NSA’s 60 Wiretaps and FBI’s 1,728 Wiretaps?

I want to return to the exchange shown on last night’s 60 Minutes piece on NSA where CBS’s in-house national security shill asked Keith Alexander about collecting the content of phone calls.

John Miller: There is a perception out there that the NSA is widely collecting the content of the phone calls of Americans. Is that true?

Gen. Keith Alexander: No, that’s not true. NSA can only target the communications of a U.S. person with a probable cause finding under specific court order. Today, we have less than 60 authorizations on specific persons to do that.

John Miller: The NSA as we sit here right now is listening to a universe of 50 or 60 people that would be considered U.S. persons?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Less than 60 people globally who are considered U.S. persons.

As a threshold matter, note that Alexander didn’t answer the question Miller asked, which was whether the “NSA is widely collecting the content of the phone calls of Americans.” Instead, Alexander answered how many US persons the NSA is targeting (he’s been providing this non-responsive answer for months now, so it is a well-practiced ploy). His answer is further modified by referring to “specific person.” And he used the word “globally,” which I found to be particularly interesting, given that by law the government has to get orders to wiretap Americans overseas, too.

Note two other things Alexander doesn’t address: US person content generally, and how many FISC orders the FBI gets.

According to the report to Congress on FISA covering 2012, the FISC approved 1,788 orders for electronic surveillance last year, plus another 68 for physical searches alone (which increasingly means stored content in an email server).

During the calendar year 2012, the Government made 1,856 applications to the Foreign Surveillance Court (the “FISC”) for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and/or physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes. The 1,856 applications include applications made solely for electronic surveillance, applications made solely for physical search, and combined applications requesting authority for electronic surveillance and physical search. Of these, 1, 789 applications included requests for authority to conduct electronic surveillance.

Of the 1,789 applications, one was withdrawn by the Government.

This number does not count the same number Alexander used in his dodge. It includes FISA Amendments Act orders, though those are programmatic and therefore should be far less numerous (indeed, the number of orders did not go up that much when bulk orders were first approved in 2007, and they actually went down in 2008 and 2009 with the FISA Amendments Act passage). And these orders may be email-only orders.

Thus, there are a range of explanations for why Lying Keith claims only to have taps on 60 people but the FISA report shows 1,788 orders for electronic surveillance: FBI, not NSA, submitted the orders, they don’t request phone content, they’re bulk orders targeting non-US persons.

Still, the number of US persons who have been targeted via a specific FISC order are likely far higher than the 60 Lying Keith used on last night’s show. Plus, there may be US persons who had their email collected via specific order, but not their phone content. And of course, every one of the bulk orders targeting non-US persons would include incidentally collection US person data that can be searched with no Reasonable Articulable Suspicion. And we know NSA collects email content from around 56,000 US persons each year in its upstream collection — collection which John Bates considers intentional collection.

Thus, the number of Americans having their content collected is far, far higher than the 60 Alexander used on last night’s show.

Which is another good reason to require more transparency on these FISA numbers, because without it, Keith Alexander will lie again.

Twitter50Reddit2Facebook16Google+3Email

5 Responses to NSA’s 60 Wiretaps and FBI’s 1,728 Wiretaps?

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @adambonin Wait. David Brooks? Can I get my tuition back? @NateSilver538 @AmherstCollege
4hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @adambonin Wait what?!?! I'd say got to Brunos but I understand ... sadly ... @NateSilver538 @AmherstCollege
4hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel Fat Evil Parallel Gore RT @twolf10: Snow sticking to ground in mid April, 2 days after almost hit 80. I blame evil parallel universe Al Gore
5hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz That said Olivia Wilde was one light year closer to Suzy Miller than Chris Hemsworth was to the real James Hunt who I actually knew a little
5hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz I was fortunate enough to meet Suzy Miller back in the day, and Olivia Wilde looks nothing at all like her.
5hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @adamgoldmanwp Lots of reasons to imagine why it might remain suppressed, most innocuous of which is investigation in key stage.
5hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @adamgoldmanwp It may not be in there--but it is in HHSAC report. Prosecutors won't let Dhokhar's team see it either.
5hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel RT @gregorydjohnsen: That last tweet was in jest - the only reason this unit was closed was the work of @adamgoldmanwp and @mattapuzzo - ht…
5hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @adamgoldmanwp The language on that in the IG report--assuming it exists--is all classified.
5hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @SarahKnuckey Or did someone give them bad intel .... again?
5hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @jaraparilla: Saudi Arabia sacks intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan http://t.co/xG2W1PT0Hn #AboutTime #Interesting
5hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @ilovaussiesheps Waiting for the fine print, which may have to do w/who gets to loot DIA. But ... looks like it.
5hreplyretweetfavorite
December 2013
S M T W T F S
« Nov   Jan »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031