Once again, Monday morning and life starts at the top, then goes straight-down the tubes. Deep, wet fog as the work week starts here on California’s north coast, and we’re sure everyone’s geared-up and ready to go.
Beyond the obscene mess of US politics, the weekend was a slow-news cycle, unless reports carried the initials, NSA.
(Illustration found here).
Yesterday, NPR posted a question-and-answer piece on the NSA — one of the questions from a listener was has the NSA been lying to Congress?
The answer maybe a little obtuse:
This is a difficult question and deserves a careful answer.
At a hearing last month, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said the country’s intelligence agencies, including the NSA, had “repeatedly deceived the American people.”
Wyden said they were saying one thing about their surveillance programs in public while doing something else in private.
But have they actually lied?
The instance that has gotten the most attention involved congressional testimony last March by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.
Though not an NSA official himself, Clapper oversees the agency.
At that hearing, Wyden asked Clapper if the NSA collects “any type of data at all” on Americans.
Clapper answered, “No,” then added, “not wittingly.”
We now know that the NSA at the time was actually collecting “meta data” on Americans’ phone calls.
The agency was not actually recording or monitoring the phone calls themselves, but the NSA was keeping a record of which numbers were dialing which numbers.
Clapper’s answer was not accurate.
Three months later, Clapper himself apologized, saying his answer had been “clearly erroneous.”
Clapper could not have been charged with perjury because he was not testifying under oath.
Under U.S. law, however, making false statements to Congress is illegal, regardless of whether the statements are made under oath.
In that case, however, a prosecutor would have to show that the false statement was made “knowingly and willfully” for the purpose of falsifying or concealing or covering up the truth.
That would be a high bar.
In fact, Wyden had already been briefed on the meta data collection, so it would have been hard to prove that Clapper “willfully” lied.
Yeah, and what else is clearly and ‘willfully’ erroneous?
In this age of instant media, Americans can be proud its government is not only watching them ,but watching and listening to just about everybody else on the globe. The NSA is like a crazed, drunken sailor grabbing hold of whatever is available to stand up straight — and everything is available.
This weekend a couple more starbursts of creepy. First the French — via the Guardian:
The French government has summoned the US ambassador in Paris, demanding an explanation about claims that the National Security Agency has been engaged in widespread phone surveillance of French citizens.
On Monday, Le Monde published details from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden suggesting that the US agency had been intercepting phone calls on what it terms “a massive scale”.
The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, has described the revelations as shocking, and said he will be pressing for detailed explanations from Washington.
“Rules are obviously needed when it comes to new communication technologies, and that’s something that concerns every country,” he told Europe-1 radio.
“If a friendly country – an ally – spies on France or other European countries, that is completely unacceptable.”
And the Ha–Ha moment:
Le Monde said US authorities had declined to comment on the documents, which they regard as classified material.
Instead, they referred the paper to a statement made in June by the US director of National intelligence, in which James Clapper defended the legality of the practices.
“[They] are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorised by Congress,” he said.
“Their purpose is to obtain foreign intelligence information, including information necessary to thwart terrorist and cyber-attacks against the United States and its allies.”
Despite the French government screaming-wired-for-sound on this, reportedly the outrage is for the French public: Le Monde reported in July that the French government stores vast amounts of personal data of its citizens on a supercomputer at the headquarters of the DGSE intelligence service.
So to stink up an already spoiled toilet bowel.
Meanwhile, south of El Paso — yesterday from Germany’s Der Spiegel Online:
The National Security Agency (NSA) has a division for particularly difficult missions.
Called “Tailored Access Operations” (TAO), this department devises special methods for special targets.
That category includes surveillance of neighboring Mexico, and in May 2010, the division reported its mission accomplished.
A report classified as “top secret” said: “TAO successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon’s public email account.”
According to the NSA, this email domain was also used by cabinet members, and contained “diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico’s political system and internal stability.”
The president’s office, the NSA reported, was now “a lucrative source.”
Just how intensively the US spies on its neighbors can be seen in another, previously unknown operation in Mexico, dubbed “Whitetamale” by the NSA.
In August 2009, according to internal documents, the agency gained access to the emails of various high-ranking officials in Mexico’s Public Security Secretariat that combats the drug trade and human trafficking.
This hacking operation allowed the NSA not only to obtain information on several drug cartels, but also to gain access to “diplomatic talking-points.”
In the space of a single year, according to the internal documents, this operation produced 260 classified reports that allowed US politicians to conduct successful talks on political issues and to plan international investments.
The tone of the document that lists the NSA’s “tremendous success” in monitoring Mexican targets shows how aggressively the US intelligence agency monitors its southern neighbor.
“These TAO accesses into several Mexican government agencies are just the beginning — we intend to go much further against this important target,” the document reads.
It goes on to state that the divisions responsible for this surveillance are “poised for future successes.”
Last July, it was reported the NSA spied on Brazil, causing President Dilma Rousseff to rip President Obama a new asshole at the UN in September. And some Brazilians have countered (via New York Times):
Other people have gone so far as to send nonsensical e-mails just to confuse N.S.A. agents.
For example: first use some key words to attract their surveillance filters, like “chemical brothers,” “chocolate bombs” or “stop holding my heart hostage, my emotions are like a blasting of fundamentalist explosion” (one of my personal favorites, inspired by an online sentence-generator designed to confound the N.S.A.).
Then write indiscriminately to friends and acquaintances about serious stuff like: how Doc Brown stole plutonium from Libyan nationalists, or why poor Godzilla had to attack the City of New York.
It is recommended to act as crazy as possible, in order to raise questions about your secret intentions.
I call this tactic “vaca louca.”
(The term comes from mad cow disease, though it could also refer to a Brazilian song called “Levada louca” (“crazy rhythm”) by Ivete Sangalo, which most of us originally misheard as “A vaca louca” — but I’m digressing here.)
All this is to say that I found the news earlier this month about the actions of a group of Brazilian hackers perfectly appropriate.
In an attempt to protest the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs, they accidentally attacked NASA’s Web site.
It’s all part of our Mad Cow Retaliation Plan.
And this is just Monday! And as I’m now getting ready for work, I feel poised myself for success.