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If Snowden returned to US for trial, could court admit any NSA leak evidence?


Image: Reuters

There seems to be a new talking point from government officials since a federal judge ruled NSA surveillance is likely unconstitutional last week: if Edward Snowden thinks he's a whistleblower, he should come back and stand trial.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on 60 Minutes Sunday, “We believe he should come back, he should be sent back, and he should have his day in court.” Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell made similar statements this weekend, as did Rep. Mike Rogers (while also making outright false claims about Snowden at the same time). Even NSA reform advocate Sen. Mark Udall said, "He ought to stand on his own two feet. He ought to make his case. Come home, make the case that somehow there was a higher purpose here.”

These statements belie a fundamental misunderstanding about how Espionage Act prosecutions work.

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In final 2013 press conference, Obama promises NSA spying changes, says Snowden "under indictment"


President Barack Obama holds his year-end news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, December 20, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In the last press conference of the year, President Obama today indicated he may order changes to the National Security Agency’s programs that gather and store the phone communications records of millions of Americans, and instead "require phone companies to hold the data." He promised a “pretty definitive statement” on NSA reforms in January, after he returns from an annual holiday vacation in Hawaii -- coincidentally, where it all started with Edward Snowden about a year ago.

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Snowden should be ‘hanged’ if convicted for treason, says ex-CIA chief


Former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey at the Conservative Political Action Conference, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“I think giving [NSA leaker Edward Snowden] amnesty is idiotic. He should be prosecuted for treason. If convicted by a jury of his peers, he should be hanged by his neck until he is dead."

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, speaking to Faux News with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton.

Merry Christmas!

NSA's bulk phone data collection ruled unconstitutional, 'almost Orwellian,' by federal judge


Judge Richard Leon (dcd.uscourts.gov)

In the nation's capital today, a federal judge has ruled that the National Security Agency's program of bulk phone record collection violates the reasonable expectation of privacy guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution. The judge ordered the federal government to stop gathering call data on two plaintiffs, and to destroy all previously-collected records of their call histories.

The ruling by Judge Richard Leon (PDF Link), a US district judge in the District of Columbia, is stayed pending a likely appeal--which may take months. In his 68-page memorandum, Leon wrote that the NSA's vast collection of Americans' phone metadata constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

"Father of the Constitution" James Madison would be “aghast” at the NSA's actions if he were alive today, wrote Leon.

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Leaked NSA report reveals push for new surveillance powers

A new report in the New York Times by James Risen and Laura Poitras details how National Security Agency officials seeking dominance in intelligence collection, "pledged last year to push to expand surveillance powers," according to a top-secret strategy document leaked by Edward Snowden.

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Update on WikiLeaks grand jury: no indictment yet, but grand jury continues


Julian Assange. Image: Reuters.

A story in the Washington Post today quotes unnamed "senior law enforcement sources" as saying that US prosecutors haven't yet filed a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but the nearly three-year grand jury investigation continues.

The report follows weeks of rumors that an indictment was imminent, after the unsealing of an indictment for Edward Snowden. One source quoted in the story says, “Nothing has occurred so far. If Assange came to the U.S. today, he would not be arrested. But I can’t predict what’s going to happen. He might be in six months.”

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Germany wants Snowden to testify on US spying--but in Moscow, not Berlin


A general view of the large former monitoring base of the U.S. intelligence organization National Security Agency (NSA) in Bad Aibling south of Munich, June 18, 2013. Reuters/Michaela Rehle

Lawmakers in Germany want former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to give evidence on previously-secret U.S. surveillance of Angela Merkel's mobile phone. Snowden has communicated a desire to travel to Germany or France, but Wednesday they said they would instead try to take his testimony from Moscow without compromising his asylum there. More at Reuters.

Snowden's status in Russia is not without conditions, however: Putin said early on that the most important of those is that Snowden not take further actions to "harm" the United States. Speaking to Germany about covert ops conducted by the US could be interpreted as doing just that.

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Press freedom case of NYT reporter James Risen may go to Supreme Court

"A federal appeals court will not reconsider a decision compelling a journalist to identify a source who disclosed details of a secret CIA operation," reports the AP:

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Revealed in Snowden documents, details on how NSA is involved in drone assassination program

The U.S. government has never publicly acknowledged killing Hassan Ghul, identified as an Al Qaeda operative amd close associate of Osama Bin Laden. But in documents provided to the Washington Post by Edward Snowden, confirmation that he died in October 2012, along with revelation of the NSA’s "extensive involvement in the targeted killing program that has served as a centerpiece of President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy." Xeni 7

NSA chief and top deputy expected to depart by early 2014

Reuters today reported that Keith Alexander, the director of the U.S. National Security Agency, is expected to step down in the next few months along with his second-in-command. Xeni 8

Greenwald leaves Guardian for new venture backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar (updated)


Journalist Glenn Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro, July 2013. Sergio Moraes / Reuters

Blogger and journalist Glenn Greenwald, who along with Laura Poitras broke the story of Edward Snowden's NSA leaks, announced today that he is departing the Guardian newspaper to join a "new news venture backed by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar," reports Paul Farhi at The Washington Post.

The new, as-yet-unnamed news site has also sought to hire Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who was instrumental in linking former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to Greenwald and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post, and national security reporter Jeremy Scahill of the Nation magazine, said a person familiar with the venture.

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Report: The NSA collects half a million buddy lists and inboxes a day. Is one of them yours?


Not an actual National Security Agency agent. Or, you know, maybe it is.

At the Washington Post, Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report on a new finding in the top secret documents provided by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden: The NSA is gathering "hundreds of millions of contact lists" from personal e-mail and IM accounts. Many of these accounts belong to Americans. Maybe one of them belongs to you.

The collection program had not previously been publicly revealed. According to the Washington Post story, here's how it works: the NSA intercepts e-mail address books and “buddy lists” from IM services as that data transits through the global network, for instance at session log-on and log-off. And all of this is made possible with help from compliant carriers.

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Defending NSA, director says it's not that what we're doing is wrong, we just did a bad job explaining


A view from helicopter of the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland, Photo: Reuters/Larry Downing

Ladies and gentlemen, General Keith Alexander, who insists that the NSA's only problem is a public misunderstanding about what information the agency does and does not collect, not the programs of mass data collection themselves:

“The way we’ve explained it to the American people has gotten them so riled up that nobody told them the facts of the program and the controls that go around it.”

[NYTimes.com]

Lavabit files opening brief in important online privacy case

Kevin Poulsen, Wired News: "Secure email provider Lavabit just filed the opening brief in its appeal of a court order demanding it turn over the private SSL keys that protected all web traffic to the site." Xeni 2

Patriot Act author pushes bill to put NSA's data dragnet 'out of business'

"Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, who worked with president George W. Bush to give more power to US intelligence agencies after the September 11 terrorist attacks, said the intelligence community had misused those powers by collecting telephone records on all Americans, and claimed it was time 'to put their metadata program out of business." [theguardian.com] Xeni 3