Tag Archives: NSA

Where did Obama go wrong?

The Washington Post looks at what went wrong.

The week after his reelection, President Obama was a man full of promise and promises: His job-approval rating stood at 54 percent, the 2010 tea party wave that had knocked his first term off balance appeared to have receded and he seemed as sober about the future as he was hopeful.

“With respect to the issue of mandate, I’ve got one mandate . . . to help middle-class families and families that have been working hard to try to get into the middle class,” he said at a news conference in the East Room in November 2012. Obama acknowledged the dangers of “presidential overreach” in second terms, but he put forward an expansive, legacy-building agenda: a major fiscal deal, immigration reform and action on climate change.

Two bruising years later, only one of those initiatives has been achieved, and a president who once boasted of a barrier-breaking liberal coalition is under fire from his own party as his Republican rivals are poised to make gains in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Here is the problem is a nutshell

“This is an administration that is very good at articulating some of its plans and responses and has delivered good speeches, but translating that into action has been a problem for the past six years,” said David Rothkopf, author of “National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear.” “Right now, the vast preponderance of evidence is that management is not one of the strong suits of this administration.”

Obama’s list of second-term leadership crises is a formidable one: the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, long waits at Veterans Affairs hospitals, Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the National Security Agency’s secrets, a pileup of foreign children along the southwestern border, the threat of Islamist terrorists marauding across Syria and Iraq beheading foreigners, including Americans, and the arrival of the Ebola virus in the United States.

“These are legitimate crises in their own right that have to be dealt with by the president. That’s his job,” said AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer, a White House ally who blames the GOP for blocking the president’s economic agenda. “But that has dampened his ability to speak out on other issues.”

The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas

I am surprised at the scope of this but at the same time not surprised they the NSA is doing it.

The National Security Agency is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.

SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.

All told, the NSA is using MYSTIC to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people. And according to classified documents, the agency is seeking funding to export the sweeping surveillance capability elsewhere.

The program raises profound questions about the nature and extent of American surveillance abroad. The U.S. intelligence community routinely justifies its massive spying efforts by citing the threats to national security posed by global terrorism and unpredictable rival nations like Russia and Iran. But the NSA documents indicate that SOMALGET has been deployed in the Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers” – traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.

“The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States,” the State Department concluded in a crime and safety report published last year. “There is little to no threat facing Americans from domestic (Bahamian) terrorism, war, or civil unrest.”

By targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity. Nearly five million Americans visit the country each year, and many prominent U.S. citizens keep homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

In addition, the program is a serious – and perhaps illegal – abuse of the access to international phone networks that other countries willingly grant the United States for legitimate law-enforcement surveillance. If the NSA is using the Drug Enforcement Administration’s relationship to the Bahamas as a cover for secretly recording the entire country’s mobile phone calls, it could imperil the longstanding tradition of international law enforcement cooperation that the United States enjoys with its allies.

“It’s surprising, the short-sightedness of the government,” says Michael German, a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice who spent 16 years as an FBI agent conducting undercover investigations. “That they couldn’t see how exploiting a lawful mechanism to such a degree that you might lose that justifiable access – that’s where the intelligence community is acting in a way that harms its long-term interests, and clearly the long-term national security interests of the United States.”

Guardian Editor Describes Pressure After Leaks by Snowden

From the New York Times

The testimony by the editor, Alan Rusbridger, gave a public airing to the debate over how to balance press freedom against national security concerns, an issue that became more acute once The Guardian began publishing material leaked by Mr. Snowden in June.

The American and British governments have said the disclosures, which detail how the National Security Agency and its equivalent in Britain, Government Communication Headquarters, gather vast amounts of data, damage national security and help hostile governments. Journalists and transparency advocates have countered that the leak spurred a vital debate on privacy and the role of spy agencies in the Internet age.

Mr. Rusbridger said Tuesday that the governments’ measures “include prior restraint,” as well as visits by officials to his office, the enforced destruction of Guardian computer disks with power tools and repeated calls from lawmakers “asking police to prosecute” The Guardian for disclosing the classified material in news articles.

As he testified before a Parliamentary committee on national security, he faced aggressive questioning from lawmakers, particularly those of the ruling Conservative Party. Some asserted that The Guardian had handled the material irresponsibly, putting it at risk of interception by hostile governments and others. Others said the paper had jeopardized national security.

At one point during the hearing, Mr. Rusbridger was asked, to his evident surprise, whether he loved his country. He answered yes, noting that he valued its democracy and free press. After Mr. Rusbridger’s testimony, a senior British police officer, Cressida Dick, refused to rule out prosecutions as part of an investigation into the matter.

Since the revelations, newspapers, particularly those that have dealt with Mr. Snowden’s material, have also had to adjust to a harsh new reporting environment, security experts and journalists said, as governments and others seek secret material held by reporters.

“The old model was kind of like your house,” said Marc Frons, the chief information officer of The New York Times. “You locked your front door and windows, but not your desk drawer, even if it had your passport inside. In the new model, you have locks on everything.”

The Guardian, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal declined to comment about internal security arrangements.

But Mr. Rusbridger told Parliament that the newspaper “went to more precautions over this material than any other story we have ever handled.”

Senior Guardian editors were initially skeptical this year when asked to hand over their cellphones before discussing Mr. Snowden’s documents, said a person with knowledge of the reporting process, who did not want to be named discussing confidential security procedures.

That soon changed when they reviewed the information Mr. Snowden had supplied, this person said. The documents, they came to realize, would be of intense interest not only to the American and British governments, from which they were taken, but also to other governments like China and Russia seeking an espionage edge and hackers seeking to embarrass either government agencies or the publications reporting on the material.

Eventually the same editors insisted that meetings be held in rooms without windows and that any electronic devices nearby be unplugged. Computers that contained the information could never be connected to the Internet. And reporters who needed to consult with colleagues in other countries about the documents had to fly them over physically and meet in person, despite the extra costs. On one occasion, Mr. Rusbridger said, encrypted documents were sent via FedEx.