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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

News Roundup – Leaks, Edward Snowden, Jobs (Update – Chad goes to jail)

Edward Snowden

Leaks and who gets to leak – Snowden and many others have now said that these leaks are important and justified because the public needs to decide whether this is being done in their name. Basically I disagree with that (the justification for the leak). But it does raise a basic point that it is inherently difficult for the public to make fully informed decisions about intelligence work done in its name. Yet, who gets to do this? Snowden says it’s up to the public. But it’s really more like Snowden and Greenwald have made that decision on the public’s behalf.

Edward Snowden is the source – The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell. The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said. (more…)

By |2013-06-12T22:11:59-04:00June 10th, 2013|National Intelligence, Sports|4 Comments

Grab bag Tuesday Morning

Steve McCurry's famous 1984 photo

  • When Kodak gives you the last roll of Kodachrome film, what do you do with it? Famous photojournalist Steve McCurry tells us exactly what he did with the last roll. Sometimes, I am really amazed at how things have changed.
  • Another no-hitter? It seems like 15 years ago we couldn’t keep the baseball in the park (tons of home runs). Now, pitchers rule. What happened?
  • I’ve never been a fan of Tom Tancredo. I think he is reckless and dangerous. I think he is taking the politics of divide and conquer to a new level. When he decided not to run for reelection, there was the question of whether he was going to run for president. That lasted about 10 minutes. Now he’s running for governor of Colorado, sort of. The craziness continues.
  • It appears that a minor military contractor is up to his luxury cars in trouble.
  • I guess there was a time when I was more enthusiastic about Afghanistan than I am today. I thought that continued military engagement was necessary. I also thought it was critically important that we help them build infrastructure and an economy (not based on poppy seeds). It looks like thousands of pages of secret documents have been leaked to the press. There is a suggestion of a link between the Taliban and some within the Pakistani military force. No surprise there.
  • BTW, are we still in Iraq? Militants stealing blood?
  • I’m not sure that Elizabeth Warren is the right person to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It isn’t that she isn’t smart enough. She’s plenty smart. I’m afraid that putting her in charge of a minor agency buried deep within the bowels of a Department of the Treasury will give her little or no opportunity to really speak up for the American people. She needs a bigger stage. Then again, maybe she can make that stage bigger.
  • More Americans are moving. This does not look to be a good thing.

Anything to add?

By |2010-07-27T07:11:41-04:00July 27th, 2010|Afghanistan, Economy, Iraq, Party Politics, Sports|Comments Off on Grab bag Tuesday Morning
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