Skip to main content

US intelligence chief has 30 days to reveal if specific citizens were spied upon

US intelligence chief has 30 days to reveal if specific citizens were spied upon

Share this story

James Clapper
James Clapper

In a hearing called to assess current and future national security threats, some of the most prominent members of the US intelligence committee were grilled on how to handle the ongoing leaks from Edward Snowden and criticism of its surveillance efforts. This morning's remarkably hostile Senate hearing pitted Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI head James Comey, and their Congressional supporters against senators who wanted hard, public answers to questions whose answers have been kept ambiguous or under wraps to all but a few officials.

In a series of curt questions, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a longtime surveillance critic, extracted hard promises of information from the NSA, CIA, and FBI. Within 30 days, Clapper has agreed to reveal whether intelligence agencies have ever searched through records for information about specific US citizens. CIA director John Brennan will answer within a week whether the limits of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to his agency. Comey will lay out what burden of proof FBI agents must meet before tracking cellphone location data from either apps or cell towers.

By next month, we're also promised an answer to one of the most important questions in the debate over phone record collection: have intelligence agencies ever needed immediate access to information that was so old cellphone companies would no longer store it? Obama has promised to move the NSA's phone record database to a third party, possibly by asking cellphone companies to store data for longer. But the program's effectiveness is already in question, and so far, we know relatively little about when and how it's actually been used.

"Simply using the metric of plots foiled is not necessarily a way to get at the value of the program."

Today, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) passionately denounced Obama's decision to move the database to an outside party, something he said would take away a "core government function" without protecting privacy. But others echoed a recent watchdog committee report that found the program both unconstitutional and relatively ineffective. The White House has officially disagreed with the panel's conclusions, and Clapper said that although the program has never actually been necessary to solve a case, it allows the NSA to know if a terrorist has not been communicating with US numbers. "Simply using the metric of plots foiled is not necessarily a way to get at the value of the program."

Following conflicting decisions in lower courts, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) asked Clapper to officially condone a fast-tracked Supreme Court decision on whether the program itself was legal, cutting off his reference to one of the dozens of cases. Meanwhile, Clapper's official Twitter account tweeted his testimony throughout the hearing:

Unsurprisingly, Snowden himself came up for attack. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) opened the hearing by steering discussion towards threats worldwide, saying she was concerned that successful anti-terrorism work has created a false sense of security. In response to a question from Susan Collins (R-ME), Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn said the greatest price of the leaks would likely be "the cost in human lives on tomorrow's battlefields." Clapper himself declined to say whether he thought leaked documents had ended up in Russian hands — a claim Snowden vehemently denies — due to an ongoing investigation. Despite Snowden's prominence in the hearing, his name still eluded both Collins and Mikulski, who respectively referred to him as "Edwin" and "Eric."

Clapper called the leaks "the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history." But he backhandedly accepted that the intelligence community should "lean in the direction of transparency," even if it reduced its operating power. As he and others talked about limiting the NSA's power, though, Comey emphasized the FBI's need for CISPA-like cybersecurity legislation that would let companies and government agencies share information about potential online attacks. The balance between liberty and security is far from a settled issue, but Obama has turned much of the debate over to Congress, and today's hearing is likely only a small sign of what's to come.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 6 minutes ago The tablet didn’t call that play by itself

External Link
Andrew J. Hawkins6 minutes ago
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg. Guests were treated to a champagne and lobster lunch, but also were left wondering why none of VinFast’s machinery was working. They even got to visit the company’s real estate holdings outside Hanoi, where they were greeted by empty swimming pools, dusty construction equipment, and a library devoid of books.

James Vincent25 minutes ago
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.

Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
The Verge
James Vincent40 minutes ago
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.

External Link
Elizabeth LopattoAn hour ago
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
The Verge
Richard LawlerTwo hours ago
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.

David PierceTwo hours ago
Thousands and thousands of reasons people love Android.

“Android fans, what are the primary reasons why you will never ever switch to an iPhone?” That question led to almost 30,000 comments so far, and was for a while the most popular thing on Reddit. It’s a totally fascinating peek into the platform wars, and I’ve spent way too much time reading through it. I also laughed hard at “I can turn my text bubbles to any color I like.”

Thomas Ricker10:44 AM UTC
The Simpsons pays tribute to Chrome’s dino game.

Season 34 of The Simpsons kicked off on Sunday night with an opening credits “couch gag” based on the offline dino game from Google’s Chrome browser. Cactus, cactus, couch, d’oh! Perfect.

Thomas Ricker7:29 AM UTC
Table breaks before Apple Watch Ultra’s sapphire glass.

”It’s the most rugged and capable Apple Watch yet,” said Apple at the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra (read The Verge review here). YouTuber TechRax put that claim to the test with a series of drop, scratch, and hammer tests. Takeaways: the titanium case will scratch with enough abuse, and that flat sapphire front crystal is tough — tougher than the table which cracks before the Ultra fails — but not indestructible.

Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.