Military & Security

Justice Department to Expand Limitations on Racial Profiling

“The Justice Department will significantly expand its definition of racial profiling to prohibit federal agents from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation in their investigations,” according to the New York Times.

“It is not clear whether [Attorney General] Holder also intends to make the rules apply to national security investigations, which would further respond to complaints from Muslim groups.”

“While the rules directly control only federal law enforcement activities, their indirect effect is much broader … For instance, immigration bills in Congress have copied the Justice Department profiling language. And civil rights groups can use the rules to pressure state and local agencies to change their policies.”

NSA Uses Radio Pathways to Monitor Offline Computers

According to the New York Times, “The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.”

The secret technology, code-named Quantum and used by the N.S.A. since 2008, allows access to computers even when they are not connected to the Internet.

“There is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States. While refusing to comment on the scope of the Quantum program, the N.S.A. said its actions were not comparable to China’s.”

Obama’s NSA Reforms: A Piece of ‘Kabuki Theater’

James Oliphant is not optimistic that President Obama’s plan to reform the National Security Agency will “reshape the nation’s counterterrorism strategy.”

Oliphant contends that Obama is reluctant to make fundamental changes and the president’s speech regarding proposed changes “is going to be a piece of kabuki theater:”

“The president is going to have to look like he’s taking meaningful action to curb the NSA’s reach when he really isn’t. To that end, Obama is expected to tweak the bulk data program rather than overhaul it or, as civil libertarians demand, junk it outright.”

“Any reforms Obama ultimately embraces likely will come from the report released last month by a hand-picked review panel, a group that national security expert Jonathan Turley dismisses as ‘intelligence hawks and Obama loyalists.'”

Inter-Agency Power Plays Hid Vital Clues to Prevent 9/11

Lawrence Wright reveals that “petty” inter-agency power plays prevented the adequate sharing of vital information on Al Qaeda’s planned 9/11 attack, despite the massive metadata collection program:

“Yes, the F.B.I. could have stopped 9/11. It had a warrant to establish surveillance of everyone connected to Al Qaeda in America. It could follow them, tap their phones, clone their computers, read their e-mails, and subpoena their medical, bank, and credit-card records. It had the right to demand records from telephone companies of any calls they had made. There was no need for a metadata-collection program. What was needed was coöperation with other federal agencies, but for reasons both petty and obscure those agencies chose to hide vital clues from the investigators most likely to avert the attacks.”

“Edward Snowden broke the law, and the Obama Administration has demanded that he be brought to justice. No one has died because of his revelations. The C.I.A.’s obstruction of justice in the Cole investigation arguably also was a crime. Its failure to share information from the Al Qaeda switchboard opened the door to the biggest terrorist attack in history. As long as we’re talking about accountability, why shouldn’t we demand it of the C.I.A.?”

Winners and Losers of the Defense Bill

Stars and Stripes summarizes the winners and losers from the defense bill. The highlights:

Winners:

  • Military bases: The final defense bill includes about $1.3 billion more for base operations and maintenance funds than the Defense Department requested.
  • Sex assault prosecutions: the bill does include a host of new provisions designed to protect military sex assault victims.
  • A-10 enthusiasts: Lawmakers included language blocking any Air Force plans to retire the Warthog.

Losers:

  • Troops’ paychecks: a meager 1% pay raise.
  • Medical bill collectors: Congress again rejected Pentagon plans for Tricare fee increases for some military retirees.
  • Littoral combat ship: Congress wants more oversight in the embattled ship building program, and will fence off some funding of new ships until the Pentagon undergoes new reviews.

Panel Seeks to Overhaul Spy Practices

“A presidentially appointed panel reviewing U.S. surveillance programs is recommending a major overhaul of both foreign and domestic spy practices that, if adopted, would amount to a major wing-clipping of the National Security Agency,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The 46 proposals present President Barack Obama with a major test of how far he is willing to push the envelope on reform. The panel would revamp NSA’s phone records collection program as well as the process of foreign spying. Mr. Obama will decide in coming weeks which of the recommendations he will implement. None of the group’s recommendations are binding.”

The New York Times notes the proposed measures would end the government’s systematic collection of logs of all Americans’ phone calls, and to keep those in private hands, “for queries and data mining” only by court order. The panel “also strongly recommended that any operation to spy on foreign leaders would have to pass a rigorous test that weighs the potential economic or diplomatic costs if the operation becomes public.”

Senate Demands CIA Report on Interrogation Practices

The Senate Intelligence Committee acknowledged Tuesday the existence of a secret CIA internal report on the agency’s controversial detention and interrogation program. Committee members believe this CIA report affirms the committee’s findings from its own study.

According to the New York Times, the Senate’s 6,000 page classified report of CIA interrogation practices is “unsparing in its criticism of the now-defunct interrogation program and presents a chronicle of C.I.A. officials’ repeatedly misleading the White House, Congress and the public about the value of brutal methods that, in the end, produced little valuable intelligence.”

“The agency responded to the committee report with a vigorous 122-page rebuttal that challenged both the Senate report’s specific facts and its overarching conclusions.”

“For all his criticisms of the counterterrorism excesses during the Bush administration, Mr. Obama has put the C.I.A. at the center of his strategy to kill militant suspects in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.”

“Human rights groups have tried to pressure the White House to intervene to get the Senate report declassified.”

Would SCOTUS Make the Responsible Decision on NSA Ruling?

Conor Friedersdorf questions whether a Supreme Court ruling on the NSA’s phone sweep program would risk shutting down “a major intelligence program that administrations of both parties have insisted represents a crucial line of defense against terrorism.”

“They’re often more deferential to the executive branch when it invokes national security, so perhaps Supreme Court justices will let speculative fear of future terrorist attacks corrupt their jurisprudence.”

Friedersdorf concludes this would be a catastrophic mistake: “Unless SCOTUS puts a stop to mass surveillance on tens of millions of innocent Americans, its members … will go down in history as the shortsighted SCOTUS that stood by as an Orwellian surveillance state became reality, even as the government presented no compelling evidence it improved safety.”

“The Court is very likely to be considered partly responsible if the executive or legislative branch perpetrates unchecked constitutional abuses … That’s why being remembered for ratifying mass surveillance would be so shameful a legacy for members of the Supreme Court as they take their place in U.S. history.

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.”