President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies tasked to review NSA procedures has released its report and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. Given that the committee was stacked with intelligence services insiders, I had expected it to offer merely superficial changes but that was not the case. While it did not go as far as I would have liked, it was not a rubber stamp for existing programs either. This may be because there has been so much publicly expressed skepticism about this committee that it made it hard for them to appear to confirm those suspicions.
The panel also urged legislation that would require the FBI to obtain judicial approval before it can use a national security letter or administrative subpoena to obtain Americans’ financial, phone and other records. That would eliminate one of the tool’s main attractions: that it can be employed quickly without court approval.
The review group also would impose a ban on warantless NSA searches for Americans’ phone calls and e-mails held within large caches of communications collected legally because the program targeted foreigners overseas.
Kevin Drum summarizes as what he sees as the nine most significant recommendations.
This is only an advisory report, consisting of non-binding recommendations. It remains to be seen to what extent the Obama administration will act on it and, given their appalling record, my skepticism surfaces again.
Glenn Greenwald, in testimony yesterday before the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties and Home Affairs said that the NSA’s goal, working with the UK’s GCHQ was to destroy privacy worldwide.
Contradicting Washington’s claims that it does not engage in “economic espionage,” Greenwald said the NSA and the GCHQ’s activities were aimed towards “diplomatic manipulation and accumulation of power.”
“What a lot of this spying is about has nothing to do with terrorism and national security. That is the pretext. It is about diplomatic manipulation and economic advantage.”
The NSA also follows people who express “radical ideas,” Greenwald said. The spy agency collects data on their “visits to pornographic sites” and their “sexual chats online with people who they’re not married to” in order to later discredit them, Greenwald said.
Greenwald rejected accusations from the American government that Snowden and his associates have put the fight against terrorism in jeopardy by releasing classified data. He said that the only thing that has been harmed is the “perception of honesty and credibility” of the governments engaged in spying.
Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin, widely viewed as a leader with highly autocratic tendencies with a background in the KGB no less, actually envies the way that president Obama spies on people without seemingly suffering any consequences.