TIME intelligence

FBI Doesn’t Know How Many Americans It Spies On

John Brennan CIA Nomination Hearing
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., listens to U.S. Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism testify at his nomination hearing to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 7, 2013. Chris Maddaloni—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Intel agencies dished on how many Americans get nabbed in the surveillance dragnet

New details emerged Monday on how many Americans are spied on by the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, in a letter that also revealed how few records on domestic surveillance are held by the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

A letter to surveillance-reform hawk Sen. Ron Wyden (D—Ore.) from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence made public Monday revealed that the NSA approved searches of the content of communications of 198 “U.S. person identifiers”—a number associated with the phone, computer, etc. of an American citizen or legal immigrant — and 9,500 searches of meta-data for U.S. person identifiers. The Central Intelligence Agency conducted “fewer than 1900″ queries associated with U.S. person identifiers, according to the letter.

But the FBI could present no hard numbers on how many American citizens it spies on, according to the letter. “The FBI does not track how many queries it conducts using U.S. person identifiers,” the letter says. In fulfilling its mandate as a domestic law enforcement agency, the letter says, “the FBI does not distinguish between U.S. and non-U.S. persons for purposes of querying Section 702 collection.”

Wyden slammed what he termed a “huge gap in oversight” in surveillance of American citizens. “When the FBI says it conducts a substantial number of searches and it has no idea of what the number is, it shows how flawed this system is and the consequences of inadequate oversight,” Wyden said in a statement.

The letter from ODNI comes after a June 5 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill to reform domestic surveillance revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and others, in which Wyden pressed National Security Agency Deputy Director Rick Ledgett to say how many “warrantless searches for Americans’ communications have been conducted” under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Section 702 of FISA regulates the monitoring of foreign communications. Though the NSA is officially prohibited from targeting the communications of innocent Americans, due to the nature of global communication in the 21st century and the scale of the mass collection, American citizens’ communications can be swept up in the surveillance dragnet. Other intelligence and law enforcement agencies can query data collected by the NSA for information about their investigations.

As a vocal proponent of reform legislation to curtail the NSA’s surveillance of Americans, Wyden was displeased with the ODNI’s response to his request. “The findings transmitted to me raise questions about whether the FBI is exercising any internal controls over the use of backdoor searches including who and how many government employees can access the personal data of individual Americans,” Wyden’s statement said. “I intend to follow this up until it is fixed.”

TIME intelligence

New NSA Chief: Snowden Didn’t Do That Much Damage

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is interviewed by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in a still image taken from video during an interview by the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong on June 6, 2013 Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras—The Guardian/Reuters

Says leaks don't mean "the sky is falling"

The head of the National Security Agency says in a new interview that the massive leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden didn’t do irreparable damage to national security.

“You have not heard me as the director say, ‘Oh, my God, the sky is falling,’” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the new NSA director, told the New York Times in an interview published Sunday. “I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterizations.”

But Rogers did say terrorist groups have been using the leaked data to their advantage. “I have seen groups not only talk about making changes, I have seen them make changes,” he said.

While at the NSA, Snowden was able to downloaded more than one million secret documents that detailed the agency’s wide-ranging surveillance efforts. Rogers said he’s working to ensure leaks will not happen again, but does not rule out the possibility. The key, he said, is to keep the volume of stolen data from reaching that of Snowden’s.

“Am I ever going to sit here and say as the director that with 100 percent certainty no one can compromise our systems from the inside?” he said. “Nope. Because I don’t believe that in the long run.”

[NYT]

TIME Foreign Policy

Former Officials Knock U.S. Drone Program

Predator Drone
Maintenence personel check a Predator drone on March 7, 2013 in Sierra Vista, Arizona. John Moore—Getty Images

"A serious counterterrorism strategy needs to consider carefully… the potential unintended consequences of increased reliance on lethal UAVs"

A bipartisan group of former senior intelligence and military officials broadly criticized the Obama Administration’s program of targeted drone strikes Thursday and called for the U.S. to reassess the practice.

Their critique, in a report published Thursday by the Washington think tank Stimson Center, represents the latest challenge to the use of armed drones for targeted killings, days after courts forced the release a legal memo justifying the killing of alleged American terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in a strike in Yemen. The report warns that armed drones create a “slippery slope” that could lead to continual wars, as the relative low-risk associated with their use could encourage the U.S. to fly more missions.

Among other recommendations, the panel called for the U.S. to conduct a strategic cost-benefit analysis of the their use, provide greater transparency in the process, and shift the authority over the program away from the Central Intelligence Agency and to the military.

“We are concerned that the Obama administration’s heavy reliance on targeted killings as a pillar of US counterterrorism strategy rests on questionable assumptions, and risks increasing instability and escalating conflicts,” the report says. “While tactical strikes may have helped keep the homeland free of major terrorist attacks, existing evidence indicates that both Sunni and Shia Islamic extremist groups have grown in scope, lethality and influence in the broader area of operations in the Middle East.

The panel, which was jointly led by retired General John P. Abizaid, the former head of United States Central Command, and Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown University, also called for President Barack Obama to create an independent commission to regularly review the use of lethal drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.

“A serious counterterrorism strategy needs to consider carefully… the potential unintended consequences of increased reliance on lethal UAVs,” the report says.

Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokesman, told the New York Timesahead of the report’s release to the public that the Administration would review the findings on the use of armed drones but added that the U.S. needs to preserve “the ability to continue those operations.

“The administration is exploring ways we can provide more information about the United States’ use of force in counterterrorism operations outside areas of active hostilities, including information that provides the American people with a better understanding of U.S. assessments of civilian casualties,” she told the Times.

TIME Dating

Geniuses in Love: Mensa and Match.com Partner For a New Dating Site

Heart in a petrie dish
Getty Images

Mensa, the society for people with high IQ, and Match.com are teaming up to create a new dating site for highly intelligent people, reports Match.com.

According to Match, smart is attractive: More than 80% of singles claim a partner’s equal or higher intelligence is a “must have” or “very important.”

“Why do we want a smart partner? Because intelligence is correlated with many benefits, including: higher income; sense of humor; creativity; social skills; coordination; and problem solving. These are sexy,” said Match’s Chief Scientific Advisor Dr. Helen Fisher in an online statement.

The new site only allows users that match Mensa’s requirement of an IQ in above the 98% of the general population. According to Mensa, there are plenty of brainy fish in the sea: an estimated 6 million Americans are eligible to become a part of the organization which now has 57,000 members.

Super smart singles are encouraged to put their best mind forward; through July 6th, Match is inviting them to take the Mensa Home Test for $1 to see if they qualify for this genius opportunity.

TIME intelligence

CIA Planned To Make ‘Demon’ Osama Bin Laden Action Figure

Terrorists Osama bin-Laden
$25 million: Osama bin-Laden was the founder of al-Qaeda, the militant Islamist organization that was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. Bin-Laden was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011 by an American Special Forces unit in an operation ordered by President Obama. Getty Images

The CIA confirmed to the Washington Post that three prototypes of the action figure were created

The CIA started to make Osama bin Laden action figures that were intended to spook children and parents into turning against him, the Washington Post reports.

Citing “people familiar with the project,” the Post reports that in 2005 the CIA began developing bin Laden action figures with heat-dissolving material that would peel off and reveal a red-faced, demon-like bin Laden. A batch of the toys were manufactured in China, though exactly how many is a subject of dispute.

A spokesperson for the CIA told the Post that only three action figures were created as prototypes, and the agency decided against moving forward with the project. But a source told the Post that hundreds of toys were sent to Karachi in 2006.

See the Post‘s images of the terrifying toy here.

[Washington Post]

TIME intelligence

WikiLeaks Teases ‘Very Important Secret Document’ Release

Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London on June 14, 2013. Anthony Devlin—AFP/Getty Images

While Julian Assange gives journalists some World Cup predictions

Two years after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walked into Ecuador’s embassy in the U.K. seeking asylum, his whistleblowing group says it is set to release new classified documents pertaining to “international negotiations.”

WikiLeaks offered little detail on its forthcoming release except to say it contains information pertaining to around 50 countries, including Canada.

In a conference call with journalists from the Ecuadorean embassy in London on Wednesday, Assange — who remains publisher of the secret-spilling group — offered no indication that he intends to travel to Sweden to submit himself for questioning by prosecutors over allegations of sexual misconduct made roughly four years ago.

Prosecutors have declined offers to meet with Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy in the U.K., his attorney said Wednesday. According to WikiLeaks, “new information” pertaining to the Swedish investigation will be revealed next Tuesday, though the group would not offer further details.

Assange has not been guaranteed safe passage to Ecuador, which has granted him asylum amid a presumed U.S. Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks, and has spent two years confined to Ecuador’s British embassy.

Assange’s supporters say the U.K. has spent about $10 million just on policing the embassy in order to apprehend Assange should he leave its confines. He admitted to journalists this week that he had managed to watch the World Cup from his embassy home.

“The reception in this building is quite difficult, but perhaps it makes it a bit harder for the bugs to transmit through the walls as well,” he said, apparently referring to surveillance devices. Assange said his sporting loyalties now lie with his hosts, unsurprisingly. “Of course, Ecuador undoubtedly deserves to win the World Cup and has a pretty decent team,” he said. “But I think there’s such prestige riding on the issue for Brazil that they are the most likely victors.”

In his comments Wednesday, Assange called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to drop any investigation into WikiLeaks or resign. He also said he believes Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia will be renewed should the NSA leaker reapply.

TIME National Security

Army Chief of Staff Promises ‘Thorough’ Review of Bergdahl Capture

The mysterious disappearance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl into enemy hands would be investigated as soon as he had physically and emotionally recovered, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said

The U.S. Army said Wednesday it would conduct a “thorough, transparent and complete” investigation into the circumstances surrounding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s capture, as soon as he had recovered from five years of captivity at the hands of Taliban militants.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said the army would probe Bergdahl’s disappearance once he had been “properly reintegrated” into society.

“At the appropriate time, we will conduct a thorough, transparent and complete review of the circumstances surrounding his capture,” Odierno said in a statement.

The disappearance of Bergdahl from his post and subsequent attempts to secure his release have raised a slew of questions for administration officials. Chief among them was whether the decision to release five Taliban leaders in exchange for Bergdahl received proper vetting from security staffers and Congress. Intelligence officials told TIME that they had previously lodged objections to the deal, on the grounds that the Taliban commanders posed too great of a risk to national security. Washington Post reports that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had numbered among the objectors in the past.

The White House declined to describe the details of its decision-making process, arguing that threats to Bergdahl’s life required an urgent decision and that the deal had been approved by consensus among all of the members of Obama’s national security team.

TIME intelligence

NSA Releases Email Snowden Sent Before Leaks

Edward Snowden
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden during a meeting with German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Stroebele (not pictured) regarding being a witness for a possible investigation into NSA spying in Germany, on October 31, 2013 in Moscow. Sunshinepress/Getty Images

A White House spokesman confirmed on Thursday that it will release an email sent by Edward Snowden to the Office of General Counsel but added that "clemency is not on the table" for the former agency contractor

The National Security Agency released an email Thursday from Edward Snowden to its Office of General Counsel, acknowledging for the first time that the former contractor had contacted officials within the agency before leaking information about widespread surveillance activities.

Snowden has long maintained that he repeatedly alerted supervisors and NSA authorities regarding his concerns about the domestic and international surveillance programs he had come across in his work as a contractor for the agency, an allegation denied by the NSA in the past. NBC News confirmed the existence of the one email on Wednesday. But the NSA maintained that the one email hardly amounted to Snowden sounding the alarm about surveillance concerns.

“NSA has now explained that they have found one e-mail inquiry by Edward Snowden to the Office of General Counsel asking for an explanation of some material that was in a training course he had just completed,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines said Thursday. “The e-mail did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse, but posed a legal question that the Office of General Counsel addressed. There was not additional follow-up noted. The e-mail will be released later today.”

The email, dated April 5, 2013—more than a month before he released a trove of secret documents to reporters but after he had already been in contact with them—shows Snowden asking the agency’s lawyers whether Executive Orders can trump federal statute and whether regulations from the Department of Defense or Office of Director of National Intelligence can take precedence over the other. An employee of the general counsel’s office replied to Snowden three days later, answering that executive orders have the force of law but cannot override federal law, and that DOD and ODNI regulations are treated with equal weight. But the email was sent months after his initial contacts with Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald when he first showed interest in leaking documents.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed the planned email release earlier Thursday, saying there were other avenues to raise concerns at Snowden’s disposal, beyond email, that he did not avail himself of. Following on Snowden’s interview with NBC News, Carney said the U.S. government’s position with respect to him has not changed. “Clemency is not on the table,” he said.

“There are numerous avenues that Mr. Snowden could have used to raise other concerns or whistleblower allegations,” Vines said. “We have searched for additional indications of outreach from him in those areas and to date have not discovered any engagements related to his claims.”

The full email:

TIME intelligence

Snowden: ‘There Are Some Things Worth Dying For’

The NSA leaker said he sees himself as a patriot in his first interview with a U.S. television network, which aired Wednesday night

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, stands by his decision to leak a huge collection of classified National Security Agency documents that revealed extensive, global U.S. government surveillance programs.

“There are some things worth dying for,” Snowden said in an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams that aired late Wednesday, “I think the country is one of them.” The interview was his first with a U.S. television network since he fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong a year ago with classified materials.

Snowden has been living for the better part of a year under asylum in Russia and said if given the opportunity he’d like to go home.

“If I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home,” he said. The leaker made similar comments in an interview in January.

Snowden told Williams he attempted to travel to Latin America to seek asylum after leaving Hong Kong, but was left stranded in Moscow airport after the U.S. revoked his passport. The Kremlin granted Snowden temporary asylum, which expires at the end of July and which Snowden says he will ask to extend. He has been charged in the United States with theft and espionage.

Secretary of State John Kerry had harsh words in response to Snowden’s statement that he’d like to return to the United States.

“Edward Snowden is a coward,” Kerry told MSNBC. “He is a traitor. And he has betrayed his country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.”

In his denunciation of Snowden, Kerry said, “Patriots don’t go to Russia,” but Snowden told NBC that he sees himself as a patriot.

“I’ve from day one said that I’m doing this to serve my country,” he said.

In his lengthy interview Wednesday, Snowden scolded his critics for exploiting the trauma of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to justify the surveillance programs he exposed. Intelligence officials have defended the programs as essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism.

“I’ve never told anybody this. No journalist,” he said. “But I was on Fort Meade on September 11th. I was right outside the NSA. So I remember — I remember the tension of that day. I remember hearing on the radio the planes hitting. And I remember thinking my grandfather, who worked for the FBI at the time, was in the Pentagon when the plane hit it. I take the threat of terrorism seriously. And I think we all do.”

Snowden fired back at assertions made by American officials that he was little more than low-level tech support for the intelligence community, saying he was “trained as a spy” and worked undercover for both the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency. He also rejected the assertion, made to TIME by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, that he is being controlled by Russian intelligence officials. “I have no relationship with the Russian government at all,” he said.

Despite his stated desire to come back, Snowden brushed off questions about whether or not he would make a deal with the U.S. government in order to return.

“My priority is not about myself,” he said. “It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed — and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind, can be helped by my actions.”

TIME CIA

White House Accidentally Reveals Name of CIA Chief in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama gestures while speaking to troops at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, Afghanistan, during an unannounced visit, May 25, 2014.
President Barack Obama gestures while speaking to troops at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, Afghanistan, during an unannounced visit, May 25, 2014. Evan Vucci—AP

The White House issued a corrected list of officials, without the name of the CIA officer, but only after the initial list had been distributed to more than 6,000 people

The White House inadvertently revealed the name of the top CIA officer in Afghanistan when it provided reporters with a list of officials participating in President Barack Obama’s surprise Memorial weekend visit to troops.

In a press list of 15 officials circulated to up to 6,000 recipients, including TIME reporters, one name appeared next to the title Chief of Station, the title of the top CIA officer in a country. The White House, which received the list from military officials, soon realized the mistake and issued a revised copy without the name.

TIME is withholding his name after Obama officials cautioned The Washington Post, which first reported on the snafu, that the officer and his family could be at risk if his name were published. Given the officer’s prominent role, his identity is probably known by the top echelons of the Afghan government, so it’s still unclear if he will be pulled out of the country, the Post reports.

The CIA and the White House declined to comment to the Washington Post.

 

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