Whistleblower hunt: NSA launches criminal inquiry into PRISM leak

The National Security Agency (NSA) has requested a criminal probe to track down those responsible for the leak of the PRISM global internet surveillance program.

The US American intelligence community is reeling over the
revelation of the NSA’s massive Internet spy tool PRISM, the most
high-profile public leak since WikiLeaks, and is taking action
against those who publicized the top-secret program.

Washington has mounted a public defense of its right to monitor and
record all personal information that passes through or is stored
on the servers of nine leading tech companies through PRISM.

Shawn Turner, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of
National Intelligence, told the AP via email on Saturday that the
NSA filed a criminal report with the Justice Department earlier
this week over media leaks on PRISM.

US intelligence services are “doing an assessment of the
damage that is being done to US national security by the
revelation of this information, which is necessarily secret
because the United States needs to be able to conduct
intelligence activities without those methods being revealed to
the world
,” US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes
said.

The investigation, which is “in early stages”, would imply
close cooperation between the intelligence community and the
Justice Department, Rhodes explained. A joint team of
intelligence officers and government attorneys will evaluate the
potential damage caused by these “very disturbing leaks of
national security information.

US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes (AFP Photo / Mandel Ngan)

This follows President Barack Obama’s public justification on
Friday for the NSA’s extensive spying program.
(http://rt.com/usa/obama-surveillance-nsa-monitoring-385/) Obama
claimed the scheme helps to identify “folks who might engage
in terrorism.

You can’t have 100 per cent security and also then have 100
per cent privacy and zero inconvenience,
” Obama said.

Following Obama’s statement, Director of National Intelligence
James Clapper spoke out Saturday, calling the revelation of the
previously top-secret program “reckless.” Clapper stressed that
PRISM was authorized by Congress and has been strictly supervised
by a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court to avoid
the intentional targeting of American citizens.

He said that reports by The Guardian and The Washington Post
failed to put the program in context, stressing that PRISM is
overseen by a secret court under laws approved by the US
Congress.

PRISM is “one of our most important tools for the protection
of the nation’s security
,” he insisted. “PRISM is not an
undisclosed collection or data mining program.
” 

It is an internal government computer system to facilitate
the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign
intelligence information from electronic communication service
providers under court supervision
,” Clapper said without
specifying, however, how non-Americans should regard being
targeted by PRISM or similar programs created by the US.

Speaking in Palm Springs on Sunday, Deputy National Security
Adviser Rhodes pointed out that Americans should understand that
the US government “is not listening to anybody’s phone
calls
” or “seeking to read people’s electronic
communications.
” Only if PRISM detects a “nexus to
terrorism
” will they “pursue a warrant to try to
investigate that lead, just as we would in any other intelligence
or criminal procedure,
” he said.

It remains unclear how the governmental accesses private data.
Companies like Google and Facebook cooperating with PRISM vow
that they never granted intelligence services “direct
access
” to their servers, though they may be making a
semantic point.

Chris Soghoian, a tech expert and privacy researcher at the
American Civil Liberties Union, explained to Foreign Policy that
the “direct access” term “connotes a very specific form
of access in the IT world: Unrestricted, unfettered access to
information stored on servers
.” For a system like PRISM, such
access is not necessarily required. The same applies to the term
back door,” which describes a secret point of access to a
system unknown to the owner.

Both Google and Facebook have not denied their participation in
PRISM, saying that they provided “user data to government only
in accordance with the law
.”

Experts man their stations at the Threat Operations Center inside the National Security Agency (NSA) in suburban Fort Mead, Maryland (AFP Photo)

The defense of PRISM by top US officials, including President
Obama, strongly suggests that the surveillance program will
remain in use.

The USA Patriot Act adopted by the George W. Bush administration
has made global surveillance and tapping fully legal for US
intelligence agencies. However, those who leaked the existence of
PRISM may soon be treated similarly to US soldier Bradley
Manning, accused of leaking diplomatic cables and the infamous
‘Collateral Murder’ video to WikiLeaks.

The prosecution for Manning’s court martial are seeking life imprisonment on
charges of “aiding the enemy,” alleging that he intended
to harm the US by leaking secrets to its enemies.

This article originally appeared on: RT