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First POST: Shell Games

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, June 13 2013

Trading truths

  • The New York Times, on a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing yesterday:

    "The director of the National Security Agency told Congress on Wednesday that “dozens” of terrorism threats had been halted by the agency’s huge database of the logs of nearly every domestic phone call made by Americans, while a senator briefed on the program disclosed that the telephone records are destroyed after five years ..."

    "[Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Diane] Feinstein also revealed that investigators had used the database for purposes beyond countering terrorism, suggesting it might have also been employed in slowing Iran’s nuclear program." "Analysts can look at the domestic calling data only if there is a reason to suspect it is 'actually related to Al Qaeda or to Iran,” she said, adding: “The vast majority of the records in the database are never accessed and are deleted after a period of five years. To look at or use the content of a call, a court warrant must be obtained.'"

    Other experts consulted separately from this hearing, the Times reports, were not so sure.

    Second source: Here's the Washington Post's story, which also leads with the hearing.

  • The Guardian:

    "Lawyers and intelligence experts with direct knowledge of two intercepted terrorist plots that the Obama administration says confirm the value of the NSA's vast data-mining activities have questioned whether the surveillance sweeps played a significant role, if any, in foiling the attacks."

  • 10 corgis who are now going to start tweeting at members of Congress: Sen. Barbara Mikulski, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, responded to a tweet from BuzzFeed reporter Rosie Gray during the middle of a hearing that included NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander's first public statements since the surveillance scandal broke.

  • The secret history of the NSA — Alexander Nazaryan describes James Bamford, who has written several books describing the NSA's long history of clandestine and possibly illicit monitoring of American communications, for the New Yorker:

    Bamford’s 1982 book is a reminder to anyone who thinks that domestic eavesdropping is a necessary part of a post-9/11 world that the N.S.A. has tested the bounds of the Fourth Amendment before. Project Shamrock, carried out after the Second World War, compelled companies like Western Union to hand over, on a daily basis, all telegraphs entering and leaving the United States. A younger sibling, Project Minaret, born in 1969, collected information on “individuals or organizations, involved in civil disturbances, antiwar movements/demonstrations and Military deserters involved in the antiwar movement.”

  • Google explains: A Google official says that when the NSA asks, the company hands over user data using secure file transfer protocol, known to webmasters everywhere as SFTP, a somewhat dated but widely used method for secure file transfer between two computers. (What do you use? SFTP? SCP? Carrier pigeon?)
  • Substance: David Rohde writes:

    The president is trying to have it both ways. Two weeks ago, Obama called for a scaling back of the “war on terror.” On Friday, he defended the vast post-9/11 state surveillance system whose only justification is to wage it. As al Qaeda weakens, surveillance should be decreased, not increased. Obama should be slowly dismantling the system, not regularizing and legitimizing it.

    For the Atlantic, Margot Kaminski explains how fear, terrorism and a series of now-questionable legislation created the legal fever swamp in which programs like PRISM exist:

    It is crucial to understand that the foreign intelligence system as it currently exists fails to require both adequate targeting and adequate oversight. The system allows intelligence agencies to gather an enormous amount of information "incidental" to any investigations. And it does so with minimal court and Congressional oversight. If the revelations of the past two days have taught us anything, it is that revision of our foreign intelligence surveillance system is a constitutional necessity. If the Fourth Amendment is to have any meaning, Congress must untangle the current web of broad authorizations and broad secrecy that allows the government to escape judicial accountability for its acts.

  • Style: Michael Scherer at Time argues, based on anecdotes describing Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Aaron Swartz, that "leakers" are a new phenomenon among an under-40 set who grew up in the days of a libertarian and open-source Internet. He goes a step further to set these people aside as deviating from the view of the broader American public, and adds, based on a poll or two, that younger people seem to be deviants too.

    This breathtakingly sweeping but thinly sourced accusation, leveled, apparently, at an entire age group, doesn't quite hold when a few omitted anecdotes are thrown into the mix. The thesis that this is a "kids these days" phenomenon smacks of moral panics of the 1960s and 70s that deflected attention from underlying problems — like racial injustice, executive branch overreach and the tragic consequences of a long and ultimately fruitless war.

    Thomas Drake was about 53 years old in 2010, when government officials accused him of violating the law and spilling NSA secrets to a reporter. He would have been about 54 the next year when criminal charges against him were dropped. He pled guilty to a single misdemeanor charge and is widely regarded as a whistleblower. Kids these days, huh?

    The Food and Drug Administration engaged in surveillance of its own employees out of a fear that five scientists were sharing information with reporters. The White House Office of Management and Budget sent out a memo at the time reminding officials that they could not use surveillance of employees to intimidate whistleblowers. The Office of Special Counsel determined that the whistleblowers' concerns, over possible threats to public safety such as problems with imaging devices, warranted a full investigation.

    Kids these days, huh? Those wacky Internet libertarians, right?

    Right?

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