Posts Tagged National Security Agency
CIA Director John Brennan warned on Monday that the attacks in Paris claimed by the extremist Islamic State movement were not a “one-off event” and that the militants may have similar operations ready to launch.
Foiling those plots, however, could prove difficult because Europe’s intelligence and security resources are severely stretched trying to keep track of the hundreds of European extremists who have returned home from fighting in Syria and Iraq.
“A lot of our partners right now in Europe are facing a lot of challenges in terms of the numbers of individuals who have travelled to Syria and Iraq and back again, and so their ability to monitor and survey these individuals is under strain,” Brennan said.
Brennan’s comment at a Washington policy institute came as France, Belgium and other countries intensified a manhunt for suspects in Friday’s attacks on a concert hall, sports stadium, restaurants and bars in Paris that killed 129 people.
U.S. intelligence still hasn’t confirmed that the Islamic State was responsible, said Brennan. But, he added, the Paris attacks and the suspected bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt on Oct. 31 that killed all 224 passengers and crew aboard “bear the hallmarks” of the Islamist group.
The Islamic State, which threatened in a new video on Monday to attack in Washington, appears to have formed an external operations branch that may have readied follow-up strikes to the Paris attacks, he said.
“I would anticipate that this is not the only operation that ISIL has in the pipeline,” Brennan said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “And security intelligence services right now in Europe and other places are working feverishly to see what else they can do in terms of uncovering it.”
Careful planning for the Paris strikes is believed to have taken place over several months “in terms of making sure they had the operatives, the weapons, the explosives, the suicide belts,” Brennan said.
The attacks did not surprise the U.S. intelligence community, which had “strategic warning” that ISIL was planning to strike somewhere outside of the Middle East and was “looking at Europe in particular,” Brennan said.
“I certainly wouldn’t consider it (the Paris attacks) a one-off event,” he said.
One major problem is the huge burden that tracking extremists who’ve returned from Syria has imposed on resource-short European intelligence agencies, he said.
European officials estimate that as many as 5,000 Europeans have gone to fight in Syria since 2011. That number includes an estimated 1,400 French nationals, of whom some 900 have returned to France.
Moreover, between 10,000 and 20,000 individuals have been flagged by French authorities as potential security threats under a procedure known as an “S Notice,” said Roland Jacquard, a French counter-terrorism expert.
“We’re in a situation where the services are overrun. They expect something to happen, but don’t know where and you have to see how much stress they are under,” said Nathalie Goulet, the head of a French Senate investigation into jihadi networks.
Belgium, where investigators believe the Paris attacks were plotted, has been striving to keep track of more than 70 returnees from Syria. Officials estimate that 350 Belgium nationals have gone there to fight.
U.S. and European officials say that as many as two dozen to three dozen officers must work around the clock to keep a single suspect under full-time surveillance.
At least two men identified by French investigators as having carried out the Paris attacks were known to European and U.S. intelligence agencies before the carnage.
A Belgian man suspected of masterminding the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was identified in the New York Times in January as a prime suspect in a foiled plot to strike targets in Brussels. He also was known to U.S. spy agencies, said a U.S. government source.
Another problem confronting intelligence services is that militant groups have intensified their security measures as a result of “unauthorized disclosures,” said Brennan.
While he did not elaborate, Brennan may have been referring to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations of the agency’s massive communications monitoring operations and leaks of classified documents by Wikileaks.
After debate pitting Americans’ distrust of intrusive government against fears of terrorist attacks, the Senate voted to advance reform legislation that would replace the bulk phone records program revealed two years ago by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Although the Senate did not act in time to keep the program from expiring, the vote was at least a partial victory for Democratic President Barack Obama, who had pushed for the reform measure as a compromise addressing privacy concerns while preserving a tool to help protect the country from attack.
But final Senate passage was delayed until at least Tuesday by objections from Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican presidential hopeful who has railed against the NSA program as illegal and unconstitutional.
As a result, the government’s collection and search of phone records terminated at midnight when key provisions of a post-Sept. 11, 2001, law known as the USA Patriot Act expired.
In addition, U.S. law enforcement and security agencies will lose authority to conduct other programs.
Those allow for “roving wiretaps” aimed at terrorism suspects who use multiple disposable cell phones; permit authorities to target “lone wolf” suspects with no connection to specific terrorist groups, and make it easier to seize personal and business records of suspects and their associates.
Still, eventual resumption of the phone records program in another form, and the other government powers, appeared likely after the Senate voted 77-17 to take up the reform legislation, called the USA Freedom Act.
“This bill will ultimately pass,” Paul acknowledged after the procedural vote.
The Senate abruptly reversed course during a rare Sunday session to let the bill go ahead, after Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reluctantly acknowledged that Paul had stymied his efforts to extend the Patriot Act provisions.
Intelligence experts say a lapse of only a few days would have little immediate effect. The government is allowed to continue collecting information related to any foreign intelligence investigation that began before the deadline.
Obama strongly backed the Freedom Act, as have most Democrats. It passed the House of Representatives on May 13 by 338-88.
After the Senate adjourned, the White House issued a statement calling on the Senate to “put aside partisan motivations and act swiftly.”
The measure could face more debate in Congress. Republican Senator Richard Burr offered several amendments, including one to extend the existing program for 12 months to provide more time to adopt changes mandated by the Freedom Act.
That could be a problem for some House members, because it doubles the transition period in their version of the bill.
Republicans have been deeply divided on the issue. Security hawks wanted the NSA program to continue as is, and libertarians like Paul want to kill it altogether.
The Senate debate was angry.
Paul said the Patriot Act provisions wasted resources better spent targeting those planning attacks. He even accused some of his critics of wanting an attack on the United States “so they can blame it on me.”
McConnell accused Paul, his fellow Kentucky Republican, and other Patriot Act opponents of waging “a campaign of demagoguery and disinformation” based on revelations from Snowden “who was last seen in Russia.”
McConnell has endorsed Paul for president. But he wanted to extend the Patriot Act provisions, unchanged, for five years, and agreed only reluctantly to allow a vote on the Freedom Act despite what he called its “serious flaws.”
Several senators accused Paul of using the issue to raise money for his presidential campaign.
“He obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation,” Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, told reporters.
The Senate resumed consideration of the legislation at 4 p.m. EDT, just as security officials said they had to begin shutting down the NSA program to meet the deadline.
The Freedom Act would end spy agencies’ bulk collection of domestic telephone “metadata” and replace it with a more targeted system.
The records would be held by telecommunications companies, not the government, and the NSA would have to get court approval to gain access to specific data. Neither the current nor proposed new system gives the government access to the content of phone conversations.
Many civil liberties groups feel the Freedom Act does not go far enough in protecting privacy.
A review panel Obama established in 2013 concluded that the metadata collection program had not been essential to preventing any terrorist attack. Security officials counter that it provides important data they can combine with other intelligence to help stop attacks.
Ben Carson secured a hard-earned victory in the presidential straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, beating Scott Walker and Ted Cruz in a popularity contest among the conservative activists gathered for the three-day summit.
Carson and his supporters made a priority of winning the straw poll, which they hoped would demonstrate his strength among grassroots Republicans. Pro-Carson activists flooded the event, passing out literature and lobbying attendees to support him in the straw poll. His super PAC even purchased 100 tickets to the conference and re-sold them to activists at a cheaper price. “That certainly gave him an advantage,” said Bill Shapard, whose firm, SoonerPoll, conducted the survey.
Carson took 25.4 percent of the 958 votes cast, followed by Walker at 20.5 percent and Cruz at 16.6 percent. Both Carson and Walker addressed the conference and met with attendees, while Cruz had to skip his scheduled Friday night speech because of Senate votes held in Washington.
None of the other Republicans polled competitively. Chris Christie finished fourth with 5.3 percent, followed by Rick Perry at 5 percent and Jeb Bush at 4.9 percent. All three of those prospective candidates spoke here this week. Three others Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal finished at 4.1 percent each. Most surprising was Mike Huckabee, whose 2016 strategy relies heavily on performing well in the South. He finished in a distant 10th place, tied with Carly Fiorina at only 2.7 percent, possibly because he did not address the conference.
Straw polls are generally not accurate in forecasting success on the presidential campaign trail. And Oklahoma is not expected to play a major role in choosing the GOP nominee in 2016. Still, a survey of the most active conservative voters in one of America’s most conservative states Mitt Romney won each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties in 2012 gives an indication of which candidates are breaking through in Middle America.
“This is not supposed to have any kind of predictive value. The winner probably won’t wind up being president,” said Shapard. “But the straw poll shows which candidates are connecting with the party faithful.”
At the outset of the conference, the straw poll was shaping up to be a showdown between Carson and Cruz. They were the only two candidates with promotional booths at the conference, which were manned by supporters all weekend. (The pro-Carson booth was purchased and operated by super PAC staffers, though the candidate visited with supporters at the booth for an extended time on Saturday morning, and several people at the booth suggested that they had roles with Carson’s campaign.) Cruz also purchased a small number of tickets for supporters to attend the conference. But Cruz’s cancellation took some of the air out of the event. It also allowed Carson to speak to the conference twice once Saturday morning, and once Friday night, giving the keynote address to the Oklahoma GOP fundraising dinner in place of Cruz.
Walker actually won support from a plurality of Oklahomans who participated in the straw poll. But Carson won on his strength from voters in other states, namely Arkansas and Cruz’s home state of Texas.
The poll also asked attendees, among other things, to declare what set of issues social, fiscal, or national security are most important to them. A plurality, 46 percent, identified national security as their top priority, followed closely by economic issues at 40 percent.
Only 42 percent of attendees polled identified themselves as members of the tea party; Cruz won that segment of the vote. People who identified as social conservatives favored Carson, and economic-minded voters preferred Walker.
The poll capped a sleepy conference that saw three scheduled speakers Cruz, Rubio, and Lindsey Graham cancel their appearances due to votes on National Security Agency surveillance. More than 2,000 people registered to attend, organizers said, but the ballroom appeared half empty for many of the speeches. The only consistent source of energy was Carson, whose supporters fanned out across the conference passionately promoting his candidacy.
Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul Seized the Senate floor Wednesday to deliver an almost 11 hour-long protest against renewal of the Patriot Act, calling the post-Sept. 11 law government intrusion on Americans’ privacy.
Congress faces a June 1 deadline for the law’s expiration, and Paul’s speech underscored the deep divisions over the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, which was revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” the Kentucky senator said at 1:18 p.m. EDT when he took to the Senate floor. “That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”
He finished at 11:49 p.m., having not sat for more than 10 hours.
The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to end the bulk collection and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the Senate will act on the issue before beginning a Memorial Day recess scheduled for week’s end.
But McConnell, along with presidential hopefuls Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., favors extending the law and final congressional approval of the bill before the deadline is no certainty.
Paul plunged into a lengthy speech declaring the Patriot Act unconstitutional and opposing renewal of the program. With a hefty binder at his desk, he spelled out his objections, occasionally allowing Republican and Democratic senators to pose questions and getting support from a handful of House members seated at the back of the chamber.
“I don’t think we’re any safer looking at every American’s records,” Paul said.
Paul’s campaign sent out a fundraising appeal while his longstanding opposition to bulk collection, a pillar of his campaign, stirred social media.
Throughout the night, several Democratic senators and a few Republicans gave his voice occasional breaks by speaking several minutes to ostensibly ask him questions. Paul kept control by yielding for questions without “yielding the floor,” and by not sitting.
The surveillance issue has divided Republicans and Democrats, cutting across party lines and pitting civil libertarians concerned about privacy against more hawkish lawmakers fearful about losing tools to combat terrorism.
As Paul made his case, a Justice Department memo circulated on Capitol Hill warning lawmakers that the NSA will have to begin winding down its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by the end of the week if Congress fails to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
“After May 22, 2015, the National Security Agency will need to begin taking steps to wind down the bulk telephone metadata program in anticipation of a possible sunset in order to ensure that it does not engage in any unauthorized collection or use of the metadata,” the department said.
If Congress fails to act, several key provisions of the law would expire, including the bulk collection; a provision allowing so-called roving wiretaps, which the FBI uses for criminals who frequently switch cellphones; and a third that makes it easier to obtain a warrant to target a “lone wolf” terror suspect who has no provable links to a terrorist organization.
Last week, the House backed the USA Freedom Act, which would replace bulk collection with a system to search the data held by telephone companies on a case-by-case basis. The vote was 338-88, and House Republican and Democratic leaders have insisted the Senate act on their bill.
But McConnell and several other top Republicans prefer to simply reauthorize the post-Sept. 11 law. McConnell has agreed to allow a vote on the House bill, but has indicated there may not be enough votes to pass it in the Senate.
The Justice Department also said that if Congress allows the law to expire and then passes legislation to reauthorize it when lawmakers return to Washington the week of June 1, it would “be effective in making the authorities operative again, but may expose the government to some litigation risk in the event of legal challenge.”
The White House backs the House bill and has pressed for the Senate to approve the legislation and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The House bill is the result of outrage among Republicans and Democrats after Snowden’s revelations about the NSA program.
Although Paul called his action a filibuster, it technically fell short of Senate rules since the bill the Senate was considering was trade, not the Patriot Act.
President Barack Obama is speaking with introspection about constraints on his power at home and abroad, as mid-term election inertia stifles Washington and his hopes of major legislative wins this year.
Early skirmishes of the 2016 presidential campaign and the unquenchable media obsession with all things Clinton are already forcing Obama to share the political stage.
When power ebbs at home, second term presidents often flex muscle abroad.
But no overseas playground awaits Obama: in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, US dominance is under siege, fueling a Republican narrative that the president fires blanks and lacks a coherent foreign policy doctrine.
In friendly company, Obama’s frustration is beginning to show.
“I’ve got a drawer full of things that we know would create jobs, help our middle class, boost incomes, make us more competitive,” Obama told wealthy New York Democrats.
“But we have a party on the other side that has been captured by an ideology that says no to anything.”
The president’s gloom is partly self-inflicted.
Obama botched the rollout of his health care law and saw his approval ratings, and consequent power to persuade in mid-term polls eroded.
His administration is now struggling to contain a scandal after 40 military veterans died while waiting for treatment at a Phoenix medical facility.
The White House meanwhile blasts endless Republican probes into the death of four Americans in the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012 as blatant partisan hackery.
“What a year, huh?” Obama quipped at the White House Correspondent’s gala this month, in a speech packed with the usual zingers but delivered in an unmistakably joyless tone.
Top Obama aides say the president should not be judged on what he gets through a hostile Congress. That’s just as well because he has so far no major legacy-enhancing legislation in his second term.
With two and a half years to go, the president’s sense of his ebbing term is acute.
He warned this week that only a two- or three-month window remained to pass comprehensive immigration reform before November’s congressional polls. Given Capitol Hill’s record of achievement, that timetable seemed wildly optimistic.
Dreading lame duck status, Obama declared 2014 a “year of action” and is using executive power to fight climate change, boost the middle class and repair US infrastructure.
While presidential orders can be effective, they pale in comparison to what a like-minded Congress could do.
With Republicans tipped to add Senate control to their grip on the House of Representatives though, Obama is unlikely to ever again find compliance on Capitol Hill.
But hope still lingers for a bipartisan transportation bill and for legislation reframing National Security Agency surveillance in the post-Edward Snowden era this year.
A Republican Congress could also prove amenable to endorsing the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that is the centerpiece of Obama’s foreign policy pivot to Asia.
And if latest data showing nearly 300,000 jobs were created in April is a harbinger, Obama’s administration could yet enjoy an economic Indian summer.
Obama also has it tough overseas.
Often, his efforts to cool national security crises have revealed limits of his influence rather than his power to shape events.
Warnings to President Bashar al-Assad went unheard across Syria’s killing grounds and Secretary of State John Kerry’s personal Middle East peace push foundered.
And Obama’s rallying call to Europe to isolate Moscow over its annexation of Crimea is at best a work in progress, while prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran, a potential big win, remain deeply uncertain.
Still, Obama’s chief foreign policy legacy may rest in fulfilling a mandate voters gave him in 2008 — getting American troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
And he still has time to cement the rebalance to Asia, following a successful regional tour in April.
Increasingly, Obama seems to see the contradiction of his position.
“I have this remarkable title right now President of the United States, and yet every day when I wake up and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria… there are times I want to reach out and save those kids,” he said recently in California.
“I think ‘drop by drop’ that we can erode and wear down those forces that are so destructive.”
That may be a doctrine of US power forged by frustrating experience.
But it’s minimalist compared to Obama’s 2008 vision as an untested candidate in Berlin that “improbable hope” could “remake the world once again.”
The narrowed sights have not gone unnoticed.
“Instead of shaping world events, he has often simply reacted to them,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a possible 2016 candidate.
But Obama now sells incrementalism abroad defined by avoiding military quagmires as a virtue.
“That may not always be sexy. but it avoids errors,” he said in Manila last month, using the “disastrous” war in Iraq as a case study.
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein launched an attack on the Central Intelligence Agency, accusing it of searching computers used by staffers investigating CIA interrogation methods.
“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution,” Feinstein declared on the Senate floor.
She alleged that the CIA may have violated federal law as well as an executive order that bars it from domestic spying, but the agency’s director John Brennan quickly denied the allegations.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Brennan said at a Washington event, in a rare public rebuff of an elected official normally seen as an ally of the intelligence community.
“The matter is being dealt with in an appropriate way, being looked at by the right authorities, and the facts will come out.”
Feinstein said the CIA searched a computer drive used by intelligence committee staffers preparing a major report into a controversial and now defunct agency interrogation program.
The program had used “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, commonly regarded as torture, against detainees.
“I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers… was inappropriate,” the California Democrat said. “I have received neither.”
At the White House, President Barack Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney faced a barrage of questions about the allegations but dodged them all.
He said they were subject of an investigation by an independent CIA inspector general, and had been referred to the Justice Department.
“I can’t comment on allegations that are under review,” he said, adding that the White House took Feinstein’s concerns seriously but also saying that Obama had full confidence in Brennan.
Feinstein said she learned of the search on January 15 in an “emergency meeting” requested by Brennan.
Feinstein’s extraordinary speech marked a break from her usually cordial relations with the intelligence community, which she has often defended against accusations of overstepping its authority.
The senator’s comments came after unnamed administration officials alleged to news media that Senate staffers took sensitive documents without authority, triggering an investigation.
Feinstein rejected those accounts.
She said the CIA and the committee had agreed years ago to set up a secure site in Virginia for Senate staff to review documents, as well as a computer drive separate from the agency’s network.
The staffers reviewed 6.2 million documents and at no point did they seek to retrieve files that were marked classified or legally off-limits, she said.
Twice in 2010, documents that had been accessible to the staffers were removed by the CIA. Feinstein said that after she complained to the White House, the documents were provided again.
The report on detention and interrogation was completed in December 2012, when the committee approved a 6,300-page study that has yet to be released publicly.
Feinstein said a CIA internal review of the detention program was among the documents provided to her staff, but that CIA officials had demanded to know how staffers obtained the review.
The CIA has referred the matter to the Justice Department, a move Feinstein described as “a potential effort to intimidate this staff.”
Analysts say the Congress-CIA rift is the worst since the 1970s, when lawmakers uncovered illegal abuses and introduced legal reforms to restrict the power of the spy services.
Several lawmakers expressed concerns about the alleged CIA misdeeds and Republican Senator Rand Paul said Obama “should be more conscious of reining in this kind of abuse.”
The dispute follows the scandal sparked when security contractor Edward Snowden exposed the National Security Agency program that scoops up telephone data from most Americans.
Snowden, who has been given asylum in Russia, told reporters that “the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress.”
“That’s a serious constitutional concern,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union applauded Feinstein for her “necessary and historic defense of the constitutional principle of separation of powers.