After Snowden, We Get Snow Job

The House passed the USA FREEDOM Act today, which is supposed to fix the PATRIOT Act and rein in the NSA, but falls far short of what we need to get our rights back.  The vote was 303-121, with 179 Republicans and 124 Democrats in favor.  The bill now goes to the Senate, but I doubt it will get fixed enough to keep this from being a huge wasted opportunity to restore our privacy.

Here’s James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), the chief sponsor of the bill:  “Let me be clear:  I wish this bill did more.  To my colleagues who lament the changes, I agree with you.  The privacy groups who are upset about lost provisions, I share your disappointment.”

Here’s Zoe Logren (D-California), who supported the bill that came out of the Judiciary Committee, but voted against the final bill:  “This is not the bill that was voted out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously.  Regrettably, we have learned that if we leave any ambiguity in the law [on bulk data collection], the intelligence agency will run a truck through that ambiguity.”

Companies like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and Facebook had supported the original bill, but did not support the final version, believing that it contains a loophole for government surveillance of our Internet data.

The bill also dropped the provision creating an independent public advocate at the FISA court.  It removed provisions about public reports from the government about its targeting activity and FISA court requests.

The bill requires phone companies to keep records for 18 months, with the NSA having to get a court order to access those records.


Quote of the Day

“That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.”

Edward Snowden

Snowden has asked for temporary asylum in Russia until he can go to one of the Latin American countries that has offered him asylum.

If I were sentencing him here in the U. S., I think I would have a hard time doing more than a slap on the wrist.

Will Anything Change?

From “Edward Snowden’s nightmare comes true,” Philip Ewing, Politico:

“Snowden’s worst fear, by his own account, was that ‘nothing will change.’

“One month after the Guardian’s first story…there has been no public movement in Washington to stop the [FISA] court from issuing another such order.  Congress has no intelligence reform bill that wold rein in the phone-tracking, or Internet monitoring, or cyberattack-planning, or any of the other secret government workings that Snowden’s disclosures have revealed.

“There is no modern-day Sen. Frank Church ready to convene historic hearings about the intelligence community….  Far from having been surprised by Snowden’s disclosures, today’s intelligence committee leaders stepped right up to defend the NSA’s surveillance programs.  From Republicans, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, to Democrats, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, they’ve been nearly unanimous in their support.”

“One of the things for people who obsess about this stuff, like I do, is we don’t know what we’re buying and we don’t know what we’re paying for this service,” [University of Southern California law professor Jack] Lerner said.  We’re paying with our privacy, and we had a sense that we’re not paying very much…but we’re learning that maybe there is a cost, and maybe the cost is more than we thought it was.”

My strong sense at this point, with a lot more still to learn, is that we have gone overboard in the name of security at the expense of privacy.  We need a Frank Church to get us back in balance.

The Scary FISA Court

From “For secretive surveillance court, rare scrutiny in wake of NSA leaks,” Peter Wallsten, Carol D. Leonnig and Alice Crites, WaPo:

“The public is getting a peek into the little-known workings of a powerful and mostly invisible government entity.  And it is seeing a court whose secret rulings have in effect created a body of law separate from the one on the books — one that gives U. S. spy agencies the authority to collect bulk information about Americans’ medical care, firearms purchases, credit card usage and other interactions with business and commerce, according to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore).”

Know Your Surveillance Programs

The NSA has four data collection programs.  Two collect “metadata,” and they are MAINWAY for phones and MARINA for the Internet.  The other two collect content, and they are NUCLEON for phone calls and PRISM for the Internet.

For more, see “U.S. surveillance architecture includes collection of revealing Internet, phone metadata,” Barton Gellman, WaPo

Nadler Walks It Back

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is walking back his contention made in a public hearing with FBI Director Robert Mueller that he was told in a classified briefing that the NSA listens in on our phone conversations without a warrant from the FISA Court.

In the exchange, Nadler asks Mueller if they can listen in without a warrant, and Mueller says no.  Nadler asks if that is classified information, and Mueller says no.  Nadler then says that if Mueller’s answer isn’t classified, Nadler can then say that he was told the opposite in a classified briefing.  I’m not sure that’s correct.  Mueller may have been lying because he was put on the spot in a public hearing when asked by a Congressman who had opposite, classified information, just as happened to DNI James Clapper when questioned by Sen. Ron Wyden.  I think they think it’s okay to lie under those circumstances because if they told the truth, they’d be revealing classified info.  So they think they’re lying for national security reasons.

Nadler may have been told to back off or face getting into trouble for revealing classified info at a public hearing.  Note that he did something different from Wyden.  Nadler explicitly stated that he’d been told the opposite at a classified briefing.  Wyden simply asked the question if the government was collecting data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.  He didn’t argue with Clapper when Clapper denied it, but Clapper knew that Wyden knew the truth from his classified briefings.  Clapper knew that Wyden set him up to either lie or reveal classified information.

So now there’s an effort to discredit the CNET story about Nadler and warrantless eavesdropping, but I’m not convinced the story is wrong.  I’m more convinced pressure has been applied to Nadler to STFU.

Not Helping

In defending the NSA’s broad surveillance of all of us, out-going FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress that one of those programs identified Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s friend in Florida after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Yeah, they found him after the bombings.  And they killed him even though he was unarmed.  Great example.

Shoot the Messenger

So the broad reaction in Congress, both Dem and GOP, to Edward Snowden’s leaks is not that we need less spying on us, it’s that we need less contractor access to classified info.

For more, see “A Promise of Changes For Access to Secrets,” David E. Sanger and Jeremy W. Peters, NYT

Peter King, Fox News, Lies — Anybody Surprised?

Congressman Peter King (R-NY) said on Fox News that the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald should be prosecuted as well as Edward Snowden.  He accused Greenwald of threatening to reveal the names of CIA agents, something Greenwald vigorously denies.

But most Fox viewers are going to hear only King’s wild accusation and not Greenwald’s vehement (and as far as I can tell, accurate) denial.  This is a prime example of how Fox skews perceptions and polarizes this country.  There’s enough here to debate and dissect without accusing Greenwald of stuff he hasn’t done.

As for King’s anti-terror bona fides, let’s not forget his support for the Irish Republican Army.


Quote of the Day

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) on Edward Snowden:

“First of all, Snowden probably shouldn’t have done what he did.  But the fact of the matter is I don’t see how that compromises the security of this country whatsoever.  And quite frankly, it helps people like me become aware of a situation that I wasn’t aware of before because I don’t sit on that Intelligence Committee.”

That’s pretty much where I am on all this.