BREAKING: Iran Is a Terrorist Organization

I’m trying to sort through the irreconcilable claims about the Section 215 and PRISM/702 programs made in today’s Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on cyber.

But for now, I want to post Dianne Feinstein’s statement about what Section 215 does because, well, it seems Iran is now a terrorist. (This is around 1:55)

The Section 215 Business Records provision was created in 2001 in the PATRIOT for tangible things: hotel records, credit card statements, etcetera. Things that are not phone or email communications. The FBI uses that authority as part of its terrorism investigations. The NSA only uses Section 215 for phone call records — not for Google searches or other things. Under Section 215, NSA collects phone records pursuant to a court record. It can only look at that data after a showing that there is a reasonable, articulable that a specific individual is involved in terrorism, actually related to al Qaeda or Iran. At that point, the database can be searched. But that search only provides metadata, of those phone numbers. Of things that are in the phone bill. That person, um [flips paper] So the vast majority of records in the database are never accessed, and are deleted after a period of five years. To look at, or use content, a court warrant must be obtained.

Is that a fair description, or can you correct it in any way?

Keith Alexander: That is correct, Senator.

Frankly, Dianne Feinstein has appeared to keep her facts straight about Section 215, at least, better than Mike Rogers and James Clapper over the last week. But this statement conflicts in some important ways with what others are saying.

So maybe this is not accurate.

But according to DiFi — and backed by General Keith Alexander, head of NSA — Iran, along with al Qaeda, is now a terrorist organization.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. Yastreblyansky says:

    To be fair, if Iran is a “state sponsor of terrorism” that would make it an organizer of terrorists, right? And hence a kind of terrorist meta-organization? (You could probably think of some other countries that meet that description that are not on Senator Feinstein’s list…)

  2. der says:

    St. Petreaus has said enough about controlling the narrative. Ooooohhhh….scary Iran. DiFi cute, cleaver how she gets it in so innocently. Snowden and Greenwald are making us less safe because we can’t stop Iran from building a nuke and mailing it to – Your Home Town! (destroying Starbucks and Walmart among other things)

    Christ, they need to spend time in the Heartland. Who believes their bullshit anymore?

  3. P J Evans says:

    @der:
    There may be people who believe them, but most of them probably vote R. From the comments I’ve seen on Alexander’s testimony, he didn’t do very well. Even some conservative commenters aren’t buying his shtick about it catching terrorists, and almost no one thinks that it’s necessary to collect all that data.

  4. What Constitution? says:

    @Yastreblyansky: So long as Iran’s a “meta-organization” of terror, then certainly it’s OK to collect “meta-data” on it, right? Pretty sure that’s what DiFi was angling for, she heard somebody say “meta” and needed to work it into her justification matrix.

  5. Simon Cavalletto says:

    This is not hard to understand:

    The United States Government considers Hezbollah and Hamas to be terrorist organizations, and thus Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas makes them a “state sponsor of terrorism”.

    Now, it’s true that Iran isn’t supporting groups that are conducting terrorist attacks against US civilians, and that they’re opposed to Al Qaeda, but this classification is not breaking news.

  6. Snoopdido says:

    The fact sheet about these surveillance programs from the Brennan Center (http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/analysis/Government%20Surveillance%20Factsheet.pdf) has this to say about Section 702:

    “When it comes to Section 702, the law cited for PRISM, the FISA court’s role is more limited. Even though Section 702 does not allow the intentional surveillance of U.S. persons, the government is not required to go before the court to obtain individual surveillance orders. Instead, the court approves the “targeting” and “minimization” procedures described above to limit the amount of information about law-abiding Americans that is intercepted, retained, and disseminated. In deciding whether to approve the procedures, the court reviews whether they are consistent with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. But it has no ongoing authority to determine if the government is complying with these procedures, and both the procedures and the court orders relating to them are classified.”

    I’m wondering based upon this description of Section 702 whether some or all of that “targeting” submitted to the FISA court might consist of those triggers used by the NSA on Narus systems to real-time watchdog massive data flows on fiber optic pipes under the Blarney and Fairview programs listed in the Prism slides.

    Triggers might consist of email addresses, IP addresses, individual words, phrases, names (all in a number of languages) etc.

    If these types of triggers are in fact some of or the only “targeting” information given to the FISA court under Section 702, and in addition, the FISA court is not allowed by Section 702 to examine whether the US government complies with the “minimization” of US person information surveilled, the very nature of the programs will have massive false positive intercepts of innocent US person information all without the individualized warrant and probable cause demanded by the 4th Amendment.

  7. guest says:

    God bless MTWheel for trying to sort out all the stupid laws and their various provisions. I call them stupid, because they are also stupid-making – I’m sure my brain dies a little bit each time I try to follow Marcie’s well intentioned attempts to untangle them. We knew we had no right to privacy left already, but who knew we had all the farcical dystopian *secret* laws going on too? I never would have figured W’s crew was smart enough to come up with such complexity. And until a few weeks ago, I had no idea any country in the world had secret laws, much less the free-est country in the world.

  8. Frank33 says:

    @P J Evans:

    From the comments I’ve seen on Alexander’s testimony, he didn’t do very well

    Gen. Keith Alexander joins Gen. Clapper and Gen. Hayden and Gen Petraeus as another corrupt General who became a spymaster. It seems to be a military dictatorship, with all these Generals spying on us. Maybe the corrupt Admiral Poindexter has a secret job.

    But Gen. Alexander, Gen. Clapper, and Dianne Feinstein are making public fools of themselves. Gen. Alexander and the others are spreading a false narrative.

    He said the surveillance programs were critical to unraveling terrorist plots at home and abroad. In particular, he cited the cases of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan American who pleaded guilty to planning suicide attacks in New York, and Pakistani American David C. Headley, who was arrested in 2009 for his role in a terrorist attack the year before in Mumbai

    The NSA “unraveling” of Zazi is false. That claim has been thoroughly debunked. Some embedded reporters have not noticed because they are fucking retards.

    As for Headley, nothing was unraveled. That is a big mistake for Alexander because the Headley case, has far too many secrets to become a public. When was Headley discovered? Before or after Mumbai? How? It does seem the British knew about him. And the British were going to arrest him themselves if the US Intelligence authorities continued to protect Headley.

    Pakistan gets very angry whenever Mumbai gets publicized, and the US Generals have to give the Pakistan Generals more money. So bad for General Alexander. Good for bloggers.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @Simon Cavalletto: It’s not hard to understand why I’m raising this. I am because it shows the definitions hte Administration is using–up until now secret–are bullshit political ones, not actual factually based ones.

  10. DWBartoo says:

    @emptywheel:

    Precisely, EW, thank you for mincing no words, and further:

    The “definitions” the Obama administration are using, with regard to the entire “war on terrorism”, be it Iran, “surveillance”, or claims of “national security” and the “need” for secret “interpretation” and the promulgation of secret “law”, indeed, simply “are bullshit political ones, not actually factually based ones” …

    The whole apparatus of the security state and the claims made for its “necessity” are, absolutely, calculated, political bullshit.

    DW

  11. TarheelDem says:

    So the most cyber-vulnerable nation in the world launches the first major known cyberwarfare attack on Iran. And now fears (with or without fact) that Iran will retaliate by using asymmetric warfare techniques (blithely labeled “terrorism”). So NSA now has authority to snoop on all American citizens because of — Iran!

    And here we thought that the PTB had designated China as “the new enemy”.

  12. Rayne says:

    @Simon Cavalletto: The truth is that the US is in direct conflict with Iran. More simply put, we’re at war.

    But the public at large doesn’t understand this and would likely not support another open conflict in the traditional sense. Non-traditional labels are therefore used in this undeclared asymmetric war.

    A nation/state enemy is now a terrorist. This term is much easier for the American public to digest because they’ve been conditioned for nearly 12 years to accept the “War on Terror.”

    That little three word phrase encapsulates it neatly. U.S. taxpayers have proven time and again they will pay almost anything, tolerate almost any personal inconvenience like irradiation by scanners and shoe removal in airports, as long as the Masters of their Universe continue to keep their consumer world safe from enemy combatants in the War on Terror.

    Of course the labeling abuse also makes highly complex situations easier for our blinded-by-infotainment public to understand. It’s easier to explain to voters that Iran=terror, and terror=bad, than it is to explain why we are suddenly on the same side with Hamas against Assad in Syria.

    Really, how could we expect Feinstein — who appears not to understand that Microsoft Windows-based software is innately leaky — to explain to the public such a complicated political dynamic?

    If [Israel]/[Hamas], then [Hamas]=terror;
    If [Syria]/[Hamas], then [Hamas]=freedom fighter

    There’s so much more behind these terms, but it’s too much for a public rewarded for years with bread and circuses instead of deep education which encouraged critical thought.

    So the SSIC’s chair is encouraged to teach:

    [Iran]=terror.

    Now hit the big red Easy button.

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