NSA Spies on Israeli Prime Minister

The Wall Street Journal has a story that the NSA spied on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli government officials, and incidentally collected conversations between US citizens -- including lawmakers -- and those officials.

US lawmakers who are usually completely fine with NSA surveillance are aghast at this behavior, as both Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm explain. Greenwald:

So now, with yesterday's WSJ report, we witness the tawdry spectacle of large numbers of people who for years were fine with, responsible for, and even giddy about NSA mass surveillance suddenly objecting. Now they've learned that they themselves, or the officials of the foreign country they most love, have been caught up in this surveillance dragnet, and they can hardly contain their indignation. Overnight, privacy is of the highest value because now it's their privacy, rather than just yours, that is invaded.

This reminds me of the 2013 story that the NSA eavesdropped on the cell phone of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Back then, I wrote:

Spying on foreign governments is what the NSA is supposed to do. Much more problematic, and dangerous, is that the NSA is spying on entire populations.

Greenwald said the same thing:

I've always argued that on the spectrum of spying stories, revelations about targeting foreign leaders is the least important, since that is the most justifiable type of espionage. Whether the U.S. should be surveilling the private conversations of officials of allied democracies is certainly worth debating, but, as I argued in my 2014 book, those "revelations ... are less significant than the agency's warrantless mass surveillance of whole populations" since "countries have spied on heads of state for centuries, including allies."

And that's the key point. I am less concerned about Angela Merkel than the other 82 million Germans that are being spied on, and I am less concerned about Benjamin Netanyahu than I am about the other 8 million people living in that country.

Over on Lawfare, Ben Wittes agrees:

There is absolutely nothing surprising about NSA's activities here -- or about the administration's activities. There is no reason to expect illegality or impropriety. In fact, the remarkable aspect of this story is how constrained both the administration's and the agency's behavior appears to have been by rules and norms in exactly the fashion one would hope to see.


So let's boil this down to brass tacks: NSA spied on a foreign leader at a time when his country had a major public foreign policy showdown with the President of the United States over a sharp differences between the two countries over Iran's nuclearization -- indeed, at a time when the US believed that leader was contemplating military action without advance notice to the United States. In the course of this surveillance, NSA incidentally collected communications involving members of Congress, who were being heavily lobbied by the Israeli government and Netanyahu personally. There is no indication that the members of Congress were targeted for collection. Moreover, there's no indication that the rules that govern incidental collection involving members of Congress were not followed. The White House, for its part, appears to have taken a hands-off approach, directing NSA to follow its own policies about what to report, even on a sensitive matter involving delicate negotiations in a tense period with an ally.

The words that really matter are "incidental collection." I have no doubt that the NSA followed its own rules in that regard. The discussion we need to have is about whether those rules are the correct ones. Section 702 incidental collection is a huge loophole that allows the NSA to collect information on millions of innocent Americans.

Greenwald again:

This claim of "incidental collection" has always been deceitful, designed to mask the fact that the NSA does indeed frequently spy on the conversations of American citizens without warrants of any kind. Indeed, as I detailed here, the 2008 FISA law enacted by Congress had as one of its principal, explicit purposes allowing the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans' conversations without warrants of any kind. "The principal purpose of the 2008 law was to make it possible for the government to collect Americans' international communications -- and to collect those communications without reference to whether any party to those communications was doing anything illegal," the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer said. "And a lot of the government's advocacy is meant to obscure this fact, but it's a crucial one: The government doesn't need to 'target' Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications."

If you're a member of Congress, there are special rules that the NSA has to follow if you're incidentally spied on:

Special safeguards for lawmakers, dubbed the "Gates Rule," were put in place starting in the 1990s. Robert Gates, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency from 1991 to 1993, and later went on to be President Barack Obama's Defense Secretary, required intelligence agencies to notify the leaders of the congressional intelligence committees whenever a lawmaker's identity was revealed to an executive branch official.

If you're a regular American citizen, don't expect any such notification. Your information can be collected, searched, and then saved for later searching, without a warrant. And if you're a common German, Israeli, or any other countries' citizen, you have even fewer rights.

In 2014, I argued that we need to separate the NSA's espionage mission against target agents for a foreign power from any broad surveillance of Americans. I still believe that. But more urgently, we need to reform Section 702 when it comes up for reauthorization in 2017.

EDITED TO ADD: A good article on the topic. And Marcy Wheeler's interesting take.

Posted on January 5, 2016 at 6:36 AM • 37 Comments


blakeJanuary 5, 2016 9:06 AM


That Guardian article has an interesting line:

> Former congressman Pete Hoekstra, who used to head the House intelligence committee and supported the NSA’s illegal spying program under George W Bush, tweeted that the NSA and Obama administration should be “prosecuted” if there were “any truth” to the Journal report.

I hope this is just partisan bickering, because otherwise it looks like the ex-head of the House intelligence committee hasn't really thought about how intelligence works.

BensonJanuary 5, 2016 9:50 AM

>> "...we need to reform Section 702.."

Wow -- that is astonishingly naive.

NSA and its masters ignores the "law" now and always have.

You think a little re-arrangement of ink on paper ("law") will solve this problem??

You have no clue on the fundamental problem -- regrettably, like most citizens, you lack core understanding of the concept & practice of law and government.

jonesJanuary 5, 2016 9:50 AM

I think it's clear that there are a few things going on here besides the duplicity of lawmakers.

First, we don't have any Bill of Rights style privacy protections in our laws, and since the Bill or Rights are meant to restrain the power of the government rather than grant substantive rights to citizens (i.e., "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."), there is no formal mechanism substantively restraining the government in this respect.

Second, there are no laws governing the behavior of the NSA at all, as the agency was created by executive order:

Yet over the three decades since the N.S.A. was created by a classified executive order signed by President Truman in 1952, neither the Congress nor any President has publicly shown much interest in grappling with the far-reaching legal conflicts surrounding the operation of this extraordinarily powerful and clandestine agency. A Senate committee on intelligence, warning that the N.S.A.'s capabilities impinged on crucial issues of privacy, once urged that Congress or the courts develop a legislative or judicial framework to control the agency's activities. In a nation whose Constitution demands an open Government operating according to precise rules of fairness, the N.S.A. remains an unexamined entity. With the increasing computerization of society, the conflicts it presents become more important.

-- New York Times, 1983


The one law Congress has passed with respect to the NSA is largely a series of provisions exempting the NSA from federal hiring regulations:

Sec. 2. (a) The Secretary of Defense (or his designee) is
authorized to establish such positions, and to appoint thereto,
without regard to the civil service laws, such officers and
employees, in the National Security Agency, as may be necessary to
carry out the functions of such agency...

-- National Security Agency Act of 1959


Third, since 9/11, we've seen a shift in evidentiary standards from the constitutional "probable cause" found in the 4th Amendment to a "reasonable grounds to believe" that the Bush Administration and John Yoo concocted as they shifted the jurisdiction for the surveillance to keep it running.

The current standard seems to be "relevance" which has created is an environment where all Americans are effectively part of an ongoing terrorism investigation since the government's position is that "it is necessary to obtain the bulk collection of a telephone company's metadata to determine ... connections between known and unknown international terrorist operatives."

Although the 4th Amendment problems with bulk surveillance get discussed with regularity, nobody is discussing the 5th Amendment implications of this regime (i.e., the Miranda Rights, the right to remain silent, right against self-incrimination...). Which is to say, if we're all under investigation but we're not told what for, anything can be used against us.

Fourth, the duplicity of policy makers on these issues goes way back and should not be surprising. The Video Privacy Protection Act was passed in part when Judge Bork became outraged that his video rental history was handed over to a newspaper in 1988. Jane Harman, Eliot Spitzer, and Rob Blagojevich are only a few prominent officials caught up in this problematic wiretapping regime.

The duplicity of officials in these matters can be explained by a phenomenon other than hypocrisy: mainly, sociopathy.

Evolutionary biologist Linda Mealey discusses sociopathic personality traits ("cheating strategies") as an adaptive behavior within competitive society. Political office is a magnet for sociopaths: they run campaigns built around the manipulation of individuals, don't have normal moral reservations about manipulating people like objects, high office provides ego gratification, they are charming, superficial, often glib, and they seek to create willing victims (voters!).

The desire to obtain high office should disqualify one from holding that post.

ianfJanuary 5, 2016 10:18 AM

@ AlanS, Blake RE: “NSA Spies on Israeli Prime Minister

Our only hope now is that the Israelis retaliate, for this, and for Jonathan Pollard's 30 years in U.S. prison for "one count of passing classified information to an ally," a.k.a. spying for Israel, by arresting and sentencing to similar prison terms any Israelis in employ of any spooky USA TLA. That and/or possibly unleash a Stuxnet-like exploit targeting SPECIFICALLY the NSA's data-snatching ability (that would be the day! ;-))

That said, I wonder whom exactly Glenn Greenwald had in mind when he wrote, and Bruce cited: “Now they've learned that they themselves, or the officials of the foreign country they most love, have been caught up in this surveillance dragnet, and they can hardly contain their indignation.

Who ARE these "they?" Affected members of Congress; of the WSJ and/or the NYT editorial board? High-ranking leaders of competing hitherto officially not-in-the-loop intelligence agencies? Hardcore evangelical arch-conservatives for whom Israel can do no wrong as it is the land of the Second Coming (red heifer NOT optional)?

Note to Glenn: I try to keep up with the effluvia of neo-cons and other pro Israel-lovers, these to the right of Wolfowitz, and can assure you that that their love is not unconditional. Whatever [plenty] bad we may think of the current Israeli lot, had they listened to their USA-fans, the ME would have been much, much worse.

DanielJanuary 5, 2016 10:25 AM


No, he's correct. That was exactly my reaction too.


The speech and debate clause has been held to cover meetings with foreign aides as well as otherwise secret memos. The Obama adminstration can label it "incidental" all it wants but the fact is that it clearly, obviously, and without any doubt violates the Constitution.

There is a reason the speech and debate clause is there. What the Obama administration is doing is exactly the same thing the King of England was doing and which the speech and debate clause was designed to protect against.

Pantysniffers AnonymousJanuary 5, 2016 10:43 AM

The bandwagon you roll out here is unconvincing. Greenwald's heart is in the right place but his specialty was US municipal law, which is pure statist indoctrination that denies any interaction between domestic and international law. Wittes is the perfect think-tank ventriloquist dummy, a legal scholar who never studied law. He wouldn't know a Vienna Convention if was humping his leg. You can probably quote a thousand pukes who think like him - US dogma inverts Stimson's principles to insist that gentlemen read each other's mail all the time. Maybe some do, but it's illegal.

The line of argument in this post is the creed for US apparatchiks who want to get ahead. But it leads to discrediting levels of idiocy, like UN delegates spying on their counterparts instead of asking them what they think.

The cheap trick Wittes is playing here involves treating a US ally as a belligerent contemplating a sneak attack in breach of peremptory norms of international law. It may well be true that Israel contemplated a crime against peace in breach of Hague Convention III, as Wittes implies. That doesn't mean you can resort to illegal means of warfare like espionage. If a state can be seen as a threat to peace, brainwashed US statists jump on that as an excuse to break every rule in sight: spy on 'em, sabotage 'em, assassinate 'em, execute clandestine coup de main, down their civilian airliners, whatever you want.

But the rules are, designating a threat to peace is above the President's pay grade. That is the UNSC's call. The response is collective, under UNSC authority and supervision, and it involves pacific settlement of disputes unless the UNSC authorizes other measures.

It's very simple. The supreme law of the land is, Surveillance of correspondence should be prohibited. Heads of state are no less wronged than grandmas at pacifist vegan potlucks or phat girls at funk parades.

LarryJanuary 5, 2016 11:01 AM

@ Bruce Schneier

"I am less concerned about Angela Merkel than the other 82 million Germans that are being spied on,"

I am pleased to see that now you know the correct number of Germans. There was a time not so long ago, when you talked about 50 million Germans. ;-)

AndyJanuary 5, 2016 11:14 AM

@ianf don't expect Israel to retaliate. Israeli leaders were quoted saying that they expect to be spied on when spying on Merkel's phone was revealed.

SteveJanuary 5, 2016 12:13 PM

For those who are all upset because we spied on Israel's Prime Minister, may I introduce them to Mr J. Pollard?

We spy.

They spy.

That's their job.

CTCHJanuary 5, 2016 12:39 PM

@andy/steve, @steve, WE don't spy on anybody. Our horseshit illegitimate goverment spies on us and 'them' and everybody else. The Zionists spy back because they're weasels too. Who said it's their job? Nobody asked us if we want to pay bureaucrats for this pointless makework job. RIF em all and let them try to get real jobs.

mishehuJanuary 5, 2016 4:40 PM

Ah yes, an Al-Jazeera article about the Liberty that includes politically charged phrasing such as "Ranged against him were three Israeli apologists, all of whom were allowed to overrun their time." Surely there's no ax to grind here, and the Al-Jazeera article is pristine and unbiased...

That being said, enemy countries spy on each other and so do friendly countries. The world at large is a prisoners' dilemma, and only one country needs to do something like this to cause everybody else to do so. This is, unfortunately, a part of human nature.

I'm getting to the point where I don't even really bother with the mainstream media anymore. Most of it is irrelevant or a parroting of political party lines. I classify this as "somebody from camp a wishes to embarrass somebody camp b for being a hypocrite". Just wait a while and somebody from camp a will be called out by somebody in camp b as a hypocrite as well. The short answer is that politicians and ex-politicians have a tendency to believe that the law does not apply to them when in fact it should apply even more so to them than it does us the common folk. If they were to think of things in these terms, we might actually have fewer, but higher quality laws on the books, and less b.s. like warrantless bulk data collection on common citizens...

Bruce EdigerJanuary 5, 2016 4:46 PM

Doesn't anyone remember the 2009 Congresswoman Jane Harman microscandal (http://www.salon.com/2009/04/20/harman/, although googling for "jane harman alberto gonzalez" yields a bunch of URLs)?

The NSA apparently was snooping on "suspected Israeli agents" and caught Rep. Harman agreeing to do some ethically shady stuff for AIPAC. This is said to have Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez leverage over Harman's votes.

So: NSA catches legislators all the time. The executive branch apparently uses this information to beat votes out of said legislators.

I don't know why the Harman microscandal didn't have more legs.

P/KJanuary 5, 2016 5:01 PM

Is there any evidence or are there any indications that NSA spies upon, or wants to spy upon 82 million Germans, besides chancellor Merkel and a list of top government officials?

The same is for spying upon ordinary Americans. Yes, their communications can be caught up in the collection systems when they were in contact with foreign suspects, and yes, those stored communications can be queried, but they are not being queried just for the sake of querying.

Just like NSA targets foreign terrorism suspects and government officials, they will also query their databases with similar purposes. That's not "mass surveillance" of ordinary citizens.

If the police sets up a road block to catch a fugitive, then everyone who passes there will be looked at, checked for his or her ID, etc - intelligence, and often criminal investigation too, is about narrowing down from a broader to a smaller range of suspects, until they found the right one.

JamesJanuary 5, 2016 6:19 PM


You know you are saying bullshit. After years of evidence from the Snowden revelations (plus other journalistic sources), you want to discuss the definition of mass surveillance? Maybe it's just "bulk collection"?

Or because no human listens to every phone call of every American or reads every email of every American, we're all fine? Because only machines with algorithms are collecting, storing and analyzing all of our data?

And do you really want to argue data collection is not surveillance as long as the collected data isn't analyzed specifically for an individual target?

Come on, I'm bored and you're drunk. Go home.

PS: If the government installs "security" cameras in every private household and stores the video feeds for access in case of a criminal event, that's no surveillance as long as there's no concrete access? Ridiculous.

ThothJanuary 5, 2016 6:54 PM

I would consider them a rather selfish and stubborn bunch unwilling to listen to us warning to them that mass surveillance and the US ICs have stepped out of boundary until they find themselves as victims too then are they willing to turn around and look into the situation.

It is rather unfortunate that these bunch of selfish and stubborn US lawmakers who think they are above the US citizenry would have their bad days too.

It is about time for the 5Eyes lawmakers to realize their ICs have grown out of their control and stepped out of their boundaries and do some amendments to put them back in their places and listen, respect and heed the words of the citizens and security professionals.

P/KJanuary 5, 2016 7:43 PM

@ James:

Yes, it would be about time for a clear definition of "mass surveillance" because now this term is used as an abracadabra to curse the NSA. In my opinion the term "mass surveillance" is rather useless, it obfuscates more than it clarifies.

For what is "mass"? Is 1000 people a mass, or 100.000 or tens of millions? It's never specified, but the term suggests and creates the impression that it's a huge number.

And what exactly is "surveillance"? As far as I know, the meaning of this word is: active monitoring, like people watching what other people are doing.

Combining that to "mass surveillance" would result in meaning: people watching what millions of other people are doing. But that would require an awful lot of intelligence officials, like we know from the former Eastern Germany.

For NSA, I would say that only the Real Time-Regional Gateway efforts for Afganistan and Iraq (and maybe Yemen nowadays) could be called "mass surveillance": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_Time_Regional_Gateway

And yes, NSA also does a lot of bulk collection, but in many different ways, and they use those data for their mission, which means, also in a more or less targeted way. Of course it has that nice chilling effect to label these bulk data in NSA repositories "surveillance", but fact is, that most of it will never be seen by a human. And of course you may oppose that, but then oppose "storage" of such data, and don't call it "surveillance".

And in case you might missed it: those press reports about NSA intercepting phonecalls of tens of millions of European citizens came out as a misinterpretation of the underlying NSA charts: it wasn't NSA spying on Europeans, but European intelligence agencies that collected mostly phone metadata from conflict zones abroad (Afghanistan, Africa) and shared those data with NSA. So almost the complete opposite. See also here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boundless_Informant

Dirk PraetJanuary 5, 2016 8:22 PM

@ Thoth

I would consider them a rather selfish and stubborn bunch unwilling to listen to us warning to them that mass surveillance and the US ICs have stepped out of boundary until they find themselves as victims too then are they willing to turn around and look into the situation.

Or not. In Orwell's Animal Farm, The Seven Commandments are eventually abridged to a single phrase: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

@ P/K

And what exactly is "surveillance"? As far as I know, the meaning of this word is: active monitoring, like people watching what other people are doing.

Err, no. In the traditional definition of the word, "active" is not part of it as all surveillance was by definition "active". Technology has also allowed "passive" surveillance, like CCTV recordings without anyone actually monitoring the live feed. Or internet data streams being captured and stored. Narrowing it down to active surveillance only means willfully ignoring an entirely new class of surveillance that produces exactly the same data and which therefor in a legal context needs to be treated in exactly the same way until such a day that lawmakers make a clear distinction between both.

P/KJanuary 5, 2016 9:15 PM

@ theo the kraut:

Steve Sailor clearly has no knowledge about secure communications, as he, like most people, apparently thinks that one can secure only one end of the line. Communications can only be secured if both ends use the same encryption system, but in this case, probably neither party did.

Such international phone calls are generally unencrypted, because countries won't share their encryption system with another country and using high-end commercial equipment is often way too cumbersome. So there's nothing against NSA eavesdropping on the Israeli prime minister.

@ Dirk Praet:

But why should all those new, technical means of passive data collection then be called "surveillance" when that word was originally only used for active monitoring? I would say: find a new word for that, or at least add "passive", so it is clear that there's a difference between someone watching a monitor or listening with headphones (active), and data being put in a database (passive). Labeling all this with the same word only makes everything look at its worst.

jdgaltJanuary 5, 2016 9:20 PM

The Constitution already forbids the government from spying on us without a warrant. Since that isn't stopping them, why should we expect any mere statute to stop them?

Clive RobinsonJanuary 5, 2016 10:43 PM

@ Bruce,

If you're a member of Congress, there are special rules that the NSA has to follow if you're incidentally spied on

In the UK likewise politicians believed there were the rules of the "Wilson Doctrine" --dating from 1966-- protecting their communications... Only to hear from the mouth of GCHQ's "Queens Council" at an Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT under RIPA) that the Wilson Doctrine was being broken. GCHQ's QC argued that the Wilson Doctrine "Does not have force in law and cannot impose legal restraints on the agencies.".

So the doctrine only has at best political effect (ie on reporting), and that excluding politicians from mass surveillance wasn't feasible. Worse for the Politicos last October, the IPT ruled in favour of GCHQ...

Which has had a knock on effect...

As you are possibly aware the UK Minister for the Home Ofice, Theresa May has brought draft legislation to the House of Commons --dubbed by Journo's as "Snoopers Charter Two-- for the "Investigatory Powers Bill".

In November after the IPT ruling became known the UK Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to Parliament in typical "mealy mouthed style" [1][2] that the draft bill now includes a provision to place the Wilson Doctrine on a statutory footing for the first time.

This is effectively a political bribe to ensure the bill gets voted into law by Parliment. Thus ensuring that UK Politicals become "First among Equals" exempt from "official surveillance" unlike the rest of the UK Citizenry.

Which, means that as in times past the UK IC will ask the US IC to spy on the UK Politico's and pass the information back. Which as far as we can tell is exactly what the UK IC did under the BRUSA (now UKUSA) agreement, back when the then UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson stood up in Parliment in 1966 and made his comments that started the doctorine.

One of these day's Politico's are going to finaly wake up to what many have been saying for years "They are not the head of the dog that is the body politic, but the tail, and when the IC tell them to wag they will". That is the FiveEyes IC have set themselves up above any and all elected representatives of their respective Governments for what they consider is "The Common Good" or as they prefer to say for non IC consumption "For National Security Reasons" on which they will not comment unless forced to by a judge.

[1] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-11-04/HCWS291/

[2] Note how the letter realy only covers "phone tapping" and not any other method of communication.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 5, 2016 11:47 PM

@ P/K,

Communications can only be secured if both ends use the same encryption system, but in this case, probably neither party did.

You are making an assumption that the interception was somewhere in the telephone network.

There is just as much chance that it was not, that is the intercept was more likely obtained by an "end run attack" around the phone, so encryption would not have helped.

My personal belief is that in actual fact like some journalists the politicians were quite deliberately targeted as "Executive Policy". Not "accidentally" swept up as a side effect of monitoring foreign calls or what ever other "Parallel Construction" has been concocted...

Fred FlinstoneJanuary 5, 2016 11:50 PM

Is there any evidence or are there any indications that NSA spies upon, or wants to spy upon 82 million Germans, besides chancellor Merkel and a list of top government officials?

Yes, Skeptical reborn.

Try searching for Bluffdale NSA data center. Consider that one alone - with more to be built - will store around 3-12 exabytes of data (estimated). With advancements in technology, other fusion data centers etc. the increase in scale will be monumental in a few years.

The sole purpose is to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. Most of the heavy data flow relating to streaming, bittorent etc. will simply be ignored as noise in the interim, to focus on profiling every single ape tapping on keyboards.

Consider also that Google - NSA's best bud - was estimated to have 15 exabytes of data on disk / tape as of 2013, and it's all pretty clear that the trend is full global IP take in the near future, even if we have passed the 1 zettabyte mark recently on a per annum basis.

Lucy Lawless who goes to work everyday in the subterranean dwellings - like scurrying insect larvae - is pretty clear on the end-game. Every single document released by Greenwald points in the same direction.

So why haven't the lawmakers defunded the NSA and their ilk world-wide?

Simply put, they have dirt on everybody after 15 years+ of collection. The most shrill defenders of the agencies are no doubt the worst pedophiles, insider traders and philanderers. Hence they vote accordingly in the house when any Bills are put forward to restrain flagrant criminal behavior.

PS can someone run stylometric analysis on P/K's fluff to see if he has done a Lazarus? Do they really pay JTRIG for this level of crap? Pathetic.

P/KJanuary 6, 2016 12:40 AM

Strange that people who present themselves as defenders of privacy and civil rights often engage in quite personal attacks against people who have a somewhat different opinion...

Unfortunately it even seems more difficult to be taken seriously having different opinions here, than at government agencies like the NSA.

@ Fred Flinstone:

Please, what exactly is proven by the mere fact that there exists an NSA data center in Utah? Okay, they will probably store data over there, but there is not a single indication for what kind of data that will be.

I think it is rather strange, not to say suspect, that so far there was not one single document from the Snowden cache about this Utah data center. For so many people that data center stands for the apparent "collect it all" strategy of NSA, that it probably would have been sensational if there were documents proving that the Utah data center was indeed meant to store "all communications" or something like that. But nothing.

And yes, absence of proof isn't proof of absence, but still think about it, or even better, ask Snowden and Greenwald about this.

ModeratorJanuary 6, 2016 2:19 AM

"The most shrill defenders of the agencies are no doubt the worst pedophiles, insider traders and philanderers."

This sort of speculation is inflammatory and pointless. Please knock it off.

65535January 6, 2016 2:37 AM

When spying on American Politician and other neutral individuals happens it is usually a big story [think Pentagon Papers and so on]. It is usually splashed upon the front pages of the WaPo and the NYT - but, not in this environment.

It’s fairly clear that NSA spying on US Politicians is a no-go story in the US media. That’s says a lot of the political power vested in the NSA.

I wonder how far the NSA tentacles have surrounded the US political news outlets. It must be quite powerful.

@ Clive

“One of these day's Politico's are going to finaly wake up to what many have been saying for years "They are not the head of the dog that is the body politic, but the tail, and when the IC tell them to wag they will". That is the FiveEyes IC have set themselves up above any and all elected representatives of their respective Governments for what they consider is "The Common Good" or as they prefer to say for non IC consumption "For National Security Reasons" on which they will not comment…”

I agree.

But, who will spill the beans on this take-over of the USA via the over played “National Security” card.

I am doubtful of the British or American Media. I am dubious of politician in both the Republican Party and Democrat Party. Who will tell the truth?

CuriousJanuary 6, 2016 3:01 AM

I am somewhat annoyed by this idea of everybody spying, as if it was "their job". It is probably not true to say that a government A has a job to spy on government B, because that would be a broad generalization (a generalization that wouldn't be true, because it implies breaking laws).

As I wrote about out some time ago here, to say that it is their job to spy on other countries, it is as untruthful as if the the police had a job to shoot people dead. This "job" is then something taken out of context, and that doesn't really have any meaning by itself.

Wesley ParishJanuary 6, 2016 4:27 AM

What happened to all the dismissive lectures about how if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to hide? Is that still applicable? Or is it that these members of the U.S. Congress who conspired with Netanyahu and AIPAC over how to sabotage the U.S. government’s Iran Deal feel they did do something wrong and are angry about having been monitored for that reason?
Truer words, etc ... particularly in the light of one Sheldon Adelson's call for the United States to nuke an Iranian desert and then threaten to nuke Tehran http://www.timesofisrael.com/sheldon-adelson-calls-on-us-to-nuke-iranian-desert/
American Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson said the United States should detonate a nuclear bomb in the Iranian desert to display toughness, though without hurting a soul, before the next stage of negotiations with Tehran. It should then threaten that the next bomb would fall on Tehran, he said.
Which incidentally would make the United States the largest mass-killer of Jews since 1945, since there are at least 10 000 Iranian Jews still living in Tehran, and which would make Sheldon Adelson (and his pet Bibi Netanyahu) the biggest anti-Semitic pogrom inciter since then ... and of course The Times of Israel never mentioned a little thing like that!

You are entitled to be concerned with the 8 million inhabitants of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, @Bruce - I am inclined to feel that in this one particular case the NSA may well have been fulfilling its mandate to observe terrorists and potential mass murderers. Pity it couldn't have done something about the likes of Kissinger and Dubbya and Typhoid Cheney.

ianfJanuary 6, 2016 9:04 AM

@ Wesley Parish agrees with Bruce's being entitled to be concerned with the 8 million inhabitants of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but then feels “inclined that in this one particular case the NSA may well have been fulfilling its mandate to watch out for terrorists and potential mass murderers.

(Which particular mandate of the NSA might that be, I wonder… not that I'd expect to see an answer.) But anyhow, yeah, I can just picture the Israeli PM Netanyahu, frustrated in his inability to overtly bomb Iran back to the Stone Age, and his American Jewish pals plotting terror acts and mass murder IN SECRET as a form of self-therapy to alleviate the stresses caused by that their impotence to do something truly nasty in the region.

    Well done, Wesley Parish, you definitely have a future as editor of any updated reissue of "The Protocols of The Elders of Zion." One caveat: as the work is out of copyright, no publisher will stand for the cost of that update, hence you'll have to undertake it all on your own shilling—though probably not a concern to you, always ready as you are to back up verbiage with even wallet-depleting actions.

PS. bit OT, but IN CONTEXT: as regards by Israel occupied Palestinian lands (observe the lower case, since there is no such "Occupied Palestinian Territories" administrative entity), these are occupied in various stages, and not because the state of Israel would particularly want to hold onto them, but mostly for lack of trustworthy representative counterparts (plural territories) to talk to. The Israelis gladly reached an accord with Egypt over Sinaï to gave it back, yet president Sadat paid for this with his life (as did PM Rabin after signing the Oslo Accords of 1994). No little right-wing later PM Sharon unilaterally divested Israel of the Gaza Strip, only to have this, in Arab eyes, "sign of Israeli weakness," blow up in his face. The Gaza Arabs then elected the anti-Arafat-corruption "party of God" Hamas allied with Hizbollah and funded by Iran, which promptly set out to wage a never-ending war of attrition with Israel. This made its next-door Arab neighbor Egypt treat Gaza as one bottomless pit of present and future woe, and hold it at an arm's length.

Strangely enough, once the so-widely reviled West Bank Wall had been built, and it suddenly became much harder to infiltrate Israel with a suicide bomb-vest, such attacks ceased. Also the Palestinian Authority there realized that the road to a state of their own goes not through pious declarations in the UN, but through winning Israel's trust and cooperation. Besides, when West Bank was occupied by Jordan, and Gaza lorded over by Egypt up to the Six-Day War 1967, no protests were ever heard from any ME or Euro quarter. Nor does anyone today protest Egypt's not embracing the Gazans in the spirit of brotherly Muslim love.

It's only Israel's very much real need to think ahead, to protect its population (including the Israeli Arabs and other non-Jews, of which quite a few have become victims of the omnidirectional rocket barrages), that draws such condemnations. Perhaps Israel should divest from all not-1947 UN resolution lands it now resides on; vacate the illegal settlements in the Galilee and elsewhere; allow Hamas, and then suddenly-again-bolshie PLO Fatah in PA to acquire armadas of killer drones; and then sit back and see what happens. I'm sure Wesley Parishes of this world would be pleased, no less at the prospect of watching such an entertaining son et lumière tres explosif spectacle from afar, and that's the main thing.

GSJanuary 7, 2016 2:52 PM

Interesting reading on the new viewpoint of Mr. Hoekstra. I seem to remember there's an English proverb for these kind of situations. The shoe is on the other foot? Some loose thoughts about this.

I think it would be somewhat politically naive if Mr. Hoekstra was surprised to find out that he was not an exception when it comes to collecting data on everyone. Something to hide or not, as a politician he's a high-profile target either way. I also see no reason why he would be an exception.

I think it was also somewhat politically naive if he believed that those who do nothing wrong had nothing to fear. Surely in his political views he realizes that not only they are not shared by everyone, but that some people may hold the viewpoint that it is doing something wrong (and thus a cause for spying on him)?

Anyway, let's for a moment argue that this is not about an exception for him personally and his close friends and allies, but a genuine change in his viewpoint. Overnight from hardliner to privacy advocate. I'm not sure if the precise statements can be attributed to him, but from the same corner have come such statements that Mr. Snowden and publishers should be shot without trial and more of this kind of interesting talk. Surely his newfound friends cum former mortal enemies will welcome him with open arms, trust him completely, and jumping up and down at the opportunity to help him out in his new-found cause?

Let's say for a moment they are. The practical question then comes: With what precisely? Much of the legal framework to fight this kind of practices has been lost, thanks in no small part to his former policy. Many people have been all but indoctrinated to reject any argument from privacy advocates out of hand, and to treat it with scorn and deep suspicion, thanks in no small part to Mr. Hoekstra's effort. It's nice that he may want to go back now, but the truth is he burned his ships to do it with long ago and it might be an interesting show to watch him struggle in vain against the fruits of his own labour. We know the story of tha sorcerors' apprentice who gave life to the staff, after all, right?

True BelieverJanuary 8, 2016 10:48 PM

I have no doubt that the NSA followed its own rules in that regard.

Sounds like they taught someone a lesson in rubber hose cryptography. Seriously, how much access to NSA internal affairs does Bruce Schneier have that he can say such a thing with a straight face? For the love of paranoia people- have some doubts.

Dinosaur DissenterJanuary 8, 2016 11:01 PM

The words that really matter are "incidental collection." I have no doubt that the NSA followed its own rules in that regard. The discussion we need to have is about whether those rules are the correct ones.

See, the problem is that the 'correct rules' flow from logic populated with the concept of human fallability and corruptability. Once you take a leap of faith that there is no doubt about the NSA violating it's own rules (seriously, Snowden happened, right?), you've wandered from the path of valid rational logic. All kinds of crazy shit makes a lot more sense when you imagine worlds where someone solved the problem of Ordinary Human Corruption(tm).

The NSA deserves our utter contempt at this point after the Snowden revelations. They are years away from deserving anywhere near the 'do doubt' trust that Schneier gives them.

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.