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A member of the White House review panel on NSA surveillance said he was “absolutely” surprised when he discovered the agency’s lack of evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records had thwarted any terrorist attacks, said Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, in an interview with NBC News. “The results were very thin.”

While Stone said the mass collection of telephone call records was a “logical program” from the NSA’s perspective, one question the White House panel was seeking to answer was whether it had actually stopped “any [terror attacks] that might have been really big.”

“We found none,” said Stone.

Under the NSA program, first revealed by ex-contractor Edward Snowden, the agency collects en-masse the records of the time and duration of phone calls made by persons inside (and sometimes outside) the United States.

Stone was one of five members of the White House review panel – and the only one without any intelligence community experience – that this week produced a sweeping report recommending that the NSA’s collection of phone call records be terminated to protect Americans’ privacy rights.

The panel made that recommendation after concluding that the program was “not essential in preventing attacks.”

“That was stunning. That was the ballgame,” said one congressional intelligence official, who asked not to be publicly identified. “It flies in the face of everything that they have tossed at us.”

Despite the panel’s conclusions, Stone strongly  rejected the idea they justified Snowden’s actions in leaking the NSA documents about the phone collection. “Suppose someone decides we need gun control and they go out and kill 15  kids and  then a state enacts gun control?” Stone said, using an analogy he acknowledged was “somewhat inflammatory.” What Snowden did, Stone said, was put the country “at risk.”

“My emphatic view,” he said, “is that a person who has access to classified information — the revelation of which could damage national security — should never take it upon himself to reveal that information.”

Stone added, however, that he would not necessarily reject granting an  amnesty to Snowden in exchange for the return of all his documents, as was recently suggested by a top NSA official. “It’s a hostage situation,” said Stone. Deciding whether to negotiate with him to get all his documents back was a “pragmatic judgment. I see no principled reason not to do that.”

The conclusions of the panel’s reports were at direct odds with public statements by President Barack Obama and U.S. intelligence officials. “Lives have been saved,” Obama told reporters last June, referring to the bulk collection program and another program that intercepts communications overseas. “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information.”

But in one little-noticed footnote in its report, the White House panel said the telephone records collection program – known as Section 215, based on the provision of the U.S. Patriot Act that provided the legal basis for it – had made “only a modest contribution to the nation’s security.” The report said that “there has been no instance in which NSA could say with confidence that the outcome [of a terror investigation] would have been any different” without the program.

The panel’s findings echoed that of U.S. Judge Richard Leon, who in a ruling this week found the bulk collection program to be unconstitutional. Leon said that government officials were unable to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk collection metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.”

Stone declined to comment on the accuracy of public statements by U.S. intelligence officials about the telephone collection program, but said that when they referred to successes they seemed to be mixing the results of domestic metadata collection with the intelligence derived from the separate, and less controversial, NSA program, known as 702, to intercept communications overseas.

The comparison between 702 overseas interceptions and 215 bulk metadata collection was “night and day,” said Stone. “With 702, the record is very impressive. It’s no doubt the nation is safer and spared potential attacks because of 702. There was nothing like that for 215. We asked the question and they [the NSA] gave us the data. They were very straight about it.”

He also said one reason the telephone records program is not effective is because, contrary to the claims of critics, it actually does not collect a record of every American’s phone call. Although the NSA does collect metadata from major telecommunications carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, there are many smaller carriers from which it collects nothing. Asked if the NSA was collecting the records of 75 percent of phone calls, an estimate that has been used in briefings to Congress , Stone said the real number was classified but “not anything close to that” and far lower.

When panel members asked NSA officials why they didn’t expand the program to include smaller carriers, the answer they gave was “money,” Stone said. “They were setting financial priorities,” said Stone, and that was “really revealing” about how useful the bulk collection of telephone calls really was.

An NSA spokeswoman declined to comment on any aspect of the panel’s report, saying the agency was deferring to the White House. Asked Wednesday about the surveillance panel’s conclusions about telephone record collection, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that “the president does still believe and knows that this program is an important piece of the overall efforts that we engage in to combat threats against the lives of American citizens and threats to our overall national security.”

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Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have joined an upstart effort to remove the  chain of command from military sexual assault cases, POLITICO has learned.

The tea party favorites give the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Kirsten  Gillibrand, critical conservative cover as she battles the Pentagon and hawks in  both parties on her proposal to create a new prosecution system for major  military crimes.

Paul is scheduled to attend a press conference Tuesday in the  Capitol with Gillibrand and other bill backers, including Sens. Chuck Grassley  and Barbara Boxer, to discuss his new position, which inches the New York  Democrat closer to the 51 votes she hopes is all she’ll need when her proposal  comes up for debate as early as next week.

The issue of military sexual assault came under intense scrutiny this spring  on Capitol Hill when top military commanders from each branch of the service sat  before the Armed Services Committee and swore they’d stamp out sexual assault in  the ranks – but stopped far short of supporting Gillibrand’s idea.

It seemed Gillibrand’s proposal was picking up momentum amid a series of  high-profile incidents involving military officials and sexual misconduct  grabbed headlines, but it failed in a committee vote in June that didn’t break  along traditional party lines.

The Pentagon has kept up a fierce lobbying campaign behind the scenes, but  Gillibrand and her supporters believe the measure can fare better on the full  Senate floor with senators less tied to the military.

Gillibrand already has 32 cosponsors and the addition of Paul and Cruz  provides a powerful political message as she continues to lobby for more votes  in face-to-face meetings on the Senate floor.

“Sen. Paul believes that the vast majority of our service members are  honorable and upstanding individuals,” said Paul spokesman Moira Bagley said in  an email. “In the instance when one is accused of a serious crime, especially  one of harassment or assault, the allegation needs to be taken seriously and  conflicts of interest should not impact whether a crime is prosecuted  properly.”

Paul has been a critic of the Pentagon on other issues, too. The Kentucky  Republican has called for an audit of military spending and he waded into  defense issues in March with a 13-hour filibuster questioning the danger of  drone strikes to U.S. citizens on American soil.

Cruz on Tuesday will also go a step beyond an initial committee vote,  pointing to America’s allies to explain his position.

“Several of our strongest allies such as Israel, the United Kingdom, and  Germany have made similar reforms to their military justice systems, and seen  marked improvement,” Cruz said in the statement. He also commended Gillibrand  for her efforts to “modernize” the forces.

Still, advocates believe the new supporters could boost the vote count.

“The senator being fully on board kind of opens up possibilities,” said a  Senate Democratic aide working on defense issues. “It doesn’t split along  partisan ideology lines. It’s about folks who want to take on the status quo….It  can shake up the equation.”

Paul isn’t the first Republican to link up with Gillibrand. Sens. Susan  Collins, Mike Johanns, Lisa Murkowski and Grassley were there at the early  stages. Sens. Ted Cruz and David Vitter both voted for her proposal during the  committee markup last month.

In prepared remarks Gillibrand is scheduled to give at Tuesday’s press  conference, the New York Democrat will highlight the “strong and growing  bipartisan coalition” to remove the command chain from prosecutions involving  military crimes punishable by more than one year of confinement.

“Our carefully crafted common sense proposal written in direct response to  the experiences of those who have gone through a system rife with bias and  conflict of interest is not a Democratic or Republican idea – it is just the  right idea,” Gillibrand will say, according to her remarks.

Democratic leaders have yet to schedule the defense authorization bill, or  any amendments to it, including Gillibrand’s proposal, but senior aides say the  legislation remains a possible contender for floor debate in the final two weeks  before the August recess.

Senior military brass, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin  Dempsey and the service branch heads, oppose Gillibrand’s proposal, arguing that  it would disrupt the Pentagon’s core command structure and its unique judicial  system. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and ranking member  Jim Inhofe have also defended the military against Gillibrand’s bid to remove  the chain of command.

During last month’s committee markup, Levin offered an alternative proposal  to address sexual assault in the military that stripped commanders of the  ability to overturn jury verdicts and a provision making retaliation against  sexual assault victims a crime.


In a change that many feel is a shocking change, the Supreme Court has determined that it is now legal for law enforcement to take DNA swabs from people who have been arrested for “serious crimes.” Twenty eight states and the federal government had been taking DNA samples for some time, but it took an appeal of a rape conviction based on a DNA swabs for the Supreme Court to make this 5-4 ruling.

Maryland v. King

In the case of Maryland v. King, Alonzo King was arrested in 2009 on first and second degree assault charges in Wicomico County, Maryland. Mr. King was taken to booking where a cheek swab was taken to collect his DNA. The sample was allowed as evidence due to the Maryland DNA Collection Act. Police discovered that Mr. King’s DNA matched and unsolved rape from 2003, and he was subsequently charged with that crime and convicted for the 2003 rape. Mr. King appealed on the basis that when the police took the DNA swab it was in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In this case, the Supreme Court found that DNA testing improves police investigative practices. Taking these DNA samples is legal in relation to people charged with violent crimes, including first-degree assault. With this decision, it is not only possible for police to confiscate personal property such as your your driver’s license and business credit cards, but also your DNA.

Non-Invasive Method

DNA swab of saliva taken from senior man

Maryland argued that the DNA swabs were reasonable because of the non-invasive method of extracting the DNA. The cotton swab, as Maryland argued, on a suspect’s cheek is just as non-invasive as making someone blow through a breathalyzer or giving their finger prints for analysis. An attorney for the federal government, in support of the Maryland law, argued that people under arrest are no longer free citizens who have their full Fourth Amendment rights. They can be subjected to strip searches and medical screenings when they are put in jail.

Will the DNA Be Used for More?

In a somewhat surprising dissent, Associate Justice Anton Scalia stated that the current limitation of taking DNA from those arrested for violent crimes would not last. Associate Justice Scalia, who is ordinarily in support of governmental power, stated that part of the problem with taking DNA is that whether a person is arrested rightly or wrongly, their DNA will be entered into a national database. He stated that it is not a large step away from taking DNA for any kind of arrest, and that it is possible that someday the TSA will take DNA from travelers to ensure that flights are safe, and eventually, a school may take DNA from students as they enroll in school. Whether his examples are hyperbole or whether he believes law enforcement is headed down a slippery slope was not entirely clear.

Identify Criminals

Associate Justice Kennedy, when speaking for the majority, stated that using DNA to identify suspects of previous crimes is not different than using photographs of unidentified suspects or matching tattoos of gang members. Associate Justice Kennedy stated that DNA is another tool to help identify people who have left traces of themselves at crime scenes.

Serious Crimes

An attorney for the government stated that the reason law enforcement was only interested in taking DNA from more serious crimes was that criminals were more likely to leave DNA behind after committing a violent crime compared to crimes like shoplifting. Law enforcement is more likely to find DNA linking suspects to prior violent offenses when taking DNA from those arrested for violent offenses.

Now that taking DNA of those arrested for violent crimes is the law of the land, it remains to be seen if the scope of DNA tests will spread to those arrested for less serious crimes. It is also unclear if taking DNA for less serious offenses will be at odds with the current Supreme Court decision.


Where oversight and accountability have failed, Snowden’s leaks have opened up a vital public debate on our rights and privacy

Let’s be absolutely clear about the news that the NSA collects massive amounts of information on US citizens – from emails, to telephone calls, to videos, under the Prism program and other Fisa court orders: this story has nothing to do with Edward Snowden. As interesting as his flight to Hong Kong might be, the pole-dancing girlfriend, and interviews from undisclosed locations, his fate is just a sideshow to the essential issues of national security versus constitutional guarantees of privacy, which his disclosures have surfaced in sharp relief.

Snowden will be hunted relentlessly and, when finally found, with glee, brought back to the US in handcuffs and severely punished. (If Private Bradley Manning‘s obscene conditions while incarcerated are any indication, it won’t be pleasant for Snowden either, even while awaiting trial.) Snowden has already been the object of scorn and derision from the Washington establishment and mainstream media, but, once again, the focus is misplaced on the transiently shiny object. The relevant issue should be: what exactly is the US government doing in the people’s name to “keep us safe” from terrorists?

Prism and other NSA data-mining programs might indeed be very effective in hunting and capturing actual terrorists, but we don’t have enough information as a society to make that decision. Despite laudable efforts led by Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall to bring this to the public’s attention that were continually thwarted by the administration because everything about this program was deemed “too secret”, Congress could not even exercise its oversight responsibilities. The intelligence community and their friends on the Hill do not have a right to interpret our rights absent such a discussion.

NSA Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah

The shock and surprise that Snowden exposed these secrets is hard to understand when over 1.4 million Americans hold “top secret” security clearances. When that many have access to sensitive information, is it really so difficult to envision a leak?

We are now dealing with a vast intelligence-industrial complex that is largely unaccountable to its citizens. This alarming, unchecked growth of the intelligence sector and the increasingly heavy reliance on subcontractors to carry out core intelligence tasks – now estimated to account for approximately 60% of the intelligence budget – have intensified since the 9/11 attacks and what was, arguably, our regrettable over-reaction to them.

The roots of this trend go back at least as far as the Reagan era, when the political right became obsessed with limiting government and denigrating those who worked for the public sector. It began a wave of privatization – because everything was held to be more “cost-efficient” when done by the private sector – and that only deepened with the political polarization following the election of 2000. As it turns out, the promises of cheaper, more efficient services were hollow, but inertia carried the day.

Today, the intelligence sector is so immense that no one person can manage, or even comprehend, its reach. When an operation in the field goes south, who would we prefer to try and correct the damage: a government employee whose loyalty belongs to his country (despite a modest salary), or the subcontractor who wants to ensure that his much fatter paycheck keeps coming?

Early polls of Americans about their privacy concerns that the government might be collecting metadata from phone calls and emails indicates that there is little alarm; there appears to be, in fact, an acceptance of or resignation to these practices. To date, there is no proof that the government has used this information to pursue and harass US citizens based on their political views. There are no J Edgar Hoover-like “enemy lists” … yet. But it is not so difficult to envision a scenario where any of us has a link, via a friend of a friend, to someone on the terrorist watchlist. What then? You may have no idea who this person is, but a supercomputer in Fort Meade (or, soon, at the Utah Data Center near Salt Lake City) will have made this connection. And then you could have some explaining to do to an over-zealous prosecutor.

On this spying business, officials from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to self-important senators are, in effect, telling Americans not to worry: it’s not that big a deal, and “trust us” because they’re keeping US citizens safe. This position must be turned on its head and opened up to a genuine discussion about the necessary, dynamic tension between security and privacy. As it now stands, these programs are ripe for abuse unless we establish ground rules and barriers between authentic national security interests and potential political chicanery.

The irony of former Vice-President Dick Cheney wringing his hands over the release of classified information is hard to watch. Cheney calls Snowden a traitor. Snowden may not be a hero, but the fact is that we owe him a debt of gratitude for finally bringing this question into the public square for the robust discussion it deserves.


The FBI has admitted it sometimes uses aerial surveillance drones over US soil, and suggested further political debate and legislation to govern their domestic use may be necessary.


Speaking in a hearing mainly about telephone data collection, the bureau’s director, Robert Mueller, said it used drones to aid its investigations in a “very, very minimal way, very seldom”.

However, the potential for growing drone use either in the US, or involving US citizens abroad, is an increasingly charged issue in Congress, and the FBI acknowledged there may need to be legal restrictions placed on their use to protect privacy.

“It is still in nascent stages but it is worthy of debate and legislation down the road,” said Mueller, in response to questions from Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono.

Hirono said: “I think this is a burgeoning concern for many of us.”

Dianne Feinstein, who is also chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said the issue of drones worried her far more than telephone and internet surveillance, which she believes are subject to sufficient legal oversight.

“Our footprint is very small,” Mueller told the Senate judiciary committee. “We have very few and have limited use.”

He said the FBI was in “the initial stages” of developing privacy guidelines to balance security threats with civil liberty concerns.

It is known that drones are used by border control officials and have been used by some local law enforcement authorities and Department of Homeland Security in criminal cases.

Mueller said he wasn’t sure if there were official agreements with these other agencies.

“To the extent that it relates to the air space there would be some communication back and forth [between agencies],” Mueller said.

A Senate intelligence committee member, Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, later questioned whether such use of drones was constitutional. “Unmanned aerial systems have the potential to more efficiently and effectively perform law enforcement duties, but the American people expect the FBI and other government agencies to first and foremost protect their constitutional rights,” Udall said in a prepared statement.

“I am concerned the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the ‘initial stages’ of developing guidelines to protect Americans’ privacy rights. I look forward to learning more about this program and will do everything in my power to hold the FBI  accountable and ensure its actions respect the US constitution.”

Another senator, Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, also expressed concern. Asked whether the FBI drones were known about before the Mueller hearing, Grassley told CNN “absolutely not.” Grassley added the FBI was asked last year whether agents were using drones but the bureau never got back with an answer.

At the same hearing, Mueller urged Congress to move carefully before making any changes that might restrict the National Security Agency programs for mass collection of people’s phone records and information from the internet.

“If we are to prevent terrorist attacks, we have to know and be in their communications,” said Mueller. “Having the ability to identify a person in the United States, one telephone number with a telephone that the intelligence community is on in Yemen or Somalia or Pakistan … may prevent that one attack, that Boston or that 9/11.”

The FBI director argued for the continued use of the NSA programs. “Are you going to take the dots off the table, make it unavailable to you when you’re trying to prevent the next terrorist attack? That’s a question for Congress,” said Mueller.

via Guardian UK


It’s come out that the NSA has been domestically monitoring American citizens but it’s just the most recent case in a long, long line of domestic spying from the NSA that stretches back to at least 1973.

This timeline is intended to recall all the credible accounts and information of the NSA’s domestic spying program found in the media, congressional testimony, books, and court actions.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

For more information please visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation.


It’s the ultimate machine of what’s become our Paranoid State. Clive Irving on the Orwellian mass-surveillance data center rising in the Utah desert.

Remember the Stasi, the secret police who operated in East Germany when it was a communist state? When the Berlin Wall came down, East Germans discovered they had been living in a society so rotted by paranoia that at least one in three of its adult citizens were spying on the other two.

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In the case of East Germany, this ended up producing warehouses stuffed with bulging files containing the minutely observed details of the everyday, humdrum lives of millions. The product was both banal and, in its range and results, terrifying (a world caught beautifully in the film The Lives of Others).

In the case of the U.S., the apotheosis of the same mind-set lies in a sprawling complex at Camp Williams, Utah, due to start operating this fall. Billions of dollars have gone into creating this cyberintelligence facility for the National Security Agency.

There’s no official explanation of the Utah Data Center’s real mission, except that it’s the largest of a network of data farms including sites in Colorado, Georgia, and Maryland. But it’s obviously been built to vastly increase the agency’s capacity to suck in, digest, analyze, and store whatever the intelligence community decides to collect. As of this week, we know a lot more about the kind of data that includes.

Of course, the U.S. is still far from being the police state that East Germany was. But I do think we need to better understand how this technological juggernaut works, what its scope really is—and particularly we need to appreciate how our political acceptance of this scale of surveillance is shaping the kind of society we are.

The national-security industrial complex is now of the size, power, and influence of the military-industrial complex of the Cold War, which President Eisenhower first defined and warned of. As then, this complex uses the national interest as a reason for having to operate in secrecy, and invokes patriotism—literally in the PATRIOT Act—to create a political consensus.

Nineteen terrorists with minimal technology—box cutters—have enabled the counterterrorism industry to enjoy unbounded reach. White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest used the familiar argument to defend the newly disclosed surveillance: it was, he said, “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terror threats as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terror activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”

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Where is it absolutely essential to violate privacy and where not?

That’s actually a simplification. Surveillance has two fundamental purposes: to track the known and discover the unknown. It’s hard to comprehend the science involved. How, for example, do you cull billions of bytes of data a second in a way that discriminates between the useless and the essential? Only one thing is for sure, and that is that the policy driving the velocity of the NSA’s ever-expanding sweeps is first to make those sweeps as global and indiscriminate as possible and then to apply algorithms able to instantly see the significant from the insignificant. If only it were that simple.

It is patently easy to defend the resources devoted to intelligence gathering by saying that many attacks have been thwarted, without saying what and where they were. Neither the Boston Marathon atrocity nor the London assassination of a British soldier were detected in advance, even though intelligence services in both countries had the perpetrators on their radar.

There is a certain kind of intellectual depravity in trying to have us accept that all surveillance is good for us. Politicians of both parties who now say there is nothing new in what has been revealed, that this was all authorized and kosher, are captives of this depravity, because they don’t really know any more than we do where to draw the line. Where is it absolutely essential to violate privacy and where not?

This is made even worse by the cover of enormous technical complexity. At least the Stasi’s low-tech methods could be seen for what they were, part of a cumbersome and gross bureaucratic machine, essentially human in its systems, allowing culpability to be clearly assigned.

In our case there is the Dark Star factor, like the Utah operation, working on robotic principles, not dependent on putting bugs in chandeliers, leaving no fingerprints, and capable of awesome penetration. We have the ultimate machine of the Paranoid State, an Orwellian apparatus that intoxicates its operators with its efficiency, enthrals its masters with its omniscience, and emasculates its political overseers with its promise of efficacy.

By Clive Irving