Tag Archives: judgment

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.)

A Couple of Thoughts for Today

  • In Wisconsin, unions are finally standing up. I know there are those in the United States who truly hate unions. They have one or two union stories which have colored their judgment. The reason that you and I don’t work to exhaustion every single day, seven days a week, is because of unions. These are rights which were fought for. Let’s be honest with each other. There are the workers and then there are the executives. The executives give up nothing for free. Workers have to come together in order to bargain with management. If you bargain with management as an individual, most likely, you’ll be fired. Management can get five or 10 more just like you without lifting a finger. So, the only time the management listens to labor is when labor threatens to shut down operations. Unions have fought and won against child labor. Our country is better off because children are in school and not working 12-hour shifts on assembly lines. This wasn’t because of some great president who had some idea. Instead, the child labor laws came about because of unions. The reason we work 40 hours a week is because unions stood up against management. Everyone, in the United States, has benefited from unions standing together. So, I want to be in Madison, Wisconsin with American workers fighting for right that they earned more than 60 years ago, to collective bargaining.

  • Sometimes, I find it truly amazing that politicians ever get out of their house. It seems like they’re just too in love with themselves to leave the mirror. They believe their yes-men. Remember Rick Santorum, former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, who thought he could run for president? He could not even win reelection in his own state. Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi, is one of these egotistical nut jobs. I’m not sure who told him that he was made of presidential stuff, but he has started to believe this. Mississippi is in the bottom five of almost every meaningful category there is. This is what Haley Barbour’s going to run on? Now, let’s not forget that he supported, to be more correct – strongly supported, these Citizen Councils, pro-segregation watchdog groups, vigilante groups which roamed South during the middle part of the last century. Mississippi is coming up with a license plate top honor Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. If ever you wanted to make a statement that would separate Mississippi from its racist past, this would be the time. Haley Barbour has said nothing. He’s been given opportunities on national stages to stand up and oppose the founder of the Ku Klux Klan on the Mississippi license plate, but no. Haley Barbour may be a brilliant political mind. He may be the Einstein of politics, but I just don’t see it. He reminds me of the Giuliani of politics. Remember when Rudy Giuliani decided he was going to skip Iowa, South Carolina and then sort of run in Florida? Remember when the pundits were saying how he was gonna save all this money and build up his warchest? How did that work out for Rudy Giuliani? Right now, and I’ll happy to say that I’m wrong if I’m wrong, Haley Barbour looks like a buffoon.

Blago is impeached

Some things seem almost inevitable. It’s like that cartoon heroine who is tied to the tracks. Unfortunately, Dudley Do Right is busy and can’t come to the rescue. Governor Rod Blagojevich was going to be impeached. The federal tapes were damning. The Illinois legislature went through a slow but deliberate process. They did not rush to judgment. They looked at the evidence before them and overwhelmingly concluded that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich should be removed from office. The vote was 59-0. President Barack Obama said in a statement, “Today ends a painful episode for Illinois.”

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