Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Your very own Little Black Book

By Carol Gee

No, this post is not about Governor Eliot Spitzer. It is, however, about widespread wiretapping, politicians "prostituting" themselves, and the public finding out the truth about rings of lawbreakers.

Today's post is "your very own guide book" for navigating your way around in the muck of the FISA Law Controversy. Keep it in your vest pocket because I want you to use it over and over again. Because Congress is about to prostitute itself by legalizing a vast domestic surveillance process that will allow the government to ride roughshod over your Fourth Amendment Constitutional rights to privacy. And this news will probably get lost behind the Elliot Spitzer sex scandal. Wonder of wonders, that would be a first for America!

Black Book Source References -- Stay informed through the best sources on the 'Net regarding the National Security Agency and its spy programs. I list them in alpha order so as to be fair. They are all trustworthy and useful resources for keeping up with what is currently happening in the field. Over time the stories will change but the resources will continue to be up to date and reliable.

CQ - Homeland Security: "Mike Chertoff Takes See-No-Evil Stance on NSA Wiretaps" (3/7/08).

CQ - Politics: "Opponents of Immunity for Telecoms Seize on Spying Claims" (3/7/08).

firedoglake -- by Christy Hardin Smith

  1. "The Long Road Ahead For The Civil Liberties Fight And FISA" (3/10/08).
  2. Also, "Color Of Law: FISA Review, Part II" (3/7/08).

Raw Story: "NSA quietly expands domestic spying program, even as Congress balks" (3/10/08). by Glenn Greenwald: "Targeting bad Democrats" (3/11/08). Included on Glenn's list is Senator Mark Pryor (Arkansas). This post is about targeting House Democrats who consistently vote with the administration and against protecting civil liberties.

TPM Muckraker quotes from the following important WSJ story:

Wall Street Journal story by Siobhan Gorman, "NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data" (3/10/08). In a way it is surprising that such a revealing story would be published by the usually conservative WSJ. It is very thorough and well written. It does not seem to be suffused with administration propaganda. It contains a good bit of history of how the law and the various spy programs have evolved, particularly since 2000. It also discusses in good detail the scope of the programs, and the officials who have been responsible along the way. A careful reading of this story will go a long way towards clarifying the technical capabilities of the apparatus, as well. It is my opinion that "if they can do it, they will do it." To quote rather extensively from the story, emphasis mine:

Examples of data the NSA can look at without a judicial warrant in its search for hints of terrorism:

  • Email: Recipient and sender address; subject; time sent.
  • Internet: Sites visited and searches conducted.
  • Cellphone: Numbers incoming or outgoing; length of call.
  • Phone: Numbers incoming or outgoing; length of call.
  • Financial: Information about bank accounts, wire transfers, credit-card use.
  • Airline: Information about passengers.
. . . The NSA receives this so-called "transactional" data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge's approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

The NSA's enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world's main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements. . .

A number of NSA employees have expressed concerns that the agency may be overstepping its authority by veering into domestic surveillance. And the constitutional question of whether the government can examine such a large array of information without violating an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy "has never really been resolved," said Suzanne Spaulding, a national-security lawyer who has worked for both parties on Capitol Hill. . . it's increasingly difficult to distinguish between domestic and international communications in a digital era, so they need to sweep up more information.

. . .Two former officials familiar with the data-sifting efforts said they work by starting with some sort of lead, like a phone number or Internet address. In partnership with the FBI, the systems then can track all domestic and foreign transactions of people associated with that item -- and then the people who associated with them, and so on, casting a gradually wider net. An intelligence official described more of a rapid-response effect: If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city -- for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans -- the government's spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city.

The haul can include records of phone calls, email headers and destinations, data on financial transactions and records of Internet browsing. The system also would collect information about other people, including those in the U.S., who communicated with people in Detroit. . . Intelligence agencies have used administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI -- which don't need a judge's signature -- to collect and analyze such data, current and former intelligence officials said. If that data provided "reasonable suspicion" that a person, whether foreign or from the U.S., was linked to al Qaeda, intelligence officers could eavesdrop under the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance Program.

. . . Current and former intelligence officials say telecom companies' concern comes chiefly because they are giving the government unlimited access to a copy of the flow of communications, through a network of switches at U.S. telecommunications hubs that duplicate all the data running through it. It isn't clear whether the government or telecom companies control the switches, but companies process some of the data for the NSA, the current and former officials say.

. . . A debate is brewing among legal and technology scholars over whether there should be privacy protections when a wide variety of transactional data are brought together to paint what is essentially a profile of an individual's behavior. "You know everything I'm doing, you know what happened, and you haven't listened to any of the contents" of the communications, said Susan Landau, co-author of a book on electronic privacy and a senior engineer at Sun Microsystems Laboratories. "Transactional information is remarkably revelatory."

. . . NSA gets access to the flow of data from telecommunications switches through the FBI, according to current and former officials. It also has a partnership with FBI's Digital Collection system, providing access to Internet providers and other companies. . . Current and former intelligence officials confirmed a domestic network of hubs, but didn't know the number. "As a matter of policy and law, we can not discuss matters that are classified," said FBI spokesman John Miller.

. . . The budget for the NSA's data-sifting effort is classified, but one official estimated it surpasses $1 billion.

Wired/ThreatLevel -- several stories:
  1. "AT&T Whistle Blower: 'Congress Wants To Cover It Up'" (3/10/08).
  2. Also, "Sen. Rockefeller Lets Slip the Spying Truth: Drift Nets To Be Legalized" (2/5/08). To quote:

    In short, the changes legalize Room 641A, the secret spying room inside AT&T's San Francisco internet switching center that was outed by former AT&T employee Mark Klein.

    . . . This marks a radical legal shift in how the nation's spooks interact with the nation's communication infrastructure. And by infrastructure, I mean telephone switches for your landline, the server farms that serve up your Google search results, and the computers that handle and store emails for your Yahoo account.

    . . . For years, NSA watchers and former employees swore that NSA employees lived by the mantra 'Don't target Americans.' . . . Now that same NSA is going to be granted by Congress virtually unchecked ability to order the nation's internet providers, phone companies and email providers to let the spooks build permanent filters inside their communication flows.

  3. Also, "NSA Judge: 'I feel like I'm in Alice in Wonderland' Re Liveblogging the 9th Circuit AT&T hearing in San Francisco (8/15/07).

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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