Saturday, June 4, 2016

NSA Kills People on Metadata, But Can’t Preserve Its Own Personnel Metadata for a Simple FOIA

Over at Vice News, I’ve got a story with Jason Leopold on 800 pages of FOIAed documents from the NSA pertaining to their response to Edward Snowden. Definitely read it (but go back Monday to read it after VICE has had time to recover from having NSA preemptively release the documents just before midnight last night).

But for now I wanted to point out something crazy.

There were some funny things about the documents handed over to Leopold, some of which I’ll get into over time. By far the funniest is their claim that this email, from SV2 to SV and cc’ed to SV4:

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 1.02.58 PM

Is the same as this email, from E63 to SV and cc’ed to SV43.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 1.05.49 PM

We asked them about that — it was one of the few questions from a list of very detailed questions they actually gave us answers to. Here’s how they explained it.

Due to a technical flaw in an operating system, some timestamps in email headers were unavoidably altered. Another artifact from this technical flaw is that the organizational designators for records from that system have been unavoidably altered to show the current organizations for the individuals in the To/From/CC lines of the header for the overall email, instead of the organizational designators correct at the time the email was sent.

Remember, this is the agency that “kills people based on metadata,” per its former Director, Michael Hayden.

But “due to a technical flaw in an operational system,” it could not preserve the integrity of either the time or the aliases on emails obtained under FOIA.

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