Over a year after public health officials wrote to President Obama in anger that the United States had been using “sham vaccination campaign[s]” as a front for espionage, a White House official has pledged that the CIA will no longer use immunization programs as cover for spying operations. Continue reading
Earlier this week, my colleague and co-founder of this blog, Paul Taylor, published a post highlighting the role of the media in propagating misconceptions of veterans’ mental health. In yet another example of the media influencing the average citizens’ perceptions of current events and hot topics, a study was recently released identifying George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as the only literary reference used to help explain NSA surveillance, a hot topic in the media over the course of the past year. 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
Prominent legal scholar Eric Posner argued on Slate this past week that foreigners should have no right to privacy from NSA surveillance. In an article entitled “Keep Spying on Foreigners, NSA”, Posner writes “They have no right to privacy from US surveillance- and they shouldn’t.” He argues that there will never be an international digital right to privacy (as Germany has proposed), because it “makes no sense.” Continue reading
And the plot thickens. It now looks like Edward Snowden’s release of NSA and CIA information will have ramifications outside the borders of the United States. If you’ll recall, Snowden not only released secrets on the NSA’s PRISM program that involved collecting the phone and Internet records of millions of Americans, but also released information on American and British surveillance programs that targeted foreign diplomats at international summits. Now members of the European Union, which includes some of America’s strongest allies, are speaking out against the programs.
The scandal seems to go deeper than we originally thought. The initial accusations included claims that the British government had set up fake Internet cafes during the G20 summit and monitored diplomatic communications among foreign representatives. We are now learning that this may have also gone on within U.S. borders. New documents suggest that American intelligence agencies were monitoring up to 38 foreign embassies, including those belonging to Germany, France, Italy, South Korea, Japan, India, and countless others. The NSA reportedly hacked into encrypted fax machines and was able to read communications that these diplomats were sending back to their home countries.
This new information has caused the European Union to question the integrity of the American government. EU Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding voiced her concerns about how trade negotiations could continue with this knowledge. In addition, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “this is unacceptable, it can’t be tolerated. We’re no longer in the Cold War.”
I tend to agree with Commissioner Reding Chancellor Merkel. I don’t think anyone would be surprised or outraged if we were spying on North Korea or Iran. After all, both of those countries have made serious threats against the United States and/or its allies. One could make a strong argument that it would be necessary to spy on those countries to protect our interests. But the countries we are not accused of spying on do not exactly fit into the same category. Just look at the list. Germany, France, Italy, South Korea, Japan, and India are all included in the top 15 trade partners of the United States, and there are surely other important trade partners on the list of 38. They’re all countries that we more or less have friendly relations with. And they’re all countries that we have invited onto our own soil, supposedly in an effort to improve those relations. And now the American government has caused its own citizens and foreign governments to question its motives.
The most important question here is simply, why? Why jeopardize our relationships with our most important allies? And what are we even looking for? Back in 2008 General Keith B. Alexander, head of the NSA, asked during a visit to a British intelligence station why we couldn’t collect all the information we can as often as we can? That suggests to me that we might not even be looking for anything in particular. It looks to me like we’re spying just for the sake of spying. And that’s probably the most troubling part of this whole ordeal. We’re breaking the trust of countries that we depend on for what amounts to nothing.
If you’ve read any of my other blogs on the NSA scandal, you’ll probably see that I’m a little more willing than some to give the government a pass when it comes to surveillance as long as they aren’t using the information to censor us or hamper our freedoms. But this is a whole different animal. We are by no means a self-sufficient country. We depend on foreign trade and if you look at the largest foreign owners of U.S. debt you’ll see quite a few EU and Asian countries on that list. We’re playing a dangerous game here. We’re no longer talking about collecting data to stop terrorism. That at least has some merit. Now we’re talking about spying on our allies, allies who have to be able to trust us to conduct business or any other sort of diplomatic relations. Well, kiss that trust goodbye. We just keep digging ourselves deeper and deeper into what’s beginning to look like a bottomless pit.
The United States government: Breaking the trust of American citizens and foreign governments since (CLASSIFIED).
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research
Since The Guardian broke the NSA surveillance story twelve days ago, much information has come to light about both the PRISM program and Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and whistleblower. In those twelve days we have learned that the NSA has secretly been collecting metadata from telephone companies in an effort to detect patterns that could undermine terrorist plots against the United States. On top of that, we learned that the government is in the middle of constructing data collection centers that will store telephone and Internet records with the same aim of preventing terrorism. The ACLU has already announced plans to sue the Obama administration over the constitutionality of the NSA’s activities. It seems like something new has come out each day, and that the scandal goes deeper than anyone would have imagined. We don’t know what else might come to light at this point.
In fact, we learned even more this weekend, and this new information might be the most damning part of the story. Snowden uncovered documents that claim that since 2009, the U.S. and British government have been eavesdropping on phone calls and computer-based communication between foreign diplomats at G20 summits, most notably the 2009 summit in London. The accusation included claims that fake Internet cafes were set up by the British government in London specifically for the purpose or monitoring diplomatic communications. It appears that the NSA and its British counterparts GCHQ and MI6 shared information on these communications.
Accusations of spying and surveillance at international conferences are not new, but this is one of the first instances where it has been backed by government documents of this nature. The documents showed that the HCHQ had the ability to hack into Blackberries and other smartphones, and that information gathered from foreign diplomats was passed along to government ministers. We don’t know what information was gathered from these surveillance programs, but it would probably be safe to say that this story will not help build trust amongst G20 nations. Great Britain is in a particularly precarious position as another G8 summit began earlier today in neighboring Ireland. It’s safe to say that this will add tension to a conference that was already set to discuss government transparency issues.
In regard to the NSA’s surveillance scandal, government officials are still running damage control and defending the use of metadata collection as a form of counterterrorism. On Saturday, top intelligence officials claimed that the programs had thwarted terrorist attacks in 20 countries in recent years. They also stated that any data collected is destroyed after five years, and that the programs are not nearly as sweeping as critics say. The claims probably won’t do much to calm these critics, as the government’s credibility is rather questionable at the moment. On top of that, the efficiency of tactics used by the NSA is still being questioned. If they really led to 20 foiled terrorist attacks, why can’t experts agree that they are worthwhile? This may be the biggest problem with government secrecy. We can’t believe the government without proof, but the government is still protecting whatever proof may or may not exist. The chances of anyone taking the NSA’s word for it as this point are slim to none.
With that out of the way, I’d like to talk about Edward Snowden. Here’s the interview he did with The Guardian last week. He’s a 29 year-old former CIA technical assistant and employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a government defense contractor, and he has proven to be just as polarizing as the story he uncovered. Some are calling him a hero for uncovering a scandal that reached the presidency. These people claim that he has taken a stand for our constitutional rights and deserves a great deal of credit for blowing the whistle on shady government action. Others claim that he has seriously jeopardized our national security and deserves to be punished for treason. His credibility has been questioned, but the NSA has admitted to the PRISM program and he has provided documents that support his accusations of spying at the G20 summits. Regardless of which stance you take, it’s clear that he has violated a number of federal laws and regulations. So why is he still a free man?
Snowden is currently in Hong Kong, presumably to escape federal prosecutions for releasing this information to the media. Yes, that’s right, the whistleblower is currently hiding out in the shining beacon of freedom and free speech that is China. Some members of the media have speculated that he is in cahoots with the Chinese government and may be selling them government secrets on top of releasing information to the media. After all, he certainly has access to sensitive information that China would love to have, especially given the strained relationship between the U.S. and China. But that relationship may also play another role in his decision to flee to Hong Kong. When it’s all said and done, how likely is China hand Snowden over to the U.S. for prosecution? Probably not very likely. He has information that they want, and he has caused a great deal of turmoil for a government that the Chinese have been competing with for a long time. He also stated in his interview with The Guardian that he does not expect to see home again. At least for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t look like Snowden will have to answer to the U.S. for his actions, which could be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
Either way, Edward Snowden has uncovered a story that does not seem to be going away. New information comes to light daily, and the scandal is becoming more and more serious. On top of attacking the Obama administration and the NSA, he has now brought the British government into the mix. Whether you regard him as a hero or a moneygrubber, he has seemingly found a safe haven in China and we probably haven’t heard the last of his accusations.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research
Last week, The Guardian reported that under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the NSA has been acquiring the metadata for every phone call (wireless and landline) made or received by customers of Verizon Business Network on an ongoing basis. The government confirmed that an order was issued by Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) requiring Verizon business Network to turn over metadata about the calls made by each of its subscribers over the 3 month period ending on July 19, 2013.
The ACLU is a non-profit group that has historically fought to protect individual freedoms both implicit and explicit in our constitution—freedom of speech, equality, due process, privacy etc. So it’s no surprise that the ACLU, a current customer of the Verizon Business Network, and New York ACLU, a former customer, filed suit against the Obama Administration claiming that the government’s surveillance under Section 215 is violative of the First and Fourth Amendments because it allows the government sensitive and privileged information about both their work and clients.
It is the ACLU’s contention that this government surveillance of phone calls can be used to identify those who contact plaintiffs for legal assistance or to report human rights or civil liberties violations. In the specific context for which the Patriot Act was enacted this is particularly problematic as the ACLU has in the past represented alleged terrorists (see Hamdi v. Rumsfeld). So it’s pretty clear that the government’s surveillance of phone calls of Verizon business Network customers has the potential to frustrate the ACLU’s goals of promoting and protecting individual liberties of its clients.
Alison Frimmel, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research
- Listening devices in the attorney-client meeting rooms are disguised as smoke detectors.
- The listening devices are so hypersensitive that they can detect even whispers between attorneys and their clients.
- Cameras in the attorney-client meeting rooms are so powerful that they can read attorneys’ handwritten notes and other confidential documents.
- The cameras can be operated secretly from a location outside of the room.
- The attorney-client meeting rooms turn out to have been the former CIA interrogation facility.
- Importantly, the CIA recording equipment was upgraded after the CIA left.