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NSA fact sheet pulled after being challenged by Sen. Mark Udall (denverpost.com)
216 points by johnny9822 1371 days ago | hide | past | web | 35 comments | favorite



They cannot post an updated version because:

Udall and Wyden were not able to describe what about the program's description was inaccurate, saying that would divulge classified information.

So that if they correct the 'mistakes' they are divulging classified information.

Either this is another Catch-22 or someone (more) is lying.


If classification is preventing meaningful discourse, it is time to remove the classification.


That doesn't really make sense. Something's status as "classified" has exactly zilch to do with enabling meaningful discourse, and IMO things that legitimately merit classified status should not be declassified just so we can talk about it.


"Something's status as "classified" has exactly zilch to do with enabling meaningful discourse"

How do you discuss something that you are not allowed to talk about?

"IMO things that legitimately merit classified status should not be declassified just so we can talk about it"

Which is exactly why secrecy needs to be narrow and carefully applied in a democracy. Troop movements during times of war are an example of something that is rightfully kept secret. The fact that we are at war is not something that should be kept secret.

The problem here is that we have a program that broadly impacts our civil rights, that impacts the rights of foreigners in their own country, and which is being conducted in secret. It is not merely that the NSA wants to keep its techniques secret; this is an attempt to keep the fact that the NSA is conducting surveillance secret. That is very far over the line of "legitimate classification."


> How do you discuss something that you are not allowed to talk about?

For this, in a SCIF, after getting a security clearance and signing an SF 712 that you wouldn't disclose national security information to those who are not (cleared, approved by their Director/CO, and with a valid need-to-know).

> It is not merely that the NSA wants to keep its techniques secret; this is an attempt to keep the fact that the NSA is conducting surveillance secret.

Well if the NSA were to reveal what flags they look at when making a determination that data is definitely from an American, then it is that much easier for people to evade surveillance by passing their communications as those of an American. This would fall under the guise of "NSA techniques" and would probably be why both the NSA and Sen. Udall feel that they can't discuss that part further.


Well if the NSA were to reveal what flags they look at when making a determination that data is definitely from an American, then it is that much easier for people to evade surveillance by passing their communications as those of an American.

Security by obscurity is a ridiculous idea in that context. Those "evil terrorists" could just switch to 3rd grader "spy" codes and hide the info on postcards sent from metro areas around the world. This whole idea that "the enemy" are complete brainless goons that are "winning" because they found out that the NSA scans the web for keywords like "bomb" and "new york" is just a cruel joke.


Except that AQ and other groups are already adjusting what they do in light of Snowden's leaks. Check the news.

No one (least of all at NSA) thinks AQ are brainless goons. That would, in fact, be why NSA wouldn't want to divulge detailed-enough "This is American data" guidance, as they assume that AQ and others would be able to play off that guidance to alter their own COMSEC procedures.

In fact forcing AQ to switch to using postcards would be beneficial in some regards from the NSA POV as it would slow their communications cycle. If you've never been in an environment where command-and-control are important, let's just say that effective communications are the backbone of operations. Many less-than-perfect debriefs I've been involved in had a major lesson learned "Poor Communications".

There's a maxim that most plans don't survive first contact with the enemy. From AQ's perspective that makes communications import so they can determine the problem, adapt and improvise a solution, and communicate that solution to all affected stakeholders.

Likewise even AQ engages in administrivia like expense reports, promoting leaders, org. alignments, etc. Those all need communications.

So when a break in AQ comms may rely on them screwing up a single time, it becomes even more important not to give away the "Do's and Don't's of NSA SIGINT". Even forcing them to always use GPG might be beneficial, with things like Geo-IP and metadata analysis.


But isn't it painfully simple to beat the system no matter how sophisticated the counter system is set up? We are always pretending like it is some super sophisticated process to plan an attack, but in fact it is painfully simple. If Mr Terrorist buys up some black powder or an automatic gun, ideally shaves his beard and dresses in a suit, he can pretty much get away with anything in a mayor city before getting flagged. Sure that would be just some lone wolf, but you can map out a sophisticated plan if you have guys willing to do this just over a napkin. I am much more surprised over how little "terror" we have than over how much. Plus the administrative stuff might be just made up. Most likely started from something like the "official" Taliban bureau in Qatar and got spun into "terrorists are a bunch of bureaucrats".


'Lone wolf' stuff is easy to pull off, yes.

NSA is not worried about lone wolves though. If anyone is it would probably be FBI or local law enforcement.


How do we know AQ and the other groups are 'adjusting'? What real evidence is there of this? If we know they are adjusting, then we know enough already.


Wouldn't the statements by the Chairman Mike and the others that they have changed their habits confirm to them that those changes were affected?

If the goal here is to protected "sources and methods" why are members of the Congress disclosing details that expose those "sources and methods"?


Follow our rules and jump through our hoops to the point that we can agree you wont bother us, then you can discuss whether or not our illegal spying on you was illegal or not.

Frankly, I think people care far too much about the NSA's security rules and far too little about individuals being gagged from discussing invasions of privacy for imaginary reasons that you cant even know unless you buy into their bullshit.


There is no such thing as national security. The state of the existence of some such condition is a fallacy. There is, also, no such thing as a necessary state secret: every single secret the state could ever want to keep is a failure of the state to produce the only thing that states can produce, to make peace: shared knowledge of the world.

Oh, sure, the military-industrial mindset, where the entire world is naught by a jungle a-fire, full of cannibals .. they will prey upon my bold statement that secrets are unnecessary, but no secret is anything but a lie. It does not ever sustain itself, inherently, but rather consumes the holder of life, itself.

And to this one can only respond: if you believe your secrets are worth more than another human life, your attempt at holding a position, in State, as a member of the greater whole, has failed.

I would sack every general, immediately. Disarm the architects of the greatest scam that ever intruded upon mankinds search for Peace itself: the makers of War, in word and deed.


It also, lately, has exactly zilch to do with it being sensitive information. Pretty much everything is classified now, precisely because it prevents discourse from happening.


They can't ask Udall and Wyden in private about it?

Besides, I think they already knew where the "mistakes" were, otherwise they wouldn't have retracted them if they didn't think something was wrong with them themselves.


I don't think they are saying they don't know what the "mistakes" were - rather, that to reveal what they were would be to reveal classified information. And publishing a fixed version would reveal what the mistakes were.


Udall and Wyden did specify the inaccurate statement in a classified attachment to their letter to Alexander.

http://www.denverpost.com/ci_23530383/udall-nsa-states-signi...


The Senators' letter had a classified attachment describing specifics (which, of course, was not publicly released --- but the NSA certainly has it).


Or it's an intentional Hobson's choice.


And they didn't even bother to post a corrected version, instead going back to their default position of "it's legal, trust us".


The corrected version would probably just lead to more public outrage.


Secrecy and classification have become a huge threat to freedom of speech and freedom in general.

When the government or any of it's agencies is given the authority to lie indiscriminately, that entity will become a threat to the constitution.


NSA spokeswoman Judith Emmel said the actual words in the Patriot Act are the "best possible representation" of how the government has interpreted the law's authority.

I notice that the 4th Amendment doesn't factor into it.


"best possible representation" - or you know, "least untruthful".


Except that it's not, even.


I think that's the point.


I notice that the 4th Amendment doesn't factor into it.

The 4th doesn't really apply if you're talking about the war on [drugs, terrorism, child molesters, tax cheaters, file sharers] etc. etc. etc. We are always at war


This is the "fact sheet" in question: http://pastebin.com/5d7rHmYe


They very clearly put limits only around "targets". What about information picked up "incidentally"? Also, the whole parts about "information must be immediately terminated", reminds me of some big cos where they had rules that "all code must be fully unit tested". It's not going to happen unless there are steep penalties for not doing it.

Instead of "guidelines", I would love to see actual numbers:

The NSA collected X,000 Terabytes of Information in 2012, consisting of X,000,000,000,000,000 records. At the end of the year, 2TB and X number of objects were kept, and the rest deleted properly (data actually written over).

That would be so much simpler and better.


They have asked the simple question before, [Paraphrased] "How many Americans are you spying on?", and the NSA said it would violate our freedoms for them to even mention the number.


Also, what about non-Americans? We don't get a say and our rights get violated, apparently.


But that would Give Information to the Enemy and Threaten Americaâ„¢.


My mind looks at this statement:

""Alexander also noted that the NSA, under this part of the law, cannot intentionally target Americans in or outside the United States.""

.. and makes the conclusion that the NSA thinks it has the right to manage any relationship an American may have, by keeping data on all foreigners. In other words, the NSA thinks it has the right to know how your foreign friends are, American, and formulate a shadow around you consisting of a hole in the matrix.

What is it about American culture that allows itself to produce an entire body of citizens who truly believe they can operate as members of the broader conscious body of humans, existing as they do quite literally, gazing at navels?

I propose that Americans are fine being watched, because they want to be watched, primally. I think there is a deep-seated desire to actually have someone big, strong and brave, standing there watching every single thing you do. It can be seen as a reflection through the broader spectra of how we 'know these cultures'.

Perhaps the most criminal device in the world that has ever been used to attempt to cure cannibalism is indeed, the mirror ..


#leastuntruthful


I feel like this entire episode is like a teacher rejecting homework from a student and saying, this is crap, do it again.




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