Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our massive spying programs catch lots and lots of terrorists but they're secret so we can't tell you how

The US government national security bureaucracy is turning into a Kafka fantasy playground. This article gives a great example of how: Mark Morris, KC terrorist supported plan to bomb New York Stock Exchange, FBI tells Congress Kansas City Star 06/18/2013.

Like most of the cases in which the government has laid out the evidence against terrorist suspects in enough detail that an informed member of the public can make a credible judgment about them, this particular case was prosecuted through the regular justice system. And they had specific warrants for their information-gathering: "Federal investigators used secret surveillance warrants to identify Khalid Ouazzani, who awaits sentencing in Missouri next month on terrorism-related charges, as part of the scheme, Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce told the House intelligence committee."

But watch this:

Security officials cited Ouazzani's case at the hearing as an example of how U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts had prevented more than 50 terrorist attacks in more than 20 countries.

The Obama administration has been under fire from civil libertarians in recent weeks following reports in Britain’s Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post suggesting that the National Security Agency had undertaken a huge and indiscriminate data-collection effort on telephone and Internet communications. ...

In his testimony before Congress, [Deputy FBI Director Sean] Joyce said U.S. authorities uncovered the terrorist cell and the stock exchange plot using authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That provision allows the NSA to monitor the communications of people outside the U.S. believed to be involved with terrorism, cyber attacks or nuclear proliferation.

Joyce said that by targeting a known Yemeni extremist who was in contact with Ouazzani, the FBI obtained a warrant from the ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that turned up the stock exchange plot.

"The FBI immediately served legal process to fully identify Ouazzani," Joyce said. "We went up on electronic surveillance and identified his co-conspirators."

The New York court records made no mention of secret warrants or the surveillance court, but it notes that the government's evidence file contained emails between the alleged plotters that confirmed the stories of the al-Qaida members whom FBI agents had interviewed in Yemen.

Former FBI Agent Jeff Lanza said he wasn't surprised that prosecutors didn't mention in open court records how they had identified Ouazzani and others in the cell.

"They probably couldn't put it in because of its classified nature," Lanza said. [my emphasis]
Several things stand out here:

  • Surveillance was conducted on this individual, Ouazzani, who had been identified "by targeting a known Yemeni extremist."
  • When the e-mails were attained under the warrant, their information was validated by finding that they "confirmed the stories of the al-Qaida members whom FBI agents had interviewed in Yemen."
  • Deputy FBI Director Joyce disclosed information in public to Congress that was not mentioned during the trial "in open court" because, according to Lanza, "They probably couldn't put it in because of its classified nature."

A quick reading of Morris' article might leave the reader with the impression that this particular plot was discovered thanks to the controversial, wide-reaching information dragnet the NSA is covering and which Edward Snowden exposed via reporting by Glenn Greenwald and Bart Gellman.

But that's not what it actually says. They got a specific warrant based on actual evidence that the individual was involved in possibly criminal activity. Getting warrants for monitoring calls of people who are legitimately suspected of involvement in terrorist activity is not controversial. The indiscriminate snooping on everybody is.

And though this article isn't definitive on the topic, it certainly suggests that while the government considered the information on the secret warrants too secret to mention in open court, the Deputy Director of the FBI thought it was just fine to discuss in public for the political purpose of defending the controversial domestic spying.

When will the Obama Administration be filing espionage charges against him for disclosing that information?

So, the Administration's basic strategy for reassuring people about the domestic spying programs is to say we're catching lots of terrorists this way, but we can't tell you which ones or how because it's all secret. Then in this case, they claim the non-controversial part of the spying effort shows how effective all the secret spying is. Except the FBI official who made the claim may have also committed espionage (by the Obama Administration's own standard) by doing so.


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