Spying On All Of Us

Important Update – See end of post
Several bloggers, Atrios, The Washington Note, Back to Iraq, The Agonist, are demanding that the Bush administration release a list of who they are listening to. If my theory on what is happening is right, we already know the list — it’s everyone.
As I wrote yesterday, what Bush probably did was task NSA to intercept domestic as well as the international communications they supposedly already process. What they are said to do is intercept everything, digitize it and run it through computers that look for certain words and phrases. Conversations and emails that are flagged by that process are then checked by people.
If that’s what happened it explains why no warrants – you can’t get a blanket warrant that covers everyone. And if my theory is correct it would mean that the stuff about only listening in on a certain number of al Queda operatives or suspicious people is just a lie. You’d just get warrants to do that. The way to catch mobile terrorists is to listen to everything and try to figure out which conversations are them. AND that’s what NSA supposedly already does internationally. It is flat-out illegal and unconstitutional to do that here.

Where it gets scary is that it requires considerable infrastructure to do this domestically – The means to intercept all phone calls and emails domestically has to be put in place, which means satellites, hooking into all the communication hubs and infrastructure for getting all that data to processing centers — and buying computers to do the processing. It is expensive and illegal, so it would have to be one of those “9/11 changed everything” moments before it could be done. And there are signs that this is what is going on. Backing up my theory: do you remember reading about phone and internet companies being required to install routing equipment that enables such government intercepts? From EFF:

Congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) in 1994 to make it easier for law enforcement to wiretap digital telephone networks. CALEA forced telephone companies to redesign their network architectures to make wiretapping easier. It expressly did not regulate data traveling over the Internet.
But now federal law enforcement agencies want to change that. On March 10, 2004, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) filed a joint petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The petition requested that CALEA’s reach be expanded to cover communications that travel over the Internet. Thus, Broadband providers would be required to rebuild their networks to make it easier for law enforcement to tap Internet “phone calls” that use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications such as Vonage, as well as online “conversations” using various kinds of instant messaging (IM) programs like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

But once such an infrastructure IS in place there are almost no obstacles beyond trust preventing bad actors from asking the surveillance computers to look at anyone you want to look at, or look for any words and phrases you want to look for. You could learn almost anything about anyone in the country. Combine this with the Total Information Awareness Program and you have almost unlimited access to private information about people. People with no scruples – and no oversight – could use a system like that to gain and hold absolute power. (Remember Tom DeLay getting Homeland Security to look for the Texas legislators?)
So I actually don’t think Bush is criminal in this, just stupid and sloppy and should be impeached. I can see how, in the name of “protecting us,” someone like Bush would say to go ahead and OK this, explaining that we have to look for terrorists who are operating in the country and planning more attacks. I don’t think in this instance he had a criminal intent, just a stupid and sloppy mind. He probably believes he is just protecting people but what he is really doing is opening the door to repression. There are people around him who must just be salivating at what this tool – the ability to listen in an anyone – could mean politically for them.
Update – I think my theory is being confirmed in tomorrow’s Washington Post:

Former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who chaired the Senate intelligence committee and is the only participant thus far to describe the meetings extensively and on the record, said in interviews Friday night and yesterday that he remembers “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of U.S. citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States” — and no mention of the president’s intent to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
“I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy,” Graham said, with new opportunities to intercept overseas calls that passed through U.S. switches.

3 thoughts on “Spying On All Of Us

  1. My understanding is that the prohibitions on using Echelon for domestic spying are routinely circumvented under the UKUSA agreement. Essentially Britain, and possibly other allies, spy on Americans while the US spys on the citizens of those countries. Countries then share discovered data. Since all players are only spying on foreign countries, none are violating any laws they may have against domestic surveillance. If this is so, what the Bush innovation suggests is simply that Bush’s unilateralism is such that he (shorthand for people in his Administration) doesn’t think the British are or always will be sufficiently reliable as allies, and therefore wants to stop offshoring the ubiquitous surveillance franchise. A lot of people who see the reality of this administration are not applying their new insight retroactively to re-evaluate what they previously assumed and see that some of these problems are not new.

  2. Good stuff

    One thing that has come out since President Bush has admitted to spying on Americans: the nation is having an important conversation. The papers are also putting out some historical analyses of presidential powers. The NYTimes had a beaut yesterday….

Comments are closed.