President’s Review Group Suggests NSA Currently Acts as a Domestic Security Service

One amusing tension in the NSA Review Group report is that its members clearly have been briefed on some things that haven’t been reported in the Snowden stories (yet), but it can’t tell us what those are.

Which is why I’m curious what’s behind the following language, offered in support of the recommendation to clearly designate NSA as a foreign intelligence organization and presented with two other things we know NSA does.

It should not be a domestic security service, a military command, or an information assurance organization.

[snip]Like other agencies, there are situations in which NSA does and should provide support to the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and other law enforcement entities. But it should not assume the lead for programs that are primarily domestic in nature.

That seems to suggest that, in addition to supporting DHS, DOJ, and other law enforcement entities (cough, DEA, as well as probably Secret Service in its cyber-role), NSA takes the lead on certain issues that are primarily domestic.

I do hope we’ll learn what this refers to. Because if NSA is operating domestically (maybe to police IP?), it will be scandalous news.

14 replies
  1. Yastreblyansky says:

    Collecting the US phone logs was already far outside any possible NSA mandate, right? In bureaucratic terms it’s just as bad as CIA running ops in US. I wouldn’t think there needs to be anything more scandalous than that.

  2. orionATL says:

    it has been all but self-evident since shortly after the snowden revelations began, that the nsa was acting as data collection agency for the various federal policing agencies.

    congress’ mandate for data sharing provided excellent legal cover to do so.

    the fbi and the doj’s prosecutors, not to mention dea, dhsec, secret service, etc would have quickly discovered the value of an all-seeing electronic spy agency. all that was required afterwards was parallel construction of prosecutions, a technique already well-developed in the federal police community.

    looking backward, the nsa’s failure to adduce successful examples of thwarting terrorism, its likely failure to seriously thwart cyberterrorism (why not refuse to talk about what you haven’t done – it keeps the mystery alive), and its likely failure to deal with arms proliferation (is this nuclear only?) would be understandable consequences. none of these three rationalizations was the true driving motive.

    furthermore, the doj’s extraordinary alacrity and deviousness in protecting the nsa from revealing its conduct to the courts, the congress,or the citizenry is now understood as the doj protecting its new secret weapon against crime (and disorder, pethaps especially, disorder) can be taken as signs that the nsa was not engaged primarily in foreign data collection.

    of course the biggest give away is the enormous spying effort doj/nsa have undertaken to collect personal data on every american citizen. you see, mindlessly agressive prosecutors like those that have infected the doj for the last decade + could not resist the opportunity to create a national database to make prosecutions easier. funny thing is, all we hear about are childporn prosecutions and plea deals. funny thing! where are the cases involving drug busts? white collar fraud? corporate illegalities? police misconduct? anti-trust?

    then there is the retrospective-only nature of the nsa electronic spying – the nsa can not know the future, except as it conducts historical analysis of what it has initially randomly collected.

    welcome to the world of hidden federal policing on an individual-by-individual national scale brought to you by incompetent presidential and congressional oversight of the united states department of justice.

  3. Dredd says:

    Yes, it will be scandalous news … in addition to the already scandalous news.

    On Morning Joe apologists for the military NSA were asking “how could we know who to look for in terms of suspects of terrorism without being able to spy on everyone everywhere?”

    Don’t they teach “how to do that” in criminal justice and science studies in colleges and universities?

  4. Anonsters says:

    Never fear, Lawfare has begun cranking out posts designed to tarnish the Review Group’s recommendations and support the NSA (aside from its already carrying NSA’s water through interviews and other pro-NSA rhetoric).

    I’m growing more and more jaded about Lawfare.

  5. tw3k says:

    You have to wonder. I’ve had my ISP cut off the t00bz for dowloading M$ Windblowz (I even have ligit keys) off PirateBay. The ISP made me acknowledge my wrongdoing and cutoff torrents before they’d turn the t00bz back on.

    I worry more about the IP police than the STASI.

  6. tw3k says:

    I’m actually more curious about Booz Allen. They seem to be the umbrella organization for the NSA and and other agencies. Seems like Booz Allen doesn’t mind throwing the NSA under the bus to protect it’s IP.

    I guess it doesn’t matter if a private company does it.

  7. wendy davis says:

    I read your great piece on the Guardian about unanswered questions from the NSA WH Review panel. I have another, if I may?

    I did a post recently concerning many of the other surveillance agencies, both public and private, but this piece from Foreign Policy Magazine was interesting, if not just smoke and mirrors. It starts:

    “With every fresh leak, the world learns more about the U.S. National Security Agency’s massive and controversial surveillance apparatus. Lost in the commotion has been the story of the NSA’s indispensable partner in its global spying operations: an obscure, clandestine unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that, even for a surveillance agency, keeps a low profile.

    When the media and members of Congress say the NSA spies on Americans, what they really mean is that the FBI helps the NSA do it, providing a technical and legal infrastructure that permits the NSA, which by law collects foreign intelligence, to operate on U.S. soil. It’s the FBI, a domestic U.S. law enforcement agency, that collects digital information from at least nine American technology companies as part of the NSA’s Prism system. It was the FBI that petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Verizon Business Network Services, one of the United States’ biggest telecom carriers for corporations, to hand over the call records of millions of its customers to the NSA.

    But the FBI is no mere errand boy for the United States’ biggest intelligence agency. It carries out its own signals intelligence operations and is trying to collect huge amounts of email and Internet data from U.S. companies — an operation that the NSA once conducted, was reprimanded for, and says it abandoned.”

    Now my question is, since the FBI hasn’t been called to hearings in Congress, and is operating fairly freely without much scrutiny, will any of the ‘reigning in’ of the NSA mean a whole lot unless the FBI and private operations are either curtailed or stopped specifically?

  8. emptywheel says:

    @wendy davis: No–and I was pointing this out within days of the first Snowden leak. The FBI gets a lot of this info from NSA (and gets all the other bulk collection data directly). And we know nothing about their minimization standards, but have reason to be concerned about it.

    The Review Group did make several recommendations that primarily impact FBI: both requiring judicial approval of NSLs and limiting bulk collection generally (again, they get most of that, not NSA).

  9. orionATL says:


    i understand the fbi has its own data collection capability.

    but with respect to the “dragnet”, which i take to be collecting electronic communications data on as many american residents as possible,

    surely it wouldn’t be the case that the fbi and the nsa would be creating duplicative, dueling dragnets – would it? due to lack of interagency co-ordination?

    relatedly, where and how does the fbi store its electronic spying information? not with/by the nsa by any chance?

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