"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Saturday, August 10, 2013

NSA Oversight -- Right (Update, Update II)

Digby has a good post on this this morning, that sort of sums up everything that's wrong with trusting the government to govern itself, at least as far as safeguarding Americans' privacy rights. To start off, Digby has this choice little bit from the Guardian:

The National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens' email and phone calls without a warrant, according to a top-secret document passed to the Guardian by Edward Snowden.

The previously undisclosed rule change allows NSA operatives to hunt for individual Americans' communications using their name or other identifying information. Senator Ron Wyden told the Guardian that the law provides the NSA with a loophole potentially allowing "warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans".

The authority, approved in 2011, appears to contrast with repeated assurances from Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials to both Congress and the American public that the privacy of US citizens is protected from the NSA's dragnet surveillance programs.

I'm sure you've all heard this story, from the late days of the Bush administration:
Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer.

"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.

Do you think anything has changed under Obama? Then:
In testimony before Congress, then-NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden, now director of the CIA, said private conversations of Americans are not intercepted.

"It's not for the heck of it. We are narrowly focused and drilled on protecting the nation against al Qaeda and those organizations who are affiliated with it," Gen. Hayden testified.

He was asked by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), "Are you just doing this because you just want to pry into people's lives?"

"No, sir," General Hayden replied.

And now:

The day after the Guardian revealed details of the NSA's Prism program, President Obama said: "Now, with respect to the internet and emails, this doesn't apply to US citizens and it doesn't apply to people living in the United States."

Speaking at a House hearing on 18 June this year, deputy attorney general James Cole told legislators "[T]here's a great deal of minimization procedures that are involved here, particularly concerning any of the acquisition of information that deals or comes from US persons.

"As I said, only targeting people outside the United States who are not US persons. But if we do acquire any information that relates to a US person, under limited criteria only can we keep it."

Do you believe that?

Digby has what I think is the best summation:

There is every reason to be skeptical about the NSA's oversight of its own programs. After all, Edward Snowden was able to do a whole lot of things they claim nobody can do. Is it reasonable to think that there aren't other operatives digging in where they shouldn't be? Or certain people who think they have good patriotic reasons to do it and can't see why a stupid legal technicality should stand in the way? These are human beings not machines. They can talk themselves into anything.

My own prediction, based on my admittedly jaundiced view of the government and its respect for the Constitution, as filtered through "national security!!11!!!": This will change when major corporations find out how much of their "privileged" communication is sitting in a government data storage facility.

Update: Another post from Digby, with the president's response to the stories coming out about the abuse of the NSA surveillance apparatus.

He seemed to have been saying today that Snowden's revelations ruined his plan to have an orderly investigation of the NSA programs even though there is no evidence that he was doing any such thing. Certainly, there is no evidence that there was any "plan" to inform the American people since the senators who were running around with their hair on fire were lied to right to their face in open testimony by the intelligence community.

Somebody's in full damage control mode.

And another story on the President's news conference, from TPM, with a slightly different take:

President Barack Obama made it clear Friday he has no intention of stopping the daily collection of American phone records. And while he offered “appropriate reforms,” he blamed government leaks for creating distrust of his domestic spying program.

No, Mr. President, the distrust has been created because you and the national security apparatus have far overstepped the bounds of what's allowable and lied to us about it. That's what's created "distrust."

And this just points out how clueless Obama and everyone else in Washington is:

“Understandably, people would be concerned,” the president said. “I would be, too, if I weren’t inside the government.”


Update II
And from Glenn Greenwald, favorite bete noir of some elements in our polity. (Fine, he has an agenda. Good luck finding someone who doesn't. And I happen to agree with most of Greenwald's.)

A Texas-based encrypted email service recently revealed to be used by Edward Snowden - Lavabit - announced yesterday it was shutting itself down in order to avoid complying with what it perceives as unjust secret US court orders to provide government access to its users' content.

What's instructive is this:

What is particularly creepy about the Lavabit self-shutdown is that the company is gagged by law even from discussing the legal challenges it has mounted and the court proceeding it has engaged. In other words, the American owner of the company believes his Constitutional rights and those of his customers are being violated by the US Government, but he is not allowed to talk about it. Just as is true for people who receive National Security Letters under the Patriot Act, Lavabit has been told that they would face serious criminal sanctions if they publicly discuss what is being done to their company. Thus we get hostage-message-sounding missives like this:
I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what's going on - the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests."

Via Balloon Juice. John Cole has a slightly different take on my prediction about big business, above:
Money talks, which is why we had a big press conference today. You and I can’t afford a lobbyist, but you start screwing with the high tech industry’s bottom line, and you bet your ass some changes will be coming.

Talk among yourselves.

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