George Ellard

If NSA Commits Database Query Violations, But Nobody Audits Them, Do They Really Happen?

Barton Gellman, at the beginning of the worthwhile video above, addresses something I addressed here: the only way the government can claim they haven’t “abused” the rules governing NSA activities is by treating all abuse done in the name of the mission as a mistake.

The President, like a lot of people who work for him, has a very narrow definition of two key words in that passage. One is “abuse” and the other is “inappropriately.” As the government depicts it — and this is language it’s using that it does not, frankly, explain.

Abuse — the only kind of abuse that exists would be if, say, an NSA employee were to stalk his ex-wife or spy on movie stars or something of that nature. If they are performing the mission that the NSA wants them to perform, and nevertheless overstep their legal authority, make unauthorized interceptions or searches or retentions or sharing of secret information, that is not abuse, that’s a mistake.

That’s how they get to pretend the 9% to 20% of violations in which a person does not follow the rules seemingly intentionally (these are distinct from human error and training violations) does not constitute an abuse.

With that in mind, I wanted to look more closely at what the audit report says about how errors are found, as shown primarily in this figure:

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 10.21.25 AM

That looks pretty good on the face, with 64% of all violations found via automated alert, plus a few more — data flow analysis and traffic scanning — that involve technological review.

But this detail on the roamer problem (in which valid foreign targets continue to be targeted when they travel to the US) explains what that’s not all that impressive.  Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @scareduck Yeah. But its harder to hide bulky fun stuff in them. Suspect it's most useful for counterproliferation.
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emptywheel Realization: One advantage of so little shipping being done under US flag is that NSA can spy on almost all cargo ships. #ThinkLikeBobLitt
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emptywheel There's a "doth protest too much" aspect to much of what NSA added to their IG Report bt March and June 2009.
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bmaz Did Baltimore cops personally tune up #FreddieGray or, as @Will_Bunch suggests take him on a "necked ride" http://t.co/wMDO7GZ34z or both?
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emptywheel Reading these IG Reports I'm wondering if @barryeisler could bring back Addington character to kill in ghoulish fashion again in new book?
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emptywheel @tomgara Sure, but with that advance you got a watch you need to charge.
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emptywheel @JohnWonderlich Lots of that goes on it turns out.
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emptywheel @KenRoth And somehow OPR never released the investigation of the latter creative lawyering.
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emptywheel @matthew_d_green Saw a summary of it.
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emptywheel @JonathanCohn "Oh, sure. KSM tells us non-existent black Muslims in MT are gonna start forest fires. But waterboarding so must be true"
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emptywheel @JonathanCohn And worst part is that Intel whiz Alfreda Bikowsky BELIEVED that for like 3 months, apparently not asking that VERY basic Q
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April 2015
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