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NSA’s New “Privacy Officer” Releases Her First Propaganda

Over at Lawfare, Ken Anderson released the public comment on Section 702 the NSA Civil Liberties and Privacy Office have submitted to the Privacy and Civil Liberties and Oversight Board. Anderson notes that the comment doesn’t appear to be online yet, and the name of the Civil Liberties and Privacy Officer, Rebecca Richards, doesn’t appear on what Anderson posted (though that may be Lawfare’s doing).

The statement, generally, makes me sad. The comment repeatedly backed off including known, even unclassified details about Section 702, and as such this doesn’t so much read as an independent statement on the privacy assessment of the woman at the NSA mandated with overseeing it, but rather a highly scripted press release.

I will probably do a piece on some potential holes this statement may indicate in NSA’s oversight (though it is written in such hopeless bureaucratese, we can’t be sure). But for the moment, I wanted to point to what, in my opinion, is the most glaring example of how scripted this.

The statement describes back door searches this way:

Since October 2011 and consistent with other agencies’ Section 702 minimization procedures, NSA’s Section 702 minimization procedures have permitted NSA personnel to use U.S. person identifiers to query Section 702 collection when such a query is reasonably likely to return foreign intelligence information. NSA distinguishes between queries of communications content and communications metadata. NSA analysts must provide justification and receive additional approval before a content query using a U.S. person identifier can occur. To date, NSA analysts have queried Section 702 content with U.S. person identifiers less frequently than Section 702 metadata. For example, NSA may seek to query a U.S. person identifier when there is an imminent threat to life, such as a hostage situation. NSA is required to maintain records of U.S. person queries and the records are available for review by both OOJ [sic] and ODNI as part of the external oversight process for this authority. Additionally, NSA’s procedures prohibit NSA from querying Upstream data with U.S. person identifiers.

The only new piece of information provided here is that the NSA conducts more back door searches on 702 metadata than on 702 content.

But then the statement immediately provides the most defensible example of back door searches — searching for a US person’s identifier in content when they’ve been kidnapped, a scenario that derives from a pre-PAA problem with NSA’s kludged FISC approved program. Notably, this scenario is almost certainly not a metadata search! This is also the same scenario used by Dianne Feinstein’s aides in November to obscure the true extent of the searches, suggesting it is a propaganda line NSA has developed to spin back door searches.

What I find so frustrating about this statement is how it compares with statements others have already made … to PCLOB.

In November, for example, after ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt admitted that the Intelligence Community treats back door searches of 702 data (and probably, EO 12333 data) like they do all “legally collected” data, NSA General Counsel Raj De admitted that NSA doesn’t even require Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to do searches on US person data, because doing so would involve adopting a higher standard for back door searches than for other data.

Raj De: Our minimization procedures, including how we handle data, whether that’s collection, analysis, dissemination, querying are all approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. There are protections on the dissemination of information, whether as a result of a query or analysis. So in other words, U.S. person information can only be disseminated if it’s either necessary to understand the foreign intelligence value of the information,evidence of a crime and so forth. So I think those are the types of protections that are in place with this lawfully collected data.

[Center for Democracy and Technology VP James] DEMPSEY: But am I right, there’s no, on the query itself, other than it be for a foreign intelligence purpose, is there any other limitation? We don’t even have a RAS for that data.

MR. DE: There’s certainly no other program for which the RAS standard is applicable. That’s limited to the 215 program, that’s correct. But as to whether there is, and I think this was getting to the probable cause standard, should there be a higher standard for querying lawfully collected data. I think that would be a novel approach in this context, not to suggest reasonable people can’t disagree, discuss that. But I’m not aware of another context in which there is lawfully collected, minimized information in this capacity in which you would need a particular standard.

Then, in March, Litt objected to requiring court review before doing back door searches (and he was asked specifically about back door searches of US person data, though he reportedly tried to back off the application of this to US persons after the hearing) because the volume of back door searches is so high.

[Retired DC Circuit Judge] Patricia Wald: The President required, or, I think he required in his January directive that went to 215 that at least temporarily, the selectors in 215 for questioning the databank of US telephone calls–metadata–had to be approved by the FISA Court. Why wouldn’t a similar requirement for 702 be appropriate in the case where US person indicators are used to search the PRISM database? What big difference do you see there?

Robert Litt: Well, I think from a theoretical perspective it’s the difference between a bulk collection and a targeted collection which is that–

Wald: But I would think that, sorry for interrupting, [cross-chatter]  I would think that message since 702 has actually got the content.

Litt: Well, and the second point that I was going to make is that I think the operational burden in the context of 702 would far greater than in the context of 215.

Wald: But that would–

Litt: If you recall, the number of actual telephone numbers as to which a  RAS–reasonable articulable suspicion determination was made under Section 215 was very small. The number of times that we query the 702 database for information is considerably larger. I suspect that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would be extremely unhappy if they were required to approve every such query.

Wald: I suppose the ultimate question for us is whether or not the inconvenience to the agencies or even the unhappiness of the FISA Court would be the ultimate criteria.

Litt: Well I think it’s more than a question of convenience, I think it’s also a question of practicability.

Admittedly, Litt’s answer refers to all the back door searches conducted by the Intelligence Community, including the both the CIA and FBI (the latter of which other reporters seem to always ignore when discussing back door searches), as well as NSA. So it’s possible this volume of back door searches reflects FBI’s use of the practice, not NSA’s. (Recall that former presiding FISC Judge John Bates admits the Court has no clue how often or in what ways the Executive Branch is doing back door searches on US person data, but that it is likely so common as to be burdensome to require FISC involvement.)

Still, the combined picture already provided to PCLOB goes well beyond the hostage situation provided by the Privacy Office statement.

Even the President’s comment about back door searches in his January speech appears to go beyond what the NSA statement does (though again, imposing new limits on back door searches for law enforcement purposes probably speaks primarily to FBI’s back door searches, less so NSA’s).

 I am asking the Attorney General and DNI to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases, communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702.

We are slowly squeezing details about the reality of back door searches, so I wasn’t really relying on this statement in any case.

But it’s an issue of credibility. The Privacy Officer, to have a shred of credibility and therefore the PR value that Obama surely hopes it will have, must appear to be speaking from independent review within the scope permitted by classification restraints. That hasn’t happened here, not even close. Instead, Rebecca Richards appears to speaking under the constraint of censorship far beyond that imposed on other government witnesses on this issue.

That doesn’t bode well for her ability to make much difference at NSA.

Bob Litt and Rachel Brand Redefine “Incidental”

Sometimes, especially with PCLOB, there’s an exchange that I wildly imagine (emphasis on imagine–I’m not saying this is actually the case) is intended solely for my benefit.

Such is the case with an exchange at last week’s PCLOB hearing.

PCLOB Board Member Rachel Brand was trying — as she seemed to be doing exclusively with her questioning — to cue the government witnesses to pitch descriptions of programs in such a way as to make them less troubling. So she walked them through how NSA keeps upstream about collection for a shorter period than it keeps PRISM data. This gave NSA General Counsel Raj De an opportunity to make it sound like NSA, out of the generosity of its own heart, decided to throw out data sooner, and also gave him the opportunity to claim that collection FISC Judge John Bates found to be intentional collection of US person data was actually incidentally collected data.

MS. BRAND: Okay. So you said in an earlier round of questioning that upstream, collection from upstream is retained for a shorter period of time than collection from PRISM and you said that the reason for that distinction is that there’s a potentially greater privacy concern with respect to upstream collection. Can you elaborate on why, whether the additional privacy concerns that pertain to upstream.

MR. DE: Sure. And a lot of this is laid out in this court opinion that’s now public. This is from the fall of 2011. I think because of the nature of abouts collections, which we have discussed, there is potentially a greater likelihood of implicating incidental U.S. person communication or inadvertently collecting wholly domestic communications that therefore must need to be purged.

And for a variety of circumstances the court evaluated the minimization procedures we had in place and as a consequence of that evaluation the government put forth a shorter retention period to be sure that the court could reach comfort with the compliance of those procedures with the Fourth Amendment. And so two years was one element of the revised procedures that are now public.

It’s a nice benign way of describing how NSA got busted for violating the Fourth Amendment, and the FISC’s only response was to force the NSA to violate it for 2 years of retention rather than for 5 years.

From there, Brand invited the witnesses an opportunity to redefine the word “incidental” so it also includes this practice, which Bates judged to be intentional. ODNI General Counsel Bob Litt rose to the challenge of Orwellianism.

MS. BRAND: Okay. I want to use the word incidental collection there again, and your definition earlier seemed to be that by incidental you mean, by incidental U.S. person collection you mean that the person on the other end of the phone from the non-U.S. person abroad is a U.S. person. That’s your definition, right? Is there another definition that you’re aware of? Because you seem to be — okay. I think there’s been some frustration with the use the term incidental in that context because it’s not accidental, it’s intentional. It’s actually unavoidable. And so I just wanted to make sure that we’re all on the same page, that by incidental you mean not accidental, not unintentional, but this is actually what we’re doing.

MR. LITT: It is incidental to the collection on the target. It is not accidental, it is not inadvertent. Incidental is the appropriate term for it.

And by thus redefining incidental, Bob Litt gets to pretend that intentional wiretapping Americans in the US is not a violation of the laws — including Section 702 — prohibiting the intentional wiretapping of Americans in the US.

NSA Conducts So Many Back Door Searches on US Persons It Would Be Impracticable to Approve Those Queries

Update, 8/3/14: Given what we’ve subsequently learned about FBI’s substantial number of uncounted back door searches, Litt’s description of further controls as not practicable probably most directly relates to FBI, not NSA.

While there wasn’t as much as I’d like, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board hearing today focused somewhat on the issue of back door searches: which are when NSA searches on US person data on “incidentally” collected data under Section 702 of FISA.

DOJ National Security Director Deputy AAG Brad Wiegmann even suggested we should call them queries, perhaps to obscure all the obvious problems with them as searches under the Fourth Amendment.

The most telling exchange, however, came when PCLOB Board Member Patricia Wald suggested that the FISA Court conduct the same kind of oversight over these backdoor searches that it is now doing pursuant to the changes in Section 215 President Obama made in January. (CSPAN won’t let me embed this yet but here’s a link.) ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt shot that idea down aggressively, stating that is is not practicable.

Patricia Wald: The President required, or, I think he required in his January directive that went to 215 that at least temporarily, the selectors in 215 for questioning the databank of US telephone calls–metadata–had to be approved by the FISA Court. Why wouldn’t a similar requirement for 702 be appropriate in the case where US person indicators are used to search the PRISM database? What big difference do you see there?

Robert Litt: Well, I think from a theoretical perspective it’s the difference between a bulk collection and a targeted collection which is that–

Wald: But I would think that, sorry for interrupting, [cross-chatter]  I would think that message since 702 has actually got the content.

Litt: Well, and the second point that I was going to make is that I think the operational burden in the context of 702 would far greater than in the context of 215.

Wald: But that would–

Litt: If you recall, the number of actual telephone numbers as to which a  RAS–reasonable articulaable suspcion determination was made under Section 215 was very small. The number of times that we query the 702 database for information is considerably larger. I suspect that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would be extremely unhappy if they were required to approve every such query.

Wald: I suppose the ultimate question for us is whether or not the inconvenience to the agencies or even the unhappiness of the FISA Court would be the ultimate criteria.

Litt: Well I think it’s more than a question of convenience, I think it’s also a question of practicability.

NSA General Counsel Raj De, who has spent the better part of the last 9 months saying “it’s only metadata” went on to argue that somehow this “targeted” content program (which of course requires no advance review of selectors) is less intrusive than the metadata collection under Section 215.

Make up your damn mind!

To be fair, I suspect one of the issues is that after the Nidal Hasan attack (and this is just a very well educated guess), NSA rolled out a system whereby new communications between a targeted foreigner and an American automatically pulls up all previous communications involving that US person. That would count as a search, even though it would effectively feel like an automatic cross-referencing of all prior communications involving someone talking to a target, even if that is a US person.

Nevertheless, this means that NSA is conducting so many back door searches on US person data that it would be “impracticable” to actually give those searches some kind of review.

No wonder NSA refuses to give numbers on this practice to Ron Wyden.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Visit Pee-Clob

The first panel of an all-day Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board hearing on Section 702 of FISA just finished.

It featured NSA General Counsel Raj De, ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt, Deputy AAG for National Security Brad Weigmann, and FBI General Counsel James Baker.

While there were a number of interesting disclosures — which I’ll get at in the future — the most striking aspect of the hearing was the tooth-pulling effort to get the panel to define the terms they use.

There were a slew of terms defined, among others including “minimization,” “bulk collection,” “PRISM,”

But the most interesting redefinitions were for “purge” and “search.”

After much tooth-pulling, James Dempsey got De to admit that NSA’s definition of the word “search” is different from the one used in the Fourth Amendment. Actually, that may not be entirely true: Sometimes the actual collection of data counts as a search, sometimes only the querying of it does. NSA gets to decide which is which, best as I can tell, in secret or in legal filings where it will serve to deprive someone of standing.

Then there’s “purge,” which I can’t hear anymore without seeing a pink speech bubble and scare quotes surrounding the word. Purge does not mean — as you might expect — “destroy.” Rather, it means only “remove from NSA systems in such a way that it cannot be used.” Which, best as I understand it, means they’re not actually destroying this data.

I do hope EFF figures that out before they argue the protection order for Section 215 today, as on those terms it seems increasingly clear NSA is not complying with the Jewel protection order.

“Purge.” To keep. Somewhere else.

Obviously Bogus Clapper Exoneration Attempt 5.0 Doesn’t Exactly Line Up with OBCEA 4.0

Office of Director of National Intelligence General Counsel Robert Litt, 45 days ago:

Senator Ron Wyden asked about collection of information on Americans during a lengthy and wide-ranging hearing on an entirely different subject. While his staff provided the question the day before, Mr. Clapper had not seen it. As a result, as Mr. Clapper has explained, he was surprised by the question and focused his mind on the collection of the content of Americans’ communications. In that context, his answer was and is accurate.

When we pointed out Mr. Clapper’s mistake to him, he was surprised and distressed. I spoke with a staffer for Senator Wyden several days later and told him that although Mr. Clapper recognized that his testimony was inaccurate, it could not be corrected publicly because the program involved was classified.

This incident shows the difficulty of discussing classified information in an unclassified setting and the danger of inferring a person’s state of mind from extemporaneous answers given under pressure.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, today:

But Clapper told The Daily Beast that he simply misunderstood Wyden’s question. At the time of the hearing last March, Congress had just finished consideration of a bill to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Section 702 of that legislation gives the National Security Agency the authority to collect the electronic communications of non-U.S. persons. In his question, Wyden asked initially if the United States had collected “dossiers” on American citizens and referred to an answer to this question by then NSA director, Keith Alexander.

“I was not even thinking of what he was asking about, which is of course we now all know as section 215 of the Patriot Act governing the acquisition and storage of telephony business records metadata,” Clapper said. “Wasn’t even thinking of that.” The director of national intelligence said he thought Wyden’s question was actually about section 702 of FISA.

“The allegation about my lying and committing perjury I think are disproven by my labored amplification when I said, ‘if there is, it’s inadvertent collection,’ meaning when we’re collecting overseas under section 702, and if we inadvertently collect which we may not know at the time, U.S. persons data, that’s what I meant by inadvertent. That comment would make absolutely no sense whatsoever in the context of section 215.”

At the time of the Mitchell interview, the U.S. government was still in the process of declassifying elements of the FISA 702 program. “There is only one person on the planet who actually knows what I was thinking,” Clapper said of his testimony from last March. “Not the media, and not certain members of Congress, only I know what I was thinking.”

If only one person knows what he was thinking, then how was Robert Litt in any position to tell us Clapper was “surprised”?

And has Clapper decided he wasn’t “surprised” (perhaps because he had been briefed, not to mention had received months and months of letters, about the question), but instead simply “misunderstood” the intent of a question he had received months of letters about?

On the Day Ron Wyden Asked Whether NSA Complied with US v. Jones, It Collected 4 Billion Cell Location Records

FasciaAs part of my new focus on leaked claims that the NSA can’t collect call call data because of problems stripping out cell location data, I want to look at the two exchanges Ron Wyden and James Clapper have had about cell location data.

First, at the Global Threats Hearing 2 years ago just after the US v. Jones decision ruled GPS tracking a search (watching Ron Wyden discomfit Clapper at Threat Hearings used to be my exclusive beat, you know), they had this exchange.

Wyden: Director Clapper, as you know the Supreme Court ruled last week that it was unconstitutional for federal agents to attach a GPS tracking device to an individual’s car and monitor their movements 24/7 without a warrant. Because the Chair was being very gracious, I want to do this briefly. Can you tell me as of now what you believe this means for the intelligence community, number 1, and 2, would you be willing to commit this morning to giving me an unclassified response with respect to what you believe the law authorizes. This goes to the point that you and I have talked, Sir, about in the past, the question of secret law, I strongly feel that the laws and their interpretations must be public. And then of course the important work that all of you’re doing we very often have to keep that classified in order to protect secrets and the well-being of your capable staff. So just two parts, 1, what you think the law means as of now, and will you commit to giving me an unclassified answer on the point of what you believe the law actually authorizes.

Clapper: Sir, the judgment rendered was, as you stated, was in a law enforcement context. We are now examining, and the lawyers are, what are the potential implications for intelligence, you know, foreign or domestic. So, that reading is of great interest to us. And I’m sure we can share it with you. [looks around for confirmation] One more point I need to make, though. In all of this, we will–we have and will continue to abide by the Fourth Amendment. [my emphasis]

We now have proof (as if Wyden’s hints weren’t enough of a tell, given his track record) that NSA was collecting cell location at the time of Wyden’s question. While the exchange took place after (according to NSA’s public claims) NSA’s domestic experiments with cell data under Section 215 ended, it suggests the actual NSA collection took place outside of Section 215.

As it happens, NSA’s own slide shows that on the day Wyden asked the question — January 31, 2012 — it collected around 4 billion cell location records (it was a slow day that day — NSA had been collecting closer to 5 billion records a day in 2012). That collection presumably would have been conducted under EO 12333.

Given that we know NSA collected around 4 billion cell location records that day, I’m particularly struck by Clapper’s emphasis on two things: First his suggestion that the legal analysis might be different for an intelligence use than for a law enforcement use. Given his claim the IC abided by the Fourth Amendment, I assume he imagines they have a Special Need to suck up all this cell location data that makes such searches “reasonable.”

Also note his reference to “foreign or domestic.” I’m guessing the IC was also busy arguing that, in spite of the US person cell locations they were ingesting, because they were doing so in a foreign location, it didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment.

With all that in mind, consider Wyden’s question to Keith Alexander on September 26, just before Alexander admitted to the past Section 215 experiments as some kind of limited hangout. Read more

Robert Litt and Mike Rogers KNOW Congress Hasn’t Ratified the Phone Dragnet

WaPo has a biting profile of Robert Litt, ODNI’s General Counsel who made one more failed attempt to rationalize James Clapper’s lies to Congress last week.

One of the most newsworthy bits is that WaPo published the name of Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, the analyst who got Khaled el-Masri kidnapped and tortured by mistake, for the first time.

A far more subtle but equally important detail comes in its description of why House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers banned Litt from appearing before the Committee last summer.

Some lawmakers have found Litt’s manner off-putting at best. Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, made clear to the DNI’s office last summer that Litt was no longer welcome before his panel.

“The committee has not found Bob to be the most effective witness to explain complex legal and policy issues,” said a U.S. government official familiar with the falling-out. Rogers was also bothered that Litt faulted the committee for not doing more to share information about the surveillance programs with other members, unaware that doing so would have violated committee rules. [my emphasis]

For what it’s worth, I suspect Rogers is not worried as much about Litt’s honesty (Rogers hasn’t objected to James Clapper or Keith Alexander’s lies, for example, and has himself been a key participant in sustaining them), but rather, for his usual candor and abrasiveness, which the article also shows inspiring members of Congress to want to repeal the dragnet. Litt couches his answers in legalese, but unlike most IC witnesses, you can often parse it to discern where the outlines of truth are.

But I am acutely interested that Litt blames Rogers for not “doing more to share information about the surveillance programs with other members.”

That refers, of course, to Rogers’ failure to make the Administration’s notice on the phone dragnet available to members in 2011, before the PATRIOT Reauthorization. As a result of that, 65 Congressmen voted to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act without full notice (perhaps any formal notice) of the phone dragnet — a sufficiently large block to make the difference in the vote. In spite of that fact, the Administration and even FISA Judges have repeatedly pointed to Congress’ reauthorization of the phone dragnet to explain why it’s legal even though it so obviously exceeds the intent of the Section 215 as passed.

Apparently Litt blames Rogers for that. And doing so got him banished from the Committee.

Frankly, Litt is right in this dispute. Rogers’ excuse that committee rules prevented him from sharing the letter the Administration stated they wanted to be shared with the rest of Congress rings hollow, given that just one year earlier, Silvestre Reyes did make the previous letter available. If committee rules prevent such a thing, they are Rogers’ committee rules, and they were fairly new at the time. (Ironically, by imposing those rules, Rogers prevented members of his own party, elected with strong Tea Party backing, from learning about intelligence programs, though he may have just imposed the rules to increase the value of his own special access.)

So it is Rogers’ fault the Administration should not be able to claim Congress ratified the FISA Court’s expansive understanding of Section 215.

And Rogers and Litt’s spat about it make it clear they both know the significance of it: claims of legislative ratification fail because Congress did not, in fact, know what they were voting on, at least in 2011.

Unsurprisingly, that has not prevented the Administration from making that claim. Litt himself made a variety of it before PCLOB in November, months after he had this fight with Rogers.

[NSA General Counsel Raj] DE: So in other words, and some of this is obviously known to you all but just to make sure members of the public are aware, not only was this program approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court every 90 days, it was twice, the particular provision was twice re-authorized by Congress with full information from the Executive Branch about the use of the provision.

[snip]

MR. LITT: I just want to add one very brief comment to Raj’s in terms of the extent to which Congress was kept informed. By statute we’re required to provide copies of significant opinion and decisions of the FISC to the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees of both Houses of Congress and they got the materials relating to this program, as we were required to by law.

Now, Litt’s intejection here is particularly interesting. He doesn’t correct De. He shifts the claim somewhat, to rely on Judiciary and Intelligence Committee notice. But even there, his claim fails, given that the Administration did not provide all relevant opinions to those Committees until after the first dragnet reauthorization in 2010. Litt probably thinks that’s okay because he didn’t qualify when Congress got the materials.

But it’s still a blatant lie, according to the public record.

More significantly, the Administration repeated that lie to both the FISC and, more significantly still, the 3 Article III Judges presiding over challenges to the dragnet generally.

The Administration keeps running around, telling everyone who is obligated to listen that Congress has ratified their expansive interpretation of the phone dragnet. It’s not true. And the fact that Litt and Rogers fought — way back in the summer — over who is responsible makes it clear they know it’s not true.

But they still keep saying it.

Obviously Bogus Clapper Exoneration Attempt 4.0

Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data, at all, on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?

Clapper: No sir.

Wyden: It does not?

Clapper: There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, uh, collect, but not wittingly. [After 6:38]

Almost immediately after the first Edward Snowden leaks proved James Clapper lied when he told Ron Wyden the NSA doesn’t collect data of any kind on millions of Americans, Clapper explained that he meant the NSA didn’t vicariously pore through Americans’ emails.

“What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. I stand by that,” Clapper told National Journal in a telephone interview.

That is, his first response was about reading emails in a certain smarmy fashion; he did not apparently deny collecting them.

Then, with a bit more time to think up an excuse, he admitted to Andrea Mitchell that he had been “too cute by half” but didn’t really explain what semantic excuse he had invented for himself.

First– as I said, I have great respect for Senator Wyden. I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked– “When are you going to start– stop beating your wife” kind of question, which is meaning not– answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no. So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.

[snip]

And this has to do with of course somewhat of a semantic, perhaps some would say too– too cute by half. But it is– there are honest differences on the semantics of what– when someone says “collection” to me, that has a specific meaning, which may have a different meaning to him. [my emphasis]

Nevertheless, the implication, less than a week after Snowden’s first revelations, was that collecting Americans’ metadata doesn’t count until you access it, which seems to address the phone dragnet data (though would apply to incidentally collected US person data as well).

Perhaps because his Mitchell answer only increased the mockery, Clapper thought up a new answer, one he sent Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein 3 months after he lied to her committee.

I have thought long and hard to re-create what went through my mind at the time. Read more

The NSA Review Group’s Non-Denial Denial on Encryption

As part of a section on “Technical Measures to Increase Security and User Confidence,” Recommendation 29 of the NSA Review Group is, in part, the following:

We recommend that, regarding encryption, the US Government should:

(1) fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards;

(2) not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial software;

Several paragraphs into this section, the Group with no tech experts asserts,

Upon review, however, we are unaware of any vulnerability created by the US Government in generally available commercial software that puts users at risk of criminal hackers or foreign governments decrypting their data. Moreover, it appears that in the vast majority of generally used, commercially available encryption software, there is no vulnerability, or “backdoor,” that makes it possible for the US Government or anyone else to achieve unauthorized access.

This appears to be based on an Appendix provided by NSA addressing the reliability of certain encryption systems. I’m not competent to assess the claims or comprehensiveness of that presentation and eagerly await some reviews of this report from the tech experts. [Update: William Ockham notes the Appendix doesn’t include the standard NSA is accused of weakening.]

The very next paragraph, with bullet points, reads,

Nonetheless, it is important to take strong steps to enhance trust in this basic underpinning of information technology. Recommendation 32 is designed to describe those steps. The central point is that trust in encryption standards, and in the resulting software, must be maintained. Although NSA has made clear that it has not and is not now doing the activities listed below, the US Government should make it clear that:

  • NSA will not engineer vulnerabilities into the encryption algorithms that guard global commerce;
  • The United States will not provide competitive advantage to US firms by the provision to those corporations of industrial espionage;
  • NSA will not demand changes in any product by any vendor for the purpose of undermining the security or integrity of the product, or to ease NSA’s clandestine collection of information by users of the product; and
  • NSA will not hold encrypted communication as a way to avoid retention limits.

I consider myself a bit of an aficionado in NSA claims, and I can only think of one place where they’ve made even some of these claims, sort of: the obviously bogus talking points NSA sent home at Thanksgiving. That document made a similar caveated comment about industrial espionage and assured that NSA will not demand changes by any vendor, noting it did not have the authority to do so. I pointed out some of the loopholes to those claims here.

I don’t think they have said anything about engineering vulnerabilities into encryption standards; in any case, the allegation was that they inserted vulnerabilities into certain standards through persuasion, not engineering. Besides, ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt has stated explicitly (and not all that surprisingly) that cracking encryption is their job.

Finally, I don’t think the NSA has ever addressed the fact that their minimization standards clearly allow them to keep encrypted communication forever. They like to lie about that one instead. To place in their mouth a claim that they won’t do so to get around retention limits (particularly followed, as it is, by a recommendation for how not to do this) is thin comfort coming from an agency that considers encryption possible evidence of terrorism.

I doubt this assertion that NSA doesn’t try to weaken encryption is fooling anyone. Indeed, it appears less than 30 pages after the Report states, in justifying moving Information Assurance out of NSA,

When the offensive personnel find some way into a communications device, software system, or network, they may be reluctant to have a patch that blocks their own access.

So it’s hard to treat this entire passage as anything else but the “strong step to enhance trust” they say is necessary within it.

The NSA Review Group makes worthwhile recommendations on a reorganization of NSA–the most aggressive one of which — to split the DIRNSA from the CyberCommand position — Obama already pre-empted. Moving Information Assurance out of NSA would also create a champion for privacy, albeit a hopelessly weak one (they even state it should be moved to DHS, but Congress would never agree to do so).

But ultimately on this and some other cybersecurity related issues (including its toothless recommendation on Zero Days that immediately follows this section), the Report serves only to pretend the US doesn’t engage in weakening security as part of its offensive attacks using the Internet.

Update: Oh, as to that Appendix that doesn’t include the standard everyone has been worried about? Someone’s just found a fatal bug in the standard.

An advisory published Thursday warns that a “FIPS module” of the widely used OpenSSL library contained a “fatal bug” in its implementation of Dual EC_DRBG. Credible doubts about the trustworthiness of the deterministic random bit generator surfaced almost immediately after National Security Agency (NSA) officials shepherded it through an international standards body in 2006. In September, those fears were rekindled when The New York Times reported the algorithm may contain an NSA-engineered backdoor that makes it easier for government spies to decode encrypted communications.

The fatal Dual EC_DRBG bug resides in the FIPS Object Module v2.0, an optional OpenSSL library used to build crypto apps that are certified by the US government’s Federal Information Processing Standards. When using the module’s implementation of Dual EC_DRBG, the application crashes and can’t be recovered. That’s an amazing discovery for an application that had to undergo countless hours of testing to be certified by the government of the world’s most powerful country.

Sheldon Whitehouse: We Can’t Unilaterally Disarm, Even to Keep America Competitive

I have to say, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the dragnet was a bust.

Pat Leahy was fired up — and even blew off a Keith Alexander attempt to liken the Internet to a library with stories of the library card he got when he was 4. While generally favoring the dragnet, Chuck Grassley at least asked decent questions. But because of a conflict with a briefing on the Iran deal, Al Franken was the only other Senator to show up for the first panel. And the government witnesses — Keith Alexander, Robert Litt, and James Cole — focused on the phone dragnet disclosed over 6 months ago, rather than newer disclosures like back door searches and the Internet dragnet, which moved overseas. Litt even suggested — in response to a question from Leahy — that they might still be able to conduct the dragnet if they could bamboozle the FISA Court on relevance, again (see Spencer on that). As a result, no one discussed the systemic legal abuses of the Internet dragnet or NSA’s seeming attempt to evade oversight and data sharing limits by moving their dragnet overseas.

Things went downhill when Leahy left for the Iran briefing and Sheldon Whitehouse presided over the second panel, with the Computer & Communications Industry Association’s Edward Black, CATO’s Julian Sanchez, and Georgetown professor (and former DOJ official) Carrie Cordero. Sanchez hit some key points on the why Internet metadata is not actually like phone pen registers. Cordero acknowledged that metadata was very powerful but then asserted that the metadata of the phone-based relationships of every American was not.

And Black tried to make the case that the spying is killing America.

Or, more specifically, his industry’s little but significant corner of America, the Internet. While only some of this was in his opening statement, Black made the case that the Internet plays a critical role in America’s competitiveness.

While these are critical issues, it is important that the Committee also concern itself with the fact that the behavior of the NSA, combined with the global environment in which this summer’s revelations were released, may well pose an existential threat to the Internet as we know it today, and, consequently, to many vital U.S. interests, including the U.S. economy.

[snip]

The U.S. government has even taken notice. A recent comprehensive re- port from the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) noted, “digital trade continues to grow both in the U.S. economy and globally” and that a “further increase in digital trade is probable, with the U.S. in the lead.” In fact, the re- port also shows, U.S. digital exports have exceeded imports and that surplus has continually widened since 2007.

[snip]

As a result, the economic security risks posed by NSA surveillance, and the international political reaction to it, should not be subjugated to traditional national security arguments, as our global competitiveness is essential to long-term American security. It is no accident that the official National Security Strategy of the United States includes increasing exports as a major component of our national defense strategy.

Then he laid out all the ways that NSA’s spying has damaged that vital part of the American economy: by damaging trust, especially among non-American users not granted to the protections Americans purportedly get, and by raising suspicion of encryption.

Black then talked about the importance of the Internet to soft power. He spoke about this generally, but also focused on the way that NSA spying was threatening America’s dominant position in Internet governance, which (for better and worse, IMO) has made the Internet the medium of exchange it is.

The U.S. government position of supporting the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance has been compromised. We have heard increased calls for the ITU or the United Nations in general to seize Internet governance functions from organizations that are perceived to be too closely associated with the U.S. government, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

And he pointed to proposals to alter the architecture of the Internet to minimize the preferential access the US currently has.

Let’s be honest, Black is a lobbyist, and he’s pitching his industry best as he can. I get that. Yet even still, he’s not admitting that these governance and architecture issues really don’t provide neutrality — though US stewardship may be the least-worst option, it provides the US a big advantage.

What Black hinted at (but couldn’t say without freaking out foreign users even more) is that our stewardship of the Internet is not just one of the few bright spots in our economy, but also a keystone to our power internationally. And it gives us huge spying advantages (not everyone trying to erode our control of the Internet’s international governance is being cynical — Edward Snowden has made it clear we have abused our position).

Which is why Whitehouse’s response was so disingenuous. He badgered Black, interrupting him consistently. He asked him to compare our spying with that of totalitarian governments, which Black responded was an unfair comparison. And Whitehouse didn’t let Black point out that American advantages actually do mean we spy more than others, because we can.

Basically, Whitehouse suggested that, in the era of Big Data,  if we didn’t do as much spying as we could — and to hell with what it did to our preferential position on the Internet — it would amount to unilaterally disarming in the face of Chinese and Russian challenges.

If we were to pass law that prevented us from operating in Big Data, would be unilaterally disarming.

Whitehouse followed this hubris up with several questions that Sanchez might have gladly answered but Black might have had less leeway to answer, such as whether a court had ever found these programs to be unconstitutional. (The answer is yes, John Bates found upstream collection to be unconstitutional, he found the Internet dragnet as conducted for 5 years to be illegal wiretapping, and in the Yahoo litigation in 2007, Yahoo never learned what the minimization procedures were, and therefore never had the opportunity to make the case.) Black suggested, correctly, I think, that Whitehouse’s position meant we were just in an arms race to be the Biggest Brother.

I get it. Whitehouse is one of those who believelike Keith Alexander (whose firing Whitehouse has bizarrely not demanded, given his stated concerns about the failure to protect our data during Alexander’s tenure) that the Chinese are plundering the US like a colony.

Not only does this stance seem to evince no awareness of how America used data theft to build itself as a country (and how America’s hardline IP stance will kill people, making America more enemies). But it ignores the role of the Internet in jobs and competition and trade in ideas and goods.

Sheldon Whitehouse, from a state suffering economically almost as much as Michigan, seems anxious to piss away what competitive advantages non-defense America has to conduct spying that hasn’t really produced results (and has made our networks less secure as a result — precisely the problem Whitehouse claims to be so concerned about). That’s an ugly kind of American hubris that doesn’t serve this country, even if you adopt the most jingoistic nationalism imaginable.

He should know better than this. But in today’s hearing, he seemed intent on silencing the Internet industry so he didn’t learn better.

Update: Fixed the Black quotation.

Update: Jack Goldsmith pushes back against the American double standards on spying and stealing here.