N.S.A. scandal timeline

  • Posted on: 7 November 2013
  • By: benfell

Note: My professor rejected the essay originally posted here as too long. The scope of the essay inadvertently covered two assignments, but what really blew the page length, by far, is the timeline I am preserving here. I am also leaving the references section here intact because I have no motivation to go through and weed out what isn't actually cited here. The rest, I had hoped to cannabilize for future assignments and therefore withdrew from publication here. But I'm feeling a bit like I'm looking through a kaleidoscope at the assignments for this class; they seem different every time I look at them. Now, it appears I will not be able to use that material after all and I am undecided as to whether I should put it back up here. The timeline, as updated in what immediately follows this note, is, by far, the most important part.

There have been numerous updates, most recently on December 17, 2013. These are appended at the bottom of this posting.

A Timeline

The case that the National Security Agency has engaged in mass domestic spying of dubious legality, and that the Obama administration has been less than fully honest about these programs, is supported by an overwhelming volume of evidence. I hope, in the next several pages, to summarize this evidence in a way that highlights both the intrusions and the contradictions. This effort is, at best, a partial perspective. It mostly includes what, as these events were occurring, I judged to be important at the time, more arbitrarily than systematically, for the simple reason that as I was gathering most of this information, I was doing so not in anticipation of writing this essay, but mostly out of general interest and a concern for my own privacy and for the privacy of research participants whose information might travel across the Internet in any of a number of ways.

Further, this timeline relies strictly on English-language reports, even from news media in non-English-speaking countries. While some of these media operations offer English language sites, many do not; as a consequence, some of my sources are second-hand reports of reports, for instance, where Slate reports on a revelation published in O Globo. An O Globo video or article would be in Brazilian Portuguese. Slate is a U.S. news operation, reporting in English. I only speak English.

Still, I believe I have captured much of what transpired to the date of this writing. As such, it is my hope that it will be useful in combination with other, similar efforts, such as that by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (n.d.b), to establish a more systematic historical record. Further, it should be noted that Glenn Greenwald (June 10, 2013) has, on numerous occasions, promised that more revelations are coming (see also Associated Press, July 15, 2013; Drake, quoted in Goodman, October 28, 2013; Saxena, August 14, 2013). Thus, the timeline will be incomplete if for no other reason than that it has been prepared before the scandal has run its course.

There are some highlights that are particularly worth noting. A part of this story is a frantic, fumbling, and unbecoming determination on the part of the U.S. government to capture Edward Snowden and to discredit his evidence. Another part of this story is the discrediting of President Obama’s and the U.S. government’s repeated claims that it was not violating the right of privacy for vast numbers of people (Buzzfeed, June 17, 2013; Gallagher, June 21, 2013; Sirota, August 16, 2013; Turley, June 18, 2013), a right enshrined both in international law (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, December 16, 1966) and in the U.S. Constitution (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965). There are the intrusions into private communications of foreign leaders, even those of allied nations. The result has been a backlash against these spying programs, nationally and internationally, including from among the political elites, that, so far, has failed to persuade policymakers to make significant changes.

Finally, there is the proliferation of news operations working on the material from Snowden, hinting that the volume of material is too vast even for a small number of major news organizations to handle. Significantly for the purposes of this essay, there is the effective, and not necessarily voluntary, enlistment of journalists as activists (see Keller, October 27, 2013). This occurs as government claims lose credibility, not merely through inaccurate and deceptive statements (Blumenthal, June 16, 2013; Buzzfeed, June 17, 2013; Democracy Now!, August 5, 2013; Gallagher, June 21, 2013; Goldman & Apuzzo, June 11, 2013; Rosen, August 12, 2013; Schneier, August 7, 2013; Sirota, August 16, 2013; Turley, June 18, 2013), but as well through a sheer volume of evidence, that leaves even those journalists, who are well accustomed to “balancing” reports with false equivalences in the name of “objectivity” (Keller), with only one even remotely credible side of the story, thus subverting the “media frame” that so often favors the elite (Buechler, 2011; Croteau & Hoynes, 2003; Halberstam, 2000; Herman & Chomsky, 2003; Staggenborg, 2011).

March 20, 2012

In congressional testimony, National Security Agency director General Keith Alexander repeatedly denies that the agency spies upon or even has the “technical insights” to spy upon U.S. persons. Alexander’s meaning, in using the term “technical insights,” is unexplained (Greenburg, March 20, 2012; Singel, March 20, 2012).

June 5, 2013

The Guardian reveals a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order which “requires Verizon on an ‘ongoing, daily basis’ to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries,” including “the numbers of both parties on [each] call, . . . location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls.” Call contents “are not covered.” The term for this type of data, metadata, will become a familiar one. Verizon is prohibited “from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI's request for its customers' records, or the court order itself” and accordingly declines to comment for the story. It is not known if other cell phone service providers are under similar orders, “although previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks” (Greenwald, June 5, 2013). This is the first of a vast number of revelations which will be attributed to Edward Snowden, although on this day, Snowden’s name has not yet been made public.

[Senator Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee] and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the panel’s chairwoman, also gave a defense of the program [which has been going on since 2007]. “There have been approximately 100 plots and also arrests made since 2009 by the FBI,” Feinstein said. “I do not know to what extent metadata was used or if it was used, but I do know this, gentlemen, that terrorists will come after us if they can, and the only thing we have to deter this is good intelligence.” (Bolton, June 6, 2013)

June 6, 2013

The Guardian reports that “[t]he National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants” as part of a program called Prism. Of the companies that respond, all “denied knowledge of any such program.” According to the newspaper, “[t]he NSA access was enabled by changes to US surveillance law introduced under President Bush and renewed under Obama in December 2012.” A slide accompanying the article displays logos belonging to Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Apple, Skype, PalTalk, YouTube, and AOL. The companies are listed by name on another slide. The agency “is able to obtain: email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more” (Greenwald & MacAskill, June 6, 2013). This access will be known as “front door” access to distinguish it from “back door” access that will be revealed by the Washington Post on October 30 (Gellman & Soltani, October 30, 2013).

In the rush to defend the surveillance programs, however, government officials have changed their stories and misstated key facts of the [Najibullah Zazi's foiled plot to bomb the New York subways]. And they've left out one important detail: The email that disrupted the plan could easily have been intercepted without PRISM. (Goldman & Apuzzo, June 11, 2013)

June 9, 2013

At Edward Snowden’s request, the Guardian reveals that he is the leaker of what will prove to be a massive trove of documents showing the breadth and depth of N.S.A. spying on people both in the U.S. and around the world. For someone who never graduated from high school (Greenwald, MacAskill, & Poitras, June 9, 2013), he makes statements indicating a philosophical and ethical understanding that surpasses many with far more education. For example, “I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity” (Snowden, quoted in Greenwald, MacAskill, & Poitras, June 9, 2013). The chair of the  U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, denounces Snowden, saying “What he did was an act of treason” (Feinstein, quoted Roberts, MacAskill, & Ball, June 10, 2013), but many European leaders and some other U.S. politicians express concern that the N.S.A. may have overstepped and violated the privacy rights of citizens (Roberts, MacAskill, & Ball).

June 12, 2013

National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander “told a Congressional panel . . . that he wants the feds to slurp up even more information – and distribute it more widely throughout the government.” He “claimed that the intelligence collected by the NSA has potentially foiled ‘dozens of terrorist events.’ But he wouldn't give more specific number [sic], or delve into specific plots.” Senators question him about revelations that the N.S.A. is collecting virtually all cell phone metadata. He denies that the agency can “tap into virtually any American’s phone call or emails (Reed, June 12, 2013). “I want the American people to know that we’re trying to be transparent here, protect civil liberties and privacy but also the security of this country” (Alexander to the Senate Appropriations Committee, quoted in Lightman, June 12, 2013).

June 13, 2013

Emerging from a hearing with NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the senior Democrat on the panel, said Edward Snowden simply wasn't in the position to access the content of the communications gathered under National Security Agency programs, as he's claimed.

"He was lying," Rogers said. "He clearly has over-inflated his position, he has over-inflated his access and he's even over-inflated what the actually technology of the programs would allow one to do. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."

"He's done tremendous damage to the country where he was born and raised and educated," Ruppersberger said.

Asked how much additional information — including other Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act verdicts — Snowden has in his possession, Rogers said, "No one really knows the answer to that today. I think we will know the answer to that shortly."

"It was clear that he attempted to go places that he was not authorized to go, which should raise questions for everyone," Rogers added. (Lillis, June 13, 2013).

It is difficult to see how some of these statements are coherent. If Snowden did not have the access he claimed, then how could he have “done tremendous damage to the country” (Rogers, quoted in Lillis, June 13, 2013)? If Snowden did not have the access he claimed, then the answer to the questions about “how much additional information . . . Snowden has in his possession” (Lillis) should be very little.

But as William Binney will explain in a USA Today (June 16, 2013) interview, “Part of his job as the system administrator, he was to maintain the system. Keep the databases running. Keep the communications working. Keep the programs that were interrogating them operating. So that meant he was like a super-user. He could go on the network or go into any file or any system and change it or add to it or whatever, just to make sure — because he would be responsible to get it back up and running if, in fact, it failed.” Binney’s use of a simile is imprecise, but the essentials of his statement are correct as to what system administrators do. This is why it makes a form of sense (I harbor doubts as to the feasibility) that General Keith Alexander will announce that he intends to reduce the number of system administrators working for the agency by 90 percent (Allen, August 8, 2013).

June 15, 2013

Representative Jerrold Nadler discloses that the National Security Agency “does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls” and may do so at the discretion of an analyst (McCullagh, June 16, 2013). The claim apparently relies on testimony given by Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller (Simpson, June 16, 2013). The White House and James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, deny the claim and the N.S.A. declines to comment (McCullagh). Nadler issues a statement the next day in which he is apparently satisfied with the denials, despite the contradiction with House testimony (McCullagh; Simpson). However, “Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the head of the Senate Intelligence committee, separately acknowledged that the agency's analysts have the ability to access the ‘content of a call.’” Furthermore, “the same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages” (McCullagh, June 16, 2013). On August 9, the Guardian will reveal documents showing that the N.S.A. indeed possesses this “legal authority . . . to search for US citizens’ email and phone calls without a warrant.” This search capability is apparently for its own databases (Ball & Ackerman, August 9, 2013).

June 16, 2013

The Guardian reports that the N.S.A. “intercepted the top-secret communications of the then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, during his visit to Britain for the G20 summit in London” (MacAskill, Davies, Hopkins, Borger, & Ball, June 16, 2013).

June 17, 2013

In a Guardian-hosted question and answer session, Snowden asserts that “[e]ncryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on. Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it” (quoted in Guardian, June 17, 2013). By “endpoint,” Snowden means a vast majority of personal computers. It will become clear that the N.S.A. is both frustrated by and actively attacking encryption (Ball, Borger, & Greenwald, September 5, 2013; Perlroth, Larson, & Shane, September 5, 2013).

Also on this day, in an interview with Charlie Rose, for which I do not have a full transcript, President Obama apparently seeks to have it both ways, calling the dichotomy between privacy and security of the sort obtained by N.S.A. spying a “false choice.” “To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom,” he says. In the only contiguous excerpt of a transcript I have found, Obama infamously claims “NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order.” Obama further claims that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court makes the process “transparent” (Buzzfeed, June 17, 2013). (At the bottom of the web page, Buzzfeed takes the care to point out that Obama’s defense of the program, based on a foiled New York City subway bombing plot, has been “widely refuted.” See Goldman & Apuzzo, June 11, 2013.)

This interview is not favorably received, especially after the Guardian sheds some light on the court proceedings. People may not be individually targeted; instead their data is swept up in mass as “judges have signed off on broad orders which allow the NSA to make use of information ‘inadvertently’ collected from domestic US communications without a warrant” (Greenwald & Ball, June 20, 2013). This revelation is widely judged to contradict Obama’s assurances, and as Ryan Gallagher (June 21, 2013) writes, “confirm beyond all doubt that the NSA can and does incidentally sweep up domestic communications while targeting foreigners, and it has the authority to retain such communications for up to five years.” Jonathan Turley (June 18, 2013) calls the language justifying the surveillance disingenuous,

focus[ing] on the question of whether the government is “reading” the content of emails and calls as opposed to gathering a wide array of information on who you are calling, how long, and from where. They [Democratic Party politicians] ignore the obvious danger in such databanks in giving the government the ability to follow citizens in realtime [sic]. It is part of the effort, discussed earlier in columns, to redefine privacy in a new surveillance friendly image. After doublethinking privacy, Obama has moved on to doublethinking transparency. . . .

To add to the obvious evasion, Obama continues to refer to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), or secret court, as if it were a real court or had some meaningful powers of review. Obama told Rose, “That’s why we set up the FISA court.” Of course, he did not set up the FISA court which has been around for decades and widely ridiculed as an absurd rubberstamp for the intelligence agency. Only a couple applications have been denied in the history of that “court.” When I had occasion to got [sic] into the court as a young intern with NSA, it set in place a lifelong opposition to it as an insult to the very concept of legal process. For Obama to cite this “court” as the guarantee of transparency is nothing short of insulting. This is the court that classifies (at the demand of Obama’s Administration) the very legal interpretations used to justify massive warrantless searches of citizens. (Turley, June 18, 2013)


June 18, 2013

N.S.A. director General Alexander claims that the agency’s surveillance programs “had helped prevent ‘potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11,’ including at least 10 ‘homeland-based threats’” (Alexander, quoted in Savage, June 18, 2013).

June 21, 2013

The Justice Department files charges against Edward Snowden alleging theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act (Shane, June 21, 2013).

June 27, 2013

The Guardian reports that the N.S.A. continued to collect metadata on Internet communication between people in the U.S. and people outside the U.S. for two years after Obama was inaugurated. The “Stellar Wind” program was inherited from the preceding Bush administration and “was discontinued in 2011 for operational and resource reasons” (Turner, quoted in Greenwald & Ackerman, June 27, 2013). It is unclear what those reasons are (Greenwald & Ackerman).

June 28, 2013

CNet News reports that some Internet companies, notably including Facebook, use weak, outmoded cryptographic keys that make it easier for the N.S.A. to crack intercepted communications (McCullagh, June 28, 2013). However, given “front door” access to company servers via the Prism program (Greenwald & MacAskill, June 6, 2013), this seems, at first blush, unnecessary. It will make more sense subsequent to revelations in the Washington Post that the N.S.A. has tapped into Google and Yahoo! corporate networks that exchange data between data centers worldwide  (Gellman & Soltani, October 30, 2013) and with Bruce Schneier’s (October 31, 2013) educated assumption that other corporate networks, presumably including that of Facebook, have been similarly tapped.

June 29, 2013

The Washington Post (June 29, 2013) posts more slides purported to describe the N.S.A.’s Prism program. Several major Internet providers are listed as providing full access to their databases: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple. These companies store a considerable amount of user data on their servers as part of their offerings. In addition, the N.S.A. taps Internet “backbone” cables through which much traffic passes.

Spiegel reports that the N.S.A. “stores data from around half a billion communications connections in Germany each month. This data includes telephone calls, emails, mobile-phone text messages and chat transcripts. The metadata -- or information about which call or data connections were made and when -- is then stored at the NSA's headquarters in Fort Meade, near Washington, DC. . . . The NSA, it turns out, is more active in Germany than in any other of the EU's 27 member states” (Poitras, Rosenbach, & Stark, June 29, 2013). “German authorities insist they knew nothing of the NSA’s Internet spying operations,” but Spiegel reports that German and U.S. intelligence agencies actively collaborate (Becker, et al., July 8, 2013), in part based on an interview with Edward Snowden (Paterson, July 7, 2013).

June 30, 2013

The Guardian reports that the N.S.A. or possibly the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Central Intelligence Agency, has targeted 38 embassies and missions (MacAskill & Borger, June 30, 2013).

Along with traditional ideological adversaries and sensitive Middle Eastern countries, the list of targets includes the EU missions and the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as well as a number of other American allies, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey. The list in the September 2010 document does not mention the UK, Germany or other western European states. . . . Germany's justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, demanded an explanation from Washington, saying that if confirmed, US behaviour "was reminiscent of the actions of enemies during the cold war". (MacAskill & Borger, June 30, 2013)

July 2, 2013

A plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales, who had said he would consider an asylum request from Snowden, back from a summit in Moscow is diverted to Vienna, Austria (Associated Press, July 2, 2013). “While it was grounded, the plane and its passengers were apparently subjected to some kind of inspection, the scope of which is not yet clear” (Cariboni & Metzker, July 4, 2013). Allegedly, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal had denied the jet permission to enter their airspace (Cariboni & Metzker; MercoPress, July 5, 2013). Several Latin American governments express outrage (Neuman, Gladstone, & Eddy, July 3, 2013) and the Bolivian government accuses the Austrian government of kidnapping Morales. France apologizes and denies having denied overflight permission (McDonald-Gibson, July 5, 2013; Walker & Saul, July 3, 2013). Spain also denies having refused permission and declines to apologize (MercoPress, July 5, 2013).

The incident violates international law, because aircraft carrying national leaders have diplomatic immunity. Bolivian diplomats complained at the United Nations that Morales had been “kidnapped” during the time he was grounded in Austria. And the indignation spread to other South American governments. (Cariboni & Metzker, July 4, 2013)

Karl-Heinz Grundböck, a spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry, said that the Austrian border authorities carried out a routine check of the passports of everyone aboard Mr. Morales’s plane after it landed and that they were also granted permission to search the plane to ensure that Mr. Snowden was not aboard. “The rumors were just that,” Mr. Grundböck said.

But in La Paz, officials said that no search had taken place, asserting that it would be improper to search the plane of a head of state. As for the forced diversion of the flight, the vice president of Bolivia, Álvaro García Linera, equated it to a kidnapping. (Neuman, Gladstone, & Eddy, July 3, 2013)

July 8, 2013

Der Spiegel (July 8, 2013) publishes excerpts from an interview conducted by email with Edward Snowden in an effort to verify that Snowden was in fact who he claimed to be. Greenwald and Poitras apparently turned to Jacob Appelbaum to supply technical questions, which “were not asked in a context that is reactive to this week's or even this month's events. They were asked in a relatively quiet period, when Snowden was likely enjoying his last moments in a Hawaiian paradise” (Spiegel, July 8, 2013). In this interview, Snowden explains that the German intelligence services are “in bed together with” the N.S.A. just as are the corresponding services of “most other Western countries.” Asked who would be charged “if details about this system are now exposed” (Spiegel, July 8, 2013), Snowden responds,

In front of US courts? I'm not sure if you're serious. An investigation found the specific people who authorized the warrantless wiretapping of millions and millions of communications, which per count would have resulted in the longest sentences in world history, and our highest official simply demanded the investigation be halted. Who “can” be brought up on charges is immaterial when the rule of law is not respected. Laws are meant for you, not for them. (Snowden, quoted in Spiegel, July 8, 2013).

Snowden further asserts that the N.S.A. co-wrote the Stuxnet virus with Israel that attacked Iran’s nuclear program, that the United Kingdom’s General Communications Headquarters (G.C.H.Q.) operates a “full-take” Internet buffer that keeps a copy of all traffic, even Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) packets (these are usually small packets that do not contain data; they are frequently used to confirm network connectivity), that passes through its tap for three days. Similar collection takes place at a number of sites (Spiegel, July 8, 2013). He explains that the purpose of the N.S.A. datacenter at Bluffdale, Utah (see Bamford, March 15, 2012; Democracy Now!, March 21, 2012; Gordon, July 2, 2013), is to get to a “point where at least all of the metadata is permanently stored” (Snowden, quoted in Spiegel, July 8, 2013).

July 11, 2013

The Guardian focuses on Microsoft’s enabling of the N.S.A. to bypass encryption on chats and email. The company also eased N.S.A. access to SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service. “In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism” (Greenwald, MacAskill, Poitras, Ackerman, & Rushe, July 11, 2013). The story contrasts Silicon Valley (Microsoft is actually based in Redmond, Washington) executives’ denials that they collaborate with the N.S.A. or that the agency has “back door” access into their databases with “internal NSA newsletters, marked top secret, suggest[ing] the co-operation between the intelligence community and the companies is deep and ongoing” (Greenwald, MacAskill, Poitras, Ackerman, & Rushe, July 11, 2013).

July 15, 2013

Glenn Greenwald tells the Associated Press (July 15, 2013) that Snowden has thousands of documents, including “very sensitive ‘blueprints’ detailing how the National Security Agency operates that would allow someone who read them to evade or even duplicate NSA surveillance,” and that “Snowden has insisted the information from those documents not be made public” even though “Greenwald said he didn’t think that disclosure of the documents would prove harmful to Americans or their national security.” Snowden will later tell the New York Times that he had not brought any leaked documents with him to Moscow, that “he had decided to hand over all digital material to the journalists he had met in Hong Kong because it would not have been in the public interest for him to hold on to copies.” He also denies any possibility that the material could have fallen into the hands of Russian or Chinese authorities (Pilkington, October 18, 2013).

July 16, 2013

“German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich is backing off his earlier assertion that the Obama administration’s NSA monitoring of Internet accounts had prevented five terror attacks in Germany, raising questions about other claims concerning the value of the massive monitoring programs revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden” (Schofield, July 18, 2013). “It is relatively difficult to count the number of terror attacks that didn’t occur” (Friedrich, quoted in Schofield, July 18, 2013). The following day, July 17, “he was publically referring to just two foiled attacks, at least one and possibly both of which appeared to have little to do with the NSA’s surveillance programs.” Friedrich had spent two days meeting with U.S. officials about the programs the previous week (Schofield, July 18, 2013).

July 24, 2013

Divisions among the political elites appear significant as Representative Justin Amash attempts to amend a defense appropriations bill so as “to defund the National Security Agency’s blanket collection of telephone records.” He fails, but the vote, 205-217, is “much closer than the NSA, the White House or leadership wanted” (Fuller, July 24, 2013a; Fuller, July 24, 2013b).

July 31, 2013

The Director of National Intelligence posts documents,  including a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order, supporting the collection of Verizon customer metadata and restricting access to the logs to “when an executive branch official determines that there are ‘facts giving rise to a reasonable, articulable suspicion’ that the number searched is associated with terrorism.” Also released were two briefing papers used to support Congressional action to renew the Patriot Act when enabled the court order (Savage, July 31, 2013).

Also, the Guardian reveals the XKeyscore program, which “allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.” The revelation appears to confirm Snowden’s assertion that he could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email” (Greenwald, July 31, 2013). The article does not make clear the source of the data that can be scanned with this program but may well refer to the entire N.S.A. database of intercepted communications as well as data on servers of cooperating Internet companies.

McClatchy Newspapers reports that “National Security Agency officials violated secret federal court orders [that] authorize[ed] the daily collection of domestic email and telephone data from hundreds of millions of Americans, according to previously top-secret documents made public Wednesday by the Obama administration” (Watkins & Landay, July 31, 2013).

August 5, 2013

German officials visit General Keith Alexander at N.S.A. headquarters at Fort Meade, who has

his people prepare a paper: a single sheet of white paper, but one without letterhead or a cover letter or a name to indicate that someone could later be held accountable. This impersonal list of facts had been approved, word for word, by the agency's legal department. According to a German translation of the document, it says that the NSA abides by all agreements that have been reached with the German government, represented by the German intelligence agencies, and has always done so in the past. (Gude, von Hammerstein, Hesse, & Schindler, August 19, 2013)

The point of this visit, and a similar visit to the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (G.C.H.Q.) a week earlier was to provide political cover, in advance of German elections, to obtain a

document that . . . would absolve Berlin of all responsibility in the data scandal sparked by the intelligence leaks of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. This slip of paper is supposedly proof that the Germans -- and, indeed, the NSA -- have done nothing wrong. (Gude, von Hammerstein, Hesse, & Schindler, August 19, 2013)

The German delegation obtained a similar assurance from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. German government officials accordingly declare the scandal over. Opposition politicians are unpersuaded, but Merkel and her party will win the upcoming election resoundingly (Deutschewelle, September 23, 2013; Gude, von Hammerstein, Hesse, & Schindler, August 19, 2013).

August 8, 2013

General Keith Alexander, director of the N.S.A., announces that the agency intends to cut its system administration staff by 90 percent in order to limit the number of people who have the sort of access that Edward Snowden had (Allen, August 8, 2013). Alexander apparently finds machines more trustworthy: he intends to automate many processes to make the agency’s networks “"more defensible and more secure” (Alexander, quoted in Allen).

Also, Lavabit, an encrypted email service provider, shuts down. Ladar Levison (August 8, 2013), the owner and operator, writes on the company’s home page, “I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot.” However, suspicions that Snowden may have used the service, at least during his stay at the airport in Moscow (Global Post, July 12, 2013; Lord, August 8, 2013; Spiegel, August 9, 2013), are supported by a search for a public cryptography key on a synchronizing key server (SKS) that I operate in cooperation with numerous other server operators (DisUnitedStates.com, August 9, 2013; the key server is now available for normal web access at http://sks.disunitedstates.com) reveals one for email addresses purportedly but unverifiably belonging to Snowden, including one at Lavabit.com:

Type bits/keyID     cr. time   exp time   key expir

pub  4096R/21B7141F 2013-03-24

uid Ed Snowden <edsnowden@hushmail.com>
sig  sig3  21B7141F 2013-03-24 __________ __________ [selfsig]
sig  sig3  21B7141F 2013-04-13 __________ __________ [selfsig]

uid Ed Snowden <edsnowden@lavabit.com>
sig  sig3  21B7141F 2013-04-13 __________ __________ [selfsig]

uid Edward Snowden <edsnowden@hushmail.com>
sig  sig3  21B7141F 2013-03-24 __________ __________ [selfsig]

uid Edward Snowden <edward_snowden@bah.com>
sig  sig3  21B7141F 2013-04-12 __________ __________ [selfsig]
sig revok  21B7141F 2013-07-16 __________ __________ [selfsig]

uid Edward Snowden <esnowden@boozallen.com>
sig  sig3  21B7141F 2013-03-24 __________ __________ [selfsig]
sig  sig3  21B7141F 2013-04-16 __________ __________ [selfsig]
sig revok  21B7141F 2013-07-16 __________ __________ [selfsig]

sub  4096R/B25D8926 2013-03-24

sig sbind  21B7141F 2013-03-24 __________ __________ []

(DisUnitedStates.com, August 9, 2013)

August 9, 2013

The Guardian essentially confirms Representative Jerrold Nadler’s initial claims of June 15, 2013, which were then denied by the White House and by the Director of National Intelligence (McCullagh, June 16, 2013), reporting that a “previously undisclosed rule change allows NSA operatives to hunt for individual Americans' communications using their name or other identifying information.” The story quotes Senator Ron Wyden saying that “the law provides the NSA with a loophole potentially allowing ‘warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans’” (Ball & Ackerman, August 9, 2013). This article does not mention the XKeyscore program, revealed by the Guardian on July 31 (Greenwald, July 31, 2013), but appears to refer to the same analyst activity.

August 12, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announce the formation of an “independent” panel to review National Security Agency spying. Controversy arises as they give the impression that Clapper will be in charge, undermining the purported independence. Obama “said he was directing Clapper ‘to establish a review group on intelligence and communications technologies’ that would brief and later report to the president through Clapper by December.” Clapper described the group as “the director of national intelligence review group on intelligence and communications technology” (MacAskill, August 13, 2013).

August 13, 2013

National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden explains that Clapper’s involvement in the N.S.A. review announced on August 12 is for “administrative reasons, because the panel would need security clearance and access to material” (MacAskill, August 13, 2013). Although the group is supposedly to include “outsiders,” suspicion as to the panel’s purported independence remains warranted, however, as she states, “The panel members are being selected by the White House, in consultation with the intelligence community” (Hayden, quoted in MacAskill, August 13, 2013). The American Civil Liberties Union notes that Clapper’s “press release didn’t even mention privacy or the constitution” (MacAskill). The group will meet for the first time on September 9 (Ackerman, September 12, 2013).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Brazil to explain that N.S.A. spying in Brazil is necessary to “combat terrorism.” Brazilian officials angrily reject the claim. Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said, “We need to stop practices that violate the sovereignty (of nations), relations of trust between states and individual liberties.” The Brazilian newspaper O Globo had reported that the N.S.A. was sweeping up vast quantities of “Brazilian public and private communications involving military, energy and commercial secrets” (Saxena, August 14, 2013). About a month later, it becomes clear that the Brazilian government has not been mollified by the Obama administration’s efforts to defend the N.S.A. programs as “Brazil took the extraordinary step Tuesday of putting off a state visit [to Washington] by President Dilma Rousseff” (Pecquet, September 17, 2013).

August 16, 2013

In a report published by the New York Times, John DeLong, the N.S.A. director of compliance, dismissed a leaked audit showing that there had been 2,776 violations of privacy rules, which are supposed to protect people in the U.S., in a single year as “extremely low compared with its overall activities. . . . [B]y comparison, he said, the agency performs about 20 million such queries a month” (Savage, August 16, 2013). However, Senators Rob Wyden and Mark Udall called the report “just the tip of a larger iceberg” (Lesniewski, August 16, 2013).

August 18, 2013

British authorities detain and interrogate Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, who may have been ferrying encrypted data between Laura Poitras and Greenwald, at Heathrow airport for nearly nine hours, the maximum allowable time under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000. “According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last under an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.” Miranda was not permitted access to a lawyer and “officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles” (Guardian, August 18, 2013). In a furious column, Greenwald (August 18, 2013), a former constitutional lawyer in the U.S., notes:

The stated purpose of this law, as the name suggests, is to question people about terrorism. The detention power, claims the UK government, is used "to determine whether that person is or has been involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism."

But they obviously had zero suspicion that David was associated with a terrorist organization or involved in any terrorist plot. Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, the Guardian and I are doing, as well the content of the electronic products he was carrying. They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism: a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop "the terrorists", and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name.

In fact, the British government will claim Miranda’s actions “fall[] within the definition of terrorism” (quoted in Hosenball, November 2, 2013):

Miranda filed a lawsuit over his treatment at Heathrow. At a hearing, a document called a “Ports Circulation Sheet” was read into the record from Scotland Yard. The document was written in consultation with the MI5 counterintelligence agency and states that “Intelligence indicates that Miranda is likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security.” That is of course an absurd conclusion since they knew of his connection to Greenwald. However, the document then includes the following line: “Additionally the disclosure, or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism…” (Turley, November 4, 2013)

The following day, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (August 19, 2013), decrying the incident, reveals (quoting at length):

A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."

During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian's reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government's intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?

The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. "We can call off the black helicopters," joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won't do it in London. The seizure of Miranda's laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald's work. (Rusbridger, August 19, 2013)

I notice that after this date, the number of journalism operations reporting on the Snowden revelations increases significantly. I do not have the evidence to conclude cause and effect, but after the fiasco with Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane and the Guardian incidents, it occurs to me that Greenwald and Poitras or the Guardian may have thought it prudent to share the Snowden documents among more journalists.

August 20, 2013

The Wall Street Journal reports that the N.S.A. taps into telecommunication providers covering “roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic. . . . In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology” (Gorman & Valentino-DeVries, August 20, 2013). The N.S.A. superficially denies the report. Trevor Timm (August 29, 2013), at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, parses what might be called a “non-denial denial” this way:

If you read the statement quickly, it seems like the NSA is disputing the WSJ story. But on careful reading, they actually do not deny any of it. As we’ve shown before, often you have to carefully parse NSA statements to root out deception and misinformation, and this statement is no different. They’ve tried to deflect an accurate story with their same old word games. Here’s a breakdown:

The NSA does not sift through and have unfettered access to 75% of United States online communications...The report leaves readers with the impression that the NSA is sifting through as much as 75% of the United States online communications, which is simply not true.

Of course, the Wall Street Journal never says the NSA “sifts through” 75% of US communications. They reported the NSA’s system “has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic.” The NSA's new term “sift” is undefined, but regardless of what the NSA is doing or not doing to 75% of Americans’ emails, they do have the technical capacity to search through it for key words—which they do not deny. (Timm, August 29, 2013)

August 23, 2013

The Wall Street Journal reports that N.S.A. officers have, in “a handful of cases in the last decade,” turned the agency’s capabilities on “love interests” (Gorman, August 23, 2013):

In the wake of revelations last week that NSA had violated privacy rules on nearly 3,000 occasions in a one-year period, NSA Chief Compliance Officer John DeLong emphasized in a conference call with reporters last week that those errors were unintentional. He did say that there have been “a couple” of willful violations in the past decade. He said he didn’t have the exact figures at the moment. (Gorman, August 23, 2013)

The story quotes a number of officials, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, minimizing the number of violations. However, “it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT” (Gorman, August 23, 2013).

September 1, 2013

Der Spiegel (September 1, 2013) reports that the N.S.A. has successfully breached the network of France’s foreign ministry. In addition, N.S.A. technicians bugged French diplomatic offices in Washington, D.C., and at the United Nations in New York City. This follows revelations in early July that the N.S.A. had targeted the French embassy in Washington, D.C., which had led “French President François Hollande [to] threaten[] [to] suspend negotiations for a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement” (Spiegel).

September 4, 2013

In response to a court order, the Department of Justice agrees to

release hundreds of pages of documents, including FISA court opinions, related to the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the law the NSA has relied upon for years to mass collect the phone records of millions of innocent Americans. . . . For most of the duration of the lawsuit, the government fought tooth and nail to keep every page of its interpretations secret, even once arguing it should not even be compelled to release the number of pages that their opinions consisted of. It was not until the start of the release of documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that the government’s position became untenable and the court ordered the government to begin the declassification review process. (Timm, September 5, 2013)

The National Rifle association files an amicus brief in support of an American Civil Liberties suit challenging the N.S.A. phone metadata collection program (Howley, September 4, 2013).

“I reached out to [the NRA] because I didn’t think they were aware of it, and they weren’t,” said Laura Murphy, the ACLU’s head lobbyist in its Washington office. Murphy said she showed the group FBI training manuals on how to collect firearm records.

“If we’re working with an organization and we can agree on one narrow principled objective, even if we disagree 90 percent of the time, we’ll find a way to work together. … [W]hen it comes to developing strategic alliances, both of our organizations are very sophisticated,” Murphy said. (Wilson, November 2, 2013)

September 5, 2013

The Guardian and New York Times report that the N.S.A. and the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (G.C.H.Q.) agency are breaking secure socket layer (SSL) communications on the web. SSL is used to encrypt communications “to protect the privacy of . . . personal data, online transactions, and emails.” (When a user visits a site with the https protocol, appearing as https:// at the beginning of a uniform resource locator [URL] or web address, that user is using SSL. SSL is also used in numerous other web communications, including, optionally, to secure email transmission.) It appears the agencies have done this by weakening encryption standards, thereby increasing the vulnerability of encrypted traffic to brute force attacks; the brute force attacks on encrypted traffic itself (Ball, Borger, & Greenwald, September 5, 2013); “hacking into companies’ computer servers” to obtain private keys (Perlroth, Larson, & Shane, September 5, 2013); and in “collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers themselves.” The last of these apparently includes the introduction of “secret vulnerabilities – known as backdoors or trapdoors – into commercial encryption software” (Ball, Borger, & Greenwald, September 5, 2013). These reports will be supplemented on September 9 with a Brazilian report that the N.S.A. is employing “Man-In-The-Middle” attacks to defeat SSL traffic (Gallagher, September 9, 2013; Harkinson, September 12, 2013; Schneier, September 13, 2013).

September 7, 2013

Der Spiegel reveals that nearly all smartphone information is accessible to the National Security Agency. “Apps,” programs which add to the devices’ functionality, often require more permissions than are required for their advertised functions. Apparently, the N.S.A. can often exploit vulnerabilities in these programs to retrieve data (Spiegel, September 7, 2013; Rosenbach, Poitras, & Stark, September 9, 2013).

The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration won permission from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court in 2011 to enable the N.S.A. to collect data on people in the U.S. without a warrant (Nakashima, September 7).

September 9, 2013

A Brazilian television show, Fantastico, reveals documents that show the N.S.A. uses “man-in-the-middle” (MITM) attacks to decrypt the type of web traffic (SSL) that protects commercial transactions and much private information. MITM works by intercepting traffic and impersonating the intended receiver. Presumably, the N.S.A. would have had to obtain an intermediate certificate from a certificate authority recognized by most web browsers in order to succeed in this attack. This certificate would enable the agency to issue its own certificates impersonating legitimate sites, which would be recognized by users’ web browsers as legitimate, and their traffic would then be encrypted for the keys associated with those certificates. This means the agency does not need to “break” or “crack” the encryption. Apparently Petrobras, Brazil’s state-run oil producer; Riyad Bank in Saudi Arabia; Huawei, a Chinese technology firm; and Google were targets. This revelation is also significant because it appears to show the N.S.A. engaged in commercial or economic espionage, an area of endeavor it has denied being engaged in (Gallagher, September 9, 2013; Harkinson, September 12, 2013; Schneier, September 13, 2013).

The review group on intelligence and communications technologies, announced by Obama and Clapper on August 12 meets for the first time. “But two attendees of the Monday meeting said the discussion was dominated by the interests of major technology firms, and the session did not address making any substantive changes to the controversial mass collection of Americans' phone data and foreigners' internet communications, which can include conversations with Americans” (Ackerman, September 12, 2013).

September 10, 2013

Documents are posted on the Director of National Intelligence’s web site showing that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge reprimanded the N.S.A. in March, 2009, “for violating its own procedures and misleading the . . . court.” This is the second instance that has “come to light since the disclosure of thousands of N.S.A. documents by Edward J. Snowden . . . began this summer” (Shane, September 10, 2013). The court has been repeatedly criticized for being a “rubber stamp” for the agency, because its proceedings are held in secret, and because there is no advocate to oppose N.S.A. requests.

September 11, 2013

The Guardian reports that the N.S.A. shares “raw” (unfiltered) data with Israel and trusts Israel’s security services to protect the privacy of U.S. residents (Greenwald, Poitras, & MacAskill, September 11, 2013).

September 16, 2013

Der Spiegel reports “that the NSA monitors a significant share of international money transfers, including bank and credit card transactions,” accumulating SWIFT transactions along with credit card data on a database named “Tracfin” (Schmitz, September 18, 2013; see also Poitras, Rosenbach, & Stark, September 16, 2013). A number of European politicians object, insisting that consumer privacy must be protected, and some demand that the SWIFT agreement should be suspended (Schmitz). Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has apparently said the program is “to provide ‘the US and our allies early warning of international financial crises which could negatively impact the global economy’” (Clapper, quoted in Schmitz).

September 26, 2013

Senator Diane Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, announces in a public hearing that she and Senator Saxby Chambliss are working on “a bill that would ‘change but preserve’ the once-secret National Security Agency program that is keeping logs of every American’s phone calls.” Among other provisions, the bill would modestly increase reporting requirements and legalize N.S.A. wiretapping in the U.S. without a warrant “for up to a week while [the agency] seeks court permission” (Savage, September 26, 2013).

September 28, 2013

The New York Times reports that the N.S.A. has been “graphing” social connections of people in the U.S. based on the accumulated information in its databases (Risen & Poitras, September 28, 2013). Although the article does not explicitly draw the connection, this would include data gathered with the Prism program that not only taps into Internet backbone cables but into major technology company databases, exposing a substantial amount of email and social network data (Washington Post, July 29, 2013).

The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners. (Risen & Poitras, September 28, 2013)

An unnamed N.S.A. spokesperson responds that “[a]ll data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period” (Risen & Poitras, September 28, 2013).

October 2, 2013

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy questions N.S.A. director General Keith Alexander about claims that collected bulk phone records had foiled several terrorist plots:

“There is no evidence that [bulk] phone records collection helped to thwart dozens or even several terrorist plots,” said Leahy. The Vermont Democrat then asked the NSA chief to admit that only 13 out of a previously cited 54 cases of foiled plots were genuinely the fruits of the government’s vast dragnet surveillance systems:

“These weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all foiled,” Leahy said, asking Alexander, “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”

“Yes,” replied Alexander. (Lennard, October 2, 2013)

Leahy’s phrasing seems weak. According to a skeptical article in the Christian Science Monitor, Alexander had previously claimed that “NSA collection of US phone metadata and snooping on the Internet traffic of foreign terrorism suspects has helped prevent 50 terrorist attacks in 20 countries.” The inclusion both of “phone metadata and . . . Internet traffic of foreign terrorism suspects” (Grier, June 18, 2013) is both broader than indicated in Leahy’s initial reference only to phone metadata and narrower than the full scope that has been revealed of the agency’s “vast dragnet surveillance systems” (Lennard, October 2, 2013). As a result, we still do not know how effective, if at all, these programs are.

N.S.A. director General Keith Alexander also testified that the agency had tested a program “to monitor the precise location of Americans through their cell phones.” In response to a question from Senator Ted Cruz, he said, “I would just say that this may be something that is a future requirement for the country, but it is not right now, because when we identify a number, we can give that to the FBI” (Lewis, August 2, 2013). There is no explanation for why Alexander would be contemplating a contingency in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation ceased to exist or ceased to cooperate with the N.S.A.

October 8, 2013

General Keith Alexander says in an interview that he wants greater powers to “defend Wall Street” (quoted in S. Harris, October 8, 2013), other businesses, and “critical sectors of the economy” against a cyberattack. Apparently, the N.S.A. has to get approval from the secretary of defense and the president before launching a pre-emptive “offensive” attack and it would seem that Alexander wants the authority to act on his own. Further, he wants to “install monitoring equipment on the networks of banks” (S. Harris).

October 15, 2013

The Washington Post reports that the N.S.A. collects millions of address books from email and chat accounts, at least in part by way of the Prism program. Many of these belong to U.S. residents (Gellman & Soltani, October 15, 2013).

October 20, 2013

Der Spiegel reports that “[t]he NSA has been systematically eavesdropping on the Mexican government for years. It hacked into the president's public email account and gained deep insight into policymaking and the political system” (Glüsing, Poitras, Rosenbach, & Stark, October 20, 2013).

October 21, 2013

Le Monde reports that in a one-month period, the N.S.A. recorded  metadata on over 70 million phone calls and that “this surveillance system also picks up SMS messages and their content using key words” (Follorou & Greenwald, October 21, 2013). French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius summons the U.S. ambassor. “The White House conceded . , , that revelations about how its intelligence agencies have intercepted enormous amounts of French phone traffic raised ‘legitimate questions for our friends and allies’” (Lewis & Chrisafis, October 21, 2013). A similar report will appear, in which the Spanish government summons the U.S. ambassador in that country, over a report in El Mundo indicating that “the NSA had recently tracked over 60 million calls in Spain in the space of a month” (Hamilos, October 28, 2013; White, Pinedo, & Rucinski, October 28, 2013).

Cryptoseal Privacy, a virtual private network service (which can be used to disguise the origin of Internet traffic by routing it over an encrypted channel by way of a remote server), shuts down its consumer service “rather than risk government intrusions that could cost the company money in legal fees and threaten user privacy” (Brodkin, October 21, 2013). The move follows a complete shutdown by Lavabit, an encrypted email service  (Levison, August 8, 2013; Lord, August 8, 2013; Spiegel, August 9, 2013).

October 24, 2013

The Guardian reports that the National Security Agency solicited contact information from “senior officials in its ‘customer’ departments” in order to target “leading foreign politicians” for electronic surveillance. Apparently, “one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named. These were immediately ‘tasked’ for monitoring by the NSA” (Ball, October 24, 2013).

L’Espresso reports that,

U.S. and British intelligence services monitored Italian telecommunications, targeting the government and companies as well as suspected terrorist groups. . . . U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta Wednesday that the United States was working to "find the right balance between protecting the security and privacy of our citizens" and that consultations with partners, including Italy, would continue. (Al Jazeera, October 24, 2013)

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called US President Barack Obama to demand an explanation after secret service reports appeared to show that US intelligence agencies had tapped her mobile phone for years” (Paterson, Usborne, & McDonald-Gibson, October 24, 2013). Obama, according to White House spokesperson Jay Carney, denied that the surveillance was occurring and Carney categorically denies that Merkel’s communications are or will be monitored. Der Spiegel, working with material obtained from Snowden, had asked the German security services about the evidence, but it is Bild am Samstag that first publishes an image of “a supposed NSA text snippet dated 2002” that appears to show Merkel to have been a target for NSA surveillance (Deutschewelle, October 27, 2013; see also Smale, Eddy, & Sanger, October 27, 2013). Some notice that the denials omit the possibility that such surveillance may have occurred in the past. Also, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle summons U.S. Ambassador John Emerson to express concern. The move is considered unusual among “close allies” (Appelbaum, Stark, Rosenbach, & Schindler, October 23, 2013; Boghani, October 24, 2013; British Broadcasting Corporation, October 24, 2013; Deutschewelle, October 27, 2013; Paterson, Usborne, & McDonald-Gibson, October 24, 2013). Arriving at a European Union summit, Merkel is quoted saying, “Spying between friends, that's just not done” (Spiegel, October 24, 2013). “‘It is impossible to negotiate when the other side of the table knows all the strategy,’ [Claudia Roth, the outgoing co-leader of the German Green Party] said, adding that the allegations, if proven, are a more extreme invasion of privacy than those imagined in George Orwell's 1984.” Numerous other politicians, in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, also express similar outrage (Wilder, October 24, 2013). Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert says,

The federal chancellor spoke with President Obama today by telephone. She made it clear that, if the indications prove to be correct, she unequivocally disapproves of such practices, and considers them totally unacceptable. Among friends and partners, like the Federal Republic of Germany and the US have been for decades, such surveillance of communication of heads of government should not take place. This would be a grave breach of trust. Such practices must immediately be put to a stop. (Fischer, October 24, 2013)

The Guardian also reports that the N.S.A. “monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department.” It is not clear which countries are involved, “[b]ut the memo acknowledges that eavesdropping on the numbers had produced ‘little reportable intelligence’” (Ball, October 24, 2013). Because the countries are unnamed, the number may or may not include reported spying on Roman Catholic Cardinals in a conclave to elect Archbishop Bergoglio as pope (Day, October 30, 2013; Reuters, October 31, 2013).

"I think it’s wrong that that [sic] newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000—whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these—you know it just doesn’t make sense," [General Keith] Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department's "Armed With Science" blog.

"We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policymakers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on," the NSA director declared. (Gerstein, October 24, 2013)


October 25, 2013

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande have demanded talks with the US by the end of the year over allegations that their phone calls were intercepted by Washington.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Belgian prime Minister Elio Di Rupo express support for Merkel’s and Hollande’s position. European Parliament President Martin Schulz calls the spying “out of control,” recommending a delay in negotiations on a trans-Atlantic free trade deal (McDonald-Gibson, October 25, 2013). A question that should be asked about any such negotiation is how any resulting agreement can meaningfully be enforced.

Glenn Greenwald (October 25, 2013) notes that for all the anger now being expressed, 1) Merkel, along with other German leaders, “reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted;” 2) that for all their outrage, European leaders still have not offered Snowden, who brought these privacy violations to light, asylum; and 3) that the claim that all this spying is about protecting the U.S. from terrorism is now patently specious. It is unnecessary to defend Greenwald’s claims, but additional evidence has arisen since he wrote this particular column that amplifies two of his points. First, President Obama has suggested he may ban spying on allied leaders, and Senator Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a normally reliable backer of N.S.A. spying, has expressed outrage at the revelation that Merkel’s cell phone was targeted. Feinstein has promised a thorough review of the agency’s practices (Agence France-Presse, October 28, 2013; Landler & Sanger, October 29, 2013; Lewis & Ackerman, October 28, 2013; Turley, October 29, 2013), prompting an unnamed N.S.A. official to tell Foreign Policy, “We’re really screwed now” (S. Harris & J. Hudson, October 28). As Greenwald might note, neither Obama nor Feinstein have reacted with anything like this alacrity as revelation after revelation has emerged, over a period of months, on intrusions on the privacy of ordinary people. Second, European leaders are failing to pass legislation to protect the privacy of their own citizens, in part due to lobbying from, of all entities, the United States (Higgins & Kanter, October 29, 2013).

[A]s usual, Feinstein is not particularly concerned about average people or their rights. It is the leaders (like herself) that concerns [sic] her: “Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers.” (Turley, October 29, 2013)

While Feinstein may indeed launch her investigation, for whatever good it may do, she continues to advance legislation that would largely preserve N.S.A. mass spying operations (Agence France-Presse and Reuters, November 1, 2013; J. Hudson & Harris, October 31, 2013).

October 27, 2013

A Bild am Samstag report “flatly contradicted the suggestion that Mr Obama had not known” of N.S.A. spying on Merkel’s cell phone. Citing apparently unnamed U.S. intelligence sources, the report claims that General Keith Alexander briefed Obama on the operation in 2010. “Obama did not halt the operation, but rather let it continue.” The N.S.A. denies the report (Paterson & Usborne, October 27). In an interview, “White House security veteran Michael Allen” will explain that senior White House officials would need to know how intelligence was gathered in order to evaluate it. He therefore believes that they would have known (Hujer, November 5, 2013).

Representative Mike Rogers, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, claims that Europeans should be “applauding and popping Champagne corks” (Rogers, quoted in Knowlton, October 27, 2013) about N.S.A. programs intended to protect them, that the programs were misunderstood and “badly misrepresented” (Knowlton). Rogers denies the report (see Lewis & Chrisafis, October 21, 2013) that 70 million French phone calls were monitored as “100 percent wrong” (Rogers, quoted in Knowlton).

October 28, 2013

British Prime Minister David Cameron calls upon the Guardian to “demonstrate some social responsibility” and stop reporting Snowden’s “damaging” leaks, lest the government feel compelled to take legal action (Watt, October 28, 2013; see also Greenwald, August 18, 2013; Guardian, August 18, 2013; Rusbridger, August 19, 2013). A coalition of 70 human rights organizations will formally respond “that the United Kingdom government's response to the revelations of mass surveillance of digital communications is eroding fundamental human rights in the country” (quoted in Taylor & Hopkins, November 3, 2013).

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, “Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these [unnamed current and former U.S. intelligence] officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with close allies” (Dilanian & Stobart, October 28, 2013). The next day, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies to the House Intelligence Committee that the White House had been informed of overseas operations. He and N.S.A. director General Keith Alexander deny, in the New York Times’ paraphrase, “that the agency was a rogue institution, trawling for information on ordinary citizens and leaders of America’s closest allies, without the knowledge of its Washington overseers.” Alexander repeats denials that, again in the Times’ paraphrase, “the N.S.A. had vacuumed up tens of millions of telephone calls in France, Italy and Spain” (Landler & Schmidt, October 29, 2013).

October 30, 2013

The Washington Post reports that the N.S.A. has broken into the private networks that exchange data within the private corporate networks of Yahoo! and Google. Because the data centers are located internationally, the N.S.A. can bypass restrictions on its activity by tapping into the networks at points outside U.S. borders. Because the data shared through these networks includes that of people in the U.S., a portion of the data the N.S.A. collects is that of people in the U.S. “In order for the data centers to operate effectively, they synchronize high volumes of information about account holders. Yahoo’s internal network, for example, sometimes transmits entire e-mail archives — years of messages and attachments — from one data center to another” (Gellman & Soltani, October 30, 2013). The companies reportedly react with fury and repeat their denials that they allow the agency access to their databases (Rushe, Ackerman, & Ball, October 30, 2013; Miller, October 31, 2013). Bruce Schneier (October 31, 2013) argues that “you have to assume that all the other major -- and many of the minor -- cloud services are compromised this same way. That means Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Badoo, Dropbox, and on and on and on.”

The N.S.A. denies the Washington Post story four times after its publication, but in at least some cases evasively. The Post will publish more evidence backing its claims on November 4th (Gellman, Soltain, & Peterson, November 4, 2013).

“The United Nations says it has received assurances from the U.S. government that U.N. communications networks ‘are not and will not be monitored’ by American intelligence agencies” (Voice of America, October 30, 2013). However, it seems that the U.S. has done so in the past (Shane, November 2, 2013).

October 31, 2013

House Intelligence Committee Chairperson Mike Rogers apparently considers it self-evident that “you can’t have your privacy violated if you don’t know your privacy is violated” (Rogers, quoted Masnick, October 30, 2013).

“Hans-Christian Ströbele, the longest serving member of the [German] parliamentary committee that oversees German intelligence” meets with Edward Snowden in Moscow about the possibility of Snowden testifying in the German investigation of N.S.A. spying in Germany (A. Hudson, October 31, 2013). A condition of Snowden’s asylum is that he cannot “cross Russian borders” (Kucherena, quoted in British Broadcasting Corporation, November 1, 2013) and if he came, Germany would have to either risk its relations with the U.S. by granting temporary asylum or by refusing to extradite him (Paterson, November 1, 2013).

Serious consideration seems to have been given to the idea. “Gregor Gysi, parliamentary leader of the Left, said Germany should include Snowden in its witness protection scheme so he could speak before the committee” (A. Hudson, October 31, 2013). “If the message is that Mr Snowden wants to give us information then we'll gladly accept that. . . . We will find a way, if Mr Snowden is willing to talk” (Friedrich, quoted in British Broadcasting Corporation) and it seems apparent that there is a great deal of interest in Germany in Snowden’s possible testimony (Paterson, November 1, 2013).

As of this writing however, the German government has expressed an unwillingness to jeopardize its relations with the United States and therefore will not bring Snowden to Germany, so it appears likely that if he testifies, he would do so from Russian soil (Deutschewelle, November 6, 2013; New York Times, October 31, 2013).

Following a visit by German diplomats to Washington, D.C., “to express anger over surveillance of Chancellor Angela merkel’s phone” (Fischer & Schmitz, October 31, 2013),  Jan Philipp Albrecht, one of the German participants, speaks of the Obama administration saying, “They seemed almost helpless, as if they’d become obsessed” (Albrecht, quoted in Fischer & Schmitz). The meeting appears to have yielded little progress (Fischer and Schmitz, October 31, 2013).


Once upon a time there was a proverb about finding a needle in a haystack. The point of the proverb was to highlight the near impossibility of the task. Yet General Keith Alexander has emphasized the necessity of getting the entire “haystack” in order to find the “needle” and the agency apparently believes this is feasible (Gellman & Soltani, October 15, 2013; Glüsing, Poitras, Rosenbach, & Stark, October 20, 2013). The odd thing in a re-reading of Scott Shane’s (November 2, 2013) analysis of the N.S.A.’s predicament is that if one measures success of the agency’s programs in terms of specific violent “terrorist” incidents prevented, Shane and, presumably, government officials are unable or unwilling to cite specific successes. The evidence of the foiled New York City subway bombing plot earlier cited has already been discredited (Goldman & Apuzzo, June 11, 2013). In contrast, Shane lists some specific failures. It seems instead that success for the agency has largely come to be measured in terms of adding yet more “hay” to an already mountainous “haystack” to find “needles” in.

Further, while I await specific evidence that the agency performs “data mining” in the sense that I learned the term, that is, trawling its massive databases for correlations in superficial quantitative data that may well be spurious rather than significant, thus flagging otherwise unsuspected names, I remain concerned that the agency will do so, bringing the full wrath of the U.S. government to bear on innocent people. Even neglecting a long and dreadful history of treatment of subaltern groups, trust in decision makers’ willingness or ability to use such information judiciously is undermined by an overly broad definition of terrorism that seems to sweep up journalism, activism, and expressions of dissent in multiple forms (Black & Black, 2004; Sorenson, 2011; Watson, 2004; Turley, November 4, 2013); a “war on terror,” whether we call it that or not, that, lacking a specific enemy, seems calculated to last forever; the treatment of migrant communities in the wake of the 9/11 attacks (Nguyen, 2005); and a heavy-handed police response to the Occupy movement (Democracy Now!, October 10, 2013; Gould, November 21, 2011; P. Harris, October 22, 2011; Mann, October 23, 2011; Slosson, May 2, 2012), that the Federal Government appears to have helped coordinate (Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, March 21, 2012; Wolf, December 1, 2011).

The polices adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecy, repression and release-restrictions at the camp; minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees. (Greenwald, January 4, 2013)

Instead, it is the state of the White House mind found by German diplomats on their visit to protest the tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone that I find revealing:

“They seemed almost helpless, as if they’d become obsessed,” says Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green Party MEP and one of the participants in the meeting. “The US government representatives honestly looked like they didn't know what to do. And they left no room for doubt that more spying revelations are to be expected.” The odd exchange is an accurate reflection of the mood in Washington. (Fischer & Schmitz, October 31, 2013)

Even as reform seems inevitable (Shane, November 2, 2013), and perhaps because General Keith Alexander may have too much influence within the Obama administration (Sasso, November 4, 2013), N.S.A. defenders seem unable to contemplate a future without the programs that collect so much “hay” for the mountainous “haystack,” programs for which they have no compelling defense.


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Timm, T. (2013, September 5). Hundreds of pages of NSA spying documents to be released as result of EFF lawsuit. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/09/hundreds-pages-nsa-spying-documents-be-released-result-eff-lawsuit

Turley, J. (2013, June 18). Doublethinking transparency: Obama proclaims secret NSA program entirely 'transparent' to a secret court. Retrieved from http://jonathanturley.org/2013/06/18/doublethinking-transparency-obama-proclaims-secret-nsa-program-entirely-transparent-to-a-secret-court-with-secret-legal-interpretations-and-known-only-to-his-administration/

Turley, J. (2013, October 29). Feinstein: I will investigate the NSA ... to protect foreign leaders. Retrieved from http://jonathanturley.org/2013/10/29/feinstein-i-will-investigate-the-nsa-to-protect-foreign-leaders/

Turley, J. (2013, November 4). English officials accuse Greenwald’s partner of “terrorism” in transporting Snowden documents. Retrieved from http://jonathanturley.org/2013/11/04/english-officials-accuse-greenwalds-partner-of-terrorism-in-transporting-snowden-documents/

Twitter. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://twitter.com/

Walker, S., & Saul, H. (2013, July 3). Edward Snowden saga: Bolivia accuses Europe of 'kidnapping' Bolivian president in forcing Evo Morales' plane to land in Vienna. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/ americas/edward-snowden-saga-bolivia-accuses-europe-of-kidnapping-bolivian-president-in-forcing-evo-morales-plane-to-land-in-vienna-8682610.html

Washington Post. (2013, June 29). NSA slides explain the PRISM data-collection program. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/prism-collection-documents/

Washington Post. (2013, July 10). NSA, privacy and Edward Snowden. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/ 2013/07/24/National-Politics/Polling/release_254.xml

Watkins, A. & Landay, J. S. (2013, July 31). Documents show NSA violated court orders on collection of phone records. McClatchy. Retrieved from http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/31/198229/documents-show-nsa-violated-court.html

Watson, P. (2004). ALF and ELF — Terrorism is as terrorism does. In S. Best & A. J. Nocella II (Eds.), Terrorists or freedom fighters? Reflections on the liberation of animals (pp. 279-287). New York: Lantern.

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Update, November 22, 2013: The controversy in Germany has not gone away and may be both widening and intensifying.1 The Snowden leaks have continued and more information has come to light, principally about wider participation among the "Five Eyes," that is, the intelligence agencies of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.2 In addition, there have been two developments that are particularly significant to this timeline. First, the email collection program said to have been discontinued for "operational and resource reasons"3 (these reasons apparently being adverse rulings from the FISA court4) has in fact been continued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which actually runs many domestic collection efforts and argues that it has legal authority to do so without warrants. Shane Harris writes, "When the media and members of Congress say the NSA spies on Americans, what they really mean is that the FBI helps the NSA do it, providing a technical and legal infrastructure that permits the NSA, which by law collects foreign intelligence, to operate on U.S. soil."5 Along these lines, it seems that metadata is not just metadata; the definition has expanded.6

Second, some technology companies are reacting to the scandal by encrypting their data. They fear impacts on their bottom lines if users come to believe that they cannot be trusted to guard their privacy.7 Cisco's earnings are said to have taken a hit, for which this scandal is being blamed, and other companies are expected to suffer as well.8 Cell phone providers, however, are facing pressure from concerned shareholders; their position is compromised by a need to appear cooperative in order to obtain radio frequency spectrum from the government.9

Update, November 23, 2013: As I was finishing this timeline, Scott Shane at the New York Times published an article in which it appears that for the NSA,10 as I write below, "success for the agency has largely come to be measured in terms of adding yet more ‘hay’ to an already mountainous ‘haystack’ to find ‘needles’ in." This is confirmed in another story in the Times, in which an agency plan to further expand its authority to snoop.11 Surely, this is madness of—I am not a psychologist—self-righteous, obsessive, and narcissistic kind.

But it is also apparent that the elites are coming to recognize that they have lost legitimacy.12 I write in an essay subsequent to the one from which this timeline is drawn, that "it may just be that the heavy-handed police response to the Occupy movement (Harris, October 22, 2011; Mann, October 23, 2011; Slosson, May 2, 2012; Solnit, November 22, 2011), a campaign of the putative 99 percent, against the putative one percent, may be understood in the context of a possible elite sense that their strategies to sow division among the '99 percent' may have backfired."13 It is possible that we should understand this "self-righteous, obsessive, and narcissistic" madness in this context as well.

Update, November 25, 2013:I have found some legal insight into the process of resisting an NSA order for private information. The FISA court may not quite be a "rubber stamp" for these orders, but in the understated words of one of the few lawyers with experience in this form of litigation, appeals are still an "uphill battle."14

In my remarks at the conclusion of this timeline, I write, "The odd thing in a re-reading of Scott Shane’s (November 2, 2013) analysis15 of the N.S.A.’s predicament is that if one measures success of the agency’s programs in terms of specific violent 'terrorist' incidents prevented, Shane and, presumably, government officials are unable or unwilling to cite specific successes." If anyone should have access to such information justifying these programs, one might suppose it would be senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee. But Senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich, all members of this committee, write in an op-ed for the New York Times,

We have yet to see any proof that it provides real, unique value in protecting national security. In spite of our repeated requests, the N.S.A. has not provided evidence of any instance when the agency used this program to review phone records that could not have been obtained using a regular court order or emergency authorization.16

Update, December 4, 2013: There is no sign of the Snowden revelations coming to an end any time soon and while Snowden has claimed that he did not bring any documents to Russia,17 advocates of these programs are worried not only about the releases yet to come, but the possibility that Snowden retains access to a "doomsday cache" stored on a "cloud" somewhere. If anyone has a clue where this cloud is hosted, they aren't saying.18

There is apparently a great deal more that could be published. Called before an unsympathetic parliamentary committee, the Guardian's chief editor gave a spirited defense of the paper's coverage of the Snowden revelations. Notably, he said he loved his country for its tradition of a free press.19 He also said

the paper had "made very selective judgments"' about what to publish from the files taken by Mr Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), and had not revealed the names of any officials.

"We have published I think 26 documents so far out of the 58,000 we've seen," he said. . . .

Mr Rusbridger told the committee: "There's stuff in there about Iraq, Afghanistan, we're not even going to look at it. That's not what Edward Snowden was doing when he wanted responsible journalists to go through this material.20

It is no longer plausible to believe that NSA programs have not gotten seriously out of hand, but the NSA planned to seek even greater power to snoop than it already has.21 Even without those powers, borrowing from Jay Edgar Hoover's old tricks, the agency apparently spied on a few targets' pornography habits and sought other incriminating evidence that could be used to discredit them.22 Further, fears continue to grow that technology companies will be harmed by overseas fears that "back doors" that enable NSA access are being included in hardware from U.S. manufacturers.23 But the Obama administration is keeping its "review" of the spying programs under wraps.24

Australia seems to be a particularly enthusiastic partner among the so-called "Five Eyes." Not only has the country, as noted above, endangered its apparently very important relationship with Indonesia, but it offered to share its citizens data with other members of the "Five Eyes."25 Australia's program, it seems, is just too good to give up,26 although evidence of actual success in preventing terrorist attacks seems just as absent as in the U.S. Naturally, the country's prime minister insists that it is all legal.27

NSA Director General Keith Alexander had previously testified that the agency had 'tested' a program to track cell phones.28 Apparently, they did more than 'test'. The program was supposedly intended against overseas targets, but some U.S. person data would have been "incidentally" collected, among that of five billion cell phones every day.29

Update, December 17, 2013: Further updates are incorporated in a blog posting here.