Facebook servers
(AP Photo/Facebook, Alan Brandt)
June 16, 2013

NSA Snooping: Facebook Reveals Details Of Data Requests

Facebook received 9,000-10,000 requests for user data from US government entities in the second half of 2012.

The social-networking site said the requests, relating to between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts, covered issues from local crime to national security.

Microsoft meanwhile said it received 6,000 and 7,000 requests for data from between 31,000 and 32,000 accounts.

Leaks by a former computer technician suggest the US electronic surveillance programme is far larger than was known.

Internet companies - including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft - were reported last week to have granted the National Security Agency (NSA) "direct access" to their servers under a data collection programme called Prism.

The firms denied the accusations, saying they gave no such access but did comply with lawful requests.

Several also called on the government to grant them permission to release data about the number of classified orders they received.

'Tiny fraction'

In an effort to reassure its users, Facebook lawyer Ted Ullyot wrote on the company's blog that following discussions with the relevant authorities it could for the first time report all US national security-related requests for data.

As of today, the government will only authorise us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range," he said.

For the six months ending 31 December 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received was between 9,000 and 10,000, relating to between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.

"These requests run the gamut - from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat," Mr Ullyot said.

"With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of 1% of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of US state, local, or federal US government request."

Mr Ullyot did not indicate to what extent the company had fulfilled the requests, but said Facebook had "aggressively" protected its users' data.

"We frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested," he said.

Later, Microsoft also published information about the volume of national security orders during the second half of 2012, stressing that they had an impact on only "a tiny fraction of Microsoft's global customer base".

While praising the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation for permitting the disclosures, Microsoft Vice-President John Frank called on them to "take further steps".

"With more time, we hope they will take further steps. Transparency alone may not be enough to restore public confidence, but it's a great place to start," he wrote in a statement.

Earlier this month, Edward Snowden, a former employee of defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and former CIA technical assistant, leaked details of the Prism programme.

he 29-year-old fled the US to Hong Kong shortly before the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers published his revelations.

His whereabouts are unknown, and he has vowed to fight extradition to the US should the authorities attempt to prosecute him.


Keith B. Alexander
(Charles Dharapak/AP)
June 12, 2013

NSA Chief Says Data Disrupted 'Dozens' Of Plots

The head of the US electronic spying agency has defended the massive surveillance programmes newly revealed by a former intelligence worker.

In a US Senate hearing, National Security Agency (NSA) Director Keith Alexander said the programmes had disrupted dozens of terror plots.

And US Secretary of State John Kerry said they showed a "delicate but vital balance" between privacy and security.

Meanwhile, the leaker has pledged to fight extradition to the US.

Edward Snowden fled his home in Hawaii for Hong Kong shortly before reports of top secret programmes were published by the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers last week.

The 29-year-old former CIA and NSA contract worker has admitted giving the newspapers information about NSA programmes to seize vast quantities of data on telephone calls and internet communications from US internet and telephone companies.

US officials have confirmed the programmes exist, with President Barack Obama saying they were overseen by Congress and the courts.

'Compliance and oversight'

And officials have defended the programmes as vital national security tools.

"It's dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent," Gen Alexander said on Wednesday at a hearing of the US Senate intelligence committee.

And he backed the workers who run the programmes.

"Our nation has invested a lot in these people. They do this lawfully. They take compliance oversight, protecting civil liberties, privacy and security of this nation to their heart every day," he said.

But Gen Alexander said the agency needed to investigate how Mr Snowden, a relatively low-ranking contract employee, had been able to obtain and leak such sensitive information.

The processes "absolutely need to be looked at," he told lawmakers.

"In the IT arena, in the cyber arena, some of these folks have tremendous skills to operate networks."

The information leaked by Mr Snowden has undoubtedly angered the US government, but so far he has not been charged by the authorities, nor is he the subject of an extradition request.

European leaders have also expressed concerns over the scale of the programmes and have demanded to know whether the rights of EU citizens had been infringed.

Meanwhile, in a news conference alongside UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, Mr Kerry said: "With respect to privacy, freedom and the constitution I think over time, this will withstand scrutiny and people will understand it."


President Obama
(Davis Turner /EPA /LANDOV)
June 07, 2013

'Nobody Is Listening To Your Telephone Calls,' Obama Says

In his most extensive comments so far on the revelations this week about the electronic data that the nation's spy agencies are collecting, President Obama told the American people Friday that "nobody is listening to your telephone calls."

During an appearance in San Jose, Calif., the president also made the case that programs allowing the National Security Agency to collect information about phone calls and Internet activity "help us prevent terrorist attacks."

Obama told Americans that "your duly elected representatives [in Congress] have been consistently informed on exactly what we're doing." He said Congress has reauthorized the programs "repeatedly since 2006." And the president said his administration has boosted the safeguards that protect Americans' privacy.

According to the president, the spy agencies collect information about "phone numbers ... and duration of calls." But, he said, "they are not looking at people's names and they are not looking at content."

What's more, "if they want to listen to a phone call they've got to go back to a federal judge," Obama said.

"In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok," the president added. "But when you actually look" at what the government is doing, he argued, the reality is much different.

He called the data collection "modest encroachments on privacy" and said the programs are "narrowly circumscribed."


 Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., center, flanked by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, right, and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
June 06, 2013

AG: Won't Prosecute Reporters for Doing Their Jobs

Attorney General Eric Holder has denied the Obama administration is killing suspected terrorists with drone strikes to avoid capturing them and sending them to the Guantanamo prison it wants to close.

Appearing before a Senate panel, Holder also generally declined comment about a long-running National Security Agency program to collect phone record of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon as part of an anti-terrorist effort, and affirmed he will not prosecute journalists for doing their jobs.

Beset by controversy, Holder turned aside talk that he might resign. He drew a quick vote of confidence from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said she hoped other lawmakers wouldn't use his appearance as a chance to berate him.

On drone strikes, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told Holder she had seen no "preference for a capture" of suspected terrorists overseas since President Barack Obama took office. She asked if that was because the administration wants to avoid adding to the population at the prison constructed more than a decade ago on a U.S. military base on Cuba.

"It is not a function of not trying to take people to Guantanamo," Holder replied. He mentioned two suspected terrorists who have been captured since Obama took office, and said, "the desire to capture is something that we take seriously because we gain intelligence."

The president took office seeking to close the Guantanamo facility, and generally wants to try suspected terrorists in civilian courts. Congress initially prevented him from shuttering the prison, but Obama has recently announced he intends to renew his attempt.

Holder told lawmakers he was willing to discuss the NSA program in a classified hearing, but was limited in what he could say in public.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., asked for assurances that there had been no monitoring of members of Congress or the Supreme Court as part of the program.

Holder said there was "no intention to do anything of that nature, that is to spy on members of Congress or spy on the members of the Supreme Court." Congress and the courts are parts of independent branches of government under the U.S. Constitution.

One Republican on the panel, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, defended the NSA program, which he said is designed to uncover links between suspected terrorist groups and possible allies inside the United States. He said he is a Verizon customer, and would not be concerned if records of calls to his phone number had been part of NSA sweep.

The attorney general is under orders from President Barack Obama to review department guidelines on investigations involving leaks, and he said the goal of such probes is to prosecute government officials who jeopardize national security by violating their oaths.

"The department has not prosecuted, and as long as I'm attorney general, will not prosecute any reporter for doing his or her job," he said.

Holder's remarks were directed at the recent disclosures that the government had secretly obtained logs of some Associated Press phone calls and had obtained a search warrant to gather emails of Fox News journalist James Rosen.


May 15, 2013

White House Releases Trove of Benghazi Documents

Under mounting pressure, President Barack Obama has released a trove of documents related to the Benghazi attack and forced out the top official at the Internal Revenue Service following revelations that the agency targeted conservative political groups.

The moves are aimed at halting a growing perception among both White House opponents and allies that the president has been passive and disengaged as controversies consume his second term.

The White House also asked Congress to revive a media shield law that would protect journalists from having to reveal information. The step is seen as a response to the Justice Department subpoenas of phone records from reporters and editors at The Associated Press.

The flurry of activity signaled a White House anxious to regain control amid the trio of deepening controversies.


March 07, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul Ends Filibuster On Brennan Nomination

A tea party senator from Kentucky used an old-style filibuster lasting nearly 13 hours to block Senate confirmation of John Brennan nomination to be CIA director.

Sen. Rand Paul ended his filibuster shortly after midnight, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also a Kentucky Republican, said he would continue to oppose Brennan's confirmation and ending debate on it.

After Paul yielded the floor, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., filed a motion to cut off debate on Brennan's nomination and bring it up for a vote.

Paul ended his lengthy speech with a joke. He said that he was tempted to go another 12 hours and try and break former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond's filibuster record of 24 hours, but he needed to use the bathroom.

"I discovered that there are some limits to filibustering and I'm going to have to go and take care of one of those in a few minutes," Paul said.

But Paul's performance clearly energized his colleagues and even he seemed invigorated as the night progressed. Paul, a tea party favorite and a Republican critic of President Barack Obama's unmanned drone policy, started just before noon Wednesday by demanding the president or Attorney General Eric Holder issue a statement assuring that the aircraft would not be used in the United States to kill terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens. He wasn't picky about the format, saying at one point he'd be happy with a telegram or a Tweet.

But by the time he left the floor, he said he'd received no response.

In a show of support, more than a dozen of Paul's colleagues who share his conservative views came to floor to take turns speaking for him and trading questions. McConnell congratulated Paul for his "tenacity and for his conviction." McConnell also called Obama's choice, John Brennan, a "controversial nominee."

Paul said he recognized that he can't stop Brennan from being confirmed. But the nomination was the right vehicle for a debate over what the Obama White House believes are the limits of the federal government's ability to conduct lethal operations against suspected terrorists, he said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, read Twitter messages from people eager to "Stand With Rand." The Twitterverse, said Cruz, is "blowing up." And as the night went on, Cruz spoke for longer periods as Paul leaned against a desk across the floor. Cruz, an insurgent Republican with strong tea party backing, read passages from Shakespeare's "Henry V" and lines from the 1970 movie "Patton," starring George C. Scott.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., made references to rappers Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa. Rubio, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, chided the White House for failing to respond. "It's not a Republican question. It's not a conservative question," Rubio said. "It's a constitutional question."

Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Paul read from notebooks filled with articles about the expanded use of the unmanned weapons that have become the centerpiece of the Obama administration's campaign against al-Qaida suspects. As he moved about the Senate floor, aides brought him glasses of water, which he barely touched. Senate rules say a senator has to remain on the floor to continue to hold it, even though he can yield to another senator for a question.

"No president has the right to say he is judge, jury and executioner," Paul said.

Not all Republicans were so enthusiastic about Paul's performance. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the prospect of drones being used to kill people in the United States was "ridiculous" and called the debate "paranoia between libertarians and the hard left that is unjustified."

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, echoed Graham. He said it is unconstitutional for the U.S. military or intelligence agencies to conduct lethal counterterrorism operations in the United States against U.S. citizens. Suggesting they can or might, Rogers said, "provokes needless fear and detracts attention from the real threats facing the country."

Later in the evening Paul, who is the son of former Texas congressman and libertarian leader Ron Paul, offered to allow a vote on Brennan if the Senate would vote on his resolution stating that the use of the unmanned, armed aircraft on U.S. soil against American citizens violates the Constitution. Democrats rejected the offer.

Along with Cruz and Wyden, Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Marco Rubio of Florida joined Paul briefly three hours into the debate but turned it back to him. Wyden has long pressed for greater oversight of the use of drones. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., appeared later in the evening to trade questions with Paul.

The record for the longest individual speech on the Senate floor belongs to Thurmond, who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Holder came close to making the statement Paul wanted earlier in the day during an exchange with Cruz at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, according to Paul.

Cruz asked Holder if the Constitution allowed the federal government to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who doesn't pose an imminent threat. Holder said the situation was hypothetical, but he did not think that in that situation the use of a drone or lethal force would be appropriate. Cruz criticized Holder for not simply saying "no" in response.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Paul, Brennan said the CIA does not have authority to conduct lethal operations inside the U.S.

Holder told Paul in a March 4 letter that the federal government has not conducted such operations and has no intention of doing so. But Holder also wrote that he supposed it was possible under an "extraordinary circumstance" that the president would have no choice but to authorize the military to use lethal force inside U.S. borders. Holder cited the attacks at Pearl Harbor and on Sept. 11, 2001, as examples.

Paul said he did not dispute that the president has the authority to take swift and lethal action against an enemy that carried out a significant attack against the United States. But Paul said he was "alarmed" at how difficult it has been to get the administration to clearly define what qualifies as a legitimate target of a drone strike.

Brennan's nomination won approval Tuesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee after the White House broke a lengthy impasse by agreeing to give lawmakers access to top-secret legal opinions justifying the use of lethal drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects overseas.

If confirmed, Brennan would replace Michael Morell, the CIA's deputy director who has been acting director since David Petraeus resigned in November after acknowledging an affair with his biographer.

Brennan currently serves as Obama's top counterterrorism adviser in the White House. He was nominated for the CIA post by the president in early January and the Intelligence Committee held his confirmation hearing on Feb. 7.

Listen

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
February 17, 2013

'Time And Casualties': Gen. Dempsey On Cost Of Sequester

Gen. Martin Dempsey is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He talks with NPR's Rachel Martin about the impact of sequestration cuts and recent cultural shifts in the U.S. military.

Dempsey is now responsible for reshaping the U.S. military after 10 years of war, which means scaling the forces down. At the same time, he's fighting to stave off across-the-board cuts to the defense budget — the so called sequester — that could happen in a couple weeks if Congress fails to reach some kind of budget deal.

 

Interview Highlights:

On the risks of sequester:

"Two words: time and casualties. The way this plays out, when you hollow out readiness, it means that when the force is needed, when an option is needed, to deal with a specific threat ... it would take us longer to react to those. So time is the issue. Some people would say, 'So what?' Well, time generally translates into casualties in my line of work.

"We will weather this. The military is never going to fail to answer the call when the nation is threatened. So we will weather this, but shame on us all if we weather it at the expense of those who choose to serve in uniform."

On cultural changes in the military:

"The reason that we have taken these steps is that we actually do foresee a military that has to adapt to a changing world, [and] not just a socially changing world but literally a demographically changing world.

"I think it's fairly common knowledge that our population of military-age young men who qualify for the military is declining. So as a very practical matter, we decided [that] if in 2020 we're going to need these young ladies, and we're going to need to attract as much diversity and as much talent as we can possibly attract, if that's going to be the case, then what are we waiting for?"

On updating military standards:

"There are currently 66 military occupational specialties that are not open to women. So what you've seen us do is invert the paradigm. The paradigm was: 'These are closed to women so we don't need to explain why.' Now the paradigm is: 'These could be open to women, so we'd better explain why not.' ... What that's done is that it will actually make us wrestle standards to the ground and figure out if we've got them right.

"There are existing standards, many of which haven't dusted off in a very long time, [and] many of which have been narrowly focused just on physical standards, but without the companion piece of potentially psychological and intellectual standards. All I'm suggesting is taken holistically ... I think this will be a very healthy thing for the institution. And it will also have the added benefit of allowing a greater part of the population to compete."

Listen

February 17, 2013

GOP Foe of Hagel's Nomination Says Let Vote Go On

President Barack Obama's pick to be defense secretary is unsuited to head the Pentagon, but Republican senators should stop stalling the nomination and allow a vote on Chuck Hagel, a leading opponent said Sunday.

 

"No, I don't believe he's qualified," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "But I don't believe that we should hold up his nomination any further, because I think it's (been) a reasonable amount to time to have questions answered."

Republicans have angered Obama by delaying the formation of his second-term national security team, which includes Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, and John Brennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser who's awaiting confirmation as CIA director.

Critics contend that Hagel, who snubbed McCain by staying neutral in 2008 presidential race when McCain ran against Obama, isn't supportive enough of Israel and is unreasonably sympathetic to Iran. The nomination also became entangled in Republican lawmakers' questioning of how the White House handled the Sept. 11 attack against a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

GOP senators also have challenged his past statements and votes on nuclear weapons, and his criticism of the President George W. Bush's administration lingers.

Republicans last week held up a confirmation vote but have indicated that they eventually would relent and permit a vote when they return from their break on Feb. 25.

Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said Hagel, a Vietnam combat veteran, said was the right person to lead the Pentagon, and "has one thing in mind: How do we protect the country?"

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who's led the opposition with McCain to Hagel's nomination, said critics were "doing our job to scrutinize ... one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of defense in a very long time."

"But at the end of the day," said Graham, R-S.C., "this is the president's decision. I give him great discretion. I can't believe one Democratic colleague is not upset by this choice enough to speak out."

Graham referred to a letter he received from Hagel in response to questions about past statements on Israel, and the senator said, "I'll just take him at his word, unless something new comes along."

McDonough was on ABC's "This Week," while McCain spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press" and Graham was interviewed on "Fox News Sunday."


August 29, 2012

New Illinois Law: More prison for Terror Threats

People convicted in Illinois of attempting to commit terrorism soon may have to serve more of any prison sentence they get.

Gov. Pat Quinn has signed into law a measure requiring that anyone convicted of such crimes serve 85 percent of their sentence. The new law takes effect in January.

Under current state law, a prisoner gets one day of good-conduct credit for each day served behind bars.

House Bill 5121 was motivated by the Madison County case involving Olutosin Oduwole.

The aspiring rapper was convicted of attempting to make a terrorist threat through some writings found in his car while he attended Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. He was sentenced to five years in prison, although he may be eligible for parole after serving half of that.


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