The NSA is back in the news, and this time it appears that the Agency was targeting data from smart phone applications as well as ordinary calling records. According to reports from The New York Times and The Guardian, the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, have been tracking information regarding the age, sex, and location of smart phone users. Continue reading
This past Friday, President Obama finally directly addressed an issue that has been raging since the Edward Snowden leaks back in June; the NSA surveillance scandal (a full transcript of the speech can be found here, courtesy of The New York Times). Countless politicians and public figures have addressed the issue in the media, but this was one of the first times the President discussed it openly and at length with the press. As one could imagine, reactions to the speech ranged from “usefully balanced” to “skeptical.” Although the topic needed to be addressed by President Obama, the public should not expect much to change in the immediate aftermath of this speech. Continue reading
Despite the public’s hopes that the NSA’s telephone surveillance program would be deemed unconstitutional, the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) recently gave the Agency the go-ahead to continue collecting and analyzing millions of Americans’ private phone records. However, the extension may only be temporary as the FISC only granted the NSA three more months of surveillance. Continue reading
Looking for a good national security-related laugh this evening? Continue reading
In today’s New York Times, Mark Mazetti and Justin Elliot discuss American and British spies’ use of the popular online fantasy games World of Warcraft and Second Life as tools to perform surveillance and undermine the networking efforts of terrorists and other criminals. Continue reading
Over the weekend, The New York Times and Washington Post reported that the NSA, on top of collecting Americans’ phone records, has been collecting other information that could detail social connections, travel companions, and locations at certain points of time. It appears that the NSA collected this information through credit agencies, social media, passenger manifests from airlines, insurance agencies, and other public and private sources. The program seems to be either closely linked or a part of the PRISM program leaked by Edward Snowden a few months ago. Continue reading
Earlier this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced plans to make changes to PRISM, the NSA surveillance program outed by Edward Snowden a few months back. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) are reportedly drafting the bill to present to Congress as early as next week. Senator Feinstein did make it clear that they expected a fair amount of amendments to be proposed once it is presented. Senator Feinstein also stated that the bill’s aim is to increase public confidence in the NSA program that she already believes to be lawful.
Yesterday, Col. Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over the Bradley Manning case at Fort Meade, acquitted Manning of the charge of aiding the enemy. The charge was the most serious that Manning faced, and almost certainly would have led to life in a military prison. For those of you unfamiliar with Bradley Manning, he is the Private First Class who was on trial for releasing the data published by Julian Assange on Wikileaks. Because of that, the case has received a great deal of attention from both the media and human rights groups who are attempting to find a balance between government secrecy, transparency, and civil liberties.
Bradley Manning’s acquittal on this charge is not exactly surprising given that it was unprecedented for the government to bring such a charge in a leak case. But still, the government’s argument made some sense if you look at the letter of the law. Luckily, common sense seems to have prevailed. I don’t believe (and I certainly don’t think the government could prove) that he intended to aid the enemy, and a vast majority of the information he leaked probably did not aid al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups in any way. On top of that, there seems to be a lot of questions regarding whether or not most of the information should have been classified in the first place.
That’s not to say that Bradley Manning’s actions weren’t worthy of punishment. Any way you look at it, it’s probably not a good policy to allow military personnel with security clearance to release classified information. But that’s where the other charges come into play. Manning is by no means off the hook. Yes, he beat the most serious and highly publicized charge against him, but he was still convicted of a myriad of other charges. Manning was still convicted of six violations of the Espionage Act of 1917, as well as most of the other 22 charges lodged against him (10 of which he has already plead guilty to). He faces a maximum of 136 years in prison, although he probably won’t receive the maximum sentence due to the plea bargain I mentioned. Regardless, it’ll probably be pretty hefty.
A statement put out by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), both members of the House Intelligence Committee, was cautiously optimistic but also a little confusing to me. Here it is:
“Justice has been served today. PFC Manning harmed our national security, violated the public’s trust, and now stands convicted of multiple serious crimes. There is still much work to be done to reduce the ability of criminals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to harm our national security. The House Intelligence Committee continues to work with the Intelligence Community to improve the security of classified information and to put in place better mechanisms to detect individuals who abuse their access to sensitive information.”
My confusion here comes from their claim that they are working hard toward securing classified information and our national security. It seems to me like their plan is to bring the hammer down on anyone like Bradley Manning who leaks information to deter others from doing the same. I know that leaking classified information is different than murder in that it’s usually a planned, calculated act. The leaker usually knows there’s a good chance he might get caught, so I can see the logic behind a deterrence theory argument. But I highly doubt anyone planning to pull a Bradley Manning-esque stunt doesn’t already know that the crime carries a serious penalty.
Maybe instead of throwing the book at Bradley Manning, who seems to have had serious concerns about the military’s policies, we should take a look at overhauling our classification systems. And maybe we shouldn’t be handing out security clearances like candy. Politicians should absolutely go after people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. Leaking government secrets should be punished. But the politicians should at least own up to the fact that this is partially their fault. If we start paying attention to what we classify and who we give security clearance to, we won’t find ourselves in these situations.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research
Last week, I wrote about Edward Snowden’s claim that he possesses the “blueprints” to the NSA, which if publicized would detail how to avoid the agency’s surveillance programs. At the time, Snowden claimed that the documents were so potentially dangerous to U.S. national security that he would not release them unless the American government tried to retaliate against him. Up until now, it seems like the NSA would have agreed that the information Snowden possesses would be extremely harmful to its goals. But earlier today, CNN ran a story stating that the NSA is now downplaying the leaks, claiming that the information Snowden has wouldn’t bring the NSA to its knees after all.
An unnamed official within the NSA told CNN that Snowden did not have access to “extremely compartmentalized information” that could cause any real damage to our national security interests. In terms that most of us would actually understand, he stated that, “just because you have the blueprints doesn’t mean you have the manual.”
This is getting completely out of hand (not that it hasn’t been for a while). Both sides of this incident are completely out of touch with reality. First we have Edward Snowden claiming to have done this out of patriotism and then fleeing to two countries that are notorious for openly stomping on basic human rights, and then applying for asylum in a country that is openly anti-American. If that’s not enough, he then claimed to have documents that would essentially destroy our safeguards against terrorist attacks that he wouldn’t publish unless the government killed him, which would in turn supposedly open millions upon millions of Americans to attack. He’s American as apple pie.
Now let’s turn to the NSA. For those of you keeping score at home, the NSA is now known to have collected millions, possibly billions, of its citizens phone records, built a data collection center so it could do the same thing with internet records, teamed up with the UK to spy on other countries (including our closest allies) at international summits, and wire tapped foreign embassies on American soil. Oh, and let’s not forget about that one time when they let a single government contractor walk right out the front door with highly sensitive material which he then made public.
If you’ve read any of my other posts about this, you probably know that I’m pretty critical about Snowden and his motives. But make no mistake, I think the NSA is also to blame. So I think it’s pretty hilarious that the NSA would scream bloody murder from the instant this story broke only to start back peddling at warp speed as soon as Snowden claims to have the actual blueprints to the NSA. I feel like I keep going back to rehash parts of this story, but this is just too ridiculous not to. The NSA claims that the programs that Snowden apparently torpedoes stopped over 50 attacks, both here and abroad. It’s even been reported that al-Qaeda has completely changed the way they communicate based on the leaks. The story is serious enough that we’ve all but condemned any country willing to protect Snowden. And now all of a sudden the NSA has decided that Snowden’s documents aren’t that bad. They really don’t pose that big of a threat to our national security. We can all go home now. It doesn’t matter that a man who has shown no regard for Americans has documents that might outline the inner workings of the NSA.
I almost don’t know what to say at this point. The amount of delusion and hypocrisy surrounding this story is becoming too much to handle. Either the Snowden leaks are serious or they aren’t. Absolutely everything the NSA has said before today leads me to believe that the leaks are very serious. Don’t all of a sudden try to tell me that we have nothing to worry about. There’s a reason the NSA has been running damage control since day one. After everything that’s happened, changing the story now is NOT a good look.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research
On top of all the other damning information he has already released about the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden now claims that he also has access to “literally thousands” of documents that essentially amount to a blueprint of how the NSA operates. Anyone who acquires this information would then presumably be able to drop under the NSA’s radar and avoid surveillance altogether. Snowden has apparently insisted that this batch of documents not be made public. Speaking through journalist Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian employee who first reported on the leaks, Snowden claims that he took the documents to prove his credibility after releasing the information that started this tidal wave. What’s strange is that despite Snowden’s insistence that the new documents not be released, Greenwald (who is supposedly close to Snowden at this point) seems to think that their release wouldn’t harm our national security interests.
Just to backtrack for one minute, there have been reports that al-Qaeda has already changed their communications networks specifically because of information Snowden released at the beginning of this saga. The government has made claims that the programs do work and helped to foil a pretty significant number of attacks, both foreign and domestic. And even the staunchest supporters of government transparency would have to admit that there needs to be at least some level of secrecy for the NSA to properly function. Even Snowden seems to agree with that, and he had no problem with publicizing classified information and jetting off to China to avoid the consequences. But Glenn Greenwald, who might be the only person besides Snowden outside of the government with access to these documents, thinks that making the inner workings of the NSA available to EVERYONE (including terrorists), won’t have any negative consequences? You have got to be kidding me. Luckily, it doesn’t matter what Greenwald thinks at the moment since the documents have been encrypted.
Snowden shared this with Greenwald at a Moscow airport, where he continues to hide out while awaiting decisions on his requests for asylum in South America. Greenwald told the AP:
“I haven’t sensed an iota of remorse or regret or anxiety over the situation that he’s in. He’s of course tense and focused on his security and his short-term well-being to the best extent that he can, but he’s very resigned to the fact that things might go terribly wrong and he’s at peace with that.”
Of course he’s at peace. He still has everybody’s attention. He has reporters from all over the world camping out at a Russian airport with bated breath, hanging on his every word. On top of that, he has heads of state offering him asylum. Getting the world to guess what’s in documents that only he has access to sounds like it’s right in his wheelhouse.
If you couldn’t already tell, I’m getting a little tired of Snowden’s whole charade. He’s still clinging to his original story that he did this for the American people. This would be a lot more believable if he didn’t have a “dead man’s pact,” meaning any unreleased information he holds will be released if he dies, meaning the government can’t make an attempt on his life without some serious repercussions. He has acknowledged that such a pact exists, but claims that it’s much more nuanced than that. Either way, he’s threatening to release information that he has admitted will be harmful to national security if he is killed by the government. See guys?! He loves us so much that he’s putting his own safety over the safety of millions of American citizens!
I can understand his instinct for self-preservation, but the jig is up. As the great Jim Young once said (yes, I’m quoting Boiler Room), “Tell me you don’t like my firm, tell me you don’t like my idea, tell me you don’t like my neck tie. But don’t tell me you care about my Constitutional rights when you’re willing to throw me under the bus to ensure your own safety.” Eh, close enough.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research