NSA Report Hints at Slight Decrease in Abuses Committed

Analysis by Kyle A. Lohmeier

I think I might have reached peak cynicism – a point at which I’ve become as cynical about government as is physically possible. Likely, I’ve been at that point for some time, but a Reuter’s piece yesterday by Mark Hosenball has brought this fact to my attention just now. The first ‘graph was all it took.

“The U.S. National Security Agency collected more than 151 million records of Americans’ phone calls last year, even after Congress limited its ability to collect bulk phone records, according to an annual report issued on Tuesday by the top U.S. intelligence officer,” Hosenball wrote.

So, the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, has put out a report on the operations of the super-top-secret National Security Agency that says the agency isn’t really all that compliant with new rules it was expected to follow. Thing is, it’s the NSA; how would we know if Coats is telling us the truth now? Let’s remember, we wouldn’t know anything about NSA data collection and it would still be going full-tilt were it not for the revelations of American hero Edward Snowden in 2013; and our government considers him an enemy of the state now.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, the report says NSA collected 151 million metadata records – callers’ and recipients’ phone numbers and time and durations of calls, but not their content – from Americans last year, which is a smaller number than in years past because the NSA says it stopped using some of the procedures revealed by Snowden in 2013; so, apparently we’re supposed to feel good about that.

The problem is that the records the NSA collects are still being used for purposes that have nothing to do with international terrorism or domestic security.

“The report said that on one occasion in 2016, the FBI obtained information about an American in response to a search of Section 702 data intended to produce evidence of a crime not related to foreign intelligence.

The report did not address how frequently the FBI obtained information about Americans while investigating a foreign intelligence matter, however,” Reuters reported.

Imagine that? Why Coats even bothered to reveal that the FBI misused records obtained through Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) at all is a mystery, that they won’t tell us how often it happens and to whom, isn’t. The problem is that the NSA’s collection of this data allows for the “unmasking” of American citizens to federal agencies; and the report conveniently leaves out some key details about who and why.

“The report said the names of 1,934 ‘U.S. persons’ were ‘unmasked’ last year in response to specific requests, compared with 2,232 in 2015, but it did not identify who requested the names or on what grounds,” Reuters reported.

So, the NSA has revealed that it continually abuses its powers while congress ponders whether or not to reauthorize Section 702, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of the year – Trump has already signaled that he wants NSA to retain those powers. In making this admission, the NSA declined to actually reveal the extent of the damage caused to American citizens by the NSA’s illegally sharing data on citizens with other federal agencies like FBI.

And, accepting any of this as truth requires trusting a federal agency that did all it could to hide its activities from us and was successful at doing so for more than a decade. The only reason they’re still not successful is holed up in Russia because the federal government wants to put a bullet in his head. Yet, this same organization came out last Friday and assured us that it had stopped using a form of surveillance that allowed it to snoop in on communications without a warrant if an American happened to mention the name of a foreign surveillance target, again, if we’re to believe anything the NSA says; which I find basically impossible and which makes the last two ‘graphs of the Reuters piece just precious.

“Officials said in the report that U.S. intelligence agencies had gone out of their way to make public more information about U.S. electronic eavesdropping.

‘This year’s report continues our trajectory toward greater transparency, providing additional statistics beyond what is required by law,’ said Office of the Director of National Intelligence spokesman Timothy Barrett,” the Reuters piece concludes.

Yes, we peasants should be grateful the NSA told us more than it was legally required to about the things it’s legally required not to do but continues to do with impunity; things it will likely continue to do, and would be doing more of if not for that meddlesome Ed Snowden.

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