New documents pried loose from the National Security Agency (NSA) by a FOIA lawsuit reveal that the NSA ‘repeatedly violated its own privacy guidelines in a now-defunct program to collect “to and from” data in American email.’ The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) judge’s opinion on the program said that there had been “systemic over collection” in the email program and that “those responsible for conducting oversight at the NSA had failed to do so effectively.” In U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s legal opinion that authorized the email program in the first place, Kollar-Kotelly said, “Americans did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for their email and telephone metadata — information that shows who they are in contact with but not the content of their communications. Intelligence officials have compared metadata to the address written on the outside of a mailed envelope.”
Meanwhile, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s surveillance practices, the Director of National Intelligence’s general counsel compared NSA surveillance to glitches in the new health care website, claiming, “[c]omplicated technology systems frequently don’t work as they expect them to…Using the word “abuse” in the context of the operation of the surveillance program is a little bit like saying the Department of Health and Human Services is abusing people because of the fact that the Obamacare websites don’t work properly. They are complicated.”
Complicated or not, the NSA’s FOIA office is swamped with requests from individuals who want to know if the agency spied on them. The agency’s FOIA office reported an 888% increase in requests for the latest fiscal year, and is responding to all of them with form letter saying the NSA can neither confirm nor deny that any information has been gathered. Archive FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones says this huge spike “confirms that in the case of the NSA, leaks work. They don’t release anything through normal means. The only way the public really learns about them is through leaks.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that the NSA may continue its surveillance of domestic telephone communication records, at least for the time being. The justices rejected the appeal, filed by the privacy rights group EPIC, without comment. The appeal was filed ‘directly with the high court, bypassing the usual step of going to the lower federal courts first. Such a move made it much harder for the justices to intervene at this stage, but EPIC officials argued “exceptional ramifications” demanded immediate final judicial review.’ On a related note, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Department of Justice is reviewing all criminal cases that utilized evidence obtained by its “warrantless surveillance program and will be notifying defendants in some of those cases.”
Undeterred by the scrutiny the NSA is under, the CIA “is secretly collecting bulk records of international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union — including transactions into and out of the United States — under the same law that the National Security Agency uses for its huge database of Americans’ phone records.” The financial records program is overseen by the FISA court and authorized by the same provision in the Patriot Act as the NSA’s bulk surveillance programs, and is “evidence that the extent of government data collection programs is not fully known and that the national debate over privacy and security may be incomplete.”
In other federal law enforcement news, a recent Foreign Policy article by Matthew Aid reveals how the FBI has aided the NSA in intercepting “the communications of all diplomatic missions and international organizations located on American soil. In some important respects, the FBI’s cryptologic work is more secretive than that being performed by the NSA because of the immense diplomatic sensitivity of these operations if they were to ever be exposed publicly.” Also at the FBI, the former bureau agent responsible for leaking secret information to the Associated Press (AP) about US operations in Yemen in 2012 has been sentenced to three years in process. The leak spurred the Department of Justice to seize months of AP journalists’ phone records in search of the source. In related news, federal prosecutors have assured that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is not under a sealed indictment, demonstrating that prosecutors are, for now, “drawing a distinction between those who were government employees or contractors and were required by law to protect classified information and those who received and published the material.”
Finally this week, the Pentagon reported that Guantanamo Bay detainees’ Periodic Review Board will be closed to the public, despite Defense Department deputy director of detainee affairs saying earlier the Pentagon was committed to “beginning the PRB process as expeditiously and transparently as possible.”
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon yesterday rejected legal action by Chiquita Brands International to prevent the release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of records relating to the company’s illegal payments to a Colombian terrorist group.
Judge Leon upheld the decision by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to deny Chiquita’s request for confidential treatment of corporate records it had turned over during the course of SEC’s investigation of its operations in Colombia. ”[T]he Court concludes that the SEC’s denial of Chiquita’s request for confidential treatment was reasonable and did not violate the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”),” the judge said in a ten-page “memorandum opinion” issued yesterday.
The ruling clears the way for the SEC to finish processing FOIA requests submitted five years ago by the National Security Archive relating to illegal payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing “paramilitary” organization responsible for the majority of murders, disappearances and forced displacements in Colombia’s internal conflict. The documents at issue are primarily legal and financial records pertaining to more than a decade of “sensitive payments” made by the company and its subsidiaries to the AUC and to leftist guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
“We are extremely pleased that Judge Leon has dismissed Chiquita’s effort to stop the release of records on its funding of Colombian terrorist organizations,” said Michael Evans, director of the Archive’s Colombia Documentation Project. “This could be the most important collection of documents ever assembled on corporate ties to terrorism,” Evans said. ”Finally, the public will be given the opportunity to see the records behind the only case in which a major U.S. corporation has been convicted of funding a foreign terrorist group.”
The illicit payments were first revealed in a 2007 sentencing memorandum issued by U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor outlining the terms of Chiquita’s plea bargain in the case. Taylor found that, over an eight-year period, “[defendant] Chiquita made over 100 payments to the AUC totaling over $1.7 million.” The U.S. government designated the AUC as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO) on September 10, 2001.
Chiquita has long maintained that the payments were the result of extortion, and the sentencing memo states that the company had never received “any actual security services or actual security equipment in exchange for the payments.” Nevertheless, Chiquita records produced by the U.S. Department of Justice in response to similar Archive FOIA requests reveal that the company did, in fact, receive some security services in return for its payments. “Money for info on guerrilla groups,” read one Chiquita memo, written in March 2000. “Can’t get the same level of support from the military.”
In a 1994 memo, the general manager of Chiquita operations in Turbó admitted that guerrillas were “used to supply security personnel at the various farms.” Company lawyers were understandably concerned. A handwritten annotation on a subsequent draft of the document asked, “Why is this relevant?” and, “Why is this being written?”
In arguing its case before the SEC and U.S. District Court, Chiquita maintained that release of the records would interfere with the fairness of lawsuits pending against the company in the U.S. on behalf of the victims of AUC violence. Judge Leon soundly rejected this argument, saying, “There can be no doubt that the SEC rationally determined from the record that disclosure of the Chiquita Payment Documents would not seriously interfere with the fairness of the Florida Litigation,” citing the company’s failure “to specifically articulate how disclosure of the Chiquita Payments Documents would confer an unfair advantage upon plaintiffs in the discovery process.”
Chiquita further argued that release of the records would unfairly impact a preliminary criminal investigation by Colombian judicial officials of the the company’s illegal activities. Nevertheless, Judge Leon held that, “The SEC properly rejected Chiquita’s argument that judicial officials in Colombia would be unable to exclude improper inferences in reaching a decision.” He noted that, “Judicial officials, unlike jurors, are trained and experienced in distinguishing between proper evidence and adverse publicity.”
Judge Leon also rejected Chiquita’s argument that the records be withheld to prevent the Archive from engaging in a “media campaign based on gross mischaracterizations of released documents.” The judge rightly found that the FOIA requires that plaintiffs show that the release of documents “would” deprive the party of a fair adjudication. “With respect to the Florida Litigation, there is no certainty about the degree of publicity that may result from disclosure,” said Leon in the Court’s decision. “Chiquita has failed to show why common judicial safeguards like voir dare would be insufficient to ensure fairness where there is a ‘large diverse pool of potential jurors.’”
The Court also dismissed Chiquita’s argument that the SEC be forced to “blindly apply the same exemptions and redactions” to overlapping records processed by the Department of Justice nearly three years ago when it produced nearly 5,500 pages of Chiquita records in response to similar FOIA requests. Leon said, “Chiquita cannot cite any legal authority for the proposition that the SEC must adhere to determinations previously made by DOJ regarding Overlapping Documents.”
As important a legal victory as this is for the Archive, an appeal by Chiquita seems likely and will further delay the disclosure of these important records.
This Post was originally published in La Jornada.
The 50th anniversary of the violent death of U.S. president, John F. Kennedy has yielded a long kept secret: in the aftermath of the assassination in Dallas, Fidel Castro sent a back-channel message to Washington that he wanted to meet with the official commission investigating Kennedy’s murder, to dispel the swirling allegations that Cuba was responsible. The Commission, headed by Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Earl Warren, sent a young African-American staff lawyer, William Coleman, on a clandestine mission to rendezvous with the Cuban leader on a boat in the Caribbean.
They talked for three hours, Coleman recalled in the first interview he ever gave on the Top Secret meeting to investigative reporter Philip Shenon. Despite pressing the Cuban leader on Cuba’s ties to Lee Harvey Oswald and his mysterious visit to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City before the assassination, Coleman reported back to Warren that he “hadn’t found out anything to cause me to think there is proof [Castro] did it.” Indeed, despite Playa Giron, the missile crisis, assassination plots and the trade embargo, Castro insisted that “he admired President Kennedy.”
Secrets and Conspiracy Theories
In the United States, the anniversary of the young president’s death has generated massive media coverage—special television documentaries; a slew of new books and articles, a new Hollywood movie. Inevitably, the many conspiracy theories as to who killed Kennedy and why are once again being debated. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald, a deranged loner and self-declared Marxist, acted alone when he shot the president. But U.S. government secrecy, particularly the fact that the CIA withheld information on its Top Secret efforts to kill Castro, and on its surveillance of Oswald when he visited Mexico City—protecting its extensive intelligence gathering operations in Mexico—fueled suspicions of a cover up. Nor did the White House share the extraordinary details of significant developments in Kennedy’s attitude toward Cuba—a country central to any historical discussion of the president’s shocking murder in Dallas fifty years ago.
Almost immediately following the assassination on November 22, 1963, enemies of the Cuban revolution began planting accusations that the pro-Castro Oswald had conspired with Cuba to kill the president. In New Orleans, where Oswald had created a one-man “Fair Play for Cuba” committee, a CIA-backed exile group, the Revolutionary Student Directorate (DRE), published its newsletter on November 23 with a picture of Castro next to a picture of Oswald. Six days after the assassination, CIA director John McCone reported to the new president, Lyndon Johnson, that a Nicaraguan intelligence agent in Mexico City named Gilberto Alvarado had “advised our [Mexico] station in great detail on his alleged knowledge that he actually saw Oswald given $6500 in the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City on September 18th.” Alvarado claimed the money was payment to kill the president.
The CIA was immediately suspicious about the credibility of this intelligence because the FBI had concrete proof that Oswald was in New Orleans on September 18th; immigration documents showed he did not travel to Mexico City until September 26. Alvarado was held in a CIA safe house and then turned over to Mexican authorities for further questioning. He failed a CIA-administered polygraph test, and retracted his statement. According to a Top Secret CIA report titled “Assassination of President Kennedy,” Alvarado “admitted to Mexican authorities his story was a fabrication designed to provoke U.S. into kicking Castro out of Cuba.”
Castro himself saw a very different conspiracy at work. On November 23rd he broadcast a statement on Cuban radio in which he labeled the Kennedy assassination “a Machiavellian plot against our country” to justify “immediately an aggressive policy against Cuba…built on the still warm blood and unburied body of their tragically assassinated President.” Oswald, he stated, may have been “an instrument of the most reactionary sectors that have been planning a sinister plot, who may have planned the assassination of Kennedy because of disagreement with his international policy.
At the time of this dramatic statement, Castro knew something about Kennedy’s international policy that the rest of the world did not: at the time of his assassination Kennedy was actively exploring a rapprochement with Cuba, and working secretly with Castro to set up secret negotiations to improve relations. In November 1963, Cuba had no reason to assassinate Kennedy because they were engaged in back channel diplomacy that could possibly lead to normalized relations. Indeed, at the very moment Kennedy was killed, Castro was meeting with an emissary he had sent to Havana on a “mission of peace.”
Secret U.S.-Cuban Talks
The talks between Cuba and the U.S. began, ironically, around Washington’s bald act of aggression—the paramilitary invasion at Playa Giron. In the aftermath of Cuba’s victory over the CIA-backed brigade, the President and his brother, Robert Kennedy sent a lawyer named James Donovan to negotiate the release of over 1000 captured brigade members. During the course of several negotiating sessions in the fall of 1962, Donovan brokered a deal to supply Cuba with $62 million in food and medicine in return for the release of the prisoners. He not only won their freedom but the trust of Fidel Castro as well.
In the spring of 1963, Donovan returned to Havana several times to negotiate with Castro the release of two dozen Americans—three of them were CIA operatives– imprisoned in Cuban jails on charges of spying and sabotage. During the course of their meetings, Castro for the first time raised the issue of restoring relations. Given the acrimony and hostility of the recent past, “how would the U.S. and Cuba go about it,” he asked Donovan.
“Do you know how porcupines make love?,” Donovan replied. “Very carefully. And that is how you and the U.S. will go about this issue.”
When Donovan’s report on Castro’s interest in talks to normalize relations reached the desk of President Kennedy, the White House began considering the possibility of a “sweet approach” to Castro. Top aides argued that the U.S. should demand that Castro jettison his relations with the Soviets as a pre-condition to any talks. But the President overruled them; he instructed his top aides to “start thinking along more flexible lines” in negotiating with Castro, and made it clear, according to declassified White House documents, that he was “very interested” in pursuing this option.
On his last trip to Cuba in April 1963, Donovan introduced Castro to a correspondent for ABC News named Lisa Howard who had traveled to Havana to do a televised special on the Cuban revolution. She replaced Donovan as the central interlocutor in a protracted secret effort to set up the first serious face to face talks on better relations. When she returned from Cuba, the CIA met her in Miami and debriefed her on Castro’s clear interest in improved relations. In a top secret memorandum that arrived on the desk of the president, CIA deputy director, Richard Helms, reported that “Howard definitely wants to impress the U.S. Government with two facts: Castro is ready to discuss rapprochement and herself is ready to discuss it with him if asked to do so by the U.S. Government.”
Predictably, the CIA adamantly opposed any dialogue with Cuba. The agency was institutionally invested in its on-going efforts to covertly roll back the revolution. In a secret memo rushed to the White House on May 1, 1963, CIA Director John McCone requested that “no active steps be taken on the rapprochement matter at this time” and urged only the “most limited Washington discussions” on accommodation with Castro.
But in the fall of 1963, Washington and Havana did take active steps toward actual negotiations. In September Howard used a cocktail party at her E. 74th st. Manhattan townhouse as cover for the first meeting between a Cuban official, UN Ambassador Carlos Lechuga, and a U.S. official, deputy UN Ambassador William Attwood. Attwood told Lechuga that there was interest at the White House in secret talks, if there was something to talk about. He also noted that “the CIA runs Cuba policy.” Following that meeting, Castro and Kennedy used Howard as an intermediary to began passing messages about arranging an actual negotiation session between the two nations.
On November 5, Kennedy’s secret taping system in the Oval Office recorded in a conversation with his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, on whether to send William Attwood, who was serving as a deputy to U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations, to Havana to meet secretly with Castro. Attwood, Bundy told the President, “now has an invitation to go down and talk to Fidel about terms and conditions in which he would be interested in a change of relations with the U.S.” The president is heard agreeing to the idea but asking if “we can get Attwood off the payroll before he goes” so as to “sanitize” him as a private citizen in case word of the secret meeting leaked.
On November 14, Howard arranged for Attwood to come to her home and talk via telephone to Castro’s top aide, Rene Vallejo, about obtaining the Cuban agenda for a secret meeting between in Havana with the Cuban commandante. Vallejo agreed to transmit a proposed agenda to Cuba’s UN ambassador, Lechuga, to give to the Americans. When Attwood passed this information onto Bundy at the White House, he was told that when the agenda was received, “the president wanted to see me at the White House and decide what to say and whether to go [to Cuba] or what we should do next.”
“That was the 19th of November,” Attwood recalled. “Three days before the assassination.”
Kennedy’s Final Act
But Kennedy also sent another message of potential reconciliation to Castro. His emissary, a French journalist named Jean Daniel, had met with Kennedy in Washington to discuss Cuba. Kennedy gave him a message for Fidel Castro: Better relations were possible, and the two countries should work toward an end to hostilities. On November 22, Daniel passed that message to Castro, and the two were discussing it optimistically over lunch when Castro received a phone call reporting that Kennedy had been shot. “This is terrible,” Castro told Daniel, realizing that his mission had been aborted by an assassins’ bullet. “There goes your mission of peace.”
Castro then accurately predicted: “They are going to say we did it.”
Amidst the ongoing controversies over conspiracy theories, what is lost in the historical discussion of the assassination is that John F. Kennedy’s very last act as president was to reach out to Castro and offer the possibility of a different bilateral relationship between Havana and Washington. Fifty years later, the potential Kennedy envisioned for co-existence between the Cuban revolution and the U.S. has yet to be realized. As part of commemorating his legacy, his vision for a détente in the Caribbean must be remembered, reconsidered, and revisited.
Peter Kornbluh directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive in Washington D.C., and is co-author, with William LeoGrande of the forthcoming book, Talking With Cuba: The Hidden History of Diplomacy between the United States and Cuba.
Three top Mexican lawmakers have called on the country’s Attorney General to investigate disclosures about a secret, U.S.-only intelligence facility in Mexico City published last week by Migration Declassified in partnership with MVS Noticias.
On Friday, Ricardo Anaya Cortés of the National Action Party (PAN), chair of the Permanent Council of the Chamber of Deputies, said “it would be very grave if it is confirmed that an espionage center, operated by a foreign government, exists on our territory.”
Citing the document at the center of last week’s posting, Anaya said that “this is a matter that definitely should be investigated immediately by the competent authorities.” The secretary of the Foreign Relations Committee, Fernando Zarate Salgado of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), added that “Mexicans demand that in all areas our privacy and our rights be respected and that we are not the victims of espionage on the part of a foreign government.”
On Monday, Gabriela Cuevas Barrón, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also issued a call to investigate the “Mexico Fusion Center.” Cuevas, from the PAN, said the intelligence facility described in the DOD memo was in violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
“Of course we agree that strategies and actions should be adopted that would help us do away with narcotraffickers and dismantle organized crime,” she said in a press statement, “but they should be within national and international legal norms.”
Cuevas said the new information outlined in the memo “would aggravate existing allegations about a clear violation of national sovereignty and the privacy of Mexicans.” She also indicated she had asked the Secretary of Governance (SEGOB) and the Center of Investigation and National Security (CISEN), in charge of domestic and foreign intelligence investigations, for a “detailed report on accredited foreign intelligence stations in Mexico.”
This morning, Sen. Cuevas discussed the issue at length with Carmen Aristegui of MVS Noticias:
Carmen also discussed the importance of having access to declassified sources and explains how they help us understand and contextualize the material leaked through Snowden and WikiLeaks.
The CIA just posted 250 declassified documents online that the agency produced to support President Carter during his negotiations with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin during the Camp David Accords in September 1978. According to the CIA’s website, the documents total over 1,400 pages and include two National Intelligence Estimates on Egypt and the Middle East Military Balance, selections from CIA’s briefing book on Camp David created for President Carter, and much more, including a very cool Flickr stream of photographs that accompany the documents.
The Accords, signed by Sadat and Begin that September, produced two frameworks that were signed at the White House and witnessed by President Carter. The second framework (A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel) directly led to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty and the awarding of the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize to Sadat and Begin. The peace treaty, while it did not end Israeli occupation of the West Bank, is notable not only for brining a modicum of stability of the region, but also for ushering in the long era of US military aid and political backing for the Egyptian government.
In 1988, a decade after the Camp David Accords, the entire landscape of the Middle East had changed; the Islamic Revolution had overthrown the Shah of Iran, the devastating Iran-Iraq War had just ended, sewing the seeds for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait that would follow a few years later — and Anwar Sadat had been assassinated. Yet the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty remained intact.
In 1988 President Jimmy Carter took part in the Peabody Award-winning documentary the Cold War series, produced by Pat Mitchell and Jeremy Isaacs Productions and initially broadcast on CNN. The Archive helped Sir Jeremy Isaacs’ crew formulate questions to ask the interviewees, and the resulting interviews document eyewitnesses accounts of all aspects of the Cold War, including a revealing interview with the former president and his take on the Middle East peace process. In his interview, the interviewer asks President Carter “[h]ow difficult were those 13 days [at Camp David]?
“The first three days of the talks were very unpleasant; primarily, I and Begin and Sadat in a very small room. Sometimes the Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, was there. I would try to get the two men to agree on something, and they couldn’t agree on anything; they were very antagonistic. No matter what my efforts were, they always wanted to revert back to what had happened in the last 25 years, with four wars and boys killed and bombs dropped. So, for the last 10 days in Camp David, they never saw each other. I kept them totally apart, and I went back and forth between the Egyptians and the Israelis to try to conclude an agreement. I used then, and still use, a technique that I call “the single document technique”, in that I have exactly the same text that I present to the Israelis and the Egyptians, and every time one of them insists on a change, I make that change and present it to the other, so there’s no reason for them to believe that I’m misleading them. And so it was that long, tedious, back-and-forth negotiation that finally brought the two men to an agreement.”
When asked if the talks nearly fell through the President said that yes, on two occasions. The first being salvaged thanks to Carter’s personal friendship with Sadat:
“Sadat told the Egyptian delegation, “We are leaving Camp David,” and he went to my national security adviser, Zbigniew Brezinski and said, “Bring my helicopter – I’m going back to Egypt.” I learned about this, and I went over to Sadat’s cabin and I confronted him in a very frank and ultimately successful way. I said that “Our friendship is over. You promised me that you would stay at Camp David as long as I was willing to negotiate, and here you have made your plans to leave without even consulting me, and I consider this a serious blow to our personal friendship and to the relationship between Egypt and the United States.” And he agreed to stay, to the consternation of the other Egyptians.”
On his assessment of the Egyptian leader, Carter said:
“I think, at Camp David that if the accords were signed, that Egypt would suffer from an economic boycott of sorts from the other Arab countries. I don’t think that he anticipated as severe a boycott effort or an embargo on trade as did materialize; but he was willing to accept this. And of course, I think he also underestimated the animosity toward him personally within his own country, and this was demonstrated tragically when he was assassinated by his own people as his own military troops went in front of the reviewing stand. The loss of Sadat was a tragic blow to peace in the Middle East, and I think to global stability.”
One of the documents recently declassified by the CIA is the June 1976 Interagency Intelligence Memorandum, ‘Egypt: Sadat’s Domestic Position.’ The 1976 memo concludes that even though Sadat was “in control,” there was cause for concern about his domestic position. Yet, the memo’s major judgments conclude that, “short of an assassin’s bullet, or another heart attack, we see no immediate threat to Sadat.”While Sadat held control of Egypt’s only political party at the time of the Accords and had no visible rival, Prime Minister Begin faced considerable pressure to reassure his Likud party and coalition government partners in the Israeli Knesset that the peace negotiations that followed Camp David wouldn’t rush to any conclusions, particularly regarding settlements in the Sinai.
Walking a political tightrope, a February 21, 1979, National Intelligence Daily reports Begin felt he had little choice but to placate his opponents, hardliners who could sense “a loss of momentum in the peace talks.” However, the Prime Minister was ultimately successful in negotiating the return of the Sinai to Egypt, receiving Egypt’s recognition of Israel’s legitimacy in the process.
Despite the resilience of the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty, thanks largely to Carter’s efforts during the Camp David Accords, the president remained unconvinced that the summit played a large role in the peace process, and in his 1988 interview revealed that it was still hard for him “to see a direct connection between the Camp David accords and the peace that was signed later between Israel and Egypt.” Now, thanks to the CIA’s recent declassifications, the public has a chance to see the classified documents Carter used to make the Accords a success.
FRINFORMSUM 11/14/2013: No ‘No-Spy’ Pacts, the Stuxnet Worm Strikes Again, DHS’s Internet Kill Switch, and More
The heads of Germany’s domestic and international intelligence agencies visited the National Security Agency (NSA) last week to repair relations strained by Edward Snowden’s leaks about the agency’s surveillance practices. Despite revelations that the NSA tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, the Germans were sent the message they won’t be offered the “no-spy” pact they were looking for. While NSA head, General Keith Alexander, gave the German emissaries a warm welcome, “the American general didn’t give the two top German officials much. Asked about the accusations of espionage, he apologized and said he couldn’t say anything about that. Nor did the visitors learn whether an extension on the roof of the US Embassy in Berlin, right near the Brandenburg Gate, actually houses spying equipment.” However, the visitors were told that the NSA had figured out most of the information that Snowden copied from agency computers before fleeing to Hong Kong, and Gen. Alexander said the NSA would put together a “Germany package” containing information Snowden is likely to release soon so the European nation won’t be caught off-guard by upcoming leaks.
The German economic sector is taking a stand against NSA snooping in the face of slow political progress. During a cybersecurity conference in Germany this week, discussions were held among German executives and politicians about developing ways ‘to keep electronic message traffic from “unnecessarily” crossing the Atlantic,’ and ways “of segmenting the Internet, so that they are not reliant on large American firms that by contract or court order allow United States intelligence agencies to delve into their data about phone and Internet usage.”
Arizona Senator John McCain may or may not have said that NSA head Gen. Alexander should resign in the wake of the spying scandal. Earlier this week the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that in an interview with McCain, when asked if Alexander should resign, the Senator said ‘”[o]f course.” Senator McCain’s office has since denied saying Alexander should resign soon, implying that his resignation would serve no real purpose considering the general’s upcoming retirement. During the Der Spiegel interview, McCain also said that if you believe that Snowden hasn’t divulged everything he knows to the Russians, “then you believe that pigs can fly.”
Sarah Harrison, a British journalist and WikiLeaks staffer who has worked with Snowden since his arrival in Moscow, has been advised by her lawyers not to return to the UK. This advice is likely promulgated by the detainment and questioning of Glenn Greenwald’s domestic partner by British authorities after a similar trip to Moscow in August. Harrison has since flown to Berlin, where she joins a growing group of activists that are “in effective exile” there, including Laura Poitras and Jacob Applebaum. Stranded in Moscow, Edward Snowden’s lawyers report that he has spent the entirety of his life savings on food, rent, and protection.
It’s been reported that the Stuxnet worm, the byproduct of US and Israeli efforts to sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities, has struck again, this time in Russia. According to reports, “[i]f the claim of the Russian nuclear plant infection is true, then it’s easy to imagine how this ‘collateral damage’ could have turned into a very serious incident indeed, with obvious diplomatic repercussions.”
EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, recently won a FOIA court case against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding DHS’ proposed “internet kill switch,” otherwise known as SOP 303. A federal judge ruled ‘that the DHS may not withhold the agency’s plan to deactivate wireless communications networks in a crisis… The federal court determined that the agency wrongly claimed that it could withhold SOP 303 as a “technique for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.” The phrase, the court explained, “refers only to acts by law enforcement after or during the prevention of a crime, not crime prevention techniques.”’
In declassification news, the CIA has posted a collection of 250 declassified documents on Middle East peace negotiations during the Carter administration online. According to the CIA website, “these documents cover the period from January 1977 through March 1979 and were produced by the CIA to support the Carter administration’s diplomatic efforts leading up to President Carter’s negotiations with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David in September 1978. The declassified documents detail diplomatic developments from the Arab peace offensive and President Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem through the regionwide aftermath of Camp David.”
Finally this week, the Archive joined other journalists and open government groups in signing friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Ryan Shapiro, a PhD candidate at MIT whose doctoral work examines how the FBI monitors and investigates animal rights activists. Shapiro is the FBI’s “most prolific” FOIA requester, sending entirely legal FOIA requests to the agency en masse. His requests are so prolific that the FBI is suing to stop him, claiming his numerous requests ‘taken together, constitute a “mosaic” of information whose release could “significantly and irreparably damage national security”’ Shapiro argues “[t]his is an especially circular and Kafkaesque line of argument…The FBI considers it a national security threat to make public its reasoning for considering it a national security threat to use federal law to request information about the FBI’s deeply problematic understanding of national security threats.” A ruling, which is expected in the next few months, in the FBI’s favor would make it immeasurably harder for organizations like the Archive to keep tabs on government agencies.
Top Secret Facility Barred Mexicans, Focused on “High Value Targeting”
National Security Agency (NSA) personnel rotated in and out of a U.S.-operated “Mexico Fusion Center” located inside the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and provided additional analytic support to the secret intelligence facility’s “high value targeting” mission, according to a 2010 Defense Department (DOD) memorandum obtained by the non-governmental National Security Archive through the Freedom of Information Act.
The document is perhaps the most detailed and up-to-date declassified account available of Pentagon intelligence programs in Mexico during the last few years. The memo also deepens our understanding of recent U.S. espionage activities in Mexico that came to light as a result of a cache of documents leaked to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. What emerges are the outlines of a two-track U.S. intelligence program: one, a network of joint intelligence centers staffed by personnel from both countries; the other, a secret facility located inside the U.S. Embassy to which the Mexicans are not invited.
U.S. security assistance to Mexico has skyrocketed under the Mérida Initiative, a $1.9 billion U.S. security package approved in 2008 and aimed at curtailing drug trafficking and related criminal enterprises in Mexico and Central America. The memo was released in response to a FOIA request for documents relating to DOD aid to Mexico under the National Defense Authorization Act from 2008-2012.
The document describes support provided to the Mexico Fusion Center by the Pentagon’s office for Counternarcotics and Global Threats (CN>). NSA officials worked inside the fusion center alongside analysts from other Pentagon agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Support for the fusion center flowed mainly through U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the regional military command with responsibility for North America, which also staffed the center with three of its own personnel.
The memo was written by William Wechsler, then the head of CN> and is addressed to Mike Vickers, who was then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities (ASD (SO/LIC&IC)). In this post, Vickers played a leading role in coordinating clandestine operations against terrorist groups, including drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Vickers is perhaps best known for his role, memorialized in the book and film Charlie Wilson’s War, as a CIA operative who helped to arm Afghan Mujahideen fighters in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s. Appointed Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence by President Barack Obama in 2010, Vickers is now the top civilian intelligence official at DOD.
While the term “high value target” often refers to leaders of terrorist groups or hostile states, highly-sensitive NSA documents disclosed in September 2013 by Brazil’s O Globo show that NSA officials used the same language to refer to the presidents of Mexico and Brazil. Classified briefing slides published by O Globo identified Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil as “high-value targets” of the agency’s espionage operations.
The Snowden documents have led to a series of disclosures about the spy agency’s operations in Mexico, including that the NSA had intercepted the personal email accounts of Peña Nieto (while a leading presidential candidate) and his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, along with dozens of other world leaders. One report describes how NSA operatives based at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City were able to hack into the email accounts of Calderón, members of his inner circle, and “several Mexican government agencies.” These “accesses,” under a program known as “project FLATLIQUID,” were “just the beginning,” according to the November 2010 NSA report, first published by Der Spiegel.
Another document leaked by Snowden and first published in July by O Globo describes a program called XKeyscore, through which the NSA captured and analyzed global Internet traffic from 150 monitoring sites at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world, including one located in Mexico City. A separate document, also leaked by Snowden, indicates that the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City hosted personnel from the NSA’s Special Collection Service (SCS), a highly-classified, covert NSA program whose mission is to secretly install and monitor listening devices and other espionage equipment aimed at foreign leaders and other sensitive intelligence targets. SCS Mexico City was also a primary recipient of intelligence collected under the FLATLIQUID program.
An April 2013 Washington Post article—based primarily on confidential sources—described the increasing role of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the operation of joint intelligence “fusion centers” with the Mexican government under Calderón. These facilities, staffed by both U.S. and Mexican officials, were intended to facilitate information sharing between the two countries. Unlike the joint fusion centers described in these earlier reports, the facility outlined in the DOD memo is a U.S.-only operation and was focused on the most sensitive intelligence targets.
The Wechsler memo cites the “potential” for DOD to support “one or more combined/interagency Mexican fusion centers, possibly including northern and southern cells,” which presumably are the same centers discussed in the Post report. NORTHCOM recommended that the proposed US-Mexico centers “be kept separate” from the US-only facility, due to “differences in [U.S. government] agencies’ authorities,” “Mexican interagency coordination difficulties,” and the fact that the Mexico Fusion Center was classified “NOFORN” (a classification level that bars access by foreign nationals) “with a focus exclusively on high value targeting.”
Among other kinds of support provided to the Mexico Fusion Center, the Wechsler memo lists the installation of computers linked to both SIPRNet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network) and JWICS (Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System). These are the same classified DOD intelligence networks allegedly exploited by Snowden and, before him, Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), who was the source of much of the information disclosed by WikiLeaks.
“Indirect support” for the center included the installation of a Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS) “for secure communications between U.S. and Mexican military forces.” In May of this year, journalist Raúl Olmos of AM de León, wrote about the Wechsler memo as well as a Mexican Navy (SEMAR) document that discussed U.S.-Mexico information sharing through CENTRIXS. The SEMAR document also discussed the use of drones supplied by the U.S. through the Mérida Initiative.
The Calderón government requested U.S. support in the creation of the joint intelligence centers by diplomatic note, according to a declassified NORTHCOM report, also published here today. The note asked for “USG [U.S. Government] support in forming an operations-intelligence fusion center and enabling it with direct U.S. interagency intelligence support.” The document identifies “intelligence manpower gaps” and presents requirements on planned measures to “support the growing U.S. Northern Command Intelligence (USNORTHCOM J2) assigned mission of DoD support to U.S. efforts in Mexico.” The document is heavily redacted, particularly sections relating to “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support.” A similar NORTHCOM document from 2011 identifies “support to Mexico” as a “Very High” priority on the “National Intelligence Priority Framework.”
A leaked U.S. Embassy cable from December 2009 published by WikiLeaks confirms that the Mexican government “proposed establishing an intelligence fusion center to force comprehensive sharing and assessment of intelligence.” In the cable, U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual said he backed creating the fusion center “to support targeting senior cartel leaders.”
The NORTHCOM documents also confirm that U.S. intelligence programs in Mexico rely on intelligence analysts and programs previously assigned to the war in Afghanistan. The Archive received the NORTHCOM reports in response to a FOIA request for records related to the decision by the DOD in 2011 to “reassign specialists who had previously been working on Al Qaeda intelligence to work on Mexican drug network projects.” Anthony Wayne, the current U.S. Ambassador to Mexico who replaced Pascual after he resigned in the wake of the WikiLeaks scandal, also served previously as deputy ambassador to Afghanistan.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials were also involved in sharing information with their Mexican counterparts through their own fusion centers, which was a topic of discussion between former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and high-level Mexican officials in March 2010.
Migration Declassified is a project of the National Security Archive that works to support the rights of migrants in North America by increasing transparency around security and law enforcement institutions in Mexico and the United States. Among other things, the project aims to shed light on U.S. intelligence and espionage programs, especially those related to the authorization of surveillance operations, the selection of surveillance targets, and the utilization and handling of intelligence information, in accordance with international human rights law and standards. These were recently summarized in a set of Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information, drafted by 22 civil society organizations and facilitated by the Open Society Justice Initiative.