FRINFORMSUM 3/27/2014: Competing Plans to Overhaul the NSA, Senate to Vote Soon on Declassifying Parts of Contentious Torture Report, and Much More.
President Obama revealed he has endorsed a new plan to overhaul the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic metadata collection program this week. The White House has yet to release the plan itself, but has announced that it would, among other things, end the bulk collection of domestic phone records. The NSA currently holds on to domestic phone records for five years (even though most experts agree the records’ utility decreases significantly after two), “[b]ut the administration considered and rejected imposing a mandate on phone companies that they hold on to their customers’ calling records for a period longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require.” According to the New York Times, the plan “would also include a provision clarifying whether Section 215 of the Patriot Act, due to expire next year unless Congress reauthorizes it, may in the future be legitimately interpreted as allowing bulk data collection of telephone data.” The White House proposal –which has yet to be approved by Congress– would not, however, effect other forms of bulk records collection, like the CIA’s collection of records about international money transfers.
The House of Representatives also revealed a new bipartisan bill that attempts to revamp the contentious NSA program this week. The main difference between the House bill, co-sponsored by House Intelligence Committee chairman, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), and ranking member C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), and Obama’s plan, is the question of judicial review. Under the Obama plan, a judge’s order would be required before the NSA could obtain call records linked to a suspect, and the judicial order would require phone companies to provide the ‘data in a standard technological format and allow the government to obtain the phone records of people up to two calling links, or “hops,” from a suspect, even if they had different providers.’ Under the House bill, on the other hand, FISA “would review the requests afterward, expunging data if it did not meet the standard.”
A classified 2011 NSA report recently revealed by the Associated Press shows the Senate Intelligence Committee considered options to alter the NSA’s bulk collection efforts —in ways that were nearly identical to Obama’s current plan— in closed meetings nearly three years ago. The Committee “considered —but ultimately rejected— alternate ways for the National Security Agency to collect and store massive amounts of Americans’ phone records.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote next week on whether or not to declassify parts of its scathing 6,200-page report on the CIA’s defunct torture program. Sen. Feinstein lambasted the CIA on the Senate floor two weeks ago, accusing the CIA of concealing and deleting documents her committee was reviewing for the report. This accusation prompted the CIA to accuse the Senate committee itself of hacking into the agency’s secure network to view documents it was not allowed access to, even going so far as to file two criminal charge against the committee with the Department of Justice. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) strongly backed the Senate Intelligence Committee in the dispute, ordering an investigation into the incident, and calling the CIA’s allegations “that Senate committee staff who have no technical training somehow hacked into the CIA’s highly secure classified networks…appears on its face to be patently absurd.”
A recent report by the Project on Government Oversight reveals that a DOD Inspector General employee, Dan Meyer, has been rebuked for making an “unauthorized disclosure” to congressional oversight committees regarding the filming of Zero Dark Thirty, which documented the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. POGO reports that Meyer is being punished specifically for providing congressional oversight committees a DOD IG document critical of CIA director Leon Panetta exposing “highly classified information related to the raid that killed Bin Laden to a producer of the movie Zero Dark Thirty at a June 2011 CIA event.” The move to chastise Meyer is especially hypocritical after the Archive reported the US government’s official refusal to release any documents directly to the public about the raid while simultaneously granting the film’s producers exclusive and unprecedented access to classified CIA and DOD information about the operation.
In other news this week, the number of Americans deemed eligible for security clearances in 2013 exceeded 5.1 million. This is the fourth year in a row the number of Americans deemed eligible for security clearance has increased.
The National Security Archive awarded director of national intelligence, James Clapper, the Rosemary Award for worst open government performance in 2013 this week. Clapper beat out some stiff competition for this year’s award (named after President Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, who testified she had erased 18-and-a-half minutes of a crucial Watergate tape) for his “No, sir” lie to Senator Ron Wyden’s question: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper later explained his rationale for lying as it being the “least untruthful” answer possible.
Finally this week, Gavin Baker of the Center for Effective Government alerted the Archive to a proposed rule change that would, in part, clarify procedures regarding former Cabinet level officials and former Presidential appointees’ access to records and information in the custody of the Secretary of Defense and the OSD components. The rules that are currently on the books allowed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to use a provision of the President’s Executive Order on Classification to cut in line before FOIA requesters, including the National Security Archive, for access to DOD records created during his tenure. One of the documents Rumsfeld obtained through the provision even directed him to the National Security Archive’s website for one particular document he was seeking.