Ron Wyden: Liar, Liar, Alexander Pants on Fire

Ron Wyden, Dianne Feinstein, and a few other Senators are conducting what constitutes “a debate” on the FISA Amendments Act extension.

The highlight of the debate, thus far, came when DiFi promised to wave a classified letter answering some of Ron Wyden’s questions around in front of the TV. Mind you, she has not yet fulfilled that promise. But she made the promise, so I am glued to the screen waiting for her to embody the ridiculous nature of this so-called debate by waving her letter in lieu of telling us what it actually says.

Aside from that excitement, however, the high point of the debate has come from Ron Wyden, repeatedly suggesting NSA head General Keith Alexander is a liar.

At issue was a speech Alexander made in July at the DefCon hackers conference. He made two claims that Wyden and Mark Udall questioned in an October letter.

Specifically, you said:

We may, incidentally, in targeting a bad guy hit on somebody from a good guy, because there’s a discussion there. We have requirements from the FISA Court and the Attorney General to minimize that, which means nobody else can see it unless there’s a crime that’s been committed.

We believe that this statement incorrectly characterized the minimization requirements that apply to the NSA’s FISA Amendments Act collection, and portrayed privacy protections for Americans’ communications as being stronger than they actually are. We urge you to correct this statement, so that Congress and the public can have a debate over the renewal of this law that is informed by at least some accurate information about the impact it has had on Americans’ privacy.

You also stated, in response to the same question, that “…the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is absolutely false.” We are not entirely clear what the term “dossier” means in this context, so we would appreciate it if you would clarify this remark. Specifically we ask that you please answer the following questions:

  • The intelligence community has stated repeatedly that it is not possible to provide even a rough estimate of how many American communications have been collected under the FISA Amendments Act, and has even declined to estimate the scale of this collection. Are you certain that the number of American communications collected is not “millions or hundreds of millions”? If so, then clearly you must have some ability to estimate the scale of this number, or at least some range in which you believe it falls. If this is the case, how large could this number possibly be? How small could it possibly be?
  • Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on “millions or hundreds of millions of Americans”?

Alexander replied to Wyden and Udall on November 13. In it, he responded to the first Wyden/Udall question by claiming he was speaking about a foreign intelligence context.

I noted at the outset that NSA has a foreign intelligence mission, and my subsequent reference focused on the type of circumstance in which U.S. person information may be disseminated when this foreign intelligence requirement is not met (e.g., when there is evidence of a crime).

He went on to rehearse the legal requirements for minimization, which only applies to information not deemed “foreign intelligence information.” That is, he basically admitted that information deemed to be foreign intelligence information can be shared.

Alexander answered the second Wyden/Udall question by dodging.

Second, my response did not refer to or address whether it is possible to identify the number of U.S. person communications that may be lawfully but incidentally intercepted pursuant to foreign intelligence collection directed against non-U.S. persons located outside the United States as authorized under FAA 702.

In your letter, you asked for unclassified answers to several questions that you feel are important to allow the public to better understand my remarks delivered at the conference. While I appreciate your desire to have responses to these questions on the public record, they directly relate to operational activities and complete answers would necessarily include classified information essential to our ability to collect foreign intelligence.

Wyden referred to these letters at least twice in his various speeches in this “debate.” And while he has been careful to suggest that Alexander may have just misspoke, he has repeatedly made it clear that Alexander lied when he said US person data could not be shared.

I don’t know why General Alexander described minimization as he did. But why did it take Udall and I to make big push to correct?

The implication, it seems, is that the government has simply deemed all the US person information they collect to be foreign intelligence (indeed, elsewhere Jeff Merkley talked about how the “relevant to an investigation” standard makes all conceivable information context for foreign intelligence), meaning minimization requirements are largely meaningless.

In response to Alexander’s claims on hundreds of millions of dossiers, Wyden noted, over and over again, that in spite of NSA’s refusal to answer the question of how many Americans’ data has been collected, Alexander did not in his response–and has not since–denied that NSA keeps hundreds of millions of dossiers on people.

Director of NSA would not provide public answer on whether NSA keeps hundreds of millions of dossiers on people.

Clearly, Alexanders denial that NSA keeps dossiers (which itself stems from claims former NSA coder William Binney made) is simply a word game about the meaning of dossier. NSA doesn’t have dossiers, you see. It has information on hundreds of millions of Americans.

Information–that Wyden makes clear–is not subject to the plain meaning of minimization requirements.

Tweet about this on Twitter28Share on Reddit0Share on Facebook7Google+0Email to someone

7 Responses to Ron Wyden: Liar, Liar, Alexander Pants on Fire

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @JimWhiteGNV @emptywheel Perp. Fee. Trainers. Broken. What, did this transmorph into an Afghanistan discussion??
35mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @emptywheel @JimWhiteGNV Hey Okra lady, where you come in? Clearly yer not focused on mane attraction. Brennan sez don't be easily impressed
37mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV @emptywheel That prep cost is included in the overall fee to trainers for showing, so we don't see it broken out, thankfully. @bmaz
38mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @JimWhiteGNV And Gomer's up-do is even more expensive than $60, I was under the impression. @bmaz
40mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @JimWhiteGNV No self respecting old man dances away from a hose.
40mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @nlanc Yeah, there were a number of computer-driven machine people at the show.
42mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV @bmaz Heh. Gomer is the most finicky of all. Dances away from the hose when getting bathed and keeps his poo in a neat pile in stall corner.
43mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @JimWhiteGNV this ain't Gomer, as hard as it is to believe, I tend to grow rather finicky girlz. #Schadenfreude
46mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV @bmaz Hey, just use a rake and a leaf blower for free. Nobody will ever know the difference...
50mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Sasquatch is in the pool. That is good for her, but a $60 grooming for me. #WattaYouGonnaDo
51mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @carolrosenberg: Just in: #Guantanamo nurse who refused to force-feed prisoners sent home. http://t.co/z6vrh2dsZN @MiamiHerald http://t…
1hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @walterwkatz Been waiting to see what you had to say all week--looking forward to it.
1hreplyretweetfavorite
December 2012
S M T W T F S
« Nov   Jan »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031