Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 25, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HOW WIDE A NET?....Here's a bit of thinking out loud about the NSA spying case. Don't take it too seriously; it's more barroom conversation than anything else.

First, Sifu Tweety argues that the NSA program wasn't quite as "targeted and focused" as General Hayden suggested on Monday:

Data mining WAS used, but it was used for target selection. People have been talking about data mining like its a be-all-end-all surveillance technique. Its not. All data mining (or pattern analysis, or whatever) is going to give you is a list of potential targets.

OK, but what kind of data mining? Surely even the NSA's supercomputers can't literally track and transcribe every voice call coming in and out of the United States? A reader emails an alternate possibility:

The phone network really is two parallel systems: one that switches voice signals from user to user and a second "common channel" that passes control information between the switching systems. Once the number you dial reaches your local central office, it leaves the voice system and passes from switch to switch via the common channel.

You can see where I'm headed with this. What about monitoring the common
channel?....Why do this? Let's posit that we have a list of known bad-guy telephone numbers. In the first tier around them, we collect the phone numbers of people who have called the bad-guy telephone numbers. Probably most of these folks are bad guys: cell leaders, fund-raisers, sleepers, etc. In the second tier, we find people who have called the probable bad guys. Most of these probably aren't bad, but some small fraction are the operatives who fly planes, strap on explosive belts, and so on. Et cetera as far down as you have time to go.

This strikes me as plausible, and it also explains why NSA couldn't get wiretap warrants: this kind of analysis isn't even within yelling distance of "probable cause." If you capture Osama's cell phone, it's one thing to ask for a wiretap on all the numbers you find in his speed dial, but it's quite another thing to ask for wiretaps based strictly on a once or twice-removed traffic analysis of the phone numbers dialed by anyone who is "a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda." That's a very wide net.

Which brings up another knotty question: just how wide is this net? Who's likely to have called someone who's called someone who's suspected of being affiliated with al-Qaeda? I'd guess that this description applies to vast numbers of U.S. Muslims. In other words, the NSA program might have been nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to identify a huge pool of American Muslims from which it could then pick and choose suspects it had wanted to track all along but otherwise had no justification for tracking. And this might have been so transparent that no judge would ever approve it.

As I said at the beginning, this is just thinking out loud and might be way off base. Comments are welcome.

Kevin Drum 1:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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Comments

And don't forget that practically all phone numbers in existence are within some very small # of degrees of separation from any given number. Like 10, I would imagine...

Posted by: cdj on January 25, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK


Paranoia will destroy ya.

Posted by: David Crosby on January 25, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

The NSA has long had the ability to run some crude statistics on a phone call and determine what language is being spoken.

Why not seed a database with phone numbers in which say Arabic is being spoken.

Is determining the language of a call legally different than tapping the call?

Posted by: MonkeyBoy on January 25, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

I'm mystified by all this.

How is it that we know the telephone numbers of Al Qaeda terrorist leaders in other countries?

You'd think that they would be smart enough to change their phone numbers on a regular basis or at least to call from a public phone.

Posted by: FS on January 25, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

If you capture Osama's cell phone, it's one thing to ask for a wiretap on all the numbers you find in his speed dial, but it's quite another thing to ask for wiretaps based strictly on a once or twice-removed traffic analysis of the phone numbers dialed by anyone who is "a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda."

Why? Both seem completely legal to me. As Alberto Gonzales pointed out, courts have repeatedly upheld programs like the Terrorist Surveillance Program which is used by George W Bush to monitor terrorists from attacking America again.

"It has long been recognized that the Presidents constitutional powers include the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance aimed at detecting and preventing armed attacks on the United States. Presidents have uniformly relied on their inherent power to gather foreign intelligence for reasons both diplomatic and military, and the federal courts have consistently upheld this longstanding practice."

Posted by: Al on January 25, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

The answer is...

None of this is legal under the constitution...None ...Zer...zip ...Nada

But ALL of it is legal (or more properly not-illegal) under executive war powers..

Go ahead...make a fuss, make it illegal, or semi-legal with a FISA like system..

Go ahead and gut are technological advantage over terrorism OR publicise are capabilities so terrorists can cirumvent them...

Thats what the left are for..
underminding national securuty in an effort to feel self-engrandized.

Posted by: Fitz on January 25, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

All of the administration's rhetoric would be moderately more convincing if they could identify a SINGLE instance in which the NSA's program helped defeat a pending attack. The keys are, of course, "defeat" and "pending," as opposed to "got wind of" Jose Padilla brooding about "what if."

If the program worked, they'd identify a case. They haven't. They can't. They're fishing.

Now some nut-job Bushie is going to say, "But telling would tip off the terrorists!" Memo to Imbecile-ville -- they're tipped off.

Remember how the NRA used to always say that we can't limit gun ownership because Hitler took away the "people's" guns and look what happened there? News flash -- Hitler monitored their communications, too.....

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on January 25, 2006 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Articles of impeachment can be submitted from individual state legislatures,

http://thenexthurrah.typepad.com/the_next_hurrah/2006/01/impeachment_let.html

who's got the guts?

Posted by: cld on January 25, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

The real victim in this is Kevin Bacon. I wonder how soon after casting this net they pulled him in!

Posted by: jerry on January 25, 2006 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Back in the cold war days we'd monitor Russian phone calls. Even if they were encrypted we could still monitor the date, time, and duration of the calls. That would tell us at least something.

So say they do the same thing here in the US. I think that is the 'buzz' or 'increased traffic' they cite when raising the alert level.

For this method to work to any degree of accuracy they'd need to have to decide which numbers they'd really care about. Otherwise they might interpret the Mother's Day spike as an increase in terrorist activities instead of the family values thing it really is.

Put another way, how do they decide that increased calls to Joe's Pizza Parlor really means "attack imminent" instead of Super Bowl munchies?

Posted by: Tripp on January 25, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

There is a lot of guessing on this issue. Shouldn't Congress demand an investigation of who actually was wiretapped -- and what the reasons were? Isn't there an entity in the US Government (outside the executive branch and NSA) that can be trusted to do this? And if it is too big a job to review all cases -- which would be interesting in itself -- what about a statistically meaningful random sample?

Posted by: JS on January 25, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

This is definitely within the scope of what the NSA already does. There was an article (maybe a year ago?) about the way drug cartels were using that kind of technology to figure out who was ratting them out -- analyzing chains of calls that lead from someone in their circle to someone in law enforcement. I'll look for the link.

Posted by: nate on January 25, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't just phone calls, it's all kinds of electronic communication, e.g. stuff on the internet.

According to their original description of what they're doing they only monitor calls where one end is outside the US. Every internet line is a phone line and every internet connection could be described as a phone call, so every time you're connected to a server outside the US they're looking at it, and then, having looked at it, they look for 'connections': every other server you look at, etc.

The 'net' they posit literally incorporates the whole of the internet and phone communications.

And they allow private companies to analyse the data, as they have admitted.

What does the banking industry in Germany, or Japan, or Brussels, think of this?

Posted by: cld on January 25, 2006 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

A halfwit troll said:

Thats what the left are for..
underminding national securuty in an effort to feel self-engrandized.

That's what the right is for: sending out a halfwit to confuse the meaning of self-aggrandizement while ignoring the fact that, were this a Democrat, the very foundation of the Republic would be shaken to the core.

Mr. Kevin Drum said:

You can see where I'm headed with this. What about monitoring the common channel?....Why do this? Let's posit that we have a list of known bad-guy telephone numbers. In the first tier around them, we collect the phone numbers of people who have called the bad-guy telephone numbers...

Actually, once you get involved in this type of activity, you begin to do call-chaining analysis. Call chaining analysis is a form of data mining--you're not interested so much in what is said as you are interested in determining what the network of associated telephone numbers looks like.

Call chaining analysis is looking at the patterns that emerge when you take one number and list everyone who has ever called that number. Then you take those numbers, perform the same function. Then, after you do that a few times, the shape of the network emerges--many numbers calling one central number, the central number then calls a number that NONE of the other numbers is linked to--that is the basic structure of your network's command and control. You can then break down the lateral structure of the network, as in, related nets, associated nets, filter out the occasional call to the pizza man and the Movie Line, see who's in charge and who isn't in charge and what the pecking order is.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 25, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

You'd think that they would be smart enough to change their phone numbers on a regular basis or at least to call from a public phone.

Forcing them to take such measures would disrupt their activities, at least in a small way.

"Ali, Ali, the pigeon has roosted. I repeat, the pigeon has roosted. What? What? Gaod Damn it! Well do you know his new number? Crap. Sorry. Death to Israel - umm - I mean Allah be praised."

Posted by: Tripp on January 25, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

jerry: The real victim in this is Kevin Bacon. I wonder how soon after casting this net they pulled him in!

Cracked me up.

Posted by: shortstop on January 25, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Articles of impeachment can be submitted from individual state legislatures,

Are you sure that that applies during wartime, if the President doesn't want it to?

Posted by: George on January 25, 2006 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget that Earth First, ALF, PETA, etc. are now terrorists and that makes the Sierra Club types terrorist associates and sympathisers.

Who's to say that they didn't throw the net in that direction?

Posted by: snoey on January 25, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Drug Cartels!

Of course, if these people had a single serious bone in their bodies they'd have been doing this against drug cartels years ago!

How many Americans have been killed by illegal drug mafias?

Posted by: cld on January 25, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting...it's always worthwhile to throw this stuff out there Kevin, so that everyone can feedback on it.

Posted by: Jimm on January 25, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Ya...
Its a real big potential net, and (one assumes) they refine and reprogram the search paterns daily.

Suspect countires, dialects, words, phrases, suspect phone numbers and so on..

Who knows? I dont want to Know? And I dont want congress to know either? (so they can leak it like a sieve) and then the terrorists will know.


Its like looking for a needle in a hay stack..
And the looney left wants probable cause & a warrent for each piece of hay...!??!!

And others want to know all about the methodology of looking through the hay!!!!???


SHHHHHHHH... (its a secret!!)

Posted by: Fitz on January 25, 2006 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

We already have a fairly good idea that it was quite widespread and--therefore?--quite ineffective. As with most Republican policies, it was little bang for the buck. If they could have outsourced it to a large contributor, they would have done so at three times the expense.

Oh, and it was illegal.

Posted by: SavageView on January 25, 2006 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

I've soiled myself!!

Posted by: Fitz on January 25, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

I commend you Kevin, you're doing even better than I could have hoped as my star deep cover agent. I was starting to panic back in December when it looked like they were getting some traction on the lobbying issue, and then you and those NYTimes guys threw us back in the brier patch. Good Show! And I like this six degrees of separation angle - who knows how it will play out. Remember when we had Alan Dershowitz say "This week Harry Reems, next week Helen Hayes." This could be as big as that one. And the Muslim angle - and only thinking out loud -- this will keep the moon-bats beating the anti-security drum for months! Good work boy.

Posted by: minion of rove on January 25, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

When Republicans rule the World, I hope our deaths will be quick and painless!

Posted by: cq on January 25, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

cld,

Maybe they have been. This has always been legal when used outside the US. It is only using it inside the US that is not legal. Well, unless the President declares war and crosses his fingers and says "Trust Me" three times. Then maybe it is legal.

Posted by: Tripp on January 25, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Are you sure that that applies during wartime, if the President doesn't want it to?"

Gravity applies whether that maniac wants it to or not.

Posted by: cld on January 25, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

If we had gone after AQ we wouldn't have to have this conversation. One more thing Bush is at 36% that is only 2/3 of his base.

Posted by: pssst on January 25, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

So G.W. declared war on us.

Posted by: pssst on January 25, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

The REAL problem we have here is the oversight and accountability of federal police powers; both of which have been loosened considerably under this Administration. September 11th gave Pres. Bush legitimacy he never earned at the polls and Republican operators have been very skilled at using scare tactiks to roll back democratic checks and balances ever since.

Crucially, the whole debate revolves about police powers, whereas Karl Rove & Co. would like us to believe its about war-making powers. As long as they can convince the American people that this is just an extension of war-making ability, they'll be able to sell, "trust us, you're safer this way," and they'll have won the debate.

Posted by: Jon Karak on January 25, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Do you suppose the next Repub. canidate will run on a platform that consists of " I am the second comming of George Bush" NO!! They will put a mile of distance betwwen him and Boy George.

Posted by: pssst on January 25, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Citizens in the USA that oppose Bush are the enemy. That lesson was learned years ago.

Posted by: cq on January 25, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone have more babywipes??!!

Posted by: Fitz on January 25, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

More interestingly, you don't have to go very far in the chain to pick up every reporter, government official, and Washingtian who has any professional connection to any Muslim country. These people are very likely to have interactions with people close to the centers of power and influence and thus likely come up before most US Muslims.

To pick an example, John Miller (ABC's 20/20) interviewed Osama bin Laden, and he has met or called with many other reporters and a host of government officials...

Posted by: Jim Lund on January 25, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

What with conspiracy nut and McA we've got more than enough highly persistent idiots posting here, but this Fitz guy really takes the cake for the obviousness of his idiocy.

Let me see....
"are" should be spelled "our"
"Zer" should be spelled "zero"
"publicise" should be spelled "publicize" unless you're British, which I doubt
"cirumvent" should be spelled "circumvent"
"underminding" should be spelled "undermining"
"securuty" should be spelled "security"
"engrandized" should be spelled "aggrandized"

"paterns" should be spelled "patterns"
"countires" should be spelled "countries"
"hay stack" should be one word, "haystack"
"warrent" should be spelled "warrant"

And such words as "dont" and "Its" contain apostrophes.

I wonder if any sort of real education would have steered him towards the center, or if he would have simply become a better spoken idiot.

Posted by: S Ra on January 25, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, I craped my pants...
Im just positive George Bush is listening in on me and my buddies conversation over who will win the Super Bowl.
and monotoring my internet traffic on Porn.com

Posted by: Fitz on January 25, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Thinking aloud on this topic is a good idea. Although the US is founded on the idea that civil liberties are the reason for government, we have a history of constricting civil liberties sometimes, especially in time of war. The NSA program looks like such a constriction, or the potential for such constriction, and hence worthy of thinking about. Like the threat of terrorism itself, it doesn't look dangerous in the US at this time, but it deserves our intense vigilance.

Your thoughts constitute an example that is contrary to my previous assertion that you are usually depressed.

Posted by: contentious on January 25, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

re: call chaining analysis. That kind of analysis can only be done on a set of data you've already got, it can't be done in real time and you can't get the initial target phone number out of it. You have to have the last few months or so of phone activity of a target number.

As I recall another of the things they were saying about this, but have seemed to have stopped saying, is that the analysis was done to identify target numbers, which means, if true, they had a hugely massive set of data to work with.

Posted by: cld on January 25, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

I think he went to school with G.W.

Posted by: pssst on January 25, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

S Ra: it's even better than that. Fitz is a lawyer.

Need any more evidence as to why the country's so screwed up?

Posted by: Alek Hidell on January 25, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Again, this is just a variation of Friendster and Able Danger.

Start with a 'Target' and decide how many degrees of separation you want to go. It is consisnent with both Bush's remarks that they were targeting terrorists, and Hayden's remarks that they were not just using a 'net' to grab everything.

Posted by: tinfoil on January 25, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

And it bears repeating that

Osama->Saud family->Bush family

2 degrees baby.

Posted by: tinfoil on January 25, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

So say they do the same thing here in the US. I think that is the 'buzz' or 'increased traffic' they cite when raising the alert level.

Except that is easily defeated by always making calls or transmissions so that there is never a change in the amount of traffic.

Ham radio affictionados have long ago noted several frequencies where a person (sometimes a man and sometimes a woman) will read off a list of numbers. They always broadcast at the same time and the same duration, just change the actual numbers read.

This is done to foil traffic analysis. Since this practice has been widely known since WWII I doubt that any potential or real terrorists would be ignorant of it.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 25, 2006 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morpheus,

Those are the powerball numbers!

Sheesh.

Posted by: Tripp on January 25, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morpheus,

Those are the powerball numbers!

Sheesh. Posted by: Tripp on January 25, 2006 at 3:38 PM


(slaps head) D'oh!

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 25, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think it's just analyzing the calling patterns. NSA has long been one of the biggest supercomputer buyers and users in the universe; one thing I've read that they do is analyze the data stream for certain words or patterns. Transcription software like Dragonfly shows that this is feasible even on a PC. With enough computing power and a reasonable universe of calls, they could probably do it in real time.

So they can be doing both in a trying to generate suspected AQ links. And generating leads to give to the FBI, which by sheer coincidence was just reported to be pissed off about getting thousands of dead-end leads.

At just one or two removes it would be really easy for almost anyone to get pulled into the set of suspects-- the honey buyer for a grocery chain, for example, or anyone who contacts importers from that entire arc of the world.

The number of calls and callers actually listened to by humans is probably very small, but the number scanned for patterns could be huge and could easily include lots of John Q. Citizens.

Be nice if someone outside this very small circle knew what exactly they were doing--

Posted by: Altoid on January 25, 2006 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Let's leave the legal debate aside for a minute.

Do you think the NSA should be following those trails? It seems to me that's the very essence of intelligence work - you find a thread, and keep pulling on it to see where it goes.

If this were WWII and the Government were following the trails of Gestapo activities in the US, wouldn't you want it to pursue every possible lead no matter how faint, even if it were a couple of layers separated from the known targets? What's the difference here?

Posted by: DBL on January 25, 2006 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Why not do it the simple way -- require the government to provide a list of people who are _not_ suspects and _not_ being wiretapped?

Heck, one 8-1/2 x 11" sheet of paper would handle it.

Posted by: me on January 25, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

"...a thinly veiled excuse to identify a huge pool of American Muslims from which it could then pick and choose suspects..."

It doesn't need to be just Moslems, Kevin. Shiny White Christian Americans are also acquainted with Moslems, and even make and receive calls from overseas. How in hell would I know if my old schoolfriend had some vague connection to someone on the list?

And they keep saying that it's only terrorists that they are bugging. If they're so damn sure they're terrorists why don't they go on and arrest them then? It's not like they are worried about evidence or legal hearings or anything. Or haven't been so far.


Posted by: muddy on January 25, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Besides NSA spying, there is the DOD CIFA Program (Counterintelligence Field Activity). This program relies on information gathered by the military AND their families stationed in the US. TALON (Threat And Local Observation Notice) reports include those on planned anti-war protests and people who participate in them. And here's an even scarier part:

"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."

MSNBC Report On CIFA and Talon

Posted by: nepeta on January 25, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Which brings up another knotty question: just how wide is this net? Who's likely to have called someone who's called someone who's suspected of being affiliated with al-Qaeda? I'd guess that this description applies to vast numbers of U.S. Muslims.

I am stunned that after a quick perusal of these comments that no one has brought the impact of this statement.

Now, I am going to give Kevin the benefit of the doubt. But this is like saying that a vast number of black people in America are twice removed from the Wu-Tang clan or vast numbers of Asian-American are twice removed from Asians who had starring or cameo roles in Jackie Chan movies.

Before I make any assumptions, it would be nice if Kevin can clarify what he means by vast numbers. If he mean most, I seriously object. If he meant vast as in thousands, this holds more water.

But I have to say at first glance, that Kevin appears to be making the assumption that just because one is a Muslim, (which comprises a diverse group of backgrounds), that you just HAVE to know someone affiliated with Al Qaeda.

I sincerely hope this is what not what Kevin was trying to imply. But it certainly had a subconscious tinge of one of those characteristics I would prefer not to be a part of the mindset of bloggers that I enjoy reading.

Hopefully, Kevin will read far enough in this thread to clariy, if necessary.

Posted by: justmy2 on January 25, 2006 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

The phone network really is two parallel systems: one that switches voice signals from user to user and a second "common channel" that passes control information between the switching systems. Once the number you dial reaches your local central office, it leaves the voice system and passes from switch to switch via the common channel.

With the advent of quasi-associated signalling (worldwide, using SS7 ["Switching System #7"]), this is true. It was done for a number of purposes, both economic and for security purposes (separating the switching channels from the data channels prevents telephone fraud, as well as allowing a better matchup of bandwidth allocated for the switching). The SS7 signalling trunks can (and in many cases do) go through entirely different paths than the actual voice content. And they can compensate for losses of voice channels and reallocate as necessary).


You can see where I'm headed with this. What about monitoring the common channel?....Why do this? Let's posit that we have a list of known bad-guy telephone numbers. In the first tier around them, we collect the phone numbers of people who have called the bad-guy telephone numbers. Probably most of these folks are bad guys: cell leaders, fund-raisers, sleepers, etc. In the second tier, we find people who have called the probable bad guys. Most of these probably aren't bad, but some small fraction are the operatives who fly planes, strap on explosive belts, and so on. Et cetera as far down as you have time to go.

In the SS7 world, there aren't "common channels" per se; they're distributed as well (for redundancy purposes). But one advantage that you do have is that these switching channels are pure switching; you don't need a gigabit hose tapped in to every CAS voice/switching trunk; you just need to tap into the switching channels to grab all the call data stuff (who called who and when, but not the actual voice content; this is called "CD", also "pen register" or "trap and trace" type data).

I think it's reasonable to believe that the NSA does indeed snoop on the CD channels, and that some of the carriers as well as the numerous defence/CCC companies in profusion around DC have also been developing ways to look at (and probably filter) the CD channels.

I'd note that CD type information, in the CALEA (Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act; the current latest-and-greatest WRT wiretapping) is covered under the more permissive "trap and trace" type warrants and do not require the same standards as are needed (i.e. "probable cause") to obtain a full voice content ("Call content", or "CC") wiretap; the "Title III" warrants. It may be that because the "trap and trace" doesn't require the "probable cause" needed for a Title III warrant, that the NSA also is of the opinion that the FISA act (which specifies a "probable cause" standard) doesn't cover such CD-only snoops.....

Jes' saying.....

Cheers,

Posted by: Arne Langsetmo on January 25, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the Administration and the NSA are running scared because they know that illegal wiretapping was done inside the US? Why are we worrying about what might have happened and not insisting that our Congress find out?! That's what I'd like to know. And that's what it will take to reassert some sort of semblence of Constitutional behaviour to this Administration. Instead of being afraid of these bozos, America should be swatting them, not coddling.

Posted by: parrot on January 25, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

If this were WWII and the Government were following the trails of Gestapo activities in the US, wouldn't you want it to pursue every possible lead no matter how faint, even if it were a couple of layers separated from the known targets? What's the difference here?

The President is seemingly breaking the law to do it. You see, there are still some people that want our President to protect us while following the law. If the law needs to be changed, here is a concept, ask Congress to change it. I guess those mean Republicans, who control Congress, wouldn't be willing to change the law over the course of 4 years because they hate America. Right?

Naturally, the common people don't want war. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always the simple matter to drag the people along whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or parliament or communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country. - Herman Goering

Posted by: justmy2 on January 25, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Why? Both seem completely legal to me.

Don't you have a disbarment hearing to attend, Al? With a legal mind like that, you should be working at the fryer vat.

Shiny White Christian Americans are also acquainted with Moslems, and even make and receive calls from overseas.

Hence Grover Norquist's concern, given his Palestinian beard, I mean, wife.

Posted by: ahem on January 25, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

I am still trying to understand the concept that Bush has "war powers" because of the "war on terror". If I recall my Constitution correctly, only Congress has the power to declare war and I don't recall them ever doing that, not a real declaration of war (neither was Korea or Vietnam for that matter). Seems like that would make a difference to the legal issues. After all we have a "war on drugs" - does that give him all these "extra" powers as well?

Posted by: enn on January 25, 2006 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

The problem comes when, instead of spending time investigating each of these second-off people...

...They decide to wiretap instead.

Tracking networks of calls and patterns of calls is one thing - that may be private info, but it's also just a small piece of a larger spreadsheet, and can't really be used to intrude while the names are basically anonymous (aside from the badguys they do know of).

This sort of 'data mining' probably isn't a bad thing. It's no different than watching what cars park next to other cars in a parking lot - or watching what cars park next to a specific car in a town. For the most part, it won't intrude upon privacy.

But when they get lazy and decide to just insert themselves in everyone's life - that's where our fourth amendment protection comes in.

Posted by: Crissa on January 25, 2006 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone know who Carl Cameron is?

Posted by: pssst on January 25, 2006 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

If anyone would like to leave the echo chamber and see what motivates the rascally right wingers read this posting:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/Commentary/com-1_25_06_Bevan.html

Posted by: wks on January 25, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

This is interesting but it doesn't change a goddam thing: In the wake of 9/11, it is absolutely certain that Congress would have given the NSA expanded, warranted wiretapping capabilities had the administration asked and provided a clear rationale for doing so. Probable cause is obviously a flexible standard given that ANY wiretapping is at its root acting on guesswork or incomplete evidence of a crime; surely Congress would have seen the value of this wider net and traded an expanded sureveillance program for the oversight it is due. The adminstration defense is that they couldn't do the level of work they needed to under the law and so they had to ignopre the law; their criticism of the program's revelation is that it aids the terrorists. The defense boils down to ``we can ignore the law when we want to'' and the criticism is absurd: it is preposterous to think that terrorists don't take into account the possibility they are being observed AT ALL TIMES, no matter waht the means. It's basic.
The Bush Administration wants to operate free of ANY accountability to anyone about anything, and all the ``lawyers'' Bush talks to know that and give him the answers he wants.

Posted by: secularhuman on January 25, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

i think you are off base alright, kevin drum.

but you're walking toward the grandstands not toward second or third.

context counts here.
it counts a lot.

there is nothing in the five-year history of the bush administration that suggests that they take preventing terrorism all that seriously.

but they do have a five-year record of avoiding or reinterpreting laws and rules so they function as a law and a government unto themselves.

i will be truly astounded if we do not find that this program was abused by the bush admin for spying on political opponents and iraq war opponents, assisting federal presecutors in political trials, spying on united nations officials, spying on american reporters overseas, especially in iraq, or listening in on american soldiers in iraq or elsewhere.

next time he's up before the senate, ask john bolton what he knew about this program and what he received from it ?

Posted by: orionATL on January 25, 2006 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

enn wrote: I am still trying to understand the concept that Bush has "war powers" because of the "war on terror".

Here's the real concept: Bush has whatever powers he says he has, because in reality nobody has the actual power to stop him from doing whatever he wants to do. Unless, perhaps, the US military rebels and deposes him in a coup. I think that is the only thing that could actually stop him. The Congress and the courts certainly can't and/or won't.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 25, 2006 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Spying on political opponents wouldn't be their first thought. I'd be astounded if we didn't find them using it in corporate take-overs, or corporate black mail.

Posted by: cld on January 25, 2006 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK


None of Kevin Drum's "barroom conversation" ever has anything to do with issues of stopping terrroists who want to kill innocent Americans.

Virtually all of Kevin Drum's barroom conversation has to do with finding something,, anything, ANYTHING to bash Bush with.

Posted by: GOPGregory on January 25, 2006 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

None of Kevin Drum's "barroom conversation" ever has anything to do with issues of stopping terrroists who want to kill innocent Americans.

Ironically, neither does this NSA program.

Posted by: shortstop on January 25, 2006 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

It would be like King George III's Redcoats breaking down the doors of a merchant who happened to have a Continental Army sympathizer as a customer, and seizing the records of all his other customers, then breaking down all their doors and carting them off for good measure.

What's wrong with that? I mean, the right wingers think this is all wonderful. Three cheers for George's empire, eh what, old sods!!!

Too bad the U.S.'s own history means nothing to these fear mongers.

Posted by: baked potato on January 25, 2006 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

let's see. i thought that i had discussed this before, but perhaps not at this site.

10-20 years ago, the united states of amerika, in concert with warmbeerland, ozzieland, kiwiland, and hockeyland to intercept all communications in the range of the partners. the program was dubbed echelon.

though echelon was hidden from the citizens of most of these countries, in 1996 a journalist in kiwiland, nicky hager, had published a book entitled SECRET POWER: NEW ZEALAND'S ROLE IN THE INTERNATIONAL SPY NETWORK. ISBN#0908802358,

the book may be difficult to find these days. but, it is indispensable for gaining an understanding of how comprehensively these entities were intercepting communications.

key words, individuals, corporate entities were triggers for the closer scrutiny[interception] of randomly monitored comm. but echelon also specifically targeted the comm of selected entities. so the NZ GCSB was given the task of intercepting all the traffic of the french embassy in wellington, all the traffic from french entities in new caledonia, for instance. along with other specific targets. and, of course, the targets that were discovered as the result of random survey of the ether.

i can assure you that earlier than 1996, this comm interception consortium was monitoring salient comm from certain locales[afghanistan, pakistan, india, indonesia, israel, iraq, iran, syria, lebanon, egypt, libya, algeria, morocco, malaysia, jordan, saudi arabia, turkey - to name but a few].

if there really was an al-fresco, all of its comm would have been intercepted and analyzed in real time. not just by the nsa, but by all of the partners in this sigint venture.

so, if al-fresco really was responsible for the events of 11/09/01, echelon would have been aware that something was up. and it is clear that the congress and the usg was aware of this monitoring and its work product.

sounds extreme, doesn't it? but in 1993, schapolsky published an interesting book. entitled, TARGET AMERICA: TERRORISM IN THE U.S. TODAY. aka TARGET AMERICA & THE WEST: TERRORISM TODAY. ISBN#1561712698.

the author was a dual citizenship rebbe by the name of Yossef Bodansky[aka the author of the book BIN LADEN: THE MAN WHO DECLARED WAR ON AMERICA].

bodansky was something more than that, though. he was also the director of the republican task force on terrorism & unconventional warfare of the u.s. congress.
hmmmmmm.

even more interestingly, bodansky was the fellow of the rabbi friedman foundation of houston, tx. hmmmmmm.

most interestingly, some weeks after 11/09/01, stumbled into a cspan washington journal show featuring bodansky. i caught just before some caller asked him about TARGET AMERICA and that there was long-term knowledge that aircraft might be used as kamikaze devices.

what ensued was a response that should have been commented upon by this nation's press . that it wasn't is proof enough for me that the press in the usa today is a simulacrum of die sturmer.

and that cspan also has an agenda. the female version of brian lamb let bodansky get away with this response [and i paraphrase]....I AM NOT GOING TO ANSWER THAT. I AM HERE ONLY TO DISCUSS BIN LADEN: THE MAN WHO DECLARED WAR ON AMERICA. I WAS NOT INVITED HERE TO DISCUSS ANYTHING I DID IN THE EMPLOY OF THE REPUBLICANS IN THE CONGRESS.

WOWWWWWWWWW!

following that, i tried to pay close attention to whether the media picked up on bodansky. nope. nothing as best i could find from my aerie in metro-houston.

my conclusion, the zionists that manage amerikan news spiked any sty that would reveal bodansky.

that spiking persists.

here is another spiking that persists: the capabilities of the NRO. this is the National Recon Office. IT RUNS THE SATELLITES.

oddly enough, in the latest issue of the bulletin of the atomic scientists, jeff richelson has an article on sat surveillance. the article is much like all of his published work, so much is left out as to make me think that the usg censors his work. and that he allows them to do that so as to preserve his access.

the important aspect of the article is that satellite resolutions are revealed. usg sats are probably good to a resolution of a tenth of a meter. and that they are probably infrared capable.

and considering where our sats overfly[all of the middle east, north africa, the indian subcontinent in addition to all the rest of the globe], you might come to an understanding that any al-frescos still operating are operating under the protection of the usg.

and i shall leave it with you that way.......

Posted by: albert champion on January 25, 2006 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

6 degrees of Osama Bin Laden?

Posted by: mac on January 25, 2006 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

Understandable technological limitation.

A person who was not an arrogant fascist unamerican bastard would push congress for some kind of legislation to make it legal - if for no other reason than to silence critics. Then Rove would stop him, hoping that the program would be exposed and cause an outcry, which could be used to further discredit critics. Our Bill of Rights, our Constitution, used as a pawn on Karl Rove's chessboard of foul cynical political manipulation.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 25, 2006 at 9:47 PM | PERMALINK

When Republicans rule the World, I hope our deaths will be quick and painless!
Posted by: cq on January 25, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

How naive you are, cq.

They're not at all interested in our deaths.
They're power-trippers. If we were dead, who would they lord their leet-rulin-skillz over?

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 25, 2006 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

Arne Langsetmo on January 25, 2006 at 4:29 PM

Above provides some insight to the nuts and bolts of telephony technology. Confusing? You bet, but that's the way they like it.

Posted by: Sideline on January 25, 2006 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

Unless, perhaps, the US military rebels and deposes him in a coup. I think that is the only thing that could actually stop him. The Congress and the courts certainly can't and/or won't.
Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 25, 2006 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Would it perhaps be considered treasonous if somebody discussed what opinions abounded among major commanders of the US military? I mean, we know Karpinsky is rather of the opinion that all this neofascist crap is going to destroy this country. She's retired. Were she not retired, you think she might risk it all to stand up for what she believed in? If so, is she alone among Generals?

Because if this is what it comes down to (and face it, SA - in my book, you're in the "a little over the edge on paranoia" cubbyhole in my book) - then we all know the next step is factionalization of the miltary - who's a Bush loyalist, and who's a Constitution/Bill of Rights loyalist - and which proportion has obvious superiority, and does that superiority translate into a willingness to turn it into a shooting war?

I suppose that there are entire departments in the Pentagon that concern themselves with such matters. I assume that any "liabilities" have already been dealt with by people who would otherwise be facing a firing squad.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 25, 2006 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if Bush and his cronies really care about this NSA program to begin with. Perhaps they were just trying to find a test case -- blatantly violate the law, have Bush openly admit it, and see what happens. So far, there have been few consequences for them. The cabal is learning how far it can go, learning precisely how apathetic Americans are, just how cowardly parts of the Democratic leadership are, and how inept the media. All this as part of a program to establish a dictatorship.

I know we're early on in this scandal, and maybe the Bushistas are just really this clumsy and stupid, but in a sane country Bush would already have been impeached. Dictatorship is, of course, on the Republican wish list. Whether they have specific plans to accomplish that, or just hold it as an ideal, I don't know. But when Bush went on television and confessed to breaking the law, it made me curious about what was really going on. He didn't even bother to lie about the crime itself.

Posted by: Mark on January 25, 2006 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

TWIMC,
When will people understand that this is always going to be a two way street!! If Republicans think this is a nifty idea, what about when Democrats have control of the Executive and the Legislative branches ? It is gong to happen ,not tomorrow, but someday, and then the shoe WILL be on the other foot.
Seperation of Powers IS the defining genius of the Constition! No one can push the other branch towards a result they do not want.
When will these "national security" advocates reailse that ,,,what can be done for them, can be done against them, at the most basic level.
P.C.Chapman

Posted by: P.C.Chapman on January 25, 2006 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

In the four years plus since the 9/11 attacks, the simplest way to gauge President Bush's changing political fortunes has been his changing attitude towards Osama Bin Laden. In the Bush playbook, the threat posed by Bin Laden is directly proportional to the threat to the President's political standing.

Trying to fight back the growing public outcry over his illegal domestic wiretapping program, President Bush used the Bin Laden bogeyman once again during his remarks Wednesday at the National Security Agency.

For the full story, see:
"Bush Flip-Flops on Bin Laden."

Posted by: AvengingAngel on January 25, 2006 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

HAven't they been monitoring all communication channels for years through programs like Echalon and Carnivore and Magic Lantern?

Posted by: barneyrubble on January 26, 2006 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

Well, interesting thinking. But really, a large majority of Americans could care less if there were racially-based monitoring going on. I expect this kind of race-based monitoring didn't stop in the 70s when it was, reportedly, discontinued. And it doesn't seem like many Americans care about those kinds of abuses. The problem is that Republicans are still in the business of stealing elections. It's what they do. Nixon was just a trial run. They're getting better and better at it. What we don't know is whether or not Bu$hCo made these warrantless wiretaps to assist their election-manipulation subsidiaries' operations. If there were a credible case to be made that the wiretaps were used by Republicans for Republican political advantage in the 2002 or 2004 eletions, well, it wouldn't surprise me. It might even be true. Either way, it would be a much more interesting story. All of this really does make Watergate seem two-dimensional by comparison.

Posted by: NealB on January 26, 2006 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

"Go ahead and gut are technological advantage over terrorism OR publicise are capabilities so terrorists can cirumvent them..."

A joke, right? We don't already understand that the technology exists. It's all but advertised by the communication's companies that developed it. "Are you ready?" What is there to hide?

Posted by: AreYouReady? on January 26, 2006 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

Actually NSA has had the ability to monitor ALL voice messages leaving or entering the US for at least 10 years or so. Thier problem was picking the right code words to trigger archiving and then the human resoursed to follow up on the vast amount of messages. Read about this around 10 years ago and I suspect the technology has vastly improved. I would not be at all suprised to find that they are now able to monitor all US internal conversations in the same manner. And I would also not be suprised to find that they have been doing so.

Posted by: kim on January 26, 2006 at 4:05 AM | PERMALINK

As far as I'm concerned, from a military intelligence perspective, this sounds like a very good plan. This is exactly what I would do if faced with a similar situation. However, I would have gone to Congress first to have legislation crafted that would allow this process to occur legally.
Do you really think that public legislation would alert terrorists to something they must already have known we were capable of doing anyway? They aren't called criminal masterminds for nothing.

Posted by: David on January 26, 2006 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

The real issue here is not what is technologically possible...or what safety nets for civil liberties might be in place...or how unproductive these activities likely are... the ISSUE, folks, is that these clowns can't be trusted with this kind of power. Maybe they aren't spying on you and me today...maybe they are screening for calls to, say, Pakistan and Syria...maybe they aren't snooping for domestic political gain...or attempting to muscle in on the Internet. If they get by with this s..t now, what's next? It's an abomination and the only thing worse to contemplate is the fools willing to give up everything this country stands for because Bush says it's ok.

Posted by: carol on January 27, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

fastsize forum

Posted by: fastsize forum on January 27, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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