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Intelligence Director Claims NSA Surveillance Reports Inaccurate 262

Posted by Soulskill
from the nothing-to-see-here-move-along dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "James R. Clapper, the nation's Director of National Intelligence, claimed that recent reports about the NSA monitoring Americans' Internet and phone communications are inaccurate. 'The Guardian and The Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,' he wrote in a June 6 statement. 'They contain numerous inaccuracies.' While the statement didn't detail the supposed inaccuracies, it explained why the monitoring described in those articles would, at least in theory, violate the law. 'Section 702 is a provision of FISA that is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States,' it read. 'It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.' Those newspaper articles describe an NSA project codenamed Prism, which allegedly taps into the internal databases of nine major technology companies: Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple. Both publications drew their information from an internal PowerPoint presentation used to train intelligence operatives. Speaking to Slashdot, Google, Microsoft and Facebook all again denied knowledge of Prism; the Google spokesperson suggested he didn't 'have any insight' into why Google would have appeared in the NSA's alleged PowerPoint presentation. But many, many questions remain."
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Intelligence Director Claims NSA Surveillance Reports Inaccurate

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  • Double-speak (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:01AM (#43936403) Journal

    "You are wrong, but I am not going to tell you HOW you are wrong"

    From reading the Powerpoint, I came to a few conclusions. First, the news reports about the details of the program are accurate. Second, the Powerpoint is legitimate, albeit amateur for someone to disregard the standard stylistic guidelines for information that has classifications on it. Third, the full Powerpoint presentation will be declassified in 2037, so do not hold your breath for all the details.

  • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:07AM (#43936499) Homepage

    Of course the NSA doesn't spy on American citizens. That's against the law.

    What they do is allow friendly foreign agents -- like the UK -- to spy on American citizens, and then they share the data together. [guardian.co.uk] It's totally different and completely legal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:10AM (#43936527)

    But only because the reality is worse!

    Or did people forget about how the FBI uses Carnivore [wikipedia.org] and its successors, or that the NSA has had Echelon [wikipedia.org] in continuous operation? The companies that are protesting that they don't willingly hand over the data are probably right, the NSA is probably tapping the datacenters and ISPs directly without telling anyone concerned (see the fiasco at AT&T [wikipedia.org] for instance).

  • what gets me... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BenSchuarmer (922752) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:10AM (#43936533)

    is that the news outlets are saying it was a secret.

    Is there really anybody out there who didn't know the government has been doing this?

  • Verbal loophole (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:13AM (#43936569)

    That is very well crafted response. Look at what he says "'It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen...." - INTENTIONALLY target is key there. They aren't intentionally targeting anyone. They are doing a broad sweep of everyone's data, then analyzing it, at which point they an argue for probable cause and then intentionally target an individual within the scope of the law. Words matter

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:13AM (#43936571)

    The NSA, Congress, and the Whitehouse represent an existential threat to the freedom of the American people, the most dire in the history of the country. The Constitution is the law of the land, not just some "damned piece of paper." If the government, in all its organs, branches, and bodies, conspires to violate that Constitution then the American people have the right and duty to take up arms to defend it. As the oath goes, defend it against "all enemies, foreign or domestic." And this is a domestic enemy of the Constitution.

    Let's set aside this Left vs. Right bullshit and take our country back, Americans.

  • by noh8rz10 (2716597) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:14AM (#43936581)
    just because you're paranoid doesn't mean the government isn't spying on all your activities.
  • by gl4ss (559668) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:15AM (#43936603) Homepage Journal

    Of course the NSA doesn't spy on American citizens. That's against the law.

    What they do is allow friendly foreign agents -- like the UK -- to spy on American citizens, and then they share the data together. [guardian.co.uk] It's totally different and completely legal.

    they can spy on everyone.

    they can't just spy on person x. but everyone is free game.

  • by brxndxn (461473) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:24AM (#43936697)

    Seriously, what the fuck does it accomplish by calling anyone conspiracy theorists? It's in mainstream media now - and you're still calling them conspiracy theorists? It was leaked, reported on, and it is out there.. and it's even being shown on TV news in the US.

    You're living uninformed and in a bubble if you cannot see the obvious direction the US is headed.. You're sitting there with your head in the sand calling the people that are most vocal about it derogatory names.

    This is just what is reported.. A conspiracy theorist would say that most likely the actual truth is more damming.

  • Re:Verbal loophole (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:24AM (#43936701)

    If I had to guess, personally, based on what I've heard and what I've seen. I'd say that they are building a network of contacts. They want to be able to see who talks to who, how often, at what times of day and night, and over what mediums. When they identify a suspect, they want to be able to quickly identify who else they should be looking into. To a lesser extent, they want to look for unusual patterns that could indicate something nefarious is going on, most people's contacts to not follow a rigid hierarchy. Most people's contacts aren't segregated into groups that have little to no contact between them.

    The problem with that kind of analysis is that it will never be accurate enough to be useful, simply because of the numbers involved. A .01% false positive rate will completely swamp out a 90% true positive rate, when you are looking at hundreds of millions of people looking for just dozens of potential terrorists.

  • If the government, in all its organs, branches, and bodies, conspires to violate that Constitution then the American people have the right and duty to take up arms to defend it.

    Right? Possibly. Duty? Hell, no. I and most of the population are not going to start shooting people and risking our own deaths just because someone with a stricter interpretation of the American political process got his panties in a bunch. Violation of perceived rights would have to much, much deeper before inaction is no longer a moral choice.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:28AM (#43936747)
    I think literally "taking up arms" is premature and would be counter-productive, but parent is right. I'm writing to my Congressional representatives tonight to let them know that I vote and my next vote will be heavily influenced by their response to this revelation. I think I'll also write to my national political party office (I'm registered with a major party) to tell them the same thing. It's also a good time to consider joining/contributing to an organization that advocates for privacy and civil rights.
  • by Picass0 (147474) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:30AM (#43936769) Homepage Journal

    "I'm saying that when the President does it, it's not illegal!" - Richard Nixon, 1977

  • Re:Double-speak (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@NosPaM.cornell.edu> on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:32AM (#43936795) Homepage

    "Second, the Powerpoint is legitimate"

    I don't think so. Note the cost estimates for a program of supposedly massive scale: $20M/year.

    That one number completely destroys the credibility of the slides. Even if you multiplied that number by 10 it would probably still be a bit on the low side.

  • Do also notice that they're only protesting that they don't spy on U.S. citizens; they never actually say they do not allow direct access to everyone from outside the U.S.

  • by moeinvt (851793) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:38AM (#43936855)

    "the statement didn't detail the supposed inaccuracies, it explained why the monitoring described in those articles would, at least in theory, violate the law."

    This scumbag is arguing that the allegations in the stories are inaccurate because the actions they describe would be in violation of THE LAW?

    Since when does the government give a damn about following the law or holding its employees accountable for violations?
    The Bush wiretapping program was blatantly illegal under the original FISA law, the OTS helped banks back-date deposits to mask their insolvency, the ATF smuggles weapons to the Mexican drug cartels. The government openly murders U.S. citizens without charge or trial.

    This guy is arguing that government would NEVER violate the law, therefore any allegations of criminal activity by the government must necessarily be false? LOL

  • Re:what gets me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:39AM (#43936875)

    Before the leak: "Yeah whatever, put your tinfoil hat back on"
    After the leak: "Cool story bro. We've all known this all along. Why are you making such a fuss"

  • Re:Verbal loophole (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@caRASPrpanet.net minus berry> on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:44AM (#43936971) Homepage

    Actually its a temporal loophole. See, they can collect the data now, under the auspices of national security and with paper thin protections that restrict their usage. The problem is.... the system exists now. So if they change that rule, oops... the system already exists.

    This means we have to not only trust that they are not now, secretly, misusing the data beyond their claims (whether the claims are bull or not is another question, and whether the claims being true justify it, also another matter), but we have to trust that every future group will do the same, through the future administrations, future panels of judges, future NSA administrators.

    So this is a temporal loophole.... we setup a system that makes it look ok to many people now.... but then we have it so all we have to do is change policy and its already too late.

  • by noh8rz10 (2716597) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:49AM (#43937015)
    This was my favorite part of the WaPo article:

    There has been “continued exponential growth in tasking to Facebook and Skype,” according to the PRISM slides. With a few clicks and an affirmation that the subject is believed to be engaged in terrorism, espionage or nuclear proliferation, an analyst obtains full access to Facebook’s “extensive search and surveillance capabilities against the variety of online social networking services.”

    so, you enter a name to access his full facebook profile, and there's a popup - are you reasonably sure he's a terrorist? yes/no" I'm glad to know there are safeguards in place!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @12:08PM (#43937275)

    We have the warrant, the FBI writes them out for the FISA court, the warrant sends the data to the NSA.

    Yeh we get it, its illegal, so you hid it, you fucking liar Clapper.

    Everyone of you in the NSA that think you're the good guys, if you are the good guys why is the truth so scary. You're the fucking STASI, no different. You kept your mouths shut kidding youselfs you were good Americans.

    STASI

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/3275905/Stasi-police-kept-East-Germans-in-fear-for-40-years.html

    "They did not need torture chambers and rubber truncheons to keep people in line, but instead exploited the insecurities of members of the public, according to author Christhard Laepple."

    "Turning one in three of the German Democratic Republic's 17 million citizens into informers, the Stasi injected fear, uncertainty and suspicion into every walk of life, making sure few people ever uttered anything which might anger the regime."

    "...Most of the spies interviewed professed to be committed socialists who believed they were weeding out capitalist opponents."

    "But others were simply remorseless opportunists with scant regard for the lives they ruined. All withheld their real names for fear of being ostracised. "

    Yeh we get it, you're good socialists trying to weed out capitalist opponents, same thing.

  • Re:Great argument (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grumbleduke (789126) on Friday June 07, 2013 @12:25PM (#43937465) Journal

    The key word is "target"; it is illegal for the FISA system to be used to target people in the US. However, we've known for a while that the US Government has a "secret interpretation [techdirt.com]" of this law which the public isn't allowed to know, for reasons that have to be kept secret but partly because, if released, the information "could result in exceptionally grave and serious damage to the national security [techdirt.com]".

    One of the main suggestions for what this interpretation is is based on the precise phrasing of the law; FISA prohibits the authorisation of any acquisition of information if it "intentionally target[s] any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States."

    So if the NSA (or whoever) gets an authorisation to acquire information on everyone so that, at a later date, they can search that information to find specific stuff on particular individuals, at the time when they acquire the data they are not "targeting" anyone, and they don't *know* that the people whose information they are gathering are located in the US.

    It's a really well-crafted piece of legislation; I hope the legal draftsmen behind it got a bonus that year... it's even sneakier than all the PR statements coming out of the NSA and the tech companies involved.

    So the bottom line is that this probably *isn't* illegal. But no one can tell for sure, because the people who have tried to sue over this have had their cases thrown out for various reasons.

  • by Grumbleduke (789126) on Friday June 07, 2013 @12:31PM (#43937563) Journal

    They can spy on everyone, provided at the time they gather all the data they aren't intentionally targeting any specific person they know is in the US. But until they get the data they can't know whose it is, or where they might be. The FISA Amendments Act is a really neat/sneaky piece of legislation.

  • by John Jorsett (171560) on Friday June 07, 2013 @12:58PM (#43938053)

    This is how bureaucrats try to connote that a report is riddled with errors, falsehoods, and bad conclusions, without actually saying that. They can't say it because it isn't true, so they have to tap dance around that inconvenient fact by saying a report is 'inaccurate'. 'Inaccuracy' could easily refer to misspellings of people's names, dates off by a day, typos, etc. Unless he says exactly what he's talking about, it's reasonable to assume he's just trying to obfuscate.

  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Friday June 07, 2013 @01:47PM (#43938745)

    When James R Clapper opens his mouth I have no reason to believe or trust anything he says. He lied in testimony in front of congress and he won't even say what is wrong about the reports because "classified".

    When technology companies like Microsoft tell us they safeguard our data or don't put backdoors into their shit and then lie about participation in spying programs are paying customers expected to do something other than switch to linux?

    What about their foreign customers how are they supposed to trust an american company with perception of an out of control lawless state?

    Secret interpretation of law is corrosive to state legitimacy. Which translates to non-academic consequences in the real world.

    Foreign companies will think twice (US = next Huawei) before trusting US based firms for anything. People will increase their use of information security technology and the result will be negative effects on actual lawful non-puppet judge issued warrants.

    Aggregation of power always leads to corruption. They are inseparable laws of human nature.

  • Re:what gets me... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheNastyInThePasty (2382648) on Friday June 07, 2013 @03:54PM (#43940159)
    We had proof 7 years ago, even on slashdot: http://slashdot.org/story/06/05/11/1216245/the-nsa-knows-who-youve-called [slashdot.org] [slashdot.org] "Aided by the cooperation of US telecom corporations, AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of tens of millions of Americans"

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