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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Tell me about again about detecting terrorists, Mr. Bush

Oh my! This doesn't look like a big deal, but it might be, depending on who the targets were.(Slate)

A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a "data-mining" operation, which might eventually cull "millions" of individual calls and e-mails.

Couple quick points. This references call detail information, (number from, number to, length of call) not the monitoring of content, and there is some difference in how the law treats these two things.

Although I can't rule it out, this does not say in any way that American call details were collected. The whole point of the NSA's existence is to listen in on foreign electronic communications, and the fact that they might be scanned, tapped, or monitored through switches within the boundaries of the US, I don't think is particularly significant legally or morally.

But the big boomer here maybe that this was taking place prior to 9/11. Again, if this was just routine NSA work, massively monitoring foreign communications, that's no big deal. But, if they were monitoring calls with an American number at either end, that's a pretty big deal. Also, it sounds like they were running the same massive analysis software that seems to have been expanded into the current scandal scanning American calls. So, there may be something to learn there.

Oh, and as to that whole, "we're spying on you to make you safer argument," is the argument now, "we just weren't spying enough?"

UPDATE: And now the NYTimes is reporting on Pelosi's declassified letter, saying that the NSA was already delving into questionable legal areas before Bush fully signed off on it.


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