President Obama and his administration now have a track record. Their patterns of behavior are well-established. For example, they utilize distraction, division, and deception as means of dealing with adverse developments, such as the recent (and continuing) run of “scandals.” There is also a pattern of aggressive use of federal power for political purposes, even when laws and civil liberties get trampled in the process.
Saying he “could not be more proud” of the people working with him, NSA Director Keith Alexander clarified questions surrounding his agency’s surveillance activities in a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Alexander, an army general, was technically appearing in his capacity as commander of the United States Cyber Command to discuss web-borne national security threats. But as Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) noted, “In the last several days, many intelligence issues have been in the press … I understand that these are issues that are very much on the public’s mind and members of the Senate.” The Edward Snowden leaks dominated the hearing. A lot of new information came out today, most of it about phone metadata gathering, all of it highly technical or legalistic. More time will be required to put it in proper context. For now, here are the most important takeaways: General Alexander confirmed the program is justified under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, pertaining to “business data” sharing, which he said only applies to phone metadata; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) questioned this assertion, citing the large volume of requests under the 1979 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see below). General Alexander opaquely explained that NSA only collects and stores metadata; the FBI investigates persons of interest, with the NSA passing along relevant data. The mass archiving of metadata was presented as a vehicle for retroactive scrutiny of suspects; intelligence analysts want the ability to thoroughly explore an individual’s past connections. If the government wants to investigate an individual, it must demonstrate “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of criminality under FISA Section 702 to the secret FISA court that oversees classified surveillance (which has received 34,000 requests since 1979, denying only 11). Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman (and NSA defender) Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) confirmed with General Alexander that the phone records archived by NSA are discarded after five years, and most are never accessed If intelligence officials want to access other data such as phone wiretaps they must acquire a court order, “as in a conventional investigation,” but by implication from the FISA court. FISA Section 702 requires surveillance be tied to a specific investigation; the legal arguments that interpret that language to justify the surveillance of all American phone lines remains classified (as with the drone targeted killing program ). All of this should be qualified by noting that, without independent verification, the NSA director and senators expressing familiarity with his agency’s activities must be taken at their word. Many rank-and-file members, including participants in today’s NSA hearing, have expressed profound unfamiliarity with these programs. Stay tuned: This story is constantly developing.
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NSA Director Clarifies Data-Mining Programs — To An Extent
“It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope and pride. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts.” –Patrick Henry Feature of the Day: 10 Everyday Words With Unexpected Origins Morning Headlines Domestic Associated Press Lawsuits Over Government Surveillance Languish Unusually Massive Line of Storms Aim at Midwest Santa Monica Gunman Was Mentally Evaluated New York Times Obama Backs Bill to Overhaul Immigration as Debate Is Set Immigrations Reach Beyond a Legal Barrier for a Reunion A.C.L.U Files Lawsuit Seeking to Stop the Collection of Domestic Phone Logs (6/11) Politico Challenging Obama-knows-best Establishment renders harsh verdict on Edward Snowden Senate Democrats divided on immigration Reuters Across U.S., nearly half say government spying OK within limits: Poll American who leaked NSA secrets is a free man in Hong Kong – for now Senate panel backs change to military sexual assault prosecution Wall Street Journal NSA Secrecy Prompts a Pushback (6/11) Employment Checks Fuel Race Complaints (6/11) Global Tumult Grips Markets (6/11) Washington Post Tech companies urge U.S. to ease secrecy rules on national security probes Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and the risk of the low-level, tech-savvy leaker ACLU sues over NSA surveillance program Washington Times Medical students’ prognosis unclear with ‘Obamacare’; many don’t understand law (6/11) Poison pills enter bruising Senate battle over immigration reform (6/11) Lawmakers outside intelligence loop get miffed about briefing structure in Congress (6/11) International Associated Press Crackdown Filling NKorean Prisons With Defectors Turkish PM To Meet Istanbul Park Protesters Ban on Palestinians Living With Spouses In Israel New York Times Rebels’ Losses in Syria Complicate Options for U.S. Aid Riot Police Enter Disputed Square in Istanbul Taliban Plans U.N. Talks on Lowering Afghan Casualties Reuters Turkish police fight protesters, clear square Mandela still in ‘serious but stable’ condition in hospital UK says will use G8 summit to push for Syria talks Wall Street Journal U.S. Hardens Tone Toward Iran as Election Nears (6/11) Pakistan Leader Moves to Consolidate Powers (6/11) Diplomats Hit by Accusations (6/11) Washington Post Iran emerging as victor in Syrian conflict (6/11) Erdogan’s crackdown pushes protesters out of Istanbul square Manual left behind in Mali suggests al-Qaida training to use feared surface-to-air missile Top Conservative Stories of the Day: The American Conservative Does Samantha Power Mean War? On the Importance of Intermediation Breitbart Biden to Donors: Republican Senators Scared of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz Joe Biden Schedules First Gun Control Talk Since Senate Bill’s Failure The Daily Caller
It takes a special brand of chutzpah to use one’s own misdeeds as an occasion for “debate” or “updating” the law. Trust us to improve and reform the laws we are violating: that has been the essential message of the Obama administration over the last few weeks as scandal has engulfed it. Eric Holder experimented with that tactic after he got nabbed for hacking into the emails of journalist James Rosen on a subpoena that defined him as a criminal spy. Instead of quitting, Holder dug in, casting the scandal as a learning experience for the nation, as if he had nothing to do with it. Now Obama is trying out that tactic to mollify Americans over the exposed NSA program. He is open to a “healthy” debate about it. Holder and Obama are like drunk drivers who cause a pile-up and then stroll back innocently to see if they can “help.” At the same time, Obama wants Americans to rest easy knowing that the contents of their calls haven’t been monitored. Yes, we are spying on you, he in effect said last week, but not as extensively as these irresponsible media reports would suggest. Yes, we are tracing your calls, but “nobody is listening” to them. But, hey, if you still feel uncomfortable, we can always have a “debate” about it. What an easygoing and thoughtful tyrant. This administration likes to shift attention from a present abuse of freedom by pointing to a greater abuse of freedom it hasn’t committed yet. Americans are supposed to be grateful that Obama’s NSA is only tracing their calls, not listening to them. Besides, said Obama, government is sure to handle this information with care. This line of obfuscation is reminiscent of Kathleen Sebelius defending the constitutionality of the HHS mandate on the grounds that, yes, we are forcing most religious employers to pay for contraceptives but we are not forcibly injecting anybody with them. What government hasn’t done to you yet becomes the new standard of freedom. And then when the next abuse happens the government pushes the standard back a little more. In a few years, the line will move to: yes, we are listening to your calls, but we are not recording them; yes, we are forcing you to pay for abortion but we are not requiring you undergo one. On this complacent view of freedom, which the ruling culture works hard to drill into the people, complaints about everything from the HHS mandate to the IRS scandal to government sweeps of “metadata” can be dismissed as paranoid alarmism or carping about minor, correctible problems. Nothing to fear; nothing that a little “debate” and negotiation can’t clear up. And this propaganda often prevails. Polls suggest that a fair number of Americans don’t seem to care that much about the NSA scandal. They are joining Obama in his shrug. To paraphrase Orwell, everything is all right, the struggle is finished, they love Big Brother. In a mindless, “What difference does it make?” culture, it is considered progress when everyone is mistreated by government equally. Obama’s America prefers metadata to profiling, prefers that Big Brother frisk everyone, from infants to grandmothers, rather than that the sensibilities of young males from Islamic countries be violated. So the “debate” over which Obama has so generously volunteered to preside may not change anything. Like Holder, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper probably won’t pay any price for lying to Congress. Clapper hews to Bill Clinton’s understanding of perjury: that words can be privately defined. Do you collect data on the American people? Senator Ron Wyden asked him in a hearing not very long before the scandal broke. Rubbing his head oddly, Clapper said no. But that wasn’t perjury, he now claims, since “when someone says ‘collection’ to me, that has a specific meaning, which may have a different meaning to him.” The Obama administration grants itself many such mulligans. One would think it might occur to the American people at some point that they can violate the law with the same casualness the Obama administration does. If the highest law contained in the Constitution isn’t binding, why are lesser laws binding? Acts of civil disobedience are bound to multiply in a country where the first acts of treachery are committed by government. Photo: White House
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The Casual Tyrant