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.