NSA spies have access to just about all of us

Thursday, May 11, 2006 at 02:17 PM

Things have definitely heated up on the NSA program.  And who would have thought that USA Today, of all papers, would break the story that the NSA has been collecting phone calls (& presumably e-mails and more) from "tens of millions" of Americans?

But break it, they did, and the snowball's rolling down the hill, now folks.

The developments late yesterday and today (one day after the news about the DOJ dropping its investigation of the NSA program because DOJ investigators don't have the requisite security clearance to know the program's details and can't get the clearance from the NSA):

1. USA Today reports on the breadth of the program
, including:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans -- most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: The NSA record collection program

"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.

2. The White House responds to the USA Today story

After September the 11th, I vowed to the American people that our government would do everything within the law to protect them against another terrorist attack. As part of this effort, I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. In other words, if al Qaeda or their associates are making calls into the United States or out of the United States, we want to know what they're saying.

Today there are new claims about other ways we are tracking down al Qaeda to prevent attacks on America. I want to make some important points about what the government is doing and what the government is not doing.

First, our international activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans. Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat. Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.

We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates. So far we've been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.

As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy. Our most important job is to protect the American people foreign another attack, and we will do so within the laws of our country.

Thank you.

3. Raw Story reports that 72 members of Congress "filed papers late Wednesday seeking to end the warrantless NSA eavesdropping program:

The 71 Democrats and one independent filed an amicus brief in two federal courts reviewing challenges to the warrantless wiretapping program in Detroit and New York, joining the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Both suits demand the program be stopped.

Top Democrats did not sign the call. Neither House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) nor House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) have joined the brief.

"It is very disturbing that, on the same day we learn that the NSA has been secretly collecting the phone records of tens of millions of Americans, we also learn that the Department of Justice has abruptly cancelled its investigation into the Agency's warrantless wiretapping program," said Rep. John Conyers, the ranking House Judiciary Democrat who is spearheading the initiative. "These developments clearly point to the urgent need for oversight and review of this program. Congress has failed to provide this critical oversight which has led us to the courts."

The brief argues that Congress never authorized the warrantless spying program, neither through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 nor the post-9/11 authorization for use of military force. It details the legislative history of both and asks the court to halt the program immediately.

[Click the Raw Story link above to see, among other things, a list of the Representatives who have signed the brief]

4. A CBS/AP report indicates that "Congressional Republicans and Democrats demanded answers from the Bush administration Thursday about a government spy agency secretly collecting records of ordinary Americans' phone calls to build a database of every call made within the country"

Facing intense criticism from Congress, President Bush did not confirm the work of the National Security Agency but sought to assure Americans that their privacy is being "fiercely protected."

"We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," Mr. Bush said before leaving for a commencement address at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Biloxi.

The disclosure, first reported in USA Today, could complicate Mr.Bush's bid to win confirmation of former National Security Agency director Gen. Michael Hayden as CIA director. It also reignited concerns about civil liberties and touched off questions about the legal underpinnings for the government's actions and the diligence of the Republican-controlled Congress oversight of a GOP administration.

The top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said he was shocked by the revelation about the NSA.

"It is our government, it's not one party's government. It's America's government. Those entrusted with great power have a duty to answer to Americans what they are doing," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel in pursuit of what had transpired.

"We're really flying blind on the subject and that's not a good way to approach the Fourth Amendment and the constitutional issues involving privacy," Specter said of domestic surveillance in general.

The companies said Thursday that they are protecting customers' privacy but have an obligation to assist law enforcement and government agencies in ensuring the nation's security. "We prize the trust our customers place in us. If and when AT&T is asked to help, we do so strictly within the law and under the most stringent conditions," the company said in a statement, echoed by the others.

Mr. Bush did not confirm or deny the USA Today report. But he did say that U.S. intelligence targets terrorists and that the government does not listen to domestic telephone calls without court approval and that Congress has been briefed on intelligence programs.

He vowed to do everything in his power to fight terror and "we will do so within the laws of our country."

On Capitol Hill, several lawmakers expressed incredulity about the program, with some Republicans questioning the rationale and several Democrats railing about the lack of congressional oversight.

"I don't know enough about the details except that I am willing to find out because I'm not sure why it would be necessary to keep and have that kind of information," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News Channel: "The idea of collecting millions or thousands of phone numbers, how does that fit into following the enemy?"

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said bringing the telephone companies before the Judiciary Committee is an important step.

"We need more. We need to take this seriously, more seriously than some other matters that might come before the committee because our privacy as American citizens is at stake," Durbin said.

If the giant domestic database news doesn't make you very worried, I don't know what you think democracy and freedom are. The president and Gonzales have consistently tried to pooh-pooh the significance of this database but have been forced to moderate their explanations of why it's no biog deal as one after another claim has turned out to be untrue--not unlike the "why we are in Iraq" soap opera.

First the program was very small, very limited, only targeting foreign calls. Then it was, okay, we target some domestic calls, but only if they involve a call to a known terrorist. Then it was, okay, we only target domestic calls if one end is foreign and if the caller or callee is a terrorism suspect.

Now we have a massive database of purely domestic calls (and, I'd bet my life, e-mails, internet usage, and the like), but don't worry, we can't identify you, and we only start to really listen in when our secret procedures for identifying a threat indicate that you are, indeed, a threat.

I've already seen the Repub troll postings in various places: oh, this is nothing, why are you making things easy for the terrorists, etc.  Give me a break. Investigate this now, investigate this fully, and defund the whole damn agency if they refuse to cooperate in the investigation. Subpena everybody who knows the details, from Bush down to the phone company employees who turn over records.  Exactly what the Hell are these people doing, why are they doing it, who decides what's being done, and, most of all, exactly how does a normal citizen become such a "suspect" that the NSA goes back and listens to the content of your calls?

You know that, given the character of Bush and the prevailing personality type in the military, that you can probably end up a terrorism suspect with the NSA listening to everything you say by the simple act of criticizing the powers that be.  Like posting this, for example.

Have Americans completely lost their sense of survival? We need to defend ourselves from internal tyrants just as much as from external tyrants. Just ask the Russians who survived Stalin, the Germans who survived Hitler, & the Iraqis who survived Saddam.

ps:  Won't this make for a lively confirmation hearing for good old General Hayden?