Secrets and Lies

A new category has been added to this site—Publications.

The first entry there is “Secrets and Lies — Exposed and Combatted: Warrantless Surveillance Under and Around the Law 2001-2017.” Secrecy and Society 2(1). https://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/secrecyandsociety/vol2/iss1/

This article was written over the period of June 2017 to March 2018.  Before June 2013, civil society and much of Congress were largely in the dark about the extent of the surveillance activities of the National Security Agency and the circumlocutions of statute undertaken by the White House and the Department of Justice. After the releases by Edward Snowden to specific journalists, the mendacity of Intelligence Community lawyers and leaders, the evasions of the law and manipulation of the FISA Court by the White House working with the Justice Department, and the scope of the violations of the Fourth Amendment protections of U.S. Persons (USPs) became increasingly apparent.

In order to understand the context for the “Snowden disclosures” and what they have meant for Executive Branch accountability, it is necessary to understand the course of efforts to rein in – or at least secure some (often minimal) oversight of – the U.S. Intelligence Community. These initiatives include the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the amendments thereto, including, for the purposes of this article, the USA PATRIOT Act, the USA Freedom Act, and the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) and its reauthorizations. The article reviews the changes that were initiated in the Executive Branch (and to a lesser extent in the Legislative Branch), the role civil society played in pushing and utilizing greater transparency, and what the changes mean for government accountability to the public.

As news articles appear about the ongoing activities of the Intelligence Community in the areas covered in this article, they will be noted here.  It is strongly advised that one read “Secret and Lies” before taking any government statements at face value–or thinking the words necessarily mean what they appear to mean.


NSA Reports Data Deletion, NSA Press Release Release No: PA-010-18 ,28 June 2018. “…on May 23, 2018, NSA began deleting all call detail records (CDRs) acquired since 2015 under Title V of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Government relies on Title V of FISA to obtain CDRs, which do not include the content of any calls. In accordance with this law, the Government obtains these CDRs, following a specific court-authorized process. NSA is deleting the CDRs because several months ago NSA analysts noted technical irregularities in some data received from telecommunications service providers. These irregularities also resulted in the production to NSA of some CDRs that NSA was not authorized to receive. Because it was infeasible to identify and isolate properly produced data, NSA concluded that it should not use any of the CDRs. … The root cause of the problem has since been addressed for future CDR acquisitions, and NSA has reviewed and revalidated its intelligence reporting to ensure that the reports were based on properly received CDRs.

NSA criticized for ‘increased risk’ of jeopardizing civil liberties, Fifth Domain, Justin Lynch, 25 July 2018.  The National Security Agency is at an “increased risk” of jeopardizing civil liberties and the privacy of American citizens, according to an inspector general report that comes just months after a controversial program that collects emails and phone calls was extended. The NSA watchdog said that agency analysts performed “noncompliant” searches using the organization’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Authority, which were caused by “human error, incomplete understanding of the rules, and gaps in guidance.”According to the report, which covered the period from October 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018 the unauthorized searches were related to the FISA’s counterterrorism authority. …The inspector general also criticized the agency for “incomplete” documentation of internal processes related to foreign dissemination of FISA data, which “increases the risk of noncompliance.”In another example, the NSA watchdog said that three open-source capabilities of the agency posed similar risks to citizens, as well as spreading classified material.

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