Quick Links on Syria

In no particular order . . .

  • This is what results when a foreign leader struts after thoroughly outwitting and outmaneuvering an American president. Yes, the Putin editorial is hypocritical in the extreme (was United Nations permission requested by the Putin regime before Russian forays into Chechnya or Georgia?). Yes, it is replete with falsehoods--and the fact that the New York Times allowed it to be published anyway says something about the Times's editorial standards. But for those who wondered whether the Times allows itself to be used as a medium for transnational taunting between world leaders, you now have your answer in the affirmative. 
  • I suppose that the good thing about the Syria fracas is that it has helped re-engage the American people on the issue of foreign policy. Who knows? Perhaps we can look forward to a time when foreign policy, international diplomacy and statecraft become major campaign issues during election season.
  • This story informs us that "the CIA has been delivering light machine guns and other small arms to Syrian rebels for several weeks, following President Barack Obama's decision to arm the rebels." It also informs us that "in the northeastern province of Hassakeh, clashes pitting Kurdish fighters against members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in the past two days killed 13 Kurdish gunmen and 35 militants." So, armed rebel groups are fighting other armed rebel groups, some of which are Islamic fundamentalist militants related to al Qaeda. Query: How do we know that the weapons that we are providing to "Syrian rebels" don't fall into the hands of the wrong kind of "rebels"?

The National Security State Run Amok

After reading this, do you feel safer or more secure? Do you think that American national security interests are served when the besotted use the awesome power of the state to spy on those with whom they are in love?

National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests, U.S. officials said.

The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.

Spy agencies often refer to their various types of intelligence collection with the suffix of “INT,” such as “SIGINT” for collecting signals intelligence, or communications; and “HUMINT” for human intelligence, or spying.

The “LOVEINT” examples constitute most episodes of willful misconduct by NSA employees, officials said.

In the wake of revelations last week that NSA had violated privacy rules on nearly 3,000 occasions in a one-year period, NSA Chief Compliance Officer John DeLong emphasized in a conference call with reporters last week that those errors were unintentional. He did say that there have been “a couple” of willful violations in the past decade. He said he didn’t have the exact figures at the moment.

NSA said in a statement Friday that there have been “very rare” instances of willful violations of any kind in the past decade, and none have violated key surveillance laws. “NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities” and responds “as appropriate.”

After you have picked your jaw up from off the floor, read this as well. I don't know which part of the story is worse; the fact that a Hindu traveler was mistaken for a Muslim? The fact that a TSA officer demonstrated that he knows nothing whatsoever about Hinduism and that what he thinks he knows is laughably wrong? The fact that no traveler--Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Christian--ought to be subjected to such a mix of both insulting behavior and inept security procedures? The examples of petty tyranny that make up so much of the piece? The craven actions of JetBlue? The fact that in all of its years of existence, the TSA appears to have learned precisely nothing from past mistakes?

Oh, and while we are on the subject, this Venn diagram still is accurate:

Venn Diagram
I swear, some politician could strike electoral gold if s/he ran a campaign made up in large part of efforts to making the TSA go the way of the dodo bird.

So, the NSA Broke the Law

A lot. Let us count the violations:

The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused the U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.

In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.

The Obama administration has provided almost no public information about the NSA’s compliance record. In June, after promising to explain the NSA’s record in “as transparent a way as we possibly can,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole described extensive safeguards and oversight that keep the agency in check. “Every now and then, there may be a mistake,” Cole said in congressional testimony.

To be sure, as the Post report points out, most of the violations were unintended, and the percentage of violations was quite small, given the vast amount of activity that the NSA engages in. But that hardly obviates one's concerns. And some of the violations are quite serious, consisting, as they do, of "unauthorized access to intercepted communications, the distribution of protected content and the use of automated systems without built-in safeguards to prevent unlawful surveillance." Additionally,

[i]n what appears to be one of the most serious violations, the NSA diverted large volumes of international data passing through fiber-optic cables in the United States into a repository where the material could be stored temporarily for processing and selection.

The operation to obtain what the agency called “multiple communications transactions” collected and commingled U.S. and foreign e-mails, according to an article in SSO News, a top-secret internal newsletter of the NSA’s Special Source Operations unit. NSA lawyers told the court that the agency could not practicably filter out the communications of Americans.

In October 2011, months after the program got underway, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the collection effort was unconstitutional. The court said that the methods used were “deficient on statutory and constitutional grounds,” according to a top-secret summary of the opinion, and it ordered the NSA to comply with standard privacy protections or stop the program.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has acknowledged that the court found the NSA in breach of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but the Obama administration has fought a Freedom of Information lawsuit that seeks the opinion.

The mind reels. How any of this activity helps protect the country and makes Americans feel safer and more secure is left almost entirely to the imagination, especially given the NSA's efforts to circumvent FISA Amendment Act audits that are designed to keep the program honest.

Of course, you should read the whole report. But doing so may depress you tremendously. You have been warned.

Still Think We Shouldn't Take the Benghazi Terror Attack Seriously?

I for one would like to know just what on Earth is going on here:

CNN has uncovered exclusive new information about what is allegedly happening at the CIA, in the wake of the deadly Benghazi terror attack.

Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the assault by armed militants last September 11 in eastern Libya.

Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.

CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency's Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.

Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency's missions in Libya, have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations, according to a source with deep inside knowledge of the agency's workings.

The goal of the questioning, according to sources, is to find out if anyone is talking to the media or Congress.

It is being described as pure intimidation, with the threat that any unauthorized CIA employee who leaks information could face the end of his or her career.

In exclusive communications obtained by CNN, one insider writes, "You don't jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well."

Another says, "You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation."

"Agency employees typically are polygraphed every three to four years. Never more than that," said former CIA operative and CNN analyst Robert Baer.

In other words, the rate of the kind of polygraphs alleged by sources is rare.

This merits a congressional investigation. As much of that congressional investigation as possible should be public. And maybe, just maybe, Democrats could be as zealous about investigating this issue as Republicans are expected to be. No one wants witchhunts. But would it be too much to finally get some answers?

Combating Terrorism: The Shultz Doctrine

Kenneth Anderson reminds us that much of our thinking on how best to combat terrorism comes from a speech given at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York by then-Secretary of State George Shultz, who along with James Baker was the last great secretary of state we have had. Professor Anderson is kind enough to excerpt the salient aspects of Shultz's speech. I will pay forward that kindness by re-excerpting his excerpt:

We must reach a consensus in this country that our responses should go beyond passive defense to consider means of active prevention, preemption, and retaliation. Our goal must be to prevent and deter future terrorist acts, and experience has taught us over the years that one of the best deterrents to terrorism is the certainty that swift and sure measures will be taken against those who engage in it. We should take steps toward carrying out such measures. There should be no moral confusion on this issue. Our aim is not to seek revenge but to put an end to violent attacks against innocent people, to make the world a safer place to live for all of us. Clearly, the democracies have a moral right, indeed a duty, to defend themselves.

A successful strategy for combating terrorism will require us to face up to some hard questions and to come up with some clear-cut answers. The questions involve our intelligence capability, the doctrine under which we would employ force, and, most important of all, our public’s attitude toward this challenge. Our nation cannot summon the will to act without firm public understanding and support.

First, our intelligence capabilities, particularly our human intelligence, are being strengthened. Determination and capacity to act are of little value unless we can come close to answering the questions: who, where, and when. We have to do a better job of finding out who the terrorists are; where they are; and the nature, composition, and patterns of behavior of terrorist organizations. Our intelligence services are organizing themselves to do the job, and they must be given the mandate and the flexibility to develop techniques of detection and contribute to deterrence and response.

Second, there is no question about our ability to use force where and when it is needed to counter terrorism. Our nation has forces prepared for action —from small teams able to operate virtually undetected, to the full weight of our conventional military might. But serious issues are involved—questions that need to be debated, understood, and agreed if we are to be able to utilize our forces wisely and effectively.

If terrorists strike here at home, it is a matter for police action and domestic law enforcement. In most cases overseas, acts of terrorism against our people and installations can be dealt with best by the host government and its forces. It is worth remembering that just as it is the responsibility of the U.S. Government to provide security for foreign embassies in Washington, so the internationally agreed doctrine is that the security of our Embassies abroad in the first instance is the duty of the host government, and we work with those governments cooperatively and with considerable success. The ultimate responsibility of course is ours, and we will carry it out with total determination and all the resources available to us. Congress, in a bipartisan effort, is giving us the legislative tools and the resources to strengthen the protection of our facilities and our people overseas—and they must continue to do so. But while we strengthen our defenses, defense alone is not enough.

The heart of the challenge lies in those cases where international rules and traditional practices do not apply. Terrorists will strike from areas where no governmental authority exists, or they will base themselves behind what they expect will be the sanctuary of an international border. And they will design their attacks to take place in precisely those “gray areas’ where the full facts cannot be known, where the challenge will not bring with it an obvious or clear-cut choice of response.

In such cases we must use our intelligence resources carefully and completely. We will have to examine the full range of measures available to us to take. The outcome may be that we will face a choice between doing nothing or employing military force. We now recognize that terrorism is being used by our adversaries as a modern tool of warfare. It is no aberration. We can expect more terrorism directed at our strategic interests around the world in the years ahead. To combat it, we must be willing to use military force.

What will be required, however, is public understanding before the fact of the risks involved in combating terrorism with overt power.  The public must understand before the fact that there is potential for loss of life of some of our fighting men and the loss of life of some innocent people.  The public must understand before the fact that some will seek to cast any preemptive or retaliatory action by us in the worst light and will attempt to make our military and our policymakers— rather than the terrorists—appear to be the culprits. The public must understand before the fact that occasions will come when their government must act before each and every fact is known—and the decisions cannot be tied to the opinion polls. Public support for U.S. military actions to stop terrorists before they commit some hideous act or in retaliation for an attack on our people is crucial if we are to deal with this challenge. Our military has the capability and the techniques to use power to fight the war against terrorism. This capability will be used judiciously. To be successful over the long term, it will require solid support from the American people.

I can assure you that in this Administration our actions will be governed by the rule of law; and the rule of law is congenial to action against terrorists. We will need the flexibility to respond to terrorist attacks in a variety of ways, at times and places of our own choosing. Clearly, we will not respond in the same manner to every terrorist act. Indeed, we will want to avoid engaging in a policy of automatic retaliation which might create a cycle of escalating violence beyond our control.

If we are going to respond or preempt effectively, our policies will have to have an element of unpredictability and surprise. And the prerequisite for such a policy must be a broad public consensus on the moral and strategic necessity of action. We will need the capability to act on a moment’s notice. There will not be time for a renewed national debate after every terrorist attack. We may never have the kind of evidence that can stand up in an American court of law. But we cannot allow ourselves to become the Hamlet of nations, worrying endlessly over whether and how to respond. A great nation with global responsibilities cannot afford to be hamstrung by confusion and indecisiveness. Fighting terrorism will not be a clean or pleasant contest, but we have no choice but to play it.

Professor Anderson invites us to "consider what, if any, parts of [the Shultz speech] would not have been utterable by Obama administration officials and senior counsel today." I would respond by stating that unlike Barack Obama, George Shultz would never make the mistake of just unilaterally declaring the war on terror to be over, irrespective of the fact that terrorists haven't stopped attacking us.

IRS Follies: More on the Supposed Non-Scandal That Actually Is a Scandal

Another blow to the theory that "rogue agents" in a local IRS office were responsible for targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny: 

An Internal Revenue Service supervisor in Washington says she was personally involved in scrutinizing some of the earliest applications from tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status, including some requests that languished for more than a year without action.

Holly Paz
, who until recently was a top deputy in the division that handles applications for tax-exempt status, told congressional investigators she reviewed 20 to 30 applications. Her assertion contradicts initial claims by the agency that a small group of agents working in an office in Cincinnati were solely responsible for mishandling the applications.

Ron Fournier points out that second-term Obama administration scandals are biting into the president's approval ratings:

There is a common element to the so-called Obama scandals—the IRS targeting of conservatives, the fatal attack in Benghazi, and widespread spying on U.S. journalists and ordinary Americans. It is a lack of credibility.

In each case, the Obama administration has helped make controversies worse by changing its stories, distorting facts, and lying.

The abuse of trust may be taking a toll on President Obama's reputation.

CNN/ORC poll of 1,104 adult Americans June 11-13 shows the president's job approval rating at 45 percent, down 8 percentage points in a month.

Among young voters, only 48 percent approve of the president's performance, a 17-point decline since the last CNN/ORC poll. These are the president's most loyal supporters, and the future of American politics.

The drop in presidential approval is across the board, affecting Obama's standing on every issue measured: The economy (down 2 points); foreign affairs (down 5 points); federal budget (down 4 points); terrorism (down 13 points); and immigration (down 4 points).

Asked for the first time by CNN/ORC about the president's handling of "government surveillance of U.S. citizens," 61 percent of Americans said they disapprove.

Behold, the Apocalypse Is Upon Us

I actually agree with Jeffrey Toobin on whether Edward Snowden is a hero. Therefore, we must be doomed. The asteroid will hit at any moment:

Edward Snowden, a twenty-nine-year-old former C.I.A. employee and current government contractor, has leaked news of National Security Agency programs that collect vast amounts of information about the telephone calls made by millions of Americans, as well as e-mails and other files of foreign targets and their American connections. For this, some, including my colleague John Cassidy, are hailing him as a hero and a whistle-blower. He is neither. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.

Snowden provided information to the Washington 
Post and the Guardian, which also posted a video interview with him. In it, he describes himself as appalled by the government he served:

The N.S.A. has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.

I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.

What, one wonders, did Snowden think the N.S.A. did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications. Perhaps he thought that the N.S.A. operated only outside the United States; in that case, he hadn’t been paying very close attention. In any event, Snowden decided that he does not “want to live in a society” that intercepts private communications. His latter-day conversion is dubious.

This is . . . actually very well put. While I am open to the possibility that the monitoring of Verizon phone calls and the PRISM program might have been necessary in order to prevent future terrorist attacks, I am uncomfortable with these programs. Very uncomfortable, in fact. That having been written, I am also uncomfortable with vigilantes inside the United States government deciding what will and will not be kept secret. Yes, I am aware of the fact that without Snowden, we might never have known about these programs, or that we may have had to learn about them from another leaker, and obviously, I struggle with the irony of decrying a leak that informed me of a government program I don't particularly like and would like to see come to an end if at all possible. But I will be the first to admit that the United States government needs to be able to keep some secrets in order to be able to do its job, and that people like Edward Snowden make it very difficult for the United States government to carry out its legitimate functions, even as they may shine a spotlight on a disturbing government activity. 

I am not as disturbed about agreeing with David Brooks, who also makes some very good points about Snowden:

For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret N.S.A. documents, Snowden has betrayed all of these things.

He betrayed honesty and integrity, the foundation of all cooperative activity. He made explicit and implicit oaths to respect the secrecy of the information with which he was entrusted. He betrayed his oaths.

He betrayed his friends. Anybody who worked with him will be suspect. Young people in positions like that will no longer be trusted with responsibility for fear that they will turn into another Snowden.

He betrayed his employers. Booz Allen and the C.I.A. took a high-school dropout and offered him positions with lavish salaries. He is violating the honor codes of all those who enabled him to rise.

He betrayed the cause of open government. Every time there is a leak like this, the powers that be close the circle of trust a little tighter. They limit debate a little more.

He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.

He betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else.

Brooks appears to be much less disturbed about these government programs than I am. But that doesn't make his objections to Snowden's behavior any less valid.

So. We're Being Spied On.

I am late to the party when it comes to discussing the revelations regarding the National Security Agency's domestic spying program, but I want to make sure that I put out my comment for the record. First, some basics regarding the monitoring of Verizon phone calls

The National Security Agency has been collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order, according to a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, the newspaper reported Wednesday. The order requires Verizon, one of the nation's largest telecommunications companies, on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.

The newspaper said the document, a copy of which it had obtained, shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens were being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing.

The Associated Press could not authenticate the order because documents from the court are classified.

Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said Wednesday the company had no comment. The White House declined comment and referred questions to the NSA. The NSA had no immediate comment.

It is important to note that this program was designed to target Americans, not foreigners:

The National Security Agency has long justified its spying powers by arguing that its charter allows surveillance on those outside of the United States, while avoiding intrusions into the private communications of American citizens. But the latest revelation of the extent of the NSA’s surveillance shows that it has focused specifically on Americans, to the degree that its data collection has in at least one major spying incident explicitly excluded those outside the United States.

In a top secret order obtained by the Guardian newspaper and published Wednesday evening, the FBI on the NSA’s behalf demanded that Verizon turn over all metadata for phone records originating in the United States for the three months beginning in late April and ending on the 19th of July. That metadata includes all so-called “non-content” data for millions of American customers’ phone calls, such as the subscriber data, recipients, locations, times and durations of every call made during that period.

Aside from the sheer scope of that surveillance order, reminiscent of the warrantless wiretapping scandal under the Bush administration, the other shocking aspect of the order its target: The order specifically states that only data regarding calls originating in America are to be handed over, not those between foreigners.

“It is hereby ordered that [Verizon Business Network Services'] Custodian of Records shall produce to the National Security Agency…all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls,” the Guardian’s copy of the order reads. “This Order does not require Verizon to include telephony metadata for communications wholly originating and terminating in foreign countries.”

Though the classified, top secret order comes from the FBI, it clearly states that the data is to be given to the NSA. That means the leaked document may serve as one of the first concrete pieces of evidence that the NSA’s spying goes beyond foreigners to include Americans, despite its charter specifically disallowing surveillance of those within the United States.

Naturally, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is outraged:

Today, the Guardian newspaper confirmed what EFF (and many others) have long claimed: the NSA is conducting widespread, untargeted, domestic surveillance on millions of Americans. This revelation should end, once and for all, the government's long-discredited secrecy claims about its dragnet domestic surveillance programs. It should spur Congress and the American people to make the President finally tell the truth about the government's spying on innocent Americans. 

In a report by Glenn Greenwald, the paper published 
an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or FISC) that directs Verizon to provide “on an ongoing daily basis” all call records for any call “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls” and any call made “between the United States and abroad.”

In plain language: the order gave the NSA a record of 
every Verizon customer’s call history -- every call made, the location of the phone, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other “identifying information” for the phone and call -- from April 25, 2013 (the date the order was issued) to July 19, 2013.  The order does not require content or the name of any subscriber and is issued under 50 USC sec.1861, also known as section 215 of the Patriot Act.

There is no indication that this order to Verizon was unique or novel. It is very likely that business records orders like this exist for every major American telecommunication company, meaning that, if you make calls in the United States, the NSA has those records. And this has been going on 
for at least 7 years, and probably longer.

More on this issue from the New York Times. Within short order, we realized that there was even more to this story than the monitoring of Verizon calls:

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.
The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims "collection directly from the servers" of major US service providers.

Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.

In a statement, Google said: "Google cares deeply about the security of our users' data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government 'back door' into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data."

Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. "If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge," one said.

An Apple spokesman said it had "never heard" of Prism.

I have had my differences with Glenn Greenwald in the past, and I doubtless will have more differences with him in the future, but credit where it is due; this is a big scoop. Perhaps if Greenwald chooses not to occupy himself so much with the writing of blog porn for anti-Semites, he might be able to provide us with more such big scoops, but that is another subject for another time, I suppose. More on PRISM from the Washington Post:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

London’s Guardian newspaper reported Friday that GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the NSA, also has been secretly gathering intelligence from the same internet companies through an operation set up by the NSA.

According to documents obtained by The Guardian, PRISM would appear to allow GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process required in Britain to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside of the country.

PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority.

It is worth noting some of the reaction to all of this. Ron Fournier is outraged. Andrew Kaczynski points out some hypocrisy on the part of the president of the United States regarding this general issue. And even the editorial board of the New York Times is irate with Barack Obama (though it has found a way to tone down its outrage:

Within hours of the disclosure that federal authorities routinely collect data on phone calls Americans make, regardless of whether they have any bearing on a counterterrorism investigation, the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.

Those reassurances have never been persuasive — whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism — especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability.

The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.

The president informs us that if we cannot trust government, we are going to have some problems, which I suppose means that we officially have some problems. I mean, I imagine that we are going to have a lot of people who have problems with this:

The National Security Agency's warrant for metadata on every single Verizon call for three months is jaw-dropping in its scope. Except, well, the NSA's surveillance of our communications is most likely much, much bigger than that. Technology has made it possible for the American government to spy on citizens to an extent East Germany could only dream of. Basically everything we say that can be traced digitally is being collected by the NSA. We're supposed to trust that our government will be much better behaved, but they're not, and the White House almost admits it. That doesn't mean they're admitting everything.

"On its face, the document suggests that the U.S. government regularly collects and stores all domestic telephone records," 
The Week's Marc Ambinder writes of Glenn Greenwald's scoop last night. "My own understanding is that the NSA routinely collects millions of domestic-to-domestic phone records. It does not do anything with them unless there is a need to search through them for lawful purposes." Previous reporting from many outlets suggests that's true. In 2006, USA Today's Leslie Cauley reported the NSA was secretly collecting call records with data from AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth. A source told Cauley, "It's the largest database ever assembled in the world" and that the NSA wanted "to create a database of every call ever made" within U.S. territory. Likewise, in 2011, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer spoke to former NSA crypto-mathematician Bill Binney, who "believes that the agency now stores copies of all e-mails transmitted in America, in case the government wants to retrieve the details later." He thinks the NSA wants all emails to be searchable, the same way we search with Google. "The agency reportedly has the capacity to intercept and download, every six hours, electronic communications equivalent to the contents of the Library of Congress," Mayer said. As Mark Rumold, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Atlantic Wire last night, "This is confirmation of what we've long feared, that the NSA has been tracking the calling patterns of the entire country." Update: In defending the program, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein seems to indicate that the court order is a regular, quarterly thing. "There is nothing new in this program. The fact of the matter is, that this was a routine three-month approval under seal that was leaked," Feinstein said on Thursday.

And the NSA isn't just collecting the things we say. It's also tracking what we buy and where we go. In 2008,
The Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman reported that the NSA's domestic data collection "have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people's communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than the domestic surveillance programs brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks." That means emails records, bank transfers, phone records, travel records.

And this:

U.S. border agents should continue to be allowed to search a traveler’s laptop, cellphone or other electronic device and keep copies of any data on them based on no more than a hunch, according to an internal Homeland Security Department study. It contends limiting such searches would prevent the U.S. from detecting child pornographers or terrorists and expose the government to lawsuits.

The 23-page report, obtained by The Associated Press and the American Civil Liberties Union under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, provides a rare glimpse of the Obama administration’s thinking on the long-standing but controversial practice of border agents and immigration officers searching and in some cases holding for weeks or months the digital devices of anyone trying to enter the U.S.

Since his election, President Barack Obama has taken an expansive view of legal authorities in the name of national security, asserting that he can order the deaths of U.S. citizens abroad who are suspected of terrorism without involvement by courts, investigate reporters as criminals and — in this case — read and copy the contents of computers carried by U.S. travelers without a good reason to suspect wrongdoing.

And this

The National Security Agency has at times mistakenly intercepted the private email messages and phone calls of Americans who had no link to terrorism, requiring Justice Department officials to report the errors to a secret national security court and destroy the data, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials.

At least some of the phone calls and emails were pulled from among the hundreds of millions stored by telecommunications companies as part of an NSA surveillance program. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Thursday night 
publicly acknowledged what he called “a sensitive intelligence collection program” after its existence was disclosed by the Guardian newspaper.

Ret. Adm. Dennis Blair, who served as President Obama’s DNI in 2009 and 2010, told NBC News that, in one instance in 2009, analysts entered a phone number into agency computers and “put one digit wrong,” and mined a large volume of information about Americans with no connection to terror. The matter was reported to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose judges required that all the data be destroyed, he said.

Another former senior official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed Blair’s recollection and said the incident created serious problems for the Justice Department, which represents the NSA before the federal judges on the secret court.

The judges “were really upset about this,” said the former official. As a result, Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to the judges that the intelligence agencies would take steps to correct the problem as a condition of renewing the NSA’s surveillance program. 

I imagine that President Obama will respond to these objections by saying that they are part of a broader discussion, and that discussion is "a sign of maturity because probably five years ago, six years ago we might not have been having this debate." As though we weren't fiercely arguing about the balance between security and liberty back in the Bush administration. Does this president believe that we don't have Google? Or memories? Incidentally, be sure to read on how this president has changed his tune when it comes to the issue of surveillance.

There are claims that the spying program has foiled attacks on New York city subways, but those claims are contradicted  by "British and American legal documents." The administration claims that Congress has been briefed on these programs, but that claim is disputed:

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Friday disputed a claim President Obama made at a press conference only moments earlier, when the president said that every member of Congress had been briefed on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic phone surveillance program.

Merkley said only select members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees had been briefed on the program, and that he was only aware of it because he obtained “special permission” to review the pertinent documents after hearing about it second-hand.

“I knew about the program because I specifically sought it out,” Merkley said on MSNBC. “It’s not something that’s briefed outside the Intelligence Committee. I had to get special permission to find out about the program. It raised concerns for me. … When I saw what was being done, I felt it was so out of sync with the plain language of the law and that it merited full public examination, and that’s why I called for the declassification.”

 More:

President Barack Obama’s chief defense of his administration’s wide-ranging data-gathering programs Friday: Congress authorized them, with “every member” well aware of the details.

Not so, say many members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike.

Typically, members of Congress “don’t receive this kind of briefing,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told POLITICO Friday. They wouldn’t have known about the programs unless they were on an intelligence committee, attended special sessions last held in 2011 or specifically asked to be briefed – something they would only know to do if they were clued in by an colleague who was already aware.

Durbin said he learned about the two programs himself only after requesting a briefing under “classified circumstances” after being urged to do so by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Congressional leadership and intelligence committees had access to information about the programs, he said — but the “average member” of Congress likely wouldn’t have been aware of the breadth of the telephone and Internet surveillance.

There’s no public record of who has attended any of these sessions — and even the Obama administration couldn’t confirm the president’s claim that “every member of Congress” had been briefed.

None of these revelations would have been possible without the presence of a whistleblower, and today, that whistleblower was identified:

Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former undercover CIA employee, unmasked himself Sunday as the principal source of recent Washington Post and Guardian disclosures about top-secret National Security Agency programs.

Snowden, who has contracted for the NSA and works for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, denounced what he described as systematic
 surveillance of innocent citizens and said in an interview that “it’s important to send a message to government that people will not be intimidated.”

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said Saturday that the NSA had initiated a Justice Department investigation into who leaked the information — an investigation supported by intelligence officials in Congress.

Snowden, whose full name is Edward Joseph Snowden, said he understands the risks of disclosing the information but felt it was important to do.

“I intend to ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy,” Snowden told The Post from Hong Kong, where he has been staying. The Guardian was the first to publicly identify Snowden. Both media organizations made his name public with his consent.

“I’m not going to hide,” Snowden said Sunday afternoon. “Allowing the U.S. government to intimidate its people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoing is contrary to the public interest.”

Of course, this is still a developing story, so we are going to hear and read a whole lot more about this issue. But for now, I'll say this: The Verizon phone-monitoring and the PRISM program may be necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks, but we need to have an open and public debate over whether that truly is the case. And this administration has a lot of 'splainin' to do--to Congress, to the American people, and especially to voters who were once led to believe that Barack Obama would never tolerate the existence of these kinds of domestic espionage programs.

 

Whoops

Well, this was something of a disaster, now wasn't it?   

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed the name of the Navy SEAL unit that carried out the Osama bin Laden raid and named the unit’s ground commander at a 2011 ceremony attended by “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmaker Mark Boal.

Panetta also discussed classified information designated as “top secret” and “secret” during his presentation at the awards ceremony, according to a draft Pentagon inspector general’s report published Wednesday by the Project on Government Oversight.

A source close to Panetta said Wednesday evening that he was unaware anyone without the proper security clearances was present at the event, which included both CIA and military personnel.

“He has no idea who all is in the audience. He was told everyone got the requisite clearances,” said the source, who asked not to be named.

Panetta’s prepared speech was classified “secret,” according to the source. That may have led the CIA director to believe he could speak freely about the operation.

The leaked version of the report does not address whether Panetta knew Boal was present at the ceremony, held under a tent at the CIA complex on June 24, 2011. “Approximately 1,300” people from the military and the intelligence community were on hand for the event, according to 
a CIA press release issued the following week.

The disclosure of the IG report could undermine the Obama administration’s claims that senior officials have not leaked classified information. Last spring, Republicans publicly attacked President Barack Obama and his top aides, alleging that the administration leaked national security secrets to burnish Obama’s standing for his reelection bid.

I respect Panetta, and I am sure that he did not mean to leak anything to anyone not authorized to have the information. Perhaps this was the product of bad staffwork in that Panetta was misinformed as to who would be in the audience. But it certainly does not look good. At minimum, Panetta's staff was careless, and Panetta needs to take responsibility for that carelessness. At maximum, this disclosure may well have been meant to burnish the administration's political standing. In either event, it is harder to prosecute Bradley Manning--who deserves prosecution--when the Obama administration shows that it cannot keep a secret.

Accountability Has Become Such an Antiquated Concept

Gene Healy  on the president who is never there:

"Hey, don't look at me -- I'm just the president!" That's the common thread in President Obama's response to his recent scandal eruptions, from IRS harassment of Tea Partiers to his Justice Department's spying on AP reporters. Like everybody else, Obama learns about these things via cable news, according to press secretary Jay Carney.

Obama's flight from responsibility punctured the stratosphere in his recent speech on "the Future of Our Fight against Terrorism" at the National Defense University in D.C. In the speech Obama seemed to position himself as the loyal opposition to his own administration.

He worried that "perpetual war ... will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways." Look at the current situation at Guantanamo Bay, Citizen Obama chided, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike ... Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw?" Obama pronounced himself "troubled" by the proliferation of drone strikes in an ever-expanding war and "the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable."

All valid concerns, compassionately expressed. So how can we get this guy into the room when the big decisions are being made?

Mitt Romney may have had his faults as a candidate. No, check that; Mitt Romney most certainly had his faults as a candidate. But I have a hard time believing that he would have been as disengaged a president as the guy we actually re-elected in November of last year has turned out to be.

 

Scandal Watch (A Continuing Series)

So, let's review the latest:

  • Concerning the IRS scandal, we learn that Lois Lerner was "directly involved" in the targeting of conservative groups. This included signing letters that contained "a list of detailed questions of the kind that a Treasury inspector general’s audit found to be inappropriate."
  • Organizing for Action is a 501(c)(4), which means that it is supposed to act in a non-partisan capacity when engaging in advocacy. So naturally, the president of the United States--who is anything but non-partisan--has signed a fundraising letter on behalf of Organizing for Action, which includes a request to register at this site, which as you will note, contains the name of the non-non-partisan president of the United States in its URL. As of two weeks ago, Organizing for Action has not yet applied for tax-exempt status from the IRS, but I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that when they do, they will encounter no problems whatsoever with their application. To be sure, the IRS won't want to cause yet another scandal by giving yet another prominent 501(c)(4) applicant a hard time, but the point is that plenty of equivalent conservative groups have had to encounter a hard time at the hands of the IRS, while liberal groups have gotten nothing but the kindest cooperation.
  • I am pleased to note that Jonathan Turley has decided to continue to eat his Wheaties:
Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the administration's sweeping surveillance of journalists with the Associated Press. In the greatest attack on the free press in decades, the Justice Department seized phone records for reporters and editors in at least three AP offices as well as its office in the House of Representatives. Holder, however, proceeded to claim absolute and blissful ignorance of the investigation, even failing to recall when or how he recused himself.Yet, this was only the latest attack on the news media under Holder's leadership. Despite his record, he expressed surprise at the hearing that the head of the Republican National Committee had called for his resignation. After all, Holder pointed out, he did nothing. That is, of course, precisely the point. Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired.

Like dumber follows dumb, the scandal of politicized IRS tax enforcement has been followed by calls for a "special prosecutor." Republicans are predictably leading this call against a Democratic Administration, but this is one case in which the GOP should hope it doesn't get its way.

The case for a special counsel is that Attorney General Eric Holder can't be trusted to investigate his Administration, and that the Administration will stonewall Congress. We don't trust Mr. Holder either, but letting him pass the buck to a special prosecutor is doing him a favor. This scandal is best handled in Congressional hearings that educate the public in the next year rather than wait two or three years for potential indictments.

In Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, the lead character is struck with amnesia, unable to remember critical events even as he’s trying to save the world. Let’s borrow that useful plot device and imagine if American journalists woke up and couldn’t remember who was president. It would be interesting to ask them a few questions:

What would you think of a president under whom the IRS targeted his harshest political opponents, during his reelection campaign?

What would you think of a president whose obsession with leaks and secrecy was so great that he used the Justice Department to obtain phone records of reporters, in violation of Justice’s established procedure?

What would you think of a president whose head of the Department of Justice signed a criminal warrant against a leading journalist working for the news organization most critical of the president—and monitored the movements of the journalist and even went after his mother’s phone records?

What would you think of an administration that directed the president’s press secretary repeatedly to deliver false information concerning the death of an American ambassador?

These are not hypothetical questions—and yet there is an entire class of journalist so invested in a certain moral and ethical image of the president its members are unable to entertain facts that might tarnish that image. They are the pro-Obama equivalent of Birthers, never letting emerging facts cloud the conclusion they’ve already committed to hold.

The same journalists who did not hesitate to assume the worst of previous Republican administrations—
E.J. Dionne, Walter Pincus, Jack Shafer, to name a few—are now tying themselves in knots trying to explain that there is nothing to see when the IRS probes Obama’s enemies or that the Justice Department secretly seizing the phone records of one of their peers and his mother was really a good thing. One has to wonder if it were their mother and her records, how that mother-son conversation would play out.

“Well, Mom, you know, the president has to do these things, and I’ve told you time and again not to email Aunt Sally about my sources. Is that any way to keep hope alive?”

Stevens was Mitt Romney's chief strategist in the 2012 presidential election. If he strategized as tough as he wrote this column, we might now have a new president.

Quote of the Day

Given the swamp of apologetics and obscurantism into which the Guardian newspaper has turned itself during the last decade, it may seem unfair to pick out one particular contributor to this ongoing journalistic enterprise as especially egregious. Over the years there have been so many voices to choose from in that regard: the Buntings, the Milnes, the Steeles, the Gopals; and then also all those occasionals who, just like the regulars, can't wait to put togther some soft piece of advocacy to the effect that we, the Western democracies, are just plain no good - though, having nothing better to offer for the time being themselves, these commentators make what effort they can to excuse regimes and movements for which no compelling case could be made by anyone of mature moral sensibility.

It has to be said nonetheless that the swamp has now acquired its own special low point, the name of which is Glenn Greenwald. When it was announced last summer that he'd be joining the Guardian I said I thought that Greenwald would fit right in there. And, my, but hasn't he done that? No week passes without his letting us know, always most punctually, that however bad anyone else is we are the worst. The man is an almost bottomless pit of the genre.

--Norman Geras.

Germans Love David Hasselhoff . . . and They Kindly Tolerate Pejman Yousefzadeh

President Obama gave a speech to the National Defense University today that outlined his counterterrorism policy in general, and his administration's policy on drones in particular. Deutsche Welle interviewed yours truly on the new policy:

Pejman Yousefzadeh, a Chicago-based lawyer who specializes in public policy, cautiously welcomed Obama's initiative towards greater transparency, but questioned the efficacy of a new policy. "I don't know if a blanket guideline is going to be as useful as bilateral diplomacy with the countries in question," he told DW. "Some countries may privately welcome US intervention against terrorists, but have to condemn the US in public."

Yousefzadeh is also concerned about accountability. "You can't have a US president's war policy that is completely free of congressional oversight," he said.

To that end, Yousefzadeh thinks Obama would do better to establish a "Federal Intelligence Commission," an independent regulatory agency that would review any targets the White House has identified. Though as commander in chief, the president would still be able to overrule such a commission's findings, he would have to tell Congress he is doing so, making the program much more transparent and subject to a legal process.

My thoughts on the establishment and uses of a Federal Intelligence Commission are spelled out in my article on drone policy for the Atlantic Council, which was originally linked to here.