Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Minaret- The Remix

I have mentioned this before, but back in the heady days of 9/11, the U.S. government tried to hire John Poindexter of Iran Contra fame to head up a little office called the Pentagon Information Awareness Office. It was sponsored through DARPA and was meant to gather electronic intelligence. As part of this little program, Poindexter was to manage the creation of a little centralized database called the Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS) - you gotta hand it to these guys, they are clever about naming things. TIPS would be a database that contained all the commercial and private information about citizens and suspects.

Convicted felon Poindexter was quite qualified for this job as the head of a government contractor, Synteck Technologies. Synteck (notice it is spelled with a "k" like "Amerika"- how appropriate) had developed a handy little surveillance system called Genoa for DARPA. In effect, it was like military grade information harvesting program combined with peer-to-peer file sharing capabilities, as sort of Google for sifting through electronic intelligence.

The whole IAO was supposedly killed when word got out. Well, none of us following the story at the time ever believed that the plan was dead. In fact, as all crooked governments will do, they will simply find another way to skin the cat. It looks as if they have succeeded. Today's Washington Post reports that the DIA and the NSA have been working together with the CIA and FBI to gather and share the fruits of illegal surveillance. It's just like the Minaret system from the protesting 1970s. I swear we are caught in perpetual reruns of "That 70's Show".

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

OK, we know that the NSA snoops on pretty much everyone in their search for "patterns." We have only the President's word that they discard the information that isn't related to criminal behavior.

We also know that the FBI and the military have been snooping on - and harassing - environmentalist, anti-globalization, pacifist and gay rights groups.

Now we hear that the NSA has been passing enormous amounts of raw information to the other agencies.

The next revelation will be that the NSA passed information about some anti-war or environmentalist group to the FBI and the FBI kept that information despite it not being related to national security in any identifiable way.

Impeach Bush! 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

US West said...

Well, the NSA is special in the intelligence world because it is not a consumer of the info it gathers. It is a disseminator. That is its job. So it did its job in this case, but it did it illegally. The information it passed on was obtained illegally. And of course the information is kept. You can't get rid of information once it is recorded somewhere.

I would like to point out that the amount of untranslated, yet-to-be-analyzed data gathered by the NSA is now measured in the metric tons. So, the fact that the NSA has made spying on citizens its priority, even under a presidential order, should give us cause for concern beyond the constitutional privacy issues. What really serious stuff are they missing if they are devoting resources to PETA.

And let's be clear, my beef is that there were legal means available, regardless of how shady, to get warrants to listen. I don't object to the listening. I don't even object to the information sharing. I understand that not all terrorists live in Iraq, despite what the President would like us to believe. And I know they make phone calls overseas. I object to these agencies abusing the technology, and taking advantage of the national security situation to harasses environmental groups, NGOs, etc. that are necessary for a health civil society. And I object to them doing any type of listening or mining illegally.

What makes our democracy work is 1. respect for the law. The courts have no enforcement mechanism beyond the pure respect that we have for them. If you erode that, you will destroy the underpinnings of our system. 2. Civil society. America is special because rather than protest in the streets, we organize and take action. Maybe we don't vote in droves, but we donate, we volunteer, we take it upon ourselves to create change. And no one tells us no. We have the right to assemble. That is how you get Moveon.org, Common Cause, Public Citizen, etc. This is what makes us vibrant, and what gives even pessimist me a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe we can save the ship of state before it goes completely under.

Anonymous said...

I think the key is the question: why avoid the FISA courts in the first place? Urgency is a lame excuse given the 72 hour ex post warrants rule. I can only conclude the "probable cause" threshold was what bothered Bush not the time factor. In other words the point of this program - from the start - was to watch groups like Moveon.org and various anti-war groups. It makes one wonder about how exactly Karl Rove is able to anticipate his political opponents moves and react so quickly in 2004. Was he really a political genius or was he being fed information collected by the NSA?

Impeach Bush! 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

US West said...

What ethics codes does the NSA have to follow? Any at all? Would the NSA be obliged to listen into say Kerry campaign headquarters and then to pass that on just because the President said so? In other words, would the NSA be able to say, "No Mr. President, that is illegal."

On one hand, I would like to think so. On the other, I wouldn't like an agency to have the power to refuse a presidential order- especially when it was legitimate. But the question is mute. I went searching. Couldn't find anything.

But I did find this good quote from James Bamford which was published Dec 25th in the NYT (and can be read in full here, "The court rarely turns the government down. Since it was established in 1978, the court has granted about 19,000 warrants; it has only rejected five. And even in those cases the government has the right to appeal to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which in 27 years has only heard one case. "

And then this, from the Puzzle Palace (reprinted from this site

In the past, NSA has had an internal policy of not releasing to other agencies the names of innocent American citizens or corporations incidentally picked up in their electronic dragnet. Thus, if the Belgian ambassador wires to his Foreign Office a bit of political gossip picked up from an American at a Washington cocktail party, the NSA would most likely pass the gossip on to the State Department but delete the name of the original source. . . .

One of the oldest, and probably most strictly followed, internal NSA guidelines was the prohibition against entirely domestic eavesdropping--where both terminals were located within the United States. . . . "

I would also like to point out that the FSIA was first introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy and signed by President Carter. It applies to the NSA and the FBI only since hypothetically, the CIA only deals overseas. But in today's world that is a gaping loophole.
 

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

Oh, and reading Bamford's chapter further, I found, "Even more disturbing than the apparent evolution of the surveillance court into an Executive Branch rubber stamp are the gaping holes and clever wording of the FISA statute, which nearly void it of usefulness. Such language, intentional as well as unintentional, permits the NSA to rummage at will through the nation's international telecommunications network and to target or watch-list any American who happens to step foot out of the country."

Would this actually make the President's order legal? I this Kafkaesque world, you'd only have to create a court to create the law you wanted. Is that what FISC is? 

// posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

That the FISA Court rarely rejects applications for warrants does not mean it is a "rubber stamp." The low rejection rate could be because the FISA Court's likely ruling is effectively anticipated by the executive branch. That is, the NSA or FBI are so familiar with the FISA Court that they know what applications will succeed or fail and simply don't bother persuing activities they know will be rejected. Every now and again they guess wrong (5 times apparently).

The fact that Bush has circumvented the FISA Court in the first place argues strongly against the "rubber stamp" theory. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

You need to read Bamford's chapter. It seems the FISA courts are not that rigourous. In fact, NSA interpretations of the FISA definitions and the way the court functions make it fairly ineffective at protecting citizens. Furthermore, the NSA can and does circumvent the courts very often by obtaining information from it's partners like GCHQ in the UK, where it isn't illegal to listen to US citizens.

The FISA is better than nothing, but far from what it should be. 

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

I read it and my point still holds. He strongly implies that low frequency of rejection is evidence that the FISA court is a rubber stamp. That is a dangerous conclusion from that observation.

Consider the following question. If the FISA Court really is a rubber stamp that "just can't say no," why would Bush bother doing an end run around it? Answer: Bush wanted to do things he knew FISA would reject despite its reputation for being a rubber stamp. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

Well, I would like the answer to be that he was afraid of being told no because that comports with my nasty view of him. But it is too easy of a conclusion to jump to. If he had gone to the FISA Court, there would be something on paper. Maybe it wasn't fear of being told no - there was hardly any chance of that- mayhe didn't want the paper trail that would come as a result. Intelligence is a slippery thing. We don't know who he was listening to or why exactly.

We also know that Bush has made it his business to expand the office. His move is barely unprecedented reading Bamford's account.

And Bamford isn't implying it the FISC is a rubber stamp, he says it flat out.

"Even more disturbing than the apparent evolution of the surveillance court into an Executive Branch rubber stamp are the gaping holes and clever wording of the FISA statute, which nearly void it of usefulness. . . .

Three decades after its creation, the NSA is still without a formal, statutory charter, the first reform called for by the Church Committee. Instead, there is a super hush-hush surveillance court that is virtually impotent; the FISA, which has enough loopholes and exceptions to render it nearly useless; and an executive order [Regan order that allowed NSA to help state and local law enforcement] that was designed more to protect the intelligence community from the citizens than citizens from the agencies. In addition, because it is an executive order, it can be changed any time at the whim of a President, without so much as a nod toward Congress." 

// posted by USwest

Anonymous said...

BTW, here is the latest. The NSA  took it upon itself to listen without any direction from Bush. 

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

When you say "there is hardly any chance of that" you are misunderstanding my basic point.

It is logically impossible to say that low frequency of rejection implies that FISA would always say yes to anything.

The reason it is important that you see my point is that it suggests a lot about Bush's motives.
 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

US West said...

I get your point. I think we come to the same conclusion but from different angles. You disagree that the rubber stamp theory is bunk because there is a rate of rejection. In your world, a rubber stamp means yes all the time, no exceptions. And even then, there is 50/50 the possibility of rejection, thus the rubber stamp can’t be.Thus, the President knew he was ordering illegal activity with his executive order, and he knew that if he sought the court’s approval, he’d be told no. Even a rubber stamp court would have been so outraged and appalled at the request, it would have said "no". So Bush must have been asking for somethig really bad.

I say that the incredibly low rate of rejection indicates that the court is functionally a rubber stamp. Since the court’s deliberations are secret, no one would be the wiser to its decision. But the proof of the horrendous request would have been on paper ! So perhaps it wasn't the fear of "no" that bothered him (I hardly think that would have mattered to him), but the paper trail that would have resulted. Or maybe he wants to create an all powerful presidency to marginalize Congress and the Courts.

The only reason we are talking about this at all is that someone in the NYT said, “hey Bush didn’t check with the FISA Court.” And I say, that is only part of the really big issue.

We are being monitored in ways that are not adequately controlled; the legal loopholes are so gaping that the there is no protection for citizens. There was a blatant disregard for checks and balances. Maybe we should be worried that a president can decide to act like a baby dictator because he wants to and, because the law is so vague and the technology so easy, that he can and wow,isn't that dangerous for democracy!

Here is something scarier: If we knew why he did what he did, we might actually think the President did the right thing!

US West said...

Just to add a note this is a good summary of the arguements that conservatives have put forth on the issue and how those arguements ring false.

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