Report: NSA Spied On Lawyers In Confidential Communications With Clients

President_Barack_ObamaNSA logo smallWe have previously discussed how many Democrats and liberals have stayed relatively silent as the Obama Administration has launched attacks on privacy, press freedoms, and civil liberties. In addition President Obama has engaged in military interventions, declared the right to kill citizens on his own authority, refused to investigate the U.S. torture program, and repeatedly violated the separation of powers. Now, we can add the violation of attorney-client privilege and confidentiality. Once again, the disclosure came as a result not of congressional oversight or Executive reforms, but the Snowden disclosures.

The document discussed by the New York Times shows that the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted attorney-client communications of an American law firm that was representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States.

The government of Indonesia had retained the lawyers in trade talks and the N.S.A.’s Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, notified the NSA that it was conducting surveillance of the talks. It expressly noted intercepts of attorney-clients communications with the law firm of Mayer Brown. The communication flagged that the “information covered by attorney-client privilege may be included” in the intelligence gathering, according to the New York Times.

Notably, the general counsel’s office at NSA was consulted. [For full disclosure, I worked as an intern with that office during the Reagan Administration] The NSA general counsel is the very same office that was consulted and approved past abuses during the Bush Administration.

As with privacy, separation of powers, and other protections, it is unlikely that there will be any serious repercussions for security officials or even a change in conduct. It becomes just another cost to place on a lengthening ledger of lost items under this President. It is a rather pathetic sight as such rights fall with little more than a whisper of regret in a triumph of personality over principle in the Obama Administration.

MayerbrownThe law firm itself issued a mild comment that seemed more intent on defending the firm’s role and continued security for clients as opposed to objecting to the possible denial of confidentiality or the role of the NSA in such surveillance.

Source: NY Times

48 thoughts on “Report: NSA Spied On Lawyers In Confidential Communications With Clients”

  1. Dredd,
    I can hardly believe what you wrote about Narrative Science…never heard of this before. Logged on to their website and was just amazed and also very concerned. What a brave new world we live in…..

  2. Machines and skin bound together by viral activity seems like a strange mixture (The Uncertain Gene – 9) like the military NSA and law enforcement being bound together by toxoplasma gondii.

    Perhaps that is why the military NSA general commander has indicated that they may follow the habits of the main stream media in one area.

    That area is the use of robots:

    Had Narrative Science — a company that trains computers to write news stories—created this piece, it probably would not mention that the company’s Chicago headquarters lie only a long baseball toss from the Tribune newspaper building. Nor would it dwell on the fact that this potentially job-killing technology was incubated in part at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Those ironies are obvious to a human. But not to a computer.

    Every 30 seconds or so, the algorithmic bull pen of Narrative Science, a 30-person company occupying a large room on the fringes of the Chicago Loop, extrudes a story whose very byline is a question of philosophical inquiry. The computer-written product could be a pennant-waving second-half update of a Big Ten basketball contest, a sober preview of a corporate earnings statement, or a blithe summary of the presidential horse race drawn from Twitter posts. The articles run on the websites of respected publishers like Forbes, as well as other Internet media powers (many of which are keeping their identities private). Niche news services hire Narrative Science to write updates for their subscribers, be they sports fans, small-cap investors, or fast-food franchise owners.

    And the articles don’t read like robots wrote them …

    (MOMCOM 2.0). The general gave his reason as not being able to trust people, but being able to trust robots.

  3. Anon posted, I really agree. The situation is very bad. This is a group of people out for world domination. It’s right out of a really badly written comic book!

    As more people in the middle and upper middle class begin to realize that they are also effected by the security state, it may be the best hope of organizing resistance. In the Viet Nam war, when the middle class children started getting drafted, they helped swell the ranks of protesters.

    Right now, too many people in the US think USGinc. is just going after the “terrists”, or who cares about this stuff anyway? Especially the wealthy courtiers of the corporations and govt. honchos who run things. The minions think they won’t be touched. It may be dawning on some of the lower level courtiers that they aren’t untouchables after all!

  4. Some things just aren’t a good combination. For example, privacy and a state security apparatus run amok. -Gene Howington

    Yes. And running amok it is.

    As I’ve said before, the situation is much worse than most people realize. Much worse.

  5. Please don’t belittle the Swedes of my ancestry – after all they are the only ones who have figured out how to land an Expeditionary Team on the Sun…..
    (“We are going at night”)

  6. the only Scandinavian food that’s edible that i’ve found is lefse. i had my aunt write down the recipe.

    on a side note, never ask a Norwegian if it’s okay to use potato flakes. apparently that’s blasphemous.

  7. The recipe I got from the frozen North was that when you finish all that, you throw the fish away and eat the board. Apparently it is hard to tell the difference, except the board doesn’t have bones in it.

  8. Some things just aren’t a good combination. For example, privacy and a state security apparatus run amok. Or lye and fish.

    Swedish Lutefisk

    1 piece dried lutefisk, sawed into 6 inch lengths
    2 tablespoons lye


    Soak the fish in clear water for 3 days.
    Add 2 tbsp lye into a gallon of water.
    Soak for 3 days in this solution.
    Then soak for 4 days in clear water, changing the water every day.
    To cook the lute fish——–.
    Tie the fish loosely in a square of cheese cloth.
    Drop in a large enamel pot of boiling water.
    Cook 10 minutes or until well done.
    Remove cheese cloth put on a platter and debone.
    Serve with a white sauce or a mustard sauce.

    Very similar in both ingredients and preparation.

  9. Unbelievable! All lawyers in this country should band together to stop these abuses. It’s probably not reasonable to expect that one lawyer (or even one lawfirm, for that matter) could make a dent in this bureaucracy, but as a profession, we should all band together to do something about this.

  10. Jill–I hope you are right and that I am quite wrong. TPTB want us little people to be cynical and jaded, so I heartily appreciate your optimism! 🙂

  11. Prairie Rose,

    Perhaps lawyers who are not in congress will act. I agree it is unlikely, but it is not impossible. I hope that this knowledge will make some reconsider saying and doing nothing. They may try to make things right (in so far as it is in their power to do so).

  12. ex brainwashed,
    “Come on Lawyers of America! What are you going to do about this?!?!?”

    They will do nothing. It is mostly lawyers up on the Hill and they have already done nothing, despite the high probability that the NSA is spying on them, too.

    “According to CQ Today, in the 112th Congress, law is the dominantly declared profession of Senators, followed by public service/politics, then business; for Representatives, business is first, followed by public service/politics, then law.”

    “The NSA ‘Probably’ Collects Data on Congress’s Phone Calls”

  13. So here’s NPR’s propaganda on this. Did you know that China spies on our corporations? OMG! Well, if it’s just one country spying on another, well everyone does that, but CHINA, OMG, CHINA. USA good!

    Further, tracking is good for you. There was a story on genealogical “Tracking”! WOW, tracking is so great!!!

    Did this story happen on NPR? No, it did not.

    I agree, where are the lawyers on this one? Why aren’t they marching? When the govt. was just monitoring the detainees in Gitmo, I said nothing because they didn’t come for me. Right?

    Rafflaw and Ora Lee–NSA has key stroke loggers and stuff they put physically inside your computer to get at what you write before it’s encrypted. the center for press freedoms has some info about this and what you may be able to do about it.

  14. rafflaw

    Disgusting. The law firm should be going after the NSA for the assault on the lawyer client privilege.
    This is spot in.

Comments are closed.