Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The state of the "surveillance state"

By Carol Gee

According to Wikipedia:

The "surveillance state" is a pejorative term used to describe a national government's surveillance of large numbers of citizens and visitors. Such widespread surveillance is most usually justified as being necessary to prevent crime or terrorism.

Today's post is a compilation of a few recent blog posts or articles that pertain to the U.S. as one of those surveillance states. The stories focus on the unsettled debate about wiretapping in the United States, Congress and the surveillance laws, huge inaccurate terrorist watch lists, and the imminent DHS plan to turn spy satellites on U.S citizens.

"Wiretapping Powers Debate Still Unsettled," is a report on a debate at the RSA 2008 conference Wednesday moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning NYT reporter Eric Lichtblau. The conference was attended by Ryan Singel, who reported on April 9, 2008 @ Wired-Threat Level. To quote:

In a interconnected, packet-based global telecommunications world, just how far should the nation's spooks be allowed to live inside the nation's communication tubes in order to root out communications of spies and terrorists and how much should they be supervised by courts?

. . . Bill Crowell, a former NSA official, and lawyer David Rivken argued for the spooks, saying that in the modern world they need to have equipment inside the United States due to the propensity of even foreign communications to flow inside the United States. Crowell went so far as to say that the "NSA has no interest in collecting domestic information" and that "People inside the untited states are considered to have all the protections of the Constitution."

. . . "If the type of surveillance described in Mark Klein's document is accurate, we are losing that oversight," Blaze said. "That's a profound shift in how wiretapping is done -- if filtering is being done by government, important technical safeguards are gone."

. . . But that idea, Dempsey said, is one that cannot even be discussed rationally due to the Bush Administration's obsession with secrecy and its willingness after 9/11 to persist with its secret surveillance programs as a test of its belief in a king-like president.

"What the administration has done is turn every foreign intelligence surveillance into a Constitutional crisis," Dempsey said. "It was a mistake for the administration to test its theory of constitutional power in the middle of the war."

. . . As for Lichtblau, he played a proper reporter's role by directing conversation across the issues, but perhaps his comments at the beginning of the panel remained as applicable at the end.

"Almost two and a half years ago, we first disclosed the existence of the warrantless wiretapping program. I still don't know exactly what this program is all about."

"Is the FISA fight over?" asks Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report. The House Leadership has been unwilling to accept the demands of a wide range of people within the Senate and the current administration. And it may be working to combat their widespread fear mongering tactics. To quote:

. . . the White House indicated recently that the Bush gang might be willing to chat with Democratic leaders after all.

Earlier this week, The Hill reported that House Republicans, who had been shouting that the sky was falling as a result of the PAA’s expiration, have apparently decided to accept the status quo and turn their attention elsewhere.

House Republicans are poised to shift their focus from national security to the economy, hoping to rally opposition to what they claim are Democratic plans to raise taxes amid the economic downturn. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to announce Thursday that the House GOP floor emphasis will transition away from passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and earmark reform to “stop the tax hike.”

The Hill added that a recent NYT/CBS poll found that the economy was far and away the most important issue facing the United States, which may have contributed to the Republicans’ shift in priorities. Given this, it’s worth pausing to wonder if House Dems just won the FISA/immunity fight.

"The FBI, TREX and the Terrorism Watchlist," was the March 18, 2008 headline by Firedoglake's "looseheadprop." The story begins with definitions. International and domestic terrorists get on the watchlists as investigative or non-investigative subjects. To quote a few other confusing and maddening elements of this story (blogger's links):

Today I got my hands on an audit report issued by the DOJ-IG entitled Audit of the U.S. Department of Justice Terrorist Watchlist Nomination Process.

. . . For international terrorist nominations, TREX reviews and approves the nomination and forwards it to the
National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) which is a component of the Office of the Director for National Intelligence (ODNI). NCTC reviews and approves it and sends it on to the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center (TSC).

Domestic Terrorism [--] The process is almost identical to the above, except that they skip the review by ODNI because there is no international information for them to review. The nomination goes directly from TREX to the TSC. . . nomination packages produced by the case agents were not usually being reviewed for completeness or accuracy by their bosses. . . So, once you're on, unless somebody actually finishes ALL the closeout work for the investigation (I have never seen an agent who jumped to do closeout work), once you're on, you are likely to grow moldy sitting on the list. Both TREX and TSC personnel told the IG that they believed that "often individuals inappropriately remained watchlisted because the case agents did not file the paperwork necessary to effect their removal."

Non-Investigative Subjects, International Terrorism Remember I told you that the other alphabet soup agencies (including Interpol) had to go through FBI to nominate someone? This was a good idea b/c at least FBI keeps good records of who got on the list. All those forms and memos were in place when they audited. However, it turns out that these agencies have not been going through FBI, they have been forwarding their nominations directly to NCTC who insanely has been listing the FBI as the nominating agency (so how you gonna now sort them apart?--Sheez!) and the FBI has no freakin' idea who these other agencies put on, what criteria were used, there are no records.

"Congressional Critics Want More Assurances of Legality," written by Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, April 12, 2008. Hat Tip to "betmo." I devoted an earlier post at S/SW to this same idea. Titled, "Like an Ubiquitous Spook - Part II, " it was dated Sept. 9, 2007. Obviously the idea has not gone away. To quote:

The Bush administration said yesterday that it plans to start using the nation's most advanced spy technology for domestic purposes soon, rebuffing challenges by House Democrats over the idea's legal authority. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said his department will activate his department's new domestic satellite surveillance office in stages, starting as soon as possible with traditional scientific and homeland security activities -- such as tracking hurricane damage, monitoring climate change and creating terrain maps.

. . . The Bush administration said yesterday that it plans to start using the nation's most advanced spy technology for domestic purposes soon, rebuffing challenges by House Democrats over the idea's legal authority. . . But Congress delayed launch of the new office last October. Critics cited its potential to expand the role of military assets in domestic law enforcement, to turn new or as-yet-undeveloped technologies against Americans without adequate public debate, and to divert the existing civilian and scientific focus of some satellite work to security uses.

Democrats say Chertoff has not spelled out what federal laws govern the NAO, whose funding and size are classified. Congress barred Homeland Security from funding the office until its investigators could review the office's operating procedures and safeguards. The department submitted answers on Thursday, but some lawmakers promptly said the response was inadequate.

"I have had a firsthand experience with the trust-me theory of law from this administration," said Harman, citing the 2005 disclosure of the
National Security Agency's domestic spying program, which included warrantless eavesdropping on calls and e-mails between people in the United States and overseas. "I won't make the same mistake. . . . I want to see the legal underpinnings for the whole program."

DHS officials said the demands are unwarranted. "The legal framework that governs the National Applications Office . . . is reflected in the Constitution, the U.S. Code and all other U.S. laws," said DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner. She said its operations will be subject to "robust," structured legal scrutiny by multiple agencies.

See also Bluebloggin' -- same story +. For your dessert after such an indigestible meal, I suggest you return to Wikipedia and bone up further on "the surveillance state."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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