How the NSA Is Transforming Law Enforcement

If you’ve been imagining NSA surveillance as something distant, with analysts sitting in remote data centers quietly analyzing metadata—stop now. NSA surveillance has become a part of day-to-day law enforcement fabric in the United States. The Snowden disclosures that were made public as part of Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide drive this point home, and they emphasize why we need real change to government surveillance, not minor reforms.

There are two key points necessary to understand the domestic aspect of NSA surveillance: theintegral role of the FBI in helping the NSA spy on Americans, and the acceptance of usage of NSA material for domestic and traditional law enforcement purposes. These are contingent, of course, on the fact that the NSA’s procedures allow widespread targeting of Americans.

Much of the material published on May 13 expanded on the disturbing revelations that we’ve already seen, but there were some standout points: new information about the degree of spying on the U.N. and other foreign officials, documents demonstrating the economic espionage aspect of NSA surveillance, and some interesting technical details about NSA programs. Among those technical details, what was especially striking for those of us in the United States were the slides that described how the FBI enables NSA surveillance.

A series of slides demonstrated that the FBI essentially serves as an attack dog for the NSA, doing the NSA’s domestic dirty work. One slide, which was previously published, notes that for purposes of PRISM, relationships with communications providers are only through the FBI. (slide23.jpg). Another slide describes how the FBI and NSA partner to “address an unreliable and incomplete Facebook collection system.” (slide81.jpg).

There are also a series of slides describing the FBI’s relationship with Microsoft. One notes that the NSA is now able to collect Microsoft Skydrive data as a “result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established .” (slide27.jpg). The documents also show that the NSA, Department of Justice, and FBI collaborated to collect Skype data. (slide29.jpg). Similarly, after Microsoft enabled encrypted chat: “MS, working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal with the new SSL.” (slide30.jpg).

Clearly, the NSA would have a much more difficult—if not impossible—time collecting information without the FBI.

None of this should be surprising. It’s easy to forget that Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation—not the NSA—to apply for production of business records. Remember the Verizon order that jumpstarted the NSA surveillance conversation? That order was an application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by the FBI for production of Verizon’s business records to the NSA.

The national discourse since June 6, 2013, has been about NSA spying. But talking about NSA spying on its own doesn’t make sense. We need to be talking about the surveillance state as a whole.

And it’s not just the FBI that we should be concerned about. The NSA’s role in ordinary investigations is not new information. But every document that expands on the NSA’s involvement in anything domestic, and not national security related, should ring alarm bells for everyone in the United States. We know now that:

  • The NSA data is fed to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s “Special Operations Division.” The DEA in turn uses this information in ordinary investigations, while cloaking the source– even from judges and prosecutors.
  • The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorized the NSA to share unminimized datawith the FBI, as well as the CIA, with the “Raw Take” order. Prior to this “agencies [had] to ‘minimize’ private information about Americans — deleting data that is irrelevant for intelligence purposes before providing it to others.”
  • Information sharing between the FBI, NSA, and CIA has been routinized through “software which would automatically gather a list of tasked PRISM selectors every two weeks to provide to the FBI and CIA.” (slide31.jpg). Similarly, the NSA sends “operational PRISM news and guidance to the FBI and CIA so that their analysts could task the PRISM system properly, be aware of outages and changes, and optimize their use of PRISM.”
  • And, most recently, we learned that the NSA partners with the DEA to record nearly all cell phone calls in the Bahamas– but not for national security purposes. This surveillance helps “to locate ‘international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers’—traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.” In fact, a 2004 memo discusses the NSA’s integral goal in the war on drugs.

Everything we now know about the NSA paints a picture of an agency that has grown wildly outside the bounds of its purpose—to protect national security. The national security justifications for dragnet surveillance ring hollow. It’s time to take Congress and the President to task for this, and call for an end to the unchecked actions of our dangerous spy agencies­—the NSA and the FBI.

This article first appeared on Electronic Frontier Foundation and is reproduced here under Creative Commons license. Image by Oleksiy & Tetyana under Creative Commons license.

via How the NSA Is Transforming Law Enforcement.

4 thoughts on “How the NSA Is Transforming Law Enforcement

  • May 21, 2014 at 10:07 am

    and so it is that any u.s. complaint against china’s hacking is indeed completely up shit’s creek without a paddle. for a nation that just rewrites the laws to suit its own interests, even against its own people, it’s completely laughable that they’re going after china under the pretense of “rule of law”.
    this is called reaping what you sow. and why tossing away moral authority throws away more than you might have expected.

  • May 21, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    It is never long before a nation that is belligerent abroad becomes belligerent at home.
    If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be under the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.
    The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.
    It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home has always been charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.
    There was a time in this country when the wisdom of the Founders as contained in quotes such as those were taught in our schools.
    Not anymore.
    150 years of dumbing down America in a public education nightmare modeled on the Prussian education system has seen to that as evidenced by a POTUS so ignorant of American culture as to tell the nation earlier this year to not listen to those who urge mistrust of government.
    Washington, Jefferson and Madison would beg to differ.
    Continued domestic spying and the continued militarization of our local police forces with surplus military grade weapons from Washington is poised to end liberty as it has traditionally been experienced in this country.
    The solution to this very real threat will not be found in Washington no matter which party is in power. Rather if it is to be found in time it will be found in our 50 State capitals with a renewed commitment to STATES RIGHTS. That means States must increasingly tell Washington to take a hike and be prepared to go it alone with local solutions for local problems and forgo one size fits all solutions for a population of 317 million imposed from the top down.
    Our Founders understanding of history convinced them that powerful central governments have always been enemies of liberty and to forestall that danger in the newly freed colonies they designed Articles and later a Constitution that ensured the powers granted to the Federal government were in the words of Madison few and defined and those reserved to the States were numerous and indefinite.
    That paradigm has been turned on its head in years since Appomattox by Potomac supremacists in our State capitals who have relegated their States into little more than administrative outposts of the Federal government as they wait their turn to ‘go to Washington’.
    Maybe it is time for our local politicians to stop praising State reps like Hood and Hukill for returning a million or so of our own money for a developer driven pond or ditch here and there, AND start asking them what they did to preserve, protect and defend our liberties from ‘domestic’ threats as their oaths demand.
    Ted Noftall

  • May 21, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    The NSA is an out of control and completely unnecessary agency. We could get rid of them and most of the other alphabet soup “intelligence” agencies and we would actually be safer, since those agencies wouldn’t be out creating new enemies to justify their bogus jobs.
    It’s laughable that they’re going after anyone. Why should anyone in the US or outside of it comply with US law when our government at all levels simply shits all over the laws it doesn’t like whenever it suits them?

  • May 22, 2014 at 4:13 am

    To paraphrase Mao Tse-tung, “all political power flows from the barrel of a gun.”


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