Saturday, December 24, 2005

NSA spying more widespread than thought.

The other day, when the NSA warrantless surveillance program first broke, President Bush said he had authorized it only a few times (I don't remember the number he said, but it was something in the thirties.)

But, knowing the Bush administration like I do, I'm not really all that surprised at a story out today which indicates that the spy program was much broader than he let on originally, in fact so broad that it involved systematic snooping of general calls from the United States to foreign countries (not even necessarily from or to people who there is any reason to suspect might have ties to terrorists). In addition, domestic phone traffic was also being monitored en masse.

NEW YORK - The volume of information gathered from telephone and Internet communications by the National Security Agency without court-approved warrants was much larger than the White House has acknowledged, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Citing current and former government officials, the Times said the information was collected by tapping directly into some of the U.S. telecommunication system’s main arteries. The officials said the NSA won the cooperation of telecommunications companies to obtain access to both domestic and international communications without first gaining warrants....

Some officials described the program as a large data mining operation, the Times said, and described it as much larger than the White House has acknowledged.

Several officials said senior government officials went to the nation’s big telecommunications companies to get access to switches that act as gateways between U.S. and international communications.

Many calls going from one foreign country to another are routed through U.S. switches and a communications expert who once worked at the NSA said in recent years government officials have been encouraging the telecommunications industry to bring more international traffic through U.S.-based switches.

Now there is one reason in particular that I thought Bush was lying last week when he suggested that this had happened in a few cases only. That reason is because if the number of cases was limited to just a few, then getting a warrant for them would not have been a problem, and there would be absolutely no reason to skirt the law when it would be simple to comply with the law. But since it now appears that there was a very large volume of information that they combed through, and that it wasn't even known who would be making phone calls to whom, that there is a reason they decided to skirt the warrant law-- the law makes it impossible to carry out this kind of operation.

Now, they do say it was to glean information on 'terror' suspects. The problem of course, is that we have already seen how this administration has been involved in spying and other operations against peaceful demonstrators under 'anti-terror' operations, how the 'no-fly' list designed to stop 'terrorists' has been applied punitively against people who simply reside on the left end of the political spectrum (like Senator Kennedy), how surveillance equipment put in place after 9/11 to track small planes that were of concern as potential terror threats was instead used to track a plane full of Texas Democratic legislators during the DeLay redistrictring fight in Texas, and how Education Secretary Rod Paige a couple of years ago categorized the National Education Association (NEA) as a 'terrorist' organization. In other words, these are people who would be willing to call Mother Teresa a terrorist if it advanced their domestic agenda.

I have no problem with giving the government the tools it needs to fight real 'terrorists,' but there have to be strict definitions of who they are and limits placed on this ability, because the abuses that this government have already committed are enough to yank their 'carte Blanche' to define 'terrorists' as they see fit.

1 comment:

Rhino-itall said...

unfortunately Eli, you get your info from the ny slimes, or as i like to call them Pravda on the Hudson. so the slimes sat on this story for a whole year, and in all that time they couldn't find out that this is a legal activity, and also that other presidents including carter, reagan, and clinton have done the exact same thing? oh you say they did know that? well i wonder why they don't mention it in the " shocking expose"? maybe because they're a disgusting excuse for a newspaper, and they're really just a propoganda machine. Also, the president was vague on purpose. obviously he doesn't want to give too much info on a SECRET operation. by the way, you don't mention in your post that the president informed congress, and the fisa court of his actions. In your post, like in the times,the unspoken subtext of the story was that this was likely an illegal and certainly a very scary invasion of Americans' rights.
However In the Dec. 15 Chicago Tribune, John Schmidt, associate attorney general in the Clinton administration, laid it out cold: "President Bush's post-Sept. 11, 2001, authorization to the National Security Agency to carry out electronic surveillance into private phone calls and e-mails is consistent with court decisions and with the positions of the Justice Department under prior presidents." and Bill Clinton's deputy attorney general, Jamie Gorelick, testified to Congress, "The Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes."
Now of course we could get into how clinton used the IRS as his personal attack dog, or about chucky "schmucky" shumer's people using confidential financial records against Lt. Governor,
Michael S. Steele. But really, lets just MOVE ON right?