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Keith Alexander & Edward Snowden

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Since the Wikileaks revelations, still going on, nobody had generated in the last few years so much information and polemic as National Security Agency leaker, Edward Snowden, 29, an ex-CIA employee working for Booz Allen Hamilton (a defense contractor for the US NSA), identified on June 9th as the source of the  The Guardian’s exclusive on the gigantic US  infrastructure used to intercept communications worldwide with little or none respect for borders, sovereignity, nationality and, worst of all, legal justification.

Mr Snowden told the Guardian: «The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting.

«If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.

«I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.» Read more

Basic data of Snowden’s scandal (BBC)

  • 5 June: The Guardian reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, under a top-secret court order
  • 6 June: The Guardian and the Washington Post report the NSA and the FBI are tapping into US internet companies to track online communication, in a scheme known as Prism
  • 7 June: The Guardian reports President Obama has asked intelligence agencies to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for US cyber-attacks
  • 7 June: President Obama defends the programmes, saying they are closely overseen by Congress and the courts
  • 8 June: US director of national intelligence James Clapper calls the leaks «literally gut-wrenching»
  • 9 June: The Guardian names former CIA technical worker Edward Snowden as the source of the leaks

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The fire caused by Snowden expanded and, in a few days, became a tsunami of news, analysis, criticisms, official justifications, threats and protests affecting millions of people involved in intelligence, targeted by it or, simply, worried about the abuse of a system operated in the shadows, with little or none transparency and citizen control.

As the most representative voices of the debate, let’s read what Snowden told the Guardian readers online on June 17th from his hideout in Hongkong with the help of Glenn Greenwald, the paper’s reporter who published the scoop, and what general Keith Alexander, NSA’s head, told the House Intelligence Committee on June 18th (with the live comments from CNN Newsroom before, during and right after his presentation).

Edward Snowden Q&A

Let’s begin with these:

1) Why did you choose Hong Kong to go to and then tell them about US hacking on their research facilities and universities?

2) How many sets of the documents you disclosed did you make, and how many different people have them? If anything happens to you, do they still exist?


1) First, the US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That’s not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.

Second, let’s be clear: I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target. Not only that, when NSA makes a technical mistake during an exploitation operation, critical systems crash. Congress hasn’t declared war on the countries – the majority of them are our allies – but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we’re not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the «consent of the governed» is meaningless.

2) All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped


You have said HERE that you admire both Ellsberg and Manning, but have argued that there is one important distinction between yourself and the army private…

«I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,» he said. «There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.»

Are you suggesting that Manning indiscriminately dumped secrets into the hands of Wikileaks and that he intended to harm people?


No, I’m not. Wikileaks is a legitimate journalistic outlet and they carefully redacted all of their releases in accordance with a judgment of public interest. The unredacted release of cables was due to the failure of a partner journalist to control a passphrase. However, I understand that many media outlets used the argument that «documents were dumped» to smear Manning, and want to make it clear that it is not a valid assertion here.


Why did you wait to release the documents if you said you wanted to tell the world about the NSA programs since before Obama became president?


Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.


1) Define in as much detail as you can what «direct access» means.

2) Can analysts listen to content of domestic calls without a warrant?


1) More detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on – it’s all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time. Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed.

2) NSA likes to use «domestic» as a weasel word here for a number of reasons. The reality is that due to the FISA Amendments Act and its section 702 authorities, Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant. They excuse this as «incidental» collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications. Even in the event of «warranted» intercept, it’s important to understand the intelligence community doesn’t always deal with what you would consider a «real» warrant like a Police department would have to, the «warrant» is more of a templated form they fill out and send to a reliable judge with a rubber stamp.

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CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you so much for being with me. I’m Carol Costello. We begin this morning in Washington where the NSA controversy is taking center stage on Capitol Hill. Right now the head of the NSA, General Keith Alexander — well, actually in a couple minutes when he’s seated, he will tell the House Intelligence Committee that the agency’s programs helped stop two terror plots.

It’s the first time General Alexander will speak publicly about how the NSA conducted those programs. His appearance comes as agency supporters defend the programs and cast out on NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us now. Dana, you’re breaking this story about what will be said in this hearing. Tell us more.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That’s right. I think we should clarify, as we’ve been reporting, Carol, Keith Alexander told Congress last week that he believes dozens, at least dozens of terror plots have been thwarted, at least in part, with the help of these programs. What we’ll see this morning, according to a congressional source is him reveal declassified details about two of those plots that he was talking about.

Now, the back story here is that leaders of the intelligence committees here, including the one who’s holding this hearing now, the Republican Mike Rogers, they’ve been really pressuring the intelligence committee to say, look, we’re out there on a limb, we’re defending these programs saying they are helping Americans keep safe.  Read more



Ranking member and I believe it is important to hold an open hearing today and we don’t do a tremendous amount of those to provide this House and the public with an opportunity to hear directly from you how the government is using the legal authorities that Congress has provided to the executive branch since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

I’d also like to recognize the hard work of the men and women of the NSA and the rest of the intelligence community who work day in and day out to disrupt threats to our national security. People at the NSA in particular have heard a constant public drumbeat about a laundry list of nefarious things they are alleged to be doing to spy on Americans — all of them wrong. The misperceptions have been great, yet they keep their heads down and keep working every day to keep us safe.

And, General Alexander, please convey our thanks to your team for continuing every day, despite much misinformation about the quality of their work. And thank them for all of us for continuing to work to protect America.

I also want to take this moment to thank General Alexander who has been extended as national security adviser in one way or another three different times. That’s a patriot.

This is a very difficult job at a very difficult time in our history. And for the general to accept those extensions of his military service to protect this nation, I think with all of the — the, again, the misinformation out there, I want to thank you for that.

Thank you for your patriotism. Thank you for continuing to serve to protect the United States, again. And you have that great burden of knowing lots of classified information you cannot talk publicly about. I want you to know, thank you on behalf of America for your service to your country.

The committee has been extensively briefed on these efforts over a regular basis as a part of our ongoing oversight responsibility over the 16 elements of the intelligence community and the national intelligence program.

In order to fully understand the intelligence collection programs most of these briefings and hearings have taken place in classified settings. Nonetheless, the collection efforts under the business records provision in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are legal, court-approved and subject to an extensive oversight regime.

I look forward from hearing from all of the witnesses about the extensive protections and oversight in place for these programs.

General Alexander, we look forward to hearing what you’re able to discuss in an open forum about how the data that you have – you obtain from providers under court order, especially under the business records provision, is used.

And Deputy Attorney General Cole, we look forward to hearing more about the legal authorities themselves and the state of law on what privacy protections Americans have in these business records.

One of the frustrating parts about being a member of this committee, and really challenge, is sitting at the intersection of classified intelligence programs and transparent democracy as representatives of the American people.

The public trusts the government to protect the country from another 9/11-type attack, but that trust can start to wane when they are faced with inaccuracies, half truths and outright lies about the way the intelligence programs are being run.

One of the more damaging aspects of selectively leaking incomplete information is that it paints an inaccurate picture and fosters distrust in our government… Read more



Chairman, Ranking Member, thank you for the kind words. I will tell you it is a privilege and honor to serve as the director of the National Security Agency and the commander of the U.S. Cyber Command.

As you noted, we have extraordinary people doing great work to protect this country and to protect our civil liberties and privacy. Over the past few weeks, unauthorized disclosures of classified information have resulted in considerable debate in the press about these two programs. The debate had been fueled, as you noted, by incomplete and inaccurate information, with little context provided on the purpose of these programs, their value to our national security and that of our allies, and the protections that are in place to preserve our privacy and civil liberties.

Today, we will provide additional detail and context on these two programs to help inform that debate.

These programs were approved by the administration, Congress and the courts. From my perspective, a sound legal process that we all work together as a government to protect our nation and our civil liberties and privacy.

Ironically, the documents that have been released so far show the rigorous oversight and compliance our government uses to balance security with civil liberties and privacy.

Let me start by saying that I would much rather be here today debating this point than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11. It is a testament to the ongoing team work of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, working with our allies and industry partners, that we have been able to connect the dots and prevent more terrorist attacks.

The events of September 11, 2001 occurred, in part, because of a failure on the part of our government to connect those dots. Some of those dots were in the United States. The intelligence community was not able to connect those domestic dots, phone calls between operatives and the U.S. and Al Qaida terrorist overseas. Following the 9/11 commission, which investigated the intelligence community’s failure to detect 9/11, Congress passed the PATRIOT Act.

Section 215 of that act, as it has been interpreted and implied, helps the government close that gap by enabling the detection of telephone contact between terrorists overseas and operatives within the United States. As Director Mueller emphasized last week during his testimony to the — to the Judiciary Committee, if we had had Section 215 in place prior to 9/11, we may have known that the 9/11 hijacker Mihdhar was located in San Diego and communicating with a known Al Qaida safe house in Yemen.

In recent years, these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S. and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe to include helping prevent the terrorist — the potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11. We will actually bring forward to the committee tomorrow documents that the interagency has agreed on, that in a classified setting, gives every one of those cases for your review. We’ll add two more today publicly we’ll discuss. But as the chairman noted, if we give all of those out, we give all the secrets of how we’re tracking down the terrorist as a community. And we can’t do that. Too much is at risk for us and for our allies. I’ll go into greater detail as we go through this testimony this morning… Read more



Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, members of the committee, as General Alexander said, and — and as the chairman and ranking member have said, all of us in the national security area are constantly trying to balance protecting public safety with protecting people’s privacy and civil liberties in this government. And it’s a constant job at balancing this.

We think we’ve done this in these instances. There are statutes that are passed by Congress. This — this is not a program that’s off the books, that’s been hidden away. This is part of what government puts together and discusses. Statutes are passed. It is overseen by three branches of our government, the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the Executive Branch. The process of oversight occurs before, during, and after the processes that we’re talking about today.

And I want to talk a little bit how that works, what the legal framework is, and what some of the protections are that are put into it. First of all, what we have seen published in the newspaper concerning 215 — this is the business records provisions of the PATRIOT Act that also modify FISA.

You’ve seen one order in the newspaper that’s a couple of pages long that just says under that order, we’re allowed to acquire metadata, telephone records. That’s one of two orders. It’s the smallest of the two orders. And the other order, which has not been published, goes into, in great detail; what we can do with that metadata; how we can access it; how we can look through it; what we can do with it, once we have looked through it; and what the conditions are that are placed on us to make sure that we protect privacy and civil liberties; and, at the same time, protect public safety.

Let me go through a few of the features of this. First of all, it’s metadata. These are phone records. These — this is just like what you would get in your own phone bill. It is the number that was dialed from, the number that was dialed to, the date and the length of time. That’s all we get under 215. We do not get the identity of any of the parties to this phone call. We don’t get any cell site or location information as to where any of these phones were located. And, most importantly, and you’re probably going to hear this about 100 times today, we don’t get any content under this. We don’t listen in on anybody’s calls under this program at all.

This is under, as I said, section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. This has been debated and up for reauthorization, and reauthorized twice by the United States Congress since its inception in 2006 and in 2011. Now, in order — the way it works is, the — there is an application that is made by the FBI under the statute to the FISA court. We call it the FISC. They ask for and receive permission under the FISC under this to get records that are relevant to a national security investigation. And they must demonstrate to the FISC that it will be operated under the guidelines that are set forth by the attorney general under executive order 12333. This is what covers intelligence gathering in the federal government.

It is limited to tangible objects. Now, what does that mean? These are like records, like the metadata, the phone records I’ve been describing. But it is quite explicitly limited to things that you could get with a grand jury subpoena, those kinds of records. Now, it’s important to know prosecutors issue grand jury subpoenas all the time and do not need any involvement of a court or anybody else, really, to do so…Read more

LISTENING POST (Al Jazeera, 22/06/2013)

Before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s extensive surveillance programmes on American citizens, he travelled to Hong Kong to escape the reach of the United States’ justice system. Perhaps he was mindful of the fate of Bradley Manning, who faces life in prison for releasing thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks. But while Snowden may have outrun the long arm of the law, he could not avoid trial by media.

Snowden has been described as a «weasel», a «narcissist» and a «punk» – not by US politicians or officials but by the journalists and newscasters leading the debate over his actions. And the discussion in the mainstream media seems more focused on Snowden’s pole-dancing girlfriend and high school record than on one of the most comprehensive telephone and online surveillance programmes in human history.

It raises the question: Why focus on the character of the leaker and not the content of the leak? Is the media once again, shooting the messenger?


Here’s everything we know about PRISM to date By Timothy B. Lee. The Washinton Post, June 12th 2013.

From The Guardian

The NSA Files

Revealed: the top secret rules that allow NSA to use US data without a warrant

Document one: procedures used by NSA to target non-US persons

Document two: procedures used by NSA to minimise data collected from US persons








How the NSA’s Surveillance Procedures Threaten Americans’ Privacy

By Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director, ACLU & Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project

June 21st 2013 at 2:33pm

Documents obtained by the journalist Glenn Greenwald and released yesterday by The Guardian show how the National Security Agency has implemented the FISA Amendments Act, a 2008 law that substantially expanded the government’s surveillance authority. A few of us at the ACLU have now had an opportunity to review the documents and to write a short analysis of them, which you can read here. .. Read more


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