The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Actually, There Was Extensive Improper NSA Collection Under Obama

President Trump, this morning: “The big story is the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ of people that took place during the Obama Administration.”

Trump has a fair complaint; his administration did come into office and learn of a National Security Agency program that was vacuuming up the personal information of law-abiding American citizens in violation of previous administration’s assurances and agreements.

The problems concerned the N.S.A. program’s “upstream” system, which collects emails and other internet messages entering or leaving the United States from the switches of network operators like AT&T. One thing that system did was collect messages that merely included identifying terms — like email addresses — for foreigners whom the agency is spying on, but are neither to nor from those targets. The agency called that “about” surveillance, because it gathered messages about its target.

For technical reasons, upstream collection is more likely to also capture some purely domestic emails than the program’s “downstream,” or “Prism,” system, which collects the contents of targeted foreigners’ accounts from providers like Gmail. As a result, the court had imposed a rule that analysts could not search for Americans’ information in the upstream repository.

But the study showed that when analysts searched for Americans’ information, they often failed to take steps to prevent the upstream repository from being queried, too — including 85 percent of a particular type of such searches. [The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s presiding judge, Rosemary] Collyer called that “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue” and criticized the N.S.A. for institutional “lack of candor” because it had not disclosed the problem earlier.

After the Trump administration ended the “about” collection in March and came back to the court, Judge Collyer authorized the revised program. She also lifted the ban on searching for Americans’ information in upstream messages collected in the future, eliminating the complexity that had led to the analysts’ compliance problem.

As Circa reported, this ties to the recent debate about “unmasking” and how often collected data is connected to an identified American citizen: “Since 2011, NSA’s minimization procedures have prohibited use of U.S.-person identifiers to query the results of upstream Internet collections under Section 702,” the unsealed court ruling declared. “The Oct. 26, 2016 notice informed the court that NSA analysts had been conducting such queries in violation of that prohibition, with much greater frequency than had been previously disclosed to the Court.”

Also in the judge’s ruling was the recognition that for most of the program’s history, “contractors had access to raw FISA information on FBI storage systems,” violating previous agreements on minimizing the spread of this sort of information gathered from American citizens. Contractor access wasn’t restricted until April 2016. “The Court is concerned about the FBI’s apparent disregard of minimization rules and whether the FBI may be engaging in similar disclosures of raw Section 702 information that has not been reported.” Also in 2016, the CIA discovered problems in its “purge practices” designed to prevent the improper retention of metadata, but could not definitively say how long those problems had been going on.

Yes, this revelation of “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue” was indeed covered in detail in the New York Times . . . on page A21 on May 12. Is it that government misbehavior that doesn’t tie back to Donald Trump just isn’t a big deal anymore?

Separately, the government admitted that in 2016, an FBI agent searched for and read private e-mail messages involving an American suspect that the National Security Agency had collected via its warrantless surveillance program. No matter how rotten that particular suspect was, some Americans will prefer a system where the FBI has to get a warrant to read your e-mails.

The Trump administration, defenders of Americans’ privacy and the Fourth Amendment! Who saw that coming?

Yeah, Hillary, It’s All the DNC’s Fault. Go with That.

Terrible news yesterday, as Debbie Wasserman Schultz was badly burned by a dangerous blamethrower.

“I’m now the nominee of the Democratic party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic party,” Hillary Clinton said yesterday. “It was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, non-existent, wrong. I had to inject money into it — the DNC — to keep it going.”

Look, nobody’s saying Wasserman Schultz is the sharpest knife in the drawer, and no, President Obama didn’t care much about the Democratic National Committee while in office. But you can’t rewrite the history that we just lived through. Democratic strategists were absolutely convinced they had a better ground game than the GOP heading into Election Day. Here’s FiveThirtyEight, back on October 7: “Clinton has more than twice as many field offices as Trump nationwide (489 vs. 207), and her organization dominates Trump’s in every battleground state.”

In the 2016 cycle, Hillary Clinton and Super PACs that supported her spent $1.18 billion.

Donald Trump and the Super PACs that supported him spent $616 million.

When you’ve got about a $400 million advantage in spending and you still lose, you can’t blame it on an underfunded Democratic National Committee.

FWIW, the reaction from the DNC’s data guy is thermonuclear.

Making Sense of Showtime’s Twin Peaks, Episode 3

I’m not going to lie to you; this third season is not easy viewing. I want to love it. But this is light-years away from being “accessible.” Quite a few folks have asked me if they need to have watched the first two seasons from ABC back in the early ’90s to understand what’s happening in the third season. The answer is yes, and you ought to go back and watch the first 16 episodes and the final three or so because they’re a masterpiece. The jury is still out on this season.

As episode three begins, the soul of FBI Agent Dale Cooper has survived 25 years in the purgatory-like Red Room, only to have a malevolent spirit that manifests itself as a Bad Tree try to punish him further by banishing him to “non-existence.” Cooper plummets through space and reality, only to land in a strange mechanical room that floats between a vast sea and a universe of stars. (David Lynch’s work is always dreamlike, and probably never so much as when he’s got a blank canvas and the need to depict “the spiritual realm.”) Time moves choppily in this strange place, and Cooper encounters an unnerving eyeless woman who seems to want to help him but who can’t communicate clearly.

Looking out at the cosmos, he sees the floating image of Major Briggs (a character played by Don Davis, who passed away in 2008). This small piece of Briggs’ soul is still trying to help Cooper, telling him, “Blue Rose.” Cooper may not understand it, but Twin Peaks fans recognize the phrase as the code words that Cooper’s boss, Gordon Cole, uses for cases that involve something supernatural or unexplained. Think of this as a small way to bring back the Briggs character and write around Davis’s death.

Cooper determines that if he’s willing to withstand some physical pain, he can escape through a mechanical device on the wall. He slips through and we think this is it; Cooper’s soul and body will finally be reunited and the demon BOB will be forced back into the hell-like Black Lodge.

Back on earth, Cooper’s body, currently possessed by BOB, gets terribly sick while behind the wheel of a car, and he crashes. In one of the grossest scenes ever shown to television, the possessed Cooper regurgitates. Demons in the world of Twin Peaks are sustained by “garmonbozia,” human pain and suffering in corporeal form that resembles creamed corn. The fan in me can grasp that BOB-Cooper’s vomiting suggests he’s losing some of his accumulated sustenance . . . but this is really, really gross, and this was where the new series started to test my patience.

In the largely abandoned development of Rancho Rosa Estates, a man who resembles a shlubby version of Cooper named “Dougie” begins to feel strange after sleeping with a prostitute. His arm goes numb, he too becomes violently ill . . . and he is replaced by the familiar black-suited form of Cooper.

The soul of “Dougie” appears in the Red Room, where an older spirit, the one-armed man, begins to realize what happened, telling his new guest, “someone manufactured you for a purpose.” Dougie appears to be a sort of artificial person created by the demon BOB to escape the consequences of Cooper’s switch. The soul of poor “Dougie” shrinks to a small copper ball.

Cooper’s soul is out of the Red Room and back in the real world, but he’s in the body of “Dougie” and thoroughly confused; people keep wondering if he’s had a stroke. His prostitute gives him a ride to a casino, and along the way through sheer luck, a hitman — presumably hired by BOB to finish off Cooper once and for all  — narrowly misses his target. We spend a lot of time as Cooper/Dougie is guided by some sort of Lodge spirit to winnings at a casino in another sequence that tested my patience.

Our attention shifts to Philadelphia, where two beloved characters return: the well-meaning but batty hard-of-hearing FBI deputy director Gordon Cole and the acerbic forensic pathologist, Albert Rosenfield. A new character, Tammy Preston (a key character in co-creator Mark Frost’s book, The Secret History of Twin Peaks) updates them on the meager facts known from an investigation the bloody bodies found outside the “glass box” in the previous episode. But they’re interrupted with the shocking news that former special agent Dale Cooper, who’s been missing for 25 years, has been found . . . and he’s been locked up after a car accident in South Dakota. They prepare to head out and find him, and Albert sighs that he’s likely to need “a truckload of valium.”

ADDENDA: From Politico, covering President Trump’s expected decision to withdraw from the Paris climate-change accord: “Steve Bannon and Scott Pruitt have sought to outsmart the administration’s pro-Paris group of advisers, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who were hoping the president could be swayed by a global swell of support for the deal from major corporations, U.S. allies, Al Gore and even the pope.”

We have a Republican president whose daughter thinks he might be persuaded by Al Gore. And Dennis Prager can’t figure out why conservatives don’t trust Trump!