Tag Archives: glenn greenwald

Our schizophrenic attitude toward war

It wa just a couple of years ago that we were still stinging from starting the never-ending Iraq war. We didn’t want to invade anybody. We didn’t want to bomb anybody. We wanted to get out. That attitude was so yesterday. According to a new CNN poll, we are ready to R-U-M-B-L-E with ISIS.

I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t have any good answers for ISIS or Syria, or for Afghanistan for that matter. All of these places look like black holes in which we can throw both troops and money at the problem for years without resolution. Our money isn’t infinite. Our resources are limited.

If we are to believe the press, ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is a threat to the United States. They aren’t a threat some time in the future. They are a threat today. We’ve gotta do something. Now.

Glenn Greenwald points out the obvious. In 2003, six months after we invaded Iraq, a majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents thought that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. The press and the White House have led us down this road before. Hopefully, we are older, smarter and wiser now. We can listen to Senator John McCain or we can sit back and think. How can we really neutralize or eliminate ISIS without throwing trillions of dollars into the Middle East money pit and killing thousands of innocents?

Blog Changes

blog

My old theme was killing me. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t like it. I’m hoping that I like this theme a little better. If you have some ideas on how you would want the blog to look please let me know.

For reasons that are unclear, I wandered into my blog roll. I’m not sure why I did that. Many links were dead. Pam’s House Blend had moved to FireDogLake. I didn’t know that. Then Pam closed the blog due to health reasons, I think. She was a wonderful voice on the internet. She will be missed. Glenn Greenwald has moved from Salon to the Guardian. Some blogs, I have no idea what happened. Those blogs had long gone cold, so I deleted them.

Anyway, I will be playing with the look of the blog over the next several days. I appreciate your input and your patience.

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.)