Financial Fraud

Double Dipping at SWIFT

Spiegel today reveals more details about NSA’s “Follow the Money” program, in which it collects credit card information from select geographical regions. In addition, as TV Globo also revealed last week, they are conducting Tailored Access Operations against SWIFT, the international financial transfer messaging system.

The NSA’s Tracfin data bank also contained data from the Brussels-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a network used by thousands of banks to send transaction information securely. SWIFT was named as a “target,” according to the documents, which also show that the NSA spied on the organization on several levels, involving, among others, the agency’s “tailored access operations” division. One of the ways the agency accessed the data included reading “SWIFT printer traffic from numerous banks,” the documents show.

Now, some caution about this claim is in order. Spiegel reports that NSA’s financial records database has 180 million records, of which 84% are credit card transactions.

The collected information then flows into the NSA’s own financial databank, called “Tracfin,” which in 2011 contained 180 million records. Some 84 percent of the data is from credit card transactions.

Even assuming the balance of the records in the database come from SWIFT, that’s less than 29 million records (in 2011, so assume the number is larger now). In 2011, SWIFT was sending 17.5 million records a day. So whatever makes it into the actual database is just a small fraction of international traffic.

But that almost certainly doesn’t account for the bulk of the SWIFT information collected by the US government. Remember: in addition to stealing the data, Treasury also gets it via a now-public agreement. The former CEO of SWIFT Leonard Schrank and former Homeland Security Czar, Juan Zarate actually boasted in July, in response to the earliest Edward Snowden revelations, about how laudable Treasury’s consensual access to the data was.

The use of the data was legal, limited, targeted, overseen and audited. The program set a gold standard for how to protect the confidential data provided to the government. Treasury legally gained access to large amounts of Swift’s financial-messaging data (which is the banking equivalent of telephone metadata) and eventually explained it to the public at home and abroad.

It could remain a model for how to limit the government’s use of mass amounts of data in a world where access to information is necessary to ensure our security while also protecting privacy and civil liberties.

Never mind that by the time they wrote this, an EU audit had showed the protections were illusory, in part because the details of actual queries were oral (and therefore the queries weren’t auditable), in part because Treasury was getting bulk data. But there was a legitimate way to get data pertaining to the claimed primary threat at hand, terrorism. And now we know NSA also stole data.

Note, too, the timing. While Spiegel doesn’t provide enough details about the exploitation of SWIFT for us to date it, the dates it does provide about this financial spying are 2010 and 2011. That was the period when the EU was trying to put sensible limits to Treasury’s access of SWIFT.

Back when the intelligence community first decided to go after SWIFT data, their first plan was to just steal it.

Intelligence officials were so eager to use the Swift data that they discussed having the C.I.A. covertly gain access to the system, several officials involved in the talks said. But Treasury officials resisted, the officials said, and favored going to Swift directly.

12 years later, they apparently are stealing at least some of it. That probably means they wanted data for transactions that have nothing to do with the counterterrorism application first SWIFT and then the EU bought off on. So there’s the legal access to counterterrorism data via Treasury, and the illegal access to (presumably) some other kind of data via NSA.

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Google’s Payoff from DOD: 20 Cheap Fuel Flights to Tortola

Screen shot 2013-09-13 at 1.47.45 PMGiven that I’m very interested in the carrots and sticks the government uses to get tech companies to help spy on us, I find it rather interesting that from 2007 until August 31, DOD was allowing Google to pay for jet fuel at Moffett Field near Google’s HQ in Mountain View at DOD’s substantially discounted rate.

Granted, this arose because Google provided a light airplane to perform scientific flights for Ames Research Center.

NASA officials have pointed to a related agreement by the Google executives to perform scientific flights and other NASA-related transport. That mostly has involved flights by an Alpha jet, a small trainer bought by the Google executives and used by NASA to measure atmospheric greenhouse gases and ozone.

[snip]

[T]he contract between H211 and the Pentagon stated that the fuel was supposed to be used only “for performance of a U.S. government contract, charter or other approved use,” and said violations could trigger civil or criminal penalties. There is no indication of any such investigation.

Flight records from the Federal Aviation Administration suggest that the vast bulk of the flights by the Google executives’ fleet have been for non-NASA purposes.

The main jets in the fleet—a Boeing 767, Boeing 757 and four Gulfstream V’s—have departed from Moffett a total of 710 times since 2007, FAA records show. The most frequent destinations were Los Angeles and New York, but the planes also flew 20 times to the Caribbean island of Tortola; 17 to Hawaii; 16 to Nantucket, Mass.; and 15 to Tahiti.

This agreement went into place before Google joined PRISM, for example (though I’m sure Google was already helping NSA on its storage challenges before that). Though I really look forward to Google defending these fuel purchases because so much of what they do is “for performance of a U.S. government contract.”

This is peanuts to a company as rich as Google; access to the airport is probably worth more to Google execs than the cheap gas.

Still, it’s a perk. The kind of perk that might explain why Eric Schmidt believes all this spying is just the nature of society. (h/t Kevin Gosztola)

There’s been spying for years, there’s been surveillance for years, and so forth, I’m not going to pass judgment on that, it’s the nature of our society.

Spying is the nature of society in the same way as special perks for those who help in it, after all.

James Clapper’s Financial War on the World

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Yesterday, TV Globo published details of NSA spying on Brazil’s oil company, Petrobras, SWIFT, and financial organizations. Besides revealing that man-in-the-middle attacks are sometimes used, the report didn’t offer details of what the NSA was actually collecting. Its sources suggest NSA might be seeking Brazil’s leading deep sea drilling technology or geological information that would be useful in drilling auctions, but it is also conceivable the NSA is just trying to anticipate what the oil market will look like in upcoming years (this is one area where we probably even spy on our allies the Saudis, since they have been accused of lying about their reserves).

To some degree, then, I await more details about precisely what we’re collecting and why.

But what I am interested in is James Clapper’s response. He released this statement on the I Con site.

It is not a secret that the Intelligence Community collects information about economic and financial matters, and terrorist financing.

We collect this information for many important reasons: for one, it could provide the United States and our allies early warning of international financial crises which could negatively impact the global economy. It also could provide insight into other countries’ economic policy or behavior which could affect global markets.

Our collection of information regarding terrorist financing saves lives. Since 9/11, the Intelligence Community has found success in disrupting terror networks by following their money as it moves around the globe. International criminal organizations, proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, illicit arms dealers, or nations that attempt to avoid international sanctions can also be targeted in an effort to aid America’s and our allies’ interests.

What we do not do, as we have said many times, is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of – or give intelligence we collect to – US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.

As we have said previously, the United States collects foreign intelligence – just as many other governments do – to enhance the security of our citizens and protect our interests and those of our allies around the world. The intelligence Community’s efforts to understand economic systems and policies and monitor anomalous economic activities is critical to providing policy makers with the information they need to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our national security.

Let me take this extraordinary statement in reverse order.

In the fourth paragraph, Clapper reiterates the final defense that NSA defenders use: that we’re better than, say, China and France, because we don’t engage in industrial espionage, stealing technology with our spying. That may be true, but I suspect at the end of the day the economic spying we do might be more appalling.

In the third paragraph, he retreats to the terror terror terror strategy the Administration has used throughout this crisis. And sure, no one really complains that the government is using financial tracking to break up terrorist networks (though the government is awfully selective about whom it prosecutes, and it almost certainly has used a broad definition of “terrorism” to spy on the financial transactions of individuals for geopolitical reasons). But note, while the Globo report provided no details, it did seem to describe that NSA spies on SWIFT.

That would presumably be in addition to whatever access Treasury gets directly from SWIFT, through agreements that have become public.

That is, the Globo piece at least seems to suggest that we’re getting information from SWIFT via two means, via the now public access through the consortium, but also via NSA spying. That would seem to suggest we’re using it for things that go beyond the terrorist purpose the consortium has granted us access for. Past reporting on SWIFT has made it clear we threatened to do just that. The Globo report may support that we have in fact done that.

Now the second paragraph. James Clapper, too cute by half, asserts, spying on financial information,

could provide the United States and our allies early warning of international financial crises which could negatively impact the global economy

Hahahahahaha! Oh my word! Hahahaha. I mean, sure, the US needs to know of pending financial crises, in the same way it wants to know what the actual versus claimed petroleum reserves in the world are (and those are, of course, closely related issues). But with this claim, Clapper suggests the US would actually recognize a financial crisis and do something about it.

Hahahahaha. Didn’t — still doesn’t — work out that way.

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Bandar’s Hot and Cold Running Jihadis

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In my questioning of the Administration’s case on Syria, I have focused on holes within their own story — inconsistent numbers, claims about chain-of-command even while boasting of a hundred defections, false assurances about the reliability of the rebels. Note, too, Jim’s catch about the timing of a rebel advance.

All the while I’ve been reading the several strands of stories alleging that rebel-tied people, not Assad, caused the attack. There’s the story that hacked emails show a recently retired American Colonel assuring his wife that the dead Syrian kids were just for show. There’s a new letter from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (who warned about the Iraq WMD) warning that Syria is a trap.

I’m not confident yet I buy these stories — and besides, there’s plenty of evidence that Vladimir Putin is waging as heavy a propaganda battle as the US government, so it could well be Russian propaganda.

But given all this, there’s one more item that deserves far more attention. Back in early August, I noted a Reuters report of a meeting between Bandar bin Sultan and Putin, in which Bandar offered Putin a lot of things he couldn’t deliver so long as Putin would give up on supporting Bashar al-Assad.

The day of the CW attack, what is clearly Putin’s version of the story got published. In addition to it depicting Bandar basically concluding (at the end of July) that “there is no escape from the military option” in Syria, it also alleged that Bandar claimed he could shut down jihadist influence in Syria and suggested he could prevent Chechen terrorists from attacking the Sochi Olympics. Or not, depending on whether Putin cooperated.

Bandar told Putin, “There are many common values ​​and goals that bring us together, most notably the fight against terrorism and extremism all over the world. Russia, the US, the EU and the Saudis agree on promoting and consolidating international peace and security. The terrorist threat is growing in light of the phenomena spawned by the Arab Spring. We have lost some regimes. And what we got in return were terrorist experiences, as evidenced by the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the extremist groups in Libya. … As an example, I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.

Putin thanked King Abdullah for his greetings and Bandar for his exposition, but then he said to Bandar, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned. We are interested in developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles.”

Again, this is clearly Putin’s version of the meeting. We should assume it is at least partly propaganda.

However, the allegation that Bandar either implicitly or explicitly threatened the Olympics does very closely resemble a threat Bandar is documented to have made in the past.

Back in 2004, the British Serious Fraud Office started to investigate the Al-Yamamah arms deal under Maggie Thatcher, in which BAE would bribe members of the Saudi royal family to sell arms (as a special side deal, the bribes became a slush fund to run covert ops). In 2005, BAE started pressuring SFO to drop the investigation in the public interest, at first citing the business BAE would lose if SFO continued the investigation. Then in December 2006, Bandar flew to Britain and threatened Tony Blair that the Saudis would stop counterterrorism cooperation unless SFO dropped the investigation. Within weeks, SFO dropped the investigation.

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Is This Why Banksters Don’t Go to Jail for Laundering Terrorist Finances?

I’m in the middle of a deep dive in the Section 215 White Paper — expect plenty of analysis on it in coming attractions!

But I want to make a discrete point about this passage, which describes what happen to query results.

Results of authorized queries are stored and are available only to those analysts trained in the restrictions on the handling and dissemination of the metadata. Query results can be further analyzed only for valid foreign intelligence purposes. Based on this analysis of the data, the NSA then provides leads to the FBI or others in the Intelligence Community. For U.S. persons, these leads are limited to counterterrorism investigations.

The Primary Order released several weeks back calls these stored query results “the corporate store.” As ACLU laid out, the government can do pretty much whatever it wants with this corporate store — and their analysis of it is not audited.

All of this information, the primary order says, is dumped into something called the “corporate store.” Incredibly, the FISC imposes norestrictions on what analysts may subsequently do with the information. The FISC’s primary order contains a crucially revealing footnote stating that “the Court understands that NSA may apply the full range of SIGINT analytic tradecraft to the result of intelligence analysis queries of the collected [telephone] metadata.” In short, once a calling record is added to the corporate store, anything goes.

More troubling, if the government is combining the results of all its queries in this “corporate store,” as seems likely, then it has a massive pool of telephone data that it can analyze in any way it chooses, unmoored from the specific investigations that gave rise to the initial queries. To put it in individual terms: If, for some reason, your phone number happens to be within three hops of an NSA target, all of your calling records may be in the corporate store, and thus available for any NSA analyst to search at will.

But it’s even worse than that. The primary order prominently states that whenever the government accesses the wholesale telephone-metadata database, “an auditable record of the activity shall be generated.” It might feel fairly comforting to know that, if the government abuses its access to all Americans’ call data, it might eventually be called to account—until you read footnote 6 of the primary order, which exempts entirely the government’s use of the “corporate store” from the audit-trail requirement.

The passage from the White Paper seems to suggest there are limits (though it doesn’t explain where they come from, because they clearly don’t come from FISC).

This analysis must have a valid foreign intelligence purpose — which can include political information, economic information, espionage information, military information, drug information, and the like. Anything other countries do, basically.

But if the data in the corporate store pertains to US persons, the FBI can only get a lead “for counterterrorism purposes.”

At one level, this is (small) comfort, because it provides a level of protection on the dragnet use.

But it also may explain why HSBC’s US subsidiary didn’t get caught laundering al Qaeda’s money, or why JP Morgan always gets to self-disclose its support for Iranian “terrorism.” So long as the government chooses not to treat banks laundering money for terrorists as material support for terror, then they can consider these links (which surely they’ve come across in their “corporate store!) evidence of a financial crime, not a terrorist one, and just bury it.

I would be curious, though, whether the government has ever used the “corporate store” to police Iran sanctions. Does that count as a counterterrorism purpose? And if so, is that why Treasury “finds” evidence of international bank violations so much more often than it does American bank violations?

Candidate Obama’s Tribute to “Courage and Patriotism” of Whistleblowers Disappears 2 Days after First Snowden Revelations

Sunlight Foundation discovers the Obama Administration has removed access to his 2008 campaign promises from the White House website. It suggests one of the promises Obama may want to hide has to do with his support for whistleblowers.

While front splash page for for Change.gov has linked to the main White House website for years, until recently, you could still continue on to see the materials and agenda laid out by the administration. This was a particularly helpful resource for those looking to compare Obama’s performance in office against his vision for reform, laid out in detail on Change.gov.

According to the Internet Archive, the last time that content (beyond the splash page) was available was June 8th – last month.

Why the change?

Here’s one possibility, from the administration’s ethics agenda:

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

It may be that Obama’s description of the importance of whistleblowers went from being an artifact of his campaign to a political liability.

To be fair, Obama did extend whistleblower protection beyond that of the law last year — though he did it largely in secret.

Of course, that came at the same time as Obama rolled out an Insider Threat Detection system that seems designed to discourage anyone from speaking out … about anything.

And then there’s the issue of all the whistleblower prosecutions.

But if Obama did hide his campaign promises specifically to hide this tribute to the “courage and patriotism” of whistleblowers, then I find the timing particularly interesting. June 8 was just two days after the first Edward Snowden release (at a time, moreover, when the Guardian had reported only issues that went to lies James Clapper and Keith Alexander had told, making Snowden’s claim to be unable to go through regular channels quite credible).

Mind you, Obama could be hiding other promises. I still think promises about mortgages and homes are his biggest failure.

Carl Levin’s Double Standard for Banksters and Spooks

Carl Levin is one of the few people in DC who has tried to hold banks accountable — in his case, via investigations conducted at the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Never mind that DOJ has serially taken his investigations and, seemingly, wiped their ass with them for all the banksters who have been held accountable as a result.

One particularly noteworthy ass-wiping came after Levin referred Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein to DOJ for lying to his customers and, more importantly, to Congress. To him.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate’s investigative subcommittee said he believes Goldman Sachs officials made misleading statements about their trading during the financial crisis and should be investigated criminally.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on Wednesday that he plans to refer Goldman officials, and potentially officials from other organizations, to the Justice Department for possible prosecution and to the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible civil proceedings.

“In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled the Congress,” said Levin, the chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

[snip]

“We will be referring this matter to the Justice Department and the SEC,” Levin said.

DOJ did what it does — which apparently includes chatting up CEOs — while it is pretending to investigate when it is actually wiping its ass. Then after a year it decided it wasn’t going to prosecute Blankfein.

Still. Just over 2 years ago, Carl Levin believed that when people, even very powerful people, lie to Congress, DOJ should at least consider prosecuting them.

How times change.

Levin also said he was still “troubled” by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the NSA did not collect data on millions of Americans.

“I’m troubled by that testimony, obviously. I don’t know how he’s tried to wiggle out from it, but I’m troubled by it,” Levin said. “How you hold him accountable, I guess the only way to do that would be for the president to somehow or other fire him.”

But, Levin added, “I think he’s made it clear that he regrets saying what he said, and I don’t want to call on the president to fire him although I am troubled by it.”

Golly! Clapper regrets what he said (or rather, that he got caught saying it?). So rather than suggesting we hold Clapper accountable the way Levin tried to do with Blankfein, he instead thinks maybe if the President feels like it on his own because Levin himself isn’t going to call on him to do this, Obama should “somehow or other fire” Clapper.

Five Additional Questions for Jim Comey

Colleen Rowley has a great list of questions Jim Comey should be asked today in his confirmation hearing (I’ll be live-tweeting it, so follow the twitter feed over there. >>>>>>

Here are five questions I would add:

  1. The May 10, 2005 torture authorization you signed off (as well as the Combined of the same date one you objected to) on was retrospective. What were the circumstances of the treatment of this detainee? Was that detainee water-boarded, in spite of CIA claims only Abu Zubaydah, Ibn Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were?
  2. Do you believe the High Value Interrogation Group (HIG) should be authorized to use “separation,” including modified sleep deprivation, to coerce confessions?
  3. Do you believe it legal or advisable to delay presentment for detainees interrogated by HIG so as to set up up to two weeks of unsupervised interrogation?
  4. FBI has used the Section 215 authorization — the same law used to collect every American’s phone data — to collect lists of common products that on very rare occasions have been used as precursors to explosives. They could and may well have used the same authority with pressure cookers. Is collecting such a broad sweep of innocent activity in pursuit of terrorists the best way to identify them? What do you believe the appropriate use of Section 215 authority is?
  5. Through the entire financial crisis, it appears the FBI did not use all the investigative tools available, including (with two or three notable exceptions) wiretaps and phone and Internet tracking, when investigating large financial institutions. This appears to be true even when, as with your former employer HSBC, the institution had clear ties to terrorists and Transnational Criminal Organizations. What tools do you believe appropriate to investigate large financial institutions and do you plan to change the approach to investigating financial crime?

SWIFT: Big Brother with a Booz Assist, Only without the Paperwork

As reporting on Edward Snowden reveal the scope of our spying on European friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about SWIFT.

SWIFT, you recall, is the database tracking international online money transfers. After 9/11, the US Government started helping itself to the data to track terrorist financing. But then in 2010 the servers moved entirely to the EU, and the EU forced the US to accede to certain protections: protections for EU citizens, a prohibition on bulk collection (and with it data mining), and two-pronged audit system.

Today, the CEO of SWIFT until 2007, Leonard Schrank, and the former Homeland Security Advisor, Juan Zarate, boast about the controls on SWIFT, suggesting it provides a model for data collection with oversight.

Both the Treasury and Swift ensured that the constraints on the information retrieved and used by analysts were strictly enforced. Outside auditors hired by Swift confirmed the limited scope of use, and Swift’s own representatives (called “scrutineers”) had authority to stop access to the data at any time if there was a concern that the restrictions were being breached. These independent monitors worked on site at government agencies and had real-time access to the system. Every time an analyst queried the system, the scrutineer could immediately review the query. Each query had to have a reason attached to it that justified it as a counterterrorism matter. Over time, the scope of data requested and retained was reduced.

This confirmed that the information was being used in the way we said it was — to save lives.

[snip]

The use of the data was legal, limited, targeted, overseen and audited. The program set a gold standard for how to protect the confidential data provided to the government. Treasury legally gained access to large amounts of Swift’s financial-messaging data (which is the banking equivalent of telephone metadata) and eventually explained it to the public at home and abroad.

It could remain a model for how to limit the government’s use of mass amounts of data in a world where access to information is necessary to ensure our security while also protecting privacy and civil liberties.

This description should already raise concerns about the so-called gold standard for spying. When “scrutineers” cohabit with those they’re supposed to be scrutinizing, it tends to encourage cooperation, not scrutiny.

And somehow, Schrank and Zarate neglect to mention that the vaunted audit process they describe was conducted by none other than Booz Allen Hamilton, the contractor that hired and let Edward Snowden abscond with the spying world’s crown jewels. And, as ACLU noted in a report for the EU in 2006, even during Schrank’s tenure, Booz was neck deep in aggressive surveillance.

But the real problem with highlighting SWIFT as a poster child of massive surveillance done right post-dates Schrank’s tenure (though he must know about this), when the EU’s independent audits for the first time revealed what went on in SWIFT queries. Among other things: the actual requests were oral, and therefore couldn’t be audited.

The report revealed that the Americans have been submitting largely identical requests–but then supplementing them with oral requests.

The oral requests, of course, make it impossible to audit the requests.

At the time of the inspection, Europol had received our requests for SWIFT data. Those four requests are almost identical in nature and request–in abstract terms–broad types of data, also involving EU Member States’ data. Due to their abstract nature, proper verification of whether the requests are in line with the conditions of the Article 4(2) of the TFTP Agreement–on the basis of the available documentation–is impossible. The JSB considers it likely that the information in the requests could be more specific.

Information provided orally–to certain Europol staff by the US Treasury Department, with the stipulation that no written notes are made–has had an impact upon each of Europol’s decisions; however, the JSB does not know the content of that information. Therefore, where the requests lack the necessary written information to allow proper verification of compliance with Article 4(2) of the TFTP Agreement, it is impossible to check whether this deficiency is rectified by the orally provided information. [my emphasis]

In addition, in spite of demands that the program include no bulk downloads, that’s precisely what the US was doing.

“We have given our trust to the other EU institutions, but our trust has been betrayed”, said Sophia in’t Veld (ALDE, NL), rapporteur on the EU-US Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreements. “This should be kept in mind when they want our approval for other agreements”, she declared.

“Somehow I am not surprised”, said Simon Busuttil (EPP, MT), recalling that “at the time of the negotiations last year we were not satisfied with having Europol controlling it - we wanted additional safeguards”. He added that ”the agreement is not satisfactory”, since it involves the transfer of bulk data, and insisted that ”we need an EU TFTP”.

For Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), the US demands are “too general and too abstract”. He also recalled that MEPs had insisted at the time that it must be specified how the US request would be made and that they needed to be “narrowly tailored”. A written explanation should accompany each request, he added.

This agreement is not in line with Member States’ constitutional principles and with fundamental rights, argued Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens/EFA, DE). He highlighted the problem of bulk data transfer, “which is exactly what we have criticised before“. [my emphasis]

In other words, once an actual independent reviewer — not an embedded contractor like Booz — reviewed the program, it became clear it was designed to be impossible to audit, even while engaging in precisely the bulk downloads the Europeans feared.

Not only is the experience of SWIFT one reason why the Europeans are so quick to object to the scale of US spying on them. But it is actually a poster child for surveillance done wrong.

Contrary to what its boosters want you to believe.

Is the Section 215 Dragnet Limited to Terrorism Investigations?

Unlike PRISM, most public discussions about the Section 215 dragnet program suggest that it is tied to terrorism. It’s a claim, for example, that Charlie Savage makes in this story, which he traces back to this statement from Director of National Security James Clapper.

And indeed, that statement does claim the program is limited to terrorism investigations.

The collection is broad in scope because more narrow collection would limit our ability to screen for and identify terrorism-related communications. Acquiring this information allows us to make connections related to terrorist activities over time. The FISA Court specifically approved this method of collection as lawful, subject to stringent restrictions.

The information acquired has been part of an overall strategy to protect the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it may assist counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities.

[snip]

By order of the FISC, the Government is prohibited from indiscriminately sifting through the telephony metadata acquired under the program. All information that is acquired under this program is subject to strict, court-imposed restrictions on review and handling. The court only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization. Only specially cleared counterterrorism personnel specifically trained in the Court-approved procedures may even access the records.

All information that is acquired under this order is subject to strict restrictions on handling and is overseen by the Department of Justice and the FISA Court. Only a very small fraction of the records are ever reviewed because the vast majority of the data is not responsive to any terrorism-related query. [my emphasis]

Even assuming James “Least Untruthful Too Cute by Half” Clapper can be trusted on this point, consider a few things about this statement.

  • It was released after only the first Guardian release. Thus, it was almost certainly rushed. And while NSA has claimed they had identified Edward Snowden before he started publishing, it is possible they did not know precisely what he had taken (though it is equally possible they already knew).
  • Clapper avoids mentioning precisely what program he is referring to in this statement, not even mentioning the Section 215 authority directly (though he does mention the PATRIOT Act. The Executive Branch has a well-established history — on this and related programs precisely — in addressing just a subset of a program so as to try to hide larger parts of it.

In addition, recall that when DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine referred to these secret programs in a 2008 report on the use of Section 215, he spoke in the plural and included two classified appendices to describe them. In 2011, Acting Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen referred only to programs, plural. Thus, there almost certainly are at least two secret programs, and Michael Hayden has claimed Obama has expanded the use of this authority, which might mean there are more than two.

Furthermore, compare Clapper’s statement from June 6 — which mentioned only terrorists — with how he explained the dragnet program to Andrea Mitchell on June 9.

ANDREA MITCHELL: At the same time, when Americans woke up and learned because of these leaks that every single telephone call in this United States, as well as elsewhere, but every call made by these telephone companies that they collect is archived, the numbers, just the numbers, and the duration of these calls. People were astounded by that. They had no idea. They felt invaded.

JAMES CLAPPER: I understand that. But first let me say that I and everyone in the intelligence community all– who are also citizens, who also care very deeply about our– our privacy and civil liberties, I certainly do. So let me say that at the outset. I think a lot of what people are– are reading and seeing in the media is a lot of hyper– hyperbole.
A metaphor I think might be helpful for people to understand this is to think of a huge library with literally millions of volumes of books in it, an electronic library. Seventy percent of those books are on bookcases in the United States, meaning that the bulk of the of the world’s infrastructure, communications infrastructure is in the United States.

There are no limitations on the customers who can use this library. Many and millions of innocent people doing min– millions of innocent things use this library, but there are also nefarious people who use it. Terrorists, drug cartels, human traffickers, criminals also take advantage of the same technology. So the task for us in the interest of preserving security and preserving civil liberties and privacy is to be as precise as we possibly can be when we go in that library and look for the books that we need to open up and actually read.

You think of the li– and by the way, all these books are arranged randomly. They’re not arranged by subject or topic matter. And they’re constantly changing. And so when we go into this library, first we have to have a library card, the people that actually do this work.

Which connotes their training and certification and recertification. So when we pull out a book, based on its essentially is– electronic Dewey Decimal System, which is zeroes and ones, we have to be very precise about which book we’re picking out. And if it’s one that belongs to the– was put in there by an American citizen or a U.S. person.

We ha– we are under strict court supervision and have to get stricter– and have to get permission to actually– actually look at that. So the notion that we’re trolling through everyone’s emails and voyeuristically reading them, or listening to everyone’s phone calls is on its face absurd. We couldn’t do it even if we wanted to. And I assure you, we don’t want to.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Why do you need every telephone number? Why is it such a broad vacuum cleaner approach?

JAMES CLAPPER: Well, you have to start someplace. If– and over the years that this program has operated, we have refined it and tried to– to make it ever more precise and more disciplined as to which– which things we take out of the library. But you have to be in the– in the– in the chamber in order to be able to pick and choose those things that we need in the interest of protecting the country and gleaning information on terrorists who are plotting to kill Americans, to destroy our economy, and destroy our way of life.

In speaking of the way in which the government uses this dragnet collection as a kind of Dewey Decimal system to identify communications it wants to go back and view, he doesn’t limit it to terrorists. Indeed, he doesn’t even limit it to those foreign intelligence uses the PATRIOT Act authorizes, like counterintelligence (though Obama’s roll-out of Transnational Crime Organization initiative in 2011 — which effectively started treating certain transnational crime networks just like terrorists — may suggest only those crime organizations are being targeted).

Given two more days of disclosures after his initial Section 215 statement, Clapper acknowledged that PRISM has been used (at a minimum) to pursue weapons proliferators and hackers in addition to terrorists. Then, the next day, he at least seemed to suggest that Section 215 collection is used to pinpoint not just terrorists, but also drug cartels and other criminal networks.

And as I’ll show in a follow-up post, it seems to have targeted far more than that.

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emptywheel @GregDjerejian Feel like @NSArchive released new evidence of details on cutting oil prices to hurt Russia in recent years.
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emptywheel @GregDjerejian Didn't we do something similar to kill oil prices in the Reagan days?
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emptywheel @GregDjerejian Oh, his oligarchs will get hit, but w/o the profit constraining limits of actual sanctions. Best of all worlds!
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bmaz There are over 100 bills pending in the AZ State Legislature, w/only 1 week scheduled to go. The mental midgets can still do LOT of damage.
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emptywheel @GregDjerejian Plus heads up may me worth more than actual sanctions.
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bmaz I have been informed Kiki wants To Get Her Ya Yas Out #NationalRecodDay http://t.co/rqybpi5c4c
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