President Lyndon B. Johnson meeting with members of his civil rights cabinet on 18 January including, from left to right, Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, and James Farmer. King and Young were both future targets of the NSA watch list system. (Photo from Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, On-line Photo Archive, W425-21).
New, historic NSA weirdness, as reported by Matthew M. Aid and William Burr at Foreign Policy
As Vietnam War protests grew, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the overseas communications of prominent American critics of the war -- including a pair of sitting U.S. senators. That's according to a recently declassified NSA history, which called the effort "disreputable if not outright illegal."
The identities of the NSA's surveillance targets were kept secret for decades, but an Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel decision in response to an appeal by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, has resulted in the declassification of these NSA records for the first time.
Read more at the National Security Archives (not to be confused with the National Security Administration, also known as the NSA).
Read the rest
"Barrett Brown makes for a pretty complicated victim," writes David Carr in his recent profile of the Dallas-based journalist
"obsessed with the government’s ties to private security firms." Brown, 32 has been in jail for a year. He faces charges that carry a combined penalty of more than 100 years in prison. Why does the gag order on his case matter to all of us? Carr explains
. Read the rest
Even the NSA's boss and a lead judge in the secret intel courts admit Edward Snowden's leaks were in the public interest
. “The unauthorized disclosure in June 2013 of a Section 215 order, and government statements in response to that disclosure, have engendered considerable public interest and debate about Section 215,” wrote FISC Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV in an opinion today. And yesterday, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, “I think it’s clear that some of the conversations this has generated, some of the debate, actually needed to happen." [Secrecy News] Read the rest
David E. Sanger at the New York Times
: "When far too much information gets classified, nothing is really classified. Respect for the system erodes when information readily available in open sources is ostensibly guarded with high-level classification." Read the rest
Dan Froomkin at Columbia Journalism review
: "It’s hardly been a secret among national security reporters
and civil libertarians
that the sort of intelligence activity we’re hearing about via the leaks was long part of the Bush-Cheney surveillance regime, and that the Obama administration picked up the ball and ran with it. The Washington press corps just no longer considered such activities newsworthy." Read the rest
Anthropologist and "nuclear culture" expert Hugh Gusterson has an interesting column
in a recent edition of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
on the nature of national security and secrets. There are many types of secrets, he writes; strict military secrets, and public secrets, denied and yet known by many. The state's greatest rage is often directed at individuals who reveal the latter, like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning.
American leaders say they will avoid future Mannings and Snowdens by segmenting access to information so that individual analysts cannot avail themselves of so much, and by giving fewer security clearances, especially to employees of contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden worked. This will not work. Segmentation of access runs counter to the whole point of the latest intelligence strategy, which is fusion of data from disparate sources.
Not all secrets are alike | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Read the rest
The Pentagon has classified the list of groups that the USA believes itself to be at war with. They say that releasing a list of the groups that it considers to itself to be fighting could be used by those groups to boast about the fact that America takes them seriously, and thus drum up recruits. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the most transparent administration in history.
Read the rest
UPDATE: Bradley Manning trial judge increased press security "because of repeat violations of the rules of court.”
Journalists and bloggers covering closing arguments in the military trial of Wikileaks source Bradley Manning are reporting a far more intense security climate at Ft. Meade today, as compared to the past 18 months of pre-trial hearings and court proceedings.
@carwinb, @kgosztola, @nathanLfuller, and @wikileakstruck have tweeted about armed guards standing directly behind them as they type into laptops in the designated press area, being "screamed at" for having "windows" open on their computers that show Twitter in a browser tab, and having to undergo extensive, repeated, invasive physical searches.
I visited the trial two weeks ago. While there were many restrictions for attending press that I found surprising (reporters couldn't work from the courtroom, mobile devices weren't allowed in the press room), it wasn't this bad. I was treated respectfully and courteously by Army Public Affairs Officers and military police, and was only grumped at a few times for stretching those (silly) restrictions. I was physically searched only once, when entering the courtroom, and that's standard for civilian or military trials.
But the vibe is very different today in the Smallwood building where reporters are required to work, about a quarter mile away from the actual courtroom. Tweets from some of the attending journalists are below; there are about 40-50 of them present and not all are tweeting. Read the rest
My friend Aaron Swartz's suicide, just over six months ago, brought attention to MIT's role in his prosecution over downloading scholarly articles from their network. JSTOR, the service that hosted the files Aaron was accused of downloading, dropped its case against him, and it was widely reported that the only reason the Justice Department was able to go ahead with its threats of decades of time in prison for Aaron was MIT's insistence on pressing the case against him. MIT's administration was so shaken by the negative publicity following Aaron's death that they commissioned professor Hal Abelson (a good guy, in my experience) to investigate the university's role in his prosecution.
Now, though, MIT has blocked a Freedom of Information Act suit by Wired's Kevin Poulsen aimed at forcing the Secret Service to release their files on Aaron. A court recently ordered the Secret Service to stop screwing around and release Aaron's file, but before that could happen, MIT intervened, arguing that if the world could see the files, they would know the names of the MIT employees who insisted that Aaron deserved to go to jail for what amounted to checking too many books out of the library. MIT argues that its employees would potentially face retaliation (though not, presumably, threats of felony prosecutions, million-dollar fines, and decades in prison) if their names were known.
Read the rest
Still from an important 1964 documentary on nuclear one-upsmanship.
Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News writes, "In May 2010, the Department of Defense disclosed that the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal consisted of 5,113 warheads (as of September 30, 2009). This was a disclosure of great significance," and "an unprecedented breakthrough in secrecy reform," being the first time America had disclosed the current size of its nuclear arsenal.
The Obama Administration’s promise to be “the most transparent Administration ever” is often viewed ironically in view of the perceived prevalence of overclassification. But when it comes to nuclear stockpile secrecy (and at least a few other important topics), that promise was fulfilled quite literally.
How so? Today, the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal today is once again classified. Read more: Pentagon Reverts to Nuclear Stockpile Secrecy - Secrecy News
. Read the rest
In the one unencrypted line of this publication, Kevin Poulsen of Wired News writes, "Don’t read this if you aren’t him.
." Read the rest
A lengthy profile in the New York Times of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden
, who recently leaked information about the agency's secret domestic spying program, paints the young man as an self-driven but drifting autodidact.
From Mr. Snowden’s friends and his own voluminous Web postings emerges a portrait of a talented young man who did not finish high school but bragged online that employers “fight over me.”...“Great minds do not need a university to make them any more credible: they get what they need and quietly blaze their trails into history,” he wrote online at age 20. Read the rest
Michael Isikoff at NBC News reports that the FBI
has "dramatically increased its use of a controversial provision of the Patriot Act to secretly obtain a vast store of business records of U.S. citizens under President Barack Obama." The FBI filed 212 requests for this kind of data in a national security court last year, which represents a 1,000-percent increase from the number of similar requests four years prior. Read the rest
"An odd thing is happening in the world’s self-declared pinnacle of democracy," writes David Rohde at Reuters
. "No one — except a handful of elected officials and an army of contractors — is allowed to know how America’s surveillance leviathan works." Read the rest
Bruce Schneier writes in The Atlantic to comment on the leaked court order showing that the NSA has been secretly engaged in bulk domestic surveillance, recording who everyone is talking to, when, for how long, and where they are when they do. Schneier points out -- as many have -- that this is the tip of the iceberg, and lays out a set of government secrets that we need whistleblowers to disclose in order to grasp the full scope of the new, total surveillance state:
Read the rest
We need details on the full extent of the FBI's spying capabilities. We don't know what information it routinely collects on American citizens, what extra information it collects on those on various watch lists, and what legal justifications it invokes for its actions. We don't know its plans for future data collection. We don't know what scandals and illegal actions -- either past or present -- are currently being covered up.
We also need information about what data the NSA gathers, either domestically or internationally. We don't know how much it collects surreptitiously, and how much it relies on arrangements with various companies. We don't know how much it uses password cracking to get at encrypted data, and how much it exploits existing system vulnerabilities. We don't know whether it deliberately inserts backdoors into systems it wants to monitor, either with or without the permission of the communications-system vendors.
And we need details about the sorts of analysis the organizations perform. We don't know what they quickly cull at the point of collection, and what they store for later analysis -- and how long they store it.
The National Security Agency has released an archive of back issues of Cryptolog, its secret, in-house magazine, in a repository spanning 1974 to 1997. The issues are heavily redacted in places, but still look like a promising source of interesting and curious facts.
Read the rest