.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Born at the Crest of the Empire

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Details on Warrantless Domestic Surveillance

The Wapo has a fairly significant (A01), and somewhat detailed, story on warrantless domestic spying the day before the Senate hearings tomorrow. I would put the first page and a half at the "must read" level because they offer some concrete details.
"About 5,000" people have been monitored by humans, but

"the earliest by machine. Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears."

Now, this doesn't say whether this is hundreds of thousands over the years, or as I believe, hundreds of thousands at any given moment. I need it explained to me how this isn't a huge warrantless fishing expedition, a tremendous monitoring filter that looks at every electronic communication out of the US. (Perhaps just to some countries?)
Successive stages of filtering grow more intrusive as artificial intelligence systems rank voice and data traffic in order of likeliest interest to human analysts. But intelligence officers, who test the computer judgments by listening initially to brief fragments of conversation, "wash out" most of the leads within days or weeks. ....

Supporters speaking unofficially said the program is designed to warn of unexpected threats, and they argued that success cannot be measured by the number of suspects it confirms. Even unwitting Americans, they said, can take part in communications -- arranging a car rental, for example, without knowing its purpose -- that supply "indications and warnings" of an attack. Contributors to the technology said it is a triumph for artificial intelligence if a fraction of 1 percent of the computer-flagged conversations guide human analysts to meaningful leads.

A Fraction of One Percent is a "best case" success. Warrantless spying on 99% of the people for no reason is a success.
The minimum legal definition of probable cause, said a government official who has studied the program closely, is that evidence used to support eavesdropping ought to turn out to be "right for one out of every two guys at least." Those who devised the surveillance plan, the official said, "knew they could never meet that standard -- that's why they didn't go through" the court that supervises the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

That's it. That's the crux of the whole issue. The Bush administration went around the FISA court because the warrants wouldn't have passed muster. That's illegal. That's impeachable.

The only real defense on offer is whether the president has "extraordinary powers" in his war time role of commander in chief of the military. That defense is based upon the established use of sigint to monitor the an enemies' activities. BUT, if the monitoring is scraping up "a fraction" of one percent, this is simply illegal.
Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well.

Sorry to go so long on this, but this is a hugely significant article in the public discussion of this program. Hundred of thousands are monitored to net ten people a year. Read it. It's important.

And just as a teaser for tomorrow's Senate hearings, (Carried live by Pacifica Radio and on their station's webacasts(internet only in Houston)) let me offer this from the AP.
Sen. Arlen Specter, whose committee has scheduled hearings Monday on the National Security Agency program, said he believes the administration violated a 1978 law specifically calling for a secretive court to consider and approve such monitoring.....

"I think that contention is very strained and unrealistic. The authorization for use of force never mentions electronic surveillance," Specter said.


  • Most likely, "hundreds of thousands" per hour...or so.

    By Blogger Kvatch, at 11:07 AM  

  • I think this cements the idea that they were spying on innocent people.


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 5:54 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home