Thursday, August 1, 2013

Just the facts, mam

After having read the documents that were declassified yesterday by the Obama administration on the telephone metadata program at NSA (here's the FISA court order and the letters to Congress are here and here) we now know a few facts about it:
  1. Yes, NSA is collecting metadata on all phone calls.
  2. In order to run a query on that massive amount of data, analysts are only allowed to use pre-approved selection terms that meet the standard of reasonable articulable suspicion (RAS) that the response to the queries would produce information regarding calls involved with certain organizations (the naming of those organizations were redacted from the released document). According to Senator Feinstein,  only 22 highly vetted NSA analysts can approve the selection terms.
  3. From those queries, if NSA determines the need to view the content of a call, they must go back to the FISA court and obtain a warrant. 
  4. All members of Congress were provided with the information that NSA was collecting metadata on all telephone calls in the United States via a 5-page letter that could be viewed in a classified setting in both 2009 and again in 2011 prior to voting for approval of this program. Any Congressperson that suggests they didn't know about the scope of this program prior to that vote is either lying or never took the opportunity that was provided to them to learn about it. 
There are other requirements listed in these documents about the training that is required by analysts, that all queries must be auditable and that NSA has to report back to the FISA court on any telephone content of a US person that is accessed. But that should give you a pretty good idea of the safeguards that are in place. 

It seems to me that only two questions about this program remain. First of all, does the government need to access all of the metadata (some are suggesting that the government require phone companies to store the metadata for NSA queries)? And secondly, how effective is this program? Those are policy and efficacy questions - not legal or constitutional. 

When it comes to the question of Edward Snowden, lets remind ourselves of the legal definition of "whistleblowing."
The disclosure by a person, usually an employee in a government agency or private enterprise, to the public or to those in authority, of mismanagement, corruption, illegality, or some other wrongdoing.
While discussions about policy and efficacy are important, his leaks have - to date - clearly not met that criteria.

12 comments:

  1. Just read on Twitter, Patrick Leahy almost called the President a liar, he says the President was enhancing the amount of help that this program has helped in capturing or stopping terrorist attacks. Alan Grayson on C-Span this morning was on the same stuff. What the hell is with these people? It is amazing, they got caught with their pants down (not reading the classified information given to them) and then blame the President because they didn't know this was going on. I am getting to dislike Washington Dems jut as much as the Republicans. Sorry for the rant. Good Morning Smartypants. Thank you for all you do.

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    1. Congress members are in major "cover your ass" mode.

      But if the only thing they've got left is to question this program's effectiveness (not its legality or constitutionality) we've come a long way from the claims of Greenwald and Snowden.

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    2. Don't feel bad. It happened to me once as well. Playing stupid is bad for my nerves. People that run the government should know better than to jump because of Greenwald's craziness. A whole lot of people could've saved face over the past two months.

      Vic78

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    3. CYS, to be sure. Durbin feigning outrage about FISA warrants and that the other side should be represented before a warrant is issued.

      Seriously? Dick Durbin does not understand the courts and how warrants are issued? If the warrant is in question, that is adjudicated after the fact. To invite the other side into the warrant process would destroy all evidence gathering, forever.

      Every mafia lawyer would be demanding the same rights.

      Good God, 'probable cause' does NOT mean all of the evidence necessary to prove the case. It's the mechanism for getting evidence, you CYA morons.

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  2. So....Snowden uncovered...nothing. Yes, the big news for Moscow's newest resident and WikiLeaks new pet (now that Manning is going to breaking rocks until he's on Social Security) reveal a legal and known program. Congress was informed, and from the documents - you have to have a pretty damn good reason to look at anyone's phone records. So now, Obama doesn't give a damn about your midget porn.

    We don't live in a police state - we live in a state of perpetual incompetence. If someone had bothered to ask basic questions to Greenwald instead of falling for hyperbole, we might have a news cycle that dealt with real problems.

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  3. (some are suggesting that the government require phone companies to store the metadata for NSA queries)?

    Hmmm, the phone companies do not have to store this data to send out bills ?

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    1. I doubt they store it for 5 years - which is what NSA does.

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    2. Typically your phone company can look about 2 years or so.

      Remember the NSA isn't looking at every phone call, they're only looking at small data set. The NSA is doing the data mining equivalent of pulling out a few chunks of coal from a West Virginia mountain range (another reason folks need to settle down). Less data = less cost to store it.

      Also, most phone companies have tertiary backups like tape to pull old records, but that gets really expensive.

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    3. Also, the bigger question is why trust a private company over our government? I'd rather the NSA had it than AT&T

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  4. Hi Smartypants, don't think I've replied before. Hope I get this right. Do you remember when Sen. Feinstein called a meeting for all Senators to have a briefing with the officials from NSA. Only 1/2 showed. She was mad! I wrote my Senators and my Congresswoman. Sen. Barrasso replied within days. He did go. He does answer promptly, I'll give him that. Not just this, but most things. Sen. Enzi took a little over a month and he didn't go but he filled his letter with BS. Congresswoman Lummis followed about a week later and she didn't go either. Another letter full of BS. They are not doing their jobs and if they complain about being in the dark, they have no excuses. Sometimes they don't even bother to answer. None of them answered my detailed questions. I do keep them. I don't know why anyone would be curious about them, but they do have YouTube accts. I don't know, but if the NSA is gathering as much info as Snowden and GG say, I think we'd be at full employment. Intelligence gathering should not be wasteful, but don't our cell phones, cars, computers, iPads all have the capability to be tracked? My big question is which came first, the "Patriot Act" or a bigger NSA with larger powers? Should the "Patriot Act" be reformed before NSA is defunded? The rethugs might be setting Pres. Obama up for an intelligence failure with the silly emoprogs playing into their hands. Sorry to lump so much in one paragraph. I don't really know the proper way to reply in a blog. I have lots to learn. Thanks for the forum. What is Putin going to do to Snowden? I wouldn't want to be in Eddies predicament. Do you think he is going to marry the spy? I just had to throw that in for fun.

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    1. I am in complete agreement with you, Carol, about the members of Congress feigning ignorance about the NSA's surveillance activities. Michael Hayden, the former NSA Director under GWB, actually applauded President Obama for the transparency he has brought into the NSA's activities. IIRC, the NSA has held @22 briefings with members of Congress since 2009. Under President Obama, all NSA briefings are open to all members of Congress. There is zero reason any member of Congress should be claiming to not know what the NSA is doing. The NSA can hold the briefings, but it can't demand that every member of Congress show up. Those who are complaining and whining now and feigning surprise are most likely those who skipped many of the briefings. I also remember what you're referring to with Sen. Feinstein. I recall that out of the 535 members of Congress, only @ 50 or so attended the briefing. The rest of them had either gone home for the weekend or were attending the Paris Air Show. It never ceases to amaze me that so many Americans refuse to hold their members in Congress responsible for not doing what they know they should do. Blaming President Obama is always their default setting, even when he has done all he can to provide congress-members with the information they need. As for the emoprogs who have jumped on the Rand Paul bandwagon, they're the same people who won't lift one finger to help elect a good progressive democratic politician in any race, at any level of government. They're chronic complainers who aren't satisfied unless they have something to complain about and usually, their complaints are directed at politicians in their own party. IMO, they're as bad as the conservatives whose only interest is in banning abortion. Every other important issue falls by the wayside as they focus only on making sure that women's healthcare choices are limited. The emoprogs do the same thing where the NSA's surveillance activities are concerned. Different people, same disease of ignoring the forest for the trees.

      http://www.politico.com/story/2013/06/george-w-bushs-nsa-director-michael-hayden-praises-obama-92686.html

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  5. The one suggestion I have to improve the FISA Court is for one or two lawyers from Congress protecting the people's rights when the NSA lawyers go before the Court. One from Sen. and one from House maybe and maybe from each party.

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