Tuesday, January 17, 2006

NSA Eavesdropping Developments.

The past couple of days have brought a whole host of new interest in the NSA eavesdropping story. I updated the Link Repository again this morning with lots of new links.

Most of the new interest comes from a couple of fronts:

New York Times Story

The New York Times has posted a story today about the NSA's program and the FBI after 9/11. The article indicates that, after 9/11, when the NSA began this eavesdropping program, the NSA

began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.

But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans.

F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. The spy agency was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans' international communications and conducting computer searches of phone and Internet traffic. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy.

As the bureau was running down those leads, its director, Robert S. Mueller III, raised concerns about the legal rationale for a program of eavesdropping without warrants, one government official said. Mr. Mueller asked senior administration officials about "whether the program had a proper legal foundation," but deferred to Justice Department legal opinions, the official said.

The article indicates that the FBI complained about the program, questioned its legality, and, further, questions they effectiveness of the program and the administration's attribution of certain successes to the program. The article also points out, however, that the FBI may be trying to distance itself from the program in the wake of public criticism and the call for Congressional hearings on the program.

Federal Lawsuits
Further, also as New York Times, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights are both filing federal lawsuits today about the NSA program.

Both groups are seeking to have the courts order an immediate end to the program, which the groups say is illegal and unconstitutional. The Bush administration has strongly defended the legality and necessity of the surveillance program, and officials said the Justice Department would probably oppose the lawsuits on national security grounds.

Justice Department officials would not comment on any specific individuals who might have been singled out under the National Security Agency program, and they said the department would review the lawsuits once they were filed.

. . .

The lawsuits seek to answer one of the major questions surrounding the eavesdropping program: has it been used solely to single out the international phone calls and e-mail messages of people with known links to Al Qaeda, as President Bush and his most senior advisers have maintained, or has it been abused in ways that civil rights advocates say could hark back to the political spying abuses of the 1960's and 70's?

"There's almost a feeling of déjà vu with this program," said James Bamford, an author and journalist who is one of five individual plaintiffs in the A.C.L.U. lawsuit who say they suspect that the program may have been used to monitor their international communications.

"It's a return to the bad old days of the N.S.A.," said Mr. Bamford, who has written two widely cited books on the intelligence agency.

These lawsuits are the first to be filed challenging the program. In the suits, the plaintiffs are seeking more information about what the program actually entailed, which could go a long way toward answering the questions about its legality and whether individual liberties were being infringed upon.

Reason Online Interview with Whistleblower

Reason has an interview with former NSA insider Russel Tice, who recently admitted to being one of the sources for the NY Times story that first went public about the NSA program. Tice explains why he went public with this information, explaining:

As a signals intelligence officer, kids who go right out of college and work for the NSA, this is drilled into you, especially when you're young: You will not do this. This is number one of the NSA's Ten Commandments: You will not spy on Americans. Even after you've had all those introductory briefings when you're a new employee, for the rest of your career, at least twice a year they call you in for a briefing, and this is always covered. "You will not do this," they shake their fingers at you. "If you do this you can be thrown in jail." And all of a sudden you find out the people who've been shaking their fingers are doing what they're telling you is against the law and coming out with some cockeyed nonsense excuses for why everything's OK. It's sort of like having your parents drill it into you not to smoke cigarettes or do drugs or whatever, and then after you're a good little boy coming home from school at 15 and finding your parents out on the balcony doing all that.

He also responds to polling data suggesting that most Americans are not overly concerned about the program:

People think it's not going to affect them. They think it's against the bad people, it's to protect our national security. Maybe it's against the law, but it's just the bad people, just to keep the terrorist from blowing up my neighborhood dam. But if those people find out it was hundreds of thousands or millions, and they were swept up into it and the government was listening to their conversation with their doctor.... Now all of a sudden it affects them personally. Right now I don't think people see how it affects them. Though even if it were just these few thousand people that have been talked about, nonetheless it's wrong. There's no reason the two thousand warrants could not have been done through the FISA court. The question is: Why wasn't it done?


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