Accountability as a Security System

At a CATO surveillance event last month, Ben Wittes talked about inherent presidential powers of surveillance with this hypothetical: "What should Congress have to say about the rules when Barack Obama wants to know what Vladimir Putin is talking about?" His answer was basically that Congress should have no say: "I think most people, going back to my Vladimir Putin question, would say that is actually an area of inherent presidential authority." Edward Snowden, a surprise remote participant at the event, said the opposite, although using the courts in general rather than specifically Congress as his example. "...there is no court in the world -- well, at least, no court outside Russia -- who would not go, 'This man is an agent of the foreign government. I mean, he's the head of the government.' Of course, they will say, 'this guy has access to some kind of foreign intelligence value. We'll sign the warrant for him.'"

There's a principle here worth discussing at length. I'm not talking about the legal principle, as in what kind of court should oversee US intelligence collection. I'm not even talking about the constitutional principle, as in what are the US president's inherent powers. I am talking about the philosophical principle: what sorts of secret unaccountable actions do we want individuals to be able to take on behalf of their country?

Put that way, I think the answer is obvious: as little as possible.

I am not a lawyer or a political scientist. I am a security technologist. And to me, the separation of powers and the checks and balances written into the US constitution are a security system. The more Barack Obama can do by himself in secret, the more power he has -- and the more dangerous that is to all of us. By limiting the actions individuals and groups can take on their own, and forcing differing institutions to approve the actions of each other, the system reduces the ability for those in power to abuse their power. It holds them accountable.

We have enshrined the principle of different groups overseeing each other in many of our social and political systems. The courts issue warrants, limiting police power. Independent audit companies verify corporate balance sheets, limiting corporate power. And the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government get to have their say in our laws. Sometimes accountability takes the form of prior approval, and sometimes it takes the form of ex post facto review. It's all inefficient, of course, but it's an inefficiency we accept because it makes us all safer.

While this is a fine guiding principle, it quickly falls apart in the practicalities of running a modern government. It's just not possible to run a country where every action is subject to review and approval. The complexity of society, and the speed with which some decisions have to be made, can require unilateral actions. So we make allowances. Congress passes broad laws, and agencies turn them into detailed rules and procedures. The president is the commander in chief of the entire US military when it comes time to fight wars. Policeman have a lot of discretion on their own on the beat. And we only get to vote elected officials in and out of office every two, four, or six years.

The thing is, we can do better today. I've often said that the modern constitutional democracy is the best form of government mid-18th-century technology could produce. Because both communications and travel were difficult and expensive, it made sense for geographically proximate groups of people to choose one representative to go all the way over there and act for them over a long block of time.

Neither of these two limitations is true today. Travel is both cheap and easy, and communications are so cheap and easy as to be virtually free. Video conferencing and telepresence allow people to communicate without traveling. Surely if we were to design a democratic government today, we would come up with better institutions than the ones we are stuck with because of history.

And we can come up with more granular systems of checks and balances. So, yes, I think we would have a better government if a court had to approve all surveillance actions by the president, including those against Vladimir Putin. And today it might be possible to have a court do just that. Wittes argues that making some of these changes is impossible, given the current US constitution. He may be right, but that doesn't mean they're not good ideas.

Of course, the devil is always in the details. Efficiency is still a powerful counterargument. The FBI has procedures for temporarily bypassing prior approval processes if speed is essential. And granularity can still be a problem. Every bullet fired by the US military can't be subject to judicial approval or even a military court, even though every bullet fired by a US policeman is -- at least in theory -- subject to judicial review. And while every domestic surveillance decision made by the police and the NSA is (also in theory) subject to judicial approval, it's hard to know whether this can work for international NSA surveillance decisions until we try.

We are all better off now that many of the NSA's surveillance programs have been made public and are being debated in Congress and in the media -- although I had hoped for more congressional action -- and many of the FISA Court's formerly secret decisions on surveillance are being made public. But we still have a long way to go, and it shouldn't take someone like Snowden to force at least some openness to happen.

This essay previously appeared on Lawfare.com, where Ben Wittes responded.

Posted on January 20, 2015 at 6:24 AM • 55 Comments

Comments

Michael HerouxJanuary 20, 2015 7:10 AM

Michael And Ingrid Heroux michaelheroux1967@gmail.com

http://michaelandingridheroux.wordpress.com

https://plus.google.com/109414718225592332058/about

The sad thing is my family and I have contacted probably close to 100 different legal professionals through electronic means, cell phones and internet, and they never returned our replies over the years of having 30-08 warrants on us. Our communications are being intercepted so they also try to forbid a person from getting representation. I have never been religious but I know over the years I have seen and spoke with the most evil ever, there is a very dark force trying to take over. It is pretty bad when more troops are dying from suicide then in battle. Follow the money.

Adrian RatnapalaJanuary 20, 2015 7:16 AM

While this is a fine guiding principle, it quickly falls apart in the practicalities of running a modern government. It's just not possible to run a country where every action is subject to review and approval. The complexity of society, and the speed with which some decisions have to be made, can require unilateral actions. So we make allowances.

It is very theory laden to assume that a more complex society requires a freer hand for rulers. It only makes sense if government's job is to micromanage the complexity, rather than to support its environment. Reasonable people can take either position.

As speedy unilateral decisions: does Obama need that more when deciding how to use a drones in Pakistan than Washington did when he rode out at the head of an army to put down the Whiskey Rebellion?

LuckyLukeJanuary 20, 2015 9:15 AM

Well written, Bruce. Nice to see ideas floating around to improve the 'backpack of history'.
Would hope, that there could be such a change happen at all.


"I am not a lawyer or a political scientist. I am a security technologist. And to me, the separation of powers and the checks and balances written into the US constitution are a security system. The more Barack Obama can do by himself in secret, the more power he has -- and the more dangerous that is to all of us. By limiting the actions individuals and groups can take on their own, and forcing differing institutions to approve the actions of each other, the system reduces the ability for those in power to abuse their power. It holds them accountable."

Exactly what we need more.


For any democracy having total transparency and no secret courts is vital and inevitable.
It makes the judicial system do its work trustfully (everyone is equal under the law, everyone gets accountable).

AndrewJanuary 20, 2015 10:15 AM

Wittes argues that making some of these changes is impossible, given the current US constitution.

Really? I guess I missed the memo where Article Five was repealed.

vas pupJanuary 20, 2015 10:52 AM

@Bruce: "I am talking about the philosophical principle: what sorts of secret unaccountable actions do we want individuals to be able to take on behalf of their country?" My guess is that those actions towards US citizens and foreigners are two separate clusters with two separate sets of rules and procedures. Moreover, President is making his decision only on information provided to him being (or very possible) being one-sided filtered out to make him lean to particular actions rather than to other. Informational 'bubble' may cause not the best actions for the country as whole. Regrading surveillance of President Putin, other side may do the same by reciprocity. And last, but not least, approval of surveillance of President Putin and Chancellor of Germany are quite not the same.

Andrew2January 20, 2015 11:35 AM

I think the history moves fast to a new system, computing and communications are changing the human nature. For the moment the technology gave huge power and control to some very rich over the rest. I've just read today that 1% of the richest have the same wealth as the others.

As this difference become bigger and bigger and the critical point reached, local or global chaos will occur and replace the current system with a new one. It's what happens every few hundred years, and its called evolution. Such a moment was in 1848, Europe, when obsolete feudal system was replaced with new democracy across many countries, all at once.

As things move very fast today, this moment seems to be pretty close, like in 20, 30 maybe 40 years, probably together with some oil shortage.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 20, 2015 11:45 AM

@ Bruce,

Every bullet fired by the US military can't be subject to judicial approval or even a military court

Err you may want to check that against "war crimes" legislation and international treaties. After WWII the US pushed the point about "following orders" is not a defence.

It's why most countries issue their personnel under flag with "rules of engagment". As has been seen in the UK fairly recently, courts do second guess the actions of personnel under flag and hold them accountable.

Any soldier who has served in NI -- including those from other countries wearing UK uniform at the time-- will tell you about the oddities of when you were alowed to open fire.

It's also why GWB's administration insisted on agreements with countries to in effect hold US troops blaimless...

AnuraJanuary 20, 2015 12:28 PM

The more Barack Obama can do by himself in secret, the more power he has -- and the more dangerous that is to all of us

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, secrecy is the best way to subvert democracy (well, tied with propaganda/misinformation, which we also get plenty of), and it is a way of life in our government, and has been for a long time. The CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. try to limit information as much as possible under the guise of national security; however, if the public doesn't even have a basic idea about what these organizations are doing then we can't vote for representatives based on these policies. I question how in the dark our representatives in congress are about this; I think they like to play the "Let's just all pretend that I don't know anything about this" game.

Our representatives are not exactly open about anything either. When was the last time you saw how a bill was made? It's all behind the scenes negotiations, because they know that if we could see what was going on that we would vote them out of office in no time. The stupid thing is, we all know that the politicians are bought and paid for by various corporations, but as long as we can't see exactly who appends a piece of legislation to a bill, they can all just play dumb and we let them get away with it.

The only solution, as I see it is proportional representation with a President acting as a liaison between the department heads and a proportionally elected executive council of at least 7 people, where the council holds the real power, not the President, and the council can only issue executive order with a majority vote, and they get briefed on everything that's going on in government. The idea is that you only need one person from a small party that represents the people themselves, to prevent any egregious use of secrecy to undermine democracy.

PeterJanuary 20, 2015 1:09 PM

Without disagreeing with what was said here, there is another side to consider.

Constant review can easily lead to instability. It is commonly said that direct democracy of ancient Athens failed because populist leaders got control one after another, causing rapid policy swings and eventual collapse.

In the current US political situation, the checks-and-balances have lead to almost complete inaction. This may arguably be acceptable for a while, but eventually would almost certainly cause major problems.

In countries with responsible government systems, minority governments are common, leading to constant review by smaller parties with agendas of their own, producing strings of defeats, re-structuring and elections.

All this reviewing can be good to a point, but eventually decisions have to be made, accepted and executed, even if they are less than ideal. Continual re-consideration, change and confusion can be worse than the alternatives, for people living in the result.

DanielJanuary 20, 2015 2:57 PM

"In the current US political situation, the checks-and-balances have lead to almost complete inaction."

True enough but this inaction is not the cause but the symptom of the problem. We try to prevent the government from running amok by hamstringing it. So the question become why is it running amok? The answer is disorientation. America doesn't have cohesive purpose anymore. There is no Revolution, no Manifest Destiny, no Union, no World Wars, no Civil Rights--there are no longer any grand dramas. Terrorism is a weak substitute precisely because by its nature it is random and amorphous. We tried to restart the Cold War but that didn't work. We tried to reengage the Yellow Peril but that is going nowhere. Americans have no thirst for a traditional physical empire--so we are getting out of the Middle East. So what are we all doing here together?

As a society we have no agreement on the answer to that question.

albertJanuary 20, 2015 2:58 PM

@Peter
.
We have no "constant review" here; there's hardly any review at all.
.
There are no "checks and balances" at work, either. The President, Congress, and the SCOTUS move in lockstep when the issues are 'important', like Wars, Wall Street, and the Corporatocracy.
.
Everything else is window dressing; elaborate playacting on the world stage.
.
The Elite (this includes the three branches of Government) like this system. They control it, and it works well for them. They do not want a multiple-party system. As far as they're concerned, "It ain't broke, no need to fix it."
.
Watch as protest movements, government criticism, and civil rights gradually disappear.
.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." Matthew 23:27-28
.
Sums it up pretty well; take out "scribes and Pharisees", and it's not even religious.
.
...

Sancho_PJanuary 20, 2015 3:12 PM

There were already some comments at the last squid thread, with my two main points (ff):

“Hamilton isn’t wrong, on the contrary. However, Gorge Washington, even on his “strongest” day, couldn’t have destroyed the whole world within hours because of one single irrevocable failure.”

and

When Obama wants to know what Putin is talking about he should simply ask him !

Both points meaning the same: Don’t stick at the 18th century, we have 2015 now.
Be aware of modern technics and make use of it accordingly.

Speed is not the issue in security, the right decision is.
One sensor, one input, one CPU, one output, one actor, no control - a nightmare in secure action.

BridgetonJanuary 20, 2015 4:45 PM

| "It's just not possible to run a country where every action is subject to review and approval" |

The ready solution is to discard the deeply false assumption that society needs a person/group to "run a country". Human society can function & prosper quite well without powerful rulers and dictators. Your base concept of "government" is incorrect.

Your desired "more granular systems of checks and balances" was indeed built right into the original U.S. Constitution. The key grains were the sovereign states of the "united states" working together on some key issues, but retaining very substantial independence and power. The "states" were to be the critical checks on Federal power and abuses. But that concept/reality was systematically destroyed by an ever expanding, malicious centralized government. State governments are now merely compliant sub-agencies of a titanic central oligarchy.

Decentralization (granularity) is the key. Very limited government powers in smaller units that are much easier to monitor/control by citizens than the current uncontrollable American leviathan.

DanielJanuary 20, 2015 5:33 PM

@BoppingAround asks, "Why need one? Can you *just* live there in peace?"

No.

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/13/books/love-and-murder-among-the-chimps.html

More broadly, the safety that the American Founders sought was a safety valve. As Madison put it in Federalist 51, "Ambition must be made to counter ambition." The vision behind the separation of powers is not the vision of a sleeping cat and dog but a vision of sparring cephalothoracopagus, conjoined but never reconciled.


QGJanuary 20, 2015 6:08 PM

Bruce, to be honest, I found the discussion about the political aspects of your idea a bit too theoretical to engage with seriously - perhaps that is a reflection of this rather cynical age we live in.

Also, I'm not convinced that communications being so "so cheap and easy as to be virtually free" is necessarily conducive to good governance. I see little sign that today's pervasive communication systems are actually improving the way government, judicial or powerful businesses behave. Cheap data transmission can be used to beneficial and malign purposes.

If I wanted to redesign political institutions, I would focus on simplicity above all else. Modern legal and constitutional arrangements seem to be far too complex to me.

Enough of my negativity. What I did find interesting was to look at a question related to your topic: how many secrets do I need to keep? It doesn't take long to realise that somebody who feels they must have lots of secrets almost certainly has more potential or realised problems in their life than someone who doesn't have any secrets. From this perspective, secrets are liabilities which carry personal costs. Too some extent, that principle can be expanded to larger entities well beyond the individual.

GodelJanuary 20, 2015 6:13 PM

@ Sancho_P “When Obama wants to know what Putin is talking about he should simply ask him !”

Would you seriously expect Putin to give an honest answer -- or any American politician for that matter?

Sancho_PJanuary 20, 2015 6:31 PM

@ Godel

Yes, of course - who else could explain what he meant?

If OB and Putin can’t understand each other then at least one of them is in the wrong position and should be sent back to school.

And we are doomed.

tyrJanuary 20, 2015 6:55 PM


Evolutionary theory says that any change in an organism
takes place over an extremely long time span. By implication
no radical changes have taken place in human structure in
the timespan of history. All political systems have to work
within that constraint. You are not going to change human
nature, the best to be hoped for is to construct institutions
that perpetuate your best efforts over generations. Assuming
that you know what is best for others and constructing the
institutions in darkness is the quickest way to fail.

Right now we have various theories which overlook the prime
directive of morality, survival. Any endeavor which is
not based on survival is doomed. The three letter agencies
can wreck the world, subvert all the safeguards, and rub
their hands in glee because they are above the law. There
is no way this will be tolerated even to mid-century by
any decent person.

You can see the outmoded economic theories crafted in a
world of scarcity and the fearful begrudging of any change
in society embedded in the paranoid worldview of governing
bodies everywhere. The magic of emnity can only cloak the
moronic agendas built in paranoid secrecy for so long.
Communications has increased in range and scope so that
there are no secrets anymore. If the three letters want to
survive they are going to have to change. The plan to
subvert everything only works if no one knows about what
you are doing.

The world needs change but it needs pro-survival changes.
It also needs those to be universal in scope, every poor
nation is a breeding ground for anti-survival diseases,
memes, and grudges that will haunt the perpetrators for
generations. Deliberately creating such places as a
blanket policy is anti-survival insanity.

Something needs to be done. I recommend as a start, stop
making things worse as a policy of governance.

a09jvJanuary 20, 2015 8:13 PM

@QG "...I found the discussion about the political aspects of your idea a bit too theoretical to engage with seriously - perhaps that is a reflection of this rather cynical age we live in."

More likely, an indication of the descent from the Age of Reason when the Constitution was formulated, to the dumbed down pragmatism of today's America.

It takes a conceptual grasp of political principles to even start to comprehend what was built back in 1776.

MarkJanuary 21, 2015 1:50 AM

@Sancho_P
I think you misunderstood the question. Allow me to rephrase:
"What if Obama wants to know what Putin is talking about behind Obama's back?"

Andrew2January 21, 2015 3:56 AM

Two very interesting articles:

"To which I say, fine. I’m not expecting you to stop terrorism. Just like I’m not expecting you to stop domestic abuse by planting cameras in every household in the country. And I’m not expecting you to stop car crashes by taking driving licences away from everybody.":
http://grahamcluley.com/2015/01/stop-terrorism-spy-mi6/

MacBook rootkit:
http://www.welivesecurity.com/2015/01/13/thunderstrike-radar-proof-rootkit-infect-mac/

paulJanuary 21, 2015 9:45 AM

Once you let things be done without review, you've got a conundrum: who says the things being done without review are the things that are allowed to be done without review? (And please don't say "the principled subordinates who carry out their chief's orders, because John Yoo.)

This is where, for me, audit trails are crucial. You may not be able to review everything efficiently before the fact, but if you can review afterward (and it's known that you can), that may be enough. And often the result of the retrospective review won't be official (but still secret) sanctions, rather "Now the whole world is going to hear about this."

It might just be that there's a maximum safe-for-democracy level of operational and database security for covert actions, so that Snowdens and Ellsbergs are always possible.

BoppingAroundJanuary 21, 2015 11:20 AM

SoWhatDidYouExpect,

> "Teaching our children...and equipping them to solve problems is dangerous and puts our government at risk."

Far out. Vladimir Arnold said this at a talk in 1998:

The role of the proof for mathematics is similar to that for orthography or even calligraphy for poetry. A person, who had not mastered the art of the proofs in high school, is as a rule unable to distinguish correct reasoning from that which is misleading. Such people can be easily manipulated by the irresponsible politicians.

Mass hypnosis and the disastrous social events may result.

vas pupJanuary 21, 2015 11:31 AM

@paul: Agree on audit trail. Just recall when Boris Yeltzin (President of Russia before President Putin) gave the order to Minister of Defense as Commander in Chief to fire shells from the tanks in the street of Moscow towards Parliament of Russia, Minister required written order to create paper trail for the future covering his back. I mean when something on the border of Law is ordered, subordinate should have a right to get such order in writing or refuse to follow order without any negative consequences.

albertJanuary 21, 2015 12:46 PM

I want to complement everyone on this discussion. It's a complex issue, and your points are well taken.
.
Since Bruces article is about "accountability as a security system", I went back to that point.
.
'Accountability' is a 'post action' concept, simply stated, a way of determining who was responsible for a certain action. The civil and criminal courts deal with accountability to determine responsibility and punishments for crimes.
.
Accountability may also act as a deterrent for some individuals, however, accountability in surveillance has failed, because there is no punishment severe enough to inflict upon the whole chain of command, that would deter them from doing something illegal. (This point can be applied to the political, military, judicial, corporate, law enforcement, etc. systems to varying degrees.)
.
So accountability without effective punishment succeeds in raising public ire if discovered, but fails in producing change.
.
Penalties need to be established by law, audit trails need to be effected(@paul), and enforcement must be swift and sure. These things don't seem to be forthcoming in the present climate of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
.
I gotta go...

AlanSJanuary 21, 2015 1:16 PM

I agree with Bruce that it is important to severely limit "secret unaccountable actions".

See earlier discussion of  Wittes' response on Friday Squid blog .

Wittes raises larger questions about actions, secret or otherwise, and the need for the executive to act quickly in a crisis (more on the role of crisis below). He goes on to discuss Hamilton. It is interesting that conservatives go back to the founders to discuss executive power and the need for exception but ignore any discussion of Carl Schmitt--the most important and influential 20th C. writer on this issue. See for example Scheurman's criticism of John Yoo.

Wittes ignores the literature on the expanding executive and the undermining of Madisonian checks and balances. See for example Glennon, Ackerman, Balkin and Levinson and Scheurman. The Bush presidency provoked a lot of writing on this issue but it has been the subject of discussion since at least FDR and the New Deal. See for example  Schlesinger and before that Eisenhower's Farewell Speech and Mills.  

The unitary or "unitary-ish" executive was an easier argument to make in the late 18th C. The modern executive is a massive and expanding bureaucracy with all the problems associated with massive bureaucracies. (Why conservatives think institutions within government that are concerned with security are functional and competent, and all others are a threat to freedom and should be cut to the bone is an interesting question.) The parts of the behemoth are expert at passing the buck, pinning blame elsewhere and avoiding accountability. Presidents are often at odds with security and intelligence bureaucracy. Since at least JFK there has been a well-worn set of strategies used to ignore or bend the security bureaucracy to the will of the presidency. See
Bacevich
for why this has been an enduring recipe for bad decisions.

A key feature of the executive is the important role played by crises (real, imagined, manufactured, and exaggerated). The security state expands through crises (see Balkin and Levison, Scheuerman, Bacevich, Glennon cited above). It has a built in bias to exaggerate risk, overstates its ability to exert control and provide solutions, and over-reacts. And when it fails, as it inevitably does, failure leads to 'reform' and further expansion (not an accounting). The global war on terror launched in the aftermath of 9/11 was something like metastasis.

The question that should really be asked is: what's the real value of the security/surveillance state to Americans? Does it make us more secure? One can point to a long list of failures and excesses. If one were concerned about accountability and security one might take an axe to it. But that's not likely to happen.

oldrulesJanuary 21, 2015 5:36 PM

Back in the day, the US congress did not have a limit on the number of representitives. IIRC, their was supposed to be one for every 12 thousand people. Perhaps if this was reinacted, a rubber stamp congress would be no more?

Sancho_PJanuary 21, 2015 6:43 PM

@ Mark

I don’t think I misunderstood Ben Wittes question, as he quoted from his
own CATO [1] comment:

“There’s a temptation when we all sit here to think about the many ways that we can regulate the traditionally unregulated space of foreign espionage. And it’s worth just taking a step back, and a deep breath, and saying, “What should Congress have to say about the rules when Barack Obama wants to know what Vladimir Putin is talking about?” And if that question doesn’t give you any pause . . . then I lose and yes, you should regulate every component of every aspect of foreign collection. …


[But t]here is a limit to Congress’s authority to regulate some of this stuff. I think most people, going back to my Vladimir Putin question, would say that is actually an area of inherent presidential authority.”

[e.a.]

However, I understand your attempt to limit the mischief of the original ‘question’ and to rephrase:

“What if Obama wants to know what Putin is talking about behind Obama's back?”

Probably it would make it worse [2] .

It adds suspicion of paranoia to the alleged stupidity of the US President [3] .
[— Sorry, no offense intended, I exaggerate to make the 2 points clearly visible —]

- Paranoia is about lack of self-confidence and lack of trust in others, a serious illness.
¿What could Putin think about me, my shoes, what I have said … ?
Nope, BO is egocentric, not to say arrogant, black - no way that would bother him.

He may not trust Putin, though.
This leads to the second point which I've simplified by “stupidity”.
Let me explain.

- Assume BO asked Putin again and again, so he finally understood the words and got the meaning:
“No, I don’t want more NATO rocket launchers next to my border.”

But BO is suspicious Putin could have lied 'again' - so he asks the spooks.

They tap Putin’s phone, listen to his toilet-bowl, bug his lunch table - and come up with with breaking news: Putin told his secretary “I’ve told the black spaghetti that I don’t want more rocket launchers, but it was only tactics. In reality I don’t care about NATO, what I want is an iPad signed by Michelle, but he didn’t realize, probably I can tell him next time.”

See why this kind of “intelligence” is stupid:
It assumes that the conversation partner, here the Russian President, speaking officially, intentionally lies - and that we could hear the truth only by bugging his bedroom.


Do you want to know what your partner / friend / kid / neighbor is talking behind your back? Really?
- I for one do not, because I know what they think about me and because they know that I say what I think.

I do not listen on closed doors and call that “normal”. It is dirty, disgusting.

It is poisoning human relations.


[1]
Regarding the paragraph before his quote I’d like to stress that it makes no difference at all how they call it.
Look into the face of the mob. They will worldwide (more or less) slaughter Americans (or American interests) no matter whether you call it Executive Order 1234 or 5678, in or out of FISA or whatever.
Yet the legal fine-print makes it worse as the world reads it as exceptionalism.

[2]
Even if we’d assume it’s just general curiosity by BO.

[3]
I was a supporter of BO until he accepted the Peace NP before having done any mentionable action. He’s a speaker but not a leader.
However I can’t stand the feeling that some want him to be a bad example simply because he’s black. I don’t like that. Call me a racist but I see BO diligent and honest, a good enough leader if there was no national capitalistic lobby behind + against him. Sadly I still don’t see any better, even today, when OB long ago has lost all credit.

AllenJanuary 21, 2015 6:52 PM

@ SoWhatDidYouExpect
"Government health care website quietly sharing personal data"

I'm not surprised. What did he expect, selling personal data to recoup healthcare costs?

Affordable Healthcare not as affordable as claimed? I see rapid raise of monthly premiums have been contained but deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are ever rising. How about yours?

Can we borrow your Tsar Bomba?January 21, 2015 7:40 PM

When you're talking about officials who committed hundreds of thousands of felonies and got away with it, the issue is not accountability but impunity. And the answer to impunity has been boiled down to something very simple, 19 pages. Just pop open a can of E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1 of 8 February 2005. This is not hard - any state that cannot measure up does not deserve to exist. Just put Yeltsin on a tank and knock it over.

DanielJanuary 21, 2015 11:13 PM

@SoWhatDidYouExpect

And this is the point I keep trying to press to no avail. First, the main problem with mass surveillance is not the fact that the NSA is going to see your little girl taking a pee. The main problem with mass surveillance is that the data collected by the government will be used as a tool for propaganda.

The government's health insurance website is quietly sending consumers' personal data to private companies that specialize in advertising and analyzing Internet data for performance and marketing,

Second, there is an interesting tie in to today's post on "liar buyer" fraud. What is the difference between fraud and propaganda? I'd argue that the only difference is power. Advertising, marketing, propaganda...these are all nice terms describing how the powerful exploit the weak. Fraud, duplicity, subversion...these are all not so nice terms describing how the weak exploit the powerful.

hdcviJanuary 22, 2015 6:33 AM

Hello, your post “Accountability as a Security System” is good, there are various informative information presented. Thanks for share this nice post.

AlanSJanuary 22, 2015 8:24 AM

You get a different spin if you replace Obama and Putin with Bush and Saddam Hussein. There's a big unspoken assumption here that executive actions are driven by information (intelligence) and rational decision-making. Secrecy hides the fact that this is often not the case. It allows an elite group of insiders to make crazy decisions that make us all less secure.

What sort of oversight should there have been on Bush (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and company) when they wanted to spy on Saddam Hussein to discover his links to AQ and the development of WMDs? The question misses the point. They didn't actually care what Saddam was or wasn't doing. They had already made a decision based on an ideological/utopian vision of the world and America's role in it and invented the facts to fit the pursuit of their desired policy. The role of the IC wasn't to tell them 'the facts' but to tell them what they wanted to hear and 'the facts' they needed to persuade Congress, and the public to go along with their preferred course of action.

vas pupJanuary 22, 2015 8:46 AM

@Sancho_P:"listen to his toilet-bowl". Not only this dear Sancho, but secretly collect his urine/fecal/saliva/DNA samples to be informed of his real state of health - now when science could decode DNA for probability not only of general health, but mental health. That is why those substances are also strongly guarded on both sides of the globe.
@all regrading responsibility. Historically political tradition in Soviet Union/Russia is to put face down to dirt each outgoing President. Unfortunately, based on facts discovered/disclosed later most of them were not angels (euphemism) and deserved such treatment as part of post hock responsibility. But that is not the model country for the issue. E.g. in Italy, Israel chief executives were subjects to criminal jurisdiction within democratic procedure (no revolt, 'Maydan', conspiracy, etc. - you name it).
US political reality towards responsibility puzzle me for attempt to impeach Mr. Clinton (minor infraction in comparison with next case)versus team of Mr. G.W. Bush (his VP, and Defense Secretary) left alone for Iraq war being started under false pretext. Conduct your own cost-benefit analysis in both cases (and put emotional component as security blogger aside, please).

vas pupJanuary 22, 2015 11:07 AM

@Thomas_H: just additional (in short) input on subject matter in your good posting:
http://www.dw.de/chaos-computer-club-contradicts-eu-demands-full-encryption/a-18209643
“The EU paper said Internet and communications companies should be "obliged" to "provide" authorities in EU member nations with electronic access keys, sometimes called "back doors."

“The CCC demanded that the millions spent by nations to "militarize" networks to spy on their citizens be invested instead in the construction of secure systems and technical training for the public.

"Effective cryptography must become the obligatory standard in communications via the Internet," the club said, adding that governments should "heave overboard" their plans for total surveillance.”


AnuraJanuary 22, 2015 12:45 PM

@vas pup

We should sacrifice our privacy because terrrrrrrrrrrrrrrism is the biggest threat to our quality of life we face in the West... Well, besides being the victim of a violent crime, or illness, or accidents, or getting cancer from pollution/chemicals in our food/water, or global warming, or starvation, or identity theft.

When a foreign nation or criminal enterprise gains the capability to break into systems in the United States and do economic damage, then we can talk about making our systems more secure.

Dirk PraetJanuary 22, 2015 5:08 PM

@ Anura, @ Vas pup

We should sacrifice our privacy because terrrrrrrrrrrrrrrism is the biggest threat to our quality of life we face in the West...

The situation in Europe is looking particularly grim. In 2014 (2), there was a staggering 400% increase in deaths by jihadi terrorists as compared to 2013 (1). For January 2015 (3) alone, it is even a 1700% increase compared to 2013. If these statistics don't convince you crazy libertarians, then I don't know what will. Now give up them encryption keys and surrender your privacy because otherwise we are all gonna die!

(1) The only person killed by jihadi extremists in Europe in 2013 was Fuselier Lee Rigby in the UK.
(2) In May 2014, Mehdi Nemmouche opened fire in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, leaving four people dead. This was the first incident of a European jihadist committing an act of terrorism after returning from Syria.
(3) Sixteen people died in the killings at Charlie Hebdo offices and the Jewish supermarket in Paris. The supermarket terrorist is also said to have killed a police woman.

AnuraJanuary 22, 2015 5:55 PM

@Dirk Praet

If the trend continues, we can expect extinction of the human race in less than 15 years.

DannyJanuary 22, 2015 6:13 PM

“What if Obama wants to know what Putin is talking about behind Obama's back?”

Any world leader with half a brain function should know what other leaders are talking behind his/her back . The only practical application of Obama knowing "what Putin is talking about behind Obama's back" is to use the intel as evidence in a court of law [the aftermath of war.] Thus, this is a very serious question that must be presented without the use of conditional.

AnuraJanuary 22, 2015 6:56 PM

A sample of what we can expect for intelligence oversight for the near future:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/01/the-cias-most-important-overseer-is-abdicating-his-responsibilities/384727/

But as Senator Burr begins this job, he is behaving less like an overseer than a CIA asset. Rather than probe problems at the spy agency, of which there have been many, his first priority has been aiding CIA efforts to cover up past misdeeds. It is hard to imagine a more flagrantly inappropriate act by a head overseer.


Specifically, Burr is trying to help the CIA to suppress two reports on its torture of prisoners. Like the spy agency, he never wants the full reports to reach the public, and he is misusing his position on the oversight committee to advance that agenda. One report was commissioned by Leon Panetta, a former CIA director. Though it is classified, people who've seen it assert that it paints a scathing portrait of a spy agency that misled its overseers about the efficacy of tactics like waterboarding. No wonder current and former overseers on the intelligence committee, like Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, found great value in reading it.

But despite the significant value that some of Burr's fellow overseers insist that they gleaned from The Panetta Review, Burr wants to return the Senate committee's copy of the document back to the CIA. "The Panetta Review was never intended for the committee to have,” Burr told the Huffington Post. “At some point, we will probably send it back to where it came from.” On its face, the explanation makes no sense. Why would Burr speak as if the intentions of the CIA are dispositive? His job is to oversee the spy agency, not to respect its desire for privacy. What could be more antithetical to the proper posture of an overseer? (As if a bureaucracy would intentionally turn over evidence of its own abuses.)

Dirk PraetJanuary 22, 2015 7:38 PM

@ Anura

If the trend continues, we can expect extinction of the human race in less than 15 years.

Sounds like a very conservative estimate, but it's reasonable to assume that the end is really near when the number of deaths by jihadi extremists starts surpassing those caused by toddlers, falling furniture and lightning strikes.

Dirk PraetJanuary 22, 2015 8:11 PM

@ Bruce

The more Barack Obama can do by himself in secret, the more power he has -- and the more dangerous that is to all of us. By limiting the actions individuals and groups can take on their own, and forcing differing institutions to approve the actions of each other, the system reduces the ability for those in power to abuse their power. It holds them accountable.

The Romans pretty much sorted the problem of an unaccountable despote ruler about 2,500 years ago. After overthrowing the last king around 509 BC, they instated a republic, government of which was headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and advised by a senate composed of elected magistrates. In times of military emergency, a dictator was appointed for a term of six months. The republic ended in 27 BC with the senate's grant of extraordinary powers to Octavian and his adopting the title Augustus, marking the beginning of the Roman Empire.

FBJanuary 22, 2015 11:57 PM

You should use gender neutral terms: police officer instead of policeman (twice)
There are plenty of female police officers that are subject to the same rules as "policemen".

Gerard van VoorenJanuary 23, 2015 2:40 AM

@ Anura

If the trend continues, we can expect extinction of the human race in less than 15 years.

I think that scenario is only possible with nukes. But the Cuba crisis shows that a crisis can escalate within days or even hours.

"Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." -- Albert Einstein

vas pupJanuary 23, 2015 9:18 AM

@Dirk Praet • January 22, 2015 5:08 PM.
Dirk, based on high intellectual potential of most of your comments, I guess you know that statement of one of the founding fathers related to giving up liberty for security, as result you have none of both. I agree with you that LEAs/Intel do need additional tools to do their job, find out and break REAL terrorist cells (not entrapment - Europe don't like such practice and I agree with them meaning undercover officer or confidential informant can NOT inspire/initiate law-breaking activity. E.g. sting operations against hooker and johns: when undercover officer/ hooker initiate contact - that is entrapment, if john initiate contact with undercover officer/hooker - it is clean shot in all other civilized countries).
My point is that history show us clearly that LEAs are very often misuse the tools was provided to them for the purposes that those tools were not intended too (see example with wall through technology). That is why the more intrusive tool you provide LEAs with, more outside of LEAs oversight by society (not only legislative branch, but NGOs) of their usage is required. Porper mechanism should be worked out BEFORE (like close borders first, then decide what to do with illegals inside) implementation of those tools.
Dirk Praet • January 22, 2015 8:11 PM. Unfortunately, many good ideas, warning, statements of Founding Fathers are absolutely forgotten and most of the folks not aware of them, e.g. T.Jefferson warning on danger of the banks (you may find his quote on the web). If our politicians take this into consideration and media spread this idea to regular folks timely, it may prevent last financial crisis or at least make it less painful for middle class, and you want utilization of good ideas of ancient Rome or other countries in the world. Exceptionalism as a concept without open mind to other ideas and being humble is not very productive.

Jack BrickmanJanuary 26, 2015 8:06 AM

Very good points and I just want to add that as an information security specialist for many years, I unfortunately see the same recurring theme with businesses time and time again, and that’s the failure to implement comprehensive security policies, procedures, processes, and other fundamental initiatives. With so many free and cost-effective solutions available online, there’s really no excuses as to why businesses don’t take the necessary steps for ensuring the safety and security of one’s entire network infrastructure. What’s also frustrating is not seeing comprehensive security awareness training and other basic, fundamental programs, like annual risk assessments, that should be in place for further helping protect organizational assets. There are literally hundreds of sites offering free employee training material. It’s time companies got serious about security and not just profits because data breaches are continuing to grow at such an alarming rate. Think about it, what business do you even have if a significant data breach occurs? Kiss your profits goodbye and say hello to the onslaught of lawsuits sure to arrive.

tzJanuary 26, 2015 7:21 PM

The first question is if we redesigned things, would we have a federal government at all, or could we have most control at the county level and vote with our feet for a taxes / services balance?

We have a huge government involved in all kinds of things overseas which most citizens probably don't care much (or it seems a lot of dem v.s. gop is more NEPatriots v.s. SeaHawks - Go Hawks!).

Does an Iowa farmer need drones to send hellfire missles to blow things up in Pakistan?

If you want granularity, there's subsidiarity and federalism as a start - geographical granularity.

I'd rather worry about the county sheriff being a busybody rather than not having any county or state government, but fine grained controls, but all of them in DC.

Wesley ParishJanuary 29, 2015 7:17 PM

An aside: when I was somewhat younger than I am now, I succeeded in convincing a school friend that in the United States, there was not only an organization called "Daughters of the Revolution", there was also one called "Mothers of the Constitution" and one called "Grandmothers of the Amendment". Needless to say, there appears to also be a "Greatgrandmothers of the Surreptitious Amendment to the Amendment".

I had to explain to my friend that I'd only been pulling his leg.

But the "Greatgrandmothers of the Surreptitious Amendment to the Amendment" appear to be alive and well, and not particularly interested in taking (dis)credit for their (mis)deeds.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.