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A Faerie's Farthing

Flitting through the internets looking for sparkly bits. All content mine and not to be reproduced without permission.

Location: All Material Copyrighted, United States

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

But We Weren't At War Then...

But We Weren't At War Then...

Maybe they were actually planning ahead or something:

The National Security Agency advised President Bush in early 2001 that it had been eavesdropping on Americans during the course of its work monitoring suspected terrorists and foreigners believed to have ties to terrorist groups, according to a declassified document.

The NSA's vast data-mining activities began shortly after Bush was sworn in as president and the document contradicts his assertion that the 9/11 attacks prompted him to take the unprecedented step of signing a secret executive order authorizing the NSA to monitor a select number of American citizens thought to have ties to terrorist groups.

...According to the online magazine Slate, an unnamed official in the telecom industry said NSA's "efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a 'data-mining' operation, which might eventually cull 'millions' of individual calls and e-mails."

It's understandable enough that these calls would get mixed together, especially with the vastness of the data set. It's so understandable, they had a policy in place to handle such mistakes:

What had long been understood to be protocol in the event that the NSA spied on average Americans was that the agency would black out the identities of those individuals or immediately destroy the information.

But according to people who worked at the NSA as encryption specialists during this time, that's not what happened. On orders from Defense Department officials and President Bush, the agency kept a running list of the names of Americans in its system and made it readily available to a number of senior officials in the Bush administration, these sources said, which in essence meant the NSA was conducting a covert domestic surveillance operation in violation of the law.

The NSA's domestic surveillance activities that began in early 2001 reached a boiling point shortly after 9/11, when senior administration officials and top intelligence officials asked the NSA to share that data with other intelligence officials who worked for the FBI and the CIA to hunt down terrorists that might be in the United States. However the NSA, on advice from its lawyers, destroyed the records, fearing the agency could be subjected to lawsuits by American citizens identified in the agency's raw intelligence reports.

What was that about only guilty people having something to hide? Thankfully, their spin really isn't fooling too many people; letters denouncing the program have been coming from all quarters and the story is not dying down in the media. One of the letters is from a group of 14 constitutional scholars, including some former employees of (R) and (D) administrations. Their opinion? "The program appears on its face to violate existing law."

Additionally, "if the administration felt that FISA was insufficient, the proper course was to seek legislative amendment, as it did with other aspects of FISA in the Patriot Act, and as Congress expressly contemplated when it enacted the wartime wiretap provision in FISA"

..."One of the crucial features of a constitutional democracy is that it is always open to the President - or anyone else - to seek to change the law. But it is also beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the President cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable."

Another letter arrived from Jeffrey Smith, former General Counsel for the CIA. I'm guessing he would have been telling the NSA to shred, shred, shred; he thinks it's illegal too. He also gives us a chilling reminder of Justice Alito:

if President Bush's executive order authorizing a covert domestic surveillance operation is upheld as legal "it would be a dramatic expansion of presidential authority affecting the rights of our fellow citizens that undermines the checks and balances of our system, which lie at the very heart of the Constitution."

But it's not all gloom and doom; some members of Congress are actually starting to get squeamish with this whole unbridled executive power bit, especially for shrubya. We even have the (R) chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence calling for an investigation. Here's a thought for her: the searches aren't even effective, at least not for their
ostensible purposes.

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