NSA Bids to Expand Power Domestically to Track Chinese (!?) Terrorists

While all sane people are trying to rein in NSA’s authority, the Gang of Four plans to use today’s parade of liars to expand NSA’s authority.

In explaining the need for this expanded authority, Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers claimed to the AP this is about terrorists.

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told The Associated Press that her committee is drafting a bill that would amend the law’s Section 702 provision, which authorizes targeting non-Americans outside the U.S., to allow uninterrupted spying on a suspect for “a limited period of time after the NSA learns the target has traveled to the United States, so the government may obtain a court order based on probable cause.”

“Logically, someone under NSA surveillance, such as a terrorist, may present more interest to the government if they are inside the United States,” but the surveillance can be temporarily stopped while the NSA or FBI builds its case to permit uninterrupted spying, Feinstein said.

[snip]

“I call it the terrorist lottery loophole,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “If you can find your way from a foreign country where we have reasonable suspicion that you are … a terrorist … and get to the United States, under a current rule, they need to turn it off and do a complicated handoff” to the FBI.

But further down, Rogers make it clear that this measure is designed to address the roamer problem that was revealed in an internal NSA audit earlier this year.

“It’s a foreign phone, it’s pinging off foreign networks,” Rogers said. “The suspect may turn it off. The suspect gets here. Now all of the sudden, the next thing they know, they (the NSA) are picking it up, but it’s in Brooklyn. … But they’ve been listening to it for two days. They have to turn it off, and then report it as an incident.”

We know from that audit report that this roamer problem actually declined during the period in question (though it did rise for Section 702 authority), contrary to NSA attempts to attribute the rise in violations to it. In addition, at least at that time, the problem primarily arose from Chinese targets entering the US, not Middle Eastern terrorists (the breakdown of violations from NSA’s geographical focus areas seems to support this). Indeed, the NSA made the embarrassingly false claim that the increase (which was actually a decrease) of roaming incidents was just about Chinese New Year.

The increase [sic] in incidents reported for 1QCY12 was due to an increase in the number of reported Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) roamer1 incidents, which may be attributed to an increase in Chinese travel to visit friends and family for the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.

So apparently we’re now beset by hordes of Chinese terrorists visiting the US for Chinese New Year we knew nothing about.

There’s one more problem with the claim that they will allow the NSA (or maybe the FBI) to track GSM phones without a warrant domestically. The Gang of Four claims the amended law would allow the NSA to continue tracking that GSM phone for “a limited period of time after the NSA learns the target has traveled to the United States.”

But the entire reason the roamer problem exists is because NSA only gets updates on location quarterly, so unless they learn about these Chinese terrorists’ travel by some content data, they don’t even know the phone is in the US. So in reality, when they say “a limited period of time,” they almost certainly mean “months at a time.”

This is fucking nonsense (and both the AP’s reporting of it and the Gang of Four’s claims about it show either inexcusable ignorance or deceit).

If a targeted person is so significant we have to track him after he has come in the US, we know enough about him to get a warrant.

Update: I have been reminded off-line Mike Rogers’ “Terrorist Lottery Loophole” has already been closed.

It’s called the TIDE database, it has no specific standard, and it flags authorities when a watchlisted person comes into the country. So if we’re worried about wiretapping terrorists after they get into the country, we’ll have notice to continue wiretapping them.

All of which shows the nexus to terrorism here is entirely illusory and nonsense.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

12 replies
  1. TarheelDem says:

    So you interpret the law in a convoluted way that requires you to document incidents in a convoluted way. And then you want to use that the avoid the restrictions in the law. Cute bureaucratic footwork.

    As has now been said many times, why haven’t Alexander and Clapper (and their underlings) been fired for lying to Congress?

    If a targeted person is so significant we have to track him after he has come in the US, we know enough about him to get a warrant.

    And I bet the excuse for not getting an honest-to-goodness warrant is that that process will alert the suspect.

    What a huge crock of shed spread.

  2. Snoopdido says:

    It sounds like one of the most important reasons the US government wants to “fix” this supposed loophole is:

    “The agency also has to throw out whatever it has collected — emails, phone calls or more — from the point it determines the suspect entered U.S. territory, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.”

    Tidying up all of those databases is just too much of a headache. Keeping everything forever is so much easier.

  3. orionATL says:

    you can call it old news

    if you’re a fool

    or you can call it history,

    but this is why the nsa must be permanently broken up:

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/26/nsa-surveillance-anti-vietnam-muhammad-ali-mlk

    targets of nsa spying for their anti-war activity:

    senator church
    senator baker
    martin luther king
    nytimes columnist tom wicker
    washington post columnist art buchwald

    1600 americans in all, each of whom opposed a policy of presidents johnson and nixon.

    the central threat to the american expression of democracy is not loss of privacy,

    but the trampling and then silencing of dissenters from current government policy or law.

  4. C says:

    @Snoopdido: Well it also sounds like they want to have their cake and eat it too i.e. spy on people and build a case in civilian courts where those messy rules get in the way. I’ve begun to suspect that they are really on a tear for this because they believe that there are people they could have caught people where they had intercept data but could not use it, or so they tell congress. But why believe anything they say?

    @orionATL: You might also find Glenn Greenwald’s column from yesterday interesting. Apparently internal NSA discussion sites refer to opponents of drone attacks and propagandists for foreign powers. Back during Vietnam they called anyone who opposed the war a communist sympathizer or fellow traveller. Now opponents of drones are tools of Al Quaeda.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/25/nsa-uk-drone-opponents-threats

  5. C says:

    @orionATL: From the Minaret article (thanks for the link!)

    Aid told the Guardian that, in his view, the new material underscores the dangers of unfettered surveillance. Minaret was initially intended for drug traffickers and terrorist suspects, but was twisted, at the request of the White House, to become a tool for tracking legitimate political activities of war protesters.

    Things . Do . Not . Change.

  6. DWBartoo says:

    “This is fucking nonsense (… either inexcusable ignorance or deceit).”

    That statement has such broad, ubiquitous applicability when considering the state of “governance”, today, in this nation, that it is close to defining the whole damned thing, EW. Indeed, those bullies (for that is, precisely, what they are) busily undermining all that matters … exhibit those “qualities” twenty-four seven … Once upon a time, I threw in “stupid”, or “incompetent”, however, I’ve come to consider those terms overly kind and unintentionally misleading. And “ignorance” is not about not knowing, or not understanding – it is about not caring and not giving a damn.

    “Pathetic” might be an appropriate word. Yet, given the overwhelming harm being intentionally done, it is woefully short of the mark and assumes far too much good will on the part of the bullies.

    DW

  7. der says:

    Read some piece recently about the Keystone pipeline and it being a planned distraction for the environmental groups to fight against all the while the oil barons aided by their political lackeys have been moving the dirty tar sands crap around the north end by rail, etc. and now that most of it is up and running Obama is expected to “end” Keystone, giving 350.org its moral victory, winning the battle while losing the war.

    So this and that NSA musical theater from Ro[d]gers and Feinstein is a dicking around delay while the moving vans schlep the Fort Meade secret codes over to DEA’s warehouses. Unless GCHQ shows up with sledges and blow torches this is never going away. Transparency, has ruined our cherished family values. God bless america.

  8. orionATL says:

    @GulfCoastPirate:

    translation:

    nsa and odni have finally put together a plan for a p.r. counter-attack. said attack is now officially underway.

    codename:

    operation hide behind the flag and freeeedom.

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