Posts Tagged ‘NSA’
Last September as the Snowden leaks continued to shed light on the shadowy operations of the NSA Obama pledged to charge a “high-level group of outside experts” to evaluate the NSA’s secret programs. Obama’s committee of outside experts includes Michael Morell (former deputy director of CIA), Richard Clarke (former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism), and Cass Sunstein (Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under Obama), three men who have worked in the highest levels of government and, only in the most double-speaky way, can be referred to as outside experts. Further more, the committee has been under the supervision of The Office of the National Director of Intelligence headed by James Clapper. Months before being charged with overseeing the NSA review committee Clapper got famous for his “unwittingly” remark when categorically denying the existence of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Considering the make-up of the committee and the fact that it has been under the direct supervision of the king of all intelligence/spy agencies it should come as no surprise that this committee of Washington insiders concluded that dismantling the programs would be impossible and has recommended, rather, that changes are made to the way the NSA carries out its spy programs, “though under broad new restraints”. How do you put restraints on a program like XKeyscore, a program that the NSA boasts captures “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”? Do we change “nearly” to “not nearly as much as we captured before Snowden”? Seriously. Does bulk collecting of phone records suddenly become not bulk collecting because the NSA, under new legal restraints imposed by James Clapper and company, limits phone call interceptions to 120 billion calls per month instead of 124.8 billion? The committee’s recommendations, which have still not been officially released to the public because the review itself has been shrouded in secrecy, can be seen as nothing more than an attempt to mollify concerns over surveillance state sprawl and white wash NSA abuses.
For Obama, the important thing is “you know, to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence”. So, like, as your constitutional lawyer President “I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the N.S.A.”
Telling the public that the NSA can restrain itself is like telling a quantum theorist that entropy is containable.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden finds himself in a high stakes game of cops and robbers. Snowden is wanted for leaking secret intelligence documents that expose the inner workings of the NSA and the expansion of the surveillance state towards ubiquity. For now Snowden is believed to remain holed up at an airport in Moscow. Meanwhile Congressmen, Senators, and Administration officials aided by the non-adversarial beltway press are screaming traitor and shaping a discourse that discredits him and anyone who stands against the government’s will to try Snowden under the Espionage Act.
Evidence abounds that the United States is working behind the scenes to get its hands on Snowden.
During a press release two weeks ago Obama sought to deflate the significance of Snowden, “I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29 year-old hacker”. Instead The Administration persuaded officials in France and Austria (who at the same time pretend to be in a fury about the US bugging their embassies, information they should be thanking Snowden for divulging) to ground the plane returning President Evo Morales from Moscow due to suspicion that Snowden was aboard flying to Bolivia for asylum. Last week’s scandal has sparked outrage from Bolivians who charge that the US has violated their sovereignty. Other leaders in Latin America have expressed similar indignation also citing that the US’s attempt to intercept Snowden transgresses international agreements that protect asylum seekers.
Commenting on the Obama Administration’s efforts to get Snowden extradited back to the US, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro reminded President Obama of America’s history in refusing extradition requests and harboring terrorists:
Who is the terrorist? A government like us, who seeks to serve the young Snowden, a figure of humanitarian asylum, from persecution by the American empire? Or the United States government, that protects with political asylum Luis Posada Carriles, a confessed convicted murderer and terrorist who is wanted by Venezuela for the bombing of the Cuban plane in 1976?
Carriles was not only protected despite calls for his extradition but employed as a CIA operative to assist paramilitaries against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Examples of the US protecting internationally wanted terrorists are not limited to Carriles. Haiti’s repeated extradition requests of Emmanuel Constant, former leader of CIA funded Front for Advancement and Progress -the dreaded Haitian death squad played an instrumental role overthrowing the popular government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the 1991 US backed coup- were denied by the US. Constant was ultimately tried and sentenced at the New York State Supreme Court for charges unrelated to his alleged crimes against humanity, mortgage fraud. Haitians were effectively denied the possibility of ever seeing the serial killer brought to justice in their courts of law. Then there’s Orlando Bosch, another CIA operative believed to have conspired with Carriles in the 1976 Operation Condor plane bombings. Bosch was also granted safe haven in the United States by Bush I after Costa Rica called for Bosch’s extradition to face terrorist charges.
The US has been calling upon countries to deny Snowden asylum. Despite European leaders spectacle of feigned indignation over NSA eavesdropping in European embassies, all European countries where asylum requests were made have rejected them on legal technicalities. A week ago Vice President Joseph Biden phoned Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to make the case that Snowden was wanted in the US for aiding the enemy and that Ecuador should cooperate with the US in its efforts to have Snowded extradited.
In handling the Snowden case, the Obama Administration makes three disturbing trends immediately obvious.
First, in looking back on America’s complicity in protecting internationally wanted terrorists it becomes clear that it is US policy to defy international law where it impedes US interests and constrains US power. Harboring Carriles, Constant and Bosch clearly violates the September, 2001 UN Security Council Resolution 1373 which states that “countries should not give safe haven or any kind of assistance to people involved in present or past terrorist activities”. In the context of America’s involvement in regime change in Latin America protecting these wanted terrorists was important to the US because each one of them played a vital role in covert operations against leftist regimes the US sought to topple. Carrying out secret dirty wars and installing market friendly, pro-Washington dictators was far more aligned with US interests than adhering to international law. Yet when the US is hell-bent on capturing a target they’ve identified as a threat to national security, in the case of Snowden, someone who has leaked information rather than blowing up planes, and murdering multitudes, it demands that other sovereign nations comply with US laws, both those on the books and those drafted in secret.
Second, the US despite misleading the public with claims to the contrary loves leaks. The example Chris Hayes discussed two weeks back where he takes issue with a report by CNN’s Barbara Starr is illustrative. Starr “wrote a report withinformation leaked to her by anonymous administration and intelligence officials that reveal we know terrorists are changing their methods in response to leaks”. In other words, the Obama Administration distinguishes between good leaks and bad leaks. Good leaks are those that make the President and his Administration, well, look good. Leaks like the New York Times story about how America successfully took down Iranian nuclear centrifuges with the Stuxnet worm and how Obama, by virtue of his preternatural ability to determine good from evil had developed a “kill list” to eliminate terrorists both fall into the good leaks category.
Then there are leaks by whistleblowers like Thomas Drake, John Kirakou, Shami K. Leibowitz, Jeffery Sterling, Bradley Manning, Stephen Kim and most recently Edward Snowden who expose the dark infrastructure of power and call upon the government to answer to their frightening revelations. These are the bad leaks and the Administration has made it known that those responsible for revealing how the government operates behind closed doors will be persecuted.
Third, we can see from the condemnations of whistle blowers by public officials circulating throughout mainstream media that the government works in conjunction with a sympathetic “journalism” industry. Talk shows and radio programs provide the mouthpiece for public officials to frame people like Snowden as unpatriotic traitors in an effort to discredit the information they’ve made public. Vitriolic rhetoric is employed for character assassination. Representative Peter King and Senator Dianne Fienstein have all been played their part denouncing Snowden as vile villain in the latest National Security State directed Broadway spectacular. Noam Chomsky has talked about the kind of smear tactics being employed against Snowed. The government uses them as a tool to “deflect attention from power’s real interests and from those who power serves”. In discrediting Snowden, labeling him a spy, a traitor, the Obama Administration strives to control the discourse where it can communicate what kinds of behavior will not be tolerated – those which challenge the government’s authority to erect a ubiquitous surveillance apparatus, carry out extrajudicial killings, and execute undeclared covert wars- and who will be punished without recourse to civilian courts of law.
The US mission to destroy Edward Snowden and anyone else who tries, even thinks of exposing the dark machinations of power by which it seeks total control, reveals that the impious ends towards which the state and corporate entities it has incorporated reach. Consolidating power and protecting those commanding it from scrutiny is the supreme goal of the Administration. That the US is grounding planes of 29 year-old hackers, spying on allied nations to glean positions on trade deals and persecuting whistleblowers with the same fervor with which bad terrorists are terminated and good terrorists protected is suggestive of the classic hericlitean paradox of opposites. What the Obama Administration believes is required to strengthen national security, protect America, is a tightening on all levers of social control. This goes to show just how far the Administration has gone in its lust for domination. It shows how out of control that seems to those questioning living as subjects under its violent power.
The NSA, the world’s largest intelligence agency and a central part of the United States military apparatus has received access to droves of civilian communications through its recently revealed PRISM program. Like many other top secret domestic surveillance programs, including Stellar Wind, and the FBI led Project Carnivore (now referred to as the Digital Collection System) that aim to vacuum up electronic data on people in the US, PRISM reveals itself as another powerful tool in the governments rapidly growing surveillance arsenal.
The NSA’s PRISM program functions as a “back door” through which the US government can directly access massive reserves of private data from partnership companies. The companies the NSA has partnered with to form PRISM are Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Skype, Paltalk, Youtube, AOL and just this past year Apple. These nine companies which make up the bulk of email, video, search engines, online communications in general, provide the US government with direct access to their servers. In other words the NSA can directly obtain information stored on the companies servers about anyone and conduct real-time data collection on targeted users. According to the Obama Administration with its radical interpretation of powers enumerated in the FISA Amendment this kind of probing is limited and legal. But a quick look at what the FISA Act of 1978 originally set out to accomplish shows how far we have drifted after two administrations from the legal confines of carrying out surveillance and how the criteria for selecting those targets has changed.
Senate Committee findings in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal where federal resources were discovered to have been used by the Nixon administration to spy on political activist groups prompted lawmakers to create judicial and congressional oversight of government surveillance activities while still providing intelligence agencies the secrecy needed to conduct investigations on “foreign powers” and Americans communicating with them. The idea was to strike a balance between intelligence agencies’ needs to intercept communications pertaining to plots to sabotage and attack the United States and US citizens’ constitutional rights to live free from unwarranted searches and seizures. For that reason Congress passed the FISA Act satisfying national security needs to undermine and intercept foreign plots while preserving civil liberties, in particular the right of US citizen to not have their communications eavesdropped on without a court warrant. For thirty years federal investigators would have to show probable cause to a FISA court (a special court of judges responsible for overseeing federal agents requests for surveillance warrants) that the “target of the surveillance is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power.” Intelligence agencies were emboldened by this law to carry out surveillance on actors subversive to US national security. Furthermore the FISA courts posed virtually no obstacle to intelligence agents seeking to obtain warrants. From the period 1979-2006 a total of 22,990 applications for warrants were made to the Court of which 22,985 were approved. In sum, FISA became primary tool for investigators to combat foreign threats and terrorism. The 2001 Patriot Act, Protect America Act of 2007 and the reviled FISA Amendments Act of 2008 changed all of this by vastly expanding the governments powers to conduct surveillance and increase the number of targets it could surveil. Today these are the legal justifications the Obama Administration is using to carry out its massive dragnet.
Last December’s debate about the renewal of the FISA Amendment ACT shed further light on the Administration’s expanding powers.Tthe ACLU published a policy paper that highlighted the constitutional concerns the Act raised. The NSA’s PRISM program makes the following eight concerns a concrete reality.
1. The law gives the government sweeping surveillance power without requiring it to identify the targets of its surveillance.
2. The law allows the government to intercept U.S. citizens’ and residents’ international telephone and email communications without having to identify the facilities, phone lines, email addresses, or locations to be monitored.
3. The law allows the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without meaningful judicial oversight.
4. The law places no meaningful limits on the government’s retention and dissemination of information relating to U.S. citizens and residents.
5. Nothing in the law prevents the government from compiling huge databases of foreign intelligence information and searching those databases later for information about U.S. citizens and residents.
6. The law does not limit government surveillance to communications relating to terrorism.
7. The law gives the government access to some communications that are purely domestic.
8. The law immunizes the telecoms that participated in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.
So what are the implications of the US government having direct access to users data from the largest internet companies including Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Yahoo? While there are many three implications of the PRISM several things immediately stand out.
First and foremost it means that Americans who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism and who pose no threat to national security are having their communications records stored for digital analysis and where deemed necessary for further analysis by intelligence specialists. The Wall Street Journal reported as far back as 2008 that the NSA receives “transactional data” from a variety of agencies and private companies so it can monitor ‘huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records.” When suspicious transaction patterns are detected by the NSA’s sophisticated dragnet software leads are spit out to counter terrorism agencies for investigation.
Second the broad sweeping powers of PRISM assure us that the communications of millions of individuals are being intercepted by the United States without warrants, in total secrecy and save the Obama Administration’s radical interpretation of executive authority so similar to that of his predecessor, in violation of the Constitution.
Third the cooperation of private companies with the NSA blurs any line that distinguishes private telecommunications and internet corporations as separate from the growing surveillance state. From Google to Apple, the nine companies participating in the NSA’s PRISM are complicit in providing services for and carrying out the functions of the the United State’s surveillance apparatus.
Fourth that a military/intelligence institution has become so heavily involved in intercepting and analyzing the private communications of individuals across digital networks suggests nothing but the militarization of communications infrastructure.
Finally in parsing through the private communications of millions of individuals who have no connection to terrorism and who are not suspected of having committed a crime the government is keeping record and analyzing the conversations of its citizenry. In this way it comes to know not only what kinds of terrorists plots are brewing but what it’s citizenry is talking about, thinking. This begs the question, why would a government want to know the thoughts of the governed and why would it want to hide the fact that it monitors their communications?