Between documents leaked by Edward Snowden, official court submissions, and official public statements, we know at least the following about the surveillance system set up after 9/11 and maintained virtually intact to this day:
- Around of 8-14% of the content collected under Bush’s illegal program was domestic content (page 15 of the NSA IG Report says this constituted 8% of all the illegal wiretap targets but the percentage works out to be higher)
- Some of the content collected via ongoing upstream collection currently includes intentionally-collected domestic content (NSA refuses to count this, even for the FISA Court)
- Bush’s illegal wiretap program targeted Iraqi Intelligence Service targets, as well as targets affiliated with al Qaeda and its associates (see page 8)
- NSA uses the phone metadata program with Iranian targets, as well as targets affiliated with al Qaeda and its associates
- Both the illegal wiretap program and the Internet dragnet authorized under Pen Register/Trap and Trace in 2004 collected information that (because of the way TCP/IP works) would be legally content if treated as electronic surveillance
- The NSA still conducts an Internet dragnet via collection overseas, which not only would permit the metadata-as-content collection, but would permit far more collection on US persons; that collection is seamlessly linked to the domestic dragnet collection
- NSA uses the dragnets to decide which of content the telecoms have briefly indiscriminately collected to read
That is, the surveillance system is not so much discrete metadata programs and content programs directed overseas, directed exclusively against al Qaeda or even terrorists. Rather, it is a system in which network analysis plays a central role in selecting which collected content to read. That content includes entirely domestic communication. And targets of the system have not always been — and were not as recently as June — limited to terrorists.
These details of the surveillance system — along with the fact that AT&T and Verizon played the crucial role of collecting content and “metadata” off domestic switches — are among the details James “Least Untruthful” Clapper, with backup from acting Deputy Director of NSA Frances Fleisch, declared to still be state secrets on Friday, in spite of their public (and in many cases, official) acknowledgement.
In doing so, they are attempting to end the last remaining lawsuits for illegal wiretapping dating to 2006 by prohibiting discussion of the central issue at hand: the government has repeatedly and fairly consistently collected the content of US persons from within the US, at times without even the justification of terrorism. (For more background on Jewel v. AT&T, see here.)
Here’s how Clapper, with a nod to Fleisch, lays out the rebuttal of the Jewel plaintiffs.
the NSA’s collection of the content of communications under the TSP was directed at international communications in which a participant was reasonably believed to be associated with al-Qa’ida or an affiliated organization. Thus, as the U.S. Government has previously stated, plaintiff’s allegation that the NSA has indiscriminately collected the content of millions of communications sent or received by people inside the United States after September 11, 2001, under the TSP is false.
There are several weasel parts of this claim.
The “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and the “Other Target Surveillance Program”
First, to make this claim, Clapper (and Fleisch) revert to use of “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” a term invented to segment off the part of the larger illegal wiretap program that George Bush was willing to confess to in December 2005, that involving international communications with a suspected al Qaeda figure. But as Fleisch admits — but doesn’t explain — at ¶20, the TSP is just a subset of the larger Presidential Surveillance Program. Read more