Congressional oversight of NSA

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  David B. Grinberg 5 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #179128

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    IMO probably comes pretty close to describing the current situation in political Washington

    From the somewhat conservative National Review:

    Watching the NSA Watchers

    Congress may not be capable of keeping a check on our Byzantine bureaucracy.

    On Sunday, former vice president Dick Cheney addressed the dilemma many conservatives face in assessing the revelations about the National Security Agency’s data collection. On the one hand, they are suspicious of the federal government. On the other, they often mute such concerns when it comes to anything touching on national security.

    Cheney captured the tension perfectly in defending the NSA’s activities. Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace first asked him: “What right do you think the American people have to know what the government is doing?” After a pause, Cheney said: “Well, they get to choose, they get to vote for senior officials, like the president of the United States or like the senior officials in Congress. And you have to have some trust in them.” Leaving aside the fact that less than 3 percent of Americans have ever voted for the current top four leaders of the Senate and House, Cheney’s comment certainly represents a crabbed view of public accountability by officials. Leaving aside the fact that less than 3 percent of Americans have ever voted for the current top four leaders of the Senate and House, Cheney’s comment certainly represents a crabbed view of public accountability by officials.

    And possibly a dangerous one. Later in the interview, Wallace asked Cheney for his opinion of President Obama. “I don’t think he has credibility,” he said. “I think one of the biggest problems we have is, we have got an important point where the president of the United States ought to be able to stand up and say, ‘This is a righteous program, it is a good program, it is saving American lives, and I support it.’ And the problem is the guy has failed to be forthright and honest and credible on things like Benghazi and the IRS. So he’s got no credibility.”

  • #179155

    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    FYI, Henry. While I know we have respectfully agreed to disagree on these issues, let’s at least try to keep the scope of the alleged “questionable” phone records surveillance in the appropriate context in terms of how many citizen phone records the NSA actually looked at. Short answer, hardly any.

    To wit: According to the latest declassified info, the NSA only looked at a tiny fraction of a fraction of phone records out of countless billions — which, by the way, apparently helped thwart terrorist plots which have been well documented.

    I think Chairman Rogers offers a good explanation of how the program works (below). Lastly, let’s also keep in mind that these programs have PROTECTED Americans from another 9/11-style massive terrorist attack — or worse — on the American homeland.

    Thus, thank you for considering these complex and controversial issues with this in mind.

    CNET News and other media outlets report:
    NSA probed fewer than 300 phone numbers in 2012
    [out of billions]

    • “The U.S. government searched for detailed information on calls involving fewer than 300 phone numbers last year, according to an unclassified document circulated Saturday. The paper said such searches — part of two controversial U.S. intelligence gathering programs — led to two men allegedly plotting to attack New York City’s subway system, Reuters reported.”
    • “The data, which the Associated Press reported is destroyed every five years, thwarted terrorist plots in the U.S. and more than 20 other countries.”
    • “U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, explained how the program worked without violating individuals’ civil rights.”
    • “We take the business records by a court order, and it’s just phone numbers — no names, no addresses — put it in a lock box,” Rogers told CBS News’ “Face The Nation.”
    • “And if they get a foreign terrorist overseas that’s dialing in to the United Sates, they take that phone number… they plug it into this big pile, if you will, of just phone numbers — it’s like a phonebook without any names and any addresses with it — to see if there’s a connection, a foreign terrorist connection to the United States.”
    • “When a number comes out of that lock box, it’s just a phone number — no names, no addresses,” he continued. “If they think that’s relevant to their counterterrorism investigation, they give that to the FBI. Then upon the FBI has to go out and meet all the legal standards to even get whose phone number that is.”
  • #179153

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    I was listening to a CBC radio newsmagazine show on the weekend, and one of the segments revolved around the rather sizeable role that private contractors play in addressing the “big surveillance data” we have been discussing, and attributing nearly exclusively (perhaps naively so) to NSA. One of the interviewees noted that the considerable budget allocated to private contractors, in his view, was an outgrowth of the perceived need to have instant capacity in the period immediately following 09/11. He estimates it as being in the 10’s of billions range. I have no basis for judging the veracity of this claim.

    I’ll leave it to you folks to determine if this is a legitimate inference, and concern, or not. Note that the show is 54 minutes long. The segment on the PRISM initiative is just at the beginning. It is the first podcast on this page: http://www.cbc.ca/day6/podcasts/ Left clicking will stream it.

  • #179151

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    The biggest question that I have why did it take Chairman Rogers and or the NSA close to 2 weeks to get this data out in the public?

    And another question why don’t these numbers match what Google Microsoft and Facebook are saying about NSA “searches” or are we talking about 2 different “tools” that NSA uses that have sorta of gotten mixed into one.

    Another minor problem I have with this selective disclosure of classified information, why didn’t this program catch the Boston Bomber(s) or ???

  • #179149

    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Henry: as you know there are two separate surveillance programs/tools at issue. These two programs/tools may in fact be considered one by many members of the public due to media disinformation.

    1) Surveillance of mass phone records via meta data (per Verizon, etc.).

    2) PRISM, which is aimed at online communications to the US by foreigners (via Google, etc.).

    Regarding your question:

    “Why did it take Chairman Rogers and or the NSA close to 2 weeks to get this data out to the public?”

    My guess is because of the painstakingly slow bureaucratic process to declassify top-secret info/intel.

    Regarding your other question:

    “Why didn’t this program catch the Boston Bomber(s)?

    It could be that the NSA uses these programs only deliberately and sparingly — which actually counteracts all the allegations that gov is spying on Americans. To the contrary, only anonymous meta data is being collected per phone records, of which 99.9% was never even used over seven years.

    Thus, could all the media sensationalism surrounding Snowden’s unlawful disclosures — plus barking up the wrong tree by privacy advocates — actually may be much ado about not much (0.001%)?

    A supplemental reason why the gov hasn’t gone public about top-secret info/intel could be because of the very domestic and global public outcry that has surfaced since the iillegal leak to the media by Mr. Snowden (whom, by the way, is being labeled as a “traitor” from Congressional leaders of both parties — House Speaker, Sen. Feinstein, others). Personally, I think that’s up to a U.S. court to decide, although folks are certainly entitled to their own opinions (but not to their own “facts”).

    The “Boston Bombers” case may be an anomaly because the intelligence community appears to have dropped the ball and dismissed it even after the Russians tipped us off about the perpetrators.

    Here’s my question: why hasn’t one single person come forward with concrete and indisputable evidence of how either of these “Big Brother” surveillance programs specifically damaged or otherwise infringed on their privacy rights???

    In that regard, the public silence is deafening, as they say — and telling.

  • #179147

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    Listened to the part about PRISM, and IMO brought to the table some very interesting points, Heard one commentary over the weekend that brought this issue to the table which I suspect will get alot more “play” AGAIN. Was involved in the last “noise” generation over what was “inherently governmental” work and what wascould be contracted out.

  • #179145

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    Here’s my question: why hasn’t one single person come forward with concrete and indisputable evidence of how either of these “Big Brother” surveillance programs specifically damaged or otherwise infringed on their privacy rights???

    OPINION!

    For the same reason that the majority of people take the posistion “The only reason you would need to worry about this kind of thing is if you had done something wrong.” Or in somewhat extreme cases, where the police take out an habitual criminal and the majority opinion is “Good he needed to be eliminated

    I don’t believe (and I know that I am a minority) that either of these opinions have any place in our society

  • #179143

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    IMO interesting commentary!

    Press Release from Oregon’s US Senator Jeff Merkley
    ….
    “Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes it’s allowed to take under the law. There is plenty of room to have this debate without compromising our surveillance sources or methods or tipping our hand to our enemies. We can’t have a serious debate about how much surveillance of Americans’ communications should be permitted without ending secret law.”

    “Of course, ensuring Americans’ safety is one of our government’s most important responsibilities, but there is a careful balance between protecting Americans and honoring the Fourth Amendment,”

  • #179141

    David B. Grinberg
    Participant
  • #179139

    Mark Hammer
    Participant
  • #179137

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    IMO the driving thought behind the article although I would add it is going to be a rather rocky road to get to the “end”…

    So the controversy over surveillance reveals much about us as a nation and about the cultural divide between the intelligence profession and those with a different focus. Where does it go from here? A prediction: The surveillance program will be endlessly and publicly debated, investigated, eviscerated, and digested. In the end, we will all get comfortable with some not-so-very different version of it, perhaps buttressed by a more consensus-based legal foundation. In the process, we will have created a public guidebook to how we do this type of intelligence, and our citizens will be much more educated and sophisticated about our intelligence methods.

  • #179135

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    Suspect more for publicity than anything else:

    Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Introduced a bill
    H.R.2475 – To require the Attorney General to disclose each decision, order, or opinion of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that includes significant legal interpretation of section 501 or 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 unless such disclosure is not in the national security interest of the United States and for other purposes.

    Cosponsors
    Rep. Rokita, Todd [R-IN-4]
    Rep. Enyart, William L. [D-IL-12]
    Rep. Holt, Rush [D-NJ-12]
    Rep. Speier, Jackie [D-CA-14]
    Rep. O’Rourke, Beto [D-TX-16]
    Rep. Waxman, Henry A. [D-CA-33]
    Rep. Johnson, Henry C. “Hank,” Jr. [D-GA-4]

  • #179133

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    Perhaps a bit more practical(or perhaps more realistic approach to attempting to address this issue)

    Press Release by Senator Ron Wyden

    Udall, Wyden Propose Limiting the Federal Government’s Ability to Collect Vast Amounts of Data on Americans
    Legislation Would Require Actual Link to Terrorism or Espionage for the Collection of Americans’ Phone Call Records

    Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, who both serve on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, will introduce legislation that would limit the federal government’s ability to collect data on Americans’ without a demonstrated link to terrorism or espionage. Their legislation follows reports that the federal government has used a “secret interpretation” of the PATRIOT Act, renewed in 2011, to continuously collect data on Americans.

    “The NSA’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone call records is the type of overreach I have warned about for years. Although I strongly believe some authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provide valuable information that helps protect our national security, Americans with no link to terrorism or espionage should not have to worry that their private information is being swept up,” Udall said. “This legislation strikes the right balance in protecting our homeland while also respecting our Constitution and Americans’ widely cherished privacy rights.”

    “This legislation will give the government broad authorities to investigate terrorism but will also protect law-abiding Americans from the type of invasive surveillance activities that Senator Udall and I have been warning about for years,” Wyden said. “The disclosures of the last week have made clear to the American people that the law is being interpreted in a way that damages their civil liberties and that the system has been set up to keep Americans unaware of the intrusion. When you combine this proposed bill with legislation introduced to declassify FISA court rulings, we are well on our way to better protecting those liberties and promoting an informed public debate.”

  • #179130

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    perhaps a bit more practical although I surely wouldn’t invest my life-savings on this bill or most any other bill being seen on the presidents desk

    H. R. 2399

    From Thomas.gov :

    To prevent the mass collection of records of innocent Americans under section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, as amended by section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, and to provide for greater accountability and transparency in the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

    H.R. 2399: To prevent the mass collection of records of innocent Americans under section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence …

    … Surveillance Act of 1978, as amended by section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, and to provide for greater accountability and transparency in the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

    Download full bill

    some additional commentary on this bill by Rep John Conyers, who was one of co-sponsors, from the Huffington Post:

    Somewhere in a government data center sits information on every call you’ve made lately. You may be completely innocent. And yet, day-in and day-out, the government continues to collect information on your calls.

    Vacuuming up details from the lives of ordinary Americans is not what Congress signed on to when it enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the 1970s, or when it amended the law through the USA PATRIOT Act a decade ago.

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