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Keeping Up with the Snoops 6: A Game of Chairs

We reported back in “Keeping Up with the Snoops 4: When the Going Gets Weird…,” (13 March 2014) that the United States Senate had accused the CIA of spying on Senate staffers, something that CIA Director John Brennan denied at the time, saying it was “beyond the scope of reason.”

The scope of reason is apparently a bit broader than imagined, because Brennan has recently admitted to, and apologized for, the CIA illegally searching Senate computers.

So what happens now? Probably nothing of any serious consequence. The Justice Department has said it will not bring charges, and despite senators’ calls for the CIA director’s resignation, President Obama has stated that he has “full confidence” in Brennan, who has created an accountability board to investigate the situation. Oh, and “We tortured some folks,” Obama added.

Torture, or rather the CIA’s use of it in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, is the root of the scuffle. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent years, and millions of tax dollars, on a report investigating the CIA’s use of torture, which remains classified. The Obama administration, which bears responsibility for declassifying the report, has been accused of dragging its feet, presumably to save face.

Just as it was looking like the report was finally to be released to the public, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein sent it back due to excessive redactions that “eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions”.

While the report remains, and may forever remain, classified, the Los Angeles Times said, “Those who have read the report say it concludes that the agency used brutal and sometimes unauthorized interrogation techniques, misled policymakers and the public, and sought to undermine congressional oversight. It also reportedly rejects the idea that waterboarding and other ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (a euphemism for torture) produced information vital to preventing terrorist attacks.”

While the Senate and the CIA continue to bicker, the lot of whistleblower Edward Snowden, himself locked behind the Iron Curtain, has grown a shade brighter. After fears that his temporary asylum in Russia might expire, he was granted a three-year residence permit, with permission to travel abroad for up to three months at a time. Perhaps Snowden is feeling a bit freer to travel now, given his recent outing to the theater, his first public appearance in Russia.

But while Snowden’s eventual fate remains up in the air, one thing is certain: the United States security apparatus is no longer capable of operating in the shadows. The government has determined that there is a new leaker releasing inside information to the press.

The post-Snowden leak that prompted the government’s announcement was The Intercept’s story on the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list, which claimed that more than 40 percent of the 680,000 people on the list have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” (According to CNN, U.S. officials familiar with the situation say the claim is incorrect, and is based on a misreading of the documents.)

The more cautious among you may believe that using Tor will keep your Web browsing safe from prying eyes, but think again: a study has revealed that merely visiting the Tor Web site can cause you to be flagged for NSA surveillance. In retrospect, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, given that Tor was developed in part by the U.S. military.

So be aware: there’s always someone watching you. But fear not, privacy lovers, since “Weird Al” Yankovic has a simple, inexpensive solution: aluminum foil (which has the side benefit of keeping your sandwich nice and fresh). OK, maybe a tinfoil hat isn’t a proper solution, but if you’ve been following along this far, you deserve a laugh — make sure to watch the video all the way through.

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