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NSA Employees Stage 9/11 Event; Lie in Unison

Military and civilian employees of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) gathered at the agency’s Memorial Wall on September 11, 2015 – Patriot Day – to collectively recite the Oath of Office, reaffirming their commitment to the Constitution and to the safety, security, and liberty of the American people.

No. This is not the opening sentence of an Onion article. This actually happened. Continue reading NSA Employees Stage 9/11 Event; Lie in Unison

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NSA Propaganda Machine Shifts into High Gear: Time to Stop it

Over a year after the Edward Snowden leaks, the NSA and its defenders have still not quit. They are still waging a public relations battle against civil liberties activists and other critics to keep invasive, ubiquitous spying on all Americans a reality. A recent example of this comes from Politico Magazine which featured an article titled “The Truth About Executive Order 12333” by the civil liberties protection officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Alexander Joel.

Continue reading NSA Propaganda Machine Shifts into High Gear: Time to Stop it

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NSA Statement a Propaganda Masterpiece

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As public discourse over the extent of NSA surveillance programs continues it was inevitable the Godwin’s Law would raise its ugly head.

For those not familiar with the law, Mike Godwin came up with the proposition that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

As a communicator, I hate to go down that road, but sometimes things get to the point that it simply becomes impossible to avoid the comparison.

Consider a recent joint statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice on Court-ordered Legal Surveillance of U.S. Persons in response to documentation published by Glenn Greenwald revealing the names of five Americans targeted by the NSA that shared little in common beyond their Muslim faith. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels surely would have approved. He would have considered the NSA statement a propaganda masterpiece.

The statement was nothing more than sweetly packaged lies designed to reinforce the narrative positioning the NSA as a partner with the American people locked in a struggle against dangerous enemy forces.

These tactics come straight from Goebbels principles of propaganda.

Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.

The statement starts positioning the “other” as the enemy in the second paragraph.

Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

In other words, don’t consider us the bad guys. Those “other nations” do these things, but not America.

Of course, evidence mined from Snowden documents indicates the NSA does exactly what it claims it doesn’t do. As Greenwald pointed out, there was no apparent justification for spying on the five Americans he revealed as targets – other than the fact that they were Muslim. In fact, others engaged in similar activities were not targeted.

The NSA never directly addresses the accusations against it. The statement paints with a broad brush, ignoring specifics, but generally holding the agency up as an vigilant protector of America. This dovetails with another Goebbels principle.

They must evoke responses which the audience previously possesses.

Most Americans instinctively believe their county “good” and her motives pure. Americans find it difficult to believe that their own government would harbor Orwellian tendencies. The NSA plays on this, offering calm assurance that it acts only in their best interest.

Our intelligence agencies help protect America by collecting communications when they have a legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose.

And when they don’t.

Consider this from the Washington Post.

Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

The statement goes on to offer calm assurances that the NSA acts under the watchful eye of the FISA Court, protecting Americans from even a hint of abuse.

With limited exceptions (for example, in an emergency), our intelligence agencies must have a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to target any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for electronic surveillance.

These court orders are issued by an independent federal judge only if probable cause, based on specific facts, are established that the person is an agent of a foreign power, a terrorist, a spy, or someone who takes orders from a foreign power.

Again, the propagandist raises the specter of more nefarious enemies that the NSA must protect Americans from. These enemies include “terrorists, spies and agents of foreign powers.” In fact, the specter of terrorism repeatedly comes up when anybody questions or challenges NSA spying.

“But the terrorists!” they cry.

And sadly, the fear of the terrorist bogyman trumps any privacy concern in the minds of many Americans. This leads us to another Goebbels principle.

They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations.

Again, we find the messaging rooted in lies.

Former NSA technical chief William Binney points out, “The NSA is mass-collecting on everyone, and it’s said to be about terrorism, but inside the US it has stopped zero attacks.”

And Snowden documents reveal that the FISA Court does nothing but serve as a rubber stamp for NSA snooping. In the FISA Court’s 35 years of existence, it approved 35,434 government requests for surveillance, while rejecting only 12.

Twelve.

Something as simple as typing an email in a foreign language can get you declared a “foreigner” and a legitimate target for snooping. And the Washington Post story revealed that NSA spies bypass the court and use the more lenient standards of PRISM and Upstream programs to continue spying on targets even after the FISA Court refuses to extend warrants beyond the initial 90 days.

“These selectors were previously under FISA warrant but the warrants have expired,” one analyst writes, requesting that surveillance resume under the looser standards of Section 702. The request was granted.

The statement utilizes another Goebbels principle in its final line.

Propaganda must diminish anxiety (other than that concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and cannot be reduced by people themselves.

The NSA propagandist communicates both a danger and assurances of benevolence.

The United States is as committed to protecting privacy rights and individual freedom as we are to defending our national security.

Notice that it’s not just the NSA protecting your privacy. The entire United States shares the commitment. We are the United States, right? We couldn’t possibly violate our own rights. But remember, the terrorist bogyman waits right around the corner. If we don’t spy on you, that could lead to another attack! It could lead to defeat. Don’t worry about spying. Worry about the terrorist.

Yes. Goebbels would be pleased.

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Government Panel Approves Government Spying

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On July 1, the Associated Press breathlessly reported that an “independent civil liberties board” gave NSA spying the constitutional seal of approval and declared the spy agency employs “reasonable” safeguards designed to protect the rights of Americans.

Funny what the AP considers “independent.”

President Barack Obama appointed the members of this civil liberties board. It was made up of a Democratic federal judge, two “privacy experts” and two former Republican Justice Department officials.

So, the real headline should read, “Government Board Appointed by Government Approves Government Spying.”

Shocking, I know.

According to the AP story, the board “found that the NSA monitoring was legal and reasonable and that the NSA and other agencies take steps to prevent misuse of Americans’ data. Those steps include ‘minimization,’ that redacts the names of Americans from intelligence reports unless they are relevant.”

‘Overall, the board finds that the protections contained in the Section 702 minimization procedures are reasonably designed and implemented to ward against the exploitation of information acquired under the program for illegitimate purposes,’ said the report, which is to be voted on at a public meeting Wednesday in Washington. ‘The board has seen no trace of any such illegitimate activity associated with the program, or any attempt to intentionally circumvent legal limits.’

Perhaps the board members should pick up a copy of the Washington Post.

Just a few days after the government panel released its findings, the Post published an in-depth article revealing that the NSA spies mostly on regular people. And the report shows that the government not only downplays the extent of its spying, it out-and-out lies about it.

Shocking, I know.

The Washington Post reported that as many as nine out of 10 Internet users caught up in the spy dragnet were not the intended targets of surveillance and about half were Americans. The Post report did reveal nearly 65,000 “minimized” records belonging to Americans, but found some 900 that were not. It also revealed a very loose standard for determining if a target was American or not, indicating that the agency likely spies on many Americans it has declared foreigners.

The Obama board did acknowledge the spy programs “potentially allow a great deal of private information about U.S. persons to be acquired by the government.”

According to the Snowden documents, there’s no “potentially” to it. It does.

President Obama’s panel was nothing more than another government dog and pony show, a classic fox guarding the hen house scenario. Nobody should put stock in the findings of a board made up of members of the political class. It was pretty much forgone conclusion that the government board would give its seal of approval to unconstitutional, illegal and immoral NSA spying.

It did.

Shocking, I know.

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Regular People Targeted By NSA Spies, Not Just Criminals

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Have you noticed that not once has an NSA revelation led people to say, “Oh, that isn’t as bad as I thought?”

In fact, every leaked document proves the spy agency more invasive, more expansive and more insidious than we realized. And what we’ve seen likely represents only the tip of the iceberg.

Last weekend, the Washington Post detonated the latest NSA bombshell, once again leaving Americans thinking, “Wow, it’s even worse than we imagined.”

After analyzing tens of thousands of files and communications obtained through Edward Snowden, the Post concluded that as many as nine out of 10 Internet users caught up in the spy dragnet were not the intended targets of surveillance. Not only that, but documents revealed that large amounts of data not relevant to any investigation was stored on NSA computers, even after it was deemed unimportant.

According to the Post story, nearly half of the files contained names, accounts and email addresses belonging to Americans.

There were indications that some of the information gathered was used in anti-terror activities and led to the capture of terror suspects, but the vast majority was not.

Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

The NSA did “minimize” (NSA parlance for hide) over 65,000 identifiers belonging to Americans, but some 900 pieces of information escaped the censor’s mouse click. And the Post found that the criteria for determining if a surveillance target was actually foreign was exceptionally loose. Simply typing an email in a foreign language was adequate evidence to deem a person “foreign” for the purpose of spying.

The documents also revealed a continuing pattern of government lies. Officials have insisted Snowden did not have access to the information he gave to the paper. It also vastly understated the number of people targeted in its PRISM and Upstream programs

If Snowden’s sample is representative, the population under scrutiny in the PRISM and Upstream programs is far larger than the government has suggested. In a June 26 “transparency report,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that 89,138 people were targets of last year’s collection under FISA Section 702. At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden’s sample, the office’s figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance.

Snowden said the programs “crossed the line of proportionality.”

“Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders,” he added, “their continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?”

Perhaps the most damning tidbit was the revelation that NSA spies use the more lenient standards of PRISM and Upstream programs to continue spying on targets even after the FISA court refused to extend warrants beyond the initial 90 days.

“These selectors were previously under FISA warrant but the warrants have expired,” one analyst writes, requesting that surveillance resume under the looser standards of Section 702. The request was granted.

We cannot count on the federal government to untangle its own web of lies. Congressional action to date has proved feckless. Federal courts generally rubber-stamp expansive federal powers. The president seems perfectly content to remain in full possession of his surveillance powers.

We need to find new ways to attack the beast.

The OffNow campaign focuses on state and local action to hinder the surveillance-state. By denying cooperation and resources to the NSA and other agencies violating basic privacy rights, we can hinder its operation and ultimately grind it to a halt. State and local action also serves as a megaphone, trumpeting a powerful message to the political class in Washington D.C.

Please get involved. It’s your privacy, after all.

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Metadata Reveals All

A huge part of the NSA debate has centered around metadata and whether or not it is an onerous violation of our rights for the government to collect the data about our data. Dianne Feinstein, Mike Rogers, Barack Obama and others would have you believe that it is no big deal. However, a recent study from Webpolicy.org shows the feds are lying yet again:

Continue reading Metadata Reveals All

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The NSA Gathering Metadata No Different Than Feds Making Copies of Your Mail

Time to #NullifyNSA

Time to #NullifyNSASupporters of NSA spying come up with all kinds of mental gymnastics to justify its gross violations of the Fourth Amendment.

For instance, some argue that the metadata harvesting doesn’t really constitute a search, because the agency merely vacuums up information and stores it. Agents can’t access the information without court approval. Continue reading The NSA Gathering Metadata No Different Than Feds Making Copies of Your Mail