If there’s any confirmation that the U.S. government has commandeered the Internet for worldwide surveillance, it is what happened with Lavabit earlier this month.
Lavabit is — well, was — an e-mail service that offered more privacy than the typical large-Internet-corporation services that most of us use. It was a small company, owned and operated by Ladar Levison, and it was popular among the tech-savvy. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden among its half-million users.
Last month, Levison reportedly received an order — probably a National Security Letter — to allow the NSA to eavesdrop on everyone’s e-mail accounts on Lavabit. Rather than “become complicit in crimes against the American people,” he turned the service off. Note that we don’t know for sure that he received a NSL — that’s the order authorized by the Patriot Act that doesn’t require a judge’s signature and prohibits the recipient from talking about it — or what it covered, but Levison has said that he had complied with requests for individual e-mail access in the past, but this was very different.
So far, we just have an extreme moral act in the face of government pressure. It’s what happened next that is the most chilling. The government threatened him with arrest, arguing that shutting down this e-mail service was a violation of the order.
There it is. If you run a business, and the FBI or NSA want to turn it into a mass surveillance tool, they believe they can do so, solely on their own initiative. They can force you to modify your system. They can do it all in secret and then force your business to keep that secret. Once they do that, you no longer control that part of your business. You can’t shut it down. You can’t terminate part of your service. In a very real sense, it is not your business anymore. It is an arm of the vast U.S. surveillance apparatus, and if your interest conflicts with theirs then they win. Your business has been commandeered.
The White House distanced itself from Britain’s handling of the leaked NSA documents when representatives said it would be difficult to imagine the US authorities following the example of Whitehall in demanding the destruction of media hard drives.
As a former lord chancellor said the Metropolitan police had no legal right to detain the partner of a Guardian journalist at Heathrow airport under anti-terror laws, the White House suggested it would be inappropriate for US authorities to enter a media organisation’s offices to oversee the destruction of hard drives.
President Barack Obama defended the NSA surveillance program in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo this morning.
On the NSA surveillance program, Cuomo asked, “Are you confident that you know everything that’s going on within that agency and that you can say to the American people, ‘It’s all done the right way’?”
“Yes, but what I’ve also said is that it can only work if the American people trust what’s going on. And what’s been clear since the disclosures that were made by Mr. Snowden is that people don’t have enough information and aren’t confident enough that, between all the safeguards and checks that we put in place within the executive branch, and the federal court oversight that takes place on the program, and congressional oversight, people are still concerned as to whether their e-mails are being read or their phone calls are being listened to,” Obama responded.
CUOMO: Especially when they hear that they are and mistakes are made. You know, it shakes your confidence.
OBAMA: Well — yeah, but I think it’s important — for example, this latest revelation that was made, what was learned was that NSA had inadvertently, accidentally pulled the e-mails of some Americans in violation of their own rules, because of technical problems that they didn’t realize. They presented those problems to the court. The court said, “This isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to have to improve the safeguards, given these technical problems.” That’s exactly what happened. So the point is, is that all these safeguards, checks, audits, oversight worked.
The Independent this morning published an article – which it repeatedly claims comes from “documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden” – disclosing that “Britain runs a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies.” This is the first time the Independent has published any revelations purportedly from the NSA documents, and it’s the type of disclosure which journalists working directly with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have thus far avoided.
That leads to the obvious question: who is the source for this disclosure? Snowden this morning said he wants it to be clear that he was not the source for the Independent, stating:
I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.
“It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.”
Interview by PETER MAASS | Published: August 13, 2013 | The New York Times
In the course of reporting his profile of Laura Poitras, Peter Maass conducted an encrypted question-and-answer session, for which Poitras served as intermediary, with Edward J. Snowden. Below is a full transcript of that conversation.
Peter Maass: Why did you seek out Laura and Glenn, rather than journalists from major American news outlets (N.Y.T., W.P., W.S.J. etc.)? In particular, why Laura, a documentary filmmaker?
Edward Snowden: After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America abdicated their role as a check to power — the journalistic responsibility to challenge the excesses of government — for fear of being seen as unpatriotic and punished in the market during a period of heightened nationalism. From a business perspective, this was the obvious strategy, but what benefited the institutions ended up costing the public dearly. The major outlets are still only beginning to recover from this cold period.
Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures. She had demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world — making her an obvious choice.
P.M.: Was there a moment during your contact with Laura when you realized you could trust her? What was that moment, what caused it?
E.S.: We came to a point in the verification and vetting process where I discovered Laura was more suspicious of me than I was of her, and I’m famously paranoid. The combination of her experience and her exacting focus on detail and process gave her a natural talent for security, and that’s a refreshing trait to discover in someone who is likely to come under intense scrutiny in the future, as normally one would have to work very hard to get them to take the risks seriously.
The US surveillance state, or at least the parts the public knows about, keeps getting bigger. Initial leaks by Ed Snowden indicated that the National Security Agency was collecting telephone metadata and had a program called PRISM to seek information from the servers of certain major Internet companies. Last month, the Guardian reported the existence of XKeyscore, an NSA program that allows NSA analysts to intercept the contents of e-mail and other online communications. But previous reporting had suggested that the NSA’s Internet interception capabilities were concentrated outside the borders of the United States.
A new report by the Wall Street Journal casts doubt on that comforting notion. According to the Journal, the NSA “has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic.” And while the NSA is only supposed to “target” foreigners, the NSA sometimes “retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S.”
The Journal says the NSA relies on extensive collaboration with domestic telecommunications companies to get access to Internet traffic. “The programs, code-named Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew, among others, filter and gather information at major telecommunications companies.” Filtering occurs at more than a dozen “major Internet junctions.”
These programs have a long history. The NSA was already intercepting international Internet traffic before the attacks of September 11, 2001. After those terrorist attacks, the government expanded its surveillance activities to include more collection points inside the United States. One of those collection points became the target of an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit after an AT&T whistleblower revealed the existence of a secret, NSA-controlled room inside an AT&T facility in San Francisco.
The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London‘s Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.
David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.
Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.
Since 5 June, Greenwald has written a series of stories revealing the NSA‘s electronic surveillance programmes, detailed in thousands of files passed to him by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Guardian has also published a number of stories about blanket electronic surveillance by Britain’s GCHQ, also based on documents from Snowden.
Washington (CNN) — Lawmakers in Washington are concerned that they were left in the dark about an internal audit that found the National Security Agency had broken privacy rules “thousands of times each year” since 2008. The audit was first reported by the Washington Post on Thursday.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Friday that his committee will hold another hearing on the Post’s revelations.
“I … will continue to demand honest and forthright answers from the intelligence community,” Leahy said. “I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA.”