Archive for category Government
Republicans Foolishly Try to Get People to Reject Paying $100 a Month for Healthcare
ObamaCare is coming. Or, as Elizabeth Hasselbeck quipped in an oh so not scripted totally planned way today on today, “ObamaScare.” Yeah, they didn’t believe Sarah Palin’s lies, so we’ll get Elizabeth Hasselbeck to say them.
Yep. Nearly six in ten people who don’t have health insurance may be able to get coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace for less than $100 per month, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
HHS explains that 23.2 million, which is 56% of the 41.3 million eligible uninsured,
may qualify for Medicaid, CHIP, or tax credits enabling them to get insurance at the exchanges for $100 or less a month.
So Republicans want Americans to reject being able to pay only $100 a month for coverage, so that they and their families can go uncovered in order to help Republicans appease a faction of their party. Seriously? The fail is huge on this.
Of course, Republicans have blocked the Medicaid expansion in some states (and you know they’ll blame Obama for that and their base will buy it), thereby keeping millions from affordable health insurance. In those states, A RAND Health study found that premiums increase by 8 to 10% if states fail to expand Medicaid.
Tuesday’s HHS report shows “if all 50 states took advantage of new options to expand Medicaid coverage, nearly 8 out of every 10 people (78 percent) who currently do not have insurance could be paying less than $100 a month for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.”
Republicans can continue to ObamaScare the public, but The public is confused about ObamaCare. Not only have Republicans thrown all of their considerable corporate resources at demonizing the healthcare law, but in typical Democratic style, it has been presented long in policy specifics and short on bumper sticker slogans. Democrats are trying, but short and inaccurate is not their forte and every time they try it, then end up cringing in retreat as soon as they’re busted.
Democrats feel compelled to litter up any public notices with long winded statistical analysis, specific and accurate qualifiers and caveats. (e.g., “Republicans voted to end Medicare”– they got had to add “as we know it” when if it was not as we know it, it would no longer be Medicare. See Shakespeare and Plato.) President Obama is guilty of this; one of his biggest weaknesses is his failure to simplify things for the public. He routinely thinks that good policy makes good politics.
Democrats should learn from Bill Clinton.
ObamaCare will no doubt have a bumpy roll out, as did Medicare and Social Security. But as people begin to enjoy the benefits, the polls will begin to shift. The only problem will be all of the Tea Partiers and Republicans who are on ObamaCare but don’t know it. When they are polled, no doubt they will bash it just like they demanded the government stay out of their Medicare.
Eventually even the most politically unaware will become dimly aware that Republicans are against millions of them getting access to affordable health insurance that is not a pick pocket sham for a corporate business.
Note: HHS defines Marketplace eligible as the eligible uninsured with incomes above 138% of the Federal Poverty Level in Medicaid expansion states or above 100% of the Federal Poverty Level in non-expansion states.
- Republicans Foolishly Try to Get People to Reject Paying $100 a Month for Healthcare (politicususa.com)
- Republicans Foolishly Try to Get People to Reject Paying $100 a Month for Healthcare (redsfan.newsvine.com)
- Online health insurance exchange gearing up quietly in Missouri, Illinois (kansascity.com)
- Online health insurance exchange gearing up quietly in Mo. and Illinois (stltoday.com)
- As health care markets open, divisions emerge (victoriaadvocate.com)
- Republicans ramp up war on poor people (salon.com)
- Expect Snags in Affordable Care Act Rollout (With Links to Additional Information) (jflahiff.wordpress.com)
- What are these people celebrating? (eclectablog.com)
- Obamacare to help, but not poorest in states that rejected Medicaid expansion: Tennessee, Georgia (timesfreepress.com)
- Corbett set to address politically explosive Obamacare component on Monday (pennlive.com)
Wall Street Journal Warns GOP That Government Shutdown Could Give Democrats The House
In a editorial that reeks of panic and desperation, the Wall Street Journal is warning House Republicans that a government shutdown could enrage voters to the point where they give Democrats back control of the House.
If this works it would be the first time. The evidence going back to the Newt Gingrich Congress is that no party can govern from the House, and the Republican Party can’t abide the outcry when flights are delayed, national parks close and direct deposits for military spouses stop. Sooner or later the GOP breaks.
This all-or-nothing posture also usually results in worse policy. The most recent example was the failure of Mr. Boehner’s fiscal cliff “Plan B” in December 2012, which was the best the GOP could do because Mr. Obama had the whip hand of automatic tax increases. The fallback deal that was sealed in the Senate raised taxes by more and is now complicating the prospects for tax reform.
The backbenchers are heading into another box canyon now. Mr. Boehner is undermined because the other side knows he lacks 218 GOP votes, which empowers House and Senate Democrats. They want to reverse the modest spending discipline of the sequester, and if the House GOP can’t hold together on the CR they will succeed. The only chance of any entitlement reform worth the name is if Mr. Boehner can hold his majority and negotiate from strength.
Beneath the typical misinformation and Republican talking points, the Wall Street Journal editors were desperately trying to stop House Republicans from completing their political suicide mission.
The WSJ was correct. The strategy that House Republicans are trying has never worked, and a government shutdown that prevents the military and senior citizens from being paid will flip quite a few marginal districts House controlled districts into the Democratic column. There are If House Republicans shutdown the government, many of those seats will be in jeopardy.
Republican House incumbents who are counting on the combination of gerrymandering and Citizens United dark money to keep them in office might be in for a huge surprise, because the public outrage over a government shutdown would create a climate where Democratic challengers could run on making sure that the troops get paid and Social Security checks get sent out. No amount of secret Koch dollars can defeat pocketbook issues.
If Republicans shutdown the government, they will lose and lose badly. The best path to a Democratic House takeover in 2014 is for Republicans to keep doing exactly what they are currently doing.
- Wall Street Journal Warns GOP That Government Shutdown Could Give Democrats The House (politicususa.com)
- GOP congressman: Senators will ‘find Jesus’ and defund Obamacare (thelead.blogs.cnn.com)
- Government shutdown to defund Obamacare: Is the ‘kamikaze mission’ a go? (tv.msnbc.com)
- Federal government shutdown: This time, more than a threat (voxxi.com)
- U.S. House votes to eliminate Obamacare funding (wtvr.com)
- House Republicans set course for shutdown with anti-Obamacare bill (theguardian.com)
- Pressure on Boehner (cnn.com)
- Psst. The GOP doesn’t really want to defund Obamacare (tv.msnbc.com)
- BUDGET BATTLE: House GOP Votes To Defund Obamacare (whotv.com)
- Pelosi calls Republicans ‘legislative arsonists’ over government shutdown (theguardian.com)
With One Speech Elizabeth Warren Terrifies the Koch Brothers and The Supreme Court
In a brief speech at the AFL-CIO convention, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) rocked the crowd by taking on the Koch brothers, and the corporate owned and operated conservative Supreme Court majority.
Here is the close of Warren’s speech:
Sen. Warren among the top ten pro-corporate justices of the last half century, and said, “You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business.”
Warren roused the crowd by vowing to , “From tax policy to retirement security, the voices of hard-working people get drowned out by powerful industries and well-financed front groups The fight continues to rage, and the powerful interests continue to be guided by their age-old principle: ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own. However steep our climb, I am proud to stand with you, to march with you, and to fight side-by-side with you.”
She also talked about the history of, “In every fight to build opportunity in this country … in every fight for working families, we have been on the front lines because our agenda is America’s agenda… But let’s be clear, we have always had to run uphill. Powerful interests have done everything they can to block reform. They attacked Social Security and Medicare. They attacked pensions and public employees. They attacked bank regulation and consumer protection.”
This is why Wall Street, corporate America, and the Koch brothers all fear Elizabeth Warren. She is saying the things that they don’t want people hear. Warren is mobilizing the masses by calling out the political front groups for corporate America and connecting the dots all the way up to the conservative Supreme Court majority.
The right wing billionaires may have the money, but they are afraid of Elizabeth Warren. They fear her because she brings message to the American people that they matter. They fear her because she vows to fight for them, and she urges those who the powerful conservatives in this country try to silence to join the fight. Warren’s words carry extra weight because she not placing herself above those she is advocating for. The Massachusetts senator is standing with them.
At a time when the left has been divided over the question of military action in Syria, Sen. Warren’s speech reminds us of our common values and our shared cause.
- With One Speech Elizabeth Warren Terrifies the Koch Brothers and The Supreme Court (politicususa.com)
- Elizabeth Warren Calls Supreme Court Right-Wing, ‘Pro-Corporate’ (theobamacrat.com)
- Elizabeth Warren Slams the Corporate Court (truthdig.com)
- Elizabeth Warren Calls Supreme Court Right-Wing, ‘Pro-Corporate’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Elizabeth Warren blasts Supreme Court as a ‘wholly-owned subsidiary of Big Business’ (rawstory.com)
- Elizabeth Warren gives liberals the speech they’ve been waiting for (VIDEO) (washingtonpost.com)
- Elizabeth Warren Calls Supreme Court Right-Wing, ‘Pro-Corporate’ (kstreet607.com)
- Elizabeth Warren’s Message To Labor: Our Agenda Is America’s Agenda (VIDEO) (addictinginfo.org)
- Elizabeth Warren Calls Supreme Court Right-Wing, ‘Pro-Corporate’ (hrexach.wordpress.com)
- Are you ready for Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren? (legalinsurrection.com)
The Border Is a Back Door for U.S. Device Searches
Katherine Taylor for The New York Times
David House is a fund-raiser for the defense of Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
By SUSAN STELLIN
Published: September 9, 2013
Newly released documents reveal how the government uses border crossings to seize and examine travelers’ electronic devices instead of obtaining a search warrant to gain access to the data.
The documents detail what until now has been a largely secretive process that enables the government to create a travel alert for a person, who may not be a suspect in an investigation, then detain that individual at a border crossing and confiscate or copy any electronic devices that person is carrying.
To critics, the documents show how the government can avert Americans’ constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure, but the confiscations have largely been allowed by courts as a tool to battle illegal activities like drug smuggling, child pornography and terrorism.
The documents were turned over to David House, a fund-raiser for the legal defense of Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Pfc. Bradley Manning, as part of a legal settlement with the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. House had sued the agency after his laptop, camera, thumb drive and cellphone were seized when he returned from a trip to Mexico in November 2010. The data from the devices was then examined over seven months.
Although government investigators had questioned Mr. House about his association with Private Manning in the months before his trip to Mexico, he said no one asked to search his computer or mentioned seeking a warrant to do so. After seizing his devices, immigration authorities sent a copy of Mr. House’s data to the Army Criminal Investigation Command, which conducted the detailed search of his files. No evidence of any crime was found, the documents say.
“Americans crossing the border are being searched and their digital media is being seized in the hopes that the government will find something to have them convicted,” Mr. House said. “I think it’s important for business travelers and people who consider themselves politically inclined to know what dangers they now face in a country where they have no real guarantee of privacy at the border.”
A spokeswoman from Customs and Border Protection said the agency declined to comment about the settlement with Mr. House, or answer questions about travelers’ rights when their devices are seized or inspected during a border crossing.
On Tuesday, however, Michael Friel, a spokesman for the agency, said in an e-mail that searches of electronic devices “are essential to enforcing the law, and protecting national security and public safety – always with the shared goals of protecting the American people while respecting civil rights and civil liberties.”
While many travelers have no idea why they are singled out for a more intrusive screening at a border, one of the documents released in Mr. House’s settlement shows that he was flagged for a device search months before he traveled to Mexico.
On July 8, 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators in New York created an alert, known as a TECS lookout, for Mr. House, noting that he was “wanted for questioning re leak of classified material” and ordering border agents to “secure digital media” if he appeared at an inspection point.
TECS is a computer system used to screen travelers at the border, and includes records from law enforcement, immigration and antiterrorism databases. A report from the Department of Homeland Security about border searches of electronic devices says a traveler may be searched “because he is the subject of, or person-of-interest-in, an ongoing law enforcement investigation and was flagged by a law enforcement ‘lookout’ ” in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement computer system.
On Oct. 26, 2010, an automated message notified investigators that Mr. House had an airline reservation on Oct. 30, traveling on American Airlines flight 865 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Los Cabos, Mexico; a later query noted that he would be returning to Chicago O’Hare on American flight 228, landing at 6 p.m. on Nov. 3.
Since airline passengers are required to provide carriers with their birth date and passport number before a flight to or from the United States, and airlines pass that information to Homeland Security (as part of the Advance Passenger Information System), computers matched the lookout alert with Mr. House’s itinerary. Agents were then dispatched to meet him.
“It is clear from these documents that the search of David House’s computers had nothing to do with protecting the border or with enforcing immigration laws,” said Catherine Crump, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Mr. House along with the A.C.L.U. of Massachusetts. “The government used its broader powers at the border to conduct a search of House’s devices that no court would have approved.”
The documents, released by the A.C.L.U. on Monday, also detail the extent of the government’s examination of Mr. House’s computer. After a search using 183 keywords that turned up more than 26,000 files, the investigation concluded that “no data was found that constituted evidence of a crime.”
As part of the settlement, the government agreed to destroy all copies of the data taken from Mr. House, and update his file so he will not automatically be detained when he returns to the United States after traveling abroad, which has happened repeatedly since 2010.
Courts have largely supported the government’s authority to search electronic devices when travelers, including citizens, enter the United States. The so-called border search exception to the Fourth Amendment is based on the government’s interest in thwarting illegal activities.
But in March, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California set a new limit on device searches at the border, ruling in United States v. Cotterman that reasonable suspicion of criminal activity was required for a forensic search of a device — for instance, using software to analyze encrypted or deleted data, as opposed to performing a more cursory look at documents, photos or other files.
Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, said that it conducted electronic media searches on 4,957 people from Oct. 1, 2012, through Aug. 31, 2013, or about 15 a day, which is similar to the average during the previous two years. About 930,000 people are screened daily by border agents.
But for those pulled aside for a secondary inspection (about 35,000 travelers a day), the experience can be distressing, resulting in a missed connecting flight, a prolonged interrogation, and in Mr. House’s case, the loss of a laptop necessary for his livelihood.
“I was worried about losing my job, and not being able to pay my rent, and what I was going to tell my parents,” said Mr. House, 26, who was working as a computer programmer at the time. He was also concerned about the government getting access to names stored on his laptop of individuals who had donated money to Private Manning’s legal defense. Private Manning was sentenced by a military judge last month to 35 years in prison for providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks.
Mr. House’s lawsuit was among a handful of cases challenging the government’s authority to search devices at the border. Pascal Abidor, a graduate student in Islamic studies, sued the government after he was detained and his laptop was seized during an Amtrak trip from Montreal to New York in 2010. A decision in that case is expected soon, according to the case manager for Judge Edward R. Korman, who is writing the opinion for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Mr. Abidor is also being represented by Ms. Crump of the A.C.L.U.
For now, the law remains murky about any limits on intrusive border inspections, including how long travelers can be detained, whether they are required to provide passwords for their devices — Mr. House refused — and whether they must answer any question an agent asks. Responses may be recorded in a traveler’s TECS file and shared with other government agencies.
- [2013.09.10] The Border Is a Back Door for U.S. Device Searches (boramleeblog.wordpress.com)
- Government uses borders to seize, surveil electronics (salon.com)
- An angry government checks you out at the border (prairieweather.typepad.com)
- No Warrant? No Worries! The Immigration Service is Your Friend. (motherjones.com)
- Device Security: How Border Searches Are Really Used (news.slashdot.org)
- Pure Big Brotherism (esquire.com)
- Feds target US travelers and seize laptops at border, new files detail (nbcnews.com)
- New Details in How the Feds Take Laptops at Border (abcnews.go.com)
- New details in how the feds take laptops at border (utsandiego.com)
- New details in how the feds take laptops at border (bostonherald.com)
SEPTEMBER 5, 2013 AT 12:01 PM
Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS)
Kansas plans to throw more than a fifth of its nearly 90,000 unemployed residents off of the food stamp rolls by reinstating federal work requirements for the program that are normally waived during times of unusually high unemployment. The state’s Department for Children and Families announced the move Wednesday and projected that unemployed Kansans currently on food assistance will be affected.
The federal rules for food assistance require that able-bodied recipients who do not have dependent children – a very small subset of the food stamp population – work at least 20 hours per week in order to receive the aid for longer than three months. But states can waive that requirement when jobs are especially scarce, and during the Great Recession and gradual recovery. Kansas will be the fifth state to reinstitute the work requirement, and Oklahoma and Wisconsin are reportedly poised to follow suit shortly.
Nationwide, there are . of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) decision to reinstate the work requirements, such as Annie McKay of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, noted that the state can’t change that scarcity of work through sheer willpower. “Taking someone off food stamp assistance isn’t going to suddenly create jobs for them,” McKay told the Kansas City Star. Chad Manspeaker, a city councilman in Topeka, told the Huffington Post that unemployment is a long-term problem and “we don’t solve it by starving them.”
Brownback’s has reflected this same approach to reducing economic hardship. He has cut nearly 15,000 people off the welfare rolls, eliminated child tax credits that primarily benefit the working poor, and that were targeted to the poorest Kansans. Over the same period, Brownback has shifted some of the state’s tax burden while falling nearly half a billion dollars short of the minimum level of education funding to which residents are legally entitled. Poverty data for 2012 will not be released until later this month, but from 18 percent in 2010 to 19 percent in 2011. Thanks to population growth, the overall poverty rate for the state slid by 0.2 percentage points despite .
The are either working or not part of the population that is expected to work. Children, the elderly, and the disabled make up more than two-thirds of the food stamp rolls. Over 80 percent of recipients who would be expected to work find a job within a year of enrolling in the program. Over 95 percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients who had a job when they enrolled continued to work while receiving the aid.
- Kansas ends food stamp elegibility for 20,000 (cjonline.com)
- Kansas ends food stamp eligibility for 20,000 (cjonline.com)
- Kansas Changes Welfare Law, Will Cut An Estimated 20,000 People Off Welfare (syndicatednewsservices.com)
- Kansas has one of lowest food stamps participation rates (kansas.com)
- Kansas tightens food stamp eligibility, kicking up to 20,000 off of aid (dailykos.com)
- In Kansas, what’s so wrong with requiring work for welfare? (watchdog.org)
- Kansas has a front row seat in the food stamp fight (kansascity.com)
- Kansas tightens eligibility for food stamp program (kansas.com)
- Kansas Prepares To Throw 20,000 Off Food Stamps Even As State Unemployment Goes Up (addictinginfo.org)
- Kansas Tightens Eligibility For Food Stamp Program (kake.com)
Drone hunters lining up and paying out in Colorado
Deer Trail, Colo hasn’t yet voted on whether or not is will let residents hunt unmanned aircraft – FAA has warned such activity would be illegal
By Layer 8 on Thu, 09/05/13 – 3:01pm.
What might have started out a whimsical protest against government surveillance tactics has morphed into a little more than that as a small town in Colorado has found itself overwhelmed with requests and cash for a unmanned aircraft hunting license that doesn’t exist - yet.
In June a resident of Deer Trail, Colorado proposed a town wide ordinance that would offer $25 licenses to hunt and shoot down government drones if they flew within 1,000 feet above private property — with a $100 bounty if one actually got shot down.
[RELATED: What the drone invasion looks like]
The Denver Post this week reported the town’s clerk Kim Oldfield stopped counting the flood of requests for the licenses two weeks ago when the tally of personal checks made out to the town hit 983 [Deer Trails' own population is about 560] and $19,006. The checks came from all over the U.S. Oldfield said.
Oldfield went on to say she returned as many of the checks as she could before the work became overwhelming. ”I’m still getting the letters,” she said. “I’m just throwing them in a big pile.”
Deer Trail residents don’t actually vote on the ordinance until Oct. 8, though the Denver Post reported that the town’s board had a chance to approve the license ordinance last month but deadlocked 3-3.
As you might expect the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t taken too kindly to the Deer Trail idea. In July it said anyone who fire guns at drones is endangering the public and property and could be prosecuted or fined.
[IN THE NEWS: Quick look: NASA's ambitious asteroid grabbing mission]
The AP reported that the FAA said: A drone “hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air,” the statement said. “Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane.”
- Deer Trail clerk returning checks for drone-hunting licenses (denverpost.com)
- Colorado town to vote on drone hunting licenses (upi.com)
- About 60 drone hunting licenses sold while Deer Trail waits to vote (denverpost.com)
- About 60 drone hunting licenses sold while Deer Trail waits to vote (suasnews.com)
- Drone hunting certificates already being sold in Deer Trail angering residents (kdvr.com)
- Drone Hunters Lining Up and Paying Out In Colorado (idle.slashdot.org)
- Deer Trail, CO: Where residents are applying for drone-hunting permits because guns (freakoutnation.com)
- Colorado Town Declaring ‘Open Season’ on Drones (VIDEO) (guns.com)
- Date Set For Drone Hunting Vote In Deer Trail (denver.cbslocal.com)
- Shooting at drones goes to public vote in Colorado town (mercurynews.com)
N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web
Published: September 5, 2013
The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.
This article has been reported in partnership among The New York Times, The Guardian and ProPublica based on documents obtained by The Guardian. For The Guardian: James Ball, Julian Borger, Glenn Greenwald. For The New York Times: Nicole Perlroth, Scott Shane. For ProPublica: Jeff Larson.
Susan Walsh/Associated Press
The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.
Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the N.S.A. invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.
The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.
The N.S.A. hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted. In some cases, companies say they were coerced by the government into handing over their master encryption keys or building in a back door. And the agency used its influence as the world’s most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world.
“For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about N.S.A. accomplishments for employees of its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. “Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”
When the British analysts, who often work side by side with N.S.A. officers, were first told about the program, another memo said, “those not already briefed were gobsmacked!”
An intelligence budget document makes clear that the effort is still going strong. “We are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic,” the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., wrote in his budget request for the current year.
In recent months, the documents disclosed by Mr. Snowden have described the N.S.A.’s reach in scooping up vast amounts of communications around the world. The encryption documents now show, in striking detail, how the agency works to ensure that it is actually able to read the information it collects.
The agency’s success in defeating many of the privacy protections offered by encryption does not change the rules that prohibit the deliberate targeting of Americans’ e-mails or phone calls without a warrant. But it shows that the agency, which was sharply rebuked by a federal judge in 2011 for violating the rules and misleading the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, cannot necessarily be restrained by privacy technology. N.S.A. rules permit the agency to store any encrypted communication, domestic or foreign, for as long as the agency is trying to decrypt it or analyze its technical features.
The N.S.A., which has specialized in code-breaking since its creation in 1952, sees that task as essential to its mission. If it cannot decipher the messages of terrorists, foreign spies and other adversaries, the United States will be at serious risk, agency officials say.
Just in recent weeks, the Obama administration has called on the intelligence agencies for details of communications by leaders of Al Qaeda about a terrorist plot and of Syrian officials’ messages about the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. If such communications can be hidden by unbreakable encryption, N.S.A. officials say, the agency cannot do its work.
But some experts say the N.S.A.’s campaign to bypass and weaken communications security may have serious unintended consequences. They say the agency is working at cross-purposes with its other major mission, apart from eavesdropping: ensuring the security of American communications.
Some of the agency’s most intensive efforts have focused on the encryption in universal use in the United States, including Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL; virtual private networks, or VPNs; and the protection used on fourth-generation, or 4G, smartphones. Many Americans, often without realizing it, rely on such protection every time they send an e-mail, buy something online, consult with colleagues via their company’s computer network, or use a phone or a tablet on a 4G network.
For at least three years, one document says, GCHQ, almost certainly in collaboration with the N.S.A., has been looking for ways into protected traffic of popular Internet companies: Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft’s Hotmail. By 2012, GCHQ had developed “new access opportunities” into Google’s systems, according to the document. (Google denied giving any government access and said it had no evidence its systems had been breached).
“The risk is that when you build a back door into systems, you’re not the only one to exploit it,” said Matthew D. Green, a cryptography researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “Those back doors could work against U.S. communications, too.”
Paul Kocher, a leading cryptographer who helped design the SSL protocol, recalled how the N.S.A. lost the heated national debate in the 1990s about inserting into all encryption a government back door called the Clipper Chip.
“And they went and did it anyway, without telling anyone,” Mr. Kocher said. He said he understood the agency’s mission but was concerned about the danger of allowing it unbridled access to private information.
“The intelligence community has worried about ‘going dark’ forever, but today they are conducting instant, total invasion of privacy with limited effort,” he said. “This is the golden age of spying.”
A Vital Capability
The documents are among more than 50,000 shared by The Guardian with The New York Times and ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization. They focus on GCHQ but include thousands from or about the N.S.A.
Intelligence officials asked The Times and ProPublica not to publish this article, saying it might prompt foreign targets to switch to new forms of encryption or communications that would be harder to collect or read. The news organizations removed some specific facts but decided to publish the article because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful privacy tools.
The files show that the agency is still stymied by some encryption, as Mr. Snowden suggested in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian’s Web site in June.
“Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on,” he said, though cautioning that the N.S.A. often bypasses the encryption altogether by targeting the computers at one end or the other and grabbing text before it is encrypted or after it is decrypted.
The documents make clear that the N.S.A. considers its ability to decrypt information a vital capability, one in which it competes with China, Russia and other intelligence powers.
“In the future, superpowers will be made or broken based on the strength of their cryptanalytic programs,” a 2007 document said. “It is the price of admission for the U.S. to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace.”
The full extent of the N.S.A.’s decoding capabilities is known only to a limited group of top analysts from the so-called Five Eyes: the N.S.A. and its counterparts in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Only they are cleared for the Bullrun program, the successor to one called Manassas — both names of an American Civil War battle. A parallel GCHQ counterencryption program is called Edgehill, named for the first battle of the English Civil War of the 17th century.
Unlike some classified information that can be parceled out on a strict “need to know” basis, one document makes clear that with Bullrun, “there will be NO ‘need to know.’ ”
Only a small cadre of trusted contractors were allowed to join Bullrun. It does not appear that Mr. Snowden was among them, but he nonetheless managed to obtain dozens of classified documents referring to the program’s capabilities, methods and sources.
Ties to Internet Companies
When the N.S.A. was founded, encryption was an obscure technology used mainly by diplomats and military officers. Over the last 20 years, it has become ubiquitous. Even novices can tell that their exchanges are being automatically encrypted when a tiny padlock appears next to a Web address.
Because strong encryption can be so effective, classified N.S.A. documents make clear, the agency’s success depends on working with Internet companies — by getting their voluntary collaboration, forcing their cooperation with court orders or surreptitiously stealing their encryption keys or altering their software or hardware.
According to an intelligence budget document leaked by Mr. Snowden, the N.S.A. spends more than $250 million a year on its Sigint Enabling Project, which “actively engages the U.S. and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products’ designs” to make them “exploitable.” Sigint is the acronym for signals intelligence, the technical term for electronic eavesdropping.
By this year, the Sigint Enabling Project had found ways inside some of the encryption chips that scramble information for businesses and governments, either by working with chipmakers to insert back doors or by exploiting security flaws, according to the documents. The agency also expected to gain full unencrypted access to an unnamed major Internet phone call and text service; to a Middle Eastern Internet service; and to the communications of three foreign governments.
In one case, after the government learned that a foreign intelligence target had ordered new computer hardware, the American manufacturer agreed to insert a back door into the product before it was shipped, someone familiar with the request told The Times.
The 2013 N.S.A. budget request highlights “partnerships with major telecommunications carriers to shape the global network to benefit other collection accesses” — that is, to allow more eavesdropping.
At Microsoft, as The Guardian has reported, the N.S.A. worked with company officials to get pre-encryption access to Microsoft’s most popular services, including Outlook e-mail, Skype Internet phone calls and chats, and SkyDrive, the company’s cloud storage service.
Microsoft asserted that it had merely complied with “lawful demands” of the government, and in some cases, the collaboration was clearly coerced. Some companies have been asked to hand the government the encryption keys to all customer communications, according to people familiar with the government’s requests.
N.S.A. documents show that the agency maintains an internal database of encryption keys for specific commercial products, called a Key Provisioning Service, which can automatically decode many messages. If the necessary key is not in the collection, a request goes to the separate Key Recovery Service, which tries to obtain it.
How keys are acquired is shrouded in secrecy, but independent cryptographers say many are probably collected by hacking into companies’ computer servers, where they are stored. To keep such methods secret, the N.S.A. shares decrypted messages with other agencies only if the keys could have been acquired through legal means. “Approval to release to non-Sigint agencies,” a GCHQ document says, “will depend on there being a proven non-Sigint method of acquiring keys.”
Simultaneously, the N.S.A. has been deliberately weakening the international encryption standards adopted by developers. One goal in the agency’s 2013 budget request was to “influence policies, standards and specifications for commercial public key technologies,” the most common encryption method.
Cryptographers have long suspected that the agency planted vulnerabilities in a standard adopted in 2006 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and later by the International Organization for Standardization, which has 163 countries as members.
Classified N.S.A. memos appear to confirm that the fatal weakness, discovered by two Microsoft cryptographers in 2007, was engineered by the agency. The N.S.A. wrote the standard and aggressively pushed it on the international group, privately calling the effort “a challenge in finesse.”
“Eventually, N.S.A. became the sole editor,” the memo says.
Even agency programs ostensibly intended to guard American communications are sometimes used to weaken protections. The N.S.A.’s Commercial Solutions Center, for instance, invites the makers of encryption technologies to present their products to the agency with the goal of improving American cybersecurity. But a top-secret N.S.A. document suggests that the agency’s hacking division uses that same program to develop and “leverage sensitive, cooperative relationships with specific industry partners” to insert vulnerabilities into Internet security products.
By introducing such back doors, the N.S.A. has surreptitiously accomplished what it had failed to do in the open. Two decades ago, officials grew concerned about the spread of strong encryption software like Pretty Good Privacy, designed by a programmer named Phil Zimmermann. The Clinton administration fought back by proposing the Clipper Chip, which would have effectively neutered digital encryption by ensuring that the N.S.A. always had the key.
That proposal met a backlash from an unlikely coalition that included political opposites like Senator John Ashcroft, the Missouri Republican, and Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, as well as the televangelist Pat Robertson, Silicon Valley executives and the American Civil Liberties Union. All argued that the Clipper would kill not only the Fourth Amendment, but also America’s global technology edge.
By 1996, the White House backed down. But soon the N.S.A. began trying to anticipate and thwart encryption tools before they became mainstream.
Each novel encryption effort generated anxiety. When Mr. Zimmermann introduced the Zfone, an encrypted phone technology, N.S.A. analysts circulated the announcement in an e-mail titled “This can’t be good.”
But by 2006, an N.S.A. document notes, the agency had broken into communications for three foreign airlines, one travel reservation system, one foreign government’s nuclear department and another’s Internet service by cracking the virtual private networks that protected them.
By 2010, the Edgehill program, the British counterencryption effort, was unscrambling VPN traffic for 30 targets and had set a goal of an additional 300.
But the agencies’ goal was to move away from decrypting targets’ tools one by one and instead decode, in real time, all of the information flying over the world’s fiber optic cables and through its Internet hubs, only afterward searching the decrypted material for valuable intelligence.
A 2010 document calls for “a new approach for opportunistic decryption, rather than targeted.” By that year, a Bullrun briefing document claims that the agency had developed “groundbreaking capabilities” against encrypted Web chats and phone calls. Its successes against Secure Sockets Layer and virtual private networks were gaining momentum.
But the agency was concerned that it could lose the advantage it had worked so long to gain, if the mere “fact of” decryption became widely known. “These capabilities are among the Sigint community’s most fragile, and the inadvertent disclosure of the simple ‘fact of’ could alert the adversary and result in immediate loss of the capability,” a GCHQ document warned.
Since Mr. Snowden’s disclosures ignited criticism of overreach and privacy infringements by the N.S.A., American technology companies have faced scrutiny from customers and the public over what some see as too cozy a relationship with the government. In response, some companies have begun to push back against what they describe as government bullying.
Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook have pressed for permission to reveal more about the government’s requests for cooperation. One e-mail encryption company, Lavabit, closed rather than comply with the agency’s demands for customer information; another, Silent Circle, ended its e-mail service rather than face such demands.
In effect, facing the N.S.A.’s relentless advance, the companies surrendered.
Ladar Levison, the founder of Lavabit, wrote a public letter to his disappointed customers, offering an ominous warning. “Without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent,” he wrote, “I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”
- Report: NSA slices through most ‘net encryption, according to ‘Bullrun’ documents leaked by Snowden (boingboing.net)
- N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web – reports NY Times (freshskies.wordpress.com)
- N.S.A. Foils Much Internet Encryption – NYTimes.com (tech4classrooms.org)
- US, British spy agencies crack Web encryption (capitalfm.co.ke)
- NSA can see through encryption, including your private e-mail’s, says report (news.cnet.com)
- The NSA’s Secret Campaign to Crack, Undermine Internet Security (kielarowski.wordpress.com)
- US and UK spy agencies defeat privacy and security on the internet (bronzeyegroup.wordpress.com)
- NSA attains the Holy Grail of spying, decodes vast swaths of Internet traffic (arstechnica.com)
- NSA Foils Much Internet Encryption (yro.slashdot.org)
- How Not To Be Paralyzed By NSA Revelations (forbes.com)