Thursday Reads: NSA Panel Report, Reactions, and Snowden UpdatePosted: December 19, 2013 | |
Yesterday, The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, appointed by President Obama in August to recommend changes in U.S. intelligence collection, released its report. David Sanger and Charlie Savage of The New York Times report: Obama Is Urged to Sharply Curb N.S.A. Data Mining.
The panel recommended changes in the way the agency collects the telephone data of Americans, spies on foreign leaders and prepares for cyberattacks abroad.
But the most significant recommendation of the panel of five intelligence and legal experts was that Mr. Obama restructure a program in which the N.S.A. systematically collects logs of all American phone calls — so-called metadata — and a small group of agency officials have the power to authorize the search of an individual’s telephone contacts. Instead, the panel said, the data should remain in the hands of telecommunications companies or a private consortium, and a court order should be necessary each time analysts want to access the information of any individual “for queries and data mining.”
The experts briefed Mr. Obama on Wednesday on their 46 recommendations, and a senior administration official said Mr. Obama was “open to many” of the changes, though he has already rejected one that called for separate leaders for the N.S.A. and its Pentagon cousin, the United States Cyber Command.
The five-member advisory board consisted of:
Richard A. Clarke, a cyberexpert and former national security official under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush…,Michael J. Morell, a former deputy director of the C.I.A.; Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor who ran the office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House; Peter Swire, a privacy law specialist at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and Geoffrey R. Stone, a constitutional law specialist at the University of Chicago Law School, where Mr. Obama once taught.
Mr. Obama is expected to take the report to Hawaii on his vacation that starts this week and announce decisions when he returns in early January. Some of the report’s proposals could be ordered by Mr. Obama alone, while others would require legislation from Congress, including changes to how judges are appointed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Some of the recommendations, as summarized by USA Today are as follows:
The NSA should cease keeping a massive phone record database that includes nearly every phone call made and received in the USA.
Tougher standards should be created for spying on foreign leaders.
The NSA should be prohibited from asking companies to insert back doors into their software so it can gain access to encrypted communications and networks.
A public interest advocate should be named to represent civil liberties and privacy interests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
A civilian should be appointed to be the next director of the NSA.
Leadership of the U.S. military’s Cyber Command and the NSA should be split.
Legislation should be enacted requiring the intelligence community to report regularly to Congress and the American people on business records and metadata collected.
The NSA director should be confirmed by the US Senate, with civilians eligible for the role
The president should give “serious consideration” to ensuring the next NSA director is a civilian and separate the position from US Cyber Command, a military unit
Creation of a Public Interest Advocate to argue in favour of privacy and civil liberties interests before the FISC
More transparency at FISC
Halting spy agencies’ efforts to undermine commercial encryption methods
Limits on who can access information gained by the NSA
The president should personally approve all methods used by the intelligence community, including spying on foreign leaders
You can read the full report here (PDF).
I’m sure none of this will actually satisfy the Greenwald-Snowden cult (Charles Pierce summarizes some of their objections), but they are nevertheless crowing about it and claiming this is a “vindication” of Snowden’s stealing of classified information.
The best way to gauge Greenwald’s reaction is to read his twitter feed. Oddly, he sarcastically pointed to a Times of India article with comments from Snowden’s patron Vladimir Putin that partially defend NSA. Greenwald’s tweet: “The NSA has had a really bad week, but finally found a powerful, influential voice to speak in defense of its mission.” Here are Putin’s remarks:
Putin, a 16-year KGB veteran and the former chief of Russia’s main espionage agency, said that while the NSA programme “isn’t a cause for joy, it’s not a cause for repentance either” because it is needed to fight terrorism.
He argued that it’s necessary to monitor large numbers of people to expose terrorist contacts.
“On political level, it’s necessary to limit the appetite of special services with certain rules,” he said.
Putin added that the efficiency of the effort and its damage to privacy, is limited by the sheer inability to process such a huge amount of data.
Asked about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, whom Russia has granted asylum, Putin insisted that Moscow isn’t controlling him.
He argued that any revelations published by Snowden must have come from materials he provided before landing in Russia, and reaffirmed that Moscow made providing refuge to Snowden conditional on his halting what he called ant-American activities.
Putin said he hasn’t met with Snowden and insists that Russian security agencies haven’t worked with him and have not asked him any questions related to NSA activities against Russia.
If you can stomach it, here’s Greenwald himself on the BBC gloating about the report and the recent ruling (PDF) against NSA bulk telephone data collection by Judge Richard Leon. Greenwald is so excited that he appears to be drooling and spraying saliva in all directions.
Another member of the young-white-male-libertarian brigade, Conor Friedersdorf cheers the report at The Atlantic: Obama’s Panel: A Rebuke to the NSA, Vindication for Edward Snowden.
Finally, here’s a reaction from the slightly less shrill Bob Cesca. He thinks the report is a good thing too (as do I).
Guess what? I agree with Glenn Greenwald on something. Specifically, I agree that, overall, the report issued Wednesday by the president’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies is a positive event in this ongoing NSA saga.
That said, I believe it’s positive for different reasons than Greenwald does, but there it is. He believes it’s positive because,as he said to the BBC, it’s a rebuke of the NSA’s surveillance operations and, like the Larry Klayman court decision earlier this week, it’s a vindication of Edward Snowden. On the other hand, I believe it’s positive because it’s an important step toward having a rational, reasonable debate about how exactly to reform NSA and the FISA Court (FISC).
On the other hand, Cesca doesn’t think it’s a terrific idea for private industry to control the metadata from American’s phone calls. Corporations are already collecting far more information about us than the NSA ever dreamed of. Cesca:
Yes, I do believe there are problems with court-authorized bulk collection and storage of metadata, in so far as it’s not all that effective and therefore not necessary. But the fact that it’s happening with court and congressional oversight, and that the data is minimized, doesn’t freak me out. I’ve always been considerably more concerned with the very notion that corporations store and share all of this information in the first place — and much, much more data that NSA never attains.
And that’s precisely why the following recommendation by the commission troubles me the most:
“We recommend that Congress should end such storage and transition to a system in which such metadata is held privately for the government to query when necessary for national security purposes.”
While Snowden disciples might see this as a satisfying “FACE!” to the wicked evil federal government, the commission is further enabling unaccountable, oversight-freecorporate power to collect and store our personal data. It’s, in effect, further privatizing and expressly authorizing corporate data collection. Sure, corporations are already collecting and distributing information about us that’s light years beyond anything NSA has ever achieved in terms of volume and intimate details, but now the commission has called on Congress to further sanction that activity.
I have to agree with Cesca. I’m a lot more worried about the data Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and other giant corporations are collecting about me than whether NSA is listening to my phone calls and reading my e-mails.
Meanwhile, Edward Snowden has been busily trying to get out of Russia by offering to spy on U.S. intelligence agencies for a foreign government. The NSA story has revealed a number of strange bedfellows; for example, Alex Jones and Glenn Beck cheering for Greenwald and Snowden. Well, this is a conservative source, but I have to say I agree with much of this post by John Allen Gay: Edward Snowden’s Sickening Love Letter to Brazil.
When he first entered the public eye, National Security Agency defector Edward Snowden presented himself as an American patriot. In his first public interview, he argued that he intends no harm to the United States and worries that people “won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.” And in a dramatic live interview on theGuardian, he told a questioner “this country is worth dying for.” He further asserted that he’d made a careful effort to protect information that was gathered in the national interest, saying “I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets.” And Snowden’s most reasonable defenders fleshed out the argument that he was acting out of love for his country, saying that oversight of the intelligence community was failing, that the American public would not support such extensive surveillance if it knew what was going on, that our spies are doing much more than merely monitoring terrorists, that Snowden’s actions were a necessary evil or even that Snowden was truly patriotic.
Yet Snowden and his revelations drifted away from that approach, as more information about spying on foreign targets emerged. Snowden’s drift has now taken him to a further shore: Brazil’s. In “an open letter to the people of Brazil,” Snowden offered his services to the Brazilian senate’s “investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens.” And Snowden tacitly asked for something in return: “Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.”
In other words, Snowden has offered up secrets and insights into American intelligence collection to a foreign government, in return for favors from that government. Legally, that’s espionage. Morally, it’s treason. For a Snowden, out to save America’s constitution and its citizens’ civil liberties, altruistically sacrificing himself for their benefit, would have no cause to reveal espionage against foreigners. Such espionage doesn’t harm Americans. Indeed, its revelation has clearly harmed American interests, as it has forced foreign heads of state to denounce American actions publicly and adopt adverse stances towards the United States. A patriotic Snowden wouldn’t have accepted that cost, even if he stood to benefit personally (say, by receiving asylum).
Read more at the link.
It’s very difficult for me to see Snowden as anything but a defector and a dupe of both Greenwald and Putin at this point. Greenwald will soon be very rich as a result of Snowden’s revelations. If he did make it to Brazil, would Greenwald share the wealth or would Snowden have to sue him for it?
I’ll wrap this up, but I want to point to just one more interesting article by former NSA analyst John Schindler: Sweden Exposes the Snowden-Greenwald Fraud.
Recently what I’ve termed the Snowden Operation has taken aim at Sweden as part of its rolling barrage of leaks of classified information that Ed stole from NSA. In recent months, harming the foreign relations of the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the U.S. Government generally, seems to have become the main point of the Operation, which is fronted abroad by Glenn Greenwald and a motley crew of self-styled journalists who are really activists of a determined kind.
Although the allegations of illegalities and nefarious activities by Sweden’s SIGINT agency, Försvarets radioanstalt or FRA, are the customary mix of Greenwaldian overstatement mixed with uninformed pontification, the revelation that FRA has a longstanding close relationship with NSA and other Western intelligence agencies has raised a few eyebrows in Sweden, since the country has long been a neutral power, through two World Wars and the Cold War. Although Swedish defense and security agencies have cooperated with Western partners for decades, that amounted to an open secret (and a true secret in its details), one that the Snowden Operation has now exposed.
But Sweden refused to take the bait and instead argued that they need U.S. intelligence for their national security and that everything they do is necessary and legal and that Greenwald and his compatriots have demonstrated “ignorance” of how these programs actually work.
“We need this,” explained Defense Minister Karin Enström, adding, “We need a well-functioning military intelligence organization in order to protect Sweden against external threats.” She explained further: “We have clear legislation concerning the purposes for which FRA gathers signals intelligence for military intelligence, and it is well known that FRA cooperates with corresponding organizations in other countries. On the other hand, we do not say which countries are involved, or in what way, or what content is involved.”
Moreover, Swedish intelligence cooperation with NSA and other Western security agencies is hardly news, as it goes back to the Second World War, explained the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet, which noted that Sweden has been well compensated for its espionage acumen, particularly regarding Russia. Stockholm is anything but the pawn and victim of U.S. intelligence that the Snowden Operation has made it out to be. Good intelligence “is a hard currency for which we are enormously well paid,” explained a Swedish intelligence officer, who added that the lives of Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan had been saved “on several occasions” by information supplied to FRA by NSA. “We don’t give away anything,” commented an officer with long experience with Swedish security agencies who emphasized the quid pro quo aspect to international intelligence cooperation….
The most revealing riposte to the Snowden Operations’s propaganda attack on Sweden comes in the form of an open letter and invitation by Runar Viksten, the head of the country’s Defense Intelligence Court (Försvarsunderrättelsedomstolen) that performs oversight of FRA activities. Tellingly titled “Inaccuracy damages Swedish signals intelligence work,”this remarkable document is the most comprehensive rebuttal to the Snowden-Greenwald agitprop model I’ve yet seen in a single letter, and I’ll give you its highlights; I encourage any of you who know Swedish to read the whole thing.
Read the rest at Schindler’s blog. I think it’s likely most countries, including Brazil, will decline to give Snowden Amnesty for similar reasons. All countries that can afford it spy on other countries. Those with fewer resources rely on the U.S. for their national security needs.