3 April 2014
Geoff Stone, Obama's NSA Review Group
Stone's is a good statement (below) which correctly
places responsibility on three-branch policy and oversight of NSA, a military
unit obliged to obey command of civilians however bizarre and politically
ODNI and NSA have been inviting a series of critics and journalists to
discussions. Most have resulted in statements similar to Stone's. No such
discussions were held after 9/11.
Incorrect to compare NSA to rogue, dirty work, civilian-led CIA which will
attack the three branches if riled. That is the blackmail looming since 1947.
Greater public oversight of the three-branches is needed, for they are the
rogue, dirty work, civilian-led three LS, protecty by highest secrecy.
If this can be helped by these invited discussions and statements, that would
be a true advance beyond mere futile debate so far generated by shallow
journalisitic reporting and polemics.
Release of far more of Snowden's documents will be needed for this to happen,
hopefully the whole wad by a means that will put the technology in the hands
of those who can understand it. So far, the journalists have released only
the most useful to arouse indignation and refuse to release what could make
a lasting difference. Not that journalists should be expected to make a lasting
The CIA is the principal customer of NSA products outside the military. When
global cyber spying Cybercom was proposed NSA did not want to do it, claiming
it exceeded NSA's military mission. However, the pols, and CIA, wanted that
very excess, in particular for spying inside the US, ostensibly banned for
the CIA but now needed for terrorists inside.
CIA (long FBI opponents) thought FBI could not cope with inside terrorists,
using 9/11 as an example, and advocated NSA involvement with its much greater
technical capability, but more importantly, its military-privileged secrecy
not susceptible to full congressional oversight, courts and FOIA.
The joint CIA-NSA Special
Collection Service (SCS) -- with
5-Eyes Echelon -- has been
doing for decades what NSA is now alone accused of doing: CIA provided the
targets, NSA did the technical collection from those global stations identified
by X-Keyscore (most located in embassies or nearby).
What is bizarre is how little CIA is mentioned in news furor about NSA, as
if NSA did its work in isolation from the IC and without oversight of the
SCS also does burglaries, code snatches, decrypts, doc drops, stings, ploys,
blackmail, the panoply of CIA operations. The increased civilian target panoply
bestowed upon NSA came from CIA demands channeled through ODNI.
Reviewing what little has been released of the Snowden documents they are
quite similar to what SCS has been doing with the addition of the US as target.
FISA had to be rejiggered for the US domain.
Most national leaders, like POTUS, are considered to be military commanders
thus fair game for NSA along with CIA. Nothing exceptional about the recent
revelations of spying on chiefs of state.
NSA technical collection capability was developed for the military, not civilian
use. Now expanded to CIA full dominance territory. FISA had to be rejiggered
for using it against civilians. And is still being rejiggered these days.
NSA's recent attempt to slough off Cybercom and return to its military mission,
has been rejected by the civilian overseers following CIA guidance and
fear-mongering of civilians, especially those inside the US. The last thing
CIA and its supporters want is a revelation of its manipulation of civilian
leaders institutionalized by the 1947 National Security Act (also opposed
by the military).
At 10:56 PM 4/2/2014, DG you wrote on cypherpunks:
[ disclaimer, Geoff Stone is a friend of mine ]
What I Told the NSA
Because of my service on the President's Review Group last fall, which made
recommendations to the president about NSA surveillance and related issues,
the NSA invited me to speak today to the NSA staff at the NSA headquarters
in Fort Meade, Maryland, about my work on the Review Group and my perceptions
of the NSA. Here, in brief, is what I told them:
From the outset, I approached my responsibilities as a member of the Review
Group with great skepticism about the NSA. I am a long-time civil libertarian,
a member of the National Advisory Council of the ACLU, and a former Chair
of the Board of the American Constitution Society. To say I was skeptical
about the NSA is, in truth, an understatement.
I came away from my work on the Review Group with a view of the NSA that
I found quite surprising. Not only did I find that the NSA had helped to
thwart numerous terrorist plots against the United States and its allies
in the years since 9/11, but I also found that it is an organization that
operates with a high degree of integrity and a deep commitment to the rule
Like any organization dealing with extremely complex issues, the NSA on occasion
made mistakes in the implementation of its authorities, but it invariably
reported those mistakes upon discovering them and worked conscientiously
to correct its errors. The Review Group found no evidence that the NSA had
knowingly or intentionally engaged in unlawful or unauthorized activity.
To the contrary, it has put in place carefully-crafted internal proceduresto
ensure that it operates within the bounds of its lawful authority.
This is not to say that the NSA should have had all of the authorities it
was given. The Review Group found that many of the programs undertaken by
the NSA were highly problematic and much in need of reform. But the
responsibility for directing the NSA to carry out those programs rests not
with the NSA, but with the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorized those programs -- sometimes
without sufficient attention to the dangers they posed to privacy and civil
liberties. The NSA did its job -- it implemented the authorities it was given.
It gradually became apparent to me that in the months after Edward Snowden
began releasing information about the government's foreign intelligence
surveillance activities, the NSA was being severely -- and unfairly -- demonized
by its critics. Rather than being a rogue agency that was running amok in
disregard of the Constitution and laws of the United States, the NSA was
doing its job. It pained me to realize that the hard-working, dedicated,
patriotic employees of the NSA, who were often working for far less pay than
they could have earned in the private sector because they were determined
to help protect their nation from attack, were being castigated in the press
for the serious mistakes made, not by them, but by Presidents, the Congress,
and the courts.
Of course, "I was only following orders" is not always an excuse. But in
no instance was the NSA implementing a program that was so clearly illegal
or unconstitutional that it would have been justified in refusing to perform
the functions assigned to it by Congress, the President, and the Judiciary.
Although the Review Group found that many of those programs need serious
re-examination and reform, none of them was so clearly unlawful that it would
have been appropriate for the NSA to refuse to fulfill its responsibilities.
Moreover, to the NSA's credit, it was always willing to engage the Review
Group in serious and candid discussions about the merits of its programs,
their deficiencies, and the ways in which those programs could be improved.
Unlike some other entities in the intelligence community and in Congress,
the leaders of the NSA were not reflexively defensive, but were forthright,
engaged, and open to often sharp questions about the nature and implementation
of its programs.
To be clear, I am not saying that citizens should trust the NSA. They should
not. Distrust is essential to effective democratic governance. The NSA should
be subject to constant and rigorous review, oversight, scrutiny, and checks
and balances. The work it does, however important to the safety of the nation,
necessarily poses grave dangers to fundamental American values, particularly
if its work is abused by persons in positions of authority. If anything,
oversight of the NSA -- especially by Congress -- should be strengthened.
The future of our nation depends not only on the NSA doing its job, but also
on the existence of clear, definitive, and carefully enforced rules and
restrictions governing its activities.
In short, I found, to my surprise, that the NSA deserves the respect and
appreciation of the American people. But it should never, ever, be trusted.