Documents Raise Concerns About Extent of CIA Spying Inside the United States

The American Civil Liberties Union published a batch of documents obtained from the CIA on how it complies with and understands Executive Order 12333, an executive order issued by President Ronald Reagan which mandates the powers and responsibilities of US intelligence agencies. The documents strongly suggest that the agency engages in an extensive amount of domestic spying operations that are largely kept secret from the American people.

Of the 49 documents released, many of them are policy briefings on what the CIA can and cannot collect on US persons when conducting spying operations. They largely have to do with the rules that the agency is expected to follow and how the agency goes about complying with them. However, many of the documents are highly censored.

The CIA claims much of the information in the documents involves “classified secret matters or national defense or foreign policy.” It also believes that the National Security Act partly exempts the agency from the Freedom of Information Act, which is why many of the documents have huge chunks of information missing.

What can be gleaned from the documents is that the agency has a secret definition of “monitoring” as it relates to surveillance of US persons that the public is not allowed to know:

Secret definition of monitoring - CIA

The definition of “electronic surveillance” in regards to US persons is partially censored too, however, the CIA will let the public know that “electronic surveillance” involves the “acquisition of a non-public communication by electronic means without the consent of any party to the communication or, in the case of a non-electronic communication, without the consent of a person who is visibly present at the place of communication.”

Part of the definition for “unconsented physical searches,” which requires Attorney General approval, is censored.

Details from a “memorandum of understanding” [PDF] between the FBI and CIA provides a glimpse at how the two agencies coordinate spying activities:

FBI-CIA Coordination

Another document, “CIA and EO 12333: Overview for the ICIG Boston Review Forum” [PDF], dated June 2013, outlines detailed talking points, which includes some details on the loopholes the agency might be able to use to obtain information on US citizens.

The CIA is allowed to “provide specialized equipment and technical knowledge to assist another department or agency in the conduct by that department or agency of lawful and authorized electronic surveillance in the United States.” (more…)

Spy Planes: FBI Flew Over 100 Secret Missions Over 30 Cities in Recent Months

The Associated Press reported new details on secret surveillance flights being conducted by the FBI, including how the agency registers aircrafts with fake companies to conceal their role.

A recent review conducted by the AP found that over a “recent 30-day period” the FBI flew over 100 flights over 30 cities in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

Most of the missions were with Cessna 182T Skylane aircrafts. They were flown over Boston, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and parts of Southern California.

The planes carried video surveillance equipment as well as Stingray surveillance equipment or cell-site simulator gear, which creates a dragnet and enables the FBI to trick cellphones in a given area into providing identification information to agents.

Unlike the agency’s drone fleet, piloted aircraft is not subject to the Justice Department’s policy barring drones from being used to monitor “First Amendment activities,” which may partly explain why the secret flights have been spotted over cities where communities have protested killings by police.

Sam Richards, an independent journalist, first reported that the FBI was flying secret missions over cities with aircraft registered to fake companies.

“The aircraft have been registered to corporations that do not exist, and the purpose of the aerial operations is not known at this time. The flight patterns of the aircraft indicate they are most likely conducting surveillance, much like the controversial aircraft caught flying circles over the city of Baltimore which has seen many protests recently,” Richards reported on May 25.

Richards searched “aircraft registration” in Bristow, Virginia, and found many “three-letter acronym companies.” A few of the aircrafts listed were “registered explicitly to the Department of Justice.” He decided the companies had to be fake when his searches for information on the Internet were “fruitless.” He also noticed that the flight patterns—repeated circles around a city—indicated these planes were likely involved in surveillance missions. (more…)

Government Seeks ‘Emergency Stay’ of Decision Ordering Release of Thousands of Torture Photos

The United States government requested an “emergency stay” of a federal court decision, which ordered thousands of photographs of detainee abuse and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan to be released.

In March, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the US District Court of the Southern District of New York was no longer willing to tolerate the government’s secrecy arguments or the government’s refusal to individually review each photo and explain why each photo would pose a national security risk if made public.

The judge immediately issued a temporary stay and gave the government 60 days to file an appeal.

With that 60-day period about to elapse, the government abruptly announced it would appeal on May 15 and filed a motion requesting a stay.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has pursued the release of records related to detainee treatment and “the death of prisoners in United States custody and abroad after September 11, 2001,” since October 2003, objected in a letter to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals [PDF].

“The government simply does not explain why it could not have made its decision long before the eve of the expiration of the stay granted by the district court,” the ACLU declares. “Its last minute decision to do so is abusive of both the court and counsel and should not be rewarded by the routine grant of this kind of motion which the government expressly seeks.”

Back in August, when Hellerstein ruled that the Secretary of Defense’s certification for keeping the photos secret was “inadequate,” the government was instructed to individually review the photographs and inform the court of why each photograph could not be released. Government attorneys rebuffed his request.

In October and February, the court reminded the government that the Secretary of Defense had to certify each picture “in terms of its likelihood or not to endanger American lives.” It explained again afterward that the government could not certify a mass of photographs as a risk to national security. The government never complied, which led to the judge’s decision in March.

The Protected National Security Documents Act (PNSDA) was passed in October 2009 to amend the Freedom of Information Act. It was the prime measure supported by President Barack Obama to ensure torture photographs remained secret.

The law established that “photographs could be made exempt from disclosure for a three-year certification by the Secretary of Defense to the effect that publication would endanger American lives.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked President Barack Obama not to release photographs of detainees abuse, for “fear of the consequences.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates filed a certification to prevent the release of photographs and the court upheld that certification.

Three years later, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta renewed the certification, even though US troops had withdrawn and the war in Iraq had been declared over. (Military operations against ISIS were not ongoing at the time.)

The ACLU points out in the letter to the judge, “PNSDA did not strip courts of the power to review the basis for the secretary’s suppression of otherwise public documents.” The Secretary of Defense “must provided some basis to believe that he reviewed each photograph and evaluated its individual risk in advance of certification.”

Only a “sample of photographs” were ever reviewed by the government for this lawsuit, and the ACLU argues an “emergency stay” should not be granted because the government is not likely to succeed in its appeal.

The government maintains in its motion that an “emergency stay” will cause minimal harm to the ACLU. On the other hand, no stay will mean the photographs are released and the “status quo” is destroyed. It will harm the ability of the government to appeal.

“The absence of a stay will cause the disclosure of records that the Secretary of Defense has certified to be exempt from disclosure under the PNSDA, a statute that was enacted by Congress in order to protect U.S. citizens, members of the US Armed Services, and US government employees from harm while overseas,” the government argues. (more…)