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News Roundup and Notes: August 22, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Iraq and Syria

At a Pentagon press conference yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the threat posed by ISIS is “beyond anything we have seen,” noting that the U.S.…   continue »

Who does the New York Times think is a combatant in Gaza?

There is a strange quality to today’s story by the New York Times on the civilian casualty rate in Gaza (“Civilian or Not? New Fight in Tallying the Dead from the Gaza Conflict”).

The story raises a key legal issue: “Then there is the question of who counts as a “combatant.’”

In addressing that question, there’s much to learn from the story and its analysis of statistical information about existing casualties.  continue »

Why (Some) Secrecy is Good for Civil Liberties

A few weeks back, Ben Wittes wrote a controversial post over at Lawfare on the latest Snowden disclosures, arguing that, “If you’re okay with dumping in the lap of a journalist 160,000 of the most personal conversations a signals intelligence agency can collect, then stop whining to me about ‘bulk’ or ‘mass’ collection.”  As Ben subsequently clarified, his point was not to criticize Snowden for possibly violating the Privacy Act, but to flag what he perceived as the hypocrisy of various media outlets and privacy and civil liberties groups in not criticizing these disclosures—and in thereby appearing to endorse the view that transparency of secret government programs is an unmitigated good.…   continue »

The PCLOB Report and Eight Questions About Section 702

Note: The views expressed below are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of PCLOB or its other Board members.

On July 2, Professor Jennifer Granick posed the question: “Did PCLOB Answer My Eight Questions About Section 702?” She concludes that her questions went largely unanswered in the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s report (hereinafter, “PCLOB report”) issued earlier that day, on the surveillance program operated under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.…   continue »

Nine to One, Baby, One in Nine: Surveillance by the Numbers

There’s a great deal of interesting material in this weekend’s big Washington Post story on collection of Internet communications under §702 of the FISA Amendments Act.  But in a way, the single fact that has gotten the most attention—that 90% of §702-acquired communications in a trove provided by Edward Snowden were sent by someone other than the target—is also the least surprising. …   continue »

Does the Intelligence Community Fear Lawyers…or Legal Scrutiny?

[Editor's Note: See Marshall Erwin's response to General Dunlap here.]

In a provocatively entitled essay, Are National Security Lawyers a National Security Threat? Marshall Erwin, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and former “lead intelligence specialist” at the Congressional Research Service, asks if national security lawyers are a “security threat” because, as he claims, they “distract us from important questions about national security and intelligence community efficacy,” and “this hurts America’s national security bottom line.”

Mr.…   continue »