Tag: Espionage

Pollard to go Free

Jonathan Pollard is going to be paroled:

In July 2014, after Jonathan J. Pollard had served 29 years of a life sentence for spying on behalf of Israel, his hopes for freedom were thwarted when a federal panel denied his request for parole.

But that hearing set in motion an intense scramble by lawyers for Mr. Pollard to ensure a different result a year later, when he would be eligible for parole after serving 30 years. They wrote letters, cited statistics and introduced evidence that their client met two legal standards for parole: that he had behaved well in prison, and that he posed no threat of returning to a life of espionage.

On Tuesday, the effort finally succeeded, as the United States Parole Commission announced that Mr. Pollard, 60, met the legal standards and would be released just before Thanksgiving.

On the strict letter of the law, they were correct. However, the government have objected to it and apparently has not. The official reason is that Pollard is no longer a threat and is in poor health. The rumored reason is that it is to smooth over relations with Israel after the Iran deal (although this appears very unlikely to work).

My position on Pollard has brought me into conflict with some people, including many fellow Jews. I think his sentence was entirely justified. The excuse that he only sold secrets “to our ally” did not impress me. As I have noted many times, even our allies have different interests from us. We keep secrets from them; they keep secrets from us. We spy on them; they spy on us. There’s nothing shameful about that. Pursuing the interests of one’s country is a leader’s job. There’s nothing wrong with Israel spying on us or paying one of our citizens for secrets. But there is something wrong with that citizens selling them. That’s called treason.

And Doug Mataconis reminds us that Pollard’s spying was far from benign:

When Pollard was first sentenced in 1985, for example, then Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger penned a blistering letter to the Judge, some of which classified, in which he laid forth the manner in which Pollard’s actions had endangered American national security. For example, while it wasn’t widely reported at the time, it became known to the United States that the Israelis had used some of the information Pollard had provided to them to trade with the Soviet Union for the safe release of Jews living in the USSR, thus handing vital American intelligence to our principal adversary at the time. Additionally, over the years other leaders in the U.S. intelligence community made it known that Pollard had also offered to sell classified information to three other nations other than Israel, an accusation which certainly makes him a far less sympathetic figure. The antipathy toward Pollard was so high at one point that in 1998, then CIA Director George Tenant threatened to resign if he was released.

As someone who is against massive prison sentences for all but the worst criminals, I suppose I should be OK with this. Pollard is in failing health and it’s not like he’s going to start spying again. But if we are to release Pollard, it’s not a victory. It’s the end of a sad saga that began when Pollard decided to betray his country.

The Surveillance State Advances

We continue to find out more and more about the encroaching surveillance state. In the UK, the GCHQ surveillance agency is collecting images from people’s webcams. In this country, they’ve talked about ways to disinform the public through comment boards and bogus conspiracy theories. The latter seems a bit much. Why would they need to go online to defend the surveillance state when there are plenty of genuine boot-licking government worshippers who will do it for them?

But now, the surveillance state may finally have gone too far:

The CIA Inspector General’s Office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of malfeasance at the spy agency in connection with a yet-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program, McClatchy has learned.

The criminal referral may be related to what several knowledgeable people said was CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate aides to prepare the study. The monitoring may have violated an agreement between the committee and the agency.

The development marks an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers amid an extraordinary closed-door battle over the 6,300-page report on the agency’s use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists held in secret overseas prisons. The report is said to be a searing indictment of the program. The CIA has disputed some of the reports findings.

The Senate was preparing a report on the CIA’s torture program that is expected to be devastating. Not only was the torture program worse than we were lead to believe, but the CIA misled Congress and President Bush about the extent and severity of it. In compiling this report, Congressional staffers went to the CIA to review documents. During that time, their computers were monitored.

Actually, it gets worse:

Several months after the CIA submitted its official response to the committee report, aides discovered in the database of top-secret documents at CIA headquarters a draft of an internal review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta of the materials released to the panel, said the knowledgeable person.

They determined that it showed that the CIA leadership disputed report findings that they knew were corroborated by the so-called Panetta review, said the knowledgeable person.

The aides printed the material, walked out of CIA headquarters with it and took it to Capitol Hill, said the knowledgeable person.

You see that? The CIA is mad because Congressional staffers took documents showing that the CIA was lying its ass off to the committee, disputing things that it damn well knew were true.

I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg and the the CIA’s surveillance of Congress goes beyond just a few computers. They have every reason to try to downplay their complicity in the torture program and the President — you remember him? — seems more than happy to let them do so.

The NSA’s Porn Fix

Today we got a little Thanksgiving gift from Edward Snowden:

The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a top-secret NSA document. The document, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, identifies six targets, all Muslims, as “exemplars” of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target’s credibility, reputation and authority.

In short, the NSA is using their massive surveillance capabilities to find out if our enemies (who are not actually terrorists, but are trying to radicalize others) are looking at porn. They want to use this information to discredit them. The most common defense I’m hearing is the one articulated by NSA apologist Stewart Baker: that discrediting these guys is more humane than droning them.

A few thoughts to unpack here:

First … the fuck you say? Discrediting them is more humane than droning them? Like those are our only options? Like droning someone who is not a terrorist but giving radical speeches is justified? I see how you tried to slip that one past; to act as though droning a radical speaker is somehow acceptable.

Second, revealing the porn-consumption habits of foreign enemies doesn’t sound too unreasonable (keeping in mind that the NSA gets to decide who our enemies are). We’ve used similar methods in the past to wage political wars against our enemies. However, I am dubious that this would have any effect.

Let’s back off from Islamism for a moment and look at the hypocrisy in our own country (a subject Glenn Greenwald should know a lot about, having written a book on the peccadilloes of his domestic political opponents). Newt Gingrich divorced two wives while they were ill and carried out a long affair while married to the second. Rush Limbaugh has been divorced four times. David Vitter hired a hooker and dozens or hundreds more might have had their names revealed in the DC Madam scandal has she had not died under suspicious circumstances. Elliot Spitzer saw a high-end call girl. Anthony Weiner texted dick pics to random women. Bill Clinton got blown by an intern while his wife and child were getting ready for church. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a love child. We have a lot of experience in political figures being exposed as hypocrites and perverts.

But these scandals rarely had a long-term impact the political prospects of politicians — even among the religious right. And these were just run-of-the-mill dipwad fairly mainstream politicians. Do you really imagine that the fanatical followers of some Imam will believe or care about a story from the United State Government claiming their leader likes goat porn?

We already know that many of the Wahhabists are flaming hypocrites. bin Laden, for example, had educated wives and spent his down time educating his daughters and playing video games with his sons. These assholes can’t live up to the Wahhabist lifestyle and everyone knows it. So embarrassing these guys is fine but it’s unlikely to accomplish anything substantive.

But what’s the risk? Well, the risk is that we have a government which has the ability and the willingness to use their enemies’ online sex habits to embarrass them. And there’s every reason to believe these methods could easily be turned against their domestic opponents.

Despite the fact that approximately 100% of men with internet access look at porn (and the percentage of women is probably closer to 100 than it is to 0), internet porn use still carries a mark of shame. Over at Popehat, Ken White has blogging the Saga of Prenda Law. What did Prenda Law do?

Prenda first came to prominence through the practice of identifying the IP addresses of Internet subscribers who, it claims, downloaded copyrighted X-rated videos. Prenda’s practice is to first file federal copyright infringement lawsuits against fictitiously-named “John Doe” defendants, and to then issue subpoenas to the Internet service providers (ISPs) associated with those IP addresses. Once the ISP subscribers are identified, Prenda sends letters to the subscribers accusing them of piracy and threatening a $150,000 statutory penalty. The letters offered to make the case go away for a fee—$4,000 was the price of silence offered to some.

The letters said that if the recipient refused to pay, the recipient’s name would be entered on a public legal document along with the names of the videos. That is, the recipient would be identified (e.g., to friends, employers, spouse, children, coworkers, etc.) as someone who illegally downloaded specific pornography titles on the internet. The amount demanded is usually less than a typical attorney would charge to defend the case on its merits, so even the completely innocent have a strong incentive to pay what Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II called an “extortion payment”.

Thousands of people paid up because they were embarrassed to go to court to fight an allegation that they’d illegally downloaded Sorority Sluts 5. Even in our permissive society, no one wants their neighbors to know what they’re doing online.

The NSA has shown that they have the ability and the willingness to do exactly what Prenda Law did, only without that whole federal lawsuit thing. Is it really tough to imagine them using this against domestic political foes? Is it really tough to imagine someone getting an anonymous letter like this?

… there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.

That letter was from FBI. It was sent to Martin Luther King, Jr. The FBI had information that MLK was cheating on his wife. And they threatened to reveal this information unless he killed himself. And the reason they had targeted MLK is because they thought — not without some justification — that King was working with Communists (who posed a far greater existential threat to our nation than Islamists have or will). So, no. It’s not hard at all to imagine this power being abused.

Our government has earned distrust. It has earned suspicion. There is only ones sensible reaction to the revelation that a barely accountable agency which has been chastised by the courts for exceeding their authority is trying to use a treasure trove of internet information to embarrass its enemies. Suspicion and a demand for accountability. We don’t need to all tinfoil hat black helicopter crazy. But we do need to be suspicious of a few thousand pervert smeller pursuivants when they say, “Trust us! We won’t try to embarrass you.”

We Are Shocked, Shocked! To Find Out That There Is Spying Going On In Here

That European governments are shocked is literally the headline over at CNN:

European officials reacted with fury Sunday to a report that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on EU offices.

The European Union warned that if the report is accurate, it will have tremendous repercussions.

“I am deeply worried and shocked about the allegations,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a statement. “If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations. On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the U.S. authorities with regard to these allegations.”

The scale of the US spying operations is quite huge. EU buildings in the US and Belgium, millions of phone lines and data connections in Germany. But … on some level, I have to wonder if this is a bit of diplomatic kabuki. As I said before, I assume that our government spies on other governments, including friendly ones. And I assume other governments spy on us. And not always for security purposes. France’s intelligence agency used to conduct industrial espionage for French corporations.

I find myself agreeing with Michael Hayden:

“I’ve been out of government for about five years, so I really don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t confirm or deny it,” he said. “But I think I can confirm a few things for you here this morning. Number one, the United States does conduct espionage. Number two, our Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans’ privacy, is not an international treaty. And number three, any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their governments are doing.”

Spying on other countries is part of the President’s job description. To not do so would be a dereliction of duty. As I said in a previous post, even our allies keep secrets for their own reasons. And we zealously guard our secrets even from those allies (which is why Pollard is in jail).

Suppose a friendly country found out about a potential terror attack on the United States. And suppose that country did not want to reveal this information for fear of compromising a critical source. Would it not be the President’s duty to find this information out?

This is one of the problems I have with those embracing Edward Snowden. As time goes on, it seems that his problem isn’t just with spying on Americans but with spying at all. That’s not a purism I can embrace. Because spying is necessary.

Even on our allies.

As the TSA Turns

The NSA story is developing a little too fast for more than a periodic roundup (we did have an inflammatory story last night that the NSA was tapping phones without a warrant, but that now appears to be bogus).

Moving on…

The Rise and Scale of Surveillance

The AP has a story about how PRISM was developed. The number of requests for information continued to ramp up and PRISM was created to ease the process rather than have agents appear in person. So many requests were put in — more on that in a moment — that it was impossible to confirm the details. More:

But interviews with more than a dozen current and former government and technology officials and outside experts show that, while Prism has attracted the recent attention, the program actually is a relatively small part of a much more expansive and intrusive eavesdropping effort.

Americans who disapprove of the government reading their emails have more to worry about from a different and larger NSA effort that snatches data as it passes through the fiber optic cables that make up the Internet’s backbone. That program, which has been known for years, copies Internet traffic as it enters and leaves the United States, then routes it to the NSA for analysis.

Whether by clever choice or coincidence, Prism appears to do what its name suggests. Like a triangular piece of glass, Prism takes large beams of data and helps the government find discrete, manageable strands of information.

The fact that it is productive is not surprising; documents show it is one of the major sources for what ends up in the president’s daily briefing. Prism makes sense of the cacophony of the Internet’s raw feed. It provides the government with names, addresses, conversation histories and entire archives of email inboxes.

How many requests for specific information does PRISM ask for? In the second half of last year, Facebook got 9-10,000 requests involving 19,000 users. Other companies are reporting similar levels. Defenders of the program are saying, “Well, that’s not a lot considering how many users Facebook, Google, etc., have.” Maybe. But it IS a lot when you consider how many active terrorists there are (probably in hundreds at most) and how few attacks these efforts have supposedly thwarted (a few). And that’s just six months of requests.

The defenders are also making a big deal of the NSA’s claim that they only asked for details on 300 phone numbers in 2012. But keep in mind that they collected metadata on millions and metadata is a big deal, frequently as revealing and invasive as a wiretap.

In fact, the defenders of the President are frankly spouting a lot of nonsense. They keep claiming PRISM wasn’t a big secret and Glenn Greenwald didn’t break anything new; but then they brand Snowden a traitor and claim that he’s compromised the War on Terror. They tell us this isn’t a big deal and we all assumed our electronic communications were monitored; but then they say the program is absolutely vital to success. When you break it down, they are simply scrounging around desperately for a reason to believe that Obama hasn’t betrayed everything he said in Election 2008. I expect them to continue to scramble.

Nothing to Hide

There is, however, one defense with which I have no patience for at all. The Obamaphiles are in the slow stages of realizing who exactly they elected. But the other crowd are simply ignorant subservient cattle. They are the ones running around saying that even the most invasive program should be acceptable for people with “nothing to hide.”

Moxie Marlinspike (is that her real name? Seriously? Awesome!) has a great response. After pointing out, as we have previously discussed, that the federal government has so many laws and so many obscure laws that practically everyone is a felon, she brings up a critical point:

Over the past year, there have been a number of headline-grabbing legal changes in the U.S., such as the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of U.S. states.

As a majority of people in these states apparently favor these changes, advocates for the U.S. democratic process cite these legal victories as examples of how the system can provide real freedoms to those who engage with it through lawful means. And it’s true, the bills did pass.

What’s often overlooked, however, is that these legal victories would probably not have been possible without the ability to break the law.

The state of Minnesota, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage this year, but sodomy laws had effectively made homosexuality itself completely illegal in that state until 2001. Likewise, before the recent changes making marijuana legal for personal use in Washington and Colorado, it was obviously not legal for personal use.

Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in Minnesota, Colorado, and Washington since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?

Precisely. This applies to much of the social change that our society has undergone. Interracial marriage would still be illegal if the Lovings hadn’t broken the law and challenged it in the courts. Segregation was broken because MLK was willing to break the law and be punished for it. The progress we have made on property rights and eminent domain have occurred when citizens have been unwilling to meekly acquiesce to the wishes of their government.

No one is saying there is value to be gained in social experimentation in terrorism, obviously. But — as I have said over and over again — the question of PRISM powers being extended to drugs, prostitution, sex, marriage, taxes, etc. is not if, it’s when.

More from Don Boudreax:

1. Is your lack of concern with government snooping a result of your confidence that (a) you, your loved ones, and your friends consistently act in ways that do not violate (what you believe to be) today’s government policy; (b) government will seldom-enough err in interpreting the contents and motives of your, your loved ones’ and your friends’ activities; and (c) that today’s government policy targets and penalizes only those private activities that “ought” to be targeted and penalized by government? If so, are you also confident that government policy will never change to render those same activities of you, your loved ones, and your friends unacceptable to government tomorrow?

2. Or is your lack of concern with government snooping due instead to your confidence that you, your loved ones, and your friends will always not only wish to – but will also always successfully and in time – adjust your activities in ways that render those activities acceptable to government, regardless of the specific contents and motives of whatever government policies reign at the moment?

Exactly. These electronic records go back for many years, through many different legal regimes. A broad reach into your electronic past could uncover things that aren’t illegal now but were illegal then.

There’s another thing. Massive electronic surveillance can uncover things that, while not illegal, are embarrassing. The government and its bootlickers have often taken great delight in revealing embarrassing details about people they don’t like (such as some of the personal smears on Snowden). Anyone who has an affair, anyone who has done something they shouldn’t, anyone with porn on their computer, anyone with humiliating pictures or cringe-inducing e-mails or, um, blog posts they wish they could flush down the memory hole has “something to hide”.

“I have nothing to hide” is the attitude of a slave, not a citizen who is on equal footing with his government. “I have nothing to hide” is an indication that you don’t know what you have to hide. “I have nothing to hide” is an admission that your life is not your own.

The Man of the Hour

As for Edward Snowden, while I still appreciate the reveal of PRISM and still rail against those who call him “traitor” just because he crossed the President, I am growing less sympathetic by the minute. The latest revelation is that he revealed secret snooping on Dmitri Medvedev. While I oppose domestic surveillance, I have absolutely no problem with our government spying on other countries, particularly those as powerful as China and Russia. That is, in fact, the President’s job. Spying on other countries — even our allies — is not shameful, disgraceful, untoward, undiplomatic or wrong. It is how the world works. We should assume these countries are spying on us. Why should we not return the favor?

The attempts by Snowden and some of his allies to cast foreign surveillance as wrong reminds me of a quote from Robert Heinlein. In 1960, one of our U-2 spy planes was downed on a reconnaissance mission inside the Soviet Union. In response to those who said the U-2 flights were “shameful”, Heinlein uncorked this:

Espionage is not illegal under International Law. Neither is it immoral. The penalty for getting caught at is is very high. It usually means the spy’s neck. It is not illegal under US laws for us to attempt to spy on the USSR, nor is it illegal for them to attempt to spy on us. Nor, in either case, is it an act of war. Throughout history every country has striven to learn the military secrets of a potential enemy, and to protect its own. Spying is wise and necessary insurance against utter military disaster.

That we have been conducting photo surveillance over the Soviet Union so successfully and for four vital years is the most encouraging news of the past decade … If Mr. Eisenhower had failed to obtain by any possible means the military intelligence that the USSR gets so easily and cheaply about us, he would have been derelict in his duty.

So if you hear anyone whining about how “shameful” the U-2 flights were, take his lollipop away and spank him with it.

If Edward Snowden is revealing our espionage secrets to Russia and China — and it now appears that he is — he deserves a lot more than a spanking. He deserves to be imprisoned for espionage.

That does not, however, change the nature of PRISM or the rightness or wrongness of domestic surveillance. Just as Eisenhower had a duty to spy on the Soviet Union, Obama has a duty to spy on terrorists. But in both cases, these powers need to be tightly bound, strictly controlled and not used for other purposes. The revelation of PRISM is a big step in establishing those limits, even if the person who revealed them turns out to be a disloyal scumbag.

The DHS Shoe On the Other Foot

Wikileaks latest has indicated that DHS was keeping tabs on the Occupy Movement as a potential danger. Naturally, of course, the Left has freaked about “oppression”, a freak-out which includes this laughable quote:

On Current TV last night, host Cenk Uygur blasted the agency for focusing exclusively on Occupy Wall Street. “The Tea Party… that happens to be pro-corporate America is not anywhere to be found here [but] when Occupy Wall Street is not pro-corporate America, all of a sudden, they need to be investigated by the Department of Homeland Security.”

As the author points out, this is all kinds of stupid. First of all, their “keeping tabs” on Occupy mostly involved trolling Twitter and other public media. The only remotely ominous thing is their concern that the protests could turn violent and threaten infrastructure (which kinda happened). Second, the DHS did keep track of the Tea Party and had a controversial report on the potential for Right Wing violence. Third, comparing the Tea Party to Occupy is a little ridiculous. Whatever else you might say about the Tea Party, they gathered, had their marches and went home, usually leaving the public spaces clean and tidy. They didn’t camp out, they didn’t have problems with women being raped, they didn’t demand free food and trash stores that wouldn’t comply and they didn’t have links to the people who created chaos in Seattle and other places. And finally, describing the Tea Party as “pro-corporate America” is a bit silly given the hatred the Tea Party has for bailouts and subsidies.

Frankly, keeping tabs on the Occupy movement and making sure there was no threat to public safety is the DHS’s job. If we find out it went deeper than that, then we can be concerned. But I find it ironic that the people who either ignored or applauded the DHS’s report on potential right wing violence now have a case of the vapors when it comes to the DHS looking out for potential left wing violence.

Civil liberties are civil liberties, guys. It doesn’t matter who they’re exercised by. We all have a stake in them.