Saturday, March 08, 2008
But in response to a question at the meeting by David Kris, a former federal prosecutor and a FISA expert, [Assistant AG for National Security Kenneth] Wainstein said FISA’s current strictures did not cover strictly foreign wire and radio communications, even if acquired in the United States. The real concern, he said, is primarily e-mail, because “essentially you don’t know where the recipient is going to be” and so you would not know in advance whether the communication is entirely outside the United States.As you know, the White House has not had much luck keeping track of its own emails. A number of high-ranking officials appear to have used RNC accounts, in violation of government rules, to conduct their official business, and because the RNC servers were routinely purged, none of that official business will ever come to light. As for the administration emails that were properly routed through White House servers, several million have inexplicably vanished. On the other hand, your online correspondence is supremely important, and based on Mr. Wainstein's admirably candid remarks above we can only conclude that the Bush administration has been sifting through it quite assiduously, on the off chance that some stray remark in your latest email or IM might give us the very edge we need in our war on terror.
The process is called data mining, and our distinguished colleague Lambert, of Corrente, explains it here:
Lambert also links to a mordant wisecrack by Ryan Singel of Wired:
10-to-1, 100-to-1, these fascist weasels decided to suck up all email, just to get some of it right away. And the odds are that they archived it all, on the chance that some of it would be useful later (especially if privatized).
After all, Bush’s illegal and unconstitutional program of warrantless surveillance of all email began before 9/11, so it has nothing to do with “terror” at all (except the terror of Our Betters that somewhere, somebody might not be subject to their control). And the program really does suck down all Internet data. That’s why AT&T built a secret room with a splitter in it that does just that.
DNI Michael McConnell, the serial exaggerator who claims to be a non-political straight shooter, himself kept saying the NSA lost 70 percent of its capabilities after the ruling. If that's the case, that means that 70 percent of what the NSA does is collect emails inside United States telecom infrastructure and service providers.Why can't the administration be troubled to seek secret warrants for its domestic spy operations, as current FISA law prescribes? Because it's intercepting literally millions of communications each day. Ten thousand monkeys at ten thousand typewriters could never complete the legally-mandated paperwork.
We no doubt have a small handful of readers (and if we do not have them, we will have to invent them) who really do believe that the FISA controversy is all about fighting terror, and has nothing to do with the Bush administration's desire to spy upon innocent American citizens or, even worse, God forbid, political opponents. We can only refer those perhaps-imaginary readers to a now-forgotten scandal we covered in the first week of this blog's existence, which was, we are depressed to admit, exactly four years ago:
Two Republican Senate staffers accessed and leaked information from thousands of Democratic files over an 18-month period, an investigation by the U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms has concluded.Here's what they got. The Republican leadership, we need not tell you, skated; 'twas ever thus.
The report, released Thursday, describes the forensics investigation in detail. It found that a Republican clerk for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, accessed at least 4,670 files in the home directories of Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee. A senior Republican aide to the Judiciary Committee helped the clerk to target files that might help the Republicans win their judicial nominations, the report stated . . . .
Between November 2001 and April 2003, a Republican clerk for the Judicial Committee discovered how to access home directories that had their permissions incorrectly set, the report stated. Despite an initial reprimand from two senior staff members for the unauthorized access, the clerk continued to access the documents when he found that another senior aide was interested in the information, the report concluded. Investigators found more than 4,670 files from Democratic committee members and their staff in an encrypted file on the clerk's computer.
The report concluded that the case could be prosecuted as a crime under several laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, and for false statements made to investigators.
The Democrats called for immediate actions on the findings.
And, of course, there's this. from December of 2005:
A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.We mention all this because we know you have nothing to hide. Which is, we guess, why we so often see you at the shopping mall buck naked.
A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period . . . .
[T]he DOD database includes at least 20 references to U.S. citizens or U.S. persons. Other documents obtained by NBC News show that the Defense Department is clearly increasing its domestic monitoring activities. One DOD briefing document stamped “secret” concludes: “[W]e have noted increased communication and encouragement between protest groups using the [I]nternet,” but no “significant connection” between incidents, such as “reoccurring instigators at protests” or “vehicle descriptions” . . . .
Some Pentagon observers worry that in the effort to thwart the next 9/11, the U.S. military is now collecting too much data, both undermining its own analysis efforts by forcing analysts to wade through a mountain of rubble in order to obtain potentially key nuggets of intelligence and entangling U.S. citizens in the U.S. military’s expanding and quiet collection of domestic threat data.
Two years ago, the Defense Department directed a little known agency, Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, to establish and “maintain a domestic law enforcement database that includes information related to potential terrorist threats directed against the Department of Defense.” Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz also established a new reporting mechanism known as a TALON or Threat and Local Observation Notice report. TALONs now provide “non-validated domestic threat information” from military units throughout the United States that are collected and retained in a CIFA database. The reports include details on potential surveillance of military bases, stolen vehicles, bomb threats and planned anti-war protests. In the program’s first year, the agency received more than 5,000 TALON reports. The database obtained by NBC News is generated by Counterintelligence Field Activity.
CIFA is becoming the superpower of data mining within the U.S. national security community. Its “operational and analytical records” include “reports of investigation, collection reports, statements of individuals, affidavits, correspondence, and other documentation pertaining to investigative or analytical efforts” by the DOD and other U.S. government agencies to identify terrorist and other threats. Since March 2004, CIFA has awarded at least $33 million in contracts to corporate giants Lockheed Martin, Unisys Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation and Northrop Grumman to develop databases that comb through classified and unclassified government data, commercial information and Internet chatter to help sniff out terrorists, saboteurs and spies.
UPDATE: But wait. There's more! From Kevin Poulsen, Mr. Singel's colleague at the Wired "Threat Level" blog:
A U.S. government office in Quantico, Virginia, has direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier's systems, exposing customers' voice calls, data packets and physical movements to uncontrolled surveillance, according to a computer security consultant who says he worked for the carrier in late 2003.