Tag Archives: target

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.)

Tuesday Evenings News Roundup

News Roundup

Angelina Jolie

Well, there’s been plenty of news lately.

Benghazi continues to dominate the news. Here’s what we know. A group of terrorists attacked a poorly defended United States Embassy in Benghazi. Four Americans were killed, including Ambassador Stevens. The Sunday following the Benghazi attack, Ambassador Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows and recited talking points that were given to her by the intelligence community. The talking points included some erroneous information which suggested that there was a protest or demonstration prior to the attack and that this protest was fueled by an anti-Muslim video. There was no protest. This has been clearly stated. Several eyewitnesses who were interviewed stated that there was no protest prior to the attack on the Benghazi compound. The multiple emails that crafted the talking points have been revealed to the public. Neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton had anything to do with crafting the talking points. Secondly, and most importantly, was the security at the Benghazi compound. Why was security so bad? That question has been answered. What is clear is that the official report clearly points to the State Department for dropping the ball.

The IRS story which broke on Monday has really gained even more traction today. It’s an outrage! Yet, when you look at the story, I’m not sure what the outrage is all about. Yes, the IRS did target conservative groups but those groups still got their tax-exempt status. Maybe the process was onerous and overly burdensome but they were not denied that status. Should the IRS single out conservative or liberal groups? Of course not. The bottom line, as far as I can tell, is although those groups were singled out, they still got fair treatment. (An inspector general’s report has already been compiled.)

I would like to spend a little bit of time talking about an op-ed that Angelina Jolie wrote in the New York Times. The Academy award-winning actress talked about a bilateral mastectomy that she had because she had a defective gene which makes her more prone to breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Her mother died of cancer. Ms. Jolie does not state what kind of cancer her mother had. She goes into great detail about BRCA1. She is incredibly knowledgeable. All the facts that she presented, as far as I know, are correct. She was at incredibly high risk for developing breast cancer and also at high risk for developing ovarian cancer. What she didn’t reveal, but which is clear from the article, is that she had knowledgeable physicians and surgeons. She was able to discuss her gene mutation and get thoughtful answers from her physicians. She then made a thoughtful, informed decision. I applaud Angelina Jolie for standing up and discussing her healthcare and her healthcare problems. The one thing that is clear is that she was able to afford whatever procedures she wanted to undertake. That’s a luxury than many women cannot afford. In my opinion, her op-ed points to two things that all women need: accurate, reliable information and affordable healthcare. Then all women can make informed decisions.

The national deficit is going to be $200 billion less than previously projected.

Mark Sanford will be sworn in as Congressman to the great state of South Carolina on Wednesday.

Seriously, did Dick Cheney, former vice president, actually have the nerve to say that the Obama administration missed repeated warnings about Benghazi? Really? Should I ask? Did he and President Bush miss repeated warnings about…

Minnesota passes same-sex marriage.

Here’s a nice nugget on Benghazi – For fiscal 2013, the GOP-controlled House proposed spending $1.934 billion for the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program — well below the $2.15 billion requested by the Obama administration. House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. (Negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate restored about $88 million of the administration’s request.) Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be “detrimental to America’s national security” — a charge Republicans rejected.

Israel bombs Syria

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Well, this ups the ante.

From NYT:

Israel aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight Thursday, an Obama administration official said Friday night, as United States officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes. Continue reading Israel bombs Syria