Tuesday, November 19, 2013

DNI Clapper's Document Dump: Important, but Why Now?

About 1,000 pages of heavily redacted documents were released Monday night (yesterday) by the Director of National Intelligence.  Reporters are still sifting through them.  But it is striking that a major finding is that NSA repeatedly overstepped what was legally permissible in its collection of data, and then eventually authorization through FISA would "catch up" to what was being collected, and approve it.  The illegal collection was apparently troubling enough (to people like current FBI Director Comey, for example) that multiple Justice Department officials threatened to resign, because of the illegality.

Now why would DNI Clapper give out this morsel to the press now?  It was said the release was responsive to a lawsuit...  but those have been effectively stonewalled before.  Because of what the executive anticipates being released from the Snowden files?  Because the government intends to use this material to demonstrate its spying is now totally legal... that NSA went through  the right channels... and FISA judges gave all NSA's spying techniques the seal of approval, albeit retroactively. I await the answer to 'Why and why now?'

TheWaPo has a detailed piece on this subject; it concludes with information on the tracking of citizens using cell phone data, something the NSA has said it does not do. However, NSA claims it has the legal authority to do so, and is "considering" collecting local data in the near future:
The newly released memo, which was written in response to questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee, said however that the NSA was considering “acquiring such mobility data under this program in the near future under the authority currently granted by the [FISA] Court.”
Much of the document’s text was blacked out.
But only last month the NY Times reported on DNI Clapper's claims that NSA would not collect location data without further authority and Congressional notification--yet the new documents show NSA believed, unlike what Congress was told, that it already had the authority to routinely track American citizens.

The NY Times quoted ACLU senior attorney Jameel Jaffer, who succinctly pointed out that the FISA court is a "court" in name only:
“This is a reminder a lot of the most important and far-reaching decision of the past decade was issued by this court, which meets in secret and hears only from the government and doesn’t publish its decisions,” Mr. Jaffer said. 

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