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Of the 1,789 applications, one was withdrawn by the Government.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

Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Reddit0Share on Facebook0Google+3Email to someone

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

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @BradMossEsq But if it doesn't do what it is supposed to do, then we should talk about that, bc then we can shut it down.
32mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @BradMossEsq Just you. I've never been opposed. I'm opposed to its misuse. Upstream is prone to problems, per a pushover FISA judge.
32mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @mokecule VERY many WH journos show up to every briefing knowing there's almost no chance they'll get called. They still go.
34mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @mokecule Does that change the value at all of sitting and listening for the gross majority who don't get called?
35mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel RT @PGEddington: ICYMI: My latest on @Medium: “When Intelligence Become Advocacy” https://t.co/d9c9jly8DK
35mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @KimZetter A second run then! You can benefit from Sony hack along with 133,726 consulting firms.
39mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel LOLOLOL It is SO perfect that Roger Cohen doesn't think having boys sit and listen to girls ask questions is good for them.
39mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel RT @DougJBalloon: Most entitled media whine ever? MT @NYTimesCohen WH might have advised male correspondents they could split on vacation e…
42mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @GregoryMcNeal It is. Bc I've been wondering all day when someone would say that to justify "proportional" response. @jacklgoldsmith
43mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @KimZetter And that was before Sony, presumably.
44mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @GregoryMcNeal Just to be clear, my offer for beer for someone finding WHITE HOUSE saying that still stands.;p @jacklgoldsmith
45mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @GregoryMcNeal And here I was letting them off easy (and have been noting WH has not claimed Sony was CI). @jacklgoldsmith
46mreplyretweetfavorite
December 2013
S M T W T F S
« Nov   Jan »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031