Four questionable claims Obama made on NSA surveillance

US President Obama, who delivered a speech on surveillance policy last week, has made a series of misleading statements about the NSA

Since the first disclosures based on documents provided by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, US president Barack Obama has offered his own defenses of the programs. But not all of the president’s claims have stood up to scrutiny. Here are some of the misleading assertions he has made.

1. There have been no abuses.

And I think it's important to note that in all the reviews of this program [Section 215] that have been done, in fact, there have not been actual instances where it's been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in the use of this data … There had not been evidence and there continues not to be evidence that the particular program had been abused in how it was used. -- Dec. 20, 2013

At press conferences in June, August and December, Obama made assurances that two types of bulk surveillance had not been misused. In fact, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has reprimanded the NSA for abuses both in warrantless surveillance targeting people abroad, and in bulk domestic phone records collection.

In 2011, the FISA Court found that for three years, the NSA had been collecting tens of thousands of domestic emails and other communications in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court ordered the NSA to do more to filter out those communications. In a footnote, Judge John D. Bates also chastised the NSA for repeatedly misleading the court about the extent of its surveillance. In 2009 – weeks after Obama took office – the court concluded the procedures designed to protect the privacy of American phone records had been “so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall … regime has never functioned effectively.”

The NSA told the court those violations were unintentional and a result of technological limitations. But the NSA’s own inspector general has also documented some “willful” abuses: About a dozen NSA employees have used government surveillance to spy on their lovers and exes, a practice reportedly called “LOVEINT.”

2. At least 50 terrorist threats have been averted.

We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany. So lives have been saved. -- June 19, 2013

The record is far less clear. Obama’s own review group concluded that the sweeping phone records collection program has not prevented any terrorist attacks. At this point, the only suspect the NSA says it identified using the phone records collection program is a San Diego cab driver later convicted of sending $8,500 to a terrorist group in his homeland of Somalia.

The NSA’s targeting of people abroad appears to have been more effective around counter-terrorism, as even surveillance skeptics in Congress acknowledge. But it’s impossible to assess the role the NSA played in each case because the list of thwarted attacks is classified. And what we do know about the few cases that have become public raises even more questions:

Contrary to what Obama suggested on the “Charlie Rose Show” in June, the AP has reported that the FBI did not need either program to identify Najibullah Zazi, later convicted of plotting to attack the New York subway system.

ProPublica has reported that one case began with a tip from British intelligence, not NSA surveillance.

In another case, no one has been charged related to the alleged plot.

3. The NSA does not do any domestic spying.

We put in some additional safeguards to make sure that there is federal court oversight as well as Congressional oversight that there is no spying on Americans. We don't have a domestic spying program. What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an e-mail address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat, and that information is useful. -- Aug. 7, 2013

In fact, plenty of Americans’ communications get swept up. The government, of course, has the phone records of most Americans. And, as the FISA Court learned in 2011, the NSA was gathering tens of thousands of domestic emails and other communications.

Additionally, the NSA's minimization procedures, which are supposed to protect American privacy, allow the agency to keep and use purely domestic communications in some circumstances. If the NSA “inadvertently” vacuums up American communications that are encrypted, contain evidence of a crime, or relate to cybersecurity, the NSA can retain those communications.

The privacy standards suggest there is a “backdoor loophole” that allows the NSA to search for American communications. NSA critic Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has said, “Once Americans' communications are collected, a gap in the law that I call the 'back-door searches loophole' allows the government to potentially go through these communications and conduct warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans.”It’s not clear whether the NSA has actually used this “backdoor.”

And while the NSA acknowledges that it intercepts communications between Americans and surveillance targets abroad, the agency also intercepts some domestic communications that mention information about foreigners who have been targeted. As a result, the NSA has sometimes searched communications from Americans who have not been suspected of wrongdoing – though an NSA official says the agency uses “very precise” searches to avoid those intercepts as much as possible.

4. Snowden failed to take advantage of whistleblower protections.

I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistleblower protection to the intelligence community – for the first time. So there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions. -- Aug. 9, 2013

Obama’s presidential policy directive forbids agencies from retaliating against intelligence personnel who report waste, fraud and abuse. But the measure mentions only “employees,” not contractors. Whistleblower advocates say that means the order does not cover intelligence contractors.

“I often have contractors coming to me with whistleblower-type concerns and they are the least protected of them all,” attorney Mark Zaid told the Washington Post.

What’s more, the directive was not yet in effect at the time Snowden came forward.Since the leaks, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has said the Executive Branch is evaluating the scope” of the protections.

Former NSA employee Thomas Drake argues that even if Snowden were a government employee who went through the proper legal channels, he still wouldn’t have been safe from retaliation. Drake says while he reported his concerns about a 2001 surveillance program to his NSA superiors, Congress, and the Department of Defense, he was told the program was legal. Drake was later indicted for providing information to the Baltimore Sun. After years of legal wrangling, Drake pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and got no prison time.




Aadhaar, NPR, UN resolution and deafening silence of political parties –Part 25

Can Indians trust likes of P Chidambaram, Sam Pitroda, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Nandan Nilekani and C Chandramouli, who are collecting our biometric data just because they say that their heart bleeds for unreached poor? In addition, the silence of Congress, BJP and other political parties on Aadhaar-NPR issues is deafening

In an academic paper In Other Words: The Indian City and the Promise of Citizenship, Jankaji Nair from the Centre for Historical Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) asks, “Can the mere refusal to be visibilised, by planning agency, law, census, and now in the pernicious plans for unique identity (UID), add up to social justice in the city?” The synonyms of the word ‘pernicious’ include malicious, wicked, evil and malevolent.

It is becoming abundantly clear that the market, rather than the state is attempting to define the identity of a citizen, amidst ‘mutinies’, ‘adjustments’ or surrender by them to avoid a ‘fugitive’ existence. The right to the republic, in particular, and right to have rights in general are increasingly getting determined by ulterior motives of global finance, which wants free trade in all sorts of data at any human cost and even at the cost of sovereignty.

Kamal Sadiq in his book Paper Citizens: How Illegal Immigrants Acquire Citizenship in Developing Countries published by Oxford University Press in June 2011 has argued that although citizenship is ‘expressed through documents’ but the process of creating the document (for Right to Identity) is not the consistent monopoly of the state. His reference to the phenomenon ‘documentary citizenship’ is quite relevant in the context of biometric documentation being bulldozed down the throats of Indians. While it is not crystal clear as to whether those citizens who obtained citizenship through registration and documentation can and should be allowed to have the right to deprive natural citizens of their rights as is being done by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Under the influence of cartels of ID cards if they are allowed to establish that it is documents that create citizens and not the states it will a deeper affront to the episteme of natural citizens from artificial citizens. The latter seem to remain foreigners in local communities. The rights of natural citizens go beyond proof of documentation.

At page 198 Kamal Sadiq writes, ‘The bounded nature of citizenship, where the nation-state was a container for all rights, has eroded because of its dependence on documents. Citizenship is no longer a secure political realm…documentary citizenship presents a serious problem for our understanding of the composition of states’.

Some artificial citizens whose rights are documents based are out to disinherit the natural citizens of their rights by initiatives like biometric identification. Such initiatives merit robust resistance from the natural citizens. Kamal Sadiq points out the ability of documentary citizens to partake in the political affairs of a country – vote, run for public office, while retaining their previous sense of nationality and belonging. He makes a case that documentary citizenship undermines state sovereignty.

In an article dated 18 January 2014, Nick Turse, the co-author of The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyber Warfare, Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 underlines that as of 2013 elite US forces are deployed in 134 countries around the globe. It is not about whether or not Government of US or its allies who are part of Five Eyes intelligence alliance or government of China is being hostile towards India and Indians. It is about whether as a nation are Indian political parties, battle ready in the event of such calamities. Aren’t centralised electronic and biometric databases of Indians, vulnerable assets?

Notably, The UN resolution was passed by the General Assembly on 18 December 2013, as ‘Right to Privacy in the Digital Age’. It was sponsored by more than 50 countries, including India, and approved unanimously by the 193 members. The resolution has requested Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a report on the protection and promotion of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance and/or interception of digital communications and the collection of personal data, including on a mass scale, to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council at its 27th session and to the Assembly at its 69th session.

Ms Pillay recalled that Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with one's privacy, family, home or correspondence, and that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. She said, “People need to be confident that their private communications are not being unduly scrutinised by the State.”

The ruling parties in India are violating these rights and, wittingly or unwittingly, opposition parties have become complicit in surveillance exercises in the name of delivery of welfare services for the poor. 

The US resolution deals with the emerging question of cyberspace privacy.  The UN General Assembly has established, for the first time, that human rights should prevail irrespective of the medium, and therefore the need for protection both offline and online.

But does electronic and biometric surveillance bother the political parties who are part of the ruling coalition led by Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram? Does it perturb the opposition parties led by Lal Krishna Advani, Narendra Modi and Sushma Swaraj? Do the parties who seem to belong to the federal front of Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal, Navin Patnaik, Mamta Banerjee, Jayalalitha and Mulayam Singh Yadav concerned about the corrosion of sovereignty? Does it matter to the parties of the secular front which has been proposed by Prakash Karat?

The stance of these political leaders on biometric identification reveals their character as to whether they wish to be deemed legitimate opposition parties to fight for the political rights of citizens, or they wish to remain wedded to ruling coalition with mere token oppositionism. 

Each of these parties seem to have failed in their political duty to announce whether they support or seek scrapping of biometric identification that violates the fundamental ’tenet of a democratic society’ and the ‘Right to Privacy in the Digital Age’.

After the UN resolution, US president Barack Obama has attempted to unsuccessfully defend the indefensible acts of surveillance on 17 January 2014. He claimed that National Security Agency (NSA) was created to give us insights into the Soviet bloc. He referred to “totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes”, but by implication underlined that the in the post-Soviet bloc era, democratic countries are being turned into totalitarian states through indiscriminate profiling of citizens through US based companies or through the allies of US.

He admitted that “the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse” and “surveillance technology and our reliance on digital information is evolving much faster than our laws.” He observed, “There is a reason why BlackBerrys and iPhones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room.”

Obama underlined “the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded, and emails and text and messages are stored, and even our movements can increasingly be tracked through the GPS on our phones.”

Almost echoing the farewell speech of the then US President, Dwight D Eisenhower delivered in January 1961, who had prophetically warned against the new coalition of companies, agencies, and lobbyists that dwarf the state, Obama reminded, “Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer and your smartphone periodically.” Eisenhower had urged citizens to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence… by the military-industrial complex”. (Read: No warrant, no problem: How the government can get your digital data )

Obama says, “Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say:  Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends on the law to constrain those in power.”

Can Indians trust likes of P Chidambaram, Sam Pitroda, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Nandan Nilekani and C Chandramouli, who are collecting our data just because they say that their heart bleeds for the leakage in the system for the sake of the unreached poor? Chidambaram’s election to Parliament faces challenge in the court. Other big data players of his ilk have become a challenge for the legislature itself because they are cabinet ministers without any oath of secrecy, office or accountability.

Obama will have us believe that Government of US does “not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to US companies or US commercial sectors.” This is not true at all because there is evidence to establish that the opposite of this claim is true. (Read: The surveillance reforms Obama supported before he was president )

Obama said, “I have also asked my counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy.  And this group will consist of government officials who, along with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders, and look how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors; whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data…”

Has the link between big data like Centralised Identity Data Repository (CIDR) of biometric Aadhaar number and National Population Register (NPR) numbers and violation of right to privacy been studied prior to their launch?   

The silence of India’s political class in general and opposition parties in particular on the issue of UN resolution, surveillance regime of the victors of World War II and automatic identification in the digital age is deafening.   

You may also want to read…


Why biometric identification of citizens must be resisted? Part I

Biometric identification is modern day enslavement -Part II

Biometric profiling, including DNA, is dehumanising -Part III

Marketing and advertising blitzkrieg of biometric techies and supporters -Part IV

History of technologies reveals it is their owners who are true beneficiaries -Part V

UID's promise of service delivery to poor hides IT, biometrics industry profits –Part VI

Technologies and technology companies are beyond regulation? -Part VII

Surveillance through biometrics-based Aadhaar –Part VIII

Narendra Modi biometrically profiled. What about Congress leaders?-Part IX

Aadhaar: Why opposition ruled states are playing partner for biometric UID? -Part X


Is Nandan Nilekani acting as an agent of non-state actors? –Part XI


Aadhaar and UPA govt's obsession for private sector benefits–Part XII

CIA-funded MongoDB partners with UIDAI to handle Aadhaar data –Part XIII


Are Indians being used as guinea pigs of biometric technology companies? -Part XIV

Aadhaar: Is the biometric data of human body immortal and ageless? Part XV

Aadhaar: The propaganda of transnational vested interests –Part XVI


Aadhaar: Pakistan handed over, India giving database on a platter– Part XVII

Engineered row in US-India relations, an attention diversion tactics of big brothers?—Part XVIII


Aadhaar: UIDAI and the ‘fifth column’ of Napoleon—Part XIX

Aadhaar: Turning citizens into subjects through social control technology companies –PartXX


Why Kejriwal govt in Delhi should abandon biometric Aadhaar?—Part XXI


Aadhaar for LPG: Oil companies, Ministry of Petroleum & UIDAI disobeying Supreme Court order–Part XXII


Why Vasundhara Raje should immediately withdraw circulars making Aadhaar mandatory -Part XXIII


How Congress has been proven wrong on biometric Aadhaar and NPR -Part XXIV


(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)




3 years ago

Aadhar is another criminal enterprise of India's majoritarian, sociometric kleptocracy. It is already being used to harass hapless citizens in every walk of life while the judiciary turn their habitual blind eye to the depredations of the wealthy and the powerful. Nandan Nielkani, and apposite Khangress Walla MP in the making has already decalred his freedom and right to sell the date base as commercial enterprise.

Shree Cement Q2 net profit plunges 47% to Rs115.5 crore

During the December quarter, Shree Cement’s net profit fell on decline in sales as well as 79% fall in profitability in its cement business

Shree Cement Ltd has reported a 47% fall in its December quarter net profit on lower sales in a flagging economy as well as 79% fall in profitability in its cement business. This is the second consecutive quarter for the cement maker where its sales have fallen.

For the quarter to end-December, Shree Cement said its net profit fell to Rs115.49 crore from Rs217.44 crore a year ago period while its total sales declined 6% to Rs1,316.98 crore from Rs1,401.28crore a year ago period. Last quarter its sales declined by 4%.

During the quarter, Shree Cement reported 14% increase in its profitability from power segment to Rs112.56 crore while its cement segment reported 79% fall in its profitability to Rs37.65 crore.

During quarter to end-December, the company got MAT (minimum alternative tax) credit entitlement of Rs9.25 crore and deferred tax of Rs1.79 crore. This reduced total tax payable amount to Rs15.27 crore from Rs26.31 crore.


During the last one year, FIIs shareholding in the company grew to 8.15% from 6.83% in a same period a year ago, while domestic institutional investors (DIIs) shareholding fell to 5.87% from 6.17.%. However, promoter shareholding has remained the same, at 64.79%.

Shree Cement, on Monday closed 1.1% down at Rs4,349 on the BSE, while the 30-share benchmark closed 2.02% down at 20,707.


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