• Because Snowden was able to use a thumb drive despite the ban, lawmakers "plan to draft legislation that would limit the access that federal contractors have to highly classified information." Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who called Snowden's public disclosure of classified information on the government's surveillance programs an "act of treason," said: "We will certainly have legislation which will limit [or] prevent contractors from handling highly classified data." Irrespective of how one feels specifically about Snowden, or whistleblowing, that's probably a good idea.
• Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, also said yesterday that, as she understands it, a warrant is not required to search the database: "To search the database you have to have reasonable articulable cause to believe that individual has a connection to a terrorist cause. Then you can query the numbers. There's no content. You have the name and the number called. That's all you have. If you want to collect content, then you get a court order." Um.
• It appears the scope of the data collection is more vast than originally reported: "Thousands of technology, finance, and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said. These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency. ...Makers of hardware and software, banks, Internet security providers, satellite telecommunications companies and many other companies also participate in the government programs. In some cases, the information gathered may be used not just to defend the nation but to help infiltrate computers of its adversaries." Um.
If you still haven't read "The Secret War" yet, this would be a good time. The article details how the US cyberwar complex is building its offensive capabilities, which provides key context for the information that companies are sharing tech info with the US government "to help infiltrate computers of its adversaries."
• Meanwhile: Edward Snowden is a traitor and these programs are vast and accessible without a court order, but Snowden is a liar and the scope of the programs is so small: "The NSA leaker is lying about both his access to information and the scope of the secret surveillance programs he uncovered, the heads of the House Intelligence Committee charged Thursday." Republican Representative Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said: "He was lying. He clearly has over-inflated his position, he has over-inflated his access, and he's even over-inflated what the actually technology of the programs would allow one to do. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do. He's done tremendous damage to the country where he was born and raised and educated."
Has he, though? Has the country been "tremendously damaged" by Snowden's disclosure? Or, if indeed "tremendous damage" has been done, was it not actually done by the government that decided it was cool to do widespread surveillance on its citizens without their consent, without a national discussion on whether sacrificing these particular liberties in the interest of national security is wise or desirable or even effective, without transparency or oversight or accountability? Wouldn't the architects of this vast dragnet be responsible for any "tremendous damage" to the country, as opposed to the man who pulled back the curtain behind which they were operating?
Because, I dunno, but it seems to me that only but the most unsophisticated terrorist plotters are going to get caught by this kind of surveillance, especially when tiny pieces of information have to be teased out of a massive data mining operation. Surely, most sophisticated terrorist groups presume they are being surveilled on mobiles and unencrypted email accounts and public social media, and use alternate methods of communication. Surely, that level of sophistication requires a different type of law enforcement strategy, something much more highly targeted. This broad program would have to be mighty effective for its disclosure to have done "tremendous harm" to the country. But is it?
• We may find out:
The National Security Agency (NSA) plans to release details of terrorist attacks thwarted by its controversial bulk surveillance of Americans' communications data, a senior US senator said on Thursday.Um. This program did not avert "the first Boston."
Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democrat, California), the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the NSA director, General Keith Alexander, would provide "the cases where this [surveillance] has stopped a terrorist attack, both here and in other places" as early as Monday.
The claim that the surveillance programs helped stop terrorist attacks has come under criticism from two US senators who sit on the intelligence committee.
"When you're talking about important liberties that the American people feel strongly about, and you want to have an intelligence program, you've got to make a case for why it provides unique value to the [intelligence] community atop what they can already have," Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, told the Guardian in an interview on Thursday.
But the FBI director, Robert Mueller, forcefully defended the programs on Thursday to the House judiciary committee by saying the broad surveillance could have foiled the 9/11 attacks and averted "another Boston."
• Finally: The government asked for Yahoo to allow them to spy "on certain foreign users, without a warrant," and when Yahoo "refused, saying the broad requests were unconstitutional," the judges in a secret court in Washington told them it was constitutional, leaving them "two choices: Hand over the data or break the law." The decision "has had lasting repercussions for the dozens of companies that store troves of their users' personal information and receive these national security requests—it puts them on notice that they need not even try to test their legality."
You know, at a certain point, it's not even the actual surveillance programs that are the worst breach of the public trust. It's the government's abuse of its power to force compliance with the programs.