Military & Security

Ruling Against NSA Phone Sweep Lifts 'Cloak of Secrecy'

A federal judge ruled Monday against the National Security Agency’s phone sweep program declaring that it will probably be found unconstitutional and blocked the data collection of the two plaintiffs in the case. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon stayed his injunction pending appeals, which will surely come from the Obama administration.

The New York Times: “Reaching into the 18th century from the 21st, the judge wrote that James Madison “would be aghast” at the degree of privacy invasion the data sweep represents.”

“Though the ruling is limited in those respects, it is an enormous symbolic victory for opponents of the bulk-collection program, and a reminder of the importance of the adversarial process. For seven years, these constitutional issues have been adjudicated under ‘a cloak of secrecy,’ as Judge Leon put it. Now, that cloak has finally been lifted in a true court of law.”

Congress Nears Deal on Defense Bill

With the end-of-year deadline looming, House and Senate negotiators appear to have reached an accord on a defense policy bill.

According to The New York Times, “the proposed legislation … stops well short of the more far-reaching changes advocated by many victims and Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, who sought to remove military commanders from overseeing the cases and brought considerable attention to the issue this year.”

“House and Senate negotiators turned back Mr. Obama’s renewed push to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, extending a prohibition on the transfer of prisoners to the United States and forbidding the construction of facilities to house them. But they did loosen restrictions on the transfer of Guantánamo prisoners to other countries.”

“There was no guarantee that the remaining few days of this session will be smooth for the Pentagon bill, pending nominations or other matters that must be dealt with.”

NSA Tracks Billions of Cell Phone Locations Daily

The Washington Post reports that according ton top-secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, “the NSA is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world … enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.”

“The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices … New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.”

The scale and scope of the operation is unprecedented. “Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.”

“The government is tracking people from afar into confidential business meetings or personal visits to medical facilities, hotel rooms, private homes and other traditionally protected spaces.”

The NSA justifies its surveillance abroad, claiming that “when U.S. cellphone data are collected … [they] are not covered by the Fourth Amendment.”

“The NSA’s capabilities to track location are staggering … and indicate that the agency is able to render most efforts at communications security effectively futile.”

Obamacare a 'Moral Triumph' But Drone War a 'Moral Failure'

In his argument against U.S. drone attacks, Eugene Robinson agrees that they “may be militarily effective, but they are killing innocent civilians in a way that is obscene and immoral.”

“Armed, pilotless aircraft allow the CIA and the military to target individuals in enemy strongholds without putting U.S. lives at risk. But efficacy is not legitimacy, and I don’t see how drone strikes can be considered a wholly legitimate way to wage war.”

“Under what theory, then, does the president order drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, with which we are not at war? It would seem the definition of ‘enemy’ is, basically, ‘someone the United States decides to target.’”

“I believe historians will look at Obama’s second term and see the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, despite its rocky launch, as a great moral triumph. I fear they will see the drone war as a great moral failure.”

Lawmakers Say Americans Not Safer

The Hill reports that the leaders of congressional intelligence panels claim: “Americans are in more danger of terrorist attacks than ever before.”

In a CNN interview on Sunday, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that terrorist groups are becoming “more determined” and prolific: “There are more groups than ever and there is huge malevolence out there.”

“The lawmakers argued that questions about the activities of the U.S. intelligence community only damage its ability to thwart these attacks, which, [House Intelligence Committee Chair, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.)] says, could become smaller and more frequent.”

Rogers: “We’re fighting amongst ourselves …. So we’ve got to shake ourselves out of this pretty soon and understand that our intelligence services are not the bad guys.”

House Panels Battle Over NSA Reform

The Hill reports that the two House committees with jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs — the Permanent Select Committee on the Intelligence and the Judiciary Committee — can’t agree on the path forward for the agency.

“The leaders of the Intelligence Committee want to preserve the NSA’s sweeping powers, while Judiciary members are likely to push legislation that will more aggressively rein it in… The House Intelligence Committee had planned to vote on an NSA reform bill Thursday… But it is now unclear whether leadership has made any decisions about which committee’s bill will receive a floor vote.”

Senate Republicans Hold Up Defense Bill

Time is running short for the Senate to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, but The Hill reports that Senate Republicans are holding up debate without guarantees of additional votes on amendments.

“Reid said he offered Republicans a deal to have 13 amendment votes, but Coburn wanted guarantees that there would be more. Reid has been trying to complete work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the Senate adjourns Friday for a Thanksgiving recess.”

“Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said if the Senate doesn’t pass the defense bill by Friday, a conference committee might not have time to finish the legislation by the end of the year.”

NSA Memo Reveals US and UK Agreed to Spy on Citizens

The New York Times reports that “the National Security Agency is authorized to spy on the citizens of America’s closest allies, including Britain, even though those English-speaking countries have long had an official non-spying pact, according to a newly disclosed memorandum.

“The classified N.S.A. document, which appears to be a draft and is dated January 2005, states that under specific circumstances, the American intelligence agency may spy on citizens of Britain without that country’s consent or knowledge. The memo, provided by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, is labeled secret and “NOFORN,” indicating that it may not be shared with any foreign country.”

Although in draft form, “portions of the document appear to indicate that, whether by formal agreement or simply longstanding practice, both Britain and the United States believed that in extraordinary circumstances, one country might feel compelled to spy on citizens of the other.”