There are apparently no limits to which the cadre of leakers who are working in our intelligence agencies will go to undermine legitimate national security interests in furtherance of their own, private agendas. The revelations in today’s USA Today about the massive collection of telephone numbers by the NSA - not eavesdropping on calls, not gathering people’s names or addresses – was leaked solely to discredit General Michael Hayden and derail his nomination for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The news that the NSA has information on billions of phone calls made by US citizens since 9/11 should not surprise anyone who has been following the NSA intercept program closely. Which is why lefties are going absolutely ballistic:
The phone companies were NOT required to turn over our records – Qwest refused – but AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth gave the Mein Kampf salute. Pigs.
Remember that little canard about making sure a terrorist was on one end of the line, and making sure it was an international call?
Not so much. In fact, the government’s goal is to get every phone record in the country – we’re talking a record of every phone call you ever make or receive.
I’m going to say it again. Encrypt your emails NOW:
And I might add…don’t forget to adjust your tinfoil hat, LOON.
I’m not even going to pretend that I’m capable of digesting this and spitting out a rational response. A database of every call ever made? There really are no words. I don’t quite know when it was that we lost our way, though I doubt that it began when the worst president ever took office. No, the desire and the effort to subvert the rights of America’s citizens has manifested itself throughout our nation’s history, though the technology to do so on such a massive scale is relatively new. What the Worst President Ever has given us, is an executive branch which, through its actions, has demonstrated utter contempt for our nation, its citizens, our constitution and the basic morality which compels most of us, from a very early age, to try to speak honestly and act in the best interest of those around us. This is nothing but bad faith and contempt as far as the eye can see.
Matt Stoller blames big business:
Qwest refused to help? And Verizon and AT&T (which bought Bellsouth) acted as nice little sycophants? Wow. I always hated Verizon because of their customer service, and AT&T is run by a megalomaniac named Ed Whitacre who likes to destroy trees in his spare time. But I still assumed that cooperation with the government was mandatory. It’s not. These companies are aiding and abetting the NSA in illegal activity. And not only are they aiding and abetting the NSA, they are possibly engaging in illegal corporate behavior. That at least is how Qwest is reading the law.
I say we should nationalize the Telecoms!
Obviously, they’re fighting terror. Because every single American might just be participating in terrorism. So they really need to keep track of all of our phone calls. It’s obvious, right? Obvious, but not particularly legal, though since when has that stopped BushCo?
At least there are a few saner heads on the left. Kevin Drum:
The rules for collecting data about phone calls are different from the rules about listening in on the content of phone calls, so I don’t know what the legal situation here is. However, although most domestic carriers cooperated with the NSA, one of them didn’t: Qwest.
So now we know about the even nastier program that made BushCo so determined to cover up the warrantless wiretaps. The NSA has been compiling a master database of all telephone calls made in the United States: not the content, but who called whom and when.
What’s truly appalling is that I don’t think it’s even illegal. If memory serves, Title III doesn’t cover what used to be called “pen registers.” USA Today suggests that the companies may be violating the Communications Act of 1933 by giving the information, but the NSA doesn’t seem to be breaking any laws by receiving that information.
Still, I don’t think the voters are going to hold still for it. Not with a President the country already distrusts.
I think Mark underestimates the tolerance by voters for measures like this. While I think a case can be made on constitutional grounds that if argued correctly before SCOTUS could result in a ruling that the NSA intercept program was illegal (a very close call either way), I don’t think this aspect of data collection by the NSA even approaches the danger zone, a point made in the article in USA Today (not anywhere near the lead of course):
The government is collecting “external” data on domestic phone calls but is not intercepting “internals,” a term for the actual content of the communication, according to a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the program. This kind of data collection from phone companies is not uncommon; it’s been done before, though never on this large a scale, the official said. The data are used for “social network analysis,” the official said, meaning to study how terrorist networks contact each other and how they are tied together.
FISA doesn’t even enter into the discussion of whether the program is legal:
Paul Butler, a former U.S. prosecutor who specialized in terrorism crimes, said FISA approval generally isn’t necessary for government data-mining operations. “FISA does not prohibit the government from doing data mining,” said Butler, now a partner with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C.
The caveat, he said, is that “personal identifiers” â€” such as names, Social Security numbers and street addresses â€” can’t be included as part of the search. “That requires an additional level of probable cause,” he said.
Since the only thing being collected are telephone numbers, it is doubtful that what the NSA is doing here even constitutes a “search” as it would be defined under the 4th Amendment.
Exactly what the NSA is doing with the records of billions of phone calls isn’t exactly clear according to the article:
“It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA’s activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency’s goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, this person added.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made â€” across town or across the country â€” to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.
The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.
Of course, the “detailed records” the government has probably include a phone number, and the date and time it was made, as well as who was on the other end. Technical details about which “switching station” the call was originally routed through would probably be available as well.
The article points out that it would be easy enough to retrieve your name and address if the government wanted to – a disturbing piece of information if you are a terrorist. Come to think of it, that aspect of the program should make everyone uncomfortable. Which leads us to the $64,000 question; is this program really necessary? Or are the spooks just playing fast and loose with the constitution for the hell of it?
The White House would not discuss the domestic call-tracking program. “There is no domestic surveillance without court approval,” said Dana Perino, deputy press secretary, referring to actual eavesdropping.
She added that all national intelligence activities undertaken by the federal government “are lawful, necessary and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists.” All government-sponsored intelligence activities “are carefully reviewed and monitored,” Perino said. She also noted that “all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States.”
If “all appropriate members of Congress” have been told of this program (something we’ll surely find out in a few hours whether nor not that statement is factual) without a peep prior to this, I would guess that there are aspects to the program not contained in the USA Today story that make this part of the NSA intercept program a necessary adjunct to their efforts regarding overseas communications. And if it were possible to have a debate about the efficacy of these programs as they relate to our constitutional rights without the jaw-dropping idiocy from the left and right, it might be instructive and necessary to the health of the republic.
But these kind of debates just are not possible. Not with this President in office. Not with the kind of unreasoning hatred the opposition displays on a daily basis. Any kind of rationality displayed by the left is taken as treason and the offender is drummed out of the tin foil hat brigade forthwith (Senator Lieberman, call you office).
So we are stuck with the unsatisfying feeling that we can’t be 100% sure that the programs are necessary because the left refuses to engage on any level but the gutter – and that is not a level conducive to arguing the merits of anything.
As I mentioned at the top of this piece, this story has been leaked as a transparent attempt to embarrass General Hayden and stop his nomination. While it will probably cause outrage on the left and among that ever more curious contrarian Senator Specter, the brouhaha over this will pass and Hayden should still be on track for confirmation.