Privacy and civil liberty watchdog confronts right-wing limits in Congress

A leading Democrat in Congress is pushing back against an effort to impose new constraints on a civil liberties watchdog agency that investigates the nation’s security programs.

The agency, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, is a bipartisan five-member panel that Congress created after a recommendation by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its members and staff have security clearances and a mandate to investigate government practices that affect individual rights…

Since the independent board began fully operating three years ago, it has produced a high-profile report about the once-secret National Security Agency program that collected bulk records of Americans’ phone calls. It called the program ineffective and illegal and said it should be shut down. Congress later did so by enacting the U.S.A. Freedom Act.

The oversight board also issued a report that brought to light new details about how the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the FISA Amendments Act worked. It is currently scrutinizing programs that operate under Executive Order 12333, which sets rules for espionage activities that Congress has left unregulated by statute.

In the letter, obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, described the provisions as “completely unacceptable” and “misguided.” He deplored what he portrayed as an emerging pattern of efforts by the intelligence panels to undermine the oversight board’s independence and authority. He also said any proposed changes to the board should go through the Judiciary Committee.

That proposal comes at a time when the Obama administration has highlighted the privacy board’s role in negotiations over a recently completed trans-Atlantic agreement for handling private data amid concern in Europe about using internet and technology companies based in America. Those concerns came after leaks by the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden about National Security Agency surveillance programs.

As usual, Senator Leahy is more polite to his most reactionary colleagues than truth presumes necessary. The usual cabal of right-wing creeps who care less about individual liberty than a controlling power of the free speech and thought, privacy and progress of American citizens. Regardless of the number of lies and contradictions they author.

RTFA for any details you might want. It ain’t news. It does require as much vigilance as ever.

Daniel Radcliffe and Edward Snowden in an off-Broadway play about “Privacy”

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and actor Daniel Radcliffe will appear together in a play starting on Saturday in New York City.

The show, Privacy, premiered in London in 2014 and has been refashioned for the American theatre. It was inspired by Snowden’s revelations that the US government was conducting mass surveillance on its citizens.

Radcliffe and Snowden…rehearsed…though Radcliffe was in a Manhattan auditorium speaking to Snowden on video from Moscow, where he has lived since June 2013.

Snowden’s appearance in the play at the Public Theater will be confined to a screen as the US government has a warrant out for his arrest, because he leaked confidential NSA documents to journalists, including those at the Guardian.

Snowden and Radcliffe will appear together for about one minute, according to the Times, and only one of the men will be speaking live – the one actually on stage. The dialogue comes at a climactic moment and centers on statements Snowden has made about privacy.

Gotta piss off Uncle Sugar. Many of the creeps in and outside government officialdom who leaped to condemn Snowden are stuffed from eating their words. Even Obama has to admit much of this generation’s fight against government surveillance of American citizens flows from the critical revelations of Edward Snowden.

Not that our elected and appointed overlords have reduced or limited their commitment to snooping on us all. They’ve just been forced into more judicious choices of words describing their paranoia.

The NSA wants to monitor your pacemaker — bet that makes you feel safe and secure!

The NSA is interested in collecting information from pacemakers and other biomedical devices for national security purposes, according to The Intercept. Richard Ledgett, the agency’s deputy director, reportedly said at a conference…that, “We’re looking at it sort of theoretically from a research point of view right now.”

That suggests this isn’t something the NSA is actively doing; and if it did have the ability, Ledgett indicates that it wouldn’t exactly be a core source of information. “Maybe a niche kind of thing … a tool in the toolbox,” he said, according to The Intercept.

Still, it’s both wild and disconcerting to think that something as critical as a pacemaker could be monitored by a hacker. The NSA doesn’t plan to stop at that, either. Perhaps less surprising is Ledgett’s broader suggestion that the NSA is interested in using information from any internet-connected device.

National Intelligence director James Clapper indicated as much back in February, as The Intercept points out. The Guardian reports Clapper saying, “In the future, intelligence services might use the [Internet of Things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.” Though he’s stating it here as a hypothetical, it’s not hard to imagine that the NSA views the addition of connectivity to more and more devices — be it a fridge or a pacemaker — as valuable.

The Intercept is becoming more and more a valuable source for anyone concerned with questions of individual liberty and privacy in a connected world.

Our government and the alphabetized creeps on the snoop payroll – really hate it.

Clinton and Obama are lying about Snowden

An explosive exposé shows that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden repeatedly tried to raise concerns about illegal mass surveillance, but was ignored.

Hundreds of internal NSA documents declassified and released by journalists prove that claims made by senior officials in the Obama administration and prominent politicians like Hillary Clinton, who accused Snowden of failing to use available whisteblower protections, are false…

U.S. government officials have previously claimed that Snowden did not raise concerns about illegal mass surveillance before leaking classified documents to reporters. The NSA originally insisted that Snowden had simply sent a single email raising concern of potential overreach.

Internal documents, on the other hand, VICE News writes, reveal “that not only was the truth about the ‘single email’ more complex and nuanced than the NSA disclosed to the public, but that Snowden had a face-to-face interaction with one of the people involved in responding to that email.”

The exposé also reveals that the NSA admitted to altering emails related to its discussions about Snowden…

In her response, Clinton echoed a debunked story that claimed that Russia and China got access to Snowden’s classified documents. The shoddy report originated in a right-wing British newspaper that referred to Snowden as a pilfering “fugitive” and cited no evidence, only unverifiable claims by anonymous British officials.

To date, there is no evidence Snowden’s leaks jeopardized U.S. security in any tangible way. The Obama administration has frequently claimed this, but thoroughly redacted its official reports on how this is supposedly true to such a point that no one can actually read its justification…

In his testimony to the European Parliament in March 2014, VICE noted, Snowden was asked whether he “exhausted all avenues before taking the decision to go public.”

“Yes,” he replied. “I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than 10 distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them\.”

“As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the U.S. government,” continued Snowden, who had been an NSA contractor with the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, “I was not protected by U.S. whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about law breaking in accordance with the recommended process.”

The hundreds of pages of internal documents from the U.S. government that are now available, VICE News emphasizes, show that Snowden “had repeatedly attempted to raise his concerns inside the NSA about its surveillance of U.S. citizens — and the agency had done nothing.”

My cynicism about government led by either of the two old parties continues unabated. Defense of constitutional freedoms is not a standard honored by either party. There may be differences in corruption. Most of the time that feels like inquiries about being “a little bit pregnant” from an anti-abortion fanatic.

The only part I find confounding is that – in practice – Democrats really have nothing to lose by standing up and supporting whistleblowers, freedom fighters in a long American tradition. Their backwards practices in foreign policy are generally forgiven by a perpetually ignorant electorate. And the average voter still thinks the Dem Establishment is out there standing up for the little guy. They really should try living up to a reputation leftover from the days of FDR and the New Deal.

Tin foil hats actually make it easier for the Feds to track you, your thoughts

Let’s say some malevolent group — the government, powerful corporations, extraterrestrials — really is trying to read and/or control your thoughts with radio waves. Would the preferred headgear of the paranoid, a foil helmet, really keep The Man and alien overlords out of our brains?…

In 2005, a group of MIT students, prodded by “a desire to play with some expensive equipment,” tested the effectiveness of foil helmets at blocking various radio frequencies. Using two layers of Reynolds aluminum foil, they constructed three helmet designs, dubbed the Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion, and then looked at the strength of the transmissions between a radio-frequency signal generator and a receiver antenna placed on various parts of their subjects’ bare and helmet-covered heads.

The helmets shielded their wearers from radio waves over most of the tested spectrum…but, surprisingly, amplified certain frequencies: those in the 2.6 Ghz (allocated for mobile communications and broadcast satellites) and 1.2 Ghz (allocated for aeronautical radionavigation and space-to-Earth and space-to-space satellites) bands.

While the MIT guys’ tongue-in-cheek conclusion — “the current helmet craze is likely to have been propagated by the Government, possibly with the involvement of the FCC” — maybe goes a few steps too far, their study at least shows that foil helmets fail at, and even counteract, their intended purpose. That, or the students are aliens who fabricated these results in an effort to get you to take your perfectly functional helmet off.

I have no reason not to believe the latter conclusion. If not under extra-terrestrial control, the NSA will suffice.

If there’s a difference.

The Intercept is opening access to the Snowden archive — transparency our hypocrite government hates

From the time we began reporting on the archive provided to us in Hong Kong by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, we sought to fulfill his two principal requests for how the materials should be handled: that they be released in conjunction with careful reporting that puts the documents in context and makes them digestible to the public, and that the welfare and reputations of innocent people be safeguarded. As time has gone on, The Intercept has sought out new ways to get documents from the archive into the hands of the public, consistent with the public interest as originally conceived.

Now, The Intercept is announcing two innovations in how we report on and publish these materials. Both measures are designed to ensure that reporting on the archive continues in as expeditious and informative a manner as possible, in accordance with the agreements we entered into with our source about how these materials would be disclosed, a framework that he, and we, have publicly described on numerous occasions.

The first measure involves the publication of large batches of documents. We are, beginning today, publishing in installments the NSA’s internal SIDtoday newsletters, which span more than a decade beginning after 9/11. We are starting with the oldest SIDtoday articles, from 2003, and working our way through the most recent in our archive, from 2012…we will periodically release batches until we have made public the entire set

Accompanying the release of these documents are summaries of the content of each, along with a story about NSA’s role in Guantánamo interrogations, a lengthy roundup of other intriguing information gleaned from these files, and a profile of SIDtoday. We encourage other journalists, researchers, and interested parties to comb through these documents…to find additional material of interest.

The other innovation is our ability to invite outside journalists, including from foreign media outlets, to work with us to explore the full Snowden archive.

Here’s the link to the growing archive of NSA documents. Courtesy of Edward Snowden…and the editors of The Intercept.

Democracy and transparency in action in the US government – sort of


“You want honest answers to what questions?”

US lawmakers are pressing the nation’s top intelligence official to estimate the number of Americans ensnared in email surveillance and other such spying on foreign targets, saying the information was needed to gauge possible reforms to the controversial programs.

Eight Democrats and six Republicans made the request to director of national intelligence James Clapper in a letter seen by Reuters on Friday, reflecting the continued bipartisan concerns over the scope of US data espionage.

“You have willingly shared information with us about the important and actionable intelligence obtained under these surveillance programs,” wrote the lawmakers, all members of the US House judiciary committee.

“Now we require your assistance in making a determination that the privacy protections in place are functioning as designed.”

They requested that Clapper provide the information about data collected under a statute, known as Section 702, by 6 May…

Intelligence officials say data about Americans are “incidentally” collected during communication with a target reasonably believed to be living overseas. Critics see it as “back-door” surveillance on Americans without a warrant…

Civil liberties groups and senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, have previously requested information on the extent of US data caught up in the foreign surveillance program.

That’s the end of the democracy and transparency part. No answer from Clapper, yet.

Here’s Obama’s answer:

The Obama administration, however, has said it cannot provide a precise answer and that any estimate would require reviewing communications in a manner that would raise privacy concerns.

NSA data the White House “needs” to fight terrorists – will be turned over to local police

A while back, we noted a report showing that the “sneak-and-peek” provision of the Patriot Act that was alleged to be used only in national security and terrorism investigations has overwhelmingly been used in narcotics cases. Now the New York Times reports that National Security Agency data will be shared with other intelligence agencies like the FBI without first applying any screens for privacy. The ACLU of Massachusetts blog Privacy SOS explains why this is important:

❝ A while back, we noted a report showing that the “sneak-and-peek” provision of the Patriot Act that was alleged to be used only in national security and terrorism investigations has overwhelmingly been used in narcotics cases. Now the New York Times reports that National Security Agency data will be shared with other intelligence agencies like the FBI without first applying any screens for privacy. The ACLU of Massachusetts blog Privacy SOS explains why this is important:What does this rule change mean for you? In short, domestic law enforcement officials now have access to huge troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages.

FBI agents don’t need to have any “national security” related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number, or other “selector” into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. They can simply poke around in your private information in the course of totally routine investigations. And if they find something that suggests, say, involvement in illegal drug activity, they can send that information to local or state police. That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called “national security” will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes. And we don’t have to guess who’s going to suffer this unconstitutional indignity the most brutally. It’ll be Black, Brown, poor, immigrant, Muslim, and dissident Americans: the same people who are always targeted by law enforcement for extra “special” attention.

This basically formalizes what was already happening under the radar. We’ve known for a couple of years now that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the IRS were getting information from the NSA. Because that information was obtained without a warrant, the agencies were instructed to engage in “parallel construction” when explaining to courts and defense attorneys how the information had been obtained. If you think parallel construction just sounds like a bureaucratically sterilized way of saying big stinking lie, well, you wouldn’t be alone. And it certainly isn’t the only time that that national security apparatus has let law enforcement agencies benefit from policies that are supposed to be reserved for terrorism investigations in order to get around the Fourth Amendment, then instructed those law enforcement agencies to misdirect, fudge and outright lie about how they obtained incriminating information — see the Stingray debacle. This isn’t just a few rogue agents. The lying has been a matter of policy. We’re now learning that the feds had these agreements with police agencies all over the country, affecting thousands of cases…

It’s all another sobering reminder that any powers we grant to the federal government for the purpose of national security will inevitably be used just about everywhere else. And extraordinary powers we grant government in wartime rarely go away once the war is over. And, of course, the nifty thing for government agencies about a “war on terrorism” is that it’s a war that will never formally end.

And if you believe the FBI – for example – only wants Apple to help them break into one cellphone that was used by a terrorist murderer, then, you’re dumb enough to believe just about anything the FBI, CIA, NSA, White House and Congress says is needed to protect you and every other American.

They have lied, again and again. The USA Patriot Act being the biggest lie. Every revision since its first passage has only been to sooth American voters. You should go back to reality TV and Game Shows and ignore any questions about who is watching you – not watching over you – 24 hours a day.

Turing Award goes to programmers who modernized cryptography

Programmers Whitfield Diffie and Martin E. Hellman, who developed the first form of cryptography for the Internet era, have been awarded this year’s Turing Award. Named after famed British mathematician Alan Turing, the award is a $1 million cash prize sponsored by Google that’s given to scientists and engineers who advance the field of computing.

Diffie and Hellman are being honored for developing the first instance of public-key cryptography back in the 1970s. Called the Diffie–Hellman key exchange, the protocol established a way to send encrypted messages over public channels.

They are thoroughly hated by every sell-out politician who thinks we can give up a “portion” of our privacy, “Just a little bit” of our liberty, to make life easier for those who think we need a police state full-time.

Thanks, Re/code