First, a little background.
The National Security Agency (NSA), preceded by the Armed Forces Security Agency, was formed in 1952 and is a cryptologic intelligence agency of the US Department of Defense responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, as well as protecting US government communications and information systems, which involves information security and cryptanalysis/cryptography.
The NSA is directed by at least a lieutenant general or vice admiral. The NSA is a key component of the US Intelligence Community, which is headed by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The Central Security Service is a co-located agency created to coordinate intelligence activities and cooperation between the NSA and other US military cryptanalysis agencies. The Director of the NSA serves as the Commander of the United States Cyber Command and Chief of the Central Security Service.
By law, the NSA’s intelligence gathering is limited to foreign communications, although domestic incidents such as the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy have occurred. (Source: Wikipedia. Emphases added.)
The NSA domestic warrantless surveillance controversy referred to above (AKA “Warrantless Wiretapping”) concerns surveillance of persons within the US during the collection of foreign intelligence by the NSA as part of President Bush’s war on terror.
Under this program, referred to by the Bush Administration as the “terrorist surveillance program,” part of the broader President’s Surveillance Program, the NSA was authorized by executive order to monitor, without search warrants, the phone calls, Internet activity (Web, e-mail, etc.), text messaging, and other communications involving any party believed by the NSA to be outside the US, even if the other end of the communication was inside the US.
Liberal critics, however, claimed that it was an effort to attempt to silence critics of the Bush Administration. Under public pressure, the Bush Administration ceased the warrantless wiretapping program in January 2007 and returned review of surveillance to the FISA court. Subsequently, in 2008 Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which relaxed some of the original FISA court requirements.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) is a US federal court, was established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 and is commonly referred to as the FISA court. The FISA court oversees requests for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the US by federal law enforcement agencies, primarily the FBI.
During the Obama Administration, the NSA has officially continued operating under the new FISA guidelines. However, in April 2009 officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ) acknowledged that the NSA had engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications in excess of the FISA court’s authority but claimed that the acts were unintentional and had since been rectified.
Well, seemingly not, because we now have the latest Obama Administration scandal (so many to keep up with) that the NSA is data mining what’s called the “meta” data (or data of the data) of millions of Americans’ phone calls.
That means, if you are to believe your government any more at all, that they are merely collecting and storing all of our phone calls, from what number to what number and for what duration. This is supposed to give the NSA supercomputers data to crunch in looking for patterns and does not include them listening in on our phone calls. To do that, for example, they would supposedly have to identify a pattern and use it as a basis to go back to a federal judge to obtain a warrant for a wire tap to actually start monitoring the content of someone’s phone conversations.
But we have President Obama recently reassuring us that our phone calls, that is, at least their content, are not being monitored and that 100% security cannot be attained while maintaining 100% of liberties. Well, first of all, I worked in the Army as a security specialist of all sorts for over 20 years and there is no such thing as 100% security — ever. Any security system you can devise, someone with enough time, resources and determination can overcome. Maybe Obama should also have remembered Ben Franklin’s “Any people that would give up liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.”
But, then, this is the same guy (1) who assured us Benghazi was caused by an Internet video, (2) who called the Fort Hood massacre “workplace violence,” (3) who recently addressed college students and told them to ignore anyone who said tyranny was just around the corner, (4) who didn’t know anything about anything about his DOJ targeting journalists, about his DOJ seizing hundreds of AP reporters’ phone records, or about his IRS targeting conservative groups seeking tax exempt status (both in the run-up to his reelection and still continuing), and (5) who seems to have to read a newspaper on a Friday afternoon to find out what’s going on in his own administration. So, do you really feel reassured by anything Obama says at this point? I know I don’t.
And, of course, there are various “congressionals” (I sometimes just lump them all together under the one heading) — from both chambers of Congress and both sides of the aisle — who are posturing and pontificating, saying there are checks and balances, that this is all necessary to protect us, that there is “congressional oversight” to ensure everything is all right, and blah, blah, blah. Well, Congress supposedly has congressional oversight of every agency of the federal government, for example, the DOJ, the IRS, the DHS, etc., etc. So, how’s that “congressional oversight” been working out for ya lately, there, John or Jane Q. Public?
In other words, we didn’t know anything about Obama’s DOJ seizing AP reporters’ records until there was a leak and then we did. We didn’t know anything about Obama’s IRS targeting conservative groups until there was a leak and then we did. We didn’t know anything about Obama’s DOJ targeting Fox News reporters until there was a leak and then we did.
And we likewise didn’t know anything about the NSA switching from pin-point fly fishing to huge dragnet fishing until there was a leak either. So much for congressional oversight discovering anything ahead of time.
In fact, Obama’s very own DNI James Clapper, the head of the whole US intel community, may also be in hot water for lying to Congress, because when testifying before Congress and asked if the NSA was collecting any info by any means on American citizens, Clapper said “no” and that if it happened at all, it would be inadvertent and unintentional. Square that as best you can with what we’ve learned recently about the NSA’s broad dragnetting of the phone records of millions of Americans. Which all begs the question: What else is there that we don’t know about — yet, from this supposedly but laughably most transparent administration in our history?
By the way, and I say this merely by way of extra reassurance, the Attorney General, you know, Eric “Withholding” Holder, can unilaterally grant such warrantless wire taps himself on an emergency basis but must have it approved by a federal court judge within 72 hours. Uhhh-huh.
So, we’re supposed to rely on the same AG who (1) either committed perjury and/or at least misled Congress in testimony (both felonies) when he said he knew nothing and would not take part in targeting or prosecuting journalists for receiving classified information , or (2) he committed fraud upon a federal court (also a felony) in falsifying an affidavit for a warrant which claimed that Fox News reporter James Rosen had violated the Espionage Act, was at least an aider and abettor, and a flight risk, to obtain access to Rosen’s (and his parents’) phone, email and other communications, then Holder subsequently claimed he had no intention to ever prosecute Rosen for such offenses in the first place.
Well, you can’t have it both ways this time, Mr. Attorney General. Either you falsely claimed before Congress not to know anything about the Rosen case, when it was subsequently shown that you had personally signed the affidavit and held at least one staff meeting on how to proceed, or you provided false information to a federal court to obtain the warrant in the first place, never intending to really investigate or prosecute, thus committing a fraud upon the court — all felonies.
Oh, and don’t forget, this is the same AG who (1) refused to prosecute a slam dunk case of voter intimidation against the Philadelphia Black Panthers but who sued Arizona for basically passing a state law which contained the same immigration policies as already contained in federal law, who (2) has sued more states over state civil and voter rights legislation than any other AG in history, who (3) ensured the underwear bomber was quickly Mirandized although he was not a citizen, who (4) at one point wanted our troops to Mirandize terrorist combatants on the battlefield, who (5) wanted to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) to NY to be tried in a federal court, with all the Constitutional protections of a citizen, until liberal members of Congress yelled NIMBY, who (6) stonewalled and stonewalled on Fast & Furious, who (7) tried to sue Boeing for wanting to build a nonunion plant in NC, who…
Well, I could go on, but I think I’ve digressed over Holder enough for you see the point that this is the same AG we’re supposed to trust will inform a federal court within 72 hours after using his unilateral power to apply an emergency wire tap on someone. Yeah, uh-huh, THAT Attorney General.
The New York Times reported in 2009 that the NSA was intercepting communications of American citizens, although the DOJ believed that the NSA had corrected its errors. Attorney General Eric “The Arrogant” Holder subsequently resumed the wiretapping according to his understanding of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008, but without explaining to any federal court judge what had occurred to make any difference in once again continuing to do what DOJ and NSA had previously said they shouldn’t be doing. Huh? (And if you have to read that twice for the absurdity of it to sink in, I’ll wait.)
The NSA also reportedly uses its computing capability to analyze “transactional” data that it regularly acquires from other government agencies, which gather it under their own jurisdictional authorities. As part of this effort, the NSA now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches, as well as bank transfers, credit card transactions and travel and telephone records, according to current and former intelligence officials interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.
And just this month, the NSA’s PRISM electronic surveillance and data mining program was revealed by the Washington Post. The extent of information to which they had access includes email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP chats such as Skype, file transfers, etc., which they can gain from direct access to servers on Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, AOL and others. Of course, Google, Facebook, etc., have since claimed they know nothing of any NSA data mining using their platforms.
But, and I know this sounds a little conspiracy theorist-y, isn’t that what an organization which has a secret, classified agreement with the government to provide access to its customers’ info would almost have to say?
The Guardian (UK) revealed the identity of the whistleblower responsible for unveiling the NSA’s massive data mining programs. Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old defense consultant who has worked at the NSA for four years, says, “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.” Well, I’ll reserve judgment for now on whether Snowden did anything “wrong” or not, as he certainly has at least violated whatever classification disclosure document he signed as a pre-condition to his access to classified information and could, and perhaps should, be prosecuted for that. Most of us who have had classified security clearances, especially top secret or above, are familiar with, “I can’t tell you about it and, if I do tell you about it, I’ll have to kill you.” On the other hand, he has also rendered a public service by letting us know the nefariousness of Obama’s NSA. So, I’ll let others debate if he’s hero or traitor. Right now, all sorts of allegations are flying around of “what if” undercover operatives and techniques were compromised by Snowden’s actions, but it will take time to see if that’s really truth versus conjecture.
The Guardian also released an interview with Snowden. Here are some of the highlights:
On his decision to become a whistleblower: “When you’re in positions of privileged access like a systems administrator for the sort of intelligence community agencies, you’re exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee and because of that you see things that may be disturbing … Over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about [it]. And the more you talk about [it], the more you’re ignored. The more you’re told it’s not a problem, until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public and not by somebody who was simply hired by the government.”
On the targeting of American citizens: “NSA and [the] intelligence community in general is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible … Originally we saw that focus very narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it’s happening domestically and to do that [the NSA] targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system … simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they’re collecting your communications to do so.”
On why you should care about NSA’s programs: “Because even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call. And then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis to sort to derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”
So, let’s recap: We have the FOREIGN Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, modified by the FOREIGN Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008, both authorizing and governing the FOREIGN Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), otherwise commonly known as the FOREIGN Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, court, which oversees requests for surveillance warrants against suspected FOREIGN intelligence agents inside the US by federal law enforcement agencies, primarily the FBI — which , by the way, reports to none other than that AG in whom we’re all supposed to have so much “trust.”
Plus, the NSA’s originating charter declares that by law the NSA’s intelligence gathering is limited to FOREIGN communications. And all this, despite some alleged “51 percent connectivity to terrorist” formula which the intel community sometimes uses to justify domestic spying.
Maybe I’m just not too smart but with all this FOREIGN this and that, where does the NSA have any authority to massively collect DOMESTIC communications on millions and millions of Americans who haven’t done anything wrong, with no warrant, no permission, no howdy-do, no nothing, except it’s just easier for them to do it that way? To me, if you want to spy domestically, present probable cause to a judge and get a frickin’ warrant to spy on a particular person or group! You know, go through that “bothersome” Fourth Amendment stuff in our stuffy old Constitution.
What the government does, especially when it infringes on our individual rights, should not be EASY. It should be HARD. The convenience of the government should never be an excuse to abridge individual freedoms.
And you thought that CBS show Person of Interest about “the machine” was all just fiction. Welcome to Obama’s Orwellian America. Feeling Big Bothered, er, Big Brothered, enough yet?