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.