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12/24/05

Bush's NSA Spying Is Not What He Claimed. What a Shocker.

I'm going to comment here on excerpts from an article in the NYTimes. If you want to read the entire article click the title of this post. You may have to subscribe.

By ERIC LICHTBLAU and JAMES RISEN
Published: December 24, 2005


WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 - The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.

What a shocker! Something Bush said he was doing, turns out not to be what he was actually doing?

As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.

The phone companies comply with the government and what isn't mentioned is what they get in return. Do they get tax breaks? That means more tax burden on the average citizen. Do they get industry-friendly laws passed that benefit them in return for their cooperation? Or do you think these multinational corporations just help because they are patriotic Americans?

The government's collection and analysis of phone and Internet traffic have raised questions among some law enforcement and judicial officials familiar with the program. One issue of concern to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has reviewed some separate warrant applications growing out of the N.S.A.'s surveillance program, is whether the court has legal authority over calls outside the United States that happen to pass through American-based telephonic "switches," according to officials familiar with the matter.

"There was a lot of discussion about the switches" in conversations with the court, a Justice Department official said, referring to the gateways through which much of the communications traffic flows. "You're talking about access to such a vast amount of communications, and the question was, How do you minimize something that's on a switch that's carrying such large volumes of traffic? The court was very, very concerned about that."

As they should be. Carnivore was/is a program used by the FBI to monitor traffic going through your ISP. They said they ignored all the messages they intercepted that they did not have warrants for. Yeah, right. Now they don't need that pesky warrant, thanks to ol' GW.

Since the disclosure last week of the N.S.A.'s domestic surveillance program, President Bush and his senior aides have stressed that his executive order allowing eavesdropping without warrants was limited to the monitoring of international phone and e-mail communications involving people with known links to Al Qaeda.

This executive order is in direct conflict with the Bill of Rights.

The fourth Ammendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Illegally seized evidence cannot be used in court. The exclusionary rule in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is bolstered by a statutory exclusionary rule in the federal wiretap statute, making evidence obtained from illegal wiretaps useless in court. (The Clinton Administration proposed weakening the statutory exclusionary rule, to make the introduction of illegal wiretap evidence easier.)

The wiretap law states that the court cannot approve an interception request unless it finds that "normal investigative procedures have been tried and have failed or reasonably appear to be unlikely to succeed if tried or to be too dangerous." Law enforcement officials regularly contend, as FBI Director Freeh did in 1994 testimony, that this provision of the law permits electronic surveillance "only when all other investigative techniques will not work or are too dangerous" (emphasis added).

What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation.

That's called "fishing". They want the ability to monitor all communications to see if "anyone" might be breaking a law. That is the long term goal and outcome of laws that allow this behavior. You might think, "Well, if you're doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about." If you think this way, then you do not understand what this country was founded on and what was intended by the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Those laws were written in for a reason. That reason was to protect you and I from an abusive or oppressive government that might use your information against you to force you to comply with things to which you do not agree.

Your medical records, the books you check out in the library, the clubs or organizations you belong to, what you do in your personal time, your conversations over whatever medium they occur, are none of the government's business. But gathering all of that information, then creating a profile on you, as marketers are doing right now on the Internet, and our government is doing as well, can be used to influence you in the future.

The current and former government officials who discussed the program were granted anonymity because it remains classified.

Bush administration officials declined to comment on Friday on the technical aspects of the operation and the N.S.A.'s use of broad searches to look for clues on terrorists.

Officials in the government and the telecommunications industry who have knowledge of parts of the program say the N.S.A. has sought to analyze communications patterns to glean clues from details like who is calling whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of day it is made, and the origins and destinations of phone calls and e-mail messages.

This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.

The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush administration in other contexts has raised strong objections, most notably in connection with the Total Information Awareness system, developed by the Pentagon, and the Department of Homeland Security's Capps program for screening airline passengers. Both programs were ultimately scrapped after public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil liberties.

In other words, this administration will continue to break the laws, until we discover it and cry foul. They face no reprisals for their actions. They just create a new way to do whatever they want, until once again they get caught.

It's the same with the war on terror. They claim it's a war, yet the prisoners taken are not prisoners of war, therefore the geneva convention, nor the laws of this country apply to them. Bush and Cheney just do whatever they want and place them in another country and continue to break US Laws with the claim that since it isn't on US soil, it's not illegal.

Administration officials maintain that the system set up by Congress in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not give them the speed and flexibility to respond fully to terrorist threats at home.

So, since the existing law doesn't fit in with what they want to do, it's okay to just ignore that law. You know, I don't like the fact I can't just go down to the bank and take other people's money. I should ignore the law about robbing banks then. That make sense?

A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the leading companies in the industry have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists.

"All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared with them, and since 9/11, there's been much more active involvement in that area," said the former manager, a telecommunications expert who did not want his name or that of his former company used because of concern about revealing trade secrets.

Such information often proves just as valuable to the government as eavesdropping on the calls themselves, the former manager said.

One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic that is routed through American-based switches.

The growth of that transit traffic had become a major issue for the intelligence community, officials say, because it had not been fully addressed by 1970's-era laws and regulations governing the N.S.A. Now that foreign calls were being routed through switches on American soil, some judges and law enforcement officials regarded eavesdropping on those calls as a possible violation of those decades-old restrictions, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court-approved warrants for domestic surveillance.

Phil Karn, a computer engineer and technology expert at a major West Coast telecommunications company, said access to such switches would be significant. "If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you're really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data," he said.

This pattern of behavior by this administration should be troubling to every American citizen. If you give up your rights because the terrorists attacked, then you give them the exact victory they wanted. Bush is intent on giving them that victory. Preventing another attack is not victory. Preventing the terrorists to alter our way of life and preventing them from making us give up our rights is victory.

Commentary by Chris McElroy
More things that just piss me off

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