Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NSA, FBI Officials Clarify Surveillance Techniques

At a House hearing today, several intelligence officials testified in defense of recently reported surveillance techniques, most of which operated under Section 215 (tangible records) and FAA 702 (including the so-called 'PRISM' program). Some of the assertions made:

  • The NSA keeps a database of phone records, but not e-mails or text messages. This metadata is only a record calls made, calls received, time, data and duration of a call. 

  • Metadata can only be accessed with reasonable, articulable suspicion.
  • The NSA does not do pattern analysis of metadata, because that is not permitted
  • Metadata is only accessed for terrorist investigations, not for domestic crimes. 
  • The NSA has only ever accessed records of 300 phone numbers under Section 215. 
  • Metadata is the only information the NSA collects or accesses under Section 215.
  • Only 22 people at the NSA can access metadata, and only 7 can disclose such information to the FBI.

  • A finding of reasonable suspicion is reviewed by superiors, documented, and audited.

  • Unlike the NSA the FBI accesses information other than metadata under Section 215.

  • FISA court orders are in some ways more difficult to get than grand jury subpoenas.

  • The FISC issues a certificate to read content of non-U.S. persons outside the country. The certificate lasts a year. 
  • If a person surveilled under Section 702 enters the U.S., surveillance must cease.

  • Americans can only be surveilled in the U.S. with probable cause of relation to foreign intelligence activities or terrorism, under another provision of FISA.
  • Surveillance under Section 702 requires that the target be (1) a non-U.S. person (2) outside the U.S. at the time of surveillance and (3) have a link to terrorism.

  • The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is not a rubber stamp, but provides vigorous oversight and pushes back against certain claims. The reason they hardly ever reject applications for surveillance is because the FISC works with the NSA to clear up questions with the FISC.

  • Surveillance programs helped prevent at least 50 terrorist attacks since 2001. In about half of those, Section 702 information was "critical." In only 10 of the 50 prevented attacks, Section 215 information was useful. Section 215 was used less frequently because that only applies within the U.S. and the other disrupted attacks were on foreign soil.

  • Section 215 information was used to prevent a planned bombing of the New York subway system.

  • Information gathered under 702 helped prevent an attack on the New York Stock Exchange.

  • The NSA has approximately 1,000 system administrators with access similar to Edward Snowden.

  • Edward Snowden could not have access to all the information he claimed, and would need certificates to access certain surveillance information.