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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.)

By |2013-06-23T22:26:43-04:00June 22nd, 2013|Domestic Spying|Comments Off on NSA clarification

Trayvon Martin – Update

What a difference a week makes. Last week, it seemed that I was the only one shouting in the wilderness about Trayvon Martin. Then some of the mainstream media began to report on this bizarre shooting. Color of Change got involved and collected signatures. Yesterday, or over the weekend, also got involved.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

From HuffPo:

The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have opened an investigation into the “facts and circumstances” surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager shot and killed last month by a neighborhood watch captain in an Orlando suburb.

The department will “conduct a thorough and independent review of all evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation,” according to a statement late Monday.

The announcement comes as the drumbeat around the case continues to grow, becoming national news and shining a brighter media spotlight on the city of Sanford, where the killing occurred, and its police department, which handled the initial investigation that so far has failed to bring charges.

By |2012-04-05T20:48:41-04:00March 20th, 2012|Legal, Race|3 Comments

Why Occupy will succeed

At the core of the #Occupy movement is the belief that the people of the United States are being poorly represented. We work hard but have little to show for it at the end of the day. Many of us want to work but can’t find a job. We look to Congress to help and they spend days reading the Constitution and passing a resolution reaffirming that our country’s motto is In God We Trust. #Occupy is about the American people. It is about an ancient idea that we the people have the power to change our circumstances. A couple of days ago Markos posted 10 stories about Americans moving their money in spite of the fact that their banks tried to stop them.

From DK:

The bank said “You’ll be back.”
Even when banks don’t call the police, they whine to their customers like jilted boyfriends:

At Wells Fargo, my sister walked up to the teller and politely asked to close her account. The teller said, “No problem.” She pulled up her account and saw the balance and told her that due to the amount she had to speak with the branch manager. The branch manager came out. He was probably 30 years old and was very arrogant. He asked my sister why she wanted to close her account and my sister told him she thought Wells Fargo was part of the problem with the economy. He went thru some talking points about why she shouldn’t move her money, but my sister didn’t back down. When he asked her where she was going she told him that she would be banking at the North Carolina State Employees Credit Union. She isn’t a state employee, but anyone can join if you are related to a state employee. It turns out her husband is. Anyway, the bankster told her “You’ll be back. Credit unions can’t provide the services you need.” We’ll see about that. She withdrew over $200k from Wells Fargo. [Emphasis added]

“Management is nervous”
In the midst of begging customers not to leave, every once in a while banks can let it slip just how scared they are:

The manager was pleasant enough and very direct. After introducing herself she flat out asked “What can we do to change your mind?” “We don’t want to see you go” she emphasized. This opened a door for me to further explain my decision to leave the bank and why I was doing it. Amazingly, it did not fall on deaf ears. She indicated that understood where I was coming from and actually showed genuine surprise at some of the facts I provided her about the less than consumer friendly policies and machinations of her employer. She did make some feeble counter-arguments and repeatedly asked me if I would change my mind (with a hint of desperation!). I stood firm and by the end of our conversation she asked if I would be willing to put it all in writing so she could send it up the chain.
She shared that management is nervous, they are seeing money leaking out of the bank and realize that they have made mistakes. She even hinted that there has been high-level discussion on reversing the new fess since there has been so much consumer push-back. [Emphasis added]

The fees were reversed soon after this was posted.

They’re offering cash for customers to open up accounts
It’s silly to argue that they don’t want cash deposits, yet they’re offering cold, hard cash for those who will, well, deposit cash.

There’s a lot of fine print involved, but basically, they will pay me $200 to move my checking account to them provided that:
1) I make one bill payment through the account each month
2) The account has a balance of $10,000 as of 1/20/2012
3) I wait ’till April for the $200 (giving me about 4% interest on my $10k)
4) I don’t close my credit card account
5) I don’t violate of any of their nit-picky procedures in the fine print
6) They don’t decide to simply screw me and not pay up: “Bank of America may change or terminate this offer before this date without notice…”

Well! I had been told that banks didn’t need deposits. I guess that’s not true, otherwise why would they be running (cough, cough) to sign me up – and offering cold hard cash as well?

They’re pretending it’s no big deal
You know there’s something happening when they’re circulating talking points.

In a truly random set of circumstances I found myself stopping by three separate Wells Fargo locations yesterday […]
[Branch 1:] While we were making small talk, I casually asked, “So, how many people closed out accounts this weekend?”

The cashier said, “Oh it was just two or three people. Not many at all.” […]

[Wells Fargo embedded in Whole Foods:] While chatting it up, I asked, “So, how many people closed out their accounts here on Saturday? “

The Teller said, “Just two or three people closed their accounts. Only two said it was because of Bank Transfer Day.” […]

[Branch 2:] I was talking to Mr. Branch Manager2 while I was getting the passport, I casually said, “So, how many people closed their accounts on Saturday?”

Mr. Branch Manager2 said, “Oh, it was just 2 or 3 people. They had very small amounts of money with us.” […]

Was there a corporate wide memo with talking points? I don’t have any proof but it does make me wonder how only “…2 or 3 people” closed their accounts at three different Wells Fargo…

They’ll fight tooth and nail for empty accounts
It doesn’t even matter if a checking account is in use. They’ll do everything possible to keep people from closing them.

I didn’t even know he was talking with BoA, but when he had repeated the entire chain of circumstances for the fourth or fifth time, to the same person, getting louder each time, I knew something was definitely screwy. I mean, this is an account that had never held any actual balance. Had never had any checks written. For years. And never would.
Why the hell would a bank want to keep it open?

Eventually my schedule caught up with me and I had to leave, with Ed still bellowing the same story into the phone over and over. I was able to come back an hour or so later, after he was finally off the phone, and asked if that happened to be BoA.

Well, yes, of course it was.

More at DK.

By |2011-11-18T10:51:00-04:00November 18th, 2011|Domestic Issues|Comments Off on Why Occupy will succeed
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