Declassified: Report on NSA surveillance flares up battle for privacy

27th April 2015

In anticipation of the Patriot Act surveillance law’s expiration, the White House has declassified a six-year-old report on NSA practices. Some Republican lawmakers are seeking the prolongation of bulk data collection.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released the redacted report on the National Security Agency surveillance program following a lawsuit filed by the New York Times in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The report was prepared by experts from the CIA, the Justice Department, NSA, ODNI and Pentagon back in July 2009.

The bulk data collection and wiretapping was authorized by President George W. Bush under the ‘President’s Surveillance Program’ (PSP) approved in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001.

Although the program’s modus operandi had been already partially declassified, the bulky report sheds light upon peculiarities of the ultimately secret program exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

For example, a part of the report says that FBI agents had two types of cases: ‘preliminary’ and ‘full’ investigations. But the Bush administration created a third, lower-level type called an ‘assessment’. At this level agents were told to scrutinize phone numbers believed to be suspicious. It was not necessary to explain why the numbers were deemed so. The agents were warned they should “use the information in legal or judicial proceedings.”

Inspectors, who authored the report confessed they “had difficulty evaluating the precise contribution of the PSP to counterterrorism efforts because it was most often viewed as one source among many available analytic and intelligence-gathering tools in these efforts.”

The FBI analyzed warrantless wiretapping from 2001 till 2004 and came to the conclusion that only 1.2 percent of the data gathered helped in fight against terrorists. Two years later the bureau found no data collected from 2004 till 2006 was useful.

Critics say that many of the 10 provisions of the Patriot Act, such as enhancing domestic security and improving intelligence gathering and sharing, violate the US Constitution.

Now that they are set to expire on June 1, the American lawmakers are looking for new means either to keep the questionable practices going for several years more or to change the conventional surveillance rules altogether.

The FBI is also applying pressure on lawmakers since the agency has surveillance programs of its own used to investigate domestic cases.

Senate Republicans have submitted for approval a new bill authorizing security agencies to go on with collecting recordings of phone calls of practically every American. The legislation simply reauthorizes most controversial sections of the Patriot Act, enabling the NSA to oblige the phone companies to share records of most landline calls inside the US.

There has been a legislation aimed to put an end to bulk data collection, which was in effect supported by President Barack Obama, but it failed last year.

The anti-mass surveillance effort in the US is associated with the USA Freedom Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring Act) being prepared by a bipartisan group of House members.

The Obama administration is backing the initiative, with the White House press secretary Josh Earnest saying Friday that “Hopefully, the next place where Democrats and Republicans will turn their attention and try to work together is on this issue of putting in place important reforms to the Patriot Act




Hillary Clinton reportedly wiped email server clean, didn’t respond to Benghazi subpoena

29th March 2015

The chair of the Republican-led congressional panel investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to respond to a subpoena for her private server, which she had used for government business.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who heads the House Select Committee on Benghazi panel, said Clinton had not provided a single new document and had wiped her server clean, reported Reuters.

We learned today, from her attorney, Secretary Clinton unilaterally decided to wipe her server clean and permanently delete all emails from her personal server,” Gowdy said in a statement.

However, Clinton said she has given copies of all work-related emails to the State Department. The State Department said it had already given Gowdy’s committee all the relevant emails – some 300 – about the attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The attacks on September 11, 2012 led to the death of the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and a foreign service officer, while a later attack led to the deaths of two CIA contractors. Ten others were injured.

Members of Gowdy’s committee said they need to see all of Clinton’s emails, including those she did not give to the State Department. Gowdy said the committee will speak to Clinton about the emails and the server.

The development is the latest wrinkle in the press and government’s scrutiny over Clinton’s use of a personal email address to conduct government business. There is concern that her email account was not as secure as the State Department’s network, leaving her correspondence vulnerable to hackers and foreign nations.

Responding to the criticism, a top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said the letter from Clinton’s lawyer confirmed she had turned over all relevant emails.




From Ground Zero to Guantanamo: a timeline of CIA torture since 9/11

9th dec 2014

The release of the Senate ‘torture report’ marks the end of a dark chapter in American history that began on September 11, 2001. Here are the key moments from an era which saw the US embrace extreme interrogation methods, and later ban them

11 September, 2001: al Qaeda-backed terrorists hijack four passenger airliners and execute an attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, killing 2,996 people.

18 September, 2001: The US justice department institutes a regulation allowing non-citizens suspected of terrorism to be detained without charge for “a reasonable period of time”.

7 October, 2001: US and UK forces launch Operation Enduring Freedom with strikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

11 January, 2002: The first twenty detainees arrive at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

April – July, 2002: Reports emerge of detainees being held in isolation, forced into painful positions, and subjected to sleep deprivation. A US official states that these are part of “getting a detainee ready” for interrogation.

14 March, 2003: The Pentagon approves the use of “physically and psychologically stressful methods”, including waterboarding.

20 March, 2003: US and coalition forces invade Iraq
March, 2004: Five British nationals are released from Guantanamo. They claim to have been exposed to food deprivation, extreme temperatures, strobe lighting and excessively loud music.

28 April, 2004: Photographs of inmate abuse by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq emerge, sparking international condemnation.

June, 2004: The Bush administration confirms it authorised sleep and food deprivation, as well as the use of hooding, on detainees

November, 2005: The CIA destroys a series of videotapes showing agents using waterboarding and other extreme methods during interrogations. The CIA does not admit that the tapes ever existed until 2007.

29 June, 2006: The US Supreme Court rules that US detention policy is unlawful under the Geneva Convention.

6 September, 2006: President George W Bush publicly acknowledges the CIA’s use of secret prisons, aka “black sites”.

5 February, 2008: The CIA confirms the use of waterboarding on detainees. Senator John McCain notes that the U.S. military hanged Japanese soldiers for waterboarding U.S. prisoners of war.

22 January, 2009: Two days after taking office, Barack Obama signs an order committing to his campaign pledge that Guantanamo will be closed within a year. He has to abandon the plan after Congress bars him from relocating the detainees to the United States.

17 December, 2013: An inquiry led by Sir Peter Gibson concludes that British officials were aware of US abuse but were reluctant to question the use of sleep deprivation, hooding and waterboarding for “fear of damaging liaison relationships”.

6 December, 2014: Six inmates are released from Guantanamo, with 136 still indefinitely detained.

9 December, 2014: After a three-year investigation and intense clashes over declassification, the Senate intelligence committee’s ‘torture report’ is published.