Friday, June 07, 2013

PRISM and the plot AGAINST Obama

As you probably already know, Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras of the Washington Post have gifted us with NSA Bombshell Story number 2 -- just one day after Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian offered NSA Bombshell Story number 1. Greenwald spoke about the NSA and phone records; the Post writers discuss the NSA and computer records.

I'm more than a little curious about the timing of these scoops, and about the choice of journalistic venue. We'll get to those concerns in short order. For now, let's talk PRISM:
The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind.
Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority.

Congress obliged with the Protect America Act in 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection. PRISM recruited its first partner, Microsoft, and began six years of rapidly growing data collection beneath the surface of a roiling national debate on surveillance and privacy. Late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.
Allegedly, PRISM focuses entirely on foreign traffic. But we all know that in the internet age, signals can bounce all over the place. You may recall this earlier post, in which I noted that my computer was communicating with...well, it seems to be a field in the U.K. The address is owned by none other than Microsoft -- the same Microsoft mentioned above as being the first provider on board with the NSA's PRISM program.

The WP shows us some relevant documents it has obtained here.

Although you may think I'm being unnecessarily contrarian, I am not inclined to talk about PRISM per se. Instead, I find myself fascinated by the way the NSA scandal has played out.

Look closer. This is a very odd business. Very odd.

The first thing you have to understand is this: The WP is a right-leaning paper which normally bends over background not to offend the intel community. I don't think that the Post has ever had one nice thing to say about Julian Assange -- and yet, right now, the paper is Wikileaks. For that journal to publish documents marked "TOP SECRET" and "NOFORN" (no foreign distribution) is really, really remarkable.

Think about it. When was the last time the Post pulled a stunt like that? 

Second, these leaks occurred directly after we witnessed a massive scandal over the DOJ's efforts to track who leaked what to certain journalists. In particular, Justice wanted to know who leaked North Korean nuke info to James Rosen of Fox News. The timing seems more than a little suspicious: First Rosen, then Greenwald, then Gellman and Poitras -- boom boom boom.

Obviously, the administration must be salivating to know (if it doesn't know already) who gave secret documents to Greenwald and to the WP team. Just as obviously, the professional leak-trackers must now feel shackled; Obama cannot want a repeat of the James Rosen affair.

My earlier piece indicated that Rosen has pretty good wires into one sector of the intelligence community. In other words, this guy is more spooky than spooked-upon.

And now I'm wondering: Just how did this Rosen business first become public?

The original "spying on Rosen" scoop appeared in -- you guessed it -- the Washington Post. That report was based on this search warrant affidavit (which I really should have read earlier).

Y'know what's odd about the publication of this warrant? Search warrants having to do with national security investigations are always sealed. Such documents are not supposed to show up on the WP website. Yet...lo! There it is.

We know that this particular warrant was, in fact, sealed because it says so on pages 35-36:
Because this investigation is continuing and disclosure of some of the details of this affidavit may compromise subsequent investigative measures to be taken in this case, may cause subjects to flee, may cause individuals to destroy evidence and/or may otherwise jeopardize this investigation, I respectfully request that this affidavit, and associated materials seeking this search warrant, be sealed until further order of this Court.
The obvious question: If the warrant was sealed, how did the WP get hold of it?

Here are a few other obvious questions: Why wasn't the WP (normally quite ass-kissingly deferential when it comes to the FBI, CIA and DOD) willing to publish documents of this sort during the Bush years? Why did the WP publish the sealed Rosen affadvit and the Top Secret NSA documents, even though it tried to cover up the Downing Street Memo revelations back in 2005? In what way does the WP's NSA story substantially differ from anything Julian Assange or Bradley Manning are accused of doing?

The State Department cables allegedly released by Manning were mostly harmless piffle. By contrast, this sealed Search Warrant, so kindly provided by the Washington Post, may have helped Kim Jong-Un identify an American intelligence source deep within the North Korean power structure. That, my friends, is pretty freakin' important.

So why is Manning on trial in Fort Meade as we speak, while the writers and editors of the Washington Post sleep the sleep of the protected?

Leaking to the Guardian is not without precedent. For decades, the intel community has seen the benefit of leaking certain data to journalists known to be muckrakers unloved by The Establishment, precisely because those journalists appeal to a readership that more conservative writers will never reach. (You want proof? Let's talk about Jack Anderson one of these days. And then maybe we should talk to an old spook-watcher like Robin Ramsey about the Guardian's history.)

In this light, we must respectfully ask Greenwald to tell us as much as he reasonably can about how he learned what he learned. In his CNN interview, he gave no hint as to the origin of his leak.

Although I remain a Greenwald admirer, let's face it: He's not known for scoops of this sort, the kind that involve the furtive transfer of Top Secret documents. (Initial reports of a DOJ effort to track the Greenwald leak have been shot down.)

You can see where I'm going with this.

I posit that an anti-Obama faction within the intel community has conjured up a long-term plan: First, make it politically impossible for the administration to track leaks to journalists. Then...leak, leak, leak!

Make no mistake: The stuff being leaked is quite significant in its own right. Obama is being hoisted by his own petard. Of course I'm infuriated by the PRISM revelations. Of course I am glad that we may finally have a national dialogue about NSA overreach. My own record on privacy issues should be quite clear; I have been quite the scold on that topic.

But even as we welcome a pro-privacy movement, let's be honest: These leaks wouldn't have happened to Dubya.

(Folks, I'd really like feedback on this post -- even negative feedback. Please pass this one around!)
My head hurts

Here's some feedback: this was a great post.

I've been wondering how these documents have been reaching the establishment Washington Post, too, and was thinking that maybe it was a ploy to draw out the leakers by providing them with marked information which could be traced back to them, but the prospect of an intelligence insurrection also sounds like a viable theory.

Either way, it's clear that Obama is going to take a beating on what was effectively a program started during the previous administration. I imagine that in reality, our intelligence apparatus controls government, not the other way around.
I agree with you brother Cannon. These leaks would have and didn't happen under "Dubya."

Like you, I am pretty well passed the point of being "pissed" about "Uncles" snooping but those of us that have been paying attention knew that something like this was underfoot. Once the Patriot Act was unleashed on the sheep, nothing was going to contain that Krakken!

I welcome the sunshine being shone on this turd but somehow I do not think anything other than more headaches for Obama will come of it. The sheep in this country have become so pacified and neutered that they don't really care about this. Tell ya what though....Take their "Dancing with the Stars" away and see how fast they rebel!
There are good leaks and bad, joseph.

I'm starting to think PRISM is a selective program which culls and sectors for daily delivery to NSA.

If that's true we should be hearing more of that, maybe directly from Obama, to prove they are not 'datamining'

I don't know if any one remember this or not. during the 2008 primaries he gave a speech to some youg people(they always were) and he said he will form a well funded, well ARMED well organized strong organiztion PARALLEL to the army to protect our agenda. Of course the media swept it under the rug. I screamed at the top of my lung on the net but no one seemed to be alarmed by it one bit. so IMO spying is not so bad after all considering
Forgive me, but I thought the Washington Times was the right wing paper of note in DC?
Your post certainly is possible at least and maybe probable. Also interesting is this all began after Obama openly advocated ending the war on terror, not to mention his lack of intervention in Syria.

Maybe the war beast is afraid of going hungry?
Thanks for bringing this up Joseph. I hadn't given your questions here any thought, nor looked very deeply. But you make great points and it IS quite odd that all this is coming out so quickly, and that the Washington Post, of all things, is the source of much of it. You are absolutely correct that this kind of stuff would never have come out during the Bush years. I wonder though, if it's more to do with 9/11 being far behind us, whereas much of Bush's term it was still fresh in everyones mind and people hadn't really caught on to how it was being used to the benefit of those in power (many still haven't, but I think most Americans have a much dimmer view of Bush and his excesses than they did then.....which is really how Obama got elected in the first place). Just a thought, though I'm not really convinced at all by my own suggestion.
The Post did report this stuff during the Bush Administration. See, for example, this story from 2007:

Yes, there are probably more leaks now - the longer you try to keep something secret (and the larger the universe of cleared people becomes), the harder it is to prevent leaks. We're also into the second term, and like all second term Presidents, Obama's power is on the wane (just as Bush's was in 2007). Threats and intimidation from political appointees don't carry the same weight they do earlier in an Administration, and their value as media sources has a rapidly diminishing shelf life. By mid-2016, I expect even Ezra Klein will have turned on them.
When, for their next trick, they produced PRISM today I began to smell some kind of a rat - but not exactly the same one as you, Joseph.
My first thought was of misdirection/distraction. what don't they want us talking about right now - or what on earth are they doing while everyone and their dogs are outraging on about NSA.

I'll link to your post on my blog on the topic - not that I have wide readership, but a wee bit more exposure will not hurt.
Despite our disagreements, Joseph, you and I are on precisely the same page with this trenchantly suspicious analysis of the Obama-snooping "scandals". It sure ain't what it's cracked up to be.

But I would venture an additional speculation where you might not want to go: Israel.

The covert-intel faction that has deftly orchestrated these contemporary manoeuevres is probably the hardcore, Mossad-friendly cadre of spooks/contractors/generals whose 1990s iteration assissted and helped coordinate the cigar-stained "war on the Clintons".

And elsewhere today, one of the faction's most odious and loudmouthed stooges, mad-dog McCain, is sending hoarse-throated public reminders to the Obie Regime that they'd better hurry up and intervene more violently in Syria OR ELSE. Got it, Barry (and Kerry,
I can always trust you to look below surface appearances, Joseph. But one thing's got me puzzled. Why would the intel community be out to get Obama? Has the Wuss-in-Chief ever done anything to defy them?
(my comment, cross-posted from Juan Cole's blog)

I and others believe there is yet another big fat shoe to drop, that the NSA has been recording and saving all our phone calls in their Utah data warehouses, so that if and when the FBI might want to listen to them later (with a FISA warrant) they can do so.

Obama didn’t say anything that would contradict this theory. He said “Don’t worry, no one is listening to your phone calls.” But nobody needs to listen. It’s all done automatically by computer.

And that’s the key to their legal justification. The government believes your 4th amendment rights haven’t been violated unless and until a human being actually listens to your conversations – which would be done later with a warrant (as Obama said today). Until then, no warrant is necessary for the NSA to record everything you say on the phone.

That is huge: The idea that FBI can “wiretap” your PAST conversations, even from years back, whenever they feel like it, provided they secure a warrant from the FISA court which is granted in 99.99% of cases.

Couple this with broad, direct, and continuing access to the metadata, allowing them to go on data mining witch hunts to precisely identify the conversations and people they want to listen to…and “Orwellian” is an understatement.

To more directly respond to your post:

I don't quite understand what potential conspiracy or plot you are driving at. Wish you could be more explicit for dummies like me.

What's important to me is that Glenn Greenwald is a VERY bright and meticulous guiy, and a lawyer, and he's been following this whole subject for years. I think he knows a lot more than what was published, but has only been handicapped by his meticulousness as a journalist - i.e. unable to produce sources and evidence. Until now.

I'm sure his documents are real, and that he has taken steps to double-source and authenticate them. I'm also sure that he has protected himself from a Bradley Manning blowback. Also, let's not forget that he lives in a foreign country.

His sources may well have ulterior motives and axes to grind. But what does it matter?
I have a theory based on several assumptions, some of which appear to be unrelated. 1) I believe Carl Ogelsby said In Yankee and Cowboy war that there were warring factions in CIA and other intelligence agencies and that these intra agency wars play out in the national scene. 2) I believe that any leader who declares war against any of these agencies has painted a target on his/her back. I highly recommend "JFK and the Unspeakable" by James W. Douglass who documents clearly and pretty convincingly that JFK sealed his doom by bucking the security establishment. 3) I believe that these agencies hold the power and certain policies will be carried out regardless of who is President. 4) Russ Baker at Who, What.Why has reported that plans detailing Obama's security detail have been breached. 5) I found the timing of Obama's speech about a new approach to the Global War on Terror to be very interesting. My sense was that he was sending a signal to some factions of the security establishment. I also made note to watch what new "scandals" would arise after this speech. Voila. 6) I believe the mainstream media are complete tools of the government/corporatocracy and actively engage in furthering the plutocracy's agenda. Getting a bit ranty here but I'm just as disgusted with "leftist" emo progressive bloggers. 7) Conclusion: there is an active war being waged against Obama and whatever faction he is aligned with on many fronts. This is big. I also think there is some link to McChrystal and Petraeus and their backers. 8) I do not worship Obama. I never thought of him has my liberal savior. I regard him as a very intelligent man who is first and foremost a pragmatist. At first I found his crackdowns on whistle blowers unsettling and puzzling. But my theory is that there's something else he's trying to keep tabs on, like threats to him personally and/or the country at large. 9)One more random comment related to your earlier post about what Ray McGovern revealed - didn't Obama also say he wished he could in so many words "go Bulworth" and tell people what he really thought?10 And I welcome the approbation of my NSA overlords (I recall the media whoregasms lauding Daddy George and Daddy Dick for keeping us safe.)

Bluffdale isn't open yet, but there's more than enough capacity in RTP and Austin to handle things ;-)
This latest leak, IMO is sending a clear message and it is no accident. Unlike wiki leaks, I doubt seriously this bomb was sent with any moral outrage. No, the moral outrage is supplied by the authors, while the source of the leaks IMO doesn't care at all about civil liberties let alone privacy rights. This leak has an agenda, and is only the latest of several that have a real nasty sting to them, and promise to keep the POTUS dancing for a while.
It's no accident that this latest barrage of scandalous "leaks" arose around and after the POTUS speech promising to reform the war on terror. His speech raised the hairs on the John Bolton types almost before the President finished. Then a few days later McCain sneaks off to "visit" with Syrian rebel leaders. Hmm? Despite its brave face, the POTUS had to be pissed that McCain's visit gave the appearance of support, while the president has steadfastly resisted such puffery. And then just a day ago more findings of Sarin gas usage in Syria are reported.
The serious alternative news stream has for several years suggested that within the intell and military community there exists a bitter internecine conflict between neocon aligned factions and those aligned with POTUS within the intell military community. And as others have commented here, it is very likely what we are seeing is pressure on the administration to engage Syria directly, or at a minimum unleash Israel, which means signaling full support.

Thanks coach. No one has, as yet considered an Israeli connection. I've seen a lot of what seem to be hasbara trolls on Marcy Wheelers new gig @ Guardian.

My head popped up when I saw it.

Excellent work, Joseph. The ramifications of the "leaks" are potentially huge. In my opinion, the people/entities who raised Obama up from obscurity to the big leagues are now demanding a return on their investment. I believe this is related to Syria and the situation in the middle east in general.

As others have mentioned, there are competing factions within the intelligence/military establishment, which is essentially our government now. Nixon was removed from office because he fell out of favor with the dominant wing of this establishment, and Obama may be perilously close to having the same thing happen. (hat tip to Kathleen for mentioning the JFK book by Douglass). The fact that many of the "leaks" have originated from the CIA-connected Washington Post is quite ominous.
Silver lining: Joe Biden is an idiot by anyone's standards. Downside: Joe Biden is a pliable idiot who will do what he's told.
I agree with the Spook vs Spook power struggle. Since the WaPo is the CIA's paper of record, there's definitely something going on behind the scenes here.

The timing is very interesting, right as the Bradley Manning trial gets underway, and weird things going on with the targeted hit in Florida.

The item that really gets my attention is the nationwide collection of metadata, most likely from all the major cellphone carriers. Collect enough data over a month or two, and you could construct a social-interconnection map of the entire country. A map like that could have all sorts of interesting uses.
A couple of other notes. 1) It was Robert Novak at the Wash Post who outed Valerie Plame. I liked Cracker's term - "ominous", and I totally agree. I also noted that in the run up to the Iraq war, Walter Pincus' reporting was debunking Bush's claims (representing a different faction?) 2) I'm going out on a ledge here. While I know our proprietor does not support theories about 9-11 being a "false flag" operation, I think it's possible that there could be a plan for a "7 Days In May" scenario that could be triggered by a false flag operation (aided and abetted by "foreign" entities) and that is why there has been such a clampdown on leaks. I think it's also possible that people like Manning and Swartz could be unwitting pawns in this scenario. I'm not trying to make excuses for Obama's behavior in these scenarios, but I think these possibilities should at least be considered. And I'm starting to view the bombings in Boston from a different perspective. Great discussion here, Joseph, and I really appreciate your willingness to consider a different perspective.
Ezra Klein wonders if the leaker might be the POTUS himself.
What if Obama really DOES feel uncomfortable with the never-ending war, impact on civil liberties, etc?

What if he really does want a national discussion on these issues.

What if the Defense and National Security establishment are just too entrenched and powerful for him to fight all by himself, especially while he's also fighting the GOP?

Therefore, what IF HE HIMSELF leaked the story to Greenwald and WaPo, as Eztra Klein suggests?
In light of the abundance of in-your-face-obvious CIA/Wall Street footprints, all over the purported "life history" of Barry Soetero, his mother, and the various men who might have been his father... to ideologically oppose the ongoing construction of a Panopticon Police State in the USA would be just as "rebellious" as JFK supposedly became (after his coronation) to the values and goals of the dynasty/culture that produced him. And that rebellion brought about a bullet in the brain. To believe Ezra Klein's (conspiracy-of-one) "theory" is to posit that Obama shares the same, noble, death wish as his 1961-63 predecessor.
What if Obama really DOES feel uncomfortable with the never-ending war, impact on civil liberties, etc?

What if he really does want a national discussion on these issues.

The Bradley Manning would be a free man, Julian Assange wouldn't be upto his eyeballs in legal trouble, and Obama's so-called Justice Department wouldn't be tailing reporters and prosecuting whistleblowers at twice the rate Bush did.

It's absurd. Sometimes, as Papa Freud observed, a cigar is just a cigar.

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