Tag Archives: spying

Surveillance state: NSA reforms driven by Snowden (and Greenwald)

By Christopher B. Daly 

This may be obvious, but I think it bears repeating:

Absent journalists (and their sources, of course), President Obama would not have appointed a task force on the NSA, he would not have welcomed a debate over surveillance, and he would not be forced to consider reforms. From today’s Times:

While few in the White House want to admit as much in public, none of this would have happened without the revelations by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor now in asylum in Russia. While Mr. Obama has said he welcomes the debate about the top-secret-stampproper limits on the N.S.A., it is not one he engaged in publicly until the Snowden revelations began. Now the president has little choice — this week alone a constellation of forces is pushing for change: A federal judge called the bulk-collection program “almost Orwellian,” while some in Congress, many of his allies and Silicon Valley executives demanded change.

So, let’s give thanks to Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald for enabling us to act as citizens of a free country. In the end, Americans may decide that they like being spied on. If they do, I will still disagree, but I will say, So be it. What I cannot abide is the grasping for power that goes beyond the constitution, American laws, and common sense.

 

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Filed under New York Times, President Obama, surveillance

Death of a Cold War spy/”journalist”

By Christopher B. Daly 

As if we needed any reminders that it is not a good idea to mingle spying and journalism, the recent death of Austin Goodrich is a good example. It was true during the Cold War that the U.S. spy agencies and American foreign correspondents often cooperated.

The spies offered briefings to U.S. foreign correspondents as they headed abroad — all very chummy and gratis — and they expected to “debrief” those journalists when they returned home.

At the same time, real spies sometimes used a journalistic position as “cover” for

U.S. spy masquerading as a journalist.

U.S. spy masquerading as a journalist.

their espionage. That appears to have been the case with Goodrich.

Either way, these are bad practices, which the journalistic establishment eventually came to recognize. For one thing, it is dangerous to the health of journalists if other peoples have reason that we are all spies and should be treated as such.

During the 1970s, thanks to the Senate special committee known as the “Church Committee” (for its chair, Frank Church), a lot of secrets about American spy agencies came to light. Among them was the cozy relationship between some journalists and some spies.

The Church Committee’s findings deserve to be reviewed today. I assume that over the course of the intervening decades all of the abuses exposed by the committee have been resumed, along with new ones. I would say it’s time for a new Church Committee to try once again to get to the bottom of the spy game.

 

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New rules for spying on journalists

By Christopher B. Daly 

No surprise. The government has decided that it does not want to completely retreat from the field of spying on, investigating, and prosecuting journalists who seek and report the truth about our government’s operations. The Justice Dept is willing to make a few concessions, in acknowledgement that it recently got caught over-reaching in a number of cases. But it is nowhere near saying that the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedom means what it says.

That’s my understanding of what AG Eric Holder announced yesterday in compliance with a demand from his boss, President Obama.

–Here’s coverage by the Times and the Post. (Complete with lots of comments that should not be missed.)

–Here’s the text of the Justice Dept report. (I am posting this in good faith; I hope the Justice Dept is doing the same and is not hiding some classified, redacted version in which they take it all back.)

Essentially, it amounts to this: Trust us. In the future, the attorney general will continue to make judgment calls and do all the balancing of press freedom and national security. If you don’t like it, tough. There’s no appeal, no remedy, no oversight.

If in the future, we have more secrecy and less transparency, this will be part of the reason.

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David Simon on U.S. spy program

By Christopher B. Daly

I think he’s wrong (for reasons I hope to get to), but I also think it is worth reading this long post by David Simon, author of “The Wire” and much else.

Worth noting: the reason that David Simon can hold forth on this subject is that journalists ferreted out the details of this program, relying in part on leaks of classified information from confidential sources. Without those sources and those journalists, we would all still be in the dark.

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Obama: Wrong on spying, secrecy, leaks.

By Christopher B. Daly

imgres3The outrages just keep piling up. President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and their advisers just don’t get it: the government exists to help the people do the things they want to do but can’t do without joining together. It does not exist for its own sake. It does not exist to expand its own power. It does not exist to spy on its own citizens. As liberals, lawyers, and constitutional scholars, they should know all this. What is wrong with these people?

The latest scandal involves the notorious NSA (for “No Such Agency”). As Glenn Greenwald disclosed in a Guardian exclusive, the NSA is collecting phone records from Verizon for every call made by every Verizon customer, domestic and international. To quote Greenwald:

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

 As they run for cover, the officials involved are going to claim that “it’s all perfectly legal,” because they got a judge to sign off on it, through the special courts set up by the Foreign imagesIntelligence Surveillance Act. (FISA) This is one of many legacies of the over-reaction to the 9/11 attack and the Bush administration’s ensuing “war on terror.” In the name of fighting terror, which is diminishing, U.S. officials in Congress, the executive branch, and the courts have

–unleashed a secretive spy agency

–to spy on Americans

–using a legal OK from a secret court.

It should be noted that, of course, the whole operation is secret. We were never supposed to learn that our phone records are being routinely collected on a vast scale. (Note: as far as we know, they are not recording the content of those calls, only metadata such as the number being called, timing, duration, location, etc.) If it were not for an investigative reporter ferreting out stuff he is not supposed to find out, we the people would never know about this.

It’s possible that the American people, informed of this huge data grab, will decide this is a good and wise thing to do. Fine. If that’s the consensus, I will abide by that. But we at least deserve to know what’s going on and debate whether it is a wise use of our government’s power.

On the subject of leaks, here is a thought exercise: what disclosures of information would you rather NOT know about? Would you want to close your eyes to Abu Gharib? the “Fast and Furious” screw-up? The IRS abuses?

There are countries where secrets stay secret, and I would not want to live in any of them.

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The NSA case brings up another question: why do the telecom companies roll over so readily every time the government comes calling?

Here is a report from the indispensable Electronic Frontier Foundation showing which companies turn over what kinds of data.

Here is an analysis from TNR about why the telecoms are different from social media companies. Worth considering.

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Another question: Does the NSA data grab include phone records for the White House? For the Holder residence? For the home or office numbers of the members of the House and Senate images-1Intelligence committees? For any journalists who have perfectly good reasons to make phone calls to Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and other terror hideouts? Does it include the home phone of the judge who signed the secret order?

 

One more: Does no one remember the Church committee hearings or findings?

Sheesh. 

 

 

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Filed under First Amendment, Journalism, leaks, Politics, President Obama