Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fifty ways to understand the "Protect America Act"

By Carol Gee

There is a new law on the books that affects all U.S. citizens. It has the potentially comforting but ironic title, "The Protect America Act." The law (PAA, for short) is the latest amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. It was hurriedly passed by Congress in August, 2007.

The subject of the legislation - PAA - is very difficult to comprehend. As a matter of fact Congress did not really comprehend the amendment for which they were voting. Wisely, they made it temporary with a "Sunset" provision. It will have to be fixed by February of next year. And Congress needs our help to do this. But in order to weigh in to your elected officials on the law's problems, we must understand the complexities of the Act.

I have compiled a kind of 50-item glossary that might help "get through the weeds" of the PAA. My approach to this task has been to look through my own September blog posts (
on civil liberties and foreign intelligence gathering) for key items with terminology that might be confusing. Most are linked to the posts that have the original information. The glossary will give you my best understanding as a layman of what the terms really mean to us as citizens, but in simpler language. Please understand that these definitions are in my own words and editorial comments, unless cited, not the official ones.

I begin with this: OCP -- Our Current President (my own term), aka POTUS, the President of the United States. V-POTUS is aka the "Veep." Understand that the PAA was their deal. That is the first "given."

  1. ACLU -- American Civil Liberties Union: Those on the Right would call it a "special interest group." Civil libertarians call it our "special watchdog" having the willingness and capacity to sue the government on behalf of citizens' constitutional rights.
  2. AKA -- "also known as." This is included to illustrate that I know "spy talk."
  3. Analyst -- The professional arm of the Intelligence Community, they are trained and certified to analyze the information gathered for intelligence purposes electronically or by the spies.
  4. AUMF -- Authorization for the Use of Military Force: Congressional action giving the Commander in Chief particular permissions regarding the "use the force" of the military to protect the nation.The executive and legislative branches disagree on the meaning of what was authorized prior to the invasion of Iraq.
  5. Briefing -- in reference to the "(Intel) Community" sharing intelligence findings with its "customers."
  6. Checks and balances -- originated in the U.S. Constitution. The current challenges are to the Congress and the Courts to "check" the power of the Executive branch of government.
  7. Civil liberties -- enumerated in the Constitution's Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search or seizure (privacy protection of one's home and person).
  8. Community -- refers to the people who make up the "Intelligence Community," the FBI, the CIA, the DIA, the NSA, the NCTC, etc. They also consider themselves part of an international community of people in the "Intel" business.
  9. Customers -- The Community serves its clients, those who need to know the things that intelligence gathering produces. Examples include the POTUS, and the Vice-POTUS, members of Congressional Intel committees, and law enforcement people.
  10. Community of interest -- the network of people that a target of surveillance is in contact with. Used in the data mining business.
  11. Database -- Electronic information gathered for intelligence purposes is entered into a holding location in order to facilitate management of the raw data. This data consists of billions of bits of electronic data gathered through a variety of means, such as telecommunications records, e-mails, satellite info, bank records, etc.
  12. Data mining -- sophisticated methods of analyzing raw data for commercial or intelligence purposes.
  13. Domestic surveillance -- the spy business as it is practiced in the United States, as opposed to spying elsewhere.
  14. DNI -- Director of National Intelligence. This intelligence coordinating position was created when the government was reorganized after 9/11/01. The DNI or his designee gives the POTUS his daily briefings.
  15. Electronic Surveillance -- eavesdropping, listening to conversations, watching what people do, etc., in order to uncover threats to the national interest. The surveillance/spying is via electronic rather than person to person means.
  16. FBI -- Federal Bureau of Investigation: Since the governmental Intel reorganization, the FBI is generally supposed to be in charge of domestic intelligence -- that within the United States -- though there are many FBI agents stationed overseas.
  17. FISA -- Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - 1978: legal framework governing foreign intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination. It has been amended many times by Congress.
  18. Foreign intelligence -- The Intel business as it is practiced outside the U.S. Constitutional protections are supposed to follow U.S. citizens when they are outside the U.S.
  19. Fourth Amendment -- "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." (source: Wikipedia)
  20. Incidental -- When someone is "targeted" for electronic surveillance only one end of the conversation can be targeted for listening. The authorities have no control over who the target calls, or who calls the target. All non-target overheard subjects are known as "incidentals," though they may become targets themselves.
  21. Inherent authority -- refers to the constitutional powers given to those who govern. "Unitary theory" of the presidency ascribes very broad inherent authority to OCP. Civil libertarians see this as the source of much mischief.
  22. Intelligence -- Information gathered and analyzed for the purpose of protecting the United States from threats to its national security.
  23. Justice Department/AG -- The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S., overseeing the Justice Department. Currently an Assistant Director for National Intelligence carries a portion of the legal portfolio for the nation's Intel business, under the Acting Attorney General. (source: Wikipedia)
  24. Minimization -- refers to the procedure under FISA whereby privacy protected incidental surveillance information (gathered without a warrant) is expunged ("innocent,") minimally revealed ("name protected,") or published ("of foreign intelligence significance,") depending on the judgment of the agents, analysts and supervisors.
  25. National security -- something that is supposed to keep the people of the U.S. safe and secure. It is often associated with secrecy, so as to protect the sources or methods of obtaining the information.
  26. National security letter -- An official letter from the FBI compelling the recipient to turn over information for national security purposes. Recently abused by the FBI, the letters were not legal substitute for a warrant issued by a court.
  27. NCTC -- National Counter Terrorism Center. The "action arm" of the Intel community that works to "counter" terrorist activity.
  28. NIE -- National Intelligence Estimate. An official document of the Intel community, it is designed to inform us about the most significant national security threats. (source: DNI - "NIE" 10 pg. pdf)
  29. Northern Command -- The military sector that includes the United States. Charged with military protection of "the homeland."
  30. Oversight -- Refers to watching what is done by another entity. The procedures and the work of the Intel community receive oversight from within the executive branch at 4 levels, as well as from Congressional Intel committees.
  31. PAA -- The Protect America Act of 2007. The law came as a result of very strong entreaties from the Executive branch, claiming that they were unable to protect the nation unless the FISA law was changed.
  32. Posse Comitatus -- An Act that substantially limits the powers of the Federal government to use the military for law enforcement.
  33. Probable cause -- A legal standard required to get a FISA surveillance warrant.
  34. Retroactive liability -- Protection against being sued for liability for things done in the past that may have been illegal. Still being sought for telecommunications companies who assisted the government with warrantless wiretaps.
  35. Reverse targeting -- A practice that is illegal under FISA law. Involves targeting an innocent party in order to get at the person at the other end of that conversation.
  36. Security clearance -- Official permission to know national security secrets. Members of the House and Senate are not required to get security clearances by reason of their oversight responsibilities as elected officials. Staffers are required to get clearances.
  37. Satellite -- A space satellite able to do high resolution visual surveillance.
  38. SigInt -- signals (electronic) intelligence, as opposed to "HumInt," (gathered by humans) intelligence.
  39. Sleeper cell -- Terminology used to refer to a group of alleged terrorists in the U.S. waiting to strike at the U.S.
  40. Sunset -- A provision in the law that requires that it be renewed.
  41. Surveillance -- secretly gathering information about the activities of a suspicious person or persons.
  42. Target -- The person or group under formal electronic surveillance. If foreign no warrant is required. If domestic a FISA warrant is required.
  43. Telecommunications infrastructure -- Companies that provide communications services. They must cooperate with the government before electronic surveillance can take place.
  44. TSC -- Terrorist Screening Center; it keeps the Watch List of suspected terrorists.
  45. Ubiquitous -- everywhere. All over everything.
  46. U.S. citizen -- has the civil liberties rights protections of the constitution.
  47. U.S. person -- a person in the U.S. who may or may not be here legally. A warrant is required to target electronic surveillance on a U.S. person.
  48. Warrant -- A court order allowing surveillance of the named subject(s).
  49. Watch list -- A list of suspected terrorists. Error rate a problem.
  50. Wiretap -- an electronic listening device or method for overhearing conversations.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home