Trump now em­braces pow­ers of snoop­ing

Once com­plained about abuse of law

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Just months af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump com­plained about be­ing spied on by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, his ad­min­is­tra­tion is em­brac­ing a full per­ma­nent ex­ten­sion of the se­cret snoop­ing pow­ers the gov­ern­ment used to track con­ver­sa­tions be­tween his cam­paign aides and Rus­sian op­er­a­tives.

Mr. Trump’s in­tel­li­gence and coun­tert­er­ror­ism team said Sec­tion 702 of the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Surveil­lance Act has saved hun­dreds of lives by pre­vent­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks and in­sisted — de­spite Mr. Trump’s claimed ex­pe­ri­ences — that the law is not be­ing abused.

“Sim­ply put, the use of this au­thor­ity has helped save lives,” Thomas P. Bossert, Pres­i­dent Trump’s top coun­tert­er­ror­ism ad­viser, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times, an­nounc­ing sup­port for a bill in­tro­duced this week mak­ing the snoop­ing pow­ers per­ma­nent.

With­out con­gres­sional ac­tion, Sec­tion 702 is set to ex­pire on Dec. 31.

That part of the law al­lows fed­eral in­tel­li­gence agen­cies to scoop up the com­mu­ni­ca­tions of for­eign­ers out­side the U.S. It does not al­low Amer­i­cans to be tar­gets of snoop­ing, but if for­eign­ers who are tar­geted are com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Amer­i­cans, then those ex­changes can be tracked in what is dubbed “in­ci­den­tal col­lec­tion.”

About 10 per­cent of con­ver­sa­tions mon­i­tored end up with in­ci­den­tal col­lec­tion, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency Di­rec­tor Michael Rogers tes­ti­fied to Congress on Wed­nes­day.

Most of those Amer­i­cans re­main

anonymous, even within the se­cu­rity agen­cies. The real is­sue arises when some are “un­masked” — the process of at­tach­ing Amer­i­cans’ names to the com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The leak of un­masked in­for­ma­tion about for­mer Trump Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn was part of what set off the pres­i­dent ear­lier this year, when he de­manded in­ves­ti­ga­tions, ac­cused in­tel­li­gence agen­cies of go­ing rogue and claimed the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had wire­tapped Trump Tower.

All told, more than 1,900 Amer­i­cans were un­masked last year based on in­for­ma­tion col­lected un­der Sec­tion 702.

U.S. of­fi­cials said there have been no in­ten­tional breaches of the rules gov­ern­ing Sec­tion 702 and that un­in­tended breaches are less than 1 per­cent. Still, the gov­ern­ment won’t say how many Amer­i­cans are scooped up in the col­lec­tion.

Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Daniel Coats said his agen­cies have made her­culean ef­forts to cal­cu­late that fig­ure but added that it’s in­fea­si­ble.

He said it would take peo­ple away from their fo­cus on Iran or North Korea and claimed that even try­ing to count could force his an­a­lysts to iden­tify Amer­i­cans who haven’t been sin­gled out yet, which he said could end up in­fring­ing their rights.

That didn’t sit well with Sen. Ron Wy­den, Ore­gon Demo­crat, who said not be­ing able to quan­tify the num­ber of Amer­i­cans en­snared by Sec­tion 702 en­dan­gers the en­tire pro­gram.

Civil lib­er­ties ad­vo­cates ac­cused Mr. Trump of hypocrisy for com­plain­ing about snoop­ing dur­ing the cam­paign and now sup­port­ing the very tools he was worried about.

“Only months af­ter de­mand­ing in­for­ma­tion about his own un­sub­stan­ti­ated spy­ing claims, his ad­min­is­tra­tion is fail­ing to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about how many Amer­i­cans are im­pacted by this surveil­lance au­thor­ity,” said Neema Singh Gu­liani, a lawyer at the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union.

“The gov­ern­ment likely holds over a bil­lion com­mu­ni­ca­tions col­lected un­der Sec­tion 702, and it is long over­due for Congress to fi­nally pass re­forms to curb this in­va­sion of Amer­i­cans’ pri­vacy,” she said.

Some sug­ges­tions for changes in­clude re­quir­ing war­rants be­fore un­mask­ing Amer­i­cans and for­mal­iz­ing the process of ap­point­ing an am­i­cus ad­vo­cate to ar­gue for lib­er­ties to the se­cret FISA court that over­sees the law.

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said she also would like to pre­serve the sun­set pro­vi­sion to make sure Congress reg­u­larly re­views the law.

The de­bate splits both par­ties, with se­cu­rity hawks say­ing the pro­gram is too valu­able to lapse, while pri­vacy ad­vo­cates say they want more as­sur­ances.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say the pro­gram is al­ready re­viewed reg­u­larly by in­ter­nal au­di­tors in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, by Congress’ se­cret over­sight com­mit­tees and by the FISA court.

Late last year, the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity self-re­ported vi­o­la­tions to the court for queries about Amer­i­cans. A judge with­held full cer­ti­fi­ca­tion un­til the NSA fixed the prob­lem.

Out­side an­a­lysts have said the in­ci­dent is ev­i­dence of prob­lems, while the pro­gram’s de­fend­ers say it’s ev­i­dence that the sys­tem is work­ing and can cor­rect it­self.

The leaks from for­mer in­tel­li­gence con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den helped shine a spot­light on the ex­panse of U.S. in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing in re­cent years. His rev­e­la­tion that the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency had en­gaged in bulk col­lec­tion of Amer­i­cans’ tele­phone call me­ta­data — the dates, du­ra­tion and par­ties in­volved in phone calls — sparked a mas­sive out­cry.

In the wake of those re­ports, Congress sub­stan­tially rewrote the part of the Pa­triot Act that al­lowed the col­lec­tion, pro­hibit­ing the gov­ern­ment from col­lect­ing or hold­ing it in bulk. With­out the re­write, the snoop­ing pow­ers would have dis­ap­peared al­to­gether.

Now it’s the Sec­tion 702 col­lec­tion that faces a dooms­day dead­line, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is des­per­ate to pre­serve the pow­ers.

Mr. Coats said “lit­er­ally hun­dreds of lives” have been saved be­cause the U.S. col­lected and shared 702 in­for­ma­tion with Euro­pean al­lies, head­ing off im­mi­nent at­tacks.

The gov­ern­ment is still tight-lipped about specifics, but one ex­am­ple of­fi­cials are will­ing to give in the U.S. is the New York City sub­way bomb­ing plot. Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties track­ing an al Qaeda courier in Pak­istan found he was com­mu­ni­cat­ing with some­one in­side the U.S. who was seek­ing ad­vice about mak­ing ex­plo­sives.

The NSA passed that in­for­ma­tion to the FBI, which iden­ti­fied Na­jibul­lah Zazi. Au­thor­i­ties said he had plans to bomb the sub­way.

Mr. Coats also pointed to the case of Haji Iman, a rad­i­cal­ized imam who be­came the Is­lamic State’s fi­nance min­is­ter.

Sec­tion 702 in­for­ma­tion was used to iden­tify his lo­ca­tion, and U.S. forces were sent to ap­pre­hend him, Mr. Coats said. Af­ter Haji Iman and his as­so­ciates re­sisted, they were killed. Mr. Coats de­clas­si­fied the in­for­ma­tion about how Haji Iman was tracked in or­der to bol­ster the case for Sec­tion 702 re­newal.

In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials also said Sec­tion 702 al­lowed them to sniff out Rus­sia’s at­tempts to med­dle in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — a rev­e­la­tion that is still roil­ing the po­lit­i­cal scene in Wash­ing­ton.

Mr. Rogers said the NSA is re­quired to re­port any crim­i­nal or dan­ger­ous in­for­ma­tion col­lected on Amer­i­cans and can hang on to any­thing it deems im­por­tant for in­tel­li­gence pur­poses. Other than that, they must purge in­ci­den­tal col­lec­tion that snares Amer­i­cans’ com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is back­ing a full per­ma­nent re­newal writ­ten by Sen. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas, who in­tro­duced his bill Tuesday along with other ma­jor se­cu­rity hawk Repub­li­cans.

“We can’t hand­cuff our na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials when they’re fight­ing against such a vi­cious en­emy. We’ve got to reau­tho­rize this pro­gram in full and for good, so we can put our en­e­mies back on their heels and keep Amer­i­can lives safe from harm,” Mr. Cot­ton said.

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