Lawless NSA Spying Exposed
by Stephen Lendman
It’s longstanding. It’s no secret. It’s well known. Now we know more. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) deserves credit.
On August 21, it headlined “Intelligence Agency Attorney on How ‘Multi-Communication Transactions’ Allowed for Domestic Surveillance.”
EFF filed a FOIA lawsuit. For over a year, it fought for public disclosure. It demanded release of an 86-page FISA court opinion.
In October 2011, it was gotten. It called NSA’s so-called “upstream collection (UC)” system illegal and unconstitutional. It violates the FISA Amendments Act.
It breaches constitutional provisions. NSA violates the letter and spirit of federal law.
Its UC occurs when it “gets a copy of Internet traffic as it flows through major telecommunications hubs, and searches through for ‘selectors,’ like an email address or a keyword.”
Declassified documents show NSA collected 58,000 or more domestic emails. It obtained other US communications. It’s done it annually for at least three years. It’s likely done it much longer.
It constitutes a gross invasion of privacy. It’s unconstitutional. It violates Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment provisions. It’s unrelated to terrorism.
In February 2006, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts appointed US District Court for the District of Columbia Judge John D. Bates to serve on the FISA court.
From May 2009 – February 2013, he was presiding judge. He said (at least) three times over a three-year period, Washington “disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program.”
“(T)he volume and nature of the information (NSA’s) been collecting is fundamentally different than what the court had been led to believe.”
One example was redacted from his disclosure. Another involved a separate NSA program. It keeps logs of all domestic phone calls.
In March 2009, the FISA court learned that NSA analysts used them extrajudicially. Doing so went way beyond what the judges believed earlier. New information revealed “repeated inaccurate statements.”
Official government filings lied. According to Bates:
“Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, NSA had been routinely running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the standard for querying.”
Bates cited a 2009 ruling. It concluded that the requirement had been “so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall regime has never functioned effectively.”
It violated the letter and spirit of US statute and constitutional law. Doing so reflects a systematic pattern. It reveals serious violations.
On August 20, the Wall Street Journal headlined “New Details Show Broader NSA Surveillance Reach,” saying:
NSA “built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say.”
“The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all US Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans.”
The ability to reach US Internet traffic to that extent means it can access virtually all of it. Programs codenamed Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium, Stormbrew and others “filter and gather information at major telecommunications companies.”
Doing so occurs at “major Internet junctions” nationwide. Algorithms obtain desired data. Post-9/11, they were enhanced to collect massive volumes.
New information on what NSA calls “multi-communication transactions (MCTs)” was revealed. MCT’s cut to the heart of illegal spying.
They represent meta-data collections of tens of thousands of documents. They’re gotten without warrant authorization. They’re gotten lawlessly.
Declassified information sheds new light on intrusive NSA domestic spying. It gives some idea about the volume of US communications it obtains, the nature of its violations, and one FISA court judge’s assessment of its activities.
EFF and others said repeatedly. What’s known reflects the tip of the iceberg. Edward Snowden revealed plenty. Thousands more documents are in secure hands. Much more has yet to come out. It’ll tell lots more than already known.
In early August, Glenn Greenwald said he has up to 20,000 more documents. They’re “very very complete and very long,” he said.
“The stories we have published are a small portion. There will certainly be more revelations on the espionage activities of the US government and allied governments.”
They have nothing to do with national security or terrorism, he explained. They reflect espionage on other nations.
They pertain to “competition with other countries, in business, industrial and economic fields.”
One surveillance program is codenamed XKeyscore. It monitors Internet traffic. It does so without warrant authorization.
It permits meta-data searches. They sweep up emails, social media and browsing history. Every keystroke enters a database.
NSA training materials call XKeyscore its “widest-reaching” online intelligence gathering tool. Agency officials call it their Digital Network Intelligence (DNI).
It collects nearly everything users do online. Virtually nothing escapes scrutiny. Snowden explained, saying:
“I, sitting at my desk, (can) wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email” address.
Greenwald said XKeyscore lets analysts “mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search.”
“The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.”
Agency personnel use XKeyscore and other systems for “real-time” interception of personal online activity.
Analysts can search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, language in which online activity was conducted or type of browser used.
According to Snowden, XKeyscore lets analysts conduct “searches within bodies of emails, webpages and documents.”
They can access “To, From, CC, BCC, (and) ‘Contact Us’ pages on websites.” Analysts can monitor anyone. They can read and save their personal communications.
Virtually nothing online escapes scrutiny. Constitutional rights don’t matter. NSA does what it pleases. Nothing ahead suggests meaningful change.
EFF won a small victory. It’s FOIA lawsuit forced release of information people have a right to know. It came heavily redacted. It’s not good enough. It’s better than nothing.
Having a federal judge call NSA surveillance unconstitutional marks an important milestone. What follows remains to be seen. America’s war on freedom rages.
NSA operates secretly. Obama supports the worst of its practices. He claims otherwise. Expect cosmetic changes ahead at best. The worst of lawless spying continues.
EFF called Wednesday’s release “just one step in advancing a public debate on the scope and legality of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs.”
It’ll “keep fighting until the NSA’s domestic surveillance program is reined in, federal surveillance laws are amended to prevent these kinds of abuse from happening in the future, and government officials are held accountable for their actions.”
It’s got miles to go. What’s accomplished so far represents a baby step. Lots of giant ones are needed.
Success won’t be achieved until all 16 US spy agencies are constrained. Laws are made to be obeyed. Washington acts like they don’t exist. Big Brother is official policy. It’ll be long and hard getting it changed.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.