back to article Senator blows a fuse as US spies continue lying over spying program

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) blew a fuse Wednesday morning when his years-long effort to get American intelligence services to say how many US citizens have been sucked into a foreign spying program was dismissed out of hand. "You promised that you would provide a 'relevant metric' for the number of law-abiding Americans who are …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Try the "when you've got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow" approach:

    Your agency's funding stops at the end of this month. If you want it to continue come back with an answer.

    I think they'd be back by the end of the week let alone the month.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Yes, but it's not discretionary so Congress can't stop it.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "it's not discretionary so Congress can't stop it."

        Certainly in the UK Parliament ultimately controls the purse strings because they have to approve of taxation. If they really want to stop something they can, even if it means a revolt by MPs of the governing party against their leadership (i.e. the head of government).

        The question for Congress would be whether it has the power to make something discretionary; as the elected body should it be able to make that decision. It might be something of a constitutional crisis if push came to shove but there seem to be reasonably frequent reports of Congress holding the government's feet to the fire by threatening to withhold the entire budget so it doesn't seem impossible.

      2. Down not across Silver badge

        @Charlie Clark

        Yes, but it's not discretionary so Congress can't stop it.

        Surely not re-authorizing (as I suggested) it would effectively stop it.

        Officially at least. What the data fetishists carry on doing without telling anyone is another matter.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Charlie Clark

          What the data fetishists carry on doing without telling anyone is another matter.

          .. which is why ANY government function requires oversight, transparency (even delayed for operational reasons is better that none) and the most important but ever so glibly discarded feature called accountability. I'd place the latter right at the top to stop the eternal scapegoating.

          Not that that will ever happen, of course, but show me one person who still trusts their government and I'll show you that that person hasn't been taking their meds..

  2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Big Brother

    And this dance is going to continue:

    Trump: Director Coats, stop talking about/working on intercepts related to my associates and Russian officials, and I will cover with Congress and give you a blank check to do whatever else you want to. Plus I will accuse anyone who opposes the 702 reauthorization of working for ISIS.

    Director Coats: Sounds like a bargain, Mr. President. Can we get a box of those nice White House pens too?

    Trump: Ivanka!! Can you get a box of those pens in here, sweetie?!

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: And this dance is going to continue:

      Trump: Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice these pens as a gift...

  3. GrumpyKiwi
    Holmes

    And they wonder it is that we no longer trust the statements from the likes of the NSA/CIA/FBI/et. Al. on claims of pretty much anything - whether it be WMD's, Russian spies, terrorist plots or privacy.

    To lie is their default position - so to disbelieve is now mine.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      @GrumpyKiwi - And be extension can one trust any 'leaks' from any of the TLAs as they are likely being done for internal political reasons not anything resembling national security.

  4. Alistair Silver badge
    Coat

    suggest better question for committee.

    Director, please advise how many records in the 702 database have a flag that will permit immediate deletion of the record when an independent consultant is assigned to examine the contents of the database for US Citizens information?

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: suggest better question for committee.

      Especially after Snowden and this latest leak, the NSA is never going to let an independent consultant anywhere near their database of U.S. citizens hoovered up while surveiling the RoW.

  5. hplasm Silver badge
    Big Brother

    So-

    How long until the US is considered a rogue (rouge...) state?

    1. Keef

      Re: So-

      I've considered them a rogue state/states/nation for a while.

      I live in England and sadly have to say the UK is in my opinion also a rogue state.

      Sure, there are worse places to be domiciled, but it pisses me off that countries that claim to support freedom of speech are often doing their best to stifle it and want levels of intrusion to our private lives the Chinese dictatorship might baulk at.

      Hi Theresa, are you listening?

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: So-

        Hi Theresa, are you listening?

        She's not and neither is our dear leader here in the States, but their minions are... thus the icon.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So-

        Hi Theresa, are you listening?

        No. Not to you, not to us and certainly not to Parliament. The only people she appears to listen to are the security services (apart from the Police of course) and her aides who tell her what a strong and stable person she is (despite all evidence to the contrary).

        1. earl grey Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: So-

          "strong and stable person"

          So you're saying like a draft horse or jackass maybe?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: So-

            "strong and stable person"

            So you're saying like a draft horse or jackass maybe?

            More like someone who you'd not trust with anything more than shovelling manure for a living..

      4. Someone Else Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: So-

        Just remember Duh-beyew's famous remark:

        If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier... as long as I'm the dictator.

        Seems that the "leaders" of what used to be referred to as the "Free World" has taken that as marching orders.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So-

        Hi Theresa, are you listening?

        As luck would have it, I suspect that today's hash lesson dealt by the electorate will cost her the job. She can say she will stay on for all she wants, but the damage she has inflicted on both the country and the Tory party is significant enough for her and her kitten heels to get the boot.

        She was a disaster at the Home Office (ditto for her hapless replacement) and continued that as unelected PM so I hope she has already been told to start planning to move out from No 10.

    2. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: So-

      I'm not convinced the US is actually a rogue state as such, but rather that the system of governance they have is so corrupt and broken that even those acting illegally in it's name know that there will never be any punishment for those acts, so they have largely given up the pretence of acting lawfully.

    3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: So-

      Getting very close to a authoritarian/totalitarian state with a fake veneer of free elections.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Answer

    By the way,the figure is around d 1.4 million..

  7. DougS Silver badge

    We need another NSA leaker

    Hopefully one that's smarter than Reality Winner, who doesn't use their work account to email a journalist!

    1. collinsl

      Re: We need another NSA leaker

      You know it's easy to spoof sending an email from an exchange account, right?

      She may well just be a convenient scapegoat.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: We need another NSA leaker

        You know it's easy to spoof sending an email from an exchange account, right?

        It's pretty easy to spoof it from any system that uses SMTP - unless the person examining the email has access to the headers and knows what they are looking for.

        However, those of us that used to have to herd sendmail[1] are a dying breed.

        [1] Which I never, never want to use again. Qmail - yes. Postfix - yes. Exim - maybe - I've never used it so don't know how much of a pain it is.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: We need another NSA leaker

          [sendmail] Which I never, never want to use again

          I still occasionally wake up in a cold sweat after a nightmare involving editing sendmail.cf. Totally agree.

          1. Vic

            Re: We need another NSA leaker

            I still occasionally wake up in a cold sweat after a nightmare involving editing sendmail.cf. Totally agree.

            See, sendmail is my MTA of choice - I know it well, and I like it.

            But then I never, ever edit sendmail.cf directly; I always use the sendmail.mc route. Which is easy, even for a bear of little brain like myself...

            Vic.

      2. DougS Silver badge

        Re: We need another NSA leaker

        If you're smart enough to hide your tracks and pin the blame on someone else, you're smart enough to hide your tracks and not do something extra that increases the chances you get caught (i.e. you can spoof SMTP, but it records the IP it came from, so unless the spoofer had access to Ms. Winner's NSA workstation taking that extra step would merely serve to expose him.

  8. jrchips

    Amazing, isn't it?

    Amazing that there is acknowledgement by the agencies that they aren't following the law, and that they absolutely refuse to do anything about it. The only metric we can guess at as far as domestic data collection is concerned is that it's on more than one individual and less than 300 million!!

    More importantly, the obvious conclusion is that the agencies are directly challenging Congress over their governance. It's almost as if they are saying to Congress, "you don't count". That's a pretty big challenge.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      More importantly, the obvious conclusion is that the agencies are directly challenging Congress over their governance. It's almost as if they are saying to Congress, "you don't count". That's a pretty big challenge.

      If certain folks keep pushing them, I look for an example to be made of someone disappearing or perhaps a very public and violent end. It's happened before.... allegedly.

      1. Tony Paulazzo

        If certain folks keep pushing them, I look for an example to be made of someone disappearing or perhaps a very public and violent end. It's happened before.... allegedly.

        I do worry about Ron Wyden, he is always popping up as being for democracy which puts him in an untenable situation (I'm from the UK and apart from presidents that's the only US political name I instantly recognise).

        Long may he make waves - o7

  9. Palpy
    Coat

    And to those who lump --

    -- all American politicians into one basket, I give you: Senator Ron Wyden.

    *grabbing my coat and going off to send Sen. Wyden my best compliments...*

  10. dan1980

    As noted in the article, the take away is that this program must be collecting a whole load of data on a heap of US citizens.

    If the program was operating as it should, within the limits specified and in the spirit of the authorisation, then the agencies have nothing to worry about and the program can be re-authorised because it's doing what it's supposed to within the boundaries proscribed.

    If that is the case then the response from the NSA will show that and all nothing will be in jeopardy.

    If, on the other hand, these powers are being abused then an accurate report, as requested, will show that and then the powers are in jeopardy.

    In other words, extraordinary powers have been given and those powers come with the responsibility to use them as directed. If you abuse that then you should expect to have the powers removed or severely limited.

    To the NSA et al: if these powers are really that essential for national security, why are you risking them by abusing them? Your abuses put the American people at risk!

    1. dan1980

      . . . or, more succinctly:

      "Hey, NSA! Nothing to hide; nothing to fear, right?"

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      But terrorists! And the other monsters under your bed. We need more funding pronto.

  11. Schultz

    "self-developed definitions and legal positions that don't stand up to even basic scrutiny"

    Make that:

    "self-developed definitions and legal positions that don't stand up to even a basic dictionary"

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    TL:DR Stooge of US Intelligence community tells Congress to go f**k themselves

    as we ain't telling you s**t.

    DNI effectively continues. "We have no respect for your authority and will continue to p**s all over it. There is nothing you can do about it."

    That is basically what he told the committee that's supposed to be overseeing their activities.

    Looking up the DNI on Wikipedia it's an umbrella role as the DoD still runs the NSA, the NRO and the National Geospational Intelligence Agency (IE making maps of places the USG might like to militarily visit)

    So I guess the NSA boss told him that as well.

    Here's a question for DBA's in the audience.

    How do you construct a DB that allows you to pull details of US citizens without being able to provide any kind of count of how many records are of US citizens, or any proxy for US citizenship (EG Social Security No)?

    They really do believe this is their sacred duty to collect and store all data, all the time, forever.

    1. Kane Silver badge

      Re: TL:DR Stooge of US Intelligence community tells Congress to go f**k themselves

      "How do you construct a DB that allows you to pull details of US citizens without being able to provide any kind of count of how many records are of US citizens"

      Warning, Pseudo code coming up....

      SUM(COUNTIF(Nationality=USA),RAND()*321,000,000)

  13. Kane Silver badge
    Flame

    B'Stards

    "One Congressman even proposed that Section 702 be reauthorized without a sunset clause – meaning that it would not need to go through another round of Congressional hearings several years in the future."

    Either he's

    a) in the intelligence community's back pockets,

    b) got something to hide (see option a, above)

    c) can't be bothered with all these committee hearings, I'm getting too old for this, can't be having with this at my time of life, or

    d) all of the above.

    "The intelligence chiefs liked that idea.."

    I just bet they fucking did, the self serving, control freak data fetishist, piles of excreta.

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Of cousrse they could just NOT reauthorise it as it's a blatant invasion of civil rights.

    That is an option.

    1. dbtx Bronze badge

      Re: Of cousrse they could just NOT reauthorise it

      ELI5: If they can't tell the truth about so-called evidence they collected, how well can they do their jobs?

  15. Tom Melly

    The US is such an odd mix of freedom and authoritarianism that the increasingly schizophrenic nature of its inhabitants may be the only reasonable response.

    1. dbtx Bronze badge
      Trollface

      I wasn't looking for excuses or trying to rationalize, but thanks

  16. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Eventually the damn database will be so big it will cease to be of any real use since the signal to noise ratio will be miniscule.

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      "

      Eventually the damn database will be so big it will cease to be of any real use since the signal to noise ratio will be miniscule.

      "

      It already is. How often do we hear that the latest terrorist to have carried out an attack was already known to the authorities? The fact is that there are so many people who are "known to the authorities" that it is impossible to monitor them all or know which ones are the real threats and which are the innocents scooped up in a dragnet that is far to big and non-selective to be of any use.

      If you are looking for a needle in a haystack, it is not all that useful to dump the entire haystack onto your desk and say, "It's in there".

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        Alternatively you use a big magnet.

        You are right of course, I always tell my students that adding hay doesn't make finding needles easier. The chances of loads and loads of false positives goes through the roof, unless you have a very good set of features to separate the classes of interest. Hand-crafting such features is far from trivial, and deep-learning requires tens, if not hundreds of thousands of ground truth examples from both classes. I doubt we have data on hundreds of thousands of known terrorists (if there are indeed as many).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bah!

          " data on hundreds of thousands of known terrorists"

          We've tried that. The issue is that it keeps flagging the TLAs, militias and police as being potential terrorists.

          We put in a skin=brown filter, but the computer keeps insisting that the TLAs are still responsible....

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Gimp

        "It already is. How often do we hear that the latest terrorist to have carried out an attack "

        What makes you think the actual purpose of this database is to catch terrorists?

        For these people "we can do it" became "we are doing it"

        "Give me six lines from an honest man and I'll find something with which to hang him." As Cardinal Richelieu put it.

        The NSA could afford the storage and the processing power. So they did.

        It's not a rational strategy, it's a compulsive desire to collect and control. Like a compulsive hoarder who cannot, and will not, get rid of anything.

  17. DagD

    I can answer that question right now.

    Everyone, Senator. Every stinking American is caught up in the drag net.

    Enjoy your lunch!

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: I can answer that question right now.

      Thanks for that, it is a great relief for all the not smelly Americans

  18. DagD

    Reminisce

    Remember back when the CIA use to sell Cocaine to fund covert operations? Boy those where the days.

    By the way, were is all the heroin coming from???

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reminisce

      "Remember back when the CIA use to sell Cocaine to fund covert operations? Boy those where the days."

      The CIA's lawyers would like a word. No agent or employee of the CIA ever sold cocaine.

      They might have flown planes full of it to the USA, and then flown them back full of guns and ammo, but the process in which their "allies" converted it from one to another was a mystery to them :)

      It's very important to note the legal difference, since that very fine line is what the CIA et al dance on when needed.

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Reminisce

        since that very fine line

        <snort> I see what you did there!

  19. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    The USA - same as any other third world nation

    Just with more money

    1. dbtx Bronze badge
      Joke

      Just with more silicon

      not including their deserts, of course.

  20. Kiwi Silver badge

    Something that could help..

    Give these hearings some teeth. If someone refuses to give information, lock them up (contempt of court style) indefinitely UNTIL the information is released. That would make the 2IC now the IC, subject to the same question, and the same imprisonment UNTIL the information is released.

    Repeat until either the information that is required is given or there is no one left to lock up.

    I think a certain facility in a certain Cuban Bay would be an ideal place for these "detainees" to spend their time until they actually cough up the information.

    If your government wants information relating to the liberty of its citizens, then you give them that information. If you refuse, at least with hearings at this level, then you should lose any "right" to liberty and be locked up until done. Stop these people thinking they're above the law, and show them that trying it on now has real consequences.

    Oh, and while they're locked up they're not doing their job, so any salaries etc must stop till such time as they give what is needed.

    Not a fan of government, but even less a fan of people who mess with other's freedoms being able to get away with it and throw out excuse after excuse. Lock em up till they speak up. If that means they die in prison, then they die in prison. Their freedom comes in giving the requested material.

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