requests:

The court rarely, if ever, denies the government’s requests, according to annual reports issued to senior members of Congress by the Department of Justice and collected by the Federation of American Scientists.

In 2012, the government made 1,789 applications to the court — one was withdrawn by the government and 40 were modified by the court, but “the FISC did not deny any applications in whole or in part,” the report states. In 2011, there were 1,676 applications, of which two were withdrawn and 30 modified, but once again, “The FISC did not deny any applications in whole, or in part.” In 2010, there were 1,511 applications, of which five were withdrawn and 14 modified, but “The FISC did not deny any applications in whole, or in part.”

In 2009, the court denied a single application, modified 14, and approved another 1,320. In 2008, the court denied another application, and made “substantive modifications” to two more, but approved more than 2,000. In 2007, the court denied a whopping three applications. It denied a single one in 2006. It denied zero applications in 2005 and 2004, though it denied four in 2003. It approved all applications in 2002 and 2001.

So, since the start of the War on Terror more than 11 years ago, the court has denied just 10 applications, and modified several dozen, while approving more than 15,000.

Obama to Charlie Rose: “First of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small.”

Mary Katharine Ham, writing at WarmerThanWarmAir.com:

Obama’s just repeating speeches from 2008, paired with demonstrable proof that he’s not interested in acting out the beliefs in those speeches, and expecting us all to move on, satisfied that his guiding hand will prevent abuse. His assurances have held great power in the past, but exactly what would make us think they’re worth anything now? Sure, it’s politically advantageous for him to declare on Benghazi, NSA, IRS (not to mention ERA and State Department), “We have noted your concerns and there’s an investigation underway, now let’s get back to exactly what I’d like to talk about, and don’t I give an awesome speech?”

But that’s not good enough. Obama has allowed abuses to happen on his watch, his administration has floated somewhere between malice and utter incompetence letting them go on, and none of the institutional backstops or failsafes have worked to prevent them or punish those responsible.

Just how out of control could our government be? Jim Hoft, late last night:

Tonight on The O’Reilly Factor Sharyl Attkisson told Bill that she knows who hacked into her home computers.

“I think I know. But I’m just not prepared to go into that. We’re continuing our investigations. There are multifaceted looks at what to do next. . . . Let me just say, whoever did it, to come into a private citizen’s home, whether I’m a journalist or not, and look in my family’s computer and look into my work computer. . . . Well, it’s outrageous.”

Tags: Barack Obama , NSA

The 2003–08 Liberal Foreign-Policy Vision Lies in Ruins



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The front page of today’s Washington Post previews President Obama’s trip to the EU summit in Northern Ireland, observing that Europeans are deeply disappointed, and feeling betrayed, by Obama’s policies on long-delayed assistance to Syrian rebels, widespread NSA eavesdropping, and expansion of drone warfare.

In his use of drones and the NSA, Obama is acting more like the European caricature of President George W. Bush. Le Monde, in fact, referred to him as “George W. Obama.”

What the five years of Obama’s presidency have taught us is that the dominant worldview in the American Left and Europe in the preceding five years — 2003 to 2008 — was an unrealistic, idealistic fantasyland wishing away complicated problems of terrorism, security, and the politics and culture of the Middle East. As discussed in today’s Jolt . . . 

A Foreign-Policy Shift That Obama Won’t Even Personally Discuss, Much Less Explain

From 2003 to 2008, we were served up large heaping piles of crap that somehow managed to become foreign-policy conventional wisdom:

  • A major obstacle to Middle East peace was that the Bush administration wasn’t making it enough of a priority.
  • The Iraq War was the main cause of alienation and anti-American attitudes in the Muslim world.
  • Greed for oil and war profiteering drove American interventions in the Middle East, not humanitarian concerns or desire to check aggressive, inherently dangerous forces.

After taking the wheel of American foreign policy, the Obama administration pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed the Israelis and Palestinians, and five years later, we see that the basic obstacle to peace — i.e., one side wants to destroy the other, and the other side refuses to accept destruction — remains. The troops are home from Iraq, and the United States is still hated in much of the Muslim world. (They actually hate us even more now in Jordan and Pakistan than during the Bush years.)

And now the United States will be sending some sort of military assistance to the Syrian rebels, finding the brutal actions of Ba’athist Arab dictator — including use of sarin gas — too dangerous to ignore any further.

Although apparently the president doesn’t really want to do this. This weekend, the New York Times reported:

[Obama’s] ambivalence about the decision seemed evident even in the way it was announced. Mr. Obama left it to a deputy national security adviser, Benjamin J. Rhodes, to declare Thursday evening that the president’s “red line” on chemical weapons had been crossed and that support to the opposition would be increased. At the time, Mr. Obama was addressing a gay pride event in the East Room. On Friday, as Mr. Rhodes was again dispatched to defend the move at a briefing, the president was hosting a Father’s Day luncheon in the State Dining Room.

Come on, man! Mr. President, own your decision. If you don’t think this is the right decision, tell your advisers and former President Clinton and McCain and Graham and everyone else that you think they’re wrong, and stick by it. Don’t adopt a policy that you don’t really believe in just because you want the complaining to stop.

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria , Drones , Europeans , NSA

Rasmussen: 57 Percent Believe NSA Data Will Be Used Against Political Opponents



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Pollster Scott Rasmussen just dropped some eye-opening survey results:

57% Fear Government Will Use NSA Data to Harass Political Opponents

There is little public support for the sweeping and unaccountable nature of the NSA surveillance program along with concerns about how the data will be used.

  • Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters nationwide believe it is likely the NSA data will be used by other government agencies to harass political opponents. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that just 30% consider it unlikely and 14% are not sure.
  • 33% approve of the NSA program to fight terrorism while 50% are opposed.
  • 26% now believe it is necessary to collect data on millions of ordinary Americans to fight terrorism. Sixty-four percent (64%) believe it would be better to narrow the program so that it monitors only those with ties to terrorists or suspected terrorists.
  • Seventy-four percent (74%) believe the government should be required to show a judge the need for monitoring the calls of specific Americans.

What this tells us is that the American people have grown very cynical about their government. And it’s hard to blame them.

Tags: NSA , Polling

Okay, Fine, No Privacy for Anyone, Including the Elites!



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The final Morning Jolt of the week examines whether pundits ought to be evaluated by their appearance, further discussion of what, if anything, the U.S. should do in response to a five-figure, soon to be six-figure, death toll in the Syrian civil war, and then this bit of useful mischief . . . 

Come On, Senator, Fair Is Fair. If the Government Can Read Our E-mails . . . 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said two days ago he believed that the National Security Agency’s PRISM domestic surveillance program was appropriate for our times. He added:

“In World War II, the mentality of the public was that our whole way of life was at risk, we’re all in. We censored the mail. When you wrote a letter overseas, it got censored. When a letter was written back from the battlefield to home, they looked at what was in the letter to make sure they were not tipping off the enemy,” Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “If I thought censoring the mail was necessary, I would suggest it, but I don’t think it is.”

Now FreedomWorks is asking Graham to disclose his e-mail passwords.

Speaking of disclosure, Debra Heine sends along word . . . 

Enter Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) who figured out away to insinuate White House involvement in the IRS targeting scandal and needle the president about the NSA spy scandal at the same time.

Stockman sent a letter to Chairman Darrell Issa of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee on Tuesday, asking him to subpoena all NSA records of phone calls between employees of the White House and the IRS.

“Obama assures the public he only collected this information to uncover wrongdoing and protect civil liberties. Clearly he would want us to use it to investigate this case, because otherwise he’d be lying,” said Stockman.

“If Obama has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear,” said Stockman.

“This case must be investigated fully, given admitted wrongdoing by the IRS, its potentially criminal implications and revelations the White House has been less than honest about what they knew and when,” said Stockman. “Obama says the PRISM program is perfectly legal, so there should be no problem whatsoever in providing the information on White House and IRS phone calls.”

“The only possible scenario in which the administration refuses to comply would be if it would reveal unconstitutional or illegal behavior,” said Stockman.

I have a feeling this will end up generating an exchange along the lines of this legendary one from Serenity, featuring Twitter star Adam Baldwin:

Mal: You want to run this ship?

Jayne: Yes!

Mal: (trying to think) Well . . . you can’t.

Tags: Lindsey Graham , Steve Southerland , NSA , Barack Obama

All of This NSA Stuff Sounds Rather Familiar . . .



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From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer Analyzed All of These Domestic Surveillance Issues 15 Years Ago

Imagine you’re a bad person up to no good.

Maybe you’re a terrorist who wants to harm or kill many, many Americans, or perhaps you’re a foreign spy attempting to steal U.S. secrets, in an effort to that may someday harm many Americans if your country and the United States go to war.

If you were one of these folks, and you weren’t, say, the dullest knife in the drawer . . . wouldn’t you already presume that the National Security Agency was already grabbing your signals from your cellular phone out of the air? Wouldn’t you presume that the moment they connected a particular e-mail address with you, they could crack the password and look through it with impunity? (All of this presumes you don’t have some sort of special encryption technology from your home country’s intelligence service.) Wouldn’t you assume that they were tracking the GPS in your phone? In every fugitive-on-the-run-from-a-sinister-government-conspiracy movie, the first thing the good guy does is smash his cell phone.

Haven’t these guys ever seen Enemy of the State? It came out in 1998, featured Will Smith and Gene Hackman.

All of Gene Hackman’s dialogue is more or less the actual domestic surveillance system we’ve seen unveiled in recent days:

“The government’s been in bed with the entire telecommunications industry since the forties! They’ve infected everything. They get into your bank statements, computer files, email, listen to your phone calls… Every wire, every airwave. The more technology used, the easier it is for them to keep tabs on you. It’s a brave new world out there. At least it’d better be.”

“Fort Meade has 18 acres of mainframe computers underground. You’re talking to your wife on the phone and you use the word ‘bomb,’ ‘president,’ ‘Allah,’ any of a hundred keywords, the computer recognizes it, automatically records it, red-flags it for analysis. That was 20 years ago.”

“In the old days, we actually had to tap a wire into your phone line. Now with calls bouncing off satellites, they snatch ‘em right out of the air.”

This was fifteen years ago, guys. Sure, it’s Hollywood, but this wasn’t supposed to be science fiction taking place in the far future. (Okay, the implausibly heterosexual lingerie store in Dupont Circle may qualify as science fiction.) . . . 

The last lines of the movie are from then-CNN host Larry King, who asks his fictional government official guest, “How do we draw the line — draw the line between protection of national security, obviously the government’s need to obtain intelligence data, and the protection of civil liberties, particularly the sanctity of my home? You’ve got no right to come into my home!”

Or course, Larry King works for the Kremlin now.

But the point is that while it’s good that the American public has a better idea of what the federal government can do with our phone records, e-mails, social network usage, and so on, in the name of protecting us . . . is it really that plausible that our enemies had no idea that this sort of thing was going on? If you’re FSB (the Russians) or VEVAK (the Iranians) or with the foreign affairs bureau of China’s Ministry of State Security . . . wouldn’t you already be operating on the presumption that the NSA had amazing abilities in penetrating, monitoring, and eavesdropping on every last method of electronic communication?

Don’t get me wrong, Snowden violated his oath and broke the law, and ought to see the inside of a courtroom, where a judge or jury could decide whether his crimes were committed in service of a greater good. But maybe Montana Democrat Jon Tester — not one of my favorite lawmakers — is hitting the right tone here:

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) on Wednesday rejected the notion that Edward Snowden compromised the country’s security when he leaked details of top secret National Security Agency surveillance programs.

Appearing on MSNBC, the Montana Democrat also said he disagreed with Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who argued that journalists who report on intelligence leaks should be punished.Tester said Snowden “probably shouldn’t have done what he did” but doubted that the disclosures undermined national security. In fact, Tester said he found the recent revelations — reported on by both The Guardian and The Washington Post — to be helpful.

“The information that they wrote about was just the fact that NSA was doing broad sweeps of foreign and domestic phone records, metadata. First of all, Snowden probably shouldn’t have done what he did. But the fact of the matter is I don’t see how that compromises the security of this country whatsoever,” Tester said. “And quite frankly, it helps people like me become aware of a situation that I wasn’t aware of before because I don’t sit on that Intelligence Committee.”

Oh, by the way, President Obama’s defense of these programs last Friday asserted, “Now, the programs that have been discussed over the last couple of days in the press are secret in the sense that they’re classified, but they’re not secret in the sense that, when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program.”

Tags: NSA , Jon Tester , Barack Obama

Hillary Clinton, Acquiescent to Domestic Spying



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Tim Miller of America Rising PAC examined Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign rhetoric and finds, “Secretary Clinton served as a senior member of a national security team that was implementing surveillance programs she once vocally opposed.”

He cites several examples, but perhaps the most glaring is from a 2005 fundraising e-mail that declared, “I am resolved to keep speaking out about my disagreements with this administration and their congressional allies: a budget that cuts back on health care . . . Cronyism and incompetence . . . weaken the social fabric of our nation. A secret program that spies on Americans!”

A secret program that spies on Americans! Yeah, that would be terrible, wouldn’t it, Madam Secretary?

Their graphic:

 

Tags: Hillary Clinton , NSA , Barack Obama

NSA: Now Selecting Anybody (to Work Here)



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Today’s Morning Jolt features a quick look at U.S. diplomats behaving badly, a GOP name considering a comeback, the “Twelve Visions Party” of Massachusetts, and then . . . 

Don’t Come Crying to Us, NSA; You Guys Are the Ones Who Hired This Goofball.

Everybody’s going to have an opinion on Edward Snowden, today the world’s most famous leaker.

In the coming days, you’re going to see a lot of people talking past each other, conflating two issues: One, did he do the right thing by disclosing all these details of the vast NSA system to gather data on Americans? And two, should he be prosecuted for it?

Of course, you can do the right thing and still break the law.

John Yoo argues that the government has to pursue prosecution of Snowden, considering what they’ve done in response to much lesser leaks:

The NSA leak case will reveal if the Obama administration really means what it said about its foolish and unconstitutional pursuit of the AP and Fox News in other leak cases. Recall that the Obama Justice Department claimed that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a co-conspirator in the alleged leak of classified intelligence. If the Justice Department truly believed what it told the courts when seeking a wiretap on Rosen, then it should indict the reporters and editors for the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers who published information on PRISM. They clearly “conspired” with Snowden to publish classified information, information that was much more harmful to the national security than in the Rosen case (on North Korea’s predictable response to sanctions). Personally, I think that the Post is protected by the First Amendment, but Holder’s Justice Department clearly doesn’t think so.

So either the Justice Department will indict not just Snowden, but also the Post and Guardian reporters, or it will have been shown to have been untruthful to the courts in the Rosen case (which I think has become clear) . . . 

Yoo also points out that Snowden’s claim to noble motives is muddied quite a bit by his decision to run to Hong Kong. (By the way, the last guy to run to Hong Kong, certain that he was beyond the reach of American law enforcement and extradition treaties, was Mr. Lau, the money-keeper for the Gotham City mob. And we all remember how that turned out.) When Snowden declares, “Hong Kong has a reputation for freedom in spite of the People’s Republic of China. It has a strong tradition of free speech,” we have to wonder if A) he’s already working for the Chinese or B) he’s an imbecile.

This may be a story with no heroes. A government system designed to protect the citizens starts collecting all kinds of information on people who have done nothing wrong; it gets exposed, in violation of oaths and laws, by a young man who doesn’t recognize the full ramifications of his actions. The same government that will insist he’s the villain will glide right past the question of how they came to trust a guy like him with our most sensitive secrets. Who within our national-security apparatus made the epic mistake of looking him over — completing his background check and/or psychological evaluation — and concluding, “yup, looks like a nice kid?”

Watching the interview with Snowden, the first thing that is quite clear is that his mild-mannered demeanor inadequately masks a huge ego — one of the big motivations of spies. (Counterintelligence instructors have long offered the mnemonic MICE, for money, ideology, compromise, ego; others throw in nationalism and sex.)

Snowden feels he has an understanding of what’s going on well beyond most of his colleagues:

When you’re in positions of privileged access like a systems administrator for the sort of intelligence community agencies, you’re exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale then the average employee and because of that you see things that may be disturbing but over the course of a normal person’s career you’d only see one or two of these instances. When you see everything you see them on a more frequent basis and you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses.

What’s more, he feels that no one listens to his concerns or takes them seriously:

And when you talk to people about them in a place like this where this is the normal state of business people tend not to take them very seriously and move on from them. But over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about. And the more you talk about the more you’re ignored. The more you’re told its not a problem until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public and not by somebody who was simply hired by the government.”

My God, he must have been an insufferable co-worker.

‘Look, you guys just don’t understand, okay? You just can’t grasp the moral complexities of what I’m being asked to do here! Nobody here really gets what’s going on, or can see the big picture when you ask me to do something like that!’

‘Ed, I just asked if you could put a new bottle on the water cooler when you get a chance.’

Of course, all of this is presided over by a guy who thought that civil liberties were a useful cudgel against a Republican president back when he was outside the Oval Office. John Sexton turns the wayback machine to 2005, when then-Senator Obama, from the floor of the Senate, sternly declared that the Patriot Act “didn’t just provide law enforcement the powers it needed to keep us safe, but powers it didn’t need to invade our privacy without cause or suspicion” and added:

If someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document — through library books they’ve read and phone calls they’ve made — this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear their plea, no jury will hear their case. This is just plain wrong.

Ace of Spades:

James Rosen could not be reached for comment, but secret government surveillance into all of his phone calls and emails indicates he’s pretty pissed.

Glenn Reynolds, in USA Today yesterday:

As for abuse, well, is it plausible to believe that a government that would abuse the powers of the IRS to attack political enemies, go after journalists who publish unflattering material or scapegoat a filmmaker in the hopes of providing political cover to an election-season claim that al-Qaeda was finished would have any qualms about misusing the massive power of government-run snooping and Big Data? What we’ve seen here is a pattern of abuse. There’s little reason to think that pattern will change, absent a change of administration — and, quite possibly, not even then. Sooner or later, power granted tends to become power abused. Then there’s the risk that information gathered might leak, of course, as recent events demonstrate.

Most Americans generally think that politicians are untrustworthy. So why trust them with so much power? The evidence to date strongly suggests that they aren’t worthy of it.

“The kid’s been okay for the month since he arrived. Time to let him see the really secret stuff.”

Tags: NSA , Barack Obama

Three Lies to the Public That Must Have Consequences



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From the first Morning Jolt of the week . . . A National Security Agency leak tells me many of you are already subscribers, but some of you aren’t. If you’re not already a subscriber, click on the link or look for the box in the upper right hand of your screen.

Three Administration Lies to the Public That Must Have a Consequence

President Obama, speaking to the American public, Friday afternoon:

If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

In the specific issue that Obama is discussing, i.e., oversight of the National Security Agency’s vast data collection on American citizens, there is the problem in that no one within that system of oversight has the role or duty to speak on behalf of those being monitored, or about to be monitored. The executive branch knows what it wants — it wants to monitor people. The Congress may or may not want to advocate the argument, “Hey, that person hasn’t done anything wrong, you have no good reason to collect that information on them” — judging from what we now know, no one argued that perspective very strongly. And the oversight of the judicial branch is pretty weak when we know the Department of Justice goes “judge shopping” when their initial requests are rejected. If the executive branch can keep going to new judges until they get the decision they want, there isn’t really much of a check on their power, now is there?

Regarding that alleged congressional oversight, Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, is coming awfully close to accusing the president of lying:

“Since government officials have repeatedly told the public and Congress that Patriot Act authorities are simply analogous to a grand jury subpoena, and that intelligence agencies do not collect information or dossiers on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans, I think the executive branch has an obligation to explain whether or not these statements are actually true,” Wyden said.

Wyden’s suspicion is driven by a lie he appears to have been told under oath, one we’ll look at in a moment. But more generally, we have seen quite a few folks in the executive branch abuse the public’s trust and then see no real consequences for it.

LIE ONE: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s November 28 explanation about changes made to talking points about the Benghazi attack:

The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two — of these two institutions were changing the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility,” because “consulate” was inaccurate. Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect the IC’s best assessments of what they thought had happened.

You can see the twelve rounds of revisions here, well more than a single adjustment, and mostly in response to State Department objections.

After it became clear that Carney had put forth false information, he dug in deeper, insisting that the twelve rounds of revisions were merely “stylistic changes.” Carney paid for his lie with two days of hostile questions from the White House Press Corps . . . and then the storm seemed to have blown over.

LIE TWO: Attorney General Eric Holder, testifying under oath before the House Judiciary Committee, May 15:

Well, I would say this. With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I’ve ever been involved in, heard of or would think would be a wise policy.

Michael Isikoff later reported the precise opposite: The Justice Department pledged Friday to to review its policies relating to the seizure of information from journalists after acknowledging that a controversial search warrant for a Fox News reporter’s private emails was approved “at the highest levels” of the Justice Department, including “discussions” with Attorney General Eric Holder.

There is a claim from the usual suspects — Media Matters — that Holder is in the clear because he was asked about prosecutions for publishing classified information, not solicitation for classified information; they assert that the two actions are totally different. A pretty thin reed for a perjury defense, and one that utterly fails the standard of the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States informing the public of his department’s operations.

For us to believe that, it would mean that during the entire Justice Department discussion of prosecuting Fox News’s James Rosen for soliciting the information, no one suggested or mentioned prosecuting Rosen for publishing it. Remember, Holder didn’t just say he didn’t agree with that idea; he said he never heard of the idea.

LIE THREE: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, testifying under oath before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 12, responding to questions from Wyden, Democrat of Oregon:

Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clapper: “No, sir.”

Wyden: “It does not?”

Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly.”

The subsequent explanation from Clapper: “What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. I stand by that,” Clapper told National Journal in a telephone interview.

But that’s not what he was asked, nor was it even close to what he was asked. In fact, the light from what he was asked takes several years to reach a question about voyeurism.

If your excuse is that you are incapable of discerning what “any type of data at all” means, you are no longer allowed to have a job title that has the word “intelligence” in it.

This weekend, the Guardian reported, “During a 30-day period in March 2013, the documents indicate, the NSA collected nearly 3 billion pieces of intelligence from within the United States.”

Two of these three were under oath before Congress; the other was to the press, with the cameras rolling, on a topic of high public interest and great controversy.

If Obama were to ask for the resignations of Carney, Holder, and Clapper tomorrow, all of us who don’t trust him would have to at least acknowledge that he’s trying to set a better standard for consequences of lying to the public. But all of us know that he will do nothing of the sort.

Instead, he will continue to give speeches where he expresses incredulity that the public wouldn’t trust him and his administration.

“Trust us. We say this because our review of your personal e-mail indicates that you don’t.”

 

Tags: Barack Obama , NSA , Benghazi , Eric Holder , James Clapper

Trust Us, It’s Just ‘Further Scrutiny of Individuals and Organizations,’ Nothing Big.



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Politico: “The data cadged in the Verizon case can be used as a menu — giving agents an idea of which individuals or organizations warrant further scrutiny.”

Because there hasn’t been any controversy over government agents giving individuals or organizations further scrutiny lately, right?

They’re referring to FBI agents, not IRS agents . . . right?

Above: “Agents.”

Tags: IRS Abuses , NSA

The NSA Sees All, Collects All, Keeps All, and Can Use All



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I’m scheduled to appear on Real News on The Blaze network this afternoon.

From today’s Morning Jolt:

Quick Summary: The NSA Is Collecting Everything You Write, Short of Your Handwritten Grocery List

If you typed it or spoke it into an electronic device, the government probably has a record of it.

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority.

In case you had forgotten what Candidate Barack Obama said:

Barack Obama believes that we must provide law enforcement the tools it needs to investigate, disrupt, and capture terrorists, but he also believes we need real oversight to avoid jeopardizing the rights and ideals of all Americans. There is no reason we cannot fight terrorism while maintaining our civil liberties. Unfortunately, the current administration has abused the powers given to it by the PATRIOT Act. A March 2007 Justice Department audit found the FBI improperly and, in some cases, illegally used the PATRIOT Act to secretly obtain personal information about American citizens. As president, Barack Obama would revisit the PATRIOT Act to ensure that there is real and robust oversight of tools like National Security Letters, sneak-and-peek searches, and the use of the material witness provision.

• Eliminate Warrantless Wiretaps. Barack Obama opposed the Bush Administration’s initial policy on warrantless wiretaps because it crossed the line between protecting our national security and eroding the civil liberties of American citizens. As president, Obama would update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to provide greater oversight and accountability to the congressional intelligence committees to prevent future threats to the rule of law.

Tyler Cowen:

The general problem is the unholy government and tech alliance, based on a mix of plutocracy, information-sharing, and a joint understanding of the importance of information for future elections. Which current politician wouldn’t want to court the support of tech, and which major tech company can today stand above politics?

Late Thursday night, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a lengthy statement.

The program does not allow the Government to listen in on anyone’s phone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber. The only type of information acquired under the Court’s order is telephony metadata, such as telephone numbers dialed and length of calls.

The collection is broad in scope because more narrow collection would limit our ability to screen for and identify terrorism -related communications. Acquiring this information allows us to make connections related to terrorist activities over time. The FISA Court specifically approved this method of collection as lawful, subject to stringent restrictions.

The information acquired has been part of an overall strategy to protect the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it may assist counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities.

Here’s the thing: this latest round of mega-data-collection got started just after the Boston Marathon bombing. I’m all for having the good guys know who known or suspected terrorists are calling. So why wouldn’t you start with those phone records, and then work your way out from there? Collect the numbers they called, and then check out who was on the other end of those calls, and then check out the outgoing calls from those people, and so on, until you feel like you’ve rolled up the cell.

The only way that this method of collecting every bit of data produced works is if you take the whole dataset and then start applying various searches, presumably through algorithms, having decided criteria A, B, and C are indicators that this person is a terrorist or a threat.

Here’s a fascinating July 2012 article:

The algorithms that the NSA has created, according to whistle blower William Binney, are actually a part of the Big Data Research and Development Initiative, which has the official purpose to improve the tools and techniques needed to access, organize, and glean discoveries from huge volumes of digital data. William goes on by saying that the algorithms will go through the data base looking at everybody.

We in the general public have no idea if the algorithms work, if they’re fair, if they’re putting a lot of innocent Americans under suspicion or on watch lists, etc. This is simply not the way criminal investigation or even counter-intelligence has ever worked in this country under our Constitution; it’s working backwards. Those we have entrusted with the duty of our protection always previously started from the wrongdoing (or a tip of wrongdoing) and work their way out from there; it has never been, collect every bit of information they can on absolutely everyone, and then sift through it until they find what they’re looking for.

Clapper emphasizes, “The program at issue here is conducted under authority granted by Congress and is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). By statute, the Court is empowered to determine the legality of the program.”

But who watches the watchmen?

“I would just push back on the idea that the court has signed off on it, so why worry?” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This is a court that meets in secret, allows only the government to appear before it, and publishes almost none of its opinions. It has never been an effective check on government.”

Andy Levy: “DNI Clapper also tells Steve Turner of Carlsbad, CA that his vacation pics look great, but that he should ‘maybe slow down on the shots lol’”

Tags: NSA , Barack Obama

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