Tim Geithner would have backed a Barclays bid for Lehman Brothers

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Tim Geithner would have backed a Barclays bid for Lehman Brothers” was written by Jill Treanor, for theguardian.com on Monday 12th May 2014 17.33 UTC

It will never been known what might have happened if Lehman Brothers had not collapsed in 2008, unleashing a wave of panic on the financial markets that led to the bailout of banks around the world.

But Tim Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve bank at the time of Lehman’s difficulties, admits that he would have backed a deal allowing Barclays to buy the Wall Street firm, potentially staving off its collapse. According to his book, Stress Test, Geithner would have supported the use of US public money to finance a loan helping Barclays secure a deal.

“In the end I’m confident the Fed would have helped finance a deal with a willing buyer,” Geithner writes. But he also makes the point that this still would not have surmounted another stumbling block: that Barclays was required to put its takeover to a shareholder vote and that a loan “would not have eliminated the risk to Barclays”.

In the end, the barriers to Barclays taking over Lehman Brothers were too high. But then, just days after Lehman’s collapse in September 2008, Barclays was picking off the Wall Street operations of the business and embarking on a rapid expansion of its investment banking arm.

Five years on, Barclays has announced it will be closing large parts of the investment banking arm again, axing almost one in three jobs. A comment piece in the German newspaper Handelsblatt has urged Deutsche Bank to become a European investment bank capable of competing with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, now that Barclays is retrenching. Cue a mass arrival of CVs from Barclays’ bankers.

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Nigerian Boko Haram rebels parade ‘liberated’ girls in propaganda video

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Boko Haram rebels parade ‘liberated’ Nigerian girls in propaganda video” was written by Sam Jones, for The Guardian on Tuesday 13th May 2014 07.59 UTC

The dozens of young women corralled into a clearing to recite the first chapter of the Qur’an, their palms turned upwards in prayer but their collective gaze fixed mainly on the forest floor on which they sit, have, in their captors’ words, been "liberated".

Few, though, seem to be relishing their four weeks of freedom. Some shut their eyes tight in concentration or perhaps fear; others fidget, glance about and let the phrase "In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful" emerge through nearly motionless lips.

On Monday, almost a month after they were kidnapped, some of the 276 Nigerian girls snatched from their school under cover of darkness appeared to re-emerge in a propaganda video shot by Boko Haram, the Islamist group that has in recent days acquired the notoriety it has sought for years.

The 27-minute film, stamped with the logo of a pair of crossed Kalashnikovs, a black flag and an open Qur’an, shows around 130 girls wearing grey and black veils. Two of them speak of their conversion from Christianity to Islam.

Against a backdrop of such nervous stillness, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, is even more animated than usual; no mean feat for a man once described as Boko Haram’s "craziest" commander.

In the video, Shekau appears nothing short of exultant as he reflects on the kidnapping and the global fury it has stirred.

"These girls; these girls you occupy yourselves with … we have indeed liberated them," he tells the camera with a grin. "These girls have become Muslims. They’re Muslims."

Dressed in combat fatigues with a camouflage scarf wrapped around his head and an assault rifle propped against his left shoulder, its long magazine curling across his chest, Shekau berates the Nigerian government for its treatment of the Boko Haram fighters it has captured.

But he also suggests to president Goodluck Jonathan a way out of the deepening crisis. "It’s now four or five years since you arrested our brethren and they’re still in your prisons and you’re doing many things to them," he says – a reference to allegations that the Nigerian military has routinely and brutally violated the human rights of those it suspects of belonging to the group.

"And now you’re talking about these girls. We’ll never release them until after you release our brothers."

Until that time, Shekau adds, the girls will be treated well – "in the way the Prophet would treat well any infidel he seized".

Asked whether the government intended to reject Shekau’s suggested deal, the Nigerian interior minister, Abba Moro, told AFP: "Of course", adding: "The issue in question is not about Boko Haram … giving conditions."

The video of the captive women – which came a week after Shekau threatened to sell them into marriage "in the market" – was swiftly condemned.

The former British prime minister Gordon Brown, now the UN special envoy for global education, accused Boko Haram of "cruelly and barbarically using 200 kidnapped girls to bargain for the release of prisoners and exploiting innocent young girls for political purposes".

He added: "It is urgent that all religious leaders in every part of the world speak out against their perverted and twisted version of Islam which involves forced conversions and the sale of girls as sex slaves."

After a fortnight in which it was criticised for failing to respond sufficiently quickly or effectively to the mass abduction, Nigeria has begun to accept international help as its forces scour the remote north-eastern reaches of the country for the girls and the men who took them.

The UK, the US and France have already dispatched specialist teams to Nigeria to share their expertise, while China has volunteered to share "any useful information acquired by its satellites and intelligence services". On Sunday, a spokesman for Jonathan said the president was pleased to have Israel’s "globally acknowledged anti-terrorism expertise deployed to support its ongoing operations".

The prospect of a more multilateral approach to the threat of Boko Haram was raised still further when the French president, François Hollande, said he had invited US and British officials to a summit in Paris this weekend to discuss how to deal with the Islamist group.

"I asked the Americans and British to send a delegation to Paris on Saturday so we can act together and in an efficient way," Hollande told journalists during a visit to the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

According to AFP, the leaders of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin could also attend the event.

At the end of last week, the Nigerian army denied allegations from Amnesty International that it had had four hours’ warning that an armed convoy of Boko Haram militants was approaching the town of Chibok, from where the girls were kidnapped shortly before dawn on 15 April. A spokesman dismissed Amnesty’s report as a "rumours and allegations", adding: "They just want to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Their allegations are unfounded as usual."

The kidnapping of the schoolgirls – and the abduction last week of eight more girls in an overnight raid on another village in Boko Haram’s stronghold in north-eastern Borno state – has given rise to a global campaign and led figures including the Pope, the archbishop of Canterbury, David Cameron and Barack and Michelle Obama to call for their release.

On Saturday, the US first lady used her husband’s weekly video address to her anger over the abductions.

"Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night," she said.

"This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls."

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Obama condemns Egyptian violence and cancels joint military drills

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Obama condemns Egyptian violence and cancels joint military drills” was written by Dan Roberts in Washington, for The Guardian on Thursday 15th August 2013 18.30 UTC

Barack Obama has cancelled US military exercises with Egypt in a carefully-calibrated rebuke to its interim government that stopped short of a more significant suspension of aid.

Reacting to the killing of more than 500 anti-government protesters, the US president interrupted his family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to condemn the bloodshed, but stressed that any move toward peaceful democracy was a difficult process that could take decades.

"We appreciate the complexity of the situation," he said. "We recognise that change takes time. There are going to be false starts and difficult days. We know that democratic transitions are measured not in months or even years, but sometimes in generations."

Obama also issued a reminder of why the US had initially chosen to support the ousting of Egypt’s first elected president following the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak.

"While Mohamed Morsi was elected president in a democratic election, his government was not inclusive and did not respect the views of all Egyptians. We know that many Egyptians, millions of Egyptians, perhaps even a majority of Egyptians, were calling for a change in course."

Nevertheless, the White House statement was designed to reinforce a recent hardening of US criticism of the violence, which began on Wednesday with condemnation from secretary of state John Kerry and tough language from spokesman Josh Earnest.

Obama criticised the "arbitrary arrests" and persecution of Morsi supporters as well as the violence on Wednesday.

After Morsi was removed there remained an "opportunity to pursue a democratic path," Obama said. "Instead we’ve seen a more dangerous path taken."

His statement will disappoint some who hoped for a suspension, or even cancellation of .3bn in annual US military aid to Egypt, but Washington is anxious to retain this link for future leverage over the generals.

The Bright Star military exercise cancelled by the president was due to take place in September, but may have been in jeopardy regardless of US disapproval, since the fragile security situation in Egypt makes it hard to imagine the Pentagon sanctioning the deployment of hundreds of US troops into a hostile environment for mere training purposes.

Obama said he had notified the interim government that he is cancelling the bi-annual exercises and was asking advisers to "assess implications" of interim government’s actions and consider "further steps."

"The Egyptian people deserve better than what we’ve seen over the last several days … The cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop," he added.

Obama ended by saying: "America cannot determine the future of Egypt. That’s a task for the Egyptian people. We don’t take sides with any particular party or political figure."

Obama ignored questions from reporters outside his rented vacation home about whether the US would cut off aid. His audio statement was not initially televised, but video was released later.

Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, conceded that the cancellation of the joint training scheme would have only a limited, if any, impact on events in Egypt. "I don’t think anyone in the government thinks that simply the cancellation of BrightStar is going to change actions on the ground," she said.

Asked at a press briefing why the US had not curtailed its aid to Egypt in light of the mass killing, Psaki replied: "Given the depths of a partnership with Egypt, our national security interests in this part of the world, our belief, also, that engagement can support a transition back to a democratically elected civilian government, we have sustained that commitment.

"But of course we evaluate and review on a regular if not daily basis."

She added: "This is a rocky road back to democracy. We continue to work at it."

The US criticism of the violence in Egypt was echoed in other western countries, but opposition parties called for a firmer response.

British foreign secretary William Hague is being urged by the Labour opposition to convene an emergency meeting of European Union foreign ministers that could halt EU aid to Egypt.

The UK shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, also asked the foreign secretary to urge the US to suspend military assistance, saying the west should use "any lever" available to show that such crackdowns could not be tolerated.

In November, following the election of Mohamed Morsi, the European Union pledged nearly €5bn in loans and grants for 2012-13, plus potential loans through the European Investment Bank of up to €1bn a year.

Additional reporting by Rajeev Syal in London

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FISA court oversight: a look inside a secret and empty process

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Fisa court oversight: a look inside a secret and empty process” was written by Glenn Greenwald, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 18th June 2013 23.36 UTC

(updated below [Wed.])

Since we began began publishing stories about the NSA’s massive domestic spying apparatus, various NSA defenders – beginning with President Obama – have sought to assure the public that this is all done under robust judicial oversight. "When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls," he proclaimed on June 7 when responding to our story about the bulk collection of telephone records, adding that the program is "fully overseen" by "the Fisa court, a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them". Obama told Charlie Rose last night:

"What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls … by law and by rule, and unless they … go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause."

The GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, told CNN that the NSA "is not listening to Americans’ phone calls. If it did, it is illegal. It is breaking the law." Talking points issued by the House GOP in defense of the NSA claimed that surveillance law only "allows the Government to acquire foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S.-persons (foreign, non-Americans) located outside the United States."

The NSA’s media defenders have similarly stressed that the NSA’s eavesdropping and internet snooping requires warrants when it involves Americans. The Washington Post’s Charles Lane told his readers: "the government needs a court-issued warrant, based on probable cause, to listen in on phone calls." The Post’s David Ignatius told Post readers that NSA internet surveillance "is overseen by judges who sit on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court" and is "lawful and controlled". Tom Friedman told New York Times readers that before NSA analysts can invade the content of calls and emails, they "have to go to a judge to get a warrant to actually look at the content under guidelines set by Congress."

This has become the most common theme for those defending NSA surveillance. But these claim are highly misleading, and in some cases outright false.

Top secret documents obtained by the Guardian illustrate what the Fisa court actually does – and does not do – when purporting to engage in "oversight" over the NSA’s domestic spying. That process lacks many of the safeguards that Obama, the House GOP, and various media defenders of the NSA are trying to lead the public to believe exist.

No individualized warrants required under 2008 Fisa law

Many of the reasons these claims are so misleading is demonstrated by the law itself. When the original Fisa law was enacted in 1978, its primary purpose was to ensure that the US government would be barred from ever monitoring the electronic communications of Americans without first obtaining an individualized warrant from the Fisa court, which required evidence showing "probable cause" that the person to be surveilled was an agent of a foreign power or terrorist organization.

That was the law which George Bush, in late 2001, violated, when he secretly authorized eavesdropping on the international calls of Americans without any warrants from that court. Rather than act to punish Bush for those actions, the Congress, on a bipartisan basis in 2008, enacted a new, highly diluted Fisa law – the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA) – that legalized much of the Bush warrantless NSA program.

Under the FAA, which was just renewed last December for another five years, no warrants are needed for the NSA to eavesdrop on a wide array of calls, emails and online chats involving US citizens. Individualized warrants are required only when the target of the surveillance is a US person or the call is entirely domestic. But even under the law, no individualized warrant is needed to listen in on the calls or read the emails of Americans when they communicate with a foreign national whom the NSA has targeted for surveillance.

As a result, under the FAA, the NSA frequently eavesdrops on Americans’ calls and reads their emails without any individualized warrants – exactly that which NSA defenders, including Obama, are trying to make Americans believe does not take place. As Yale Law professor Jack Balkin explained back in 2009:

"The Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, effectively gives the President – now President Obama – the authority to run surveillance programs similar in effect to the warrantless surveillance program [secretly implemented by George Bush in late 2001]. That is because New Fisa no longer requires individualized targets in all surveillance programs. Some programs may be ‘vacuum cleaner’ programs that listen to a great many different calls (and read a great many e-mails) without any requirement of a warrant directed at a particular person as long as no US person is directly targeted as the object of the program. . . .

"New Fisa authorizes the creation of surveillance programs directed against foreign persons (or rather, against persons believed to be outside the United States) – which require no individualized suspicion of anyone being a terrorist, or engaging in any criminal activity. These programs may inevitably include many phone calls involving Americans, who may have absolutely no connection to terrorism or to Al Qaeda."

As the FAA was being enacted in mid-2008, Professor Balkin explained that "Congress is now giving the President the authority to do much of what he was probably doing (illegally) before".

The ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director, Jameel Jaffer, told me this week by email:

"On its face, the 2008 law gives the government authority to engage in surveillance directed at people outside the United States. In the course of conducting that surveillance, though, the government inevitably sweeps up the communications of many Americans. The government often says that this surveillance of Americans’ communications is ‘incidental’, which makes it sound like the NSA’s surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and emails is inadvertent and, even from the government’s perspective, regrettable.

"But when Bush administration officials asked Congress for this new surveillance power, they said quite explicitly that Americans’ communications were the communications of most interest to them. See, for example, Fisa for the 21st Century, Hearing Before the S. Comm. on the Judiciary, 109th Cong. (2006) (statement of Michael Hayden) (stating, in debate preceding passage of FAA’s predecessor statute, that certain communications ‘with one end in the United States" are the ones "that are most important to us‘).

The principal purpose of the 2008 law was to make it possible for the government to collect Americans’ international communications – and to collect those communications without reference to whether any party to those communications was doing anything illegal. And a lot of the government’s advocacy is meant to obscure this fact, but it’s a crucial one: The government doesn’t need to ‘target’ Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications."

That’s why Democratic senators such as Ron Wyden and Mark Udall spent years asking the NSA: how many Americans are having their telephone calls listened to and emails read by you without individualized warrants? Unlike the current attempts to convince Americans that the answer is "none", the NSA repeatedly refused to provide any answers, claiming that providing an accurate number was beyond their current technological capabilities. Obviously, the answer is far from "none".

Contrary to the claims by NSA defenders that the surveillance being conducted is legal, the Obama DOJ has repeatedly thwarted any efforts to obtain judicial rulings on whether this law is consistent with the Fourth Amendment or otherwise legal. Every time a lawsuit is brought contesting the legality of intercepting Americans’ communications without warrants, the Obama DOJ raises claims of secrecy, standing and immunity to prevent any such determination from being made.

The emptiness of ‘oversight’ from the secret Fisa court

The supposed safeguard under the FAA is that the NSA annually submits a document setting forth its general procedures for how it decides on whom it can eavesdrop without a warrant. The Fisa court then approves those general procedures. And then the NSA is empowered to issue "directives" to telephone and internet companies to obtain the communications for whomever the NSA decides – with no external (i.e. outside the executive branch) oversight – complies with the guidelines it submitted to the court.

In his interview with the president last night, Charlie Rose asked Obama about the oversight he claims exists: "Should this be transparent in some way?" Obama’s answer: "It is transparent. That’s why we set up the Fisa Court." But as Politico’s Josh Gerstein noted about that exchange: Obama was "referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – which carries out its work almost entirely in secret." Indeed, that court’s orders are among the most closely held secrets in the US government. That Obama, when asked about transparency, has to cite a court that operates in complete secrecy demonstrates how little actual transparency there is to any this.

The way to bring actual transparency to this process it to examine the relevant Top Secret Fisa court documents. Those documents demonstrate that this entire process is a fig leaf, "oversight" in name only. It offers no real safeguards. That’s because no court monitors what the NSA is actually doing when it claims to comply with the court-approved procedures. Once the Fisa court puts its approval stamp on the NSA’s procedures, there is no external judicial check on which targets end up being selected by the NSA analysts for eavesdropping. The only time individualized warrants are required is when the NSA is specifically targeting a US citizen or the communications are purely domestic.

When it is time for the NSA to obtain Fisa court approval, the agency does not tell the court whose calls and emails it intends to intercept. It instead merely provides the general guidelines which it claims are used by its analysts to determine which individuals they can target, and the Fisa court judge then issues a simple order approving those guidelines. The court endorses a one-paragraph form order stating that the NSA’s process "’contains all the required elements’ and that the revised NSA, FBI and CIA minimization procedures submitted with the amendment ‘are consistent with the requirements of [50 U.S.C. §1881a(e)] and with the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States’". As but one typical example, the Guardian has obtained an August 19, 2010, Fisa court approval from Judge John Bates which does nothing more than recite the statutory language in approving the NSA’s guidelines.

Once the NSA has this court approval, it can then target anyone chosen by their analysts, and can even order telecoms and internet companies to turn over to them the emails, chats and calls of those they target. The Fisa court plays no role whatsoever in reviewing whether the procedures it approved are actually complied with when the NSA starts eavesdropping on calls and reading people’s emails.

The guidelines submitted by the NSA to the Fisa court demonstrate how much discretion the agency has in choosing who will be targeted. Those guidelines also make clear that, contrary to the repeated assurances from government officials and media figures, the communications of American citizens are – without any individualized warrant – included in what is surveilled.

The specific guidelines submitted by the NSA to the Fisa court in July 2009 – marked Top Secret and signed by Attorney General Eric Holder – state that "NSA determines whether a person is a non-United States person reasonably believed to be outside the United States in light of the totality of the circumstances based on the information available with respect to that person, including information concerning the communications facility or facilities used by that person." It includes information that the NSA analyst uses to make this determination – including IP addresses, statements made by the potential target, and other information in the NSA databases.

The decision to begin listening to someone’s phone calls or read their emails is made exclusively by NSA analysts and their "line supervisors". There is no outside scrutiny, and certainly no Fisa court involvement. As the NSA itself explained in its guidelines submitted to the Fisa court:

"Analysts who request tasking will document in the tasking database a citation or citations to the information that led them to reasonably believe that a targeted person is located outside the United States. Before tasking is approved, the database entry for that tasking will be reviewed in order to verify that the database entry contains the necessary citations."

The only oversight for monitoring whether there is abuse comes from the executive branch itself: from the DOJ and Director of National Intelligence, which conduct "periodic reviews … to evaluate the implementation of the procedure." At a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday afternoon, deputy attorney general James Cole testified that every 30 days, the Fisa court is merely given an "aggregate number" of database searches on US domestic phone records.

Warrantless interception of Americans’ communications

Obama and other NSA defenders have repeatedly claimed that "nobody" is listening to Americans’ telephone calls without first obtaining warrants. This is simply false. There is no doubt that some of the communications intercepted by the NSA under this warrantless scheme set forth in FAA’s section 702 include those of US citizens. Indeed, as part of the Fisa court approval process, the NSA submits a separate document, also signed by Holder, which describes how communications of US persons are collected and what is done with them.

One typical example is a document submitted by the NSA in July 2009. In its first paragraph, it purports to set forth "minimization procedures" that "apply to the acquisition, retention, use, and dissemination of non-publicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons that is acquired by targeting non-United States persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States in accordance with section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, as amended."

That document provides that "communications of or concerning United States persons that may be related to the authorized purpose of the acquisition may be forwarded to analytic personnel responsible for producing intelligence information from the collected data." It also states that "such communications or information" – those from US citizens – "may be retained and disseminated" if it meets the guidelines set forth in the NSA’s procedures.

Those guidelines specifically address what the NSA does with what it calls "domestic communications", defined as "communications in which the sender and all intended recipients are reasonably believed to be located in the United States at the time of acquisition". The NSA expressly claims the right to store and even disseminate such domestic communication if: (1) "it is reasonably believed to contain significant foreign intelligence information"; (2) "the communication does not contain foreign intelligence information but is reasonably believed to contain evidence of a crime that has been, is being, or is about to be committed"; or (3) "the communication is reasonably believed to contain technical data base information, as defined in Section 2(i), or information necessary to understand or assess a communications security vulnerability."

Although it refuses to say how many Americans have their communications intercepted without warrants, there can be no question that the NSA does this. That’s precisely why they have created elaborate procedures for what they do when they end up collecting Americans’ communications without warrants.

Vast discretion vested in NSA analysts

The vast amount of discretion vested in NSA analysts is also demonstrated by the training and briefings given to them by the agency. In one such briefing from an official with the NSA’s general counsel’s office – a top secret transcript of which was obtained by the Guardian, dated 2008 and then updated for 2013 – NSA analysts are told how much the new Fisa law diluted the prior standards and how much discretion they now have in deciding whose communications to intercept:

"The court gets to look at procedures for saying that there is a reasonable belief for saying that a target is outside of the United States. Once again – a major change from the targeting under Fisa. Under Fisa you had to have probable cause to believe that the target was a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. Here all you need is a reasonable belief that the target is outside of the United States …

"Now, all kinds of information can be used to this end. There’s a list in the targeting procedures: phone directories, finished foreign intelligence, NSA technical analysis of selectors, lead information. Now, you don’t have to check a box in every one of those categories. But you have to look at everything you’ve got and make a judgment. Looking at everything, do you have a reasonable belief that your target is outside the United States? So, cast your search wide. But don’t feel as though you have to have something in every category. In the end, what matters is, ‘Does all that add up to a reasonable belief that your target is outside the United States?’"

So vast is this discretion that NSA analysts even have the authority to surveil communications between their targets and their lawyers, and that information can be not just stored but also disseminated. NSA procedures do not ban such interception, but rather set forth procedures to be followed in the event that the NSA analyst believes they should be "disseminated".

The decisions about who has their emails and telephone calls intercepted by the NSA is made by the NSA itself, not by the Fisa court, except where the NSA itself concludes the person is a US citizen and/or the communication is exclusively domestic. But even in such cases, the NSA often ends up intercepting those communications of Americans without individualized warrants, and all of this is left to the discretion of the NSA analysts with no real judicial oversight.

Legal constraints v technical capabilities

What is vital to recognize is that the NSA is collecting and storing staggering sums of communications every day. Back in 2010, the Washington Post reported that "every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications." Documents published by the Guardian last week detail that, in March 2013, the NSA collected three billions of pieces of intelligence just from US communications networks alone.

In sum, the NSA is vacuuming up enormous amounts of communications involving ordinary Americans and people around the world who are guilty of nothing. There are some legal constraints governing their power to examine the content of those communications, but there are no technical limits on the ability either of the agency or its analysts to do so. The fact that there is so little external oversight is what makes this sweeping, suspicion-less surveillance system so dangerous. It’s also what makes the assurances from government officials and their media allies so dubious.

A senior US intelligence official told the Guardian: "Under section 702, the Fisa court has to approve targeting and minimization procedures adopted by the Attorney General, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence."

"The targeting procedures ensure that the targets of surveillance are reasonably believed to be non-US persons outside of the US", the official added.

"Moreover, decisions about targeting are memorialized, reviewed on a regular basis and audited. Moreover, Congress clearly understood that even when the government is targeting foreign persons for collection, communications of US persons may be acquired if those persons are in communication with the foreign targets, for example as was testified to in today’s hearing when Najibullah Zazi communicated with a foreign terrorist whose communications were being targeted under Section 702.

"That," the official continued, "is why the statute requires that there be minimization procedures to ensure that when communications of, or concerning, US persons are acquired in the course of lawful collection under Section 702, that information is minimized and is retained and disseminated only when appropriate. These procedures are approved on an annual basis by the Fisa court.

"Compliance with them is extensively overseen by the intelligence community, the DOJ, the ODNI and Inspectors General," the official said. "Both the Fisa court and Congress receive regular reports on compliance."

UPDATE [Wed.]

The classified documents referenced here that were submitted by the NSA to the FISA court are now published here.

• The story was amended on 21 June to correct a quote attributed to Yale law professor Jack Balkin. Balkin has corrected the original statement on his blog, which now reads: programs can "listen to a great many different calls (and read a great many e-mails) without any requirement of a warrant".

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Biden promises to offer gun control recommendations by Tuesday

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Biden promises to offer gun control recommendations by Tuesday” was written by Adam Gabbatt in New York, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 10th January 2013 19.22 UTC

The US vice-president, Joe Biden, said he expects to report his gun control recommendations to Barack Obama as early as Tuesday, declaring that the public had been reviled by images of children “riddled with bullets”.

Biden, speaking before a meeting with representatives of the National Rifle Association, said he would make his recommendations well before Obama’s stated deadline of the end of January.

Earlier this week, the Biden met gun-safety groups and families of victims of mass shootings. He said suggestions made to his gun control taskforce had included consistent support for “universal background checks” on gun ownership and an agreement on the “need to do something about high-capacity magazines”.

Biden said in a Washington news briefing that he would deliver his findings early because of the “tight window” the government had in which to act.

The vice-president has already pledged that the president “is going to act” on gun control, and he invoked the tragic events of Newtown on Thursday.

“There is nothing that has pricked the consciousness of the American people,” he said. “There is nothing that has gone to the heart of the matter more than the visual image people have of little six-year-old kids riddled – not shot with a stray bullet – riddled, riddled, with bullet holes in their classroom.”

As Biden was speaking, reports emerged of a shooting at Taft High School in Kern County, California. A spokesman for the sheriff’s office told the Associated Press that one student had been shot at the school. The suspect had been taken into custody.

Biden said the suggestions he had heard so far involved more than “just closing the gunshow loophole”. A common theme from the meetings, which have included one-on-ones with families of the Virginia Tech and Aurora shootings, had been “support for total universal background checks, including private sales”, Biden said. Critics of America’s gun laws argue that the current legislation on private sales enables anyone to purchase firearms without the background checks required in gun stores.

Another much-discussed issue was the possibility of regulating high capacity-magazines Biden said. The “need to do something” about the magazines, which can allow a shooter to fire as many as 100 rounds without the need to reload, was something that the vice-president’s taskforce had “heard spontaneously from every group we’ve met so far”, he said.

“The last area is the whole subject of the ability of any federal agency to do research on gun violence,” he added. The NRA has long lobbied against federal funds being spent on research into gun laws and ownership, while Obama’s healthcare legislation includes a provision that prevents the government and health insurers from asking about gun ownership, prohibiting the ability for the government to collect data.

Biden compared the current regulations on the government collecting data on firearms with 1970s restrictions on federal research into the cause of traffic fatalities. He said there was a need to find out “what kind of weapons are used most to kill people” and “what kind of weapons are trafficked weapons”.

On Wednesday Biden had promised that “the president is going to act” on gun control during meetings with victims’ groups and gun-safety organisations. Two survivors of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, where 32 people died, were present, as well as the stepfather of an Aurora, Colorado, massacre victim.

Biden will meet with representatives from six gun groups on Thursday, including the NRA and the Independent Firearms Owners Association, which are both publicly opposed to stricter gun-control laws. The vice-president will also meet with Walmart, the biggest US gun seller.

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“Todd sure as heck never registered as a socialist”