‘Take the covers’ off the NSA

December 17, 2013

pt_948_11108_oClear and a little chilly this way-early Tuesday on California’s north coast, and hopefully we’ll have another gorgeous day like Monday.
Yesterday afternoon I worked on my truck in shirtsleeves — no sweatshirt, jacket or anything — this as good as it gets weather-wise up here.
No matter the season.

Seemingly, the story today is again the NSA and Eddie Snowden — and once more Snowden might be on the move. In an “open letter to the people of Brazil,” he offered IT help in exchange for permanent political asylum.

(Illustration found here).

Brazil is pretty pissed at the US for all the NSA spying on them, including eavesdropping on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s cellphone. She cancelled a visit to DC last summer and the whole country seems mad at the antics of the NSA — as is most of the known world.
Via HuffPost:

Brazilian senators have asked for Snowden’s help during hearings about the NSA program’s aggressive targeting of Brazil, an important transit hub for trans-Atlantic fiber optic cables that are hacked.
“I’ve expressed my willingness to assist where it’s appropriate and legal, but, unfortunately, the U.S. government has been working hard to limit my ability to do so,” said the letter, translated into Portuguese by the newspaper. It didn’t make the English original available online.
“Until a country grants me permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak out,” the letter added.

We need to keep an eye on that one, as I’m sure the entire NSA staff is doing, and hope Snowden does get a Rio transfer. He still has a shitload of files on the nefarious doings of the NSA, from all reports, and is just waiting, I guess, to spring them on the fed-up-with-it public.

On Monday, Federal District Judge Richard Leon, for the first time, declared the NSA’s trolling of megadata could be unconstitutional and granted a preliminary injunction against the government collecting phone records, but held  the order until an appeal is made. Must have pissed off a lot of people.
And today, the honchos of US tech companies are to meet with President Obama, and they want this shit to end.
Via the Boston Herald:

NSA snooping is on the agenda at the president’s meeting with executives from Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo and other firms — who have lobbied Congress for relief, while the Obama administration has defended the spy agency’s practices.
“I think the companies are going to say they cannot continue to do this, under the covers,” said Jeff Kagan, a technology industry analyst.
“If this is going to happen, we’re going to take the covers off and make sure everyone knows this is happening.
“If it’s going to happen, they don’t want it to be under the covers.
“It’s time for the light of day to shine on it.”

Obama is being revealed as a complete turd-knocker — hope and change? Kiss my ass!

One of the most-excellent people covering this story, Marcy Wheeler, has a feature up at the Guardian on Obama’s so-called ‘NSA review group,’ which is like George Carlin would say, “Shoot is just shit with two Os.” All smoke and mirrors.
Wheeler pinpoints:

In case you missed it, on Thursday night, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times published leaked details from the recommendations from the review group on intelligence and communications technologies, a panel President Obama set up in August to review the NSA’s activities in response to the Edward Snowden leaks.
The stories described what they said were recommendations in the report as presented in draft form to White House advisors; the final report was due to the White House on Sunday.
There were discrepancies in the reporting, which may have signaled the leaks were a public airing of disputes surrounding the review group (both articles noted the results were “still being finalized”).
The biggest news item were reports about a recommendation that the director of the NSA (Dirnsa) and Cyber Command positions be split, with a civilian leading the former agency.
Before the final report was even delivered, the White House struck.
On Friday, while insisting that the commission report was not yet final, national security council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden announced the White House had already decided the position would not be split.
A dual-hatted general would continue to lead both.
By all appearances, the White House moved to pre-empt the results of its own review group to squelch any recommendation that the position be split.
The Christian Science Monitor even reported that the final report now recommends that DIRNSA and CyberCom remain unified, suggesting either that the faction that supported that recommendation prevailed on the review, or the review changed its recommendations to accord with the president’s decision, announced after receiving initial recommendations to split it.

Two things are at issue with this jockeying.
First, all the evidence about this review group suggested it was a typical Washington DC whitewash.
Rather than appointing outsiders, as Obama had promised, the group members – made up of Cass Sunstein, Geoffrey Stone, Peter Swire, Richard Clarke, and led by former acting CIA director Michael Morrell – have close ties to the president and/or the national security community.
And the group reported through director of national intelligence James Clapper, whose performance should have been reviewed.
No pure technical experts were included on a panel that ought to be assessing technical alternatives.

Wheeler usually deals serious shit from her blog at emptywheel.

And in a similar vein, on Sunday CBS News60 Minutes‘ chief reporter on a NSA story — via Wheeler’s words: “…close ties to the president and/or the national security community” — and was another whitewash.
Spencer Ackerman also at the Guardian explains:

The National Security Agency is telling its story like never before.
Never mind whether that story is, well, true.
On Sunday night, CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a remarkable piece that provided NSA officials, from director Keith Alexander to junior analysts, with a long, televised forum to push back against criticism of the powerful spy agency.
It’s an opening salvo in an unprecedented push from the agency to win public confidence at a time when both White House reviews and pending legislation would restrict the NSA’s powers.
But mixed in among the dramatic footage of Alexander receiving threat briefings and junior analysts solving Rubik’s cubes in 90 seconds were a number of dubious claims: from the extent of surveillance to collecting on Google and Yahoo data centers to an online “kill-switch” for the global financial system developed by China.
Reporter John Miller, a former official with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and an ex-FBI spokesman, allowed these claims to go unchallenged.
The Guardian, not so much.

Notice the tension here.
It’s the metadata — who you called, who called you, for how long, how frequently you communicate — that has intelligence value, not, in Alexander’s telling, what you actually say on the phone.
The NSA is relying for its defense on a public conception of surveillance as the interception of the content of your communications, even while it’s saying that what’s actually important is your network of connections — which the agency is very, very interested in collecting.

Very few people think the NSA is staffed by mustache-twirling villains who view the law as an obstacle to be overcome.
The real concern is two-fold.
First, even if NSA doesn’t mean to break the law, the way its data dragnets work in practice incline toward overcollection.
During a damage-control conference call in August, an anonymous US intelligence official told reporters that the technical problem bothering Bates in 2011 persists today.
The NSA even conceded to Walton in 2009 that “from a technical standpoint, there was no single person who had a complete understanding” of the technical “architecture” of NSA’s phone data collection.
Second, there is a fundamental discrepancy in power between the Fisa court and the NSA.
The court’s judges have lamented that they possess an inability to independently determine how the NSA’s programs work, and if they’re in compliance with the limits the judges secretly impose.
That leaves them at the mercy of NSA, the director of national intelligence, and the Justice Department to self-report violations.
When the facts of the collection and the querying are sufficiently divergent from what the court understands – something the court only learns about when it is told — that can become a matter of law.

Self policing almost never works.
One wonders where all this will end — most-likely it will stay in place and George Orwell will have an incredible posthumous laugh at our expense.

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