Category Archive 'National Security Agency'

19 Apr 2010

NSA Bows to Court on Data Collecting

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We don’t know exactly what information the National Security Agency has ceased collecting , and we don’t know what legal issue persuaded which judge that collecting it was a problem. But the Washington Post tells us that there will be a hiatus for some time in the surveillance of terrorist communications. If it should happen that they are able to exploit this particular security gap, we will probably one day learn just who was responsible.

A special federal court that oversees domestic surveillance has raised concerns about the National Security Agency’s collection of certain types of electronic data, prompting the agency to suspend collecting it, U.S. officials said.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which grants orders to U.S. spy agencies to monitor U.S. citizens and residents in terrorism and espionage cases, recently “got a little bit more of an understanding” about the NSA’s collection of the data, said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because such matters are classified.

The data under discussion are records associated with various kinds of communication, but not their content. Examples of this “metadata” include the origin, destination and path of an e-mail; the phone numbers called from a particular telephone; and the Internet address of someone making an Internet phone call. It was not clear what kind of data had provoked the court’s concern.

Some House Republicans have argued that the suspension of collection creates an intelligence gap that undermines the government’s ability to track and identify terrorist networks, according to officials familiar with the matter. Frustrated about waiting for a remedy, these Republicans say the gap can be closed with a technical fix to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the officials said.

“This is a basic tool we used to have, and it’s now gone,” said one intelligence official familiar with the impasse. “Every day, every week that goes by, there’s just one more week of information that we’re not collecting. You sit there and say, ‘This is unbelievable that we have this gap.’ ”

The data could be used to help analysts learn whom a suspect was working and communicating with, and to “detect and anticipate” a plot, the official said. “It’s not a concern over what was being collected,” he said. “It’s just a question about whether the law was written in a way that allowed the information to be collected in a way that they were collecting it.” …

The NSA voluntarily stopped gathering the data in December or January rather than wait to be told to do so, the officials said. The agency had been collecting it with court permission for several years, officials said.

16 Apr 2010

One Major NSA Leaker Indicted

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The New York Times reports that, lo, a mere three or four years later, one of what must have been a number of Intelligence Community officials who leaked very significant and highly classified national security information is actually about to be prosecuted.

In a rare legal action against a government employee accused of leaking secrets, a grand jury has indicted a former senior National Security Agency official on charges of providing classified information to a newspaper reporter in hundreds of e-mail messages in 2006 and 2007.

The official, Thomas A. Drake, 52, was also accused of obstructing justice by shredding documents, deleting computer records and lying to investigators who were looking into the reporter’s sources.

“Our national security demands that the sort of conduct alleged here — violating the government’s trust by illegally retaining and disclosing classified information — be prosecuted and prosecuted vigorously,” Lanny A. Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement.

The indictment, approved Wednesday by a grand jury in Baltimore and made public on Thursday, does not name either the reporter or the newspaper that received the information.

But the description applies to articles written by Siobhan Gorman, then a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, that examined in detail the failings of several major N.S.A. programs, costing billions of dollars, using computers to collect and sort electronic intelligence. The efforts were plagued with technical flaws and cost overruns. …

Mr. Drake, who began working as an N.S.A. contractor in 1991 and was a high-ranking agency employee from 2001 to 2008, is charged with 10 counts, including retention of classified information, obstruction of justice and making false statements. The retention counts each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Times remarks defensively that “[t]he indictment suggests the Obama administration may be no less aggressive than the Bush administration in pursuing whistleblowers and reporters’ sources who disclose government secrets.”

Frankly, I think they may be being more aggressive.

Siobhan Gorman (naturally) in 2006 received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for her NSA coverage.

The Baltimore Sun web-site does not seem to be linking many of Siobhan Gorman’s NSA stories, but here’s an example, NSA Killed System That Sifted Phone Data Legally, published in the Sun, May 18, 2006, quoted by the leftwing Common Dreams. Possibly being deliberately misleading, Gorman claims to have four anonymous informants.

Here is Siobhan Gorman talking about Homeland Security use of satellite surveillance on C-Span, November 3, 2007, 8:02 video.

25 Mar 2007

What Damage to Society?

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Brad Warbiany has been reading liberal journalists and democrats, and (worse!) taking their nonsense seriously.

Brad writes:

Fear has become the name of the political game, and the stakes are high. Unlike World War II, we’re not asked to ration sugar or observe meatless meals. Instead, we’re asked to suspend habeas corpus, willingly submit to National Security Letters and warrantless domestic wiretapping. Of course, we’re asked to provide implicit trust to the government to faithfully protect us, while acting as watchdogs to snitch on our untrustworthy family, friends, and neighbors at the first sign of wrongdoing. We’re watching as crucial controls on government, going back to the Magna Carta in 1215, are being removed…

There was never, ever any occasion from 1215 to the present day, in which prisoners of war had the benefit of habeas corpus. Still less, spies, saboteurs, and other illegal combatants, who did not even enjoy the privileges and immunities associated with the status of prisoner of war, and who were traditionally executed out of hand, by hanging.

What should still be regarded as determinative is the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950), which held:

Modern American law has come a long way since the time when outbreak of war made every enemy national an outlaw, subject to both public and private slaughter, cruelty and plunder. But even by the most magnanimous view, our law does not abolish inherent distinctions recognized throughout the civilized world between citizens and aliens, nor between aliens of friendly and of enemy allegiance, nor between resident enemy aliens who have submitted themselves to our laws and non-resident enemy aliens who at all times have remained with, and adhered to, enemy governments. …

But, in extending constitutional protections beyond the citizenry, the Court has been at pains to point out that it was the alien’s presence within its territorial jurisdiction that gave the Judiciary power to act. …

If this [Fifth] Amendment invests enemy aliens in unlawful hostile action against us with immunity from military trial, it puts them in a more protected position than our own soldiers. …

We hold that the Constitution does not confer a right of personal security or an immunity from military trial and punishment upon an alien enemy engaged in the hostile service of a government at war with the United States.

Brad Warbiany continues:

The time comes that I have to ask myself a simple question: Is it worth it?

What level of uncertainty of a terrorist attack should we allow in our lives in order to be certain that we’re not subjects of a police state? It has become a sad state of affairs when I’m more concerned that the actions of my own government will cause me trouble than the actions of extremists who have sworn an intent to kill me. In a world where we’re asked to submit to intrusive surveillance on a daily basis, and further to do so gladly and “for our own protection”, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to simply take my chances without their blanket of security?

Might there be better ways of reducing terrorism than turning our own country into a prison, while engaging in a foreign policy which causes those who didn’t hate us 5 years ago to start? Nearly 40 years of effort have proven that our tactics in fighting a war on drugs have proven futile and counterproductive, while damaging American society in the process. Should we take a step back and evaluate whether our tactics fighting international terrorism have been futile and counterproductive, while damaging American society in the process?

“Turning our own country into a prison” is just a bit of an exaggeration, is it not?

What intrusive surveillance has the gentleman experienced? I wonder, outside the revolting and irrational practices of airline security, which have gotten worse recently, but which long predate 9/11 and the current administration, going back to the 1960s when Castro’s Cuban regime initiated the practice of airline hijacking.

The government is widely believed to be practicing some forms of mechanical surveillance, data-mining electronic and telephonic communications, in search of messages transmitted between terrorists.

This sort of thing has been going on for a very long time, all the way back to the WWII era, when the predecessor agency of the NSA was opening every telegram.

In 1945 Project SHAMROCK was initiated to obtain copies of all telegraphic information exiting or entering the United States. With the full cooperation of RCA, ITT and Western Union (representing almost all of the telegraphic traffic in the US at the time), the NSA’s predecessor and later the NSA itself were provided with daily microfilm copies of all incoming, outgoing and transiting telegraphs.

Are either Mr. Warbiany or myself really inconvenienced by the NSA’s Echelon program datamining our emails, presumably in search of such obvious giveaway signals as the presence of provocative texts like “Allahu Akhbar!”, “the anthrax is on the way,” or “the nuclear bomb goes off at noon”? Our emails are, in a sense, “read” by machines already simply in the process of being transmitted across the Net.

Do I really even care if some clerical employee pulls my sarcastic “Allahu Akhbar!” email out of the pile, and eyeballs it for a fraction of a second? Not much. In fact, a lot less than I like having to remove my shoes at the airport.

It is somewhat difficult for those of us on the sidelines to evaluate sensibly the necessity and propriety of the secret operations of our intelligences services in time of war. We do know, however, that no successful incident of mass terrorism has taken place on US soil since 9/11, and we have good reason to believe that there are a lot of people trying. So somebody, somewhere, must be doing something right.

As to international opinion, what can one expect? The international leftwing intelligentsia, and its media outlets, have always hated the United States. They hate the United States more vigorously when the United States actually does something in the world, it’s true. But it would be insane to base US foreign policy upon the preferences and desires of our rivals and adversaries, on the one hand; and even worse to base it upon the goofy and pernicious world view of the international community of leftist bien pensants on the other.

18 Oct 2006

Al Qaeda Communications Manual

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The New York Sun reports that an Al Qaeda communications manual, intended to foil NSA Echelon surveillance, titled the Myth of Delusion, was released via password-protected Islamic web-sites earlier this summer.

The document’s author, one Mohammed al-Hakaymah, clearly subscribes to Hillary Clinton’s theory of an influential “Great Right-Wing Conspiracy.”

Bill Roggio seems to have been the first to break the story, and he made the text available via .pdf.


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