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FRINFORMSUM 11/14/2013: No ‘No-Spy’ Pacts, the Stuxnet Worm Strikes Again, DHS’s Internet Kill Switch, and More

November 14, 2013
NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander apologizes to German emissaries for spying, but that's about it.

NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander apologizes to German emissaries for spying, but that’s about it.

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.”

UK WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison with Edward Snowden in Moscow in October. Photograph: Sunshine Press/Getty Images

UK WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison with Edward Snowden in Moscow in October. Photograph: Sunshine Press/Getty Images

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.”

Ryan Shapiro, the FBI's 'most prolific' FOIA requester. Photo credit Stephanie Crumley

Ryan Shapiro, the FBI’s ‘most prolific’ FOIA requester. Photo credit Stephanie Crumley

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.

Happy FOIA-ing!

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