Clear and cold again this Thursday morning up here on California’s north coast, with the weather hopefully, slowly moving out of the news spotlight.
We’re at 37 degrees right now on our way to a high of 53, and some rain forecast for tonight — but who knows.
Beyond the chatter on the Congressional budget bargain-basement bullshit, the big deal in DC was the NSA, again.
(Illustration found here).
Yesterday, Keith Alexander, honcho of the NSA, and a couple of his flunkies were in the hedge-your-bets mode during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing supposedly to answer questions on the groupie-grope antics of the agency. Alexander and his boys were on Capital Hill to once again try and explain away the NSA’s humongous reach into everywhere.
Some clips via a live blog from the Guardian:
Chairman Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, begins his statement.
As usual, he says, there are new, recent, disturbing revelations about NSA surveillance.
“The latest disclosures raise significant questions about the scope” of surveillance programs, Leahy says. More oversight is clearly needed, he says – “a lot more.”
“From my perspective, the threats are growing,” Alexander says.
As evidence he gives stats for terror attacks inside Iraq and Syria.
Many of those would of course be casualties in a foreign civil war.
“That is the least intrusive way that we could do this,” he says.
Then he embarks on a library analogy.
“Metadata is a way of knowing where those books are in the library, and a way of focusing our collection… to knowing, where are the bad books,” Alexander says.
He holds up an index card — it’s meant to be an old-style card-catalog card (sorry, millennials) – on which are listed the categories of information encompassed by “metadata”: time, date, duration, contact numbers.
Then he returns to the 9/11 attacks and says, as he always does, that the attack might have been stopped by a metadata collection program like the USA has now.
Leahy jumps in and says the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks also has been put down to a failure to communicate within the intelligence community.
US agents had the info they needed, they just failed to share it with one another.
The first time Alexander has been interrupted when he has played the 9/11 card.
Robert S. Litt, general council for the office of the director of national intelligence acts the asshole:
Litt says certain disclosures that would be required by the reform legislation present “practical or operational” compliance concerns for the intelligence community.
“We’re opening to considering any proposals so long as they are feasible and don’t compromise our ability” to gather information, Litt says.
Or they might simply be required by law to make changes.
Senator Al Franken turns to metadata collection under section 702 of the Fisa amendments act.
Alexander says once again that the program is designed to collect foreign intelligence, and the NSA does its best to avoid surveilling Americans.
Franken asks, How many Americans have gotten caught up in that? He wants a range, not a precise number.
“I don’t mean to hedge,” Alexander says.
“..When we are tracking a terrorist, if they are talking to five people, and one of them is an American, our chances of knowing that are very small.”
Franken wants to know why it’s so hard to get a number.
He says his bill calls for the NSA to give a tally of how many Americans’ records have been searched.
He says he’s not looking for a precise number.
“When there is a lack of transparency, [Americans] tend to be very skeptical and expect abuse,” Franken says.
“The number isn’t that big,” Alexander says.
What’s 5 billion cellphones a day? And a huge chunk are Americans?
One of the best insights in all this shit is Marcy Wheeler, and she says the hearing ‘was a bust.’ The problem was old news of NSA insidious behaviors, not new NSA insidious behaviors:
Pat Leahy was fired up — and even blew off a Keith Alexander attempt to liken the Internet to a library with stories of the library card he got when he was 4.
While generally favoring the dragnet, Chuck Grassley at least asked decent questions.
But because of a conflict with a briefing on the Iran deal, Al Franken was the only other Senator to show up for the first panel.
And the government witnesses — Keith Alexander, Robert Litt, and James Cole — focused on the phone dragnet disclosed over 6 months ago, rather than newer disclosures like back door searches and the Internet dragnet, which moved overseas.
Litt even suggested — in response to a question from Leahy — that they might still be able to conduct the dragnet if they could bamboozle the FISA Court on relevance, again.
As a result, no one discussed the systemic legal abuses of the Internet dragnet or NSA’s seeming attempt to evade oversight and data sharing limits by moving their dragnet overseas.
What an incredible mess. Actual terrorist threats are way down on the information scale — more cellphones and more industrial spying. Alexander and his lackeys do nothing but defend bullshit policies that is obvious to any moron, and they keep either directly lying (i.e. James Clapper), or tip-toe around truth telling. Republican James Sensenbrenner, one of the architects of the Patriot Act Jr., has called for Clapper to be prosecuted for lying to Congress.
Hard to see that happening, though.
Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic has a piece up on this freakish and outlandish continual lying about what’s happening with the NSA — some snips:
Put simply, everyone who feared that the NSA collects location data on Americans was correct. But they didn’t learn that back when they expressed those fears.
Quite the contrary.
On multiple occasions, Obama Administration officials spoke about the collection of cell-phone location data in ways that were often technically accurate but wildly deceptive.
In so doing, they succeeded in confusing the surveillance debate and creating the inaccurate impression that location data wasn’t being collected.
The NSA apparently wasn’t collecting location data as part of its Section 215 bulk-metadata-collection program (the one revealed in that initial Glenn Greenwald story about the NSA getting phone records on all Verizon customers) — it was collecting location data under different programs that had yet to be revealed.
Had the reporters known the truth, they may not have contextualized the story with language about an NSA surveillance effort that is “tightly controlled or limited in scope,” and they certainly wouldn’t have included the highly misleading line from the official who implied that location data wasn’t collected because the resources required didn’t justify it. When he said that, massive resources were being expended to collect location data!
Obama Administration officials carried out all this deception even though they knew that Snowden’s cache would likely reveal the truth about the collection of location data.
Sure enough, the truth came out a few months later, but it wouldn’t be correct to suggest that their efforts had no consequences.
Their behavior on this matter perfectly illustrates why neither the press nor the public should ever take anything a surveillance-state official says at face value.
Even if they usually (though not always) say things that are technically true, they are also masters of deception, willing to egregiously mislead with their rhetoric if doing so will help them maintain maximum secrecy a bit longer.
On December 5, after the Washington Post revealed that location data, including data belonging to Americans, is being collected, here’s what the White House press secretary said:
“I’m not in a position to discuss the details of particular tools and methods of intelligence collection, although yesterday, ODNI stated for the record that no element of the intelligence community is intentionally collecting bulk cell-phone location information about cell phones in the United States.”
Like so many that came before it, it is a statement exquisitely crafted to mislead.
The NSA is way-out-of-control and there’s really not much can be done unless these clowns are ‘forced’ to do something. And lying is not an option.