Tag Archives: foreigners

NSA clarification

I have written that we really didn’t know what was going on at the NSA. Well, this week we got some clarification.

From Kevin Drum:

Today, in the latest release of classified NSA documents from Glenn Greenwald, we finally got a look at these minimization procedures. Here’s the nickel summary:

The top secret documents published today detail the circumstances in which data collected on US persons under the foreign intelligence authority must be destroyed, extensive steps analysts must take to try to check targets are outside the US, and reveals how US call records are used to help remove US citizens and residents from data collection.

I have a feeling it must have killed Glenn to write that paragraph. But on paper, anyway, the minimization procedures really are pretty strict. If NSA discovers that it’s mistakenly collected domestic content, it’s required to cease the surveillance immediately and destroy the information it’s already collected. However, there are exceptions. They can:

Retain and make use of “inadvertently acquired” domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity.

The Guardian has posted two classified documents online. The first one describes the procedure for determining whether a surveillance target is legitimate (i.e., a non-U.S. person located outside the country). The second one describes the minimization procedures in case of inadvertent targeting of a U.S. person. There are a few obvious things to say about them:

  • The determination document repeatedly emphasizes that NSA bases its decisions on the “totality of the circumstances.” There are quite a few safeguards listed to make sure that only foreigners are targeted, but in the end these are often judgment calls from analysts.
  • The minimization procedures are fairly strict, but they do allow retention and disseminationof domestic data—without a warrant—under quite a few circumstances. “Threat of harm” is pretty broad, as is “criminal activity.” The latter, in fact, seems like a loophole the size of a Mack truck. It suggests that NSA could have a significant incentive to “inadvertently” hoover up as much domestic information as possible so it can search for evidence of criminal activity to hand over to the FBI.
  • The oversight procedures are pretty thin. Analysts have quite a bit of discretion here.

It’s genuinely unclear how big a problem this stuff is. It’s plainly true that determining whether someone is a U.S. person is sometimes a judgment call, and it’s possible that mistakes are rare. What’s more, if collection of domestic content genuinely is inadvertent, and is only occasionally turned over to other agencies when there’s evidence of serious crime, we should all feel better about this. But we really have no way of knowing. That would require, say, an inspector general to gather this kind of information, and the IG has specifically declined to do this.

Also, note that the documents posted by the Guardian are from 2009. It’s quite possible that procedures have changed since then.

(Editor’s note – for me the take-home lesson is there is still a lot that we don’t know.)

Dumb and Dumber… or is it stupid and stupider?

I’m really not much for burning things. Occasionally, burning firewood is probably okay. I don’t tend to burn trash. I’ve taken care of way too many people who’ve been blown up by “surprises” in the trash. I know that many people like to burn things. Some are fascinated by fire. Others simply like to destroy things. I think the burning of books is kind of futile and stupid. I think that burning religious books, whether the Bible or the Koran or the Torah, is also stupid.

Booman has more:
Burning books is stupid. Getting mad about burned books is stupid. Killing people who had nothing to do with burning any books because you’re mad that a book got burned? That’s World Champion Stupid. It’s especially stupid because the moron preacher from Florida only had something like 30 congregants that he could pull together for his little game with matches. You’re going to kill random people because of what happened in someone’s living room on the other side of the world?I feel badly for everyone who died or sustained injuries, but I feel especially badly for the five Nepalese guards who were killed. They were killed with their own weapons because they refused to use them on unarmed protesters. They went to work for the United Nations and this is their reward. It makes me angry, frankly.

The people who work for the UN in Afghanistan aren’t too happy about it.

Foreigners committed to assisting in the rebuilding of Afghanistan have long accepted the possibility that they might die at the hands of warring parties, but this degree of violence from ordinary citizens is not something most of us factored into our decision to work here……This is not the beginning of the end for the international community in Afghanistan. This is the end. Terry Jones and others will continue to pull anti-Islam stunts and opportunistic extremists here will use those actions to incite attacks against foreigners. Unless we, the internationals, want our guards to fire on unarmed protestors from now on, the day has come for us to leave Afghanistan.

And then there’s this:

The act drew little response worldwide, but provoked angry condemnation in this region, where it was reported in the local media and where anti-American sentiment already runs high. Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan condemned the burning in an address before Parliament, and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Thursday called on the United States to bring those responsible for the Koran burning to justice.A prominent Afghan cleric, Mullah Qyamudin Kashaf, the acting head of the influential Ulema Council of Afghanistan and a Karzai appointee, also called for American authorities to arrest and try Mr. Jones in the Koran burning.

I’m all for showing some basic respect for other people’s religious faith, but every last one of these jerks can kiss my ass. This is America, and we can burn any damn book we want any damn time we want. No one is going to arrest this fruitcake for burning a book and the fact that you think that we should arrest him means that you don’t understand the first thing about what it means to live in a free society with freedom of conscience. The dumb preacher got a bunch of innocent people killed, but only because a bunch of equally dumb people decided to murder people who had no responsibility or relationship to the man who instigated their ire. And who kills someone for burning a book? I don’t care that the book is sacred. It was probably published in New York before it sat in a Border’s warehouse for months waiting for some religious nutjob to buy it. Just like any other book, it was lit ablaze when the temperature hit 451 degrees fahrenheit. Allah didn’t intervene to prevent the burning, so it must have been something he felt like he had under control. I hope he isn’t the kind of guy who thinks his honor is protected by butchering UN aid workers.

You know what would also be stupid? If I responded to all this by killing the next five short people I see. I’ll just kill them and say I did it because it made as much sense to do it as it did to burn a Koran…or kill people because a Koran was burned. Why not? If you look at it just right, you know they had it coming.