Keith Alexander

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Fact-Checking 9/11 Anniversary Report on Info and Dragnets with 9/11 Report

In Salon, I point out something funny about the report released on Tuesday to mark the 10 year anniversary of the release of the 9/11 Commission report. The report says we must fight the “creeping tide of complacency.” But then it says the government has done almost everything the 9/11 Commission said it should do.

There is a “creeping tide of complacency,” the members of the 9/11 Commission warned in a report released on Tuesday, the 10-year anniversary of the release of their original report. That complacency extends not just to terrorism. “On issue after issue — the resurgence and transformation of al Qaeda, Syria, the cyber threat — public awareness lags behind official Washington’s.” To combat that “creeping tide of complacency,” the report argues, the government must explain “the evil that [is] stalking us.”

Meanwhile, the commissioners appear unconcerned about complacency with climate change or economic decline.

All that fear-mongering is odd, given the report’s general assessment of counterterrorism efforts made in the last decade. “The government’s record in counterterrorism is good,” the report judged, and “our capabilities are much improved.”

If the government has done a good job of implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations but the terror threat is an order of magnitude worse now, as the report claims, then those recommendations were not sufficient to addressing the problem. Or perhaps the 13 top security officials whom the Commission interviewed did a slew of other things — like destabilizing Syria and Libya — that have undermined the apparatus of counterterrorism recommended by the original 9/11 Commission?

Which is a polite way of saying the 10-year report is unsatisfying on many fronts, opting for fear-mongering than another measured assessment about what we need to do to protect against terrorism.

Perhaps that’s because, rather than conduct the public hearings with middle-level experts, as it boasted it had done in the original report, it instead privately interviewed just the people who’ve been in charge for the last 10 years, all of whom have a stake in fear and budgets and several of whom now have a stake in profiting off fear-mongering?

Suffice it to say I’m unimpressed with the report.

Which brings me to this really odd detail about it.

The report takes a squishy approach to Edward Snowden’s leaks. It condemns his and Chelsea Manning’s leaks and suggests they may hinder information sharing. It also suggests Snowden’s leaks may be impeding recruiting for cybersecurity positions.

But it also acknowledges that Snowden’s leaks have been important to raising concerns about civil liberties — resulting in President Obama’s decision to impose limits on the Section 215 phone dragnet.

Since 2004, when we issued the report, the public has become markedly more engaged in the debate over the balance between civil liberties and national security. In the mid-2000s, news reports about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs caused only a slight public stir. That changed with last year’s leaks by Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor who stole 1.7 million pages of classified material. Documents taken by Snowden and given to the media revealed NSA data collection far more widespread than had been popularly understood. Some reports exaggerated the scale of the programs. While the government explained that the NSA’s programs were overseen by Congress and the courts, the scale of the data collection has alarmed the public.

[snip]

[I]n March, the President announced plans to replace the NSA telephone metadata program with a more limited program of specific court-approved searches of call records held by private carriers. This remains a matter of contention with some intelligence professionals, who expressed to us a fear that these restrictions might hinder U.S. counterterrorism efforts in urgent situations where speedy investigation is critical.

Having just raised the phone dragnet changes, the report goes on to argue “these programs” — which in context would include the phone dragnet — should be preserved.

We believe these programs are worth preserving, albeit with additional oversight. Every current or former senior official with whom we spoke told us that the terrorist and cyber threats to the United States are more dangerous today than they were a few years ago. And senior officials explained to us, in clear terms, what authorities they would need to address those threats. Their case is persuasive, and we encountered general agreement about what needs to be done.

Senior leaders must now make this case to the public. The President must lead the government in an ongoing effort to explain to the American people—in specific terms, not generalities—why these programs are critical to the nation’s security. If the American people hear what we have heard in recent months, about the urgent threat and the ways in which data collection is used to counter it, we believe that they will be supportive. If these programs are as important as we believe they are, it is worth making the effort to build a more solid foundation in public opinion to ensure their preservation.

This discussion directly introduces a bizarre rewriting of the original 9/11 Report.

Given how often the government has falsely claimed that we need the phone dragnet because it closes a gap that let Khalid al-Midhar escape you’d think the 9/11 Commission might use this moment to reiterate the record, which shows that the government had the information it needed to discover the hijacker was in the US.

Nope.

It does, however, raise a very closely related issue: the FBI’s failure to discover Nawaf al Hazmi’s identity. Continue reading

CISA: The Banks Want Immunity and a Public-Private War Council

A group of privacy and security organizations have just sent President Obama a letter asking him to issue a veto threat over the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. It’s a great explanation of why this bill sucks and doesn’t do what it needs to to make us safer from cyberattacks. It argues that CISA’s exclusive focus on information sharing — and not on communications security more generally — isn’t going to keep us safe.

Which is why it really pays to look at the role of SIFMA — the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association – in all this.

As I’ve noted, they’re the banksters whom Keith Alexander is charging big bucks to keep safe. As Bloomberg recently reported, Alexander has convinced SIFMA to demand a public-private cyber war council, involving all the stars of revolving door fearmongering for profit.

Wall Street’s biggest trade group has proposed a government-industry cyber war council to stave off terrorist attacks that could trigger financial panic by temporarily wiping out account balances, according to an internal document.

The proposal by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, known as Sifma, calls for a committee of executives and deputy-level representatives from at least eight U.S. agencies including the Treasury Department, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, all led by a senior White House official.

The trade association also reveals in the document that Sifma has retained former NSA director Keith Alexander to “facilitate” the joint effort with the government. Alexander, in turn, has brought in Michael Chertoff, the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, and his firm, Chertoff Group.

Public reporting positions SIFMA as the opposition to the larger community of people who know better, embracing this public-private war council approach.

Kenneth Bentsen, chief executive at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said in a statement that leaders of the Senate Intelligence panel who wrote the bill have “taken a balanced and considered approach which will help the financial services industry to better protect our customers from cyber terrorists and criminals, as well as their privacy.”

According to the same banksters who crashed our economy 6 years ago, this bill is about protecting them at the expense of our privacy and rule of law.

And in their reply to Alan Grayson’s questions about WTF they’re paying Keith Alexander so handsomely for, SIFMA repeats this line (definitely click through to read about Quantum Dawn 2).

Cyber attacks are increasingly a major threat to our financial system. As such, enhancing cyber security is a top priority for the financial services industry. SIFMA believes we have an obligation to do everything possible to protect the integrity of our markets and the millions of Americans who use financial services every day.

[snip]

However, the threat increases every day. SIFMA and its members have undertaken additional efforts to develop cyber defense standards for the securities industry sector as a follow on to the recently published NIST standards. And we are developing enhanced recovery protocols for market participants and regulators in the event of an attack that results in closure of the equity and fixed income markets. We are undertaking this work in close collaboration with our regulators and recently held a meeting to brief them on our progress. And, we plan to increase our efforts even further as the risks are too great for current efforts alone.

We know that a strong partnership between the private sector and the government is the most efficient way to address this growing threat. Industry and investors benefit when the private sector and government agencies can work together to share relevant threat information. We would like to see more done in Congress to eliminate the barriers to legitimate information sharing, which will enable this partnership to grow stronger, while protecting the privacy of our customers.

This is not — contrary to what people like Dianne Feinstein are pretending — protecting the millions who had their credit card data stolen because Target was not using the cyberdefenses it put into place.

Rather, this is about doing the banksters’ bidding, setting up a public-private war council, without first requiring them to do basic things — like limiting High Frequency Trading — to make their industry more resilient to all kinds of attacks, from even themselves.

Meanwhile, if that’s not enough indication this is about the bankstsers, check out what Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is doing this afternoon.

In the afternoon, the Secretary will visit Verizon’s facilities in Ashburn, Virginia to discuss cybersecurity and highlight the important role of telecommunications companies in supporting the financial system. 

Just what we need: our phone provider serving the interests of the financial system first.

DiFi wants to make it easier to spy on Americans domestically to help private companies that have already done untold damage to Main Street America. We ought to be protecting ourselves from them, not degrading privacy to subsidize their insecure practices.

The Unaudited Tech Analyst Access to US Person Data

In addition to its exposure of the sheer senselessness of much of the spying NSA engages in, yesterday’s WaPo story also shows that the government’s assurances that Edward Snowden could not access raw data have been misplaced.

For close to a year, NSA and other government officials have appeared to deny, in congressional testimony and public statements, that Snowden had any access to the material.

As recently as May, shortly after he retired as NSA director, Gen. Keith Alexander denied that Snowden could have passed FISA content to journalists.

“He didn’t get this data,” Alexander told a New Yorker reporter. “They didn’t touch —”

“The operational data?” the reporter asked.

“They didn’t touch the FISA data,” Alexander replied. He added, “That database, he didn’t have access to.”

Robert S. Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in a prepared statement that Alexander and other officials were speaking only about “raw” intelligence, the term for intercepted content that has not yet been evaluated, stamped with classification markings or minimized to mask U.S. identities.

“We have talked about the very strict controls on raw traffic, the training that people have to have, the technological lockdowns on access,” Litt said. “Nothing that you have given us indicates that Snowden was able to circumvent that in any way.”

In the interview, Snowden said he did not need to circumvent those controls, because his final position as a contractor for Booz Allen at the NSA’s Hawaii operations center gave him “unusually broad, unescorted access to raw SIGINT [signals intelligence] under a special ‘Dual Authorities’ role,” a reference to Section 702 for domestic collection and Executive Order 12333 for collection overseas. Those credentials, he said, allowed him to search stored content — and “task” new collection — without prior approval of his search terms.

No one should ever have believed those assurances.

That’s because the documentation on the Section 215 program makes it clear how little oversight there is over tech people just like Snowden. The current phone dragnet order, for example, makes it clear that:

  • Tech personnel may access the phone dragnet data to tweak it in preparation for contact-chaining
  • Unlike intelligence analysts, tech personnel may query the phone dragnet data with selectors that have not been RAS-approved
  • Tech personnel may also conduct regular queries using RAS-approved selectors
  • Tech personnel may access the dragnet data to search for high volume numbers — this may require access to raw data
  • Some of the tech personnel (those in charge of infrastructure and receiving data from the telecoms) are exempt from special training on the phone dragnet data

The audit language in the dragnet order applies only to “foreign intelligence analysis purposes or using foreign intelligence analysis tools,” suggesting the tech analysis role access to the dragnet data is not audited.

Language in the order defining “NSA” suggests contractors may access the data (though it’s unclear whether they do so in a technical or intelligence analysis function); something made explicit in Dianne Feinstein’s bill.

That is, it is at least possible that Booz analysts are currently conducting audit-free tech massaging of the raw phone dragnet data.

And NSA knew this access was a vulnerability. As recently as 2012, tech analysts were found to have 3,000 files worth of phone dragnet data (it’s unclear how much data each file included) on an improper server past its required destruction date. NSA destroyed that data before definitively researching what it was doing there.

Thus, the risk of tech analyst breach is very real, and no one — not NSA, and not Congress, which has only codified this arrangement — seems to be addressing it.

Indeed, it is likely that some kind of Booz-type contractors will continue to have direct access to this data after it gets outsourced to the telecoms, otherwise USA Freedumber would not extend immunity to such second-level contractors.

For months, intelligence officials claimed not only that Snowden had not accessed raw data, but could not. That was always a dubious claim; even if Snowden couldn’t have accessed that data, other contractors just like him could and still can, with less oversight than NSA’s intelligence analysts get.

But it turns out Snowden could and did. And thanks to that, we now know many of the other claims made by government witnesses are also false.

Alan Grayson: Is Keith Alexander Selling Classified Information to the Banks?

I’ve been tracking Keith Alexander’s utterly predictable new gig, getting rich off of having drummed up cybersecurity concerns for the last several years, while at the same time shacking up with the most dubious of shadow bank regulators, Promontory Financial Group.

Apparently, I’m not the only one. Alan Grayson just sent some of the entities that Alexander has been drumming up business with — the Security Industries and Financial Markets Association, Consumer Bankers Association, and Financial Services Roundtable — a letter asking how the former NSA Director can be making a reported $600,000 a month. He cites Bruce Schneier wondering whether part of the deal is that Alexander will share classified information he learned while at NSA.

Security expert Bruce Schneier noted that this fee for Alexander’s services is on its face unreasonable. “Think of how much actual security they could buy with that $600K a month.Unless he’s giving them classified information.” Schneier also quoted Recode.net, which headlined this news as: “For another million, I’ll show you the back door we put in your router.”

[snip]

Disclosing or misusing classified information for profit is, as Mr. Alexander well knows, a felony. I question how Mr. Alexander can provide any of the services he is offering unless he discloses or misuses classified information, including extremely sensitive sources and methods. Without the classified information that he acquired in his former position, he literally would have nothing to offer to you.

Please send me all information related to your negotiations with Mr. Alexander, so that Congress can verify whether or not he is selling military and cybersecurity secrets to the financial services industry for personal gain.

Alexander is just the latest of a long line of people who profit directly off driving up the cybersecurity threat. But — as Recode.net notes — he’s also got the kind of inside information that could be particularly valuable.

As the Intelligence Industrial Complex and the Banking industry hop into bed together, there ought to be some transparency about just what kind of deals are being made. There’s simply too much immunity handed out to this community to let boondoggles like Alexander’s slide.

The intelligence community is subjecting every low level clearance holder to intense scrutiny right now. But thus far, there has not been a peep from those quarters that the former DIRNSA could command these fees for the expertise gained while overseeing the nation’s secrets.

Keith Alexander to Earn $600,000 a Month for Preventing DDos Attacks

When Politico reported that Keith Alexander was shacking up with shadow regulator Promontory Financial Group to profit off his cyber fear-mongering, I knew he’d be raking in the bucks.

Bloomberg provides more details on how much: his asking price starts at $1M a month, from which he negotiates down to a mere $600,000.

Alexander, 62, said in the interview he was invited to give a talk to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, known as Sifma, shortly after leaving the NSA and starting his firm, IronNet Cybersecurity Inc. He has met with other finance groups including the Consumer Bankers Association, the Financial Services Roundtable and The Clearing House.

At the sessions, Alexander discussed destructive computer programs such as Wiper, which the U.S. government said was notable because attacks using it appeared to originate from North Korea and Iran. “I told them I did think they could defend against that,” Alexander said.

Still, despite the banks’ growing investments in computer security, Alexander said, “many of them aren’t really confident they’re getting their money’s worth.”

[snip]

Sifma Meeting

Alexander offered to provide advice to Sifma for $1 million a month, according to two people briefed on the talks. The asking price later dropped to $600,000, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the negotiation was private.

Alexander declined to comment on the details, except to say that his firm will have contracts “in the near future.”

The article talks in terms of the DDoS attacks launched against US bank websites last year, as well as Wiper, which is allegedly tied to the StuxNet family (and therefore is something with which ALexander ought to be intimately familiar).

What he doesn’t seem to be promising he can fix are things like the recent hack of a hedge fund’s High Frequency Trading algorithms (about which I am simply failing not to laugh hysterically at … sorry, hedgies).

No wonder the banks doubt they’re getting their money’s worth.

It’s hard to read this as anything but a scam. Not only has Alexander spent the last year talking up the risk of cyberattacks, not only has he had access to whatever bank secrets haven’t been encrypted for the last 8 years, plus the double dipping in SWIFT databases. But he also knows what holes NSA hasn’t fixed.

Ultimately, though, this all serves to obscure the fact that these banks are rickety all by themselves, with or without a hacker’s help (which is one reason I’m laughing at that HFT hack). There’s only so much you can do to harden that target, and the banks won’t do it.

Causing Exceptionally Grave Harm to National Security by FOIAing FOIA Process

Jason Leopold has a new article at the Guardian based off a FOIA of NSA’s FOIA process. Perhaps the funniest part of the documents he received, however, is the number of times the NSA claimed its own discussion of FOIA process — including praise for the FOIA responders! — was Top Secret, suggesting revealing details would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security.

NSA FOIA Praise

 

 

That said, I think there’s a missing piece to this puzzle (and hope Leopold pursues it when he makes his inevitable appeal of some of these redaction decisions).

On June 11, NSA’s Chief of FOIA Office Pamela Phillips raised the possibility of having “a paper or sheet of unclassified facts that could be provided to the public.” (See PDF 1) She repeated that request on June 17. (See PDF 3) I believe that is separate from the efforts to come up with a standard Glomar letter (that discussion, incidentally, is redacted in some enormously interesting ways).

But I’m particularly interested in a redaction in an email from Deputy Chief of Staff Trumbull Soule to Associate Director for Policy and Records David Sherman and then Media Leaks Task Force head and now Deputy Director of NSA Richard Ledgett, and cc’ed to Phillips and (among at least 12 others) NSA General Counsel Raj De on June 26.

That’s because that email got sent on the day after the NSA had to pull what I believe was that unclassified fact sheet, which NSA first posted on June 18, after Ron Wyden and Mark Udall wrote a letter, on June 24, to Keith Alexander noting two problems with the letter, in that it misleadingly suggested,

  • NSA had the ability to determine how many Americans had been collected under Section 702
  • NSA may not search on the records of Americans (back door searches)

In addition, the letter had a classified attachment that, I suspect, noted that John Bates’ response to the upstream problems did not require the destruction of entirely domestic communications.

NSA withdrew the fact sheet from its website sometime before 1 PM on June 25.

Now, it may just be a coinkydink that the highest level of discussion among these emails come on that particular day (though I assume NSA withheld a bunch of emails). But I do find the timing rather interesting.

Keith Alexander Declares Failure in War on Terror, as He Earlier Declared Failure in Cyberdefense

The New Yorker has a weird interview with Keith Alexander. The weirdness stems from Alexander’s wandering answers, which may, in turn, stem from the fact that the interview was not done by an NSA beat reporter. Such interviews seem to flummox NSA insiders.

But beyond all the rambling about Jeopardy and “free vowels” and disingenuous claims (and silences) about past terrorist events, ultimately Keith Alexander wants us to know that we are at greater risk as he steps down after more than 8 years of protecting us.

His logic for that is not that terrorists struck the Boston Marathon last year, in spite of NSA apparently collecting on them but not reviewing the collection — he doesn’t even mention that.

Rather, it’s that the number of terrorist attacks are going up globally. The US has thus far avoided such attacks (ignoring hate crimes and the Marathon attack), which he points to as proof our spying is working. But he also points to it as proof that we’re due.

There are people on one side saying that these N.S.A. programs could have stopped these plots. And then there are people who dispute that.

We know we didn’t stop 9/11. People were trying, but they didn’t have the tools. This tool, we believed, would help them. Let’s look at what’s happening right now. You ought to get this from the START Program at the University of Maryland. They have the statistics on terrorist attacks. 2012 and 2013. The number of terrorist attacks in 2012—do you know how many there were globally?

How many?

Six thousand seven hundred and seventy-one. Over ten thousand people killed. In 2013, it would grow to over ten thousand terrorist attacks and over twenty thousand people killed. Now, how did we do in the United States and Europe? How do you feel here? Safe, right? I feel pretty safe.

[snip]

So think about how secure our nation has been since 9/11. We take great pride in it. It’s not because of me. It’s because of those people who are working, not just at N.S.A. but in the rest of the intelligence community, the military, and law enforcement, all to keep this country safe. But they have to have tools. With the number of attacks that are coming, the probability, it’s growing—

I’m sorry, could you say that once more?

The probability of an attack getting through to the United States, just based on the sheer numbers, from 2012 to 2013, that I gave you—look at the statistics. If you go from just eleven thousand to twenty thousand, what does that tell you? That’s more. That’s fair, right?

I don’t know. I think it depends what the twenty thousand—

—deaths. People killed. From terrorist attacks. These aren’t my stats. The University of Maryland does it for the State Department.

I’ll look at them. I will. So you’re saying that the probability of an attack is growing.

The probability is growing. What I saw at N.S.A. is that there is a lot more coming our way. Just as someone is revealing all the tools and the capabilities we have. What that tells me is we’re at greater risk. I can’t measure it. You can’t say, Well, is that enough to get through? I don’t know. It means that the intel community, the military community, and law enforcement are going to work harder.

Since Alexander invited us, let’s see what the START data say, shall we? Here’s what they tell us:

According to the annex, the 10 countries that experienced the most terrorist attacks in 2013 are the same as those that experience the most terrorist attacks in 2012.

Although terrorist attacks occurred in 93 different countries, they were heavily concentrated geographically. More than half of all attacks (57%), fatalities (66%), and injuries (73%) occurred in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. By wide margin, the highest number of fatalities (6,378), attacks (2,495) and injuries (14,956) took place in Iraq. The average lethality of attacks in Iraq was 40 percent higher than the global average and 33 percent higher than the 2012 average in Iraq.

The US hasn’t been attacked. But attacks are mushrooming in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. These not only happen to be places where we’ve been fighting the war on terror the longest and most directly, places where Alexander has been at the forefront of the fight, even before he took over at NSA. But they also happen to be those places overseas that the NSA uses to legitimize their global reach.

Yet 13 or 11 years of concentrated spying — of collect it all — in those places has not eliminated terrorism. On the contrary, terrorism is now getting worse.

And now they serve as both the proof that spying is working and that spying is more necessary than ever.

Rather than evidence that the War on Terror is failing.

We shouldn’t be surprised that we’re losing a war fighting which Alexander was one of the longest tenured generals (though I don’t think he bears primary responsibility for the policy decisions that have led to this state). After all, last year, Alexander said that also under his watch, we had been plundered like a colony via cyberattacks. He seems to think he lost both the war on terror and on cyberattacks.

Which, if you’re invested in Wall Street, ought to alarm you. Because that’s where Keith Alexander is headed to wage war next.

Lying Keith Alexander to Shack up with Promontory and Profit Off His Fearmongering

Man, I knew Keith Alexander was going to cash in after he retired. And I probably would have placed all my chips on him profiting off his cyber fearmongering.

Former National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander is launching a consulting firm for financial institutions looking to address cybersecurity threats, POLITICO has learned.

Less than two months since his retirement from the embattled agency at the center of the Edward Snowden leak storm, the retired four-star general is setting up a Washington-based operation that will try to attract clients based on his four decades of experience in the military and intelligence — and the continued levels of access to senior decision-makers that affords.

But the part of this story that even I couldn’t have predicted — but makes so much sense it brings tears to my eyes — is that he’s shacking up with Promontory Financial Group, the revolving door regulator to hire that has been caught underestimating its clients’ crimes for big money.

Alexander will lease office space from the global consulting firm Promontory Financial Group, which confirmed in a statement on Thursday that it plans to partner with him on cybersecurity matters.

“He and a firm he’s forming will work on the technical aspects of these issues, and we on the risk-management compliance and governance elements,” said Promontory spokesman Chris Winans.

I’m impressed, Lying Keith: You’ve done my very low expectations even one better!

Keith Alexander’s Bubble Floats into the Sunset of Defense Contractor Sinecures

Screen shot 2013-11-27 at 11.11.07 AM

In a training program developed in 2009, the NSA itself identified abuses it likened to Projects Shamrock and Minaret.

Today, LAT has an extremely friendly exit interview with Keith Alexander that nevertheless depicts the now-retired General as hopelessly lost inside a bubble far removed from those who paid his salary. It depicts Alexander confusing objections to what NSA’s leaders have ordered with what the presumably honorable people who implement those decisions.

But something else seems likely to shape the legacy of the NSA’s longest-serving director, who retired Friday: something that Alexander failed to anticipate, did not prepare for and even now has trouble understanding.
Thanks to Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, the world came to know many of the agency’s most carefully guarded secrets. Ten months after the disclosures began, Alexander remains disturbed, and somewhat baffled, by the intensity of the public reaction.
“I think our nation has drifted into the wrong place,” he said in an interview last week. “We need to recognize that those who are working to protect our nation are not the bad people.

I find it particularly troubling that Alexander sees in skepticism about authority the nation “drifting into the wrong place.”

The profile goes on to convey Alexander’s laughable belief that what has been depicted since June is the model of oversight.

When Snowden’s disclosures began, Alexander and his deputies knew they were in for a storm. But they felt sure the American public would be comforted when they learned of the agency’s internal controls and the layers of oversight by Congress, the White House and a federal court.
“For the first week or so, we all had this idea that we had nothing to be ashamed of, and that everyone who looked at this in context would quickly agree with us,” Inglis said.
Instead, polls show, many Americans believe that the NSA is reading their emails and listening to their phone calls. A libertarian group put an advertisement in the Washington transit system calling Alexander, a 62-year-old career military officer, a liar. U.S. technology companies are crying betrayal.

Side note: it would be useful if LAT noted that in fact the disclosures do show that the NSA is conducting warrantless back door searches on US person emails, rather than using the conjunction “instead” suggesting this impression is false. And that’s all before you get into the vast collection overseas and upstream for which NSA refuses to count US person data.

I’m particularly interested in Alexander’s attempt to distinguish this scandal from the scandals of the 1970s.

He sees a fundamental difference between the intelligence abuses uncovered by Congress in the 1970s — including revelations that the NSA spied without warrants on domestic dissidents — and the programs exposed by Snowden.
“What the Church and Pike committees found” nearly 40 years ago was “that people were doing things that were wrong. That’s not happening here,” Alexander said, referring to the panels headed by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Rep. Otis Pike (D-N.Y.) that examined intelligence-agency activities in that era.

As I have noted repeatedly, 4 years into Alexander’s tenure, the NSA itself likened some of its abuses to Projects Shamrock and Minaret. So perhaps Alexander should at least cede that under his leadership, the NSA was also doing things that it itself considered to be analogues to those earlier scandals (and yes, they violated the law and limits of the programs in question).

Even the LAT conducts a soft fact check of Alexander’s claim that the President’s Review Group and PCLOB found a model of oversight.

Outside reviews, including one released in December by a presidential task force, he said, found that “lo and behold, NSA is doing everything we asked them to do, and if they screw up, they self-report.”
The task force reported it found “no evidence of illegality or other abuse of authority for the purpose of targeting domestic political activity.” But it also noted “serious and persistent instances of noncompliance” with privacy and other rules. Even if unintentional, those violations “raise serious concerns” about the NSA’s “capacity to manage its authorities in an effective and lawful manner,” the report said.

I’d go further, too, and point out that this self-reporting only came with the greater involvement of DOJ’s National Security Division, after years of NSA not reporting these violations. Even months into one of those incidents, the NSA was failing to report its violations to the FISC without NSD involvement.

But perhaps the most egregious example of Alexander’s bubble comes in his assessment of the Snowden leaks themselves.

The ease with which Snowden removed top-secret documents also embarrassed an agency that is supposed to be the first line of defense against cyberattacks.
In July, Alexander offered to resign, but the White House turned him down, he said. He didn’t think holding other senior officials accountable would be right because a massive theft of documents by a systems administrator could not have been foreseen, he added.

Are you kidding me? First, how is it that the NSA couldn’t anticipate the large scale exfiltration of documents via removable media in the 3 years after Chelsea Manning did so? And why didn’t NSA comply with requirements to implement software to prevent just that, the kind of software Alexander insists his agency should have on our private communications? But note what else doesn’t get mentioned, as Alexander rides off into the sunset of generous defense contractor sinecures? Not only didn’t Alexander hold his subordinates responsible, but he didn’t hold Booz responsible, the company under whose lucrative eyeballs Snowden did this work.

As of Friday, the Bubble General is gone into retirement. While I fully expect soon-to-be Admiral Mike Rogers to be just as aggressive in hiding the scope of his programs and doing what he can because he can, I do hope he is not this detached from the reality in which he works.

Happy Birthday to Me, Mike Rogers Edition

I’m going to level with you all. Today is my birthday.

And in honor of my birthday, apparently, two of my nemeses will shift their careers. At 3PM, Keith Alexander retires as Director of the NSA.

And in an entirely unexpected announcement, Congressman Mike Rogers announced he will not run for reelection this year.

Happy Birthday to me — and by extension, to all of you!

Now, Mike Rogers’ excuse for retiring — that he’s been offered a national radio show on Cumulus Radio — doesn’t make sense. Less than a year ago, when he decided not to run for Carl Levin’s seat, he said he felt he could still do a lot of good in the House. A key part of that, though, was that unlike other House Committees, the Republicans don’t term limit the Intelligence Committee Chair position (the Democrats don’t term limit anything). So a key reason Rogers gave was that he’d remain HPSCI Chair.

So I can’t help but wonder whether his departure has something to do with his Chairmanship of the Intelligence Community (the original announcement last night from The Hill was that he was resigning the Chairmanship, with the even more horrible Mike Pompeo to take his place, with no mention of him retiring from Congress).

And I honestly wonder whether Rogers got caught revealing information so sensitive that he was told, by the Intelligence Community, to take a hike. Remember that after Richard Shelby leaked news that the NSA had overheard warnings of the 9/11 attack before it happened, he not only stepped down as Ranking Member (he had been Chair) of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he left the Committee entirely. No one ever said that was the reason, but I’ve long assumed that’s what happens when you step over the line of acceptable leaking as a Gang of Four member — you quietly walk away at the end of the term.

Pete Hoekstra leaked very damaging information in his last term as House Intel Chair — that we had a real-time intercept on Anwar al-Awlaki — though he had already announced he was leaving the House to run for Governor.

Mind you, most of the high volume of classified information Mike Rogers leaks, he does so with the blessing of the Intelligence Committee, as Gang of Four members are increasingly expected to serve as cut-outs for the Intelligence Community. Plus, much of what he “leaks” is in fact disinformation. Still, there are a number of stories that reveal NSA intercepts, many placed with conservative journalists, that could very easily have come from him. Some of them have been deemed more immediately damaging than all of Snowden’s leaks. Rogers would be legally protected under the Speech and Debate Clause, but there’d be good reason to remove him from his sensitive position, if he had been discovered to be the source for those stories.

If that happened, I can imagine that facing the prospect of staying in the House without his powerful Intelligence gavel might persuade Rogers he’d rather froth up wingnuts for war on AM radio then while away with much less power in the House. Also, if he compromised intelligence, it’d explain why he’s not moving on to a sinecure with an Intelligence Contractor, as had been floated at different times in the last year or so.

Meanwhile, Rogers’ departure opens up a pretty decent opportunity for Democrats in a district they were otherwise (inexplicably) not going to seriously contest. The Clerk who married the first same sex couple last weekend, Barb Byrum, is among the potential Democratic candidates.

Anyway, at 3PM I shall raise a toast to the departure of Keith Alexander. And hope for better things in MI’s 8th CD.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @ColMorrisDavis @Krhawkins5 I think they are willing to make noise, but never have the guts to pull the trigger or go full Mike Gravel.
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bmaz @ColMorrisDavis @Krhawkins5 Not impossible, but remember all the noise Wyden+Udall made re NSA and, yet, never really did anything big.
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bmaz @ColMorrisDavis @MarkUdall @RonWyden This is bullshit; it is not happening. SSCI won't go for it+trigger won't get pulled.
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bmaz RT @lisang: Oh my god. This is where all the int'l media have their offices. MT @iFalasteen: Journalist building is burning now. http://t.c…
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JimWhiteGNV RT @GregMitch: @jaketapper Jake, why not try "U.S. jets meant for defense of Israel now export death to Gaza"?
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JimWhiteGNV RT @onekade: Israel pummels Gaza with bombs and meanwhile @jaketapper defends his trash hasbara piece on tunnels. What a disgusting display.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @onekade: Israel is deliberating targeting civilians with bombs that we US taxpayers purchased. Detroit needs water, but we pay for slau…
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emptywheel @sarahjeong Um. Maybe @xor is trying to trick you into unfollowing mid-Bar. That would not be good.
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emptywheel @sarahjeong Still, nothing you can't kick the shit out of.
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emptywheel @sarahjeong Wait. You can't bring your multidecals into a test for 3 days? Nutty.
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emptywheel This time tomorrow (or thereabouts) @sarahjeong will have nothing left to do before she can sue your ass but practice trolling--good luck!
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JimWhiteGNV RT @RaysBaseball: Lead: acquired. @jamesloney_7 puts #RaysUp 2-1 on @Brewers with a bases-loaded single! Stretches his streak to 17 games r…
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