The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. August 5, 2013: “It with utter predictability that we see the highly entertaining stories about “Muslim bomb threats to US embassy buildings” in the Middle East. These brilliant disclosures are credited to the “wonderful and very important” work of the NSA, work that simply must go on unimpeded. This is the sort of bad fiction we see daily on government controlled blogs and in the pages of such government (here read CIA) friendly newspapers like the captive New York Times. If the CIA wants a story killed, the New York Times will kill it. If the CIA wants to plant a story, the New York Times prints it, above the fold. Since the Internet would be impossible to totally control, the government agencies are having a difficult time shoving their ongoing lies, perversions and bovine feces onto a public that no longer believes a word they say.”
Now You See Him, Now You Don’t
Living in a One-Superpower World (or Edward Snowden vs. Robert Seldon Lady)
July 29, 2013
by Tom Engelhardt,
He came and he went: that was the joke that circulated in 1979 when 70-year-old former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller had a heart attack and died in his Manhattan townhouse in the presence of his evening-gown-clad 25-year-old assistant. In a sense, the same might be said of retired CIA operative Robert Seldon Lady.
Recently, Lady proved a one-day wonder. After years in absentia – poof! – he reappeared out of nowhere on the border between Panama and Costa Rica, and made the news when Panamanian officials took him into custody on an Interpol warrant. The CIA’s station chief in Milan back in 2003, he had achieved brief notoriety for overseeing a la dolce vita version of extraordinary rendition as part of Washington’s Global War on Terror. His colleagues kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical Muslim cleric and terror suspect, off the streets of Milan, and rendered him via U.S. airbases in Italy and Germany to the torture chambers of Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. Lady evidently rode shotgun on that transfer.
His Agency associates proved to be the crew that couldn’t spook straight. They left behind such a traceable trail of five-star-hotel and restaurant bills, charges on false credit cards, and unencrypted cell phone calls that the Italian government tracked them down, identified them, and charged 23 of them, Lady included, with kidnapping.
Lady fled Italy, leaving behind a multimillion-dollar villa near Turin meant for his retirement. (It was later confiscated and sold to make restitution payments to Nasr.) Convicted in absentia in 2009, Lady received a nine-year sentence (later reduced to six). He had by then essentially vanished after admitting to an Italian newspaper, “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re at war against terrorism.”
Last week, the Panamanians picked him up. It was the real world equivalent of a magician’s trick. He was nowhere, then suddenly in custody and in the news, and then – poof again! – he wasn’t. Just 24 hours after the retired CIA official found himself under lock and key, he was flown out of Panama, evidently under the protection of Washington, and in mid-air, heading back to the United States, vanished a second time.
State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters on July 19th, “It’s my understanding that he is in fact either en route or back in the United States.” So there he was, possibly in mid-air heading for the homeland and, as far as we know, as far as reporting goes, nothing more. Consider it the CIA version of a miracle. Instead of landing, he just evaporated.
And that was that. Not another news story here in the U.S.; no further information from government spokespeople on what happened to him, or why the administration decided to extricate him from Panama and protect him from Italian justice. Nor, as far as I can tell, were there any further questions from the media. When TomDispatch inquired of the State Department, all it got was this bit of stonewallese: “We understand that a U.S citizen was detained by Panamanian authorities, and that Panamanian immigration officials expelled him from Panama on July 19. Panama’s actions are consistent with its rights to determine whether to admit or expel non-citizens from its territory.”
In other words, he came and he went.
Edward Snowden: The Opposite of a Magician’s Trick
When Lady was first detained, there was a little flurry of news stories and a little frisson of tension. Would a retired CIA agent convicted of a serious crime involving kidnapping and torture be extradited to Italy to serve his sentence? But that tension had no chance to build because (as anyone might have predicted) luck was a Lady that week.
After all, the country that took him into custody on that Interpol warrant was a genuine rarity in a changing Latin America. It was still an ally of the United States, which had once built a canal across its territory, controlled its politics for years, and in 1989 sent in the U.S. military to forcefully sort out those politics once again. Italy wanted Lady back and evidently requested that Panama hand him over (though the countries had no extradition treaty). But could anyone be surprised by what happened or by the role Washington clearly played in settling Lady’s fate? If you had paid any attention to the global pressure Washington was exerting in an “international manhunt” to get Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower it had already charged under the draconian Espionage Act, back to its shores, you knew which direction Robert Seldon Lady would be heading when he hit the nearest plane out of Panama – and I don’t mean Italy.
But here was the curious thing: when Panama sent him north, not east, there wasn’t the slightest ripple of U.S. media curiosity about the act or what lay behind it. Lady simply disappeared. While the Italian minister of justice “deeply regretted” Panama’s decision, there was not, as far as I can tell, a single editorial, outraged or otherwise, anywhere in this country questioning the Obama administration’s decision not to allow a convicted criminal to be brought to justice in the courts of a democratic ally or even praising Washington’s role in protecting him. And we’re not talking about a media with no interest in trials in Italy. Who doesn’t remember the wall-to-wall coverage of the murder trial (and retrial) of American student Amanda Knox there? For the American media, however, Lady clearly lacked Knox’s sex appeal (nor would he make millions off a future account of his Italian sojourn).
In this same period, there was, of course, another man who almost magically disappeared. In a transit area of Moscow’s international airport, Edward Snowden discovered that the U.S. government had deprived him of his passport and was determined to bring him back to Washington by just about any means to stand trial. That included forcing the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales, returning from Moscow, to make an unscheduled landing in Austria and be searched for Snowden.
The NSA whistleblower was trapped in a kind of no-man’s-land by an Obama administration demanding that the Russians turn him over or face the consequences. After which, for days, he disappeared from sight. In his case, unlike Lady’s, however, Washington never stopped talking about him and the media never stopped speculating on his fate. It hasn’t yet.
He’s only appeared in public once since his “disappearance” – at a press conference at that airport with human rights activists from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The U.S. government promptly deplored and denounced the event as something Moscow “facilitated” or “orchestrated,” a “propaganda platform,” and a State Department spokesperson even suggested that Snowden, not yet convicted of anything, shouldn’t have the right to express himself in Moscow or anywhere else.
The truth is: when it comes to Snowden, official Washington can’t shut up. Congressional figures have denounced him as a “traitor” or a “defector.” The world has repeatedly been lectured from the bully pulpit in our national capital on how necessary his return and trial is to freedom, justice, and global peace. Snowden, it seems, represents the opposite of a magician’s trick. He can’t disappear even when he wants to. Washington won’t let him, not now, not – as officials have made clear – ever. It’s a matter of morality that he faces the law and pays the (already preordained) price for his “crime.” This, in today’s Washington, is what passes for a self-evident truth.
The Lady Vanishes
It’s no less a self-evident truth in Washington that Robert Seldon Lady must be protected from the long (Italian) arm of the law, that he is a patriot who did his duty, that it is the job of the U.S. government to keep him safe and never allow him to be prosecuted, just as it is the job of that government to protect, not prosecute, CIA torturers who took part in George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror.
So there are two men, both of whom, Washington is convinced, must be brought in: one to face “justice,” one to escape it. And all of this is a given, nothing that needs to be explained or justified to anyone anywhere, not even by a Constitutional law professor president. (Of course, if someone had been accused of kidnapping and rendering an American Christian fundamentalist preacher and terror suspect off the streets of Milan to Moscow or Tehran or Beijing, it would no less self-evidently be a different matter.)
Don’t make the mistake, however, of comparing Washington’s positions on Snowden and Lady and labeling the Obama administration’s words and actions “hypocrisy.” There’s no hypocrisy involved. This is simply the living definition of what it means to exist in a one-superpower world for the first time in history. For Washington, the essential rule of thumb goes something like this: we do what we want; we get to say what we want about what we do; and U.N. ambassadorial nominee Samantha Powers then gets to lecture the world on human rights and oppression.
This version of how it all works is so much the norm in Washington that few there are likely to see any contradiction at all between the Obama administration’s approaches to Snowden and Lady, nor evidently does the Washington media. Its particular blind spots, when it comes to Washington’s actions, remain striking – as when the U.S. effectively downed the Bolivian president and his plane. Although it was an act of seemingly self-evident illegality, there was no serious reporting, no digging when it came to the behind-the-scenes acts of the U.S. government, which clearly pressured four or five European governments (one of which may have been Italy) to collude in the act. Nor, weeks later, has there been any follow-up by the Washington media. In other words, an act unique in recent history, which left European powers disgruntled and left much of Latin America up in arms, has disappeared without explanation, analysis, punditry, or editorial comment here. Undoubtedly, given the lack of substantial coverage, few Americans even know it happened.
The lucky Mr. Lady’s story has followed a similar trajectory. Having vanished in mid-air, he has managed so far not to reappear anywhere in the U.S. press. What followed was no further news, editorial silence, and utter indifference to an act of protection that might otherwise have seemed to define illegality on an international level. There was no talk in the media, in Congress, or anywhere else about the U.S. handing over a convicted criminal to Italy, just about how the Russians must return a man Washington considers a criminal to justice.
This, then, is our world: a single megapower has, since September 2001, been in a financing and construction frenzy to create the first global surveillance state; its torturers run free; its kidnappers serve time at liberty in this country and are rescued if they venture abroad; and its whistleblowers – those who would let the rest of us know what “our” government is doing in our name – are pilloried. And so it goes.
All of it adds up to a way of life and the everyday tradecraft of a one-superpower world. Too bad Alfred Hitchcock isn’t around to remake some of his old classics. Imagine what a thriller The Lady Vanishes would be today.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (just published in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.
How low-paid workers at ‘click farms’ create appearance of online popularity
Investigation finds fake Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter followers could be misleading consumers
August 2, 2013
by Charles Arthur, technology editor
How much do you like courgettes? According to one Facebook page devoted to them, hundreds of people find them delightful enough to click the “like” button – even with dozens of other pages about courgettes to choose from.
There’s just one problem: the liking was fake, done by a team of low-paid workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, whose boss demanded just $15 per thousand “likes” at his “click farm”. Workers punching the keys might be on a three-shift system, and be paid as little as $120 a year.
The ease with which a humble vegetable could win approval calls into question the basis on which many modern companies measure success online – through Facebook likes, YouTube video views and Twitter followers.
Channel 4’s Dispatches programme will on Monday reveal the extent to which click farms risk eroding user confidence in what had looked like an objective measure of social online approval.
The disclosures could hurt Facebook as it tries to persuade firms away from advertising on Google and to use its own targeted advertising, and to chase likes as a measure of approval.
That particular Facebook page on courgettes was set up by the programme makers to demonstrate how click farms can give web properties spurious popularity.
“There’s a real desire amongst many companies to boost their profile on social media, and find other customers as well as a result,” said Graham Cluley, an independent security consultant.
The importance of likes is considerable with consumers: 31% will check ratings and reviews, including likes and Twitter followers, before they choose to buy something, research suggests. That means click farms could play a significant role in potentially misleading consumers.
Dispatches found one boss in Bangladesh who boasted of being “king of Facebook” for his ability to create accounts and then use them to create hundreds or thousands of fake likes.
Click farms have become a growing challenge for companies which rely on social media measurements – meant to indicate approval by real users – to estimate the popularity of their products.
For the workers, though, it is miserable work, sitting at screens in dingy rooms facing a blank wall, with windows covered by bars, and sometimes working through the night. For that, they could have to generate 1,000 likes or follow 1,000 people on Twitter to earn a single US dollar.
Sam DeSilva, a lawyer specialising in IT and outsourcing law at Manches LLP in Oxford, says of the fake clicks: “Potentially, a number of laws are being breached – the consumer protection and unfair trading regulations. Effectively it’s misleading the individual consumers.”
Dispatches discovered an online casino which had sublicensed the Monopoly brand from its owner, the games company Hasbro, and to which fake likes had been added on its Facebook page.
When contacted, Hasbro contacted Facebook and the page was taken down. In a statement, Hasbro said it was “appalled to hear of what had occurred” and was unaware of the page.
Dhaka-registered Shareyt.com, meanwhile, claims to act as a middleman to connect companies seeking to boost their profile on Facebook, Twitter, Google +1, LinkedIn and YouTube.
“We made it as simple as mouse-clicking,” the front page of the site says, claiming that it is “a crowd-sourcing platform to help you improve social media presence and search engine ranking FREE”.
It adds: “Whenever and wherever you need massive workforce to complete petty tasks, call for Shareyt and get it done like magic! You can’t imagine the potentials [sic] until you explore!” It claims to have generated 1.4m Facebook likes and to have 83,000 registered users.
The implication is that the site “crowdsources” clicks – that lots of people around the world mutually help each other to promote each others’ work.
But Sharaf al-Nomani, Shareyt’s owner, told Dispatches in an undercover meeting that “around 30% or 40% of the clicks will come from Bangladesh” – which implies about 25,000 people in Dhaka using computers laboriously and repetitively for hours on end to boost the visibility of specific products to order.
Some companies have used shareyt.com in the course of standard marketing.
Sir Billi, a British cartoon film voiced by Sir Sean Connery, has more than 65,000 Facebook likes – more than some Hollywood films.
Although it has so far only been released in South Korea, Facebook data suggests the city of Dhaka is the source of the third-largest number of likes. (The Egyptian capital, Cairo, is presently the source of the highest number.)
Tessa Hartmann of Billi Productions, which made the film, said they had been promoting it since 2006, and paid £271.40 to advertise it on shareyt.com in August 2012 for six months as a “very small” part of their marketing campaign. At the time, she says, it already had 40,000 Facebook likes. Her company stopped using the site in February.
A link also appeared on shareyt.com to Coca-Cola’s 2010 Super Bowl advertisement “Hard Times”, showing the Simpsons’ Mr Burns learning to get by on less (but with Coke).
The video’s presence on the site is likely to have helped its nearly 6m views. Coke said in a statement that it “did not approve of fake fans”; the video was made private soon afterwards.
Shareyt.com has now seen Facebook and Twitter prevent links to the site being posted on their networks. Twitter bans “fake followers” or the buying of followers.
Faked internet use has been a bugbear of the burgeoning advertising industry ever since the web went commercial in the mid-1990s and the first banner ad was rolled out in 1996.
The rise of advertising networks and “pay-per-click” advertising – where an advertiser pays the network when someone clicks on an advert, whether or not it leads to a sale – also saw a rise in faked clicks which benefited unscrupulous networks.
And it is still a problem. In February, Microsoft and Symantec shut down a “botnet” of up to 1.8m PCs that were being used to create an average of 3m clicks per day, raking in $1m per year since 2009.
But click farms exploit a different sort of computing power altogether: the rise of cheap labour paired with low-cost connectivity to the internet.
“Russell”, the manager of the click farm identified by Dispatches, said some of the methods he used were legitimate; he blamed those who commissioned the work if it was seen as immoral.
What is XKeyscore, and can it ‘eavesdrop on everyone, everywhere’?
XKeyscore is apparently a tool the NSA uses to sift through massive amounts of data. Critics say it allows the NSA to dip into people’s ‘most private thoughts’ – a claim key lawmakers reject.
August 1, 2013
by Mark Clayton, Staff writer
Christian Science Monitor
Top-secret documents leaked to The Guardian newspaper have set off a new round of debate over National Security Agency surveillance of electronic communications, with some cyber experts saying the trove reveals new and more dangerous means of digital snooping, while some members of Congress suggested that interpretation was incorrect.
The NSA’s collection of “metadata” – basic call logs of phone numbers, time of the call, and duration of calls – is now well-known, with the Senate holding a hearing on the subject this week. But the tools discussed in the new Guardian documents apparently go beyond mere collection, allowing the agency to sift through the haystack of digital global communications to find the needle of terrorist activity.
The concern is that the capabilities could be misused or misdirected at innocents. In revealing the NSA metadata program, leaker Edward Snowden told the Guardian in June: “I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail.”
The NSA’s collection of “metadata” – basic call logs of phone numbers, time of the call, and duration of calls – is now well-known, with the Senate holding a hearing on the subject this week. But the tools discussed in the new Guardian documents apparently go beyond mere collection, allowing the agency to sift through the haystack of digital global communications to find the needle of terrorist activity.
The concern is that the capabilities could be misused or misdirected at innocents. In revealing the NSA metadata program, leaker Edward Snowden told the Guardian in June: “I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R) of Michigan, chairman of the House intelligence committee, rejected that claim. “It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”
But the new Guardian leak appears to indicate something at least close to such capability. The program, called XKeyscore, is the “widest-reaching” Internet surveillance system, according to one of several analyst “training” documents, which included a 32-slide presentation leaked to The Guardian. An analyst has to enter only an individual e-mail address – along with a “justification” inserted into another field on the screen – to get a trove of personal e-mail sorted by time period, say analysts who reviewed the slides for the Monitor.
The program can also apparently determine which computers visited a website and when, as well as searching chats, usernames, buddy lists, and cookies. One slide in an XKeyscore document features corporate logos of a number of familiar online social media companies, saying the program lets analysts see “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.”
Another slide illustrates how an analyst can use the program to search “within bodies of e-mail, WebPages and documents.” Analysts using XKeyscore can also use a NSA tool called DNI Presenter “to read the content of Facebook chats or private messages,” according to the Guardian article.
“What stands out about XKeyscore is the ease with which an NSA analyst can dip into people’s lives, their most private thoughts,” says James Bamford, an NSA critic who has written several books detailing the agency’s inner workings.
In addition, the amount of information that XKeyscore searches and stores is massive. During a 30-day period in 2012, it collected and stored about 41 billion total records, one slide document asserts. That is a testament to the NSA’s growing capability to collect data, leading to the need for a huge new data storage facility in Bluffdale, Utah, which should begin operations this fall.
“I don’t think they have the capacity to figure out everything they want to keep, so they’re storing it all, so they can go back and get it,” says William Binney, a former NSA mathematician turned whistle-blower who worked for the agency for four decades.
The implications of having all that data to search with a powerful tool like XKeyscore are large, Mr. Bamford says.
“You just fill in an e-mail address or whatever, then how much data you want – a week, a month – then up pops all my e-mail,” he says. “It’s basically what [author George] Orwell warned about. This agency now has the capability, basically, to eavesdrop on everyone, everywhere. And that’s basically what’s happening.”
Such comments are drawing exasperated responses from government officials and lawmakers with oversight responsibilities.
“As we’ve explained, and the intelligence community has explained, allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are false,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday.
Testifying before Congress, NSA officials have said they have “minimization procedures” to properly handle material on Americans that is caught up in the electronic search.
“Look, it’s just not possible for analysts to just go tromping around through people’s e-mails,” says James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The idea that you have people just sitting there and reading e-mails is just silly. There are minimization procedures and audits and other mechanisms that prevent this. Yes, they collect a lot of data, but there has to be some reason and authorization to read it.”
NSA officials and lawmakers were quick to throw cold water on the leaked document and the Guardian report.
“Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true,” the NSA said in statement Thursday. “Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA’s analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks.”
Representative Rogers and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, joined a group of lawmakers meeting with President Obama Thursday on the issue.
“The latest in the parade of classified leaks published today is without context and provides a completely inaccurate picture of the program,” the two congressmen said in a joint statement.
Officials have also noted the program’s success at finding terrorists. One of the new leaked documents, the 32-slide presentation, asserts that by 2008, 300 terrorists had been captured using intelligence from Xkeyscore.
Still, the NSA and its backers in Washington remain under fire, with polls showing public concern over the surveillance programs growing. But to other experts who have been watching surveillance trends, the idea of global surveillance by the US and others is nothing new – even if it has now reached worrying levels, with the leaked documents showing Xkeyscore sitting alongside other programs with operational code names like Marina, Pinwale, Trafficthief, about which little is known.
“Nothing I’ve seen so far that Edward Snowden has released is a surprise for people that work in the industry, even though I am concerned about it,” says Jonathan Logan, a network security consultant who co-authored a 2009 study on global digital espionage. “The good thing about this [Snowden] release is that we finally can point to an outside source confirming what we’ve been saying for the last 15 years.”
Momentum Builds Against N.S.A. Surveillance
July 28, 2013
by Jonathom Weisman
New York Times
WASHINGTON — The movement to crack down on government surveillance started with an odd couple from Michigan, Representatives Justin Amash, a young libertarian Republican known even to his friends as “chief wing nut,” and John Conyers Jr., an elder of the liberal left in his 25th House term.
But what began on the political fringes only a week ago has built a momentum that even critics say may be unstoppable, drawing support from Republican and Democratic leaders, attracting moderates in both parties and pulling in some of the most respected voices on national security in the House.
The rapidly shifting politics were reflected clearly in the House on Wednesday, when a plan to defund the National Security Agency’s telephone data collection program fell just seven votes short of passage. Now, after initially signaling that they were comfortable with the scope of the N.S.A.’s collection of Americans’ phone and Internet activities, but not their content, revealed last month by Edward J. Snowden, lawmakers are showing an increasing willingness to use legislation to curb those actions.
Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, and Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, have begun work on legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to significantly rein in N.S.A. telephone surveillance. Mr. Sensenbrenner said on Friday that he would have a bill ready when Congress returned from its August recess that would restrict phone surveillance to only those named as targets of a federal terrorism investigation, make significant changes to the secret court that oversees such programs and give businesses like Microsoft and Google permission to reveal their dealings before that court.
“There is a growing sense that things have really gone a-kilter here,” Ms. Lofgren said.
The sudden reconsideration of post-Sept. 11 counterterrorism policy has taken much of Washington by surprise. As the revelations by Mr. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor, were gaining attention in the news media, the White House and leaders in both parties stood united behind the programs he had unmasked. They were focused mostly on bringing the leaker to justice.
Backers of sweeping surveillance powers now say they recognize that changes are likely, and they are taking steps to make sure they maintain control over the extent of any revisions. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee met on Wednesday as the House deliberated to try to find accommodations to growing public misgivings about the programs, said the committee’s chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California.
Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat and longtime critic of the N.S.A. surveillance programs, said he had taken part in serious meetings to discuss changes.
Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the panel, said, “We’re talking through it right now.” He added, “There are a lot of ideas on the table, and it’s pretty obvious that we’ve got some uneasy folks.”
Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has assured House colleagues that an intelligence policy bill he plans to draft in mid-September will include new privacy safeguards.
Aides familiar with his efforts said the House Intelligence Committee was focusing on more transparency for the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees data gathering, including possibly declassifying that court’s orders, and changes to the way the surveillance data is stored. The legislation may order such data to be held by the telecommunications companies that produce them or by an independent entity, not the government.
Lawmakers say their votes to restrain the N.S.A. reflect a gut-level concern among voters about personal privacy.
“I represent a very reasonable district in suburban Philadelphia, and my constituents are expressing a growing concern on the sweeping amounts of data that the government is compiling,” said Representative Michael G. Fitzpatrick, a moderate Republican who represents one of the few true swing districts left in the House and who voted on Wednesday to limit N.S.A. surveillance.
Votes from the likes of Mr. Fitzpatrick were not initially anticipated when Republican leaders chided reporters for their interest in legislation that they said would go nowhere. As the House slowly worked its way on Wednesday toward an evening vote to curb government surveillance, even proponents of the legislation jokingly predicted that only the “wing nuts” — the libertarians of the right, the most ardent liberals on the left — would support the measure.
Then Mr. Sensenbrenner, a Republican veteran and one of the primary authors of the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act, stepped to a microphone on the House floor. Never, he said, did he intend to allow the wholesale vacuuming up of domestic phone records, nor did his legislation envision that data dragnets would go beyond specific targets of terrorism investigations.
“The time has come to stop it, and the way we stop it is to approve this amendment,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.
He had not intended to speak, and when he did, he did not say much, just seven brief sentences.
“I was able to say what needed to be said in a minute,” he said Friday.
Lawmakers from both parties said the brief speech was a pivotal moment. When the tally was final, the effort to end the N.S.A.’s programs had fallen short, 205 to 217. Supporters included Republican leaders like Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Democratic leaders like Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina. Republican moderates like Mr. Fitzpatrick and Blue Dog Democrats like Representative Kurt Schrader of Oregon joined with respected voices on national security matters like Mr. Sensenbrenner and Ms. Lofgren.
Besides Ms. McMorris Rodgers, Representative Lynn Jenkins of Kansas, another member of the Republican leadership, voted yes. On the Democratic side, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Representative Xavier Becerra of California, and his vice chairman, Representative Joseph Crowley of New York, broke with the top two Democrats, Representatives Nancy Pelosi of California and Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who pressed hard for no votes.
On Friday, Ms. Pelosi, the House minority leader and a veteran of the Intelligence Committee, and Mr. Hoyer dashed off a letter to the president warning that even those Democrats who had stayed with him on the issue on Wednesday would be seeking changes.
That letter included the signature of Mr. Conyers, who is rallying an increasingly unified Democratic caucus to his side, as well as 61 House Democrats who voted no on Wednesday but are now publicly signaling their discontent.
“Although some of us voted for and others against the amendment, we all agree that there are lingering questions and concerns about the current” data collection program, the letter stated.
Representative Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, a Republican who voted for the curbs and predicted that changes to the N.S.A. surveillance programs were now unstoppable, said: “This was in many respects a vote intended to send a message. The vote was just too strong.”
Ms. Lofgren said the White House and Democratic and Republican leaders had not come to grips with what she called “a grave sense of betrayal” that greeted Mr. Snowden’s revelations. Since the Bush administration, lawmakers had been repeatedly assured that such indiscriminate collection of data did not exist, and that when targeting was unspecific, it was aimed at people abroad.
The movement against the N.S.A. began with the fringes of each party. Mr. Amash of Michigan began pressing for an amendment on the annual military spending bill aimed at the N.S.A. Leaders of the Intelligence Committee argued strenuously that such an amendment was not relevant to military spending and should be ruled out of order.
But Mr. Amash, an acolyte of Ron Paul, a libertarian former congressman, persisted and rallied support.
Mr. Sensenbrenner and Ms. Lofgren said they were willing to work with the House and Senate intelligence panels to overhaul the surveillance programs, but indicated that they did not believe those panels were ready to go far enough.
“I would just hope the Intelligence Committees will not stick their heads in the sand on this,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.
My family’s Google searching got us a visit from counterterrorism police
Officers showed up at our home on Long Island, New York, suspecting we were terrorists because we looked up info on pressure cookers and backpacks
August 1, 2013
by Michele Catalano
It was a confluence of magnificent proportions that led to six agents from the joint terrorism task force to knock on my door Wednesday morning. Little did my husband and I know that our seemingly innocent, if curious to a fault, Googling of certain things were creating a perfect storm of terrorism profiling. Because somewhere out there, someone was watching. Someone whose job it is to piece together the things people do on the internet raised the red flag when they saw our search history.
Most of it was innocent enough. I had researched pressure cookers. My husband was looking for a backpack. And maybe in another time those two things together would have seemed innocuous, but we are in “these times” now. And in these times, when things like the Boston bombing happen, you spend a lot of time on the internet reading about it and, if you are my exceedingly curious, news junkie 20-year-old son, you click a lot of links when you read the myriad of stories. You might just read a CNN piece about how bomb making instructions are readily available on the internet and you will in all probability, if you are that kid, click the link provided.
Which might not raise any red flags. Because who wasn’t reading those stories? Who wasn’t clicking those links? But my son’s reading habits combined with my search for a pressure cooker and my husband’s search for a backpack set off an alarm of sorts at the joint terrorism task force headquarters.
That’s how I imagine it played out, anyhow. Lots of bells and whistles and a crowd of task force workers huddled around a computer screen looking at our Google history.
This was weeks ago. I don’t know what took them so long to get here. Maybe they were waiting for some other devious Google search to show up, but “what the hell do I do with quinoa” and “Is A-Rod suspended yet” didn’t fit into the equation so they just moved in based on those older searches.
I was at work when it happened. My husband called me as soon as it was over, almost laughing about it, but I wasn’t joining in the laughter. His call left me shaken and anxious.
What happened was this: At about 9am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.
Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.
A million things went through my husband’s head. None of which were right. He walked outside and the men greeted him by flashing badges. He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands.
“Are you [name redacted]?” one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said.
They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf (nope, no bomb making books, no Anarchist Cookbook), looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs. They asked if they could go in my son’s bedroom but when my husband said my son was sleeping in there, they let it be.
Meanwhile, they were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked.
They searched the backyard. They walked around the garage, as much as one could walk around a garage strewn with yardworking equipment and various junk. They went back in the house and asked more questions. Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them if they themselves weren’t curious as to how a pressure cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them admitted they did.
By this point they had realized they were not dealing with terrorists. They asked my husband about his work, his visits to South Korea and China. The tone was conversational.
They never asked to see the computers on which the searches were done. They never opened a drawer or a cabinet. They left two rooms unsearched. I guess we didn’t fit the exact profile they were looking for so they were just going through the motions.
They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing. I don’t know what happens on the other 1% of visits and I’m not sure I want to know what my neighbors are up to.
Forty-five minutes later, they shook my husband’s hand and left. That’s when he called me and relayed the story. That’s when I felt a sense of creeping dread take over. What else had I looked up? What kind of searches did I do that alone seemed innocent enough but put together could make someone suspicious? Were they judging me because my house was a mess (oh my God, the joint terrorism task force was in my house and there were dirty dishes in my sink!). Mostly I felt a great sense of anxiety. This is where we are at. Where you have no expectation of privacy. Where trying to learn how to cook some lentils could possibly land you on a watch list. Where you have to watch every little thing you do because someone else is watching every little thing you do.
All I know is if I’m going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I’m not doing it online.
I’m scared. And not of the right things.
• This article was first published on Medium.com. It is republished here with Michele Catalano’s permission.
Update: Police in Suffolk County, NY, released the following statement on Thursday evening:
Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee’s computer searches took place on this employee’s workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks”.
After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject’s home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature.
No-Go Zones For Whites
European ‘No-Go’ Zones for Non-Muslims Proliferating. “Occupation Without Tanks or Soldiers”
August 22, 2011
by Soeren Kern
Islamic extremists are stepping up the creation of “no-go” areas in European cities that are off-limits to non-Muslims.
Many of the “no-go” zones function as microstates governed by Islamic Sharia law. Host-country authorities effectively have lost control in these areas and in many instances are unable to provide even basic public aid such as police, fire fighting and ambulance services.
The “no-go” areas are the by-product of decades of multicultural policies that have encouraged Muslim immigrants to create parallel societies and remain segregated rather than become integrated into their European host nations.
In Britain, for example, a Muslim group called Muslims Against the Crusades has launched a campaign to turn twelve British cities – including what it calls “Londonistan” – into independent Islamic states. The so-called Islamic Emirates would function as autonomous enclaves ruled by Islamic Sharia law and operate entirely outside British jurisprudence.
The Islamic Emirates Project names the British cities of Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Dewsbury, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Sheffield, as well as Waltham Forest in northeast London and Tower Hamlets in East London as territories to be targeted for blanket Sharia rule.
In the Tower Hamlets area of East London (also known as the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets), for example, extremist Muslim preachers, called the Tower Hamlets Taliban, regularly issue death threats to women who refuse to wear Islamic veils. Neighborhood streets have been plastered with posters declaring “You are entering a Sharia controlled zone: Islamic rules enforced.” And street advertising deemed offensive to Muslims is regularly vandalized or blacked out with spray paint.
In the Bury Park area of Luton, Muslims have been accused of “ethnic cleansing” by harassing non-Muslims to the point that many of them move out of Muslim neighborhoods. In the West Midlands, two Christian preachers have been accused of “hate crimes” for handing out gospel leaflets in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham. In Leytonstone in east London, the Muslim extremist Abu Izzadeen heckled the former Home Secretary John Reid by saying: “How dare you come to a Muslim area.”
In France, large swaths of Muslim neighborhoods are now considered “no-go” zones by French police. At last count, there are 751 Sensitive Urban Zones (Zones Urbaines Sensibles, ZUS), as they are euphemistically called. A complete list of the ZUS can be found on a French government website, complete with satellite maps and precise street demarcations. An estimated 5 million Muslims live in the ZUS, parts of France over which the French state has lost control.
Muslim immigrants are taking control of other parts of France too. In Paris and other French cities with high Muslim populations, such as Lyons, Marseilles and Toulouse, thousands of Muslims are closing off streets and sidewalks (and by extension, are closing down local businesses and trapping non-Muslim residents in their homes and offices) to accommodate overflowing crowds for Friday prayers. Some mosques have also begun broadcasting sermons and chants of “Allahu Akbar” via loudspeakers into the streets.
The weekly spectacles, which have been documented by dozens of videos posted on Youtube.com (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), and which have been denounced as an “occupation without tanks or soldiers,” have provoked anger and disbelief. But despite many public complaints, local authorities have declined to intervene because they are afraid of sparking riots.
In the Belgian capital of Brussels (which is 20% Muslim), several immigrant neighborhoods have become “no-go” zones for police officers, who frequently are pelted with rocks by Muslim youth. In the Kuregem district of Brussels, which often resembles an urban war zone, police are forced to patrol the area with two police cars: one car to carry out the patrols and another car to prevent the first car from being attacked. In the Molenbeek district of Brussels, police have been ordered not to drink coffee or eat a sandwich in public during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
In Germany, Chief Police Commissioner Bernhard Witthaut, in an August 1 interview with the newspaper Der Westen, revealed that Muslim immigrants are imposing “no-go” zones in cities across Germany at an alarming rate.
The interviewer asked Witthaut: “Are there urban areas – for example in the Ruhr – districts and housing blocks that are “no-go areas,” meaning that they can no longer be secured by the police?” Witthaut replied: “Every police commissioner and interior minister will deny it. But of course we know where we can go with the police car and where, even initially, only with the personnel carrier. The reason is that our colleagues can no longer feel safe there in twos, and have to fear becoming the victim of a crime themselves. We know that these areas exist. Even worse: in these areas crimes no longer result in charges. They are left ‘to themselves.’ Only in the worst cases do we in the police learn anything about it. The power of the state is completely out of the picture.”
In Italy, Muslims have been commandeering the Piazza Venezia in Rome for public prayers. In Bologna, Muslims repeatedly have threatened to bomb the San Petronio cathedral because it contains a 600-year-old fresco inspired by Dante’s Inferno which depicts Mohammed being tormented in hell.
In the Netherlands, a Dutch court ordered the government to release to the public a politically incorrect list of 40 “no-go” zones in Holland. The top five Muslim problem neighborhoods are in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. The Kolenkit area in Amsterdam is the number one Muslim “problem district” in the country. The next three districts are in Rotterdam – Pendrecht, het Oude Noorden and Bloemhof. The Ondiep district in Utrecht is in the fifth position, followed by Rivierenwijk (Deventer), Spangen (Rotterdam), Oude Westen (Rotterdam), Heechterp/ Schieringen (Leeuwarden) and Noord-Oost (Maastricht).
In Sweden, which has some of the most liberal immigration laws in Europe, large swaths of the southern city of Malmö – which is more than 25% Muslim – are “no-go” zones for non-Muslims. Fire and emergency workers, for example, refuse to enter Malmö’s mostly Muslim Rosengaard district without police escorts. The male unemployment rate in Rosengaard is estimated to be above 80%. When fire fighters attempted to put out a fire at Malmö’s main mosque, they were attacked by stone throwers.
In the Swedish city of Gothenburg, Muslim youth have been hurling petrol bombs at police cars. In the city’s Angered district, where more than 15 police cars have been destroyed, teenagers have also been pointing green lasers at the eyes of police officers, some of whom have been temporarily blinded.
In Gothenburg’s Backa district, youth have been throwing stones at patrolling officers. Gothenburg police have also been struggling to deal with the problem of Muslim teenagers burning cars and attacking emergency services in several areas of the city.
According to the Malmö-based Imam Adly Abu Hajar: “Sweden is the best Islamic state.”
FBI pressures Internet providers to install surveillance software
CNET has learned the FBI has developed custom “port reader” software to intercept Internet metadata in real time. And, in some cases, it wants to force Internet providers to use the software.
August 2, 2013
by Declan McCullagh
The U.S. government is quietly pressuring telecommunications providers to install eavesdropping technology deep inside companies’ internal networks to facilitate surveillance efforts.
FBI officials have been sparring with carriers, a process that has on occasion included threats of contempt of court, in a bid to deploy government-provided software capable of intercepting and analyzing entire communications streams. The FBI’s legal position during these discussions is that the software’s real-time interception of metadata is authorized under the Patriot Act.
Attempts by the FBI to install what it internally refers to as “port reader” software, which have not been previously disclosed, were described to CNET in interviews over the last few weeks. One former government official said the software used to be known internally as the “harvesting program.”
Carriers are “extra-cautious” and are resisting installation of the FBI’s port reader software, an industry participant in the discussions said, in part because of the privacy and security risks of unknown surveillance technology operating on an sensitive internal network.
It’s “an interception device by definition,” said the industry participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because court proceedings are sealed. “If magistrates knew more, they would approve less.” It’s unclear whether any carriers have installed port readers, and at least one is actively opposing the installation.
In a statement from a spokesman, the FBI said it has the legal authority to use alternate methods to collect Internet metadata, including source and destination IP addresses: “In circumstances where a provider is unable to comply with a court order utilizing its own technical solution(s), law enforcement may offer to provide technical assistance to meet the obligation of the court order.”
AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast, and Sprint declined to comment. A government source familiar with the port reader software said it is not used on an industry-wide basis, and only in situations where carriers’ own wiretap compliance technology is insufficient to provide agents with what they are seeking.
For criminal investigations, police are generally required to obtain a wiretap order from a judge to intercept the contents of real-time communication streams, including e-mail bodies, Facebook messages, or streaming video. Similar procedures exist for intelligence investigations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has received intense scrutiny after Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the National Security Agency’s PRISM database.
There’s a significant exception to both sets of laws: large quantities of metadata can be intercepted in real time through a so-called pen register and trap and trace order with minimal judicial review or oversight. That metadata includes IP addresses, e-mail addresses, identities of Facebook correspondents, Web sites visited, and possibly Internet search terms as well.
“The statute hasn’t caught up with the realties of electronic communication,” says Colleen Boothby, a partner at the Washington, D.C. firm of Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby who represents technology companies and industry associations. Judges are not always in a position, Boothby said, to understand how technology has outpaced the law.
Judges have concluded in the past that they have virtually no ability to deny pen register and trap and trace requests. “The court under the Act seemingly provides nothing more than a rubber stamp,” wrote a federal magistrate judge in Florida, referring to the pen register law. A federal appeals court has ruled that the “judicial role in approving use of trap and trace devices is ministerial in nature.”
A little-noticed section of the Patriot Act that added one word — “process” — to existing law authorized the FBI to implant its own surveillance technology on carriers’ networks. It was in part an effort to put the bureau’s Carnivore device, which also had a pen register mode, on a firmer legal footing.
A 2003 compliance guide prepared by the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association reported that the Patriot Act’s revisions permitted “law enforcement agencies to use software instead of physical mechanisms to collect relevant pen register” information.
Even though the Patriot Act would authorize the FBI to deploy port reader software with a pen register order, the legal boundaries between permissible metadata and impermissible content remain fuzzy.
“Can you get things like packet size or other information that falls somewhere in the grey area between traditional pen register and content?” says Alan Butler, appellate advocacy counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “How does the judge know the box is actually doing? How does the service provider know? How does anyone except the technician know what’s going on?”
An industry source said the FBI wants providers to use their existing CALEA compliance hardware to route the targeted customer’s communications through the port reader software. The software discards the content data and extracts the metadata, which is then provided to the bureau. (The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, requires that communication providers adopt standard practices to comply with lawful intercepts.)
Whether the FBI believes its port reader software should be able to capture Subject: lines, URLs that can reveal search terms, Facebook “likes” and Google+ “+1s,” and so on remains ambiguous, and the bureau declined to elaborate this week. The Justice Department’s 2009 manual (PDF) requires “prior consultation” with the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section before prosecutors use a pen register to “collect all or part of a URL.”
“The last time I had to ask anybody that, they refused to answer,” says Paul Rosenzweig, a former Homeland Security official and founder of Red Branch Consulting, referring to Subject: lines. “They liked creative ambiguity.”
Some metadata may, however, not be legally accessible through a pen register. Federal law says law enforcement may acquire only “dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information” without obtaining a wiretap. That clearly covers, for instance, the Internet Protocol address of a Web site that a targeted user is visiting. The industry-created CALEA standard also permits law enforcement to acquire timestamp information and other data.
But the FBI has configured its port reader to intercept all metadata — including packet size, port label, and IPv6 flow data — that exceeds what the law permits, according to one industry source.
In 2007, the FBI, the Justice Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration asked the Federal Communications Commission for an “expedited rulemaking” process to expand what wireless providers are required to do under CALEA.
The agencies said they wanted companies to be required to provide more information about Internet packets, including the “field identifying the next level protocol used in the data portion of the Internet datagram,” which could reveal what applications a customer is using. The FCC never ruled on the law enforcement request.
Because it’s relatively easy to secure a pen register and trap and trace order — they only require a law enforcement officer to certify the results will likely be “relevant” to an investigation — they’re becoming more common. The Justice Department conducted 1,661 such intercepts in 2011 (PDF), up from only 922 a year earlier (PDF).
That less privacy-protective standard is no accident. A U.S. Senate report accompanying the pen register and trap and trace law said its authors did “not envision an independent judicial review of whether the application meets the relevance standard.” Rather, the report said, judges are only permitted to “review the completeness” of the paperwork.
Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a former federal public defender, said he’s concerned about port reader software doing more than the carriers know. “The bigger fear is that the boxes are secretly storing something,” he said, “or that they’re doing more than just simply allowing traffic to sift through and pulling out the routing information.”
“For the Feds to try to push the envelope is to be expected,” Fakhoury said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that we have laws in place to govern this behavior for a good reason.”
Members of Congress denied access to basic information about NSA
Documents provided by two House members demonstrate how they are blocked from exercising any oversight over domestic surveillance
• Morgan Griffith’s requests for NSA information
• Alan Grayson’s requests for NSA information
August 4, 2013
by Glenn Greenwald
Members of Congress have been repeatedly thwarted when attempting to learn basic information about the National Security Agency (NSA) and the secret FISA court which authorizes its activities, documents provided by two House members demonstrate.
From the beginning of the NSA controversy, the agency’s defenders have insisted that Congress is aware of the disclosed programs and exercises robust supervision over them. “These programs are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate,” President Obama said the day after the first story on NSA bulk collection of phone records was published in this space. “And if there are members of Congress who feel differently, then they should speak up.”
But members of Congress, including those in Obama’s party, have flatly denied knowing about them. On MSNBC on Wednesday night, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct) was asked by host Chris Hayes: “How much are you learning about what the government that you are charged with overseeing and holding accountable is doing from the newspaper and how much of this do you know?” The Senator’s reply:
The revelations about the magnitude, the scope and scale of these surveillances, the metadata and the invasive actions surveillance of social media Web sites were indeed revelations to me.”
But it is not merely that members of Congress are unaware of the very existence of these programs, let alone their capabilities. Beyond that, members who seek out basic information – including about NSA programs they are required to vote on and FISA court (FISC) rulings on the legality of those programs – find that they are unable to obtain it.
Two House members, GOP Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia and Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, have provided the Guardian with numerous letters and emails documenting their persistent, and unsuccessful, efforts to learn about NSA programs and relevant FISA court rulings.
“If I can’t get basic information about these programs, then I’m not able to do my job”, Rep. Griffith told me. A practicing lawyer before being elected to Congress, he said that his job includes “making decisions about whether these programs should be funded, but also an oath to safeguard the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which includes the Fourth Amendment.”
Rep. Griffith requested information about the NSA from the House Intelligence Committee six weeks ago, on June 25. He asked for “access to the classified FISA court order(s) referenced on Meet the Press this past weekend”: a reference to my raising with host David Gregory the still-secret 2011 86-page ruling from the FISA court that found substantial parts of NSA domestic spying to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment as well as governing surveillance statutes.
In that same June 25 letter, Rep. Griffith also requested the semi-annual FISC “reviews and critiques” of the NSA. He stated the rationale for his request: “I took an oath to uphold the United States Constitution, and I intend to do so.”
Almost three weeks later, on July 12, Rep. Griffith requested additional information from the Intelligence Committee based on press accounts he had read about Yahoo’s unsuccessful efforts in court to resist joining the NSA’s PRISM program. He specifically wanted to review the arguments made by Yahoo and the DOJ, as well as the FISC’s ruling requiring Yahoo to participate in PRISM.
On July 22, he wrote another letter to the Committee seeking information. This time, it was prompted by press reports that that the FISA court had renewed its order compelling Verizon to turn over all phone records to the NSA. Rep. Griffith requested access to that court ruling.
The Congressman received no response to any of his requests. With a House vote looming on whether to defund the NSA’s bulk collection program – it was scheduled for July 25 – he felt he needed the information more urgently than ever. He recounted his thinking to me: “How can I responsibly vote on a program I know very little about?”
On July 23, he wrote another letter to the Committee, noting that it had been four weeks since his original request, and several weeks since his subsequent ones. To date, six weeks since he first asked, he still has received no response to any of his requests (the letters sent by Rep. Griffith can be seen here).
“I know many of my constituents will ask about this when I go home,” he said, referring to the August recess when many members of Congress meet with those they represent. “Now that I won’t get anything until at least September, what am I supposed to tell them? How can I talk about NSA actions I can’t learn anything about except from press accounts?”
Congressman Grayson has had very similar experiences, except that he sometimes did receive responses to his requests: negative ones.
On June 19, Grayson wrote to the House Intelligence Committee requesting several documents relating to media accounts about the NSA. Included among them were FISA court opinions directing the collection of telephone records for Americans, as well as documents relating to the PRISM program.
But just over four weeks later, the Chairman of the Committee, GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, wrote to Grayson informing him that his requests had been denied by a Committee “voice vote”.
In a follow-up email exchange, a staff member for Grayson wrote to the Chairman, advising him that Congressman Grayson had “discussed the committee’s decision with Ranking Member [Dutch] Ruppersberger on the floor last night, and he told the Congressman that he was unaware of any committee action on this matter.” Grayson wanted to know how a voice vote denying him access to these documents could have taken place without the knowledge of the ranking member on the Committee, and asked: “can you please share with us the recorded vote, Member-by-Member?” The reply from this Committee was as follows:
Thanks for your inquiry. The full Committee attends Business Meetings. At our July 18, 2013 Business Meeting, there were seven Democrat Members and nine Republican Members in attendance. The transcript is classified.”
To date, neither Griffith nor Grayson has received any of the documents they requested. Correspondence between Grayson and the Committee – with names of staff members and email addresses redacted – can be read here.
Denial of access for members of Congress to basic information about the NSA and the FISC appears to be common. Justin Amash, the GOP representative who, along with Democratic Rep. John Conyers, co-sponsored the amendment to ban the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, told CNN on July 31: “I, as a member of Congress, can’t get access to the court opinions. I have to beg for access, and I’m denied it if I – if I make that request.”
It is the Intelligence Committees of both the House and Senate that exercise primary oversight over the NSA. But as I noted last week, both Committees are, with the exception of a handful of members, notoriously beholden to the NSA and the intelligence community generally.
Its members typically receive much larger contributions from the defense and surveillance industries than non-Committee members. And the two Committee Chairs – Democrat Dianne Feinstein in the Senate and Republican Mike Rogers in the House – are two of the most steadfast NSA loyalists in Congress. The senior Democrat on the House Committee is ardent NSA defender Dutch Ruppersberger, whose district not only includes NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, but who is also himself the second-largest recipient of defense/intelligence industry cash.
Moreover, even when members of the Intelligence Committee learn of what they believe to be serious abuses by the NSA, they are barred by law from informing the public. Two Democratic Committee members in the Senate, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, spent years warning Americans that they would be “stunned to learn” of the radical interpretations of secret law the Obama administration had adopted in the secret FISA court to vest themselves with extremist surveillance powers.
Yet the two Senators, prohibited by law from talking about it, concealed what they had discovered. It took Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing for Americans to learn what those two Intelligence Committee members were so dramatically warning them about.
Finally, all members of Congress – not just those on the Intelligence Committees – are responsible for making choices about the NSA and for protecting the privacy rights and other Constitutional guarantees of Americans. “I did not take an oath to defer to the Intelligence Committee,” Rep. Griffith told me. “My oath is to make informed decisions, and I can’t do my job when I can’t get even the most basic information about these programs.”
In early July, Grayson had staffers distribute to House members several slides published by the Guardian about NSA programs as part of Grayson’s efforts to trigger debate in Congress. But, according to one staff member, Grayson’s office was quickly told by the House Intelligence Committee that those slides were still classified, despite having been published and discussed in the media, and directed Grayson to cease distribution or discussion of those materials in the House, warning that he could face sanctions if he continued.
It has been widely noted that the supremely rubber-stamping FISA court constitutes NSA “oversight” in name only, and that the Intelligence Committees are captured by the agency and constrained to act even if they were inclined to. Whatever else is true, members of Congress in general clearly know next to nothing about the NSA and the FISA court beyond what they read in the media, and those who try to rectify that are being actively blocked from finding out.
Secret US drug agency unit passing surveillance information to authorities
Wiretaps and telephone records are being funnelled across the country to launch criminal investigations of Americans
August 5, 2013
Reuters in Washington
A secretive US Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.
The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.
“I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.
“It is one thing to create special rules for national security,” Gertner said. “Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”
The special operations division
The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.
Today, much of the SOD’s work is classified, and officials asked that its precise location in Virginia not be revealed. The documents reviewed by Reuters are marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive”, a government categorization that is meant to keep them confidential.
“Remember that the utilization of SOD cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function,” a document presented to agents reads. The document specifically directs agents to omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony. Agents are instructed to then use “normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD.”
A spokesman with the Department of Justice, which oversees the DEA, declined to comment.
But two senior DEA officials defended the program, and said trying to “recreate” an investigative trail is not only legal but a technique that is used almost daily.
A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. “You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.
After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as “parallel construction”.
The two senior DEA officials, who spoke on behalf of the agency but only on condition of anonymity, said the process is kept secret to protect sources and investigative methods. “Parallel construction is a law enforcement technique we use every day,” one official said. “It’s decades old, a bedrock concept.”
A dozen current or former federal agents interviewed by Reuters confirmed they had used parallel construction during their careers. Most defended the practice; some said they understood why those outside law enforcement might be concerned.
“It’s just like laundering money – you work it backwards to make it clean,” said Finn Selander, a DEA agent from 1991 to 2008 and now a member of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which advocates legalizing and regulating narcotics.
Some defense lawyers and former prosecutors said that using “parallel construction” may be legal to establish probable cause for an arrest. But they said employing the practice as a means of disguising how an investigation began may violate pretrial discovery rules by burying evidence that could prove useful to criminal defendants.
A question of constitutionality
“That’s outrageous,” said Tampa attorney James Felman, a vice-chairman of the criminal justice section of the American Bar Association. “It strikes me as indefensible.”
Lawrence Lustberg, a New Jersey defense lawyer, said any systematic government effort to conceal the circumstances under which cases begin “would not only be alarming but pretty blatantly unconstitutional”.
Lustberg and others said the government’s use of the SOD program skirts established court procedures by which judges privately examine sensitive information, such as an informant’s identity or classified evidence, to determine whether the information is relevant to the defense.
“You can’t game the system,” said former federal prosecutor Henry E Hockeimer Jr. “You can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases. If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw it?”
Some lawyers say there can be legitimate reasons for not revealing sources. Robert Spelke, a former prosecutor who spent seven years as a senior DEA lawyer, said some sources are classified. But he also said there are few reasons why unclassified evidence should be concealed at trial.
“It’s a balancing act, and they’ve doing it this way for years,” Spelke said. “Do I think it’s a good way to do it? No, because now that I’m a defense lawyer, I see how difficult it is to challenge.”
Concealing a tip
One current federal prosecutor learned how agents were using SOD tips after a drug agent misled him, the prosecutor told Reuters. In a Florida drug case he was handling, the prosecutor said, a DEA agent told him the investigation of a US citizen began with a tip from an informant. When the prosecutor pressed for more information, he said, a DEA supervisor intervened and revealed that the tip had actually come through the SOD and from an NSA intercept.
“I was pissed,” the prosecutor said. “Lying about where the information came from is a bad start if you’re trying to comply with the law because it can lead to all kinds of problems with discovery and candor to the court.” The prosecutor never filed charges in the case because he lost confidence in the investigation, he said.
A senior DEA official said he was not aware of the case but said the agent should not have misled the prosecutor. How often such misdirection occurs is unknown, even to the government; the DEA official said the agency does not track what happens with tips after the SOD sends them to agents in the field.
The SOD’s role providing information to agents isn’t itself a secret. It is briefly mentioned by the DEA in budget documents, albeit without any reference to how that information is used or represented when cases go to court.
The DEA has long publicly touted the SOD’s role in multi-jurisdictional and international investigations, connecting agents in separate cities who may be unwittingly investigating the same target and making sure undercover agents don’t accidentally try to arrest each other.
SOD’s big successes
The unit also played a major role in a 2008 DEA sting in Thailand against Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout; he was sentenced in 2011 to 25 years in prison on charges of conspiring to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC. The SOD also recently coordinated Project Synergy, a crackdown against manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of synthetic designer drugs that spanned 35 states and resulted in 227 arrests.
Since its inception, the SOD’s mandate has expanded to include narco-terrorism, organized crime and gangs. A DEA spokesman declined to comment on the unit’s annual budget. A recent LinkedIn posting on the personal page of a senior SOD official estimated it to be $125m.
Today, the SOD offers at least three services to federal, state and local law enforcement agents: coordinating international investigations such as the Bout case; distributing tips from overseas NSA intercepts, informants, foreign law enforcement partners and domestic wiretaps; and circulating tips from a massive database known as Dice.
The Dice database contains about 1bn records, the senior DEA officials said. The majority of the records consist of phone log and Internet data gathered legally by the DEA through subpoenas, arrests and search warrants nationwide. Records are kept for about a year and then purged, the DEA officials said.
About 10,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents have access to the DICE database, records show. They can query it to try to link otherwise disparate clues. Recently, one of the DEA officials said, Dice linked a man who tried to smuggle $100,000 over the US south-west border to a major drug case on the east coast.
“We use it to connect the dots,” the official said.
‘An amazing tool’
Wiretap tips forwarded by the SOD usually come from foreign governments, US intelligence agencies or court-authorized domestic phone recordings. Because warrantless eavesdropping on Americans is illegal, tips from intelligence agencies are generally not forwarded to the SOD until a caller’s citizenship can be verified, according to one senior law enforcement official and one former US military intelligence analyst.
“They do a pretty good job of screening, but it can be a struggle to know for sure whether the person on a wiretap is American,” the senior law enforcement official said.
Tips from domestic wiretaps typically occur when agents use information gleaned from a court-ordered wiretap in one case to start a second investigation.
As a practical matter, law enforcement agents said they usually don’t worry that SOD’s involvement will be exposed in court. That’s because most drug-trafficking defendants plead guilty before trial and therefore never request to see the evidence against them. If cases did go to trial, current and former agents said, charges were sometimes dropped to avoid the risk of exposing SOD involvement.
Current and former federal agents said SOD tips aren’t always helpful – one estimated their accuracy at 60%. But current and former agents said tips have enabled them to catch drug smugglers who might have gotten away.
“It was an amazing tool,” said one recently retired federal agent. “Our big fear was that it wouldn’t stay secret.”
DEA officials said that the SOD process has been reviewed internally. They declined to provide Reuters with a copy of their most recent review