January 8, 2007 and NSA’s Sloppy Bureaucracy

I’m going to do a post on all the Section 215 documents the Most Transparent Administration Evah™ didn’t turn over in its fit of feigned transparency. But first I want to clarify something about timing.

There are 7 documents in the ACLU Vaughn Index “dated” January 8, 2007. There is an 8th in the EFF Vaughn Index (see document 3). There are 4 documents on ACLU’s site linking all the NSA documents released bearing that date, one of which was released by Edward Snowden.

But at least some (and probably all) of these documents were not written on January 8, 2007.

For example, this document, an “interim competency test” for the phone dragnet, must date to sometime after March 2009, because it describes restrictions in place only between that month and September 2009. Document 3 in EFF’s Vaughn Index (which was not released) refers to the June 25, 2009 End-to-End report (it may be an earlier version of this report, but I suspect it describes some rejection on the part of FISC of some activity).

The date January 8, 2007 actually refers to the date of the policy on classification governing the documents in question. (That policy superseded one dated November 23, 2004, and it was superseded on November 16, 2012.)

I raise this partly to clear up fairly widespread confusion (confusion that started with DOJ and ODNI’s actions, but which has extended to a number of journalists).

But also because it betrays a real bureaucratic sloppiness on the part of NSA.

The documents mis-identified as January 8, 2007 documents are largely training manuals and guidelines, as well as some less formal Congressional notice. Some of the other training manuals and guidelines are not dated at all (even the documents that are effectively drafts should have version control on them). This is surprising in any bureaucracy the size of NSA, but particularly given that many of these documents play a key role in legal compliance. (To its credit, what appears to be the most recent training program released, which is actually a story-board for a multi-module training program, is dated.)

While I suspect NSA accomplishes some of this version control via online file management (meaning that an analyst who goes to the file for “dragnet training” will only have access to the most up-to-date version), there still remains the risk that employees won’t follow new restrictions because they’re operating from outdated documents and can’t easily determine which is newest.

It also, of course, makes it harder — for both us and, in all probability (given that these documents were all in possession of DOJ), DOJ — to determine whether NSA was providing the training it assured the FISA Court it was providing (and all that’s before you consider how utterly crappy most of these materials are from a training perspective).

Consider the irony: for at least some of its documentation, NSA takes more care to date the policy guiding its classification than to date its legal validity.

10 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    I have a hard time believing that NSA doesn’t have a clue how to version documents. For Ghu’s sake, you can add a page at the back – or the front – that gives the release date and who signed off on it.

  2. C says:

    But also because it betrays a real bureaucratic sloppiness on the part of NSA.

    This is a bureaucracy staffed by people who believe that “parallel construction” is both legal and ethical. They have no problem with the idea of breaking the law, retrospectively crafting a legal(ish) story that justifies what they found, and then perjuring themselves in court. Given that I’m afraid that we are waaay beyond “sloppiness” and are likely far out in the land of random falsehoods.

  3. DWBartoo says:


    C saw through it.

    It isn’t “sloppiness” … it is SOP.

    Rather like “journalists” parroting fear-mongers.

    Thing is, no one is supposed to notice …


  4. bloodypitchfork says:

    Most Transparent Administration Evah™

    @DWBartoo: quote:”Thing is, no one is supposed to notice”…unquote Snark notwithstanding, it’s the FISA and the Oversight Committee’s job, and they are an epic FAIL. They are the parties who hopes no one notices the fact.

  5. C says:

    @bloodypitchfork: To play FISA-advocate here they are, by their own admission, blind and toothless as they cannot oversee the programs for violations, are dependent upon the NSA and others to “self-report” errors, and can’t really sentence the NSA to anything. Thus they are probably not entirely complicit in what is happening, just gutless about addressing it.

  6. William Ockham says:

    The dates for the documents on the ACLU site are easy to determine. Just subtract 25 years from the “Declassify On:” date. The maximum allowable timespan for declassification is 25 years and the default is 10 years. So the NSA always stamps their documents for declassification exactly 25 years in the future. The documents can be dated Oct 1, 2009, Apr 1, 2009, and Nov 8, 2005, respectively.

  7. bloodypitchfork says:

    @C: quote” Thus they are probably not entirely complicit in what is happening, just gutless about addressing it.”unquote Well then, I stand corrected. Gutless it is. Somehow though..that still rings as a fail in my book.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @William Ockham: Doesn’t always work. The last one CAN’T be 2005, bc it relies on the 2007 version of 1-52. Indeed, 2005 predates the BRFISA.

    Also check out this one. Thoughts on where that “date” came from?

  9. C says:

    @bloodypitchfork: Oh I agree that gutless is a failure. I wasn’t actually disagreeing with your general point that they have failed in their civic and moral duties, they have. It’s just my sense that they are failing by going along to get along (i.e. by legalizing the illegal and telling us that they are “bringing it in for review”) rather than gleefully adding to powers.

    But whether gleefully supportive or going along to get along they are complicit and only idiots and apologists (not necessarily separate groups) seem to miss that.

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