NRO

Security Clearance Tyranny

Let’s review three data points on security clearances. They’ll show that our system of security clearances are increasingly becoming an arbitrary system of control that does more to foster cowed national security employees than to foster actual national security.

We’ve already discussed one of these data points: James Clapper’s decision to add an as-yet undefined question to Intelligence Community polygraphs probing unauthorized (but not authorized) disclosure of classified information.

First, those agencies within the IC that have mandatory lie detector tests will add an unspecified question about “unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”

(1) mandating that a question related to unauthorized disclosure of classified information be added to the counterintelligence polygraph used by all intelligence agencies that administer the examination (CIA, DIA, DOE, FBI, NGA, NRO, and NSA).

Not only does this cover just some who might have access to classified information, leaving some agencies, contractors, Congressional employees, and White House employees, not to mention our international intelligence partners, in the clear. But it also brackets off the “authorized” disclosure of classified information.

It’s a bad decision because it doesn’t end the asymmetrical abuse of classified information and it’s a bad decision because polygraphs are unreliable.

But it’s also unreliable because at least one of the IC agencies involved slated for this new question–the National Reconnaissance Office–has already been conducting fishing expeditions during polygraphs to find sensitive information.

The National Reconnaissance Office is so intent on extracting confessions of personal or illicit behavior that officials have admonished polygraphers who refused to go after them and rewarded those who did, sometimes with cash bonuses, a McClatchy investigation found.

The disclosures include a wide range of behavior and private thoughts such as drug use, child abuse, suicide attempts, depression and sexual deviancy. The agency, which oversees the nation’s spy satellites, records the sessions that were required for security clearances and stores them in a database.

As McClatchy reports, the NRO pursued such confessions–which are outside the scope of what they’re supposed to ask–even after they were warned to stop.

What’s particularly troubling is that the NRO is not using this information–or not in the most obvious way, by prosecuting those who reveal past crimes. Continue reading

Pakistan’s Supreme Court Rules Gilani No Longer Prime Minister

On April 26, Pakistan’s Supreme Court found Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in contempt of court for his refusal to ask Switzerland to re-open a corruption investigation into President Asif Ali Zardari. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that as a result of that conviction, Gilani is no longer Prime Minister (and has not been so since the April conviction).

From Reuters:

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani ineligible for office, plunging the country into another political crisis.

In April, the Supreme Court found Gilani guilty of contempt of court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against the president. Gilani’s lawyer, Fawad Chaudhry, said only parliament could dismiss the prime minister.

“Since no appeal was filed (against the April 26 conviction) … therefore Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani stands disqualifed as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament)…,” said Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in a packed courtroom.

Dawn brings us more:

“Yousuf Raza Gilani has become disqualified from being member of the parliament,” said Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, reading the order.

“He has also ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan with effect from the same date (April 26) and office of the prime minister shall be deemed to be vacant accordingly.

“The Election Commission is required to issue notification of disqualification… The president is required to take necessary steps under the constitution to ensure continuation of democratic process through parliamentary system of government in the country,” he added.

A three-member bench, comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain heard a set of constitutional petitions challenging National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza’s ruling over the reference against Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The Express Tribune cites a report by the Express News that Gilani will have 30 days to appeal the ruling. The Tribune also reports that the PPP, the political party of Zardari and Gilani, is holding an emergency meeting. There also is increased security in the government zone:

Security in the Red Zone has been put on high-alert, while a heavy contingent of police has also been deployed at the Gilani House in Multan.

It will be very interesting to see how Zardari and the PPP choose to go forward from this point. Will they simply support an appeal of the Supreme Court ruling, even though they did not appeal the initial contempt ruling? Will they instead choose a new Prime Minister and seek to finish the current term until elections next year? Will they choose to call early elections?

Whatever course Zardari and the PPP choose, Pakistan is now in uncharted waters. I have seen no reports, however, suggesting that the military plans to step in and take control of the government during this crisis. That is a major step forward for democratic processess as the judiciary and the elected government seek to find a way to move forward.

Update: Dawn is now reporting that the PPP has decided not to call for early elections and will instead name a new Prime Minister within 24 hours.

Senior Officials Wave Their SIGINT Around

You’ve probably already read this story detailing how Hosni Mubarak used his 18 day delay in resigning to rob the Egyptian people. While the whole thing is worth a read, I wanted to point out how a senior Western intelligence official makes a point of revealing that we’ve been aware of conversations among Mubarak’s thieving family members.

But a senior Western intelligence source claimed that Mubarak had begun moving his fortune in recent weeks.

We’re aware of some urgent conversations within the Mubarak family about how to save these assets,” said the source, “And we think their financial advisers have moved some of the money around. If he had real money in Zurich, it may be gone by now.” [my emphasis]

The reference to “urgent conversations” seems to suggest they were actually listening in on them. (It also raises the question of why we didn’t try to stop Mubarak from stealing the money, but I think we know the answer to that question.)

That’s similar to the way another senior official–this one identified as American–brags to CNN about the satellites we’re using to collect intelligence in Egypt. (h/t Tim Shorrock)

As the Obama administration reacted, Washington was using a variety of intelligence assets to see what was happening in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, CNN has learned.

The U.S. military and intelligence community are using “national technical means” in the sky over Egypt to gather information about the demonstrations and the deployment of Egyptian security forces.

The phrase “national technical means” is used by the U.S. government to generally refer to the use of reconnaissance satellites to gather imagery or signals intelligence.

A senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the operation confirmed the intelligence-gathering but declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

The official declined to say to what extent the Egyptian government is aware of the activity. The official would not say specifically which intelligence-gathering elements were being used but indicated that operations were being conducted in a manner that would not be visible to the Egyptian populace.

The official said the decision to use intelligence-gathering assets came in part after violence erupted in the early days of the Cairo demonstrations. [my emphasis]

Now, it should surprise no one to know that the US has been collecting signals intelligence from Egypt. We would be focusing on Egypt anyway because of our Israeli and counterterrorism interests. And SIGINT will undoubtedly be more important as our relationship with Omar Suleiman shifts along with his position in the government. But normally it’s considered polite not to admit to using SIGINT so blatantly.

What seems to be a key intent of these public admissions of our spying is to disclose to whom we were listening–Mubarak’s family (and presumably other top officials)–and why we shifted our normal focus away from counterterrorism targets–because of Egyptian security forces had used violence against protesters.

In other words, this seems to be a message to top officials in Egypt–both Mubarak and our partners in Egypt’s military–that we’ve shifted our gaze away from counterterrorism and onto the government itself.

I thought we weren’t supposed to tell the people we were eavesdropping on that we were doing so?

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @granick Actually we also have docs to prove that that were officially released. Even training docs! @daveaitel @headhntr
9mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @csoghoian But that's when NSA submitted outdated docs from to hide what they were doing from FISC in 2007. @daveaitel
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emptywheel RT @csoghoian: The last time @daveaitel worked at NSA, Bill Clinton was President. He can't "debunk" anything re: NSA's internet surveillan…
11mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel So should I debunk that Business Insider piece or point out why USAT on USAF is wrong? #NSAFactCheck
14mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @onekade They play an important legal role--been half-assed wanting to chase this down for a while. And now, VIOLA!
18mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel When @wellsbennett discovers that all this time Mike Rogers has actually been talking shite. http://t.co/M5xRxb7nkN
31mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel This piece on neverending states of emergency in the US is really important. http://t.co/PcAkOhnUfv
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bmaz No problem with it, overall he's decent chap, but why is AZ CJ Stan Feldman being recalled to duty for a swearing in? http://t.co/zA8JPvBIPJ
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bmaz @PogoWasRight Yep. I won't even have to try. One side or other, irrespective of the type of case, will hate me. I don't blame them either.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @NBCLA: JUST IN: Dallas nurse Amber Vinson no longer has Ebola, her family says http://t.co/ttx1MtHAIe http://t.co/nRW2xA0cQM
52mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz I've just been selected as a superior court juror! Yay! I'd truly love to sit on a jury, any jury, civil or crim, but it will never happen.
1hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @AllThingsHLS Spent some time last weekend w/a guy in charge of it. He wasn't interested when i pointed that out.
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