FRINFORMSUM 2/13/2014: Top Pentagon Official Ordered Destruction of bin Laden Death Photos, NSA Employee Gave Snowden Password to Classified Info Network, US Falls in Press Freedom Rankings to #46, and Much More.
A FOIA lawsuit brought against the Department of Defense by Judicial Watch has spurred the declassification of documents revealing U.S. Special Operations Commander, Admiral William McRaven, ordered the immediate destruction of any photos of the death of Osama bin Laden. On May 13, 2011, McRaven told subordinates that any photos should have already been turned over to the CIA –presumably so they could be placed in operational files out of reach of the FOIA– and if anyone still had access to photos, to “destroy them immediately or get them to the [redacted].” McRaven issued the directive only hours after Judicial Watch issued a press release stating they would be filing suit for the records.
The National Security Agency (NSA) currently collects data on less than a third of domestic calls, according to anonymous officials, raising questions about the efficacy of the bulk surveillance tool. Officials reported that the agency collects information from most landlines, but that it is incapable of collecting information from cell phones or internet calls. However, the NSA is in the process of building “the technical capacity over the next few years to collect toll records from every domestic land line and cellphone call, assuming Congress extends authority for Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act after it expires in June 2015.”
A new audit from the Government Accountability Office reports that spy agencies, including the FBI, CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and components of the Departments of Justice, Energy, Treasury, Homeland Security, and State, “have provided unreliable and incomplete reports to Congress since 2011 on the use of private contractors.” The unclassified report does not disclose the number of core contractors –like Edward Snowden- these agencies employ, or how much money is spent on them.
A declassified document recently posted on Cryptome.org reveals that a civilian NSA employee gave Snowden their Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificate, allowing Snowden access to classified information on NSAnet that would otherwise have been unavailable to the contractor. Then, without the civilian employee’s knowledge, Snowden used a commonly available web crawler to “scrape” 1.7 million files.
The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday that nearly a year after Edward Snowden accessed the classified files, the agency still does not have the technology fully in place to prevent a similar unauthorized disclosure. Under questioning, Clapper said that Snowden would have been caught had he tried to scrape material from NSA headquarters in Ft. Meade, MD, rather than an agency outpost in Hawaii, further commenting that “[o]ur whole system is based on personal trust.”
A February 4 report from Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee reported that more than 15 federal agencies were hacked last year, and either lost control of their networks or had them stolen as a result. The report further notes the occurrence of 48,000 other cyber ‘incidents’ involving government systems, and that “civilian agencies don’t detect roughly four in 10 intrusions.”
The debate over targeting an American terror suspect in Pakistan in a lethal drone attack continued this week. This is the first time officials have discussed killing an American citizen in such an attack, and comes in the middle of another debate about whether the lethal drone program should be transferred from the CIA to the Pentagon. DNI Clapper publicly acknowledged the existence of the covert CIA drone program for the first time this Tuesday during the aforementioned Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) asked Clapper to confirm if the White House was considering “shifting the use of drones, unmanned aerial vehicle strikes, from the CIA to the DOD,” to which Clapper responded, “Yes, sir, it is. And again, that would also be best left to a closed session.”
Former State Department analyst Stephen Kim pled guilty to leaking a Top Secret intelligence report on North Korea to a Fox News reporter and is expected to serve 13 months in prison. The report led to a June 11, 2009, Fox News story that stated “Pyongyang’s next nuclear detonation is but one of four planned actions the Central Intelligence Agency has learned, through sources inside North Korea…” implying the source inside North Korea was CIA human intelligence that was placed at risk due to the story’s publication.
The US fell 13 places to #46 in Reporters Without Borders’ latest ranking of press freedom around the world, and is now sandwiched between Romania and Haiti. The report cites national security measures as the reason for the rankings plummet, including Chelsea Manning’s conviction, the DOJ’s seizure of AP phone records as part of a leak investigation, and the government’s attempts to have Edward Snowden returned for prosecution.
The NSA refuses to acknowledge the existence or non-existence of documents on a Top Secret U.S. intelligence facility in Mexico City, a communications hub that barred Mexican personnel and focused on “high value targeting,”despite previously declassified information describing its role. The NSA issued a “Glomar” denial in response to a FOIA request filed by the National Security Archive last year, even after the Archive published a declassified Pentagon memo confirming the NSA’s involvement in the operations of the “Mexico Fusion Center.”
Finally this week, Polish prosecutors may try to question Guantanamo detainees as part of an investigation into whether or not the CIA maintained a secret “black” prison in the Eastern European nation between 2002 and 2003. The Polish investigation began in 2008 after CIA officials told the AP that a prison in operated in Poland “from December 2002 until the fall of 2003.” Human rights groups believe more than a handful of terror suspects were held there, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s ability to claim that it can “neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence” of ”the use of unmanned aerial vehicles” derives to another vehicle. A boat. An extremely large boat.
The Glomar Explorer, as WNYC’s Radiolab explains, was built by the CIA with help from Howard Hughes for the six year (1968-1974) Project Azorian. Project Azorian was a secret, ambitious endeavor to salvage and examine a Soviet Golf-II class submarine –and its three one-megaton nuclear missiles– which had sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor 1,560 miles northwest of Hawaii. As Project Azorian developed, Seymour Hersh sniffed a story, but the CIA successfully convinced The New York Times to suppress publication. A year later a journalist, Ann Phillippi, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents about the Glomar Explorer and the CIA’s attempts to censor press coverage. The CIA, questionably citing FOIA law, claimed it could “neither confirm nor deny” that documents about either the ship or the censorship existed; a judge agreed. The term “Glomar response” stuck. And so did the the ability for the CIA (and the entire US government) to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of documents in response to FOIA requesters.
So how do we know so much today about the Glomar Explorer and Project Azorian? Ironically, because of the Freedom of Information Act. In 2010, my colleagues at the National Security Archive got their hands on a series of declassified table of contents to Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s classified in-house journal. One of them, the Fall 1985 edition, included the title: “Project Azorian – The Story of the Hughes Glomar Explorer (Secret).” We filed a FOIA request, and eventually received the redacted, but still encompassing and fascinating, internal CIA history of The Glomar Explorer –highly worth a read. Around the same time, my colleague Bill Burr was also able to win the declassification of two memorandums of high-level conversations between President Ford and his national security team as they worried over leaks about the Project. After the National Security Archive posted the CIA’s history of Project Azorian, retired CIA officer David Sharp, who served on the crew of the Glomar Explorer, was finally able to publish his book on the Project, The CIA’s Greatest Covert Operation: Inside the Daring Mission to Recover a Nuclear-armed Soviet Sub. Until the declassification of the Studies in Intelligence article, the CIA’s Publication Review Board had refused to give full approval to Sharp to publish his book.
The CIA’s ultimate declassification of the history of the covert operation that created the Glomar response is certainly symbolic. But it also can be seen as a direct result to a line added by President Obama to his Executive Order on Classification which states, “No information may remain classified indefinitely.”
Sadly, the wisdom that led the CIA to declassify its secret history of the Glomar Explorer has largely not spread to other parts of the Agency –or the rest of the federal government. The use of Glomar non-denial denials also remains rampant; just this week, two more headscratchers have occurred.
- First, the National Security Agency sent two FOIA response letters to Freedom of the Press Foundation reporter (and “FOIA Terrorist“) Jason Leopold. The first refused to confirm or deny the existence of project DISHFIRE, an operation which captures SMS text messages. Bafflingly, the second letter –despite the NSA’s earlier attempts to shroud the very existence of DISHFIRE in mystery– confirmed the existence of DISHFIRE so that it could deny his request for expedited processing.
- Second, Archivista Mike Evans posted earlier today about another National Security Agency refusal to confirm or deny the existence of documents on its involvement in a Top Secret U.S. intelligence facility in Mexico City –despite a previously declassified Department of Defense memo describing the National Security Agency’s role in conducting “high value targeting” from this facility. The Agency’s Glomar claims in both of the above cases don’t hold water, and I hope these improper Glomar responses are overturned when the requesters appeal. See here for more on how to appeal Glomar responses –the key is showing evidence of when the Glomaring agency has already acknowledged the existence of the subject you are requesting. Which brings me to…
Finally, in a bit of good news, last March the DC Court of Appeals ruled against the CIA’s Glomar response on drones that opened this article. The panel refreshingly told the CIA that, “[G]iven [such] statements by the Director, the President, and the President’s counterterrorism advisor, the Agency’s declaration that ‘no authorized CIA or Executive Branch official has disclosed whether or not the CIA . . . has an interest in drone strikes,’ is at this point neither logical nor plausible.”
Of course, if an agency loses a Glomar appeal, it is not uncommon for that agency simply to admit that, yes the documents exist, but they remain properly classified. So no, you cannot see them. On the other hand, as the National Security Archive’s receipt of the CIA’s history of the Glomar Explorer has shown, “no information may remain classified indefinitely.” And besides, Glomar doesn’t work on leaks.
 In the 1970s, a number of books and articles claimed incorrectly that “Jennifer” was the name of the operation. Rather, “Jennifer” was the name of a small security compartment for the work being done on Azorian, thus restricting all knowledge to a very small and select group of people inside the White House and the U.S. intelligence community, including President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger.
 Sharp recounts that Soviet ships routinely shadowed The Glomar Explorer. Before the departure of one Soviet ship, it approached close to the Explorer; close enough that the Americans could see their Soviet adversaries “mooning” them.
 This new requirement has also led to the declassification of several Presidential Daily Briefs.
 It is difficult to track the frequency of Glomar denials across the US government. According to the Government Handbook on FOIA (h/t Gavin at CEG), “[Reported Full Denials] include Glomar responses where an agency neither confirms nor denies the existence of responsive records based on one of the FOIA exemptions.” That means, in theory, that Glomar non-denial denials make up some unknown subsection of the 30,727 requests denied in FY 2013 (see pages 4 and 5).
Mexico Fusion Center: NSA Refuses to Acknowledge “Existence or Non-existence” of Documents on U.S. Intelligence Facility
The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) refuses to acknowledge its involvement in a Top Secret U.S. intelligence facility in Mexico City, despite previously declassified information describing its role.
The NSA issued the “Glomar” denial in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request we filed last year. The agency did so even after we published a declassified Pentagon memo confirming the NSA’s involvement in the operations of the “Mexico Fusion Center,” a high-tech U.S. communications hub that barred Mexican personnel and focused on “high value targeting.”
U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the regional directorate with primary responsibility for the Mexico Fusion Center, was similarly evasive in response to a FOIA, saying that it had “determined that any documents responsive” to our request “are classified,” although it’s not at all apparent from their letter that the agency even conducted an initial search for responsive material.
In the U.S., federal agencies have the right to refuse to tell the requester whether documents do or do not exist in cases where such acknowledgement is itself a sensitive matter. The National Security Archive’s own Nate Jones has written a helpful primer on the “Glomar” response.
The Mexico/Migration project of the National Security Archive has appealed both decisions, arguing that prior acknowledgement of the existence of the Mexico Fusion Center and the involvement of NSA and NORTHCOM personnel undermines their “Glomar” argument. In this case, it’s already quite clear that the Mexico Fusion Center exists and that officials from the NSA, NORTHCOM, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other agencies have contributed resources and personnel to it.
What’s less clear is exactly what the staff of the Mexico Fusion Center is doing behind the backs of their Mexican security “partners.” In light of the Snowden disclosures, the “high value” targets mentioned in the final sentence of the Pentagon memo could refer to drug cartels or Mexican government itself. While the term “high-value target” often refers to leaders of terrorist groups or hostile states, highly-sensitive NSA documents leaked by Snowden and disclosed in September 2013 by Brazil’s O Globo show that NSA officials used the same language to refer to presidents Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, both of whom were targeted by the agency’s espionage operations.
During the presidency of Felipe Calderón, the two countries went out of their way to highlight the extent of their growing intelligence cooperation and touted the creation of joint “fusion centers” where U.S. and Mexican personnel worked side-by-side against increasingly powerful criminal organizations. With bilateral relations already having cooled somewhat under President Peña Nieto, new revelations about U.S. espionage operations and secret intelligence facilities have reportedly led to further retrenchment in U.S.-Mexico security cooperation and to calls for investigations by Mexican lawmakers.
Our posting from November 2013 unpacked the 2010 Pentagon memo that first revealed the Mexico Fusion Center and described its functions:
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.
It’s now up to the appeals review panels at the NSA and the Pentagon to either acknowledge that the records do exist or to disavow a clear, precise declassified memo exchanged between two top Pentagon officials. We’ll be sure to let you know whether they decide to acknowledge reality or not.
The Archive filed the requests as part of a broader effort to shed light on U.S.-Mexico security ties and the massive Mérida Iniative aid program.
Daily Situation Reports Show Peacekeepers in Rwanda Ill-Equipped and Unprepared to Carry Out Mission in January 1994
By: Leah Dunn
As part of the “#Rwanda20yrs” project, the National Security Archive published 17 United Nations Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) “situation reports” (sitreps) on its website last week. These sitreps demonstrate the failure of the United Nations to deliver even basic equipment and resources to its mission in Rwanda, and to prioritize the situation in Rwanda as necessary and important. The posting features a selection of the sitreps sent to UN headquarters from officers on the ground throughout January 1994 and highlights continuous shortcomings and the repeated requests for aid which were subsequently placed on the UN’s back burner. Three months later in April 1994, Rwanda descended into genocide while the international community stood idly by.
In the months leading up to the genocide, UNAMIR peacekeepers faced significant challenges in carrying out precisely the work they were sent to Rwanda to do. Their mandate to monitor the security situation in Rwanda and to help implement the Arusha Peace Accords was simply impracticable, considering a dire lack in funding, support, and adequate personnel from the UN. Nearly every daily sitrep in January 1994 repeats the urgent refrain that the “operational situation remains difficult due to the lack of vehicles and radios.” The sitreps demonstrate that not only did the peacekeeping mission start off with inadequate resources, but that daily requests for vehicles, radios, protective gear, additional personnel, and other necessities were all virtually disregarded.
This critical situation is made clear in a sitrep from Special Representative to the Secretary General Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh on January 25, 1994, where he reported that having a concentration of UNAMIR troops in Kigali decreased “the overall availability of troops throughout the country,” and that “lack of communications and transport hampers operations” in the demilitarized zone. This sitrep is especially telling, as Booh-Booh also described a small shipment of vehicles that did finally come in, “but in a very bad state of disrepair.” Even when the UN did respond, they did not do so adequately.
The refusal of the UN to prioritize the situation in Rwanda and the sitreps’ clear requests for additional aid crippled UNAMIR’s abilities to carry out much of its mandate, which had catastrophic consequences in directly influencing the violence and state of insecurity that led to mass genocide. The international community’s continual and deliberate lack of action illustrates the fatal flaws behind the current structures for responding to mass atrocities and crimes against humanity.
Check out the electronic briefing book here: The Rwanda Sitreps.
Remember to watch for more documents on the Rwandan Genocide. Follow #Rwanda20yrs on the Archive’sFacebook , Twitter: @Nsarchive, and check out the Archive’s website, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide, Facebook, and Twitter: @HolocaustMuseum
FRINFORMSUM 2/6/2014: NSA “probably” Collects Congressional Phone Data, the DEA Tries to Hide Classified Evidence with “Parallel Construction,” and Much More.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole conceded that the National Security Agency (NSA) “probably” collects phone records of members of Congress and their staff during a House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this week. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) asked Cole if the agency collected calls made to and from congressional offices, to which Cole replied, “[w]e probably do, Mr. Congressman. But we’re not allowed to look at any of those, however, unless we have reasonable, articulable suspicion that those numbers are related to a known terrorist threat.” During the same hearing, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), co-sponsor of the USA Freedom Act that would end the NSA’s bulk domestic surveillance practices, told Cole “you will get nothing” if the Obama administration does not throw its support behind the Act, and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) reminded Cole that if the administration did not support the USA Freedom Act, the government risked losing congressional support for the counter-terrorism provisions in Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which are set to expire on June 1, 2015.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) posted a blistering attack on senior intelligence officials’ for their misleading surveillance remarks on his website last week. The post, a transcript of a speech delivered at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week, derided senior intelligence officials for undermining the trust and professionalism of their workforce, and for repeatedly making misleading statements that “did not protect sources and methods that were useful in fighting terror. Instead they hid bad policy choices and violations of the liberties of the American people.” Wyden most certainly meant to include the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, among those senior intelligence officials. Last March Clapper lied to Sen. Wyden when the Senator asked if the NSA collected data on millions of Americans, to which Clapper said ‘[n]o sir, not wittingly.” However, during last week’s Senate Intelligence hearing Clapper said “we must lean in the direction of transparency, wherever and whenever we can,” arguing that increased transparency would translate to increased acceptance of the surveillance programs.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) echoed Senator Wyden’s concerns about intelligence officials misleading Congress and the public about the nature of domestic surveillance programs, and proposed creating a new Senate Select Committee to investigate a wide-range of issues concerning the intelligence community. The Committee would not only investigate the NSA leaks, but also analyze “intelligence policy, congressional oversight, the role of contractors, the constitutionality of current intelligence programs, and more.”
Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Facebook began publishing details of the number of government requests for data they receive this week following rule changes that now allow companies to disclose the existence of the requests they receive (but not the exact numbers), and publish that information every six months. While many see this as a step in the right direction, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said Monday that the NSA reforms President Obama announced –including the more lenient reporting metrics for tech companies- don’t go far enough, becoming the first industry representative to voice such concerns.
Documents released to C.J. Ciaramella and MuckRock through the FOIA reveal that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) employs a practice known as “parallel construction” to “hide surveillance programs from defense teams, prosecutors, and a public wary of domestic intelligence practices.” The documents released to Ciaramella and MuckRock show the practice is taught widely across the agency, promoting the construction of two different chains of evidence “so that neither the prosecution nor the defense are to be made aware of classified information.”
The Obama administration refused to disclose how much was spent building the Guantanamo detention center this week in response to a FOIA suit brought by journalist Carol Rosenberg, who has covered Guantanamo since it opened in 2002 and is seeking the figures to determine how much the prison has cost taxpayers. The topic is especially timely now that “Southern Command, the military entity that controls Guantanamo, is seeking $49 million to replace the eight-year-old facility, which apparently was built improperly and is suffering from serious structural defects, including a cracked foundation.”
Finally this week, as almost all FOIA requesters know, trying to determine where to send a FOIA request to large agencies with many components can be a time-consuming ordeal. Luckily for those wanting to send FOIA requests to the Army, Government Attic recently posted an up-to-date list of the department’s 2014 FOIA contacts to make sending those FOIA requests much easier.
By Julia Blase
Julia Blase is a National Digital Stewardship Resident at The National Security Archive. She quickly discovered that the Archive’s activities include much more than filing FOIA requests and posting documents. She has compiled a list of the Archive’s various activities, cross-posted on her own blog. How much of this activity were you aware of?
The National Security Archive has a webpage that tells you in more formal language about its mission and people. However, in the past few weeks I’ve begun to see the breadth of their work in a way different from that presented on the webpage, and wanted to share a few of those thoughts!
First off, did you know that the Archive not only collects documents received from the government via FOIA and MDR request, but also accepts archival donations from analysts and researchers in the foreign policy field? The Archive has around 4,400 boxes of archival items, stored off-site, most of which can be accessed by researcher request for viewing in the on-site reading room. I found it difficult to link to the catalog search from the Archive’s webpage, but can tell you how to do it via the George Washington University Gelman library webpage: from the landing page, go to the “Research” tab on the top left of the navigation bar. When you hold the pointer over this tab, you’ll see a list appear; click on the “Classic Catalog” option. This link takes you to the WRLC research page. In the search box, type “National Security Archive,” change “keyword” to “author name,” and hit search. The corporate name, National Security Archive, will appear at the top of your search results with a hyperlinked number next to it. Click on that number and you’ll see all of their physical collections. Or, for now, just click here! [ed note: Julia's working to help us get these collections displayed more prominently!]
Also, did you know that the Archive also has a blog, a twitter account, and a Facebook page? [ed note: I hope so!] Links to all three can be found (with a bit of work) on their main webpage. The blog includes some great primary documents along with well-written commentary, and has been authored by almost all of the Archive’s employees at one time or another. The Archive posts real time announcements of publications and blog posts on its Facebook page, and its highly active twitter account links to articles on classification and declassification news, announces when new sources of documents become available to the public, and serves as a quick stop for those looking for FOIA advice in 140 characters.
Did you know that the Archive’s primary document product is the Digital National Security Archive? This product is a ProQuest database hosting extremely well curated and indexed sets of documents about specific topics, from Iran-Contra to U.S. policy during the Vietnam War. If you click on the link from the Archive’s main webpage, and then click on “Collections Guide” in the top navigation bar, you can see an overview of the collections without even subscribing! To see the actual documents you’ll need to make a trip to whatever library in your area subscribes. These collections take years of work by the analysts followed by a final two-week-to-two-month push by three librarians, who individually index each document before publishing. I know of no other archive that does item-level indexing on such massive collections. Keyword searchers rejoice!
The Archive doesn’t stop there…did you know that you can find more documents, along with analyst commentary, arranged by geographic region under one of two tabs in the top navigation bar of the website: “documents” and “publications?” If you choose “publications,” you’ll have to select “Electronic Briefing Books” as well. Then pick a region (or topic, like the Nuclear History collection) and go exploring! I thought the EBB called “Why is ‘Poodle Blanket’ Classified?” particularly interesting. Who picks code names like “Poodle Blanket?” Read the briefing book and find out! The Archive has done (roughly) 455 EBBs, and I say “roughly” because a new one is always in progress, so I can’t guarantee the same count by the time I publish this blog post.
And finally, did you know that the analysts at the Archive also travel the world to find documents about the history of US actions abroad? And that our analysts are often called upon to testify as to the contents of their documents in trials of human rights abusers, or in truth commission investigations into past abuses by people and countries? And that we host conferences (scroll down the page to see some of the 2012 participants) to discuss what we can learn from the past and how we can apply that knowledge to our future? And that the analysts are also advocates for a more open government, and experts on filing FOIA requests, who are often asked to speak about the FOIA system to representatives of other governments who are interested in starting or working with their own FOIA-like system? And that the Archive won an Emmy in 2005 for outstanding news and documentary work on “Declassified: Nixon in China,” broadcast in collaboration with ABC News Productions on the Discovery Times Channel? Yep, that last one surprised me too!
There ends my “did you know” post, which I hope was either interesting, or useful, or both. For a quick update on my project with the Archive: I’m just ending the discovery phase and beginning the assessment phase, where I’ll write up a report of what I’ve discovered about the Archive’s collections, workflows, and systems. In this report, I’ll connect what I’ve discovered about the Archive’s digital asset collections, systems and processes with what I’ve learned about the Archive’s functional requirements for those assets. The report will identify both the Archive’s current strengths and also any opportunities for improvement. Hopefully, once the report has been written, delivered, and then discussed by the Archive’s staff, we can begin to implement some of its suggestions!
FRINFORMSUM 1/30/2014: Russian “Foreign Agents,” New Data Disclosure Rules, More Americans Value Privacy over Anti-Terrorism Protections, and Much More.
The US government has relaxed some data disclosure rules for technology companies this week, prompting Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook to drop their lawsuits before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The suits were initially filed because the technology companies wanted to disclose “the volume and types of national security requests” they received in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance practices. The new rules will allow technology companies to disclose the existence of the FISC orders they receive (though not the exact numbers), publish that information every six months (with a six-month delay), and release the number of “selectors” (user names, email addresses or Internet addresses) the government requested information about.
Harley Geiger, a deputy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the data disclosure rule change “is a positive step forward but still falls short of proposals before Congress
right now.” Andrea Peterson of The Washington Post argued the new reporting metrics are primarily for PR purposes, and that “transparency reports are better than nothing, but they don’t represent a meaningful way to measure the true scope of governments’ access to private data.” Of further concern for some advocates is that a provision of the rule change “bars services less than two years old from disclosing such information for a period of two years. That caveat effectively means that no one will know whether the government is eavesdropping on a new email platform or chat service for two years.”
An Associated Press poll conducted after President Obama’s speech on NSA reforms reported that 61% of Americans now value their privacy over anti-terrorism protections, up from 58% last year. The poll showed the speech “was not enough to allay most Americans’ concerns. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they disapprove of the way Obama is handling intelligence surveillance policies. And 61 percent said they prioritize protecting Americans’ rights and freedoms over making sure Americans are safe from terrorists.”
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden told a German news program the NSA “is involved in industrial espionage and will grab any intelligence it can get its hands on regardless of its value to national security.” Snowden’s assertions come a month after the New York Times reported the NSA put software into nearly 100,000 international computers, providing a potential “digital highway for launching cyberattacks.”
House of Representative Intelligence Committee Chair, Mike Rogers, suggested earlier this month in a televised interview that Russia gained influence over Snowden, saying “I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow.” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Sen. Diane Feinstein, dismissed Rogers’ remarks this week, saying “she has seen no evidence that Russian spies helped former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden steal U.S. eavesdropping secrets.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said he would be willing “to discuss how the criminal case against Edward J. Snowden would be handled, but only if Mr. Snowden pleaded guilty first.” Holder reiterated the DOJ would not be offering Snowden clemency if he returns to the US, only saying that if he were to return and enter a plea, the government would engage with his lawyers.
Meanwhile, the DOJ is seeking billions in damages from US Investigations Services Inc. (USIS), the company that performed Edward Snowden’s background check and is the largest government contractor that investigates current and prospective federal employees. USIS fraudulently signed off on over 650,000 clearances between 2008 and 2012, including checks for Snowden and the Navy Yard Shooter, Aaron Alexis.
President Obama has nominated Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers to be the next head of the NSA and Cyber Command. The Washington Post reports that “[i]n an unusual move, Obama himself interviewed Rogers last week, in a reflection of the job’s high profile at a time when the NSA has drawn fire for the scope of its surveillance practices.” General Keith Alexander, the current and longest-serving head of the beleaguered agency, will step down on March 14.
Guantanamo detainee Abd Malak Abd Wahab Rahbi appeared before a review board for the first partially public hearing for a detainee to determine whether his status as an enemy combatant should be changed, thus making him eligible for release. The Pentagon held its first periodic review board in secret last fall, which sparked transparency concerns, “[s]o beginning with Rahbi, reporters and representatives from nongovernmental watchdog organizations will be permitted to watch some unclassified portions of the daylong hearings through a closed-circuit television feed in a Pentagon annex.”
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, a Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report released in September 2013 redacted information recommending Border Patrol stop using force when it encounters rock throwers. One of Border Patrol’s most controversial practices is “shooting at migrants and suspected drug runners who throw rocks and other objects at agents,” which law enforcement experts have recommended the agency stop doing because it is less effective than simply taking cover elsewhere.
The Freedom of Information Foundation (St. Petersburg), a Russian NGO advocating transparency and a longtime institutional ally of the National Security Archive, was recently declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian government. The Central Prosecutor’s Office of St. Petersburg charged the Foundation under Russia’s “foreign agents” law, an “unprecedented, nationwide campaign of inspections of thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to identify advocacy groups” that forces them to register with authorities. According to a translation by the Georgian Institute for Development of Freedom of Information, the “foreign agent” label was applied to the Freedom of Information Foundation because “the organization is utilizing internet resources for political reasons” and concern that the Foundation’s chairman had alerted President Obama “about the socio-political situation in Russia.” A complaint challenging the law has been filed with the European Court of Human Rights. This heavy-handed state attack on a Russian NGO striving to improve Russian citizens’ access to government information reveals the current Potemkin state of Russian democracy –not just of Sochi.
Finally this week, newly available Stasi documents of meetings between Soviet and East German security heads between 1981 and 1984 provide operational details on Operation RYaN, the Soviet plan to predict and preempt a Western nuclear first strike that contributed to the risk of nuclear war through miscalculation during the 1983 Able Archer nuclear war scare. The documents reveal that the KGB received funding to create 300 new positions so that it could monitor and report on a Western nuclear first strike (that the West had never contemplated), and hint at Stasi –and KGB– concerns over lack of “clear-headedness about the entire RYaN complex,” inferring that Operation RYaN increased, rather than decreased, the danger of nuclear war. Thanks to the Office of the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the Former German Democratic Republic (BStU), and Cold War International History Project for this fascinating release.