Monday, December 23, 2013

Stop the Foolishness, Support the NSA

Anyone who thought seriously about this problem soon realized after 9/11 and other major terrorist acts by militant Muslims that conventional, criminal-justice techniques were useless in the face of acts causing such mass casualties.

Conventional thinking is that criminal acts must be committed in order that society act against the criminal.  Thinking about or planning criminal acts is not a prosecutable crime.  Major terrorist acts result in so many deaths and mutilations, however, that they must be stopped before they can be carried out.

After Snowden’s acts of high treason, there has been much discussion of the key NSA program designed to uncover and stop such terrorist acts before they can be carried out.  In order to do this, you need intelligence concerning the planning of such acts.  My understanding is that the NSA program works in the following way:

The NSA collects in one giant database metadata on domestic calls that all telephone companies are required to capture, store and transfer to the agency.  The metadata consists of the calling number, the recipient number and the date and time of the call.  The actual conversations are not recorded.  Meanwhile the NSA is actually monitoring foreign telephone calls made by suspected terrorists and by suspected supporters and planners of terrorist acts.

It is well-known that there exist in this country American citizens and foreign nationals legally here who are willing participants in acts of terror against America.  The names, Jose Padilla, David Headley, Yaser Esam Hamdi, John Walker Lindh, Major Hasan, and the brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, come readily to mind.

When the NSA, in its monitoring of foreign calls discovers a call to an American resident, it goes to the FISA court to get a warrant to pluck the calls of that resident out of the metadatabase.  It can now construct a chain of all the calls made by that person to other persons, and on and on.  In that fashion it can put together a picture of all those American citizens and residents who may be involved in a terrorist conspiracy, as well as the identities of other foreign terrorists involved.

It seems to me that this is a vitally necessary and Constitutional activity to keep us safe.  I hope those with little understanding of the actual workings of this program will not bring it down.

 Correction: A better explanation of the NSA's procedure was provided today by Michael Mukasey, " Telephone metadata collection allows investigators to run the known number of a foreign terrorist, say, or of a safe house, against a database of U.S. calls to determine whether that number has called or been called by any domestic number. If so, investigators could then focus on that telephone and, if further evidence were sufficient, obtain a warrant to tap the content of conversations. This does not change anything I have said above.

for those who are truly interested in this serious matter, I have added Mukasey's article in today's Wall St Journal below:

The Air of Unreality in NSA Reform

The president's panel found no official malfeasance but recommends overhauling surveillance programs anyway.

By MICHAEL B. MUKASEy Dec. 23, 2013 Wall St Journal

Grope through the Styrofoam pellets of rhetoric that surround the 46 recommendations in the report issued last week by the president's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, and you will discover that the authors "have not uncovered any official efforts to suppress dissent or any intent to intrude into people's private lives without legal justification." The panel's investigation of the National Security Agency found—as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found before them—that the occasional unintentional violations of guidelines were stopped once they were detected.

Yet in a Dec. 20 White House news conference, President Obama vowed that next month he will make a "pretty definitive statement" about surveillance reform based on the panel's recommendations. The five-member group, including University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone and Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, was appointed by the president in August amid the continuing fallout from the theft of national-security secrets by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

If the presidential Review Group found no official malfeasance, what has generated the 46 recommendations for reform? The answer seems to lie more in the mind-set of those commissioned to examine the intelligence programs than in the programs themselves.
The panel scrutinized principally an NSA program that gathers telephone metadata (which show the calling and called numbers, the date and the length of the call), and one that monitors the communications non-U.S. persons abroad. 
Outside the National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Telephone metadata collection allows investigators to run the known number of a foreign terrorist, say, or of a safe house, against a database of U.S. calls to determine whether that number has called or been called by any domestic number. If so, investigators could then focus on that telephone and, if further evidence were sufficient, obtain a warrant to tap the content of conversations.
The constitutionality of the procedure has been upheld repeatedly. And as the panel noted, the "NSA believes that on at least a few occasions, information derived from the . . . metadata program has contributed to its efforts to prevent possible terrorist attacks either in the United States or somewhere else in the world."

The Review Group's report couldn't point to an actual invasion of privacy from NSA's collection of telephone metadata. Yet, astoundingly, the panel recommends that the program be terminated with a transition "as soon as reasonably possible to a system in which such meta-data is held instead either by private providers or by a private third party."
In other words, if investigators want to check a telephone number they should be required to scurry around to each individual provider— AT&T,  Verizon, etc.—to run the check, possibly against data bases that are inconsistently arranged, with consequent loss of time and efficiency. What if this arrangement "seriously undermines the effectiveness of the program," as well as national security? The panel suggests that "the government might authorize a specially designated private organization to collect and store the bulk telephony metadata" (emphasis added).

The panel, in short, is recommending an experiment: If there is serious damage to the program—measured, say, by a successful terrorist attack—well, then we can have the data placed in the hands of a private party, and we know nothing can go wrong with that.
The president's Review Group offers two reasons why the NSA must not gather this telephone metadata. One is that the government might use the business-records rationale for gathering metadata to cull other sensitive personal information in medical records and the like. Of course, no evidence suggests that any such thing has been tried or even contemplated by anyone in authority.

The second reason offered for terminating the NSA program is that telephone metadata can be mined to construct a profile of a particular person—who that person has called and who has called that person—and the possibility of that occurring would unsettle many people if they thought it was being done to them. No evidence suggests that any such thing has been proposed or done, and indeed the 22 people at NSA who have access to the data are forbidden to use metadata in any fashion other than to run it against suspect telephone numbers.
Nonetheless, the panel finds that mere public awareness of potential abuse "can significantly undermine public trust, which is exceedingly important to the well-being of a free and open society." To be sure, the panel recommends that the government "commission a study of the legal and policy options for assessing the distinction between metadata and other types of information." But in the meantime, the NSA would cease to collect telephone metadata.

What about gathering electronic intelligence abroad? The panel reasons that although the law authorizing that activity "has clearly served an important function in helping the United States to uncover and prevent terrorist attacks both in the United States and around the world (and thus helps protect our allies), the question remains whether it achieves that goal in a way that unnecessarily sacrifices individual privacy and damages foreign relations."
Here too the panel finds the NSA wanting—for failure to uphold Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which "proclaim that 'No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy.' Although that declaration provides little guidance about what is meant by 'arbitrary or unlawful interference,' the aspiration is clear. The United States should be a leader in championing . . . the right of privacy, which is central to human dignity." Based on that "clear" aspiration, the Review Group recommends that protections of the Privacy Act of 1974 be extended even by intelligence-gathering agencies to non-U.S. persons so as to permit them, for example, to discover the personally identifiable information in their intelligence file, "unless the agencies provide specific and persuasive reasons not to do so."

Oh, sure—it's hard to imagine what "specific and persuasive" reason there might be not to allow a foreign terrorist to check on whether the U.S. government has a file on him and what may be in it.
Another recommendation: The U.S. should declare that surveillance abroad "must not target any non-United States person located outside of the United States based solely on that person's political views or religious convictions." So, for example, if a previously unknown group declares it a religious obligation to kill Americans, we must promise not to target that group or its leaders for surveillance to determine whether they have the operational capability to put their "political views or religious convictions" into practice. Makes sense.

And what about the National Security Agency itself? The president wisely has already rejected the panel's idea that the director of NSA no longer head the U.S. Cyber Command. But the panel also advocates separating the NSA from Cyber Command, and detaching the NSA's information-assurance (code-making) function from its foreign-intelligence (code breaking) function. Why? Because after the 9/11 terror attacks, many in government advocated new national-security measures, and "if a similar or worse incident . . . were to occur in the future, many Americans, in the fear and heat of the moment, might support new restrictions on civil liberties and privacy. The powerful existing and potential capabilities of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies might be unleashed without adequate controls." Better to break up a successful team than risk that.

No doubt such airy reasoning, not to mention arrogant mistrust of this country's citizens and its institutions, is the small change of daily discourse in faculty lounges. But to find this infiltrating the Situation Room of the White House—President Obama met with the Review Group there before leaving on his Hawaiian vacation—is truly alarming.

Mr. Mukasey served as U.S. attorney general (2007-09) and as a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York (1988-2006).




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At 6:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you think of what Snowden has done remember these 2 quotes;

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a
revolutionary act." George Orwell

"Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they
deserve, either one." Benjamin Franklin
I completely disagree that Snowden is a traitor. Edward Snowden is a hero. These 2 quotes say it all better than I could. Sharon

At 7:44 AM, Blogger RussWilcox said...

I do not feel that the NSA program is any threat to citizens not involved in terrorism, and I will never forget the vision of innocent people jumping to their deaths on 9/11 when 3000 people died, nor have I forgotten that no major attacks have taken place here since NSA measures were put in place.

As far as Snowden is concerned, he not only revealed the telephony and Prism programs to our enemies, he compromised all our surveillance programs and embarrassed us by spotlighting programs all advanced countries have been doing since the 1900's

At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a result of Snowden's revelations, we now know that Clapper lied to congress about the extent of the NSA's operations. The question then becomes, "Should any agency of the government be allowed to operate without congressional oversight?". In an open society do we want to give a potentially rogue group the freedom to operate without congressional restraint? If we do, we're turning over some of the legislatures power to the executive branch. Given your dislike of Obama, one would expect that you'd be reluctant to do that.


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