Tag Archives: intelligence

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.)

Zero Dark Thirty

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Simply put, Zero Dark Thirty is an enjoyable thriller. I thought the writing was tight. I thought the direction was good, if not inspired. This movie hinges on the performance of Jessica Chastain. I have been out of the moviegoing business for a while. I don’t remember seeing her in anything else. (I think that says something about me and not about the number of movies she’s been in.) Anyway, Jessica Chastain is brilliant.

There’s a lot of scuttlebutt out in the community that this movie is nothing more than an expensive piece of propaganda for the White House and Barack Obama. Just like most things that are NOT true in our society, I have no idea where this came from. It simply isn’t true. I have seen the movie once. While watching the movie, I did listen for the president’s name to be mentioned and I didn’t hear it. This movie does not glorify the White House or Obama.  Neither is mentioned. This story is about the CIA finding Bin Laden.  Continue reading Zero Dark Thirty

Sunday Evening News Roundup

Sunday Evening News Roundup

The great George McGovern has died. Gary Hart has this remembrance.

Robert Redford gives us reasons to vote for President Barack Obama.

Romney continues to have a loose affiliation with the truth. I love this “women in binders” comment. We found out that Mitt didn’t go out and demand to have women in his cabinet. So, let’s look at Mitt Romney and Bain Capital. If Romney truly wanted to hire minorities and women, Bain was his company. Had he wanted it to happen, it would have. Guess what? It didn’t happen.

To me, it is clear that Mitt Romney doesn’t have any foreign policy chops. Look for Romney to try to continue to push the Libya situation during the Monday night debate. It is critical for Barack Obama put an end to all of the discussion over Libya. Obama has the intelligence. He needs to make this happen.

From C&L:

In advance of Monday’s presidential debate, Obama for America is laying out Mitt Romney’s five easy steps for crafting foreign policy in a new video. By following this simple plan, Romney is sure to be a blundering success.

Step 1: Get the facts wrong;
Step 2: Undermine long-lasting relationships with your allies;
Step 3: Frequently highlight your lack of experience;
Step 4: Assemble a team of ideologues committed to endless war;
Step 5: Mistake your enemies (“C’mon, Mitt…think!”).

That’s it: five easy steps to successfully lead America on the world stage – blunder by blunder.