NCTC

Noted Torture Apologist, Branded a Terrorist

For months, I’ve been pointing out that the fear-mongering estimates about the number of Americans who have joined ISIS are inflated due to faulty Terror Watchlist procedures.

That’s in large part because the government considers any unexplained travel to a place known for its terrorist training enough to treat you as a Suspected Terrorist.

[T]he government considers traveling to an area of terrorist activity to be reasonable suspicion that someone is a known or suspected terrorist. The watchlist guidelines list just that as one behavioral indicator for being watchlisted as a known or suspected terrorist (see page 35).

3.9.4 Travel for no known lawful or legitimate purpose to a locus of TERRORIST ACTIVITY.

This means that any Americans who have traveled to Syria or Iraq are likely classified, by default, as terrorists. And many of those may have traveled for entirely different reasons (like freelance journalism).

Given the realities of travel to Syria, this must (and has, among people indicted for attempted material support) extend to people who make one-way travel plans to Turkey, from whence recruits often walk across the border.

Yesterday, Spencer Ackerman got a Senior Official to make the same point I’ve been making — the 100 alleged fighters include a lot of people who are not fighters but instead got swept up because the terror watchlisting process is way too dysfunctional.

The US government believes there are 20 to 30 Americans currently fighting in Syria for the panoply of jihadist groups there, according to a senior official.

The estimate is less than an earlier and much-quoted assessment of approximately 100 Americans taking part in Syria’s civil war and the spillover violence in neighboring Iraq, where the Islamic State militant group (Isis) has launched a war of conquest.

A senior administration official, speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said that the estimate of roughly 100 represented all Americans who have travelled to Syria or attempted to travel to Syria over the past 18 months, a qualification that US government spokespeople have typically not provided.

Not all of the 20 to 30 Americans went to Syria to join Isis. Some fight with rebel groups resisting the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad or rival jihadist groups.

[snip]

Nor have all the 100-odd Americans who have travelled or attempted to travel to Syria in the past year and a half gone to fight. The estimate also includes humanitarian aid workers and others attempting to alleviate the Middle East’s most brutal conflict, the official said.

Told ya.

If you want to see how ridiculous this is in practice (or, perhaps, how ironically appropriate) consider the plight of Stephen Hayes, Dick Cheney’s mouthpiece and all-around torture apologist. He recently got put on the Selectee list because — he believes — he made a one way trip to Istanbul for what was actually a cruise but if you do lots of mindless dragnettery might appear like a trip to join Jabhat al-Nusra. (I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s two degrees from some suspect, given how broadly those things get defined and how many international acquaintances he has.)

Hayes, who spoke to POLITICO by phone on Tuesday, suspects that the decision stems from U.S. concerns over Syria. Hayes and his wife recently booked a one-way trip to Istanbul for a cruise, and returned to the States, a few weeks later, via Athens.

It turns out Hayes is finding out the same thing I learned when my white northern European over-educated spouse went through the immigration process. Even for people who have resources and perfect English, making the bureaucracy work the way it is supposed to can be daunting.

At the time of our conversation, Hayes was on the DHS website trying to fill out forms to get his name cleared. It wasn’t going well.

“Not surprisingly, it’s confusing,” Hayes said. “The first time I did it, the whole site froze. Now it’s asking me for my passport number and a bunch of other information. Then I think I’m supposed to submit an actual copy of my passport, which I obviously can’t do electronically.”

Yes, I admit some glee that some like Hayes got swept up in the mindless dragnettery his boss championed. But even Hayes — whose life will soon be back to normal, I imagine — does not deserve this pointless harassment.

Consider how much worse this accidental terror-tourism is for Muslims who can’t run to the press which will mock their plight?

Stephen Hayes may be, by many measures, a horrible human being, arguably even a material supporter of war crimes. But his cruise out of Turkey does not make him a terrorist, no matter what the National Counterterrorism Center claims.

Shell Games: How to Keep Doing Internet Data Mining and Avoid the Courts

As I noted, the WaPo makes it clear one of the most sensitive parts of the government’s surveillance programs is the collection of Internet metadata.

But the thing is, it doesn’t come out and explain whether and if so how it continues to go on.

This passage, written in the present tense, sure seems to suggest it continues.

MARINA and the collection tools that feed it are probably the least known of the NSA’s domestic operations, even among experts who follow the subject closely. Yet they probably capture information about more American citizens than any other, because the volume of e-mail, chats and other Internet communications far exceeds the volume of standard telephone calls.

The NSA calls Internet metadata “digital network information.” Sophisticated analysis of those records can reveal unknown associates of known terrorism suspects. Depending on the methods applied, it can also expose medical conditions, political or religious affiliations, confidential business negotiations and extramarital affairs.

What permits the former and prevents the latter is a complex set of policies that the public is not permitted to see. “You could do analyses that give you more information, but the law and procedures don’t allow that,” a senior U.S. intelligence lawyer said.

Yet buried in the last paragraphs of the story, WaPo’s sources suggest “the NSA is no longer doing it.” Or — as elaborated — doing “it” under the guise of and with the oversight of the FISA court.

As for bulk collection of Internet metadata, the question that triggered the crisis of 2004, another official said the NSA is no longer doing it. When pressed on that question, he said he was speaking only of collections under authority of the surveillance court.

“I’m not going to say we’re not collecting any Internet metadata,” he added. “We’re not using this program and these kinds of accesses to collect Internet metadata in bulk.”

I keep saying this: sources on this story are trying hard to get us to focus on a few programs managed by FBI and NSA under two particular provisions of law that happen to have (secret, limited) court oversight, Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act. But that leaves out several other likely candidates to conduct such intelligence analysis, notably the NCTC. And it leaves out other potential sources of collection, such as cybersecurity in the name of self-defense.

What Does NCTC Do with NSA and FBI’s Newly Disclosed Databases?

The discussion about the various “NSA” programs we’ve seen so far have discussed only how NSA works with FBI. FBI requests the dragnet phone information and hands it over to NSA. NSA negotiates direct access to internet companies that allow FBI to make direct queries.

We’ve heard from Keith Alexander about what NSA does — its only use of Section 215, he said, was the phone records.

We heard from Robert Mueller who gave less clear answers about what FBI does and does not do.

But we have yet to have direct testimony from James “least untruthful too cute by half” James Clapper. Mind you, we’ve gotten several fact sheets and Clapper’s hilarious interview with Andrea Mitchell. Just no specific public testimony.

And curiously, in the DNI’s own fact sheets, he doesn’t specify who does what, aside from describing the statutory role his position and the Attorney General play in authorizing FAA 702 orders. He doesn’t say what FBI does, what NSA does … or what his own organization does.

That’s important, because in addition to overseeing all intelligence, Clapper’s office also includes the National Counterterrorism Center. And the NCTC is the entity in charge sharing data. Indeed, it is statutorily required to have access to everything.

[The National Security Act] provides that “[u]nless otherwise directed by the President, the Director of National Intelligence shall have access to all national intelligence and intelligence related to the national security which is collected by any federal department, agency, or other entity, except as otherwise provided by law, or as appropriate, under guidelines agreed upon by the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.

That means, presumably, that NCTC is doing a lot of the work that NSA and FBI are making narrow denials about.

But it also means that NCTC can play with these databases — the dragnet and the access via PRISM to 702 data — as well as any other data in the Federal government, including databases that John Brennan gave it the ability to go get.

So here’s the thing. When Keith Alexander gives you pat reassurances about how limited NSA’s access to Americans’ call data is, that may disclose a whole lot more intrusive data mining over at James Clapper’s shop.

Remember, here is what James Clapper was initially asked.

Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?

Clapper: No, sir.

Wyden: It does not?

Clapper: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly.” [my emphasis]

His first attempt to walk back that lie went like this:

What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. [my emphasis]

His second attempt to walk it back went like this:

ANDREA MITCHELL: Senator Wyden made quite a lot out of your exchange with him last March during the hearings. Can you explain what you meant when you said that there was not data collection on millions of Americans?

JAMES CLAPPER: First– as I said, I have great respect for Senator Wyden. I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked– “When are you going to start– stop beating your wife” kind of question, which is meaning not– answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no. So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.

And again, to go back to my metaphor. What I was thinking of is looking at the Dewey Decimal numbers– of those books in that metaphorical library– to me, collection of U.S. persons’ data would mean taking the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Taking the contents?

JAMES CLAPPER: Exactly. That’s what I meant. Now–

ANDREA MITCHELL: You did not mean archiving the telephone numbers?

All of those efforts were, by context at least, limited exclusively to NSA. They don’t address, at all, what NCTC might do with this data (or, for that matter, FBI).

So what does the NCTC do with the data that NSA and FBI have issued careful denials about?

Update: I’m going to replicate a big chunk of this post on the oversight over NCTC’s use of other agencies data, complete with the bit about how the guy in charge of it thought Cheney’s illegal program was the shit.

Back when John Negroponte appointed him to be the Director of National Intelligence’s Civil Liberties Protection Officer, Alexander Joel admitted he had no problem with Cheney’s illegal domestic wiretap program.

Continue reading

Real ID Biometrics in Immigration Bill

I’ve got two ginormous issues with the report that the Immigration Bill includes a measure that would require the creation of a “photo tool” database to verify status before employment.

The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf)  is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.

First, this would accomplish precisely what Real ID would accomplish, but less.

I’ve long believed we were going to go to Real ID in any case. I’ve also long believed that we ought to change the politics of such a discussion by proposing that along with Real ID, we also get universal registration. The authoritarians would thus have a choice: give up their efforts to disenfranchise the poor via voter ID and track employment, or lose both.

I’m guessing it’d present quite a dilemma for the authoritarians.

But to learn a bipartisan bill is basically ceding on real ID without using it to foster democracy?

My other problem has to do with the certainty that this would be turned into a counterterrorism tool. Recall that last year, John Brennan decided protecting US person data was just too tough, so National Counterterrorism Center would have to have access to any federal database that NCTC deemed to have terrorism information.

I think it highly likely that NCTC would deem a database of all Americans to contain terrorist information.

Therefore, we should assume that whatever else this database is supposed to do, it would also mean that the faces of innocent Americans would start getting included in the data analysis of potential terrorists.

Mind you, the authorities claim (though I’m not convinced) that they weren’t able to ID the Tsarnaev brothers with all the images they had of them at the Boston Marathon. Maybe the technology sucks (again, not convinced).

But that doesn’t stop the inclusion of all Americans in the dataset of possible terrorist mugshots from being an invitation for witch hunts.

Garbage In, Garbage Out: The Problem with a FISA Drone Court

Since the Administration turned over the OLC memos authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki Thursday, there’s been a sudden surge of support for setting up a FISA type court for targeted killing (actually, for drone targeting; I guess Americans being killed by cruise missile or gun still won’t get due process).

There are a lot of problems with such a court, which I hope to explore at length in upcoming weeks.

But, in the same way John Brennan undermined the very premise of drone targeting in his hearing (by attesting that the judge and jury in the existing targeting program is not competent to serve as judge and jury), he also undermined the value of a FISA Drone Court.

In this exchange, Richard Burr finds a way to corner John Brennan into agreeing that he trusted information gotten in the torture program. Burr gets Brennan to admit that he submitted declarations to the FISA court that may have relied on information gained from torture.

Burr: I’m still not clear on whether you think the information from CIA interrogations saved lives.  Have you ever made a representation to a court, including the FISA court, about the type and importance of information learned from detainees including detainees in the CIA detention and interrogation program?

Brennan: Ahm, first of all, in the first part of your question, as to you’re not sure whether I believe that there has been information … I don’t know myself.

Burr: I said I wasn’t clear whether I understood, whether whether I was clear.

Brennan: And I’m not clear at this time either because I read a report that calls into question a lot of the information that I was provided earlier on, my impressions. Um. There, when I was in the government as the head of the national counterterrorism center I know that I had signed out a number of um affirmations related to the uh continuation of certain programs uh based on the analysis and intelligence that was available to analysts. I don’t know exactly what it was at the time, but we can take a look at that.

Burr: But the committee can assume that you had faith if you made that claim to a court or including the FISA court, you had faith in the documents in the information that was supplied to you to make that declaration.

Brennan: Absolutely. At the time if I had made any such affirmation, i would have had faith that the information I was provided was an accurate representation.

To corner Brennan, however, Burr also gets him to admit that a number of FISA-approved programs were probably based on torture.

The government was wiretapping people based on tortured confessions the Senate Intelligence Committee has now, a decade later, deemed unreliable.

And because of how rarely FISA-derived information gets double checked, we’ll never learn which wiretaps were approved based on tortured evidence.

Compare that to what has happened even in the Gitmo habeas cases, even with some limits on discovery. Because detainee lawyers got to challenge the information behind accusations, and because the source of accusations were somewhat public, it made it much easier to challenge the accusations from certain detainees, especially Abu Zubaydah, who had been tortured. Indeed, the government dropped a number of charges originally derived from Abu Zubaydah.

As a threshold matter, intelligence is different from evidence. And a FISA Court would be relying on the former.

But because it operates in secret, it would never be able to vet out the intelligence of dubious provenance, whatever the reason. It was torture 9 years ago when Brennan was making dicey declarations. We’re still seeing questionable allegations from informants work through the system (even in the regular courts!). It could be the self-interested claims of our foreign partners, setting up the death of someone they don’t like.

In the FISA Court, unlike a regular court, there’s no way to clean up Brennan’s torture-based declarations.

The very same day Congres started talking about a FISA Drone Court in earnest, John Brennan demonstrated how dodgy some of the representations submitted to the existing FISA Court have been. That ought to give us pause before we extend the court’s warrants to death, in addition to wiretaps.

John Brennan: Not only Drone Assassination Czar, But Eliminate American Privacy Czar

The most interesting line of this WSJ article–describing the dissent to the Administration’s plan to give the National Counterterrorism Center any government database it wants for five years–is this one.

Mr. Brennan considered the arguments. And within a few days, the attorney general, Eric Holder, had signed the new guidelines.

The story suggests that the way the Administration resolved objections from people within Department of Homeland Security (as well as DOJ) to giving NCTC Americans’ flight data in ways they hadn’t been informed of when the data was collected was to have a meeting at the White House Situation Room at which John Brennan would decide whether to heed those objections.

John Brennan. Not the President, not the Attorney General, not even National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, but instead John Brennan (not coincidentally, a former contractor on data mining and before that in charge of targeting for Dick Cheney’s illegal wiretap program).

Much of the rest of the story rehearses what I reported (among other places) here and here and here and here. It describes how the NCTC will have access to any database it claims contains terrorist information.

What’s new in this story is the reason NCTC demanded a policy granting them broad access to these databases–because it had not complied with an agreement made with DHS regarding one of its databases.

Late last year, for instance, NCTC obtained an entire database from Homeland Security for analysis, according to a person familiar with the transaction. Homeland Security provided the disks on the condition that NCTC would remove all innocent U.S. person data after 30 days.

After 30 days, a Homeland Security team visited and found that the data hadn’t yet been removed. In fact, NCTC hadn’t even finished uploading the files to its own computers, that person said. It can take weeks simply to upload and organize the mammoth data sets.

Homeland Security granted a 30-day extension. That deadline was missed, too. So Homeland Security revoked NCTC’s access to the data.

To fix problems like these that had cropped up since the Abdulmutallab incident, NCTC proposed the major expansion of its powers that would ultimately get debated at the March meeting in the White House. [my emphasis]

And it describes how, primarily, former DHS Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan fought the changes.

In May 2011, Ms. Callahan and Ms. Schlanger raised their concerns with the chief of their agency, Janet Napolitano. They fired off a memo under the longwinded title, “How Best to Express the Department’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns over Draft Guidelines Proposed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center,” according to an email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The contents of the memo, which appears to run several pages, were redacted.

The two also kept pushing the NCTC officials to justify why they couldn’t search for terrorism clues less invasively, these people said.

[snip]

To resolve the issue, Homeland Security’s deputy secretary, Jane Holl Lute, requested the March meeting at the White House.

[snip]

Ms. Callahan argued that the rules would constitute a “sea change” because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked will be, are they a terrorist?

It also describes how all these people who not only championed privacy, but also pointed out our targeting failures in the past came from not investigating quickly, not lacking the data to find those people.

This feels very similar to the same argument that Thomas Drake fought at NSA. He, like these former DHS and DOJ people, fought for a way to find terrorists that didn’t also infringe on the privacy of Americans. And he, like these DHS people, was overruled.

The difference, of course, is that this abuse of privacy came under Barack Obama, who never seems to get criticized for showing the same disdain for privacy that Dick Cheney did.

Though, insofar as John Brennan is making all the decisions in Obama’s war on terror, I’m not sure there’s a real difference between the two.

Turning the Drone Program into a Weekly Lawn Maintenance Program

Greg Miller has the first of what will be three articles on Obama’s efforts to institutionalize drone war in today’s WaPo. After describing the Administration’s efforts to systematize eliminating counterterrorist targets identified through a formalized process, he concludes with a reflection on how such systematization of the drone war might backfire.

In focusing on bureaucratic refinements, the administration has largely avoided confronting more fundamental questions about the lists. Internal doubts about the effectiveness of the drone campaign are almost nonexistent. So are apparent alternatives.

“When you rely on a particular tactic, it starts to become the core of your strategy — you see the puff of smoke, and he’s gone,” said Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the CIA’s counterterrorism center. “When we institutionalize certain things, including targeted killing, it does cross a threshold that makes it harder to cross back.”

For a decade, the dimensions of the drone campaign have been driven by short-term objectives: the degradation of al-Qaeda and the prevention of a follow-on, large-scale attack on American soil.

Side effects are more difficult to measure — including the extent to which strikes breed more enemies of the United States — but could be more consequential if the campaign continues for 10 more years.

“We are looking at something that is potentially indefinite,” Pillar said. “We have to pay particular attention, maybe more than we collectively have so far, to the longer-term pros and cons to the methods we use.”

The entire article adds to the sense that drones have become a tactic in search of a strategy. Click through for Bruce Reidel’s analogizing of drones to mowing lawns.

Needless to say, the entire thing is worth reading.

I’m interested, as well, in a few of the details Miller provides.

He describes Brennan’s assumption of the Drone Assassination Czar role reported earlier this year, providing Brennan’s logic for why it’s a good thing he–rather than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs–manages all the targeting.

Now the system functions like a funnel, starting with input from half a dozen agencies and narrowing through layers of review until proposed revisions are laid on Brennan’s desk, and subsequently presented to the president.

Video-conference calls that were previously convened by Adm. Mike Mullen, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been discontinued. Officials said Brennan thought the process shouldn’t be run by those who pull the trigger on strikes.

“What changed is rather than the chairman doing that, John chairs the meeting,” said Leiter, the former head of the NCTC.

One of the reasons Brennan is in the position he is is because he wasn’t considered confirmable: his background with torture (and illegal wiretapping) made him politically toxic. And yet this guy, who hasn’t been Senate confirmed and whose position evades almost all Congressional oversight, is the guy with power over life and death rather than a position over which Congress does exercise clear oversight?

And this detail–which echoes descriptions in earlier Miller stories as well as the Angler 2.0 story from earlier this year–haunts me.

Obama approves the criteria for lists and signs off on drone strikes outside Pakistan, where decisions on when to fire are made by the director of the CIA. But aside from Obama’s presence at “Terror Tuesday” meetings — which generally are devoted to discussing terrorism threats and trends rather than approving targets — the president’s involvement is more indirect.

“The president would never come to a deputies meeting,” a senior administration official said, although participants recalled cases in which Brennan stepped out of the situation room to get Obama’s direction on questions the group couldn’t resolve.

There are a number of famous examples where top White House officials claim to consult the President on an issue but–history ends up showing–never did (I suspect the Plame outing is just one of many things Cheney did this with, for example, and Al Haig used to do it too). Is there any reason we should believe that when Brennan steps out of the room he’s actually consulting Obama, or that he’s representing an apparently contentious debate faithfully? This is classic gatekeeping behavior, and on something as important as targeting, ought to concern everyone.

But it’s not just Brennan we need to worry about. This article also talks about how central the National Counterterrorism Center has become to all this.

The administration has also elevated the role of the NCTC, which was conceived as a clearinghouse for threat data and has no operational capability. Under Brennan, who served as its founding director, the center has emerged as a targeting hub.

Other entities have far more resources focused on al-Qaeda. The CIA, JSOC and U.S. Central Command have hundreds of analysts devoted to the terrorist network’s franchise in Yemen, while the NCTC has fewer than two dozen. But the center controls a key function.

“It is the keeper of the criteria,” a former U.S. counterterrorism official said, meaning that it is in charge of culling names from al-Qaeda databases for targeting lists based on criteria dictated by the White House.

“The keeper of the criteria”! This concerns me, first of all, because NCTC is totally data driven. As the article’s discussion of relative staffing suggests, NCTC’s analysts aren’t doing a whole lot more beyond datamining.

Moreover, while the context here is clearly foreign targeting, remember what happened earlier this year: NCTC got the authority to access all government databases–including social security databases or tax records–that it deems to have a counterterrorist purpose. Which means some very personal data is part of the NCTC borg–along with inaccurate reports such as that Ford Motor Company is a terrorist suspect. That is, NCTC’s are maximalist databases, not terrible accurate ones, and ones that include a lot of American citizens.

And that’s the entity that’s “the keeper of the criteria.”

That’s a problem.

The larger story clearly shows that the Administration is making drone killing a factory process, that needs to be fed with Muslim men like fuel. But it also reinforces the picture of a dangerous concentration of power in some highly unaccountable hands.

With What Databases Has NCTC Cross-Referenced with FBI’s 12 Million iDevice User IDs?

Update, 6/13/13: For those coming to this via my Twitter link, subverzo reminded me that this turned out to be a false claim. The data came from an Apple developer, not from FBI. 

Sorry for the confusion.

As you may have heard, Anonymous and AntiSec hacked into a database of 12 million Apple Universal Device IDs that were in an FBI officer’s laptop and released 1 million of them, ostensibly so some people could identify if their device was one of those FBI was tracking.

They claimed to have tapped into a Dell laptop owned by Special Agent Christopher K. Stangl, an FBI cyber security expert. They downloaded several files, including one that contained “12,367,232 Apple iOS devices including Unique Device Identifiers (UDID)” and other personal information, they wrote in a text file published online. “[The] personal details fields referring to people appears many times empty leaving the whole list incompleted [sic] on many parts. no other file on the same folder makes mention about this list or its purpose.”

While it’s not immediately clear what the FBI is doing with the Apple UDIDs and detailed information on device owners, Gizmodo pointed out that the acronym “NCFTA” could stand for the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance, a nonprofit that acts as an information-sharing gateway between private industry and law enforcement.

These are unique identifiers for things like iPhones and iPads that have long presented the risk of tying someone’s identity to an individual device.

There are multiple ways FBI could have collected this information–either using an NSL or Section 215 request or an insecure transmissions to an ad or game server. And no one knows how the FBI was using it. Whatever you think about Anonymous, we may finally learn more about how the government is tracking geolocation.

But here’s one other concern. Assuming that’s an official FBI database, not only the FBI has it, but also the National Counterterrorism Center. And they’ve got access to whatever federal databases they want to cross-check with existing counterterrorism databases. And one of the few checks we have on the use of our data in this way is a Privacy Act SCOTUS just watered down.

This is a massive amount of data the government likely has no good excuse for having collected, much less used. But it’s likely just one tip of a very big iceberg.

The Incidental Anti-Drug Spying on a White SUV

I hinted at this earlier, but it’s worth making explicit. In his reporting from Holloman Air Force Base, Mark Mazzetti revealed that the Air Force practices drone targeting on civilian traffic driving close to the base.

Holloman sits on almost 60,000 acres of desert badlands, near jagged hills that are frosted with snow for several months of the year — a perfect training ground for pilots who will fly Predators and Reapers over the similarly hostile terrain of Afghanistan. When I visited the base earlier this year with a small group of reporters, we were taken into a command post where a large flat-screen television was broadcasting a video feed from a drone flying overhead. It took a few seconds to figure out exactly what we were looking at. A white S.U.V. traveling along a highway adjacent to the base came into the cross hairs in the center of the screen and was tracked as it headed south along the desert road. When the S.U.V. drove out of the picture, the drone began following another car.

“Wait, you guys practice tracking enemies by using civilian cars?” a reporter asked. One Air Force officer responded that this was only a training mission, and then the group was quickly hustled out of the room.

What Mazzetti has described is a visual representation of the practice revealed in a new Air Force directive published by Secrecy News earlier this year–that the Air Force may collect imagery on US persons as part of training so long as it is “incidental.”

9.6.1. Air Force units with weapon system video and tactical ISR capabilities may collect imagery during formal and continuation training missions as long as the collected imagery is not for the purpose of obtaining information about specific US persons or private property. Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent. Imagery may not be collected for the purpose of gathering any specific information about a US person or private entity, without consent, nor may stored imagery be retrievable by reference to US person identifiers.

9.6.2. Air Force Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operations, exercise and training missions will not conduct nonconsensual surveillance on specifically identified US persons, unless expressly approved by the Secretary of Defense, consistent with US law and regulations. Civil law enforcement agencies, such as the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the US Coast Guard, will control any such data collected. [my emphasis]

The Air Force restricts the distribution of information collected “incidentally” (as much–other parts of the Directive makes clear–because it wants to hide its intelligence capabilities as because of any squeamishness about privacy).

Distribution of Domestic Imagery. Distribution of domestic imagery to parties other than those identified in the approved PUM, DIR or MFR is prohibited, unless the recipient is reasonably perceived to have a specific, lawful governmental function requiring it IAW paragraph 11.4. Unless otherwise approved, domestic imagery must be withheld from all general access database systems (e.g., Intelink).

But that doesn’t seem to rule out sharing with the National Counterterrorism Center (which after all, may now access any database it deems to have a counterterrorism interest), which can then cross reference that intelligence with any other government database.

And the Air Force directive specifically permits the sharing of information regarding violations of US or local laws.

11.12.2.1. Violations of US federal law. Incidentally acquired information reasonably believed to indicate a violation of federal law shall be provided to appropriate federal law enforcement officials through AFOSI channels.

Note where Holloman (and the likely highway in question) is located: right on a highway headed north from Ciudad Juarez, presumably a drug trafficking route.

Effectively, these “training” activities mean we’re using military drones inside the US to “incidentally” collect intelligence for the drug war, among other things. I’ve long suggested the first use of a lethal drone strike in the US will claim to have targeted cartel trafficking. I just didn’t yet have confirmation they’re effectively already doing anti-drug surveillance inside the US with drones.

Drone Oopsies in US Airpsace

As if on cue, Steven Aftergood just released this Air Force directive:

9.6.1. Air Force units with weapon system video and tactical ISR capabilities may collect imagery during formal and continuation training missions as long as the collected imagery is not for the purpose of obtaining information about specific US persons or private property. Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent. Imagery may not be collected for the purpose of gathering any specific information about a US person or private entity, without consent, nor may stored imagery be retrievable by reference to US person identifiers.

9.6.2. Air Force Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operations, exercise and training missions will not conduct nonconsensual surveillance on specifically identified US persons, unless expressly approved by the Secretary of Defense, consistent with US law and regulations. Civil law enforcement agencies, such as the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the US Coast Guard, will control any such data collected.

So while DOD drones flying over our airspace are not supposed to intentionally collect data on US persons unless the Secretary of Defense tells them to (but if the former CIA Director says it’s okay, I guess it’s okay then), if they incidentally collect information, it will be retained and/or passed onto a law enforcement agency like the FBI or ICE.

And once it gets to the FBI or ICE, the National Counterterrorism Center will get access to it. Which will allow them to data mine it with any of the other US person information they have in hand.

But don’t worry. Those six new drone test sites in the US won’t affect our privacy in the least!

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @lizzwinstead Get the feeling there was some quick and broad and well-financed coordination on that response.
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emptywheel @JasonLeopold Bingo. Saw that. Need to go back to that one. Timing is very interesting too. And the FoPo withholding.
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emptywheel @JasonLeopold Oh, I remember. So this is CIA White PAper and the other is the DOJ White Paper? Or just that DOJ didn't refer other to CIA?
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emptywheel @JasonLeopold Ah thanks.
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emptywheel RT @TondaMacC: The easiest form of terrorism: no need for sophisticated plots, or training, or financing, by @shephardm: http://t.co/DSQdPF
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emptywheel @JasonLeopold Which one is that on--11/11 or 5/11?
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emptywheel RT @JasonLeopold: JUST FILED: CIA declaration in my #FOIA case re: CIA white ppr turned over to me justifying assassination of Awlaki https…
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emptywheel @maassp Thanks for pointing that out. It has been a largely male celebration of a great career.
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emptywheel @liferstate Not convinced any cohort is succeeding at this point.
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emptywheel @liferstate Good point. But in the meantime our collective pants-peeing will prevent any effort to address climate change.
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emptywheel @maassp I was interested in your comment abt being white male--his tributes are mostly from white men. Bc of the time?
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emptywheel RT @abc7newsBayArea: JUST IN: Dallas nurse Amber Vinson who contracted Ebola from Thomas Duncan is virus-free. http://t.co/mNDQTT1jd3 http:…
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