FISA Is Not a Magic Word

The NYT had an article yesterday reporting on investigations into three (not four) of Donald Trump’s associates. The lead explains that authorities are reviewing “intercepted communications” in an investigation.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.

The article differs from many of the reports on investigations into Trump because it is not so breathless and shows far more understanding of how DOJ works. Sadly, most readers appear not to have gotten this far into the story, which admits it’s not even clear whether the investigation is primarily about ties between Trump and the DNC hack.

It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself. It is also unclear whether the inquiry has anything to do with an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and other attempts to disrupt the elections in November.

A number of people, including — bizarrely! — former DHS Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs Juliette Kayyem have asked why the NYT article doesn’t mention FISA.

Great piece. Honest ? Is there reason why it doesn’t mention word FISA? I don’t know other ways to intercept comms.

Kayyem asks that, even about an article that partially raises another — the most common — way intercepts get done: by targeting foreigners.

The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.

The Russians alleged to have bought off Manafort, and the Russians alleged to have hacked the DNC are all legal targets without a FISA order (unless they’re targeting in the US, and even then, in some cases you wouldn’t need a FISA order). But these people are described as Russians and Ukrainians in Europe, so no FISA order needed. Moreover, the BBC article that started this line of reporting made clear the investigation arises from an intercept from a Baltic ally. Even if the US did the spying, foreign targets could be collected on under EO 12333 or under Section 702 of FISA without an individual order, and the Manafort sides of those conversations would be read. Indeed, those communications would be read precisely because a US person was having conversations with targets of interest.

So to review, here are the ways that the government might collect data in this case.

  • As the BBC reported, the US gets intercepts from its foreign partners, and appears to have done so here.
  • For foreign targets like those described, much US surveillance takes place under EO 12333. The NSA is collecting on switches and satellites carrying such communications, and to the extent that they’re not encrypted (or encrypted using technology the NSA has broken) those communications are readily available without a court order.
  • Those foreign targets located in Europe are also legal targets under Section 702. For national security cases (including counterintelligence ones) NSA routinely shares the raw feed off such collection with FBI, and FBI is not only allowed to read both sides of those conversations, but to go back and search for US persons in them without any suspicion of wrong-doing.
  • This counterintelligence investigation is primarily about money changing hands. That’s Treasury’s job, and its methods of coercion for collecting information don’t usually involve courts. Banks are obliged to hand over certain kinds of suspicious transfers in any case. Treasury also gets to go to SWIFT and get what it wants. That’s not an “intercept” in the traditional sense, but is likely a key piece of evidence in this case.

The issue, then, is when someone like Manafort becomes the target of the investigation and/or when Russians in the US (but not exclusively at an Embassy) are targeted. In that case, the following might explain intercepts.

  • In some respects, Manafort’s behavior reeks of classic influence peddling, a lobbyist gone wrong. To the extent that’s the case, it might be investigated under regular criminal law with pretty much the same secrecy that FISA will give you (especially given that multiple sources are leaking like sieves about FISA orders now). So FBI could have obtained a criminal warrant targeting Manafort’s communications.
  • To target Manafort anywhere in the world, the FBI/NSA would need a FISA order. Domestically, that’d be a traditional order(s). Given the overseas connection, they’d likely get a 705b order, allowing them to keep spying if Manafort were to leave the country.
  • To target Russians who are in the country but not at the Russian embassy, the government would need a FISA order.

To be sure, there were earlier reports that FBI asked for FISA orders in June and July, finally obtaining one (not three) in October. Even there, the original BBC report suggested the Americans were not the primary targets, but foreign targets, though it misstates who could actually be targeted (and seems to think Russian banks would require a FISA order).

Lawyers from the National Security Division in the Department of Justice then drew up an application. They took it to the secret US court that deals with intelligence, the Fisa court, named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wanted permission to intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks.

Their first application, in June, was rejected outright by the judge. They returned with a more narrowly drawn order in July and were rejected again. Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election day.

Neither Mr Trump nor his associates are named in the Fisa order, which would only cover foreign citizens or foreign entities – in this case the Russian banks

A more recent, but breathless, version of the story originally misstated the standard for FISA, but does get closer to suggesting Trump’s associates are the targets.

Note that in one place NYT refers to “investigations” plural.

The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit.

It is possible that there are separate investigation(s), one targeting Manafort for clear influence peddling, another targeting Roger Stone for apparent involvement in the hand-off of DNC documents to Wikileaks, and a third for corrupt business dealings on the part of Carter Page. It is also possible that such independent investigations could converge on the election, if what the Trump dossier claims is true. It is further possible that if all of those investigations converged into one election-related investigation, there’d still be no way to prove Trump knew of Russian involvement; right now, only his associates have been “targeted,” to the extent even that has occurred. (Roger Stone, of course, is an old hand at giving the President plausible deniability about the rat-fucking done in his name.)

Finally, there’s one more (delicious) detail most people have missed. Just last week the intelligence community rolled out its new EO 12333 sharing guidelines. I suspect such guidelines were in place between FBI and NSA before then; for a variety of reasons I think they may have been sharing such data since … September. But as I’ll show in a follow-up, one very clear objective for the expanded EO 12333 sharing is to give FBI (and CIA) direct access to raw EO 12333 collected information for counterintelligence purposes. That means all those intercepts on Russian and Ukrainian people talking to Manafort, going back over a year? At least as of January 3, the FBI (and CIA) can have those, including Manafort’s side of the conversation, in raw form.

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.

One-Fifth of Documents Edward Snowden Stole Were Blank

Charlie Savage has a great review in the New Yorker, pitting Oliver Stone’s Snowden movie against Edward Jay Epstein’s book (and astutely noting that these two have battled before over JFK history, which presumably explains the use of “Soviet” in the title).

In it, he addresses something fact-based commentators have had to deal with over and over: the claim Snowden stole 1.5 million documents.

Another complication for judging Snowden’s actions is that we do not know how many and which documents he took. Investigators determined only that he “touched” about 1.5 million files—essentially those that were indexed by a search program he used to trawl NSA servers. Many of those files are said to pertain to military and intelligence tools and activities that did not bear on the protection of individual privacy. Snowden’s skeptics assume that he stole every such file. His supporters assume that he did not. In any case they believe his statements that after giving certain NSA archives to the journalists in Hong Kong, he destroyed his hard drives and brought no files to Russia.

But it’s time, once and for all, to reject this frame entirely.

That’s true for several reasons. First, as the House Intelligence Report on Snowden discloses, the Intelligence Community actually has two different counts of what documents Snowden “took.” The 1.5 million number comes from Defense Intelligence Agency.

The IC more generally, though, has a different (undisclosed) number, based off three tiers of damage assessment: those documents that had been released to the public by August 31, 2015, those documents that, “based on forensic analysis, Snowden would have collected in the course of collecting [the documents already released], but have not yet been disclosed to the public.” (PDF 29) The IC believes these documents are in the hands of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and Bart Gellman. The last tier consists of documents that Snowden accessed in some way. The rest of the description of this category is redacted, but the logic involved in the section suggests the IC has good reason to question whether the third tier ever got delivered to journalists.

By May 2016 (much to HPSCI’s apparent chagrin), the IC had stopped doing damage assessment on documents not released the public, which strongly suggests they believed Russia and other adversaries hadn’t and probably wouldn’t obtain them, which in turn suggests the IC either believes the journalists’ operational security is adequate against Russia and China and/or the documents have already been destroyed and certainly didn’t go with Snowden to Russia and get delivered to Vladimir Putin.

Particularly given the later date for the IC assessment, I’d suggest the IC likely has listened for years for signs the wider universe of documents has been released, and have found no sign the documents have. Otherwise they’d be doing a damage assessment on them.

But the 1.5 million number is problematic for two more reasons. First, as Jason Leopold reported in 2015, the 1.5 million number comes from a period when HPSCI was actively soliciting dirt on Snowden that they could (and did) leak to the press. It was designed to be as damning as possible And, as I added at the time, the number also came at a time when Congress was scrambling to give DOD more money to deal with mitigation of Snowden’s leak. In other words, for several reasons Congress was asking the IC to give it the biggest possible number.

But there’s another problem with the 1.5 million number, revealed in the HPSCI report released last month. The 1.5 million isn’t actually all the documents Snowden is known to have touched, or even downloaded. Rather, it is all the documents he touched and downloaded, less some 374,000 “blank documents Snowden downloaded from the Department of the Army Intelligence Information Service (DAIIS) Message Processing System.”

So the real number of documents that Snowden “touched” is almost 1.9 million. But in coming up with its most inflammatory number, DIA eliminated the almost 20% of the documents that it had determined were blank.

But consider what that tacitly admits. It admits that one-fifth of the documents that Snowden not just touched, but actually downloaded, were absolutely useless for the purposes of leaking, because they were blank. But if Snowden downloaded 374,000 blank documents, it is proof he downloaded a bunch things he didn’t intend to leak.

Of course, fear-mongering about Snowden wandering the world with 374,000 blank documents risks making someone look crazy. So maybe that’s the reason the Snowden skeptics have chosen to edit their number down, even while doing so is tacit admission they know he “touched” a lot of things he had no intention of leaking.

If Edward Jay Epstein wants to write the definitive screed against Snowden, he should adopt, instead, that 1.9 million number. But in so doing, he should also admit he’s raising concerns about Snowden leaking blank documents.

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.

12333 Info Sharing Working Thread

Last week, the government released the long-awaited procedures permitting the intelligence community to share raw 12333 collected information more widely. This will be a working thread on those procedures.

(1) The procedures bill themselves as procedures to govern the sharing of information under 2.3 of EO 12333, which basically permits the IC to share info so IC elements can see if they need the info.

(1) The procedures exclude NSA SIGINT activities, which I think has the effect of making sure those don’t operate with these limits.

(2) The procedures also exclude activities undertaken under NSCID-5 and NSCID-6, which I think has the effect of excluding joint NSA-CIA activities that already take place.

(2) Note the reference to PPD-28 (which reappears) refers to PPD-28 “and implementing procedures and any successor documents.” That suggests there may be a lot more about PPD-28 we’re not seeing, and that this Administration anticipates it will be changed.

(2-3) This section lays out what it claims to be limits on any info sharing agreements, which is basically a requirement that any entity getting NSA data must adopt procedures akin to those NSA adopts.

(3) Even if NSA tells another element of intelligence that would interest them, the element must make a formal request to get it. I suspect this is done so NSA can pretend it is not affirmatively giving away entire swaths of data.

(4) There’s an odd definition of “reasonableness,” which is the standard NSA always says it uses to comply with the Fourth Amendment. It includes these measures of impact on US persons:

e. (U) The likelihood that sensitive U.S. person information (USPI) will be found in the information and, if known, the amount of such information;

f. (U) The potential for substantial harm, embarrassment, inconvenience, or unfairness to U.S. persons if the USPI is improperly used or disclosed;

That is, the measure is not if information is improperly access, but if accessing it might cause the US person substantial embarrassment of inconvenience.

(4) After the long section on reasonableness, the procedures then say NSA doesn’t actually have to check the data set to make sure its measures of impact are valid.

(5) Those receiving NSA data are prohibited from tampering in politics.

Not engage in any intelligence activity authorized by these Procedures, including disseminations to the White House, for the purpose of affecting the political process in the United States.

(5) Sharing agreements are covered by memoranda of agreement that last 3 years. Given the discussion of whether or not this enables Trump, I think it worth noting that any data sharing can be expanded before Trump’s first term ends. Conversely, that implies that any president can impose new restrictions during a term.

(5) There’s a squabble resolution process that goes to Secretary of Defense, then DNI for military units, and DNI for non-military.

(5) The procedures provide 3 different options for data possession that can count as sharing (one that was laid out in the 5240.01 revision released last year): the data remains in NSA’s systems, it goes to the IC cloud, it goes to the receiving entity’s systems. The roll-out of the IC cloud in recent years was a technical precondition for this expanded sharing.

(6) Before the procedures talk about what the entities have to do with audits (that does come later), it has this to say about protecting audit records.

Auditing records. Protect auditing records against unauthorized access, modification, or deletion, and retain these records for a sufficient period of time to verify compliance with the requirements of these Procedures.

Did they need to include this because audit records have been altered in the past?

(6) I’ve written a lot about the times (especially at FBI) where elements choose not to mark the source for their data, which allows for a lot of negative outcomes (such as hiding evidence source from defendants). So this passage makes me really furious.

Marking o(files. Use reasonable measures to identify and mark or tag raw SIGINT files reasonably believed or known to contain USPI. Marking and tagging will occur regardless of the format or location of the information, or the method of storing it. When appropriate and reasonably possible, files and documents containing USPI will also be marked individually. In the case of certain electronic databases, if it is not reasonably possible to mark individual files containing USPI, a banner may be used before access informing users that they may encounter USPI.

There should be an initial requirement that all shared data retains its NSA SIGAD information, marking it both as NSA data and tracking how it was collected. But this only asks that recipients mark data if it includes USPI, and even there allows the requirement to slide.

(7) The section prohibiting the selection of domestic (that is, between entirely US persons) is worthwhile. Except they don’t tell you until later that metadata analysis (which for the purposes of this document is limited to contact chaining) is exempt from this. So this means law enforcement can use entirely NSA-collected raw data to do network analysis of entirely American communications.

(7) There are actually 3 different kinds of searches included in these procedures, which should get people to reconsider how they refer to “upstream” searches: searches on the identity of a communicant, searches mentioning a communicant, and searches on content (which comes a few pages later).  Also note, it all relies on a new definition of “foreign” communications to mean what “international” used to, meaning they can access communications of a US person via that US person identifier if it happens internationally.

(7) The procedures let IC elements use US person identifiers for “selection” (a term designed to avoid “search”) if that person is already approved for content spying with a FISA order, but not for metadata spying. Note they list 703 among the authorities in question, though at least until recently, they never used 703.

(7) One of the key prongs (of three) under which an element can spy on an American w/AG approval is redacted. I’ll come back to this.

(8) Some of the reasons why the IC can spy on Americans are redacted. Given the items that appear on page 12, at least one of these is almost certainly a counterintelligence focus. The other may be counternarcotics or transnational crime.

(9) After having laid out how you can spy on Americans via their identifiers, the procedures now lay out how they might be swept up via their content. Remember that this may mean “content of headers,” and likely includes selectors for things like encryption keys. The selection term based collection permits the selection of US person communications (possibly, given the redaction, even between two US based US persons) if there will be significant FI or CI value.

(9) Minor point but the procedures explicitly use the phrase “defeat,” which is a concept often redacted.

(9) There are no explicit protections for Attorney Client communications here, just a “call NSD for guidelines” rule, which is alarming.

(9) I’ll come back to F, which is basically SPCMA on steroids, and probably a significant part of these sharing goals anyway. Effectively, this institutes SPCMA analysis, across IC elements, without some of the protections that have long been in place.

(10) Note, there seems to be flux in what metadata can be included as metadata (though there are reasonable definitions for metadata later). Also, ZERO of the oversight involves DOD.

(10) Retention is 5 years, so consistent with Section 309, which it cites.

(10) Note the reference to “data related to” communications to, from, or about US persons.

(10) The IC can only keep domestic communications in case of threat of death or bodily harm (but remember they include bodily harm to corporate persons in that).

(11) This is confusing. Right after saying it has to destroy domestic comms, it says that it can keep them if there is significant CI or FI value, and or anomalies showing a vulnerability to US comm service. This is sort of consistent with upstream 702, but not quite.

(11) The procedures treat government employee comes differently based on who they’re talking to, which is a tribute to how much this is about counterintelligence.

(11) The immediate notice of destruction incorporates a lesson they learned during 702, when such notices took time and US person stuff remained in the system in NSA even if destroyed at FBI.

(12) Note US person info can be disseminated for a non-exclusive list, though the list is quite extensive in any case.

(12) Info can be disseminated if someone is the target of hostile intelligence activities of a foreign power. This might make it easier for DHS to disseminate warnings.

(13) The auditing function described does not include an explicit exception for techs, whereas it would at NSA.

(14) Note the distinction between queries and retrievals. Added to selection, and we’ve got another set of not entirely sensical terms that are new.

(14) Note that throughout, the oversight mechanisms avoid any body that is statutorily independent, including both PCLOB and the IGs. So it should not be taken as credible.

(15) The first paragraph of VIII makes it clear they’re parallel constructing this. No notice to defendants basically makes this unconstitutional, but the ID doesn’t care.

(16) Throughout, there are designees allowed that will make it a cinch to put some of these sharing relationships in a box where no one will find them.

(16) The departures from procedures section doesn’t include any deadlines for how long until notifications have to go out. Again, another easily exploited loophole.

(17) They added language to Obama’s standard “does not create any rights” language to include “nor do they place any limitation on otherwise lawful investigative and litigative prerogatives of the United States.” Which sounds like even more parallel construction.

(17) As we’ll see, “contact chaining” is defined to mean two hops. But because it isn’t tied to anything, and because the definition of foreign power includes 3 degrees of separate for most things (engages in, aids or abets, or conspires), it really amounts to about 5 degrees of separation from any baddie.

(18) The definitions of metadata here are interesting (and different from the SPCMA one). First, on telephony metadata, they don’t comment about location. The Internet metadata description is more descriptive than any I’ve seen, including routers passed during delivery. But there’s so much that’s not addressed in the definition, because it pretends to be exclusively about email.

(19) The definition of contact chaining does not include, as USAF chaining does, connection chaining. This reinforces my belief that the latter primarily serves a complimentary function, that of IDing all associated identities known by a provider. The contact chaining definition only permits two hops, but there’s no limitation on target, which permits at least 5 and really an infinite number of hops.

(19) If just one recipient in a threat is not a USP, it does not count as domestic. Also, circumstances where someone doesn’t have a REOP, like Twitter, does not count as domestic either.

(19) There used to be two distinct definitions: International, which was one end US, and foreign, which is both-ends foreign. I’m not sure why they’ve changed it such that any end foreign counts as foreign, but that seems problematic.

(20) Public info includes that which is available on request, or by purchase, meaning this may includes a lot of brokered lists and the like (including advertising information).

(20) Definition of “selection” includes “cable address,” which seems like it could be very broadly interpreted.

(21) The definition of “selection term” is very useful (basically a boolean selection term), and should have been made public before.

(22) The USPI definition is notable both for its inclusions and exclusions. “Unique biometric records” is included, which seems like could be very broadly interpreted (and makes clear they’re throwing all the biometrics they have into this pot of analysis. There’s no specific mention of online identities (“names” and “unique titles” may incorporate that, but should be stated publicly). There’s also no mention of cookies or other session identifiers (which is especially notable given the silence about location data).

(22) The overhead reconnaissance language means they can use drone footage against us, so long as they don’t target it at us. Though some DirtBox uses would be problematic.

 

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.

Did NSA Just Reveal Its China BIOS Story Was Made Up?

Secrecy News just released an NSA notice to Congress of authorized disclosure of classified information. The notice was dated December 13, just two days before 60 Minutes had a solicitous piece on the NSA.

Here’s the classified information the NSA says they gave what must be 60 Minutes.

The reference to assisting in locating hostages probably map to the metadata analysis of pirates done onscreen (albeit with altered phone numbers).

But what’s not there in unredacted form — at least beyond the vague description of “USG efforts to mitigate cyber threats” was the China kaboom story told on the show.

John Miller: Could a foreign country tomorrow topple our financial system?

Gen. Keith Alexander: I believe that a foreign nation could impact and destroy major portions of our financial system, yes.

John Miller: How much of it could we stop?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Well, right now it would be difficult to stop it because our ability to see it is limited.

One they did see coming was called the BIOS Plot. It could have been catastrophic for the United States. While the NSA would not name the country behind it, cyber security experts briefed on the operation told us it was China. Debora Plunkett directs cyber defense for the NSA and for the first time, discusses the agency’s role in discovering the plot.

Debora Plunkett: One of our analysts actually saw that the nation state had the intention to develop and to deliver, to actually use this capability– to destroy computers.

John Miller: To destroy computers.

Debora Plunkett: To destroy computers. So the BIOS is a basic input, output system. It’s, like, the foundational component firmware of a computer. You start your computer up. The BIOS kicks in. It activates hardware. It activates the operating system. It turns on the computer.

This is the BIOS system which starts most computers. The attack would have been disguised as a request for a software update. If the user agreed, the virus would’ve infected the computer.

John Miller: So, this basically would have gone into the system that starts up the computer, runs the systems, tells it what to do.

Debora Plunkett: That’s right.

John Miller: –and basically turned it into a cinderblock.

Debora Plunkett: A brick.

John Miller: And after that, there wouldn’t be much you could do with that computer.

Debora Plunkett: That’s right. Think about the impact of that across the entire globe. It could literally take down the U.S. economy.

John Miller: I don’t mean to be flip about this. But it has a kind of a little Dr. Evil quality– to it that, “I’m going to develop a program that can destroy every computer in the world.” It sounds almost unbelievable.

Debora Plunkett: Don’t be fooled. There are absolutely nation states who have the capability and the intentions to do just that.

John Miller: And based on what you learned here at NSA. Would it have worked?

Debora Plunkett: We believe it would have. Yes.

As I noted at the time, the story — the claim that a country of 1.3 billion people who have become very interdependent with the United States would want to destroy the US economy — was a bit absurd.

I’ll need to go back and review this, but the jist of the scary claim at the heart of the report is that the NSA caught China planning a BIOS plot to shut down the global economy.

To.

Shut.

Down.

The.

Global.

Economy.

Of course, if that happened, it’d mean a goodly percentage of China’s 1.3 billion people would go hungry, which would lead to unbelievable chaos in China, which would mean the collapse of the state in China, the one thing the Chinese elite want to prevent more than anything.

But the NSA wants us to believe that this was actually going to happen.

That China was effectively going to set off a global suicide bomb. Strap on the economy in a cyber-suicide vest and … KABOOOOOOOM!

And the NSA heroically thwarted that attack.

That’s what they want us to believe and some people who call themselves reporters are reporting as fact.

Anyway, like I said, no unredacted mention that this was among the classified information shared with CBS. Even accounting for the fact that NSA didn’t identify the country in question to CBS, even the description of the plot would seem to be classified.

If it were true.

But it doesn’t appear on the list of classified things revealed to CBS.

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.

The Dragnet Donald Trump Will Wield Is Not Just the Section 215 One

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the moment Rick Perlstein uses his historical work on Nixon to analyze Trump. Today, he doesn’t disappoint, calling Trump more paranoid than Nixon, warning of what Trump will do with the powerful surveillance machine laying ready for his use.

Revenge is a narcotic, and Trump of all people will be in need of a regular, ongoing fix. Ordering his people to abuse the surveillance state to harass and destroy his enemies will offer the quickest and most satisfying kick he can get. The tragedy, as James Madison could have told us, is that the good stuff is now lying around everywhere, just waiting for the next aspiring dictator to cop.

But along the way, Perlstein presents a bizarre picture of what happened to the Section 215 phone dragnet under Barack Obama.

That’s not to say that Obama hasn’t abused his powers: Just ask the journalists at the Associated Press whose phone records were subpoenaed by the Justice Department. But had he wanted to go further in spying on his enemies, there are few checks in place to stop him. In the very first ruling on the National Security Administration’s sweeping collection of “bulk metadata,” federal judge Richard Leon blasted the surveillance as downright Orwellian. “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this collection and retention of personal data,” he ruled. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

But the judge’s outrage did nothing to stop the surveillance: In 2015, an appeals court remanded the case back to district court, and the NSA’s massive surveillance apparatus—soon to be under the command of President Trump—remains fully operational. The potential of the system, as former NSA official William Binney has described it, is nothing short of “turnkey totalitarianism.”

There are several things wrong with this.

First, neither Richard Leon nor any other judge has reviewed the NSA’s “sweeping collection of ‘bulk metadata.'” What Leon reviewed — in Larry Klayman’s lawsuit challenging the collection of phone metadata authorized by Section 215 revealed by Edward Snowden — was just a small fraction of NSA’s dragnet. In 2013, the collection of phone metadata authorized by Section 215 collected domestic and international phone records from domestic producers, but even there, Verizon had found a way to exclude collection of its cell records.

But NSA collected phone records — indeed, many of the very same phone records, as they collected a great deal of international records — overseas as well. In addition, NSA collected a great deal of Internet metadata records, as well as financial and anything else records. Basically, anything the NSA can collect “overseas” (which is interpreted liberally) it does, and because of the way modern communications works, those records include a significant portion of the metadata of Americans’ everyday communications.

It is important for people to understand that the focus on Section 215 was an artificial creation, a limited hangout, an absolutely brilliant strategy (well done, Bob Litt, who has now moved off to retirement) to get activists to focus on one small part of the dragnet that had limitations anyway and NSA had already considered amending. It succeeded in pre-empting a discussion of just what the full dragnet entailed.

Assessments of whether Edward Snowden is a traitor or a saint always miss this, when they say they’d be happy if Snowden had just exposed the Section 215 program. Snowden didn’t want the focus to be on just that little corner of the dragnet. He wanted to expose the full dragnet, but Litt and others succeeded in pretending the Section 215 dragnet was the dragnet, and also pretending that Snowden’s other disclosures weren’t just as intrusive on Americans.

Anyway, another place where Perlstein is wrong is in suggesting there was just one Appeals Court decision. The far more important one is the authorized by Gerard Lynch in the Second Circuit, which ruled that Section 215 was not lawfully authorized. It was a far more modest decision, as it did not reach constitutional questions. But Lynch better understood that the principle involved more than phone records; what really scared him was the mixing of financial records with phone records, which is actually what the dragnet really is.

That ruling, on top of better understanding the import of dragnets, is important because it is one of the things that led to the passage of USA Freedom Act, a law that, contrary to Perlstein’s claim, did change the phone dragnet, both for good and ill.

The USA Freedom Act, by imposing limitations on how broadly dragnet orders (for communications but not for financial and other dragnets) can be targeted, adds a check at the beginning of the process. It means only people 2 degrees away from a terrorism suspect will be collected under this program (even while the NSA continues to collect in bulk under EO 12333). So the government will have in its possession far fewer phone records collected under Section 215 (but it will still suck in massive amounts of phone records via EO 12333, including massive amounts of Americans’ records).

All that said, Section 215 now draws from a larger collection of records. It now includes the Verizon cell records not included under the old Section 215 dragnet, as well as some universe of metadata records deemed to be fair game under a loose definition of “phone company.” At a minimum, it probably includes iMessage, WhatsApp, and Skype metadata, but I would bet the government is trying to get Signal and other messaging metadata (note, Signal metadata cannot be collected retroactively; it’s unclear whether it can be collected with standing daily prospective orders). This means the Section 215 collection will be more effective in finding all the people who are 2 degrees from a target (because it will include any communications that exist solely in Verizon cell or iMessage networks, as well as whatever other metadata they’re collecting). But it also means far more innocent people will be impacted.

To understand why that’s important, it’s important to understand what purpose all this metadata collection serves.

It was never the case that the collection of metadata, however intrusive, was the end goal of the process. Sure, identifying someone’s communications shows when you’ve been to an abortion clinic or when you’re conducting an affair.

But the dragnet (the one that includes limited Section 215 collection and EO 12333 collection limited only by technology, not law) actually serves two other primary purposes.

The first is to enable the creation of dossiers with the click of a few keys. Because the NSA is sitting on so much metadata — not just phone records, but Internet, financial, travel, location, and other data — it can put together a snapshot of your life as soon as they begin to correlate all the identifiers that make up your identity. One advantage of the new kind of collection under USAF, I suspect, is it will draw from the more certain correlations you give to your communications providers, rather than relying more heavily on algorithmic analysis of bulk data. Facebook knows with certainty what email address and phone number tie to your Facebook account, whereas the NSA’s algorithms only guess that with (this is an educated guess) ~95+% accuracy.

This creation of dossiers is the same kind of analysis Facebook does, but instead of selling you plane tickets the goal is government scrutiny of your life.

The Section 215 orders long included explicit permission to subject identifiers found via 2-degree collection to all the analytical tools of the NSA. That means, for any person — complicit or innocent — identified via Section 215, the NSA can start to glue together the pieces of dossier it already has in its possession. While not an exact analogue, you might think of collection under Section 215 as a nomination to be on the equivalent of J Edgar Hoover’s old subversives list. Only, poor J Edgar mostly kept his list on index cards. Now, the list of those the government wants to have a network analysis and dossier on is kept in massive server farms and compiled using supercomputers.

Note, the Section 215 collection is still limited to terrorism suspects — that was an important win in the USA Freedom fight — but the EO 12333 collection, with whatever limits on nominating US persons, is not. Plus, it will be trivial for Trump to expand the definition of terrorist; the groundwork is already being laid to do so with Black Lives Matter.

The other purpose of the dragnet is to identify which content the NSA will invest the time and energy into reading. Most content collected is not read in real time. But Americans’ communications with a terrorism suspect will probably be, because of the concern that those Americans might be plotting a domestic plot. The same is almost certainly true of, say, Chinese-Americans conversing with scientists in China, because of a concern they might be trading US secrets. Likewise it is almost certainly true of Iranian-Americans talking with government officials, because of a concern they might be dealing in nuclear dual use items. The choice to prioritize Americans makes sense from a national security perspective, but it also means certain kinds of people — Muslim immigrants, Chinese-Americans, Iranian-Americans — will be far more likely to have their communications read without a warrant than whitebread America, even if those whitebread Americans have ties to (say) NeoNazi groups.

Of course, none of this undermines Perlstein’s ultimate categorization, as voiced by Bill Binney, who created this system only to see the privacy protections he believed necessary get wiped away: the dragnet — both that authorized by USAF and that governed by EO 12333 — creates the structure for turnkey totalitarianism, especially as more and more data becomes available to NSA under EO 12333 collection rules.

But it is important to understand Obama’s history with this dragnet. Because while Obama did tweak the dragnet, two facts about it remain. First, while there are more protections built in on the domestic collection authorized by Section 215, that came with an expansion of the universe of people that will be affected by it, which must have the effect of “nominating” more people to be on this late day “Subversives” list.

Obama also, in PPD-28, “limited” bulk collection to a series of purposes. That sounds nice, but the purposes are so broad, they would permit bulk collection in any area of the world, and once you’ve collected in bulk, it is trivial to then call up that data under a more broad foreign intelligence purpose. In any case, Trump will almost certainly disavow PPD-28.

Which makes Perlstein’s larger point all the more sobering. J Edgar and Richard Nixon were out of control. But the dragnet Trump will inherit is far more powerful.

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.

As of August 29, 2016, Not All High Risk Users at NSA Had Two-Factor Authentication

For the last several weeks, all of DC has been wailing that Russia hacked the election, in part because John Podesta didn’t have two-factor authentication on his Gmail account.

So it should scare all of you shitless that, as of August 29, 2016, not all high risk users at NSA had 2FA.

That revelation comes 35 pages  into the 38 page HPSCI report on Edward Snowden. It describes how an IG Report finished on August 29 found that NSA still had not closed the Privileged Access-Related holes in the NSA’s network.

That’s not the only gaping hole: apparently even server racks in data centers were not secure.

And note that date: August 29? Congress would have heard about these glaring problems just two weeks after the first Shadow Brokers leak, and days after Hal Martin got arrested with terabytes of NSA data in his backyard shed.

I think I can understand why James Clapper and Ash Carter want to fire Mike Rogers.

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.

Working Thread: HPSCI’s Full Unbelievably Shitty Snowden Report

In September, I did a post asking why the House Intelligence Committee report on Edward Snowden was so unbelievably shitty. My post was just based off a summary released by the Committee. HPSCI has now released the full report.

This will be a working thread.

Summary: The summary, with all its obvious errors, remains unchanged. So see my earlier post for the problems with that.

PDF 6: The report starts with a claim that Snowden’s leaks were the “most massive and damaging in history.” But the claim was made in 2014. Since then we’ve had two more damaging leaks, the OPM leak and the Shadow Brokers leak.

PDF 6: In my earlier post, I wrote about how the deference given to the ongoing criminal investigation into Snowden seemed very similar to — but was far less defensible than — the approach Stephen Preston used when he was General Counsel at CIA. He was General Counsel at DOD when this report started, suggesting he adopted the same approach. Worse, we now know from emails released this year that the exec had actually moved on by May 2014, meaning the claim was not sustainable when made in August 2014.

PDF 7: On the education paragraph, see this post.

PDF 7: Rather than asking the military why Snowden was discharged, the committee asked NSA’s security official. As Bart Gellman notes, his official Army record backs Snowden, not the security official.  Then they say (in the footnote) that they “found node evidence that Snowden was involved in a training accident.”

PDF 9: This page cites from a CIA IG report on Snowden’s complaints about the treatment of TISOs overseas. It actually shows him trying to complain through channels.

PDF 10: Note that HPSCI claimed a paragraph based on information classified confidential was classified secret.

PDF 11: I’m curious why they redacted footnote 43.

PDF 11: Report notes a new derogatory report was submitted after Snowden left Geneva but also after his next employer hired him. It doesn’t seem too serious. Report notes that the alert function for Scattered Castles got updated after that.

PDF 12: The reports that he went to Thailand and China are second-hand, based off what an NSA lawyer said his former co-workers said. Both support an awareness that Snowden was making his privacy concerns known, including this quote (which is likely out of context and may refer to an individual program):

… Snowden expressing his view that the U.S. government had overreached on surveillance and that it was illegitimate for the government to obtain data on individuals’ personal computers.

PDF 13: Why would HPSCI (or NSA, for that matter) depend on the comments of co-workers to learn what Snowden did during a leave of absence? Also note, this is classified Secret, which means it must have some security function.

PDF 13: Note they had an interview with a lawyer and a security official on the same day.

PDF 13: His co-workers claimed Snowden frequently showed up late. That would mean he’d be home for the entirely of the East Coast day.

PDF 13: Snowden expressed concern that SOPA/PIPA would lead to online censorship, but his co-worker was dismissive bc he hadn’t read the bill.

PDF 14: The claim that Snowden went to a hackers conference in China is sourced to a co-worker who didn’t like Snowden much.

PDF 14: Note in the patch discussion, they hide the kind of person that the interviewee for this information is.

PDF 14: Snowden did something after being called out for bringing in a manager.

PDF 15: The report claims that Snowden started downloading docs in July 2012. Snowden has said that was part of transferring docs. But it also coincides with the period when he was trouble shooting a 702 template, so they may think this is how he got the FISA data.

PDF 15: Snowden had access to wget on NSA’s networks for the same reason Chelsea Manning did, IIRC: because the networks were unreliable. Snowden said he did this to move files from MD to HI. There’s a redacted paragraph that it sourced to a “HPSCI recollection summary paper,” which seems odd and unreliable.

PDF 15: The methods Snowden used paper is classified REL to USA, FVEY, presumably because Snowden was grabbing GCHQ documents.

PDF 16: Here’s the funny quote about Snowden violating privacy. Note the first redacted sentence here is not sourced to an NSA document, but instead to a NSA Legislative Affairs document.

PDF 18: The end of this betrays NSA’s efforts to make light of glaring security holes: the CD-ROM/USB port on Snowden’s computer, and the ability for him to download data w/o a buddy (they currently require a buddy).

PDF 19: THe complaints about Snowden’s “resumé inflation” are a valid point. But what does it say that no one at NSA checks these things.

PDF 20: After Snowden moved to Booz, he went back to his old computer to be able to download the files he had new access to. I had been wondering about that.

PDF 20: All the details about Snowden’s flight are taken from public reports, not FBI or CIA reports or even NSA’s timeline, which must cover it. Did NSA’s timeilne, which is dated . That is bizarre.

PDF 21: Note the classification mark for 132, which seems to conclude that Snowden’s motivation was to inform the public.

PDF 21: The report says Snowden left some encrypted hard drives behind, sourced to a 2/4/14 briefing not cited elsewhere. Working from memory I think this is the Flynn one.

PDF 21: The description of what others had said about Snowden’s interest in privacy conflicts with what NSA said internally. 

PDF 22: I will return to the description of the 702 training.

PDF 22: Note they source the training issue to someone unnamed. This appears to be the same person who described the patch issue (PDF 14), with an interview on October 28. That means it couldn’t have been the training person, and surely didn’t have first-hand knowledge.

PDF 23: The report cites the emails (without describing who they were addressed to) and the I Con the Record report on the email. Which means I’ve reviewed this issue more closely than HPSCI.

PDF 23: The section on whether Snowden was a whistleblower doesn’t cite his CIA IG contact.

PDF 25: Some of the foreign influence section obviously says there was none (see the Keith Alexander comment). Plus, this doesn’t cite other public comments saying there is no evidence of any foreign tie.

PDF 26: FN 166 is the bad briefing. Note that 1/5 of the documents Snowden took were blank.

PDF 29: This section describes the damage assessment. I find it very significant the NCSC has stopped reviewing T3 and T2 documents, which must suggest, in part, that they trust the security of the documents and/or have confirmed via some means that there aren’t more out there.

PDF 34: Yet another complaint about not fixing the removable media problem.

PDF 34: A description of the Secure the Net initiative, with four measures outstanding, and taking over a year to get to buddy system with SysAdmins.

PDF 35-36: There’s a list of things HPSCI ordered the IC to do after Snowden.

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.

Matt Olsen Admits He Didn’t Bargain on a President Trump

Something predictable, but infuriating, happened at least week’s Cato conference on surveillance.

A bunch of spook lawyers did a panel, at which they considered the state of surveillance under Trump. Former White House Director of Privacy and Civil Liberties Tim Edgar asked whether adhering to basic norms, which he suggested would otherwise be an adequate on surveillance, works in a Trump Administration.

In response, former NSA General Counsel Matt Olsen provided an innocuous description of the things he had done to expand the dragnet.

I fought hard … in the last 10 [years] when I worked in national security, for increasing information sharing, breaking down barriers for sharing information, foreign-domestic, within domestic agencies, and for the modernization of FISA, so we could have a better approach to surveillance.

Then, Olsen admitted that he (who for three years after he left NSA headed up the National Counterterrorism Center managing a ton of analysts paid to imagine the unimaginable) did not imagine someone like Trump might come along.

As I fought for these changes, I did not bargain on a President Trump. That was beyond my ability to imagine as a leader of the country in thinking about how these policies would actually be implemented by the Chief Executive.

It was beyond his ability [breathe, Marcy, breathe] to imagine someone who might abuse power to come along!!!

What makes Olsen’s comment even more infuriating that I called out Olsen’s problematic efforts to “modernize” FISA and sustain the phone dragnet even in spite of abuse in September, in arguing that Hillary could not, in fact, be supporting a balanced approach on intelligence if she planned on hiring him, as seemed likely.

Olsen was the DOJ lawyer who oversaw the Yahoo challenge to PRISM in 2007 and 2008. He did two things of note. First, he withheld information from the FISC until forced to turn it over, not even offering up details about how the government had completely restructured PRISM during the course of Yahoo’s challenge, and underplaying details of how US person metadata is used to select foreign targets. He’s also the guy who threatened Yahoo with $250,000 a day fines for appealing the FISC decision.

Olsen was a key player in filings on the NSA violations in early 2009, presiding over what I believe to be grossly misleading claims about the intent and knowledge NSA had about the phone and Internet dragnets. Basically, working closely with Keith Alexander, he hid the fact that NSA had basically willfully treated FISA-collected data under the more lenient protection regime of EO 12333.

These comments were used, in this post by former NSA Compliance chief John DeLong and former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey (the latter of whom was on this panel) to unbelievably dishonestly suggest that surveillance skeptics, embodied by me and EFF’s Nate Cardozo (who has been litigating some of these issues for years), took our understanding of NSA excesses from one footnote in a FISA Court opinion, rather than from years of reading underlying documents.

Readers are likely aware of the incident, which has become a persistent reference point for NSA’s most ardent critics. One such critic recently pointed to a FISC memorandum referencing the episode as evidence that “NSA lawyers routinely lie, even to the secret rubber stamp FISA court”; another cited it in claiming DOJ’s attorneys made “misleading claims about the intent and knowledge NSA had about the phone and Internet dragnets” and that “NSA had basically willfully treated FISA-collected data under the more lenient protection regime of EO 12333.”

These allegations are false. And by insisting that government officials routinely mislead and lie, these critics are missing one of the most important stories in the history of modern intelligence oversight.

Never mind that I actually hadn’t cited the footnote. Never mind that then FISA Judge Reggie Walton was the first to espouse my “false” view, even before seven more months of evidence came out providing further support for it.

The underlying point is that these two NSA people were so angry that I called out Matt Olsen for documented actions he had taken that they used it as a foil to make some pretty problematic claims about the oversight over NSA spying. But before they did so, they assured us of the integrity of the people involved (that is, Olsen and others).

It’s tempting to respond to these accusations by defending the integrity of the individuals involved. After all, we know from firsthand experience that our former colleagues—both within the NSA and across the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of Defense—serve the public with a high degree of integrity. But we think it is important to move beyond the focus on who is good and who is bad, and instead explore the history behind that footnote and the many lessons learned and incorporated into practice. After all, we are ultimately a “government of laws,” not of people.

 

 

We are a government of laws, not people, they said in October, before laying out oversight that (they don’t tell you, but I will once I finally get back to responding to this post) has already proven to be inadequate. I mean, I agree with their intent — that we need(ed) to build a bureaucracy that could withstand the craziest of Executives. But contrary to what they claim in their piece and the presumably best intent of DeLong, they didn’t do that.

They now seem to realize that.

In the wake of the Trump victory, a number of these people are now admitting that maybe their reassurances about the bureaucracy they contributed to — which were in reality based on faith in the good intentions and honesty and competence of their colleagues — were overstated. Maybe these tools are too dangerous for an unhinged man to wield.

And, it turns out, one of the people largely responsible for expanding the dragnet that its former defenders now worry might be dangerous for Donald Trump to control never even imagined that someone like Trump might come along.

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.

DISTANTFISH and Correlations

For some time, I’ve been trying to track how the NSA does correlations, as a 2008 FISA Court opinion that almost certainly approves correlation has been withheld from release. By “correlation,” NSA means that matching of known strong identifiers of a particular traffic. All such identifiers need to be tracked to track a target (indeed, France was not able to prevent the Bataclan attack because they had lost track of one of the key attackers).

One of the SIDToday newsletters the Intercept released today describes how a key tool to correlate identities, DISTANTFISH, works.

Here’s how it describes DISTANTFISH’s two functions:

(S//SI) PSC works by processing application layer protocols to extract certain metadata fields that work as strong selectors for the client of the current application. These selectors are usually login names, client e-mail addresses, user numbers, and other unique metadata. If a selector is found to be that of a known terrorist, that session, as well as all others generated by the terrorist, is forwarded to NSA for analysis. The DISTANTFISH association algorithms are the primary way of determining which sessions the terrorist generated when the access is traditional passive collection. The collection of all user sessions is called the Aggregate Session and can be achieved by other methods, especially active efforts.

(S//SI) However, PSC assumes that the strong selectors for a terrorist are known. The second objective for DISTANTFISH is to associate all strong selectors for SIGINT targets and store them in a database. Intelligence analysts use the database to discover new identities to add to the selectors for that terrorist. Work on this database has begun, but much work remains.

And here’s how it worked to collect all the web activity of a particular target in Iraq in 2004.

(S//SI) Project DISTANTFISH was created to target terrorist traffic on the Internet by providing two important services. First, it provides a database for discovering account identities for known terrorists to use as strong selectors (i.e. login names, e-mail addresses, or other elements that can be associated with a particular individual). Second, it provides information on which the same user generated computer sessions. Thus, if one session contains a strong selector for a terrorist, then all sessions can be collected. At the heart of this capability is an association service that can track an individual computer by the way it generates packets.

(S//SI) From this association service, the DISTANTFISH team members were able to determine that the terrorist generated 107 computer sessions over eleven minutes, thus separating this traffic from that of the other 16 people in the web café. As most of the supporting software is still under development, the data was manually examined resulting in the discovery of two additional MSN Messenger accounts and two Yahoo web mail accounts that the terrorist used, but that NSA had been unaware of. Since terrorists often abandon accounts for new ones, having a complete picture of the accounts used is critical for targeting the terrorists’ traffic.

Remember, the USA Freedom Act requires “phone” companies, broadly defined, to turn over “session identifiers” under the guise of call records. Any such session identifier can be used to correlate identities in this fashion. I have long argued that is the point of USAF: to get tech companies to do correlations with a near perfect degree of accuracy rather than (in fact, in addition to) having the NSA correlate the IDs.

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.

One Thing Edward Snowden Is Not a Fucking Idiot About

Gizmodo’s Matt Novak is outraged that fucking idiot Edward Snowden told a conference some stupid things. I agree that this was a pretty stupid comment.

Snowden also addressed his tweet from October 21st in which he said that, “There may never be a safer election in which to vote for a third option.” Snowden told us that he more or less stands by his tweet and that anything else “freezes us into a dynamic of ‘you must always choose between two bad options’” which is a “fundamentally un-American idea.”

The thing that really outraged Novak, however, is that Snowden said technical means are more important than policy as a way to protect liberty.

What got me so riled up about Snowden’s talk? He firmly believes that technology is more important than policy as a way to protect our liberties. Snowden contends that he held this belief when Obama was in office and he still believes this today, as Donald Trump is just two months away from entering the White House. But it doesn’t make him right, no matter who’s in office.

“If you want to build a better future, you’re going to have to do it yourself. Politics will take us only so far. And if history is any guide, they are the least effective means of seeing change we want to see,” Snowden said on stage in Oakland from Russia, completely oblivious to how history might actually be used as a guide.

Snowden spoke about how important it is for individuals to act in the name of liberty. He continually downplayed the role of policy in enacting change and trotted out some libertarian garbage about laws being far less important than the encryption of electronic devices for the protection of freedoms around the world.

“Law is simply letters on a page,” Snowden said. It’s a phrase that’s still ringing in my ears, as a shockingly obtuse rejection of civilized society and how real change happens in the world.

How do we advance the cause of liberty around the world? Encrypt your devices, according to Snowden. Okay, now what? Well, Snowden’s tapped out of ideas if you get beyond “use Signal.”

Novak went on to recite big legislation — notably, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts — that has been critical to advancing the cause of liberty with the boundaries of the US. I agree that they have.

That said, I’m all but certain I spend more time working on surveillance policy than Novak. I’m no shrug in the work to improve surveillance policy.

But there are several things about surveillance that are different. First (as Snowden pointed out), “Technology knows no jurisdiction.” One aspect of the government’s dragnet is that it spies on Americans with data collected overseas under EO 12333. And Congress has been very reluctant to — and frankly pretty ineffective at — legislating surveillance that takes place outside the relatively narrow (geographic and legal) boundaries of FISA. Without at least reinterpretation of Supreme Court precedent, it’s not clear how much Congress can legislate the spying currently conducted under EO 12333.

Either we need to come up with a way to leverage other jurisdictions so as to limit surveillance overseas (which will require technology in any case, because the NSA is better at spying than any other jurisdiction out there), or we need to find some way to make it harder for the government to spy on us by doing it overseas. The latter approach involves leveraging technology.

And all that assumes the Trump Administration won’t use the very same approach the Bush Administration did: to simply blow off the clear letter of the law and conduct the spying domestically anyway. At least now, it would be somewhat harder to do because Google has adopted end-to-end encryption and Signal exists (we’re still fighting policy battles over terms under which Google can be coerced into turning over our data, but Signal has limited the amount to which it can be coerced in the same way because of its technological choices).

The other important point is, especially going forward, it will be difficult to work on policy without using those technological tools. “Use Signal” may not be sufficient to protecting liberties. But it is increasingly necessary to it.

It may be that Novak is aware of all that. Nothing in his article, however, reflects any such awareness.

Edward Snowden may be a fucking idiot about some things. But anyone who imagines we can protect liberties by focusing exclusively on policy is definitely a fucking idiot.

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.