Skip navigation

Tag Archives: government surveillance

Snowden: A Manifesto for the Truth

From:  http://meriksson.net/snowden-a-manifesto-for-the-truth

This article by Edward Snowden was published today in Der Spiegel. Since I could not find a translation online, I decided to publish one (suggestions for improvements are welcome). I previously published the full text in German.

In a very short time, the world has learned much about unaccountable secret agencies and about sometimes illegal surveillance programs. Sometimes the agencies even deliberately try to hide their surveillance of high officials or the public. While the NSA and GCHQ seem to be the worst offenders – this is what the currently available documents suggest – we must not forget that mass surveillance is a global problem in need of global solutions.

Such programs are not only a threat to privacy, they also threaten freedom of speech and open societies. The existence of spy technology should not determine policy. We have a moral duty to ensure that our laws and values limit monitoring programs and protect human rights.

Society can only understand and control these problems through an open, respectful and informed debate. At first, some governments feeling embarrassed by the revelations of mass surveillance initiated an unprecedented campaign of persecution to supress this debate. They intimidated journalists and criminalized publishing the truth. At this point, the public was not yet able to evaluate the benefits of the revelations. They relied on their governments to decide correctly.

Today we know that this was a mistake and that such action does not serve the public interest. The debate which they wanted to prevent will now take place in countries around the world. And instead of doing harm, the societal benefits of this new public knowledge is now clear, since reforms are now proposed in the form of increased oversight and new legislation.

Citizens have to fight suppression of information on matters of vital public importance. To tell the truth is not a crime.

This text was written by Edward Snowden on November 1, 2013 in Moscow. It was sent to SPIEGEL staff over an encrypted channel.

Advertisements

“Highly Redacted” Documents Confirm Michael Hastings Under FBI Investigation

FBI maintains files to “memorialize controversial reporting”

Julie Wilson
Infowars.com
September 10, 2013

Despite the FBI’s denial they were investigating Michael Hastings, newly released “heavily redacted” documents on the journalist prove otherwise. Al-Jazeera and FOIA research specialist, Ryan Shapiro, acquired the documents after he and journalist Jason Leopold filed a lawsuit against the FBI for neglecting to respond to their FOIA requests within the required 20 work day period.
MH4
Hastings suspiciously died when his Mercedes C250 Coupe reportedly crashed into a palm tree traveling 75 mph in Los Angeles last June. Just fifteen hours before his death, the 33-year old sent an email to a handful of close friends revealing he believed the FBI was after him for a story he was working on.

A few days after his death, WikiLeaks tweeted that Hastings contacted WikiLeaks’ lawyer Jennifer Robinson claiming the FBI was investigating him.

Prior to his death, Hastings was investigating CIA Director John Brennan and was set to release his report in Rolling Stone magazine in the following weeks. Infowars picked up a report from San Diego 6 News that cited a Stratfor email hacked by Wikileaks which described Brennan as being “behind the witch hunts of investigative journalists learning information from inside the beltway sources.”

The FBI’s investigation is so secret, even the title of the case file was withheld from the FOIA request. FBI documents reveal the agency considers Hastings’ work to be “highly sensitive.”

The FBI operated under exemptions when it redacted entire parts of the file, claiming it necessary to “protect national security.” The agency reportedly marked parts with “S” for secret and “Per Army” to conceal components of the file.

The documents also reveal the FBI opened a file that contained “unclassified media articles” in June 2012 in order to “memorialize controversial reporting by Rolling Stone magazine on June 7, 2012.”

Articles in the file included Hastings’ report entitled “America’s Last Prisoner of War,” a story about a 27-year old US soldier who was captured by the Taliban in 2009 while on deployment in Afghanistan. The soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, is still believed to be in captivity, according to Al-Jazeera.

The documents prompted a response from Rolling Stone’s managing editor, Will Dana, who admits he’s “concerned” and doesn’t understand the FBI’s interest in Hastings’ report.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said on June 21, “At no time was Michael Hastings under investigation by the FBI.” She stands by her statement claiming just because Hastings was referenced in an FBI file, does not mean he was the “subject” of an investigation.

A letter sent with the redacted documents said:

“A search of the FBI Headquarters electronic surveillance indices has been conducted, and no responsive record which indicates that Michael Hastings has ever been the target of electronic surveillance was located.”

Click here for the FBI’s redacted documents.

 

FBI gives telecom provider spying devices

Press TV
August 3, 2013
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is secretly pressurizing telecommunications providers into installing spying devices inside internal networks of companies in order to facilitate espionage programs.

Photo: Glyn Baker via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Glyn Baker via Wikimedia Commons

Citing the authorization of the move under the Patriot Act, FBI officials have been discussing with carriers in their effort to deploy government-supplied software, which will enable intercepting and analyzing all communications streams, CNET reported.

The software, now identified as “port reader”, used to be known internally as the “harvesting program.”

The FBI spokesman has said the agency has the legal authority to use alternate methods to collect Internet metadata. “In circumstances where a provider is unable to comply with a court order utilizing its own technical solution(s), law enforcement may offer to provide technical assistance to meet the obligation of the court order.”

But, police cannot intercept the contents of real-time communication streams, including email bodies, Facebook messages or streaming video unless a wiretap order from a judge is obtained.

Notwithstanding, “The statute hasn’t caught up with the realities of electronic communication,” says Colleen Boothby, a partner at the Washington, D.C. firm of Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby who represents technology companies and industry associations.

Boothby said judges cannot always comprehend how technology has outpaced the law.

In the past, judges drew this conclusion that they have no ability to reject pen register and trap and trace requests as a federal magistrate judge in Florida, in reference to pen register law, wrote “The court under the Act seemingly provides nothing more than a rubber stamp.”

“If magistrates knew more, they would approve less,” said an industry participant, adding, it’s “an interception device by definition”.

The participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said carriers are “extra-cautious” resisting installation of the software, as they say it poses privacy and security risks against a sensitive internal network.

This article was posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 9:55 am

 

XKeyscore: Instrument of Mass Surveillance

Stephen Lendman
August 3, 2013

stasi20

Evidence mounts. America crossed the line. It operates lawlessly. It reflects police state ruthlessness. Big Brother’s real. It’s not fiction. It watches everyone.

It’s about control, espionage and intimidation. It targets fundamental freedoms. It has nothing to do with national security. America’s only threats are ones it invents. It does so for political advantage.

On July 31, London’s Guardian headlined “XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the Internet.’ ”

It “gives ‘widest reading’ collection of online data. NSA analysts require no prior authorizations for searches.” They sweep up “emails, social media and browsing history.”

Every keystroke enters a database. NSA training materials call XKeyscore its “widest-reaching” online intelligence gathering tool. Agency officials call it their Digital Network Intelligence (DNI).

It collects “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet.” Virtually nothing escapes scrutiny.

London’s Guardian used classified information. It’s sourced from a February 2008 presentation. It’s about meta-data mining. It’s chilling. It’s worst than previously thought.

It explains what Edward Snowden meant, saying:

“I, sitting at my desk, (can) wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email” address.

At the time, US officials scoffed. House Republican Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Mike Rogers said:

“He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

According to Guardian contributor Glenn Greenwald:

XKeyscore lets analysts “mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search.”

“The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.”

Agency personnel use XKeyscore and other systems for “real-time” interception of personal online activity.

US statutes require FISA warrants when targeting a “US person.” It doesn’t matter. NSA operates extrajudicially. XKeyscore permits doing so with technological ease.

It lets analysts search meta-data, emails, and other online activity. They can do it with “no known email account (a ‘selector’) in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted.”

“Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.”

A December 2012 slide titled “plug-ins” explains easily accessed information fields.

They include “every email address seen in a session by both username and domain, every phone number seen in a session (eg address book entries or signature block), and user activity.”

It includes webmail, usernames, buddylists, and machine specific cookies, etc.

According to Snowden, XKeyscore lets analysts conduct “searches within bodies of emails, webpages and documents.”

They can access “To, From, CC, BCC, (and) ‘Contact Us’ pages on websites.” Analysts can monitor anyone. They can read and save their personal communications.

Doing so simply requires “clicking a few simple pull-down menus designed to provide both legal and targeting justifications.”

Virtually nothing online escapes scrutiny. Fourth Amendment rights don’t matter. Privacy no longer exists.

Amounts of information collected are “staggeringly large.” One – two billion records are added daily. Information gathered is so voluminous, it can only be stored for three to five days. Meta-data is kept 30 days.

NSA solves the problem by “creat(ing) a multi-tiered system that allows analysts to store ‘interesting’ content in other databases.” One’s called Pinwale. It stores information up to five years.

In 2012, over 40 billion records were collected and stored monthly. Americans are lawlessly monitored. Warrant authorization isn’t gotten.

NSA lied telling the Guardian:

Its “activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests.”

“XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA’s lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system.”

“Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true.”

“Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA’s analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks.”

“In addition, there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring.”

“Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.”

“These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad.”

It bears repeating. NSA operates extrajudicially. It’s an out-of-control agency. Rule of law principles don’t matter.

At issue is control, espionage and intimidation. Fundamental freedoms are targeted. Claiming national security priorities doesn’t wash. It’s one of many big lies. They mask police state lawlessness.

Greenwald’s article was published the same day the White House released heavily redacted NSA “bulk collection program” reports and a FISA court order. It included domestic telephone call monitoring procedures.

Obama officials lied. They claim surveillance isn’t authorized without demonstrable suspicions. Monitoring, they say, is subject to FISA court oversight.

It’s virtually rubber stamp. It’s a kangaroo court. It’s illegitimate. It authorizes virtually all requests. It operates extrajudicially. It’s been around for 35 years. No case ever went to the Supreme Court.

It’s findings are secret. A single judge signs surveillance orders. Challenges are virtually impossible. Police state justice is assured.

Things are getting worse, not better. Freedom’s disappearing in plain sight. Congress and federal courts are co-conspirators. They’re in lockstep with lawless surveillance.

Congressional committee hearings reflect show, not tell. Senators and House member criticisms ring hollow. Legislation prohibiting lawless spying could stop it. Nothing with teeth is planned.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper committed perjury. He lied to Congress. He was caught red-handed. He said NSA doesn’t spy on Americans.

Clear evidence proves otherwise. Holding him accountable won’t follow. It never does. It won’t this time. Congress approves lawlessness. So do federal courts.

Big Brother is official policy. Political Washington supports it. Claims otherwise don’t wash.

A Final Comment

August 4 is 1984 Day. Nationwide rallies are planned. Thousands are expected to participate. “Big Brothers has seen enough,” they say.

Sustained public pressure’s essential. Congressional inaction demands it. On July 31, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) headlined “Huge Global Coalition Stands Against Unchecked Surveillance.”

Over 100 organizations endorsed 13 protect human rights principles. Doing so challenges lawless spying. They advise “on how surveillance laws should respect the law, due process, and include public oversight and transparency.”

Privacy matters. It’s time legislation with teeth assures it. According to EFF’s Danny O’Brien:

“It’s time to restore human rights to their place at the very heart of the surveillance debate.”

“Widespread government spying on communications interferes with citizens’ ability to enjoy a private life, and to freely express themselves – basic rights we all have.”

“But the mass metadata collected in the US surveillance program, for example, makes it extraordinarily easy for the government to track what groups we associate with and why we might contact them.”

“These principles announced today represent a global consensus that modern surveillance has gone too far and must be restrained.”

Organizations involved represent over 40 nations. “International human rights law binds every country across the globe to a basic respect for freedom of expression and personal privacy,” said EFF’s Katitza Rodriguez.”

“The pervasiveness of surveillance makes standing up for our digital rights more important than ever.”

“And we need those rights to survive in a digital world, where any state can spy on us all, in more detail than ever before.”

“We know that surveillance laws need to be transparent and proportionate, with judicial oversight, and that surveillance should only be used when absolutely necessary.”

“Everything we’ve heard about the NSA programs indicate that they fall far outside these international human rights principles.”

Operating this way assures tyranny. It’s practically full-blown. Police states operate this way. America’s by far the worst.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

This article was posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 10:06 am

Police, Firefighters Ordered Not To Speak About Michael Hastings Crash

LAPD refuses to release police report to journalists

Paul Joseph Watson
Infowars.com
July 9, 2013

Police and firefighters in Los Angeles have been ordered not to speak to the media about the deadly crash involving Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings, fueling speculation that some form of cover-up could be underway.

San Diego 6 journalist Kimberly Dvorak says she was unable to obtain the police report concerning the crash despite the fact that the LAPD already ruled out “foul play” days after the incident.

A gag order has also been placed on cops and firefighters who both responded to and investigated the crash, which occurred in the early hours of June 18 in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

“When you go to the LA police department and you go to the fire department….they all said they couldn’t comment and some of them said they were told not to comment on this story,” said Dvorak.

The journalist added that she talked to “military personnel” who commented that the inferno which consumed Hastings’ Mercedes was an extremely hot fire that “is not something you normally see with a car like this,” and that Mercedes itself was waiting to hear from the LAPD but has not been contacted.

Dvorak also noted that the engine from Hastings’ vehicle was found 150 feet behind the car, contradicting testimony from two university physics professors who said that “the engine would go with the forward velocity of the (vehicle).”

HIghlighting the absence of skid marks on the road, Dvorak said she was inclined to surmise that the car either malfunctioned or “there was something on the car that allowed that to trigger and blow up,” noting that Mercedes denied their vehicle could have exploded in the manner seen in the incident that killed Hastings.

Dvorak also mentioned two separate academic studies out of the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego which both detail how modern cars can easily be hacked and remote controlled, a premise also raised by former counter-terror czar Richard Clarke, who told the Huffington Post that the fatal crash of Hastings’ Mercedes C250 Coupe was “consistent with a car cyber attack.”

As we previously reported, questions surrounding Hastings’ untimely death have emerged primarily because the journalist was working on “the biggest story yet” about the CIA before he was killed.

The writer also sent out an email 15 hours before his car crash stating he was “onto a big story” and needed “to go off the rada[r] for a bit.”

According to colleagues, Hastings was “incredibly tense and very worried, and was concerned that the government was looking in on his material,” and also a “nervous wreck” in response to the surveillance of journalists revealed by the AP phone tapping scandal and the NSA PRISM scandal.

After Wikileaks reported that Hastings had contacted them a few hours before his death complaining that he was under FBI investigation, other friends confirmed that the journalist was “very paranoid” about the feds watching him.

Another close friend of Hastings, Staff Sergeant Joseph Biggs, told Fox News that Hastings “drove like a grandma” and that it was totally out of character for him to be speeding in the early hours of the morning.

Hastings had made numerous powerful enemies as a result of his exposure of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal in 2010, receiving several death threats in the process.

*********************

Paul Joseph Watson is the editor and writer for Infowars.com and Prison Planet.com. He is the author of Order Out Of Chaos. Watson is also a host for Infowars Nightly News.

This article was posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 5:49 am

Snowden Claims: NSA Ties Put German Intelligence in Tight Spot

The German foreign intelligence service knew more about the activities of the NSA in Germany than previously known. “They’re in bed together,” Edward Snowden claims in an interview in SPIEGEL. The whistleblower also lodges fresh allegations against the British.

For weeks now, officials at intelligence services around the world have been in suspense as one leak after another from whistleblower Edward Snowden has been published. Be it America’s National Security Agency, Britain’s GCHQ or systems like Prism or Tempora, he has been leaking scandalous information about international spying agencies. In an interview published by SPIEGEL in its latest issue, Snowden provides additional details, describing the closeness between the US and German intelligence services as well as Britain’s acquisitiveness when it comes to collecting data.

In Germany, reports of the United States’ vast espionage activities have surprised and upset many, including politicians. But Snowden isn’t buying the innocence of leading German politicians and government figures, who say that they were entirely unaware of the spying programs. On the contrary, the NSA people are “in bed together with the Germans,” the whistleblower told American cryptography expert Jacob Appelbaum and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in an interview conducted with the help of encrypted emails shortly before Snowden became a globally recognized name.

Snowden describes the intelligence services partnerships in detail. The NSA even has a special department for such cooperation, the Foreign Affairs Directorate, he says. He also exposes a noteworthy detail about how government decision-makers are protected by these programs. The partnerships are organized in a way so that authorities in other countries can “insulate their political leaders from the backlash” in the event it becomes public “how grievously they’re violating global privacy,” the former NSA employee says.

Intensive Cooperation with Germany

SPIEGEL reporting also indicates that cooperation between the NSA and Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, is more intensive than previously known. The NSA, for example, provides “analysis tools” for the BND to monitor signals from foreign data streams that travel through Germany. Among the BND’s focuses are the Middle East route through which data packets from crisis regions travel.

BND head Gerhard Schindler confirmed the partnership during a recent meeting with members of the German parliament’s control committee for intelligence issues.

But it’s not just the BND’s activities that are the focus of the interview with Snowden.

The 30-year-old also provides new details about Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He says that Britain’s Tempora system is the signal intelligence community’s first “full-take Internet buffer,” meaning that it saves all of the data passing through the country.

Data Remains Buffered for Three Days

The scope of this “full take” system is vast. According to Snowden and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Tempora stores communications data for up to 30 days and saves all content for up to three days in a so-called Internet buffer. “It snarfs everything in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit,” Snowden says.

Asked if it is possible to get around this total surveillance of all Internet communication, he says: “As a general rule, so long as you have any choice at all, you should never route through or peer with the UK under any circumstances.”

In other words, Snowden says, one can only prevent GCHQ from accessing their data if they do not send any information through British Internet lines or servers. However, German Internet experts believe this would be almost impossible in practice.

Metadata Provide Orientation in Sea of Data

The attempt to conduct total data retention is noteworthy because most of the leaks so far in the spying scandal have pertained to so-called metadata. In the interview, Snowden reiterates just how important metadata — which can include telephone numbers, IP addresses and connection times, for example — really are. “In most cases, content isn’t as valuable as metadata,” Snowden says.Those in possession of metadata can determine who has communicated with whom. And using the metadata, they can determine which data sets and communications content they would like to take a closer look at. “The metadata tells you what out of their data stream you actually want,” Snowden says.

It is becoming increasingly clear to recognize the way in which surveillance programs from the NSA and GCHQ — including Prism, Tempora and Boundless Informant — cooperate. The metadata provides analysts with tips on which communications and content might be interesting. Then, Snowden says, with the touch of a button they can then retrieve or permanently collect the full content of communications that have already been stored for a specific person or group, or they can collect future communications. But a person can also be “selected for targeting based on, for example, your Facebook or webmail content.”

jok/cis/dsl

 

Posted By John Hudson
Sunday, July 7, 2013 – 6:27 PM

“The State Department, which has repeatedly disputed Fedenisn’s allegations, denied any involvement in the incident. “Any allegation that the Department of State authorized someone to break into Mr. Schulman’s law firm is false and baseless,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.”

Video – http://www.myfoxdfw.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9056670

The offices of a Dallas law firm representing a high-profile State Department whistleblower were broken into last weekend. Burglars stole three computers and broke into the firm’s file cabinets. But silver bars, video equipment and other valuables were left untouched, according to local Fox affiliate KDFW, which aired security camera footage of the suspected burglars entering and leaving the offices around the time of the incident.

The firm Schulman & Mathias represents Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator at the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General. In recent weeks, she raised a slew of explosive allegations against the department and its contractors ranging from illicit drug use, soliciting sexual favors from minors and prostitutes and sexual harassment.

“It’s a crazy, strange and suspicious situation,” attorney Cary Schulman told The Cable. “It’s clear to me that it was somebody looking for information and not money. My most high-profile case right now is the Aurelia Fedenisn case, and I can’t think of any other case where someone would go to these great lengths to get our information.”

According to the KDFW report, the firm was the only suite burglarized in the high-rise office building and an unlocked office adjacent was left untouched.

The State Department, which has repeatedly disputed Fedenisn’s allegations, denied any involvement in the incident. “Any allegation that the Department of State authorized someone to break into Mr. Schulman’s law firm is false and baseless,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

After assessing the surveillance footage, Schulman said he believed the motivations were likely political, but did not suspect department involvement. “It wasn’t professional enough,” he said. “It is possible that an Obama or Hillary supporter feels that I am unfairly going after them. And the timing of this is right after several weeks of very public media attention so it seems to me most likely that the information sought is related to that case. I don’t know for sure and I want the police to do their work.”

Fedenisn’s case, in particular, has gained attention not just because of the substance of the allegations, but for her insistence that internal investigations into misconduct were “influenced, manipulated or simply called off” by senior State Department officials. The suppression of investigations was noted in an early draft of an Inspector General report she gave to CBS News, but softened in the final version.

Last month, her lawyers told The Cable that the department tried to intimidate her into silence. “They had law enforcement officers camp out in front of her house, harass her children and attempt to incriminate herself,” claimed Schulman.

Schulman said the purpose of the visit was to get Fedenisn to sign documents admitting that she stole State Department documents — a charge Fedenisn denies.

Schulman & Mathias represent a range of clients on matters from fraud to wrongful death to bad faith insurance practices to medical malpractice. Any number of those cases could’ve exposed the firm to such a break in, but Schulman said he was skeptical. “I’m involved in other cases locally, but those cases are rather stale.”

U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement

By Published: July 3, 2013

WASHINGTON — Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: A handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.

“Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.

“It was a bit of a shock to see it,” said Mr. Pickering, who owns a small bookstore in Buffalo. More than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Postal officials subsequently confirmed they were indeed tracking Mr. Pickering’s mail but told him nothing else.

As the world focuses on the high-tech spying of the National Security Agency, the misplaced card offers a rare glimpse inside the seemingly low-tech but prevalent snooping of the United States Postal Service.

Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, but that is only a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

Together, the two programs show that snail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.

The mail covers program, used to monitor Mr. Pickering, is more than a century old but is still considered a powerful tool. At the request of law enforcement officials, postal workers record information from the outside of letters and parcels before they are delivered. (Actually opening the mail requires a warrant.) The information is sent to whatever law enforcement agency asked for it. Tens of thousands of pieces of mail each year undergo this scrutiny.

The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program was created after the anthrax attacks in late 2001 that killed five people, including two postal workers. Highly secret, it seeped into public view last month when the F.B.I. cited it in its investigation of ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It enables the Postal Service to retroactively track mail correspondence at the request of law enforcement. No one disputes that it is sweeping.

“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, the former director of the Justice Department’s computer crime unit, who worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”

Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and an author, said whether it was a postal worker taking down information or a computer taking images, the program was still an invasion of privacy.

“Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents,” he said.

But law enforcement officials said mail covers and the automatic mail tracking program are invaluable, even in an era of smartphones and e-mail.

In a criminal complaint filed June 7 in Federal District Court in Eastern Texas, the F.B.I. said a postal investigator tracing the ricin letters was able to narrow the search to Shannon Guess Richardson, an actress in New Boston, Tex., by examining information from the front and back images of 60 pieces of mail scanned immediately before and after the tainted letters sent to Mr. Obama and Mr. Bloomberg showing return addresses near her home. Ms. Richardson had originally accused her husband of mailing the letters, but investigators determined that he was at work during the time they were mailed.

In 2007, the F.B.I., the Internal Revenue Service and the local police in Charlotte, N.C., used information gleaned from the mail cover program to arrest Sallie Wamsley-Saxon and her husband, Donald, charging both with running a prostitution ring that took in $3 million over six years. Prosecutors said it was one of the largest and most successful such operations in the country. Investigators also used mail covers to help track banking activity and other businesses the couple operated under different names.

Other agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services, have used mail covers to track drug smugglers and Medicare fraud.

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” said James J. Wedick, a former F.B.I. agent who spent 34 years at the agency and who said he used mail covers in a number of investigations, including one that led to the prosecution of several elected officials in California on corruption charges. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”

But, he said: “It can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.”

For mail cover requests, law enforcement agencies simply submit a letter to the Postal Service, which can grant or deny a request without judicial review. Law enforcement officials say the Postal Service rarely denies a request. In other government surveillance program, such as wiretaps, a federal judge must sign off on the requests.

The mail cover surveillance requests are granted for about 30 days, and can be extended for up to 120 days. There are two kinds of mail covers: those related to criminal activity and those requested to protect national security. The criminal activity requests average 15,000 to 20,000 per year, said law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited by law from discussing the requests. The number of requests for antiterrorism mail covers has not been made public.

Law enforcement officials need warrants to open the mail, although President George W. Bush asserted in a signing statement in 2007 that the federal government had the authority to open mail without warrants in emergencies or foreign intelligence cases.

Court challenges to mail covers have generally failed because judges have ruled that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for information contained on the outside of a letter. Officials in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, in fact, have used the mail-cover court rulings to justify the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs, saying the electronic monitoring amounts to the same thing as a mail cover. Congress briefly conducted hearings on mail cover programs in 1976, but has not revisited the issue.

The program has led to sporadic reports of abuse. In May 2012, Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor, was awarded nearly $1 million by a federal judge after winning a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his immigration raids in Arizona, who, among other things, obtained mail covers from the Postal Service to track her mail. The judge called the investigation into Ms. Wilcox politically motivated because she had been a frequent critic of Mr. Arpaio, objecting to what she considered the targeting of Hispanics in his immigration sweeps. The case is being appealed.

In the mid-1970s the Church Committee, a Senate panel that documented C.I.A. abuses, faulted a program created in the 1950s in New York that used mail covers to trace and sometimes open mail going to the Soviet Union from the United States.

A suit brought in 1973 by a high school student in New Jersey, whose letter to the Socialist Workers Party was traced by the F.B.I. as part of an investigation into the group, led to a rebuke from a federal judge.

Postal officials refused to discuss either mail covers or the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.

Mr. Pickering says he suspects that the F.B.I. requested the mail cover to monitor his mail because a former associate said the bureau had called with questions about him. Last month, he filed a lawsuit against the Postal Service, the F.B.I. and other agencies, saying they were improperly withholding information.

A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in Buffalo declined to comment.

Mr. Pickering said that although he was arrested two dozen times for acts of civil disobedience and convicted of a handful of misdemeanors, he was never involved in the arson attacks the Earth Liberation Front carried out. He said he became tired of focusing only on environmental activism and moved back to Buffalo to finish college, open his bookstore, Burning Books, and start a family.

“I’m no terrorist,” he said. “I’m an activist.”

Mr. Pickering has written books sympathetic to the liberation front, but he said his political views and past association should not make him the target of a federal investigation. “I’m just a guy who runs a bookstore and has a wife and a kid,” he said.

 

Statement from Edward Snowden in Moscow

Monday July 1, 21:40 UTC

One week ago I left Hong Kong after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth. My continued liberty has been owed to the efforts of friends new and old, family, and others who I have never met and probably never will. I trusted them with my life and they returned that trust with a faith in me for which I will always be thankful.

On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic “wheeling and dealing” over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.

For decades the United States of America has been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.

In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.

I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many.

Edward Joseph Snowden

Monday 1st July 2013

 

%d bloggers like this: