Saturday, January 18, 2014

I have no respect for Assange, but when he's right...

...he's right.

Assange, appearing on CNN yesterday said the following, with regard to President Obama's speech on "Signals Intelligence":
Well, we heard a lot of lies here in this speech by Obama. He said, for example...[interruption from CNN host]...that the National Security Agency has never abused what it has done. When the Fisa court has found -- even the Fisa court -- has found again and again that it has done just that. So if the National Security Agency is interpreting what national security means, the secret court, Fisa, is interpreting what national security means, of course, ambiguous terms. And in a secret institution, they gradually become corrupted over time. That’s precisely how we ended up in this process.
I don't know how many actual lies there were in the President's speech, but there is no doubt that Assange has identified one. What the President actually said:
What I did not do is stop these programs wholesale--not only because I felt that they made us more secure, but also because nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens 
To the contrary, in an extraordinarily difficult job--one in which actions are second-guessed, success is unreported, and failure can be catastrophic--the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people. They’re not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails. When mistakes are made--which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise--they correct those mistakes.
These claims by Obama are simply untrue. Unless one assumes that the President is incredibly inept and clueless, to the point that he doesn't understand pretty much anything. And that's just not something we can believe, particularly about "the most sophisticated consumer of intelligence" the world has ever seen.

Seriously though, look at the claims in bold: nothing indicates that "our intelligence community has sought to violate the law," the members of that community "consistently follow protocols," and when they make mistakes "they correct those mistakes." All of these claims fall apart with just one look at the issue of minimization procedures (which I went into--once again--in my previous bit). I'll quote again from Judge Leon's decision, from footnote 23 about a 2009 order written by FISA Court Judge Reggie Walton, who has been the Court's presiding judge since 2007 (my boldface):
"Since the earliest days of the FISC-authorized collection of call-detail records by the NSA, the NSA has, on a daily basis, accessed the BR metadata for purposes of comparing thousands of non-RAS approved telephone identifiers on its alert list against the BR metadata in order to identify any matches. Such access was prohibited by the governing minimization procedures under each of the relevant Court orders... 
"In summary, since January 15, 2009, it has finally come to light that the FISC's authorizations of this vast collection program have been premised on a flawed depiction of how the NSA uses BR metadata. This misperception by the FISC existed from the inception of its authorized collection in May, 2006, buttressed by repeated inaccurate statements made in the government's submissions, and despite a government-devised and Court-mandated oversight regime. The minimization procedures proposed by the government in each successive application and approved and adopted as binding by the orders of the FISC have been so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall BR regime has never functioned effectively."
There's not a whole lot of room--in fact there's none--for doubt here. The NSA accessed data daily that it was not supposed to access, and minimization procedures were violated frequently and systematically by the NSA.

All of this information was again in Judge Leon's ruling, in a case where the President was named as the defendant (Klayman v. Obama). Perhaps the President needs someone to read the decision to him? Because it would appear that he didn't bother with the evidence in this decision (i.e. he instructed that it should be ignored) or--again--he doesn't understand anything.

The idea that the Administration conducted a review of intelligence gathering and it somehow concluded that the NSA didn't violate laws, did follow protocols, and corrected mistakes it made is laughable. And when a two-bit, self-important hacker like Julian Assange can so easily point this out, that really says something. Nothing good, though.

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