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Three Questions about NSA Surveillance

June 13, 2013 in Economics

By John Mueller, Mark G. Stewart

John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart

A number of questions have been raised in the last few days about the civil-liberties implications of the National Security Agency’s seven-year-old programs to gather data on telephone and e-mail conversations—the programs characterized by President Obama on Friday as “modest encroachments” on privacy. Three questions ought to be given more thorough examination.

1. Why were the programs secret?

It is difficult to see how earlier exposure of the programs’ existence would have aided terrorists, who have known at least since the 1990s that U.S. intelligence was searching communications worldwide to track them down. It is possible, however, that the secrecy of the programs stems from the Obama administration’s fear that public awareness of “modest encroachments” on privacy would make further efforts to encroach more difficult.

A former Air Force secretary told Reuters that a “growing unease about domestic surveillance could have a chilling effect on proposed cyber legislation that calls for greater information-sharing between government and industry.” Since the revelation, more lawmakers have signed on to legislation that would strengthen the privacy protections in the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The notion here, then, is that the programs were secret not to protect people from terrorism, but to protect the government from inconvenient public and Congressional opposition.

2. What have the programs accomplished?

There has been a lot of ominous stammering from Congress and the Obama administration about terrorist plots that have been disrupted by the programs. But thus far, only two concrete examples have been mentioned—not a great many for seven years of effort.

First, there have been suggestions that the NSA programs helped apprehend an American who had done surveillance work for the terrorist gunmen in Mumbai, India, in 2008. His efforts, however, were of limited importance to the event, and his eventual arrest didn’t prevent the attack.

The second was the 2009 Zazi case, in which three Afghan-Americans trained in Pakistan before returning to the United States and plotted to set off bombs in the New York subway system. Given the perpetrators’ limited capacities, it is questionable whether the plot would ever have succeeded. Furthermore, the plot was disrupted not by NSA data-dredgers but by standard surveillance: British intelligence provided a hot tip about Zazi based on e-mail traffic to a known terrorist address—one that had long been watched.

At that point, U.S. authorities had good reason to put the plotters on their radar. Having NSA’s megadata collection may have been helpful, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Watch: John Oliver Rails on Media for Trivial Snowden Coverage

June 13, 2013 in Blogs

By AlterNet

“I never thought that I would say this, but I am not interested in any pole dancing YouTube channels right now.”

On last night’s Daily Show, summer substitute host John Oliver railed on the media for its misplaced priorities when covering whistleblower Edward Snowden’s NSA spying story.

Oliver equated the media’s focus on Snowden’s personal matters as going “US Weekly on the messenger.” The montage that followed helped make the point, with clips of media heads dishing out the latest on the least important aspects of this story—from Snowden’s political contributions to his education.

“I can’t think of anything less relevant right now than where Edward Snowden went to middle school,” Oliver remarked before playing a clip of CNN reporting on his girlfriend’s pole-dancing YouTube channel.

“I never thought that I would say this,” Oliver noted. “But I am not interested in any pole dancing YouTube channels right now.”

Oliver also bashed the media for it’s need to pin “incredibly reductive labels” on the whistleblower, from hero to traitor, or as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said, a “weasel.”

“I don’t know that we should be so quick to jump to the argument that he must be what he looks like,” Oliver said next to a picture of Scarborough. “Especially when what you look like is the guy in the frat house who can get you roofies.”



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When the Cop Pointed the Gun in My Face

June 13, 2013 in Blogs

By Political Zach Foster

Snowden claimed that the US had hacked hundreds of targets in Hong Kong – including public officials, a university, businesses and students in the city.


The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden vowed yesterday to fight an expected move by the US to have him extradited from Hong Kong, saying he was not there to “hide from justice” and would put his trust in its legal system.

In his first comments since revealing his identity in the Guardian at the weekend, Snowden also claimed that the US had been hacking Hong Kong and China since 2009, and accused the US of bullying the territory to return him because it did not want local authorities to learn of its cyber activities.

As a debate raged over whether Snowden should be praised or prosecuted for his actions, he told the South China Morning Post: “I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American.”

Snowden claimed that the US had hacked hundreds of targets in Hong Kong – including public officials, a university, businesses and students in the city – and on the mainland. These were part of more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, he alleged.

“We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” he said.

The Post said it had seen a document that, Snowden alleged, supported his claims. The Post said it had not verified the document, and did not immediately publish it.

Snowden said he was releasing the information to demonstrate “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries”.

A senior Chinese official said last week he had “mountains of data” on cyber-attacks from the US, after Washington turned up the pressure over hacking by China.

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department in Washington, said it was not aware of the hacking claims and could not comment directly, but she rejected the idea …read more