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February 9, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DATA MINING....Suddenly, data mining is everywhere. Not only do we have the NSA's domestic spying program, which most likely involves data mining of some kind, but apparently good 'ol TIA is back too it's just changed its name. The funny thing, though, is that it's not clear what it's changed its name to. Here is Mark Clayton of the Christian Science Monitor describing a program called ADVISE:

A major part of ADVISE involves data-mining or "dataveillance," as some call it.....What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information from financial records to CNN news stories and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records.

....ADVISE "looks very much like TIA," Mr. Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in an e-mail. "There's the same emphasis on broad collection and pattern analysis."

And here is Michael Hirsh of Newsweek describing a program called Topsail:

Today, very quietly, the core of TIA survives with a new codename of Topsail....It is in programs like these that real data mining is going on and considering the furor over TIA with fewer intrusions on civil liberties than occur under the NSA surveillance program.

Hirsh suggests that data mining is a pretty useful technology, and I agree. He also suggests that there's a lot of lousy data mining going on, largely because our intelligence community is broken and doesn't have anything better to do. That may be right as well.

In the end, though, data mining is just a technology, neither inherently good nor bad. It's the details that matter:

  • What information gets sucked into the system? Public information is fine; personal information that's supposed to be private isn't.

  • How is the information used? Data mining has a high error rate, which means that it should be used only to produce leads that are followed up by professionals. No one should ever be placed on a watchlist or a no-fly list based solely on what the system spits out.

  • Does it work? Or, as Hirsh suggests, do these systems become billion-dollar black holes of unworkable technology?

  • What kind of oversight is there? Security professionals are just doing their jobs when they create data mining systems, but the potential for abuse is high even if they think they're following the rules. Congress needs to be intimately involved.

This is a hot topic. I expect to see it crop up a lot in the news this year.

Kevin Drum 12:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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Comments

In the context of data mining, you have to wonder if there isn't a connection to "no-fly" lists. Wasn't that 80,000 listed - including a kid in one instance ?

Posted by: opit on February 9, 2006 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

Can we nail down the phrase "Congress should be involved?" The ranking members of intelligence committees were informed of the NSA program. Apparently that's not sufficient.

What are we talking? The entire intelligence committees? Closed sessions of the entire Congress? Open sessions? CSPAN?

Each step will involve more people who are likely to compromise security for political gain.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 9, 2006 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

The ship has sailed on private info being used in data mining. Banks turn over transaction data that is collected and held on a personally-identifiable basis under the "Know Your Customer" laws passed to crack down on drug money laundering.

These transactions are data-mined for connections to each other that warrant further investigation. For example, if the sum of cash deposits to an account at Bank A are moved to Bank B and then to Bank C and the account at Bank C has received direct transactions from the first account at Bank A, it might get flagged for a closer look by humans.

The good news: it doesn't work very well at all. But it gets better every day.

Posted by: skeptic on February 9, 2006 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

kev, dear. if one is going to use an acronym, especially if it is uncommon, one should always first write out what it stands for.

Posted by: alex on February 9, 2006 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

Each step will involve more people who are likely to compromise security for political gain.

I assume you mean to exclude people at the White House, who already do this.

Posted by: craigie on February 9, 2006 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

They will not be satisfied until Howard Dean is allowed to post classified State secrets on al-Jazeera.

Well, again, it's true that having Rove do this kind of thing is deeply unsatisfying to me. But I'm not sure just making treason an equal opportunity crime is the answer.

Posted by: craigie on February 9, 2006 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK
Can we nail down the phrase "Congress should be involved?" The ranking members of intelligence committees were informed of the Watergate break-in. Apparently that's not sufficient.

Each step will involve more people who are likely to compromise Nixon's standing for political gain.


Posted by: tbrosz' inner monologue circa 1973 on February 9, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK
Can we nail down the phrase "Congress should be involved?" The ranking members of intelligence committees were informed of the NSA program.

Merely informing them of the existence of the program is not enough -- indeed, members of Congress who were "informed" have since indicated that the information they received at the time did not accurately reflect what the Administration has described since the program became public.

Apparently that's not sufficient.

Well, no, giving inaccurate and incomplete information to the chair and ranking minorit member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees -- a total of four members of Congress, is clearly not enough, for a number of reasons.

What are we talking?

Well, the good thing is Congress themselves already answered this question in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, requiring that foreign intelligence surveillance conducted without a warrant be reported, along with the minimization procedures associated with it to protect against gathering or retention of information relating to US persons, and any changes made to the minimization procedures, to the House and Senate Committees on Intelligence -- not a limited subset of those committees -- 30 days in advance unless an additional determination of immediate necessity is made, in which case the communication must be made immediately along with the reason for the immediate action.

Further, the certification required of the Attorney General must also be transmitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, under seal, to be available, among other reasons, for review if necessary to determine the legality of the surveillance.

These are issues which have already been weighed, and answered, in the wake of past abuses of surveillance assets. They aren't new issues. Its just the President decided he didn't like the law so he would ignore it.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK
In the context of data mining, you have to wonder if there isn't a connection to "no-fly" lists. Wasn't that 80,000 listed - including a kid in one instance ?

The kid probably wasn't listed himself, he probably just had a name that was similar or identical to one on the list. As I understand, the various "no fly" lists (which apparently there are several of varying seriousness -- my wife's name, or one similar, appears on one, as does her mothers [but then, her mother's name is "Maria Sanchez", so its not exactly like there aren't lots of people with that name) all are set up to flag people with names similar to those of people on the list.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK
Plame was NOT "covert" - next?

Care to prove (not just provide speculation) that Plame did not meet any of the possible qualifications that would make her "covert" under the IIPA?

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

Plame was NOT "covert" - next?

1. Bullshit. Right Wing grasping at straw talking point.
2. I note that you accept without question the notion that Rove leaked Plame's name, something he still denies. So your grasp of reality is improving somewhat.

Posted by: craigie on February 9, 2006 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

The 2000 census had a US population of 286-million.
A data mining program with a 99% accuracy rate for flagging people for further investigation would still leave the FBI or whoever examining 2.8-million people.

Posted by: Ph47f3 on February 9, 2006 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

Could someone remind me again why Charlie switched his name to Cheney? Has he ever explained?

Posted by: trix on February 9, 2006 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

Could someone remind me again why Charlie switched his name to Cheney? Has he ever explained?

Don't tell him. That information could send him right over the edge. It's better if he just thinks he is two people.

Posted by: craigie on February 9, 2006 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, the NSA does not have a "domestic spying program".

Please try to tell the truth a little bit, OK?

Posted by: am on February 9, 2006 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

compromise security for political gain.

That's rich, coming from a Republican.

Posted by: snowy s.o.b. on February 9, 2006 at 1:19 AM | PERMALINK

President Bush has flip-flopped once again. Just 24 hours after Vice President Cheney firmly declared the administration would not more broadly share information with key Congressional committee members regarding Bush's NSA domestic spying program, the White House reversed course - sort of.

For the full story, see:
"The White House Flip-Flops on NSA Program Oversight."

Posted by: AvengingAngel on February 9, 2006 at 1:20 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, the NSA does not have a "domestic spying program".

Or you could try using google. There are only a million hits for this phrase.

A senior U.S. intelligence official offered a wide-ranging and detailed defense of the National Security Agency's domestic spying program yesterday: Washington Post

Bush Defends Domstic Spying Program: The Jurist

Also Reuters, MSNBC, USA Today, CBS, Fox, CNN, et al.

Posted by: Windhorse on February 9, 2006 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

Plame was NOT "covert" - next?
Posted by: Cheney on February 9, 2006 at 12:52 AM

You're full of shit. Next?

Posted by: Calton Bolick on February 9, 2006 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, the NSA does not have a "domestic spying program".

So what's the Newspeak version you prefer, then, am?

Posted by: Calton Bolick on February 9, 2006 at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK

Cheney:

Link, please?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 9, 2006 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK

"Cheney", given your past history (to paraphrase Mary Mccarthy talking about Lillian Hellman, every word you say is a lie, including "and" and "the"), you'd need an affidavit signed by God Himself before I'd trust a single byte you typed.

Posted by: Calton Bolick on February 9, 2006 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

"...[S]pecial prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done "covert work overseas" on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion.

Newsweek, February 13, 2006 Issue

Posted by: Windhorse on February 9, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK
I would love to prove that for you, cmdicely, but then I'd have to kill you.

I'll take that as a clever way of admitting you were talking out of your nether sphincter.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

That application of FISA is un-Constitutional.

No, its not.

(It's fun to argue with bald, unsupported assertions!)

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

"Nether" sphincter? I think this guy's got sphincters hither, thither and yon :)

I think Cheney here is *all* sphincter. All the time.

Brings to mind a certain delightful scene from William Burroughs' Naked Lunch :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 9, 2006 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

Oh my God...

Cheney's got an assistant!

Posted by: snowy s.o.b. on February 9, 2006 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

Sort of like his bald, unsupported cranium :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 9, 2006 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

The problem with all this "data mining" is that it is providing powerful information to folks who are not necessarily going to use it responsibly...namely, party hacks, spies, and a whole host of demons.

Also, with all the attention being placed on data-mining, little attention is being placed on data-mines--the fake news and information that is being disseminated by le Marquis de Rove, King George the Banal, and Archbishop Cheney.

Posted by: parrot on February 9, 2006 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

That's hardly "backing off the claim," Cheneykins. That's "the claim is irrelevant to the charges we're pursuing."

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 9, 2006 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, just what is the concrete evidence that data mining is useful as a way to find terrorists? (If not for this, then what purpose were you thinking of?) I understand how one might think that, as a general principle, it might be useful somehow someday. But I don't recall hearing about any concrete examples of it actually being useful.

Posted by: Andy McLennan on February 9, 2006 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: david on February 9, 2006 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

So...

We have neither sought, much less obtained all documents, regardless of when created, relating to whether Valerie Wilsons status as a CIA employee, or any aspect of that status, was classified at any time between May 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003

equals

Plame was NOT "covert"

?????

Posted by: snowy s.o.b. on February 9, 2006 at 1:57 AM | PERMALINK

Good one, david...

Posted by: snowy s.o.b. on February 9, 2006 at 1:59 AM | PERMALINK

If you do not have enough data for trainging the model (learning as it is called) datamining is not very reliable.

The problem becomes worse if you want to use datamining for predicting events which inherently have a very low probability.

Inasmuch as we have only tens of known case of individuals who have committed terrorism in the US, the program is either (a) grossly inaccurate or (b) redifining terrorism in a questionable manner to include a much larger number of cases to train the models.

For marketing and campaigning, even if your model is inaccurate, it is not a big deal if you have a high false alarm rate.

However in the context of NSA spying, high false alarm rates will harm a lot of innocent americans.

Posted by: lib on February 9, 2006 at 1:59 AM | PERMALINK

Fitzgerald said:

I am not speaking to whether or not Valerie Wilson was covert... I will confirm that her association with the CIA was classified at that time through July 2003.

Posted by: JS on February 9, 2006 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

Security professionals are just doing their jobs when they create data mining systems

I'm guessing that the people creating the data mining systems, while employed by "security professionals", can only be called that in the loosest sense of the word.

Congress needs to be intimately involved.

Not so much in the data mining as in regulating what access the government has to private data without cause or consent generally. It is a mistake to look at data mining as any kind of special case, really.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 2:02 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin said: What information gets sucked into the system? Public information is fine; personal information that's supposed to be private isn't.

Why would anyone do data mining on a collection of data that has no private information? To find the percentage of the population that are terrorists?

Of course there is private data in there. And if it's there for "data mining" it can also be accessed one record at a time. Especially since there are no rules on how the data is to be used.

Posted by: JS on February 9, 2006 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

My guess is that there are dozens of these programs being produced simultaneously by private firms for lots of Pentagon dough. They have names like SLURP and SWALLOW and THRUST. They are all run by 30-something Bush Pioneers and Texas A&M dropouts with substandard penises.

The good news? They are probably as good at data-mining as they are at everything else. So while Redd Foxx and Gumby are under heavy surveillance, the rest of us are probably in the clear.

Posted by: enozinho on February 9, 2006 at 2:06 AM | PERMALINK

The problem is that datamining gives to the lay people the aura of some mysterious methodology which will allow NSA to accurately identify potential terrorists as if by magic. As someone said above, in terms of our privacy rights it should not be treated as some special case.

Posted by: lib on February 9, 2006 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

So while Redd Foxx and Gumby are under heavy surveillance, the rest of us are probably in the clear.

ROFL!

Posted by: Windhorse on February 9, 2006 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

Why would anyone do data mining on a collection of data that has no private information?

Data mining based purely on public information (which includes all kinds of personally identifiable information) can develop all kinds of patterns. Its more than possible that some of those could have some utility in identifying potential terrorists, particularly if "potential" is defined very broadly.

If you combine public information with information legitimately in government hands already (law enforcement data bases, etc.) you can probably do a lot of things that the kind of people interested in data mining would like to do without touching privately held information in which a legitimate expectation of privacy exists.

Though, of course, they'd really like to have that last kind of information, too.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

Valerie Plame was covert.

Nothing to argue about there.

Posted by: nut on February 9, 2006 at 2:12 AM | PERMALINK

The whole point of data mining is to develop knowledge through association of disparate data sources; there are lots of disparate public data sources which provide data that meaningful connections can be drawn between.

There are lots of existing government data bases that, once information gets in them, people have no legal expectation of privacy from the government of the information in it, that can be connected to those public sources.

If those two kinds of sources are being used exclusively, the issue isn't a civil rights issue (as far as gathering and analyzing data -- the actions taken based on that may be), but an efficiency and effectiveness.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

Association between data sources is not enough for the purposes of identifying terrorists or those who are likely to be one or support one. The latter, I belive, is the main objective of the NSA. It's a classification problem in which the number of known positive cases is very small. Utility of datamining for such problems is questionable.


Posted by: lib on February 9, 2006 at 2:40 AM | PERMALINK

No Cheney, Fitz did not say that he "neither sought, much less obtained, any documents to base said confirmation on".

What he said was that "We have neither sought, much less obtained all documents..."

Big difference. All it takes to make that determination is a single document -- not even that, actually, as Tenet's testimony would be enough.

Again, why do you think the CIA asked the DOJ to investigate this? Just to waste our taxes?

Posted by: JS on February 9, 2006 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

Data mining based purely on public information (which includes all kinds of personally identifiable information) can develop all kinds of patterns. Its more than possible that some of those could have some utility in identifying potential terrorists

Can you give a hypothetical example of how this could be done? I don't see it.

There are lots of existing government data bases that, once information gets in them, people have no legal expectation of privacy from the government of the information in it

Again, what would an example be? Not health or tax data, I assume. Wht are you thinking of?

Posted by: JS on February 9, 2006 at 2:52 AM | PERMALINK

Fitzgerald's response to Libby's fishing expedition (discovery requests) said that he had not sought "all documents, regardless of when created, relating to whether Valerie Wilson's status..." but he did not say that he did not seek or have "any" documents or testimony relating to her status.

In other words, in the two discovery request responses Cheney quoted, Fitzgerald indicated that one was not relevant to the perjury and obstruction charges he was pursuing and the other was too vague and broad. He did not say, admit, suggest or even imply that Valerie Wilson was not undercover.

Cheney, as usual, is either lying, stupid, ignorant or all of the above.

Posted by: tanj on February 9, 2006 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

You mean I should have understood from the start that you never have anything meaningful to say and that I was wasting my time responding to you?

Well, yes. Thank you for pointing that out.

Posted by: tanj on February 9, 2006 at 3:32 AM | PERMALINK

He can't hear you tanj, he has the volume set too high. His iPod is now playing I Pagliacci.

Posted by: JS on February 9, 2006 at 4:29 AM | PERMALINK

Data mining of public information is perfectly legal, and if we had an administration that could walk and chew gum and the same time, it might be a useful anti-terrorist tool.

Data mining of information generated from sources where United States Persons have a constitutionally-based expectation of privacy, such as telephone conversations and e-mails, has a long legal tradition. It's called a "fishing expedition" and as watchers of any cop or lawyer show know, judges never allow it because it violates the principles for which we fought the Revolutionary War. Of course, we all know about how George Washington faked his war record....

Posted by: xtalguy on February 9, 2006 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

As the Daily Show noted last night, according to Alberto Gonzales, even George Washington was using electronic surveillance in times of war. This data mining operation must be very good, indeed.

Posted by: brewmn on February 9, 2006 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Cheney thanks for that brain dump but equating all liberals with the nuts who think that 9/11 was an inside job and the levees were blown up isn't a serious way of debating. Is that really the best you can do?

As for Libby -- once again, people in govt usually get in trouble not for what they do but for lying about it afterwards (Nixon, Clinton, many othes). Fitz made it clear that the outing of Plame is not what Libby is accused of. If the underlying crime is what's important, then why did you all spend so much energy going after Clinton for lying about sex? Anyway, Libby will probably walk but let's hope for a good show.

Posted by: JS on February 9, 2006 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Gentle folk, ignore Charlie/Cheney. He's the worst of trolls on this blog. His entire purpose in life is to derail threads.

He knows that Plame was covert, that someone (probably Rove) outed her as an act of revenge, that the President has admitted to breaking the law and thus guilty of "high crimes and misdemenors".

But he doesn't want to admit it and his sole enjoyment in life is to confuse, obfuscate, and derail any thoughtful commentary.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on February 9, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I am sure that the Republican Presidental candidate in 2008 will be running up front and center on the plank of repealing the 4th Amendment in order to allow data mining to be used. Right? He will, won't he? I mean, he _will_ come right out in the first debate and say that it necessary for our "safety in the war on terra"? He will just flat out propose repealing the 4th Amendment.

Oh - he won't? Why not, if it is such a great idea?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 9, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK
LOL - Presidents from Washington to FDR have intercepted such foreign communique to U.S. persons without warrents and perfectly within the powers of Commander-in-Chief granted to them under said Constitution.

False. FDR (for instance) did so under an explicit Congressional (statutory) grant of power which he sought, even though there was a declared war, not under any mythical "Commander-in-Chief powers".

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK
As for anything meaningful to say on this thread, I think you guys are downplaying the seriousness of Fitzgerald's discovery reponses, especially in the PR battle to prove "no harm, no foul"

Since they aren't widely known, they have no value in the PR battle, and any thing they might suggest will be superceded with greater force (for good or ill) by later actions (such as what comes out at trial, or a decision not to abandon prosecution), so, really, I'd say its impossible to understate their importance in the PR battle. They have none yet, and are unlikely to have any significant importance later.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Each step will involve more people who are likely to compromise security for political gain.

Wearing grease paint and a red wig, today? It was revealed that the Bush tapped the UN Security Council members in order to be able to twist their arms better for a resolution on Iraq.

And that's just what was revealed. Do you seriously doubt that journalists, Bush critics, and members of Congress have been targets as well?

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 9, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

> Data mining based purely on public information

Is what is in the ChoicePoint database "public information"? If so, why? I have personally directed as many entities that feed ChoicePoint as I could identify that I opt-out of their data collection and feed, and told ChoicePoint that I opt-out of their tracking service. ChoicePoint responded saying that I have no business relationship with them and therefore cannot opt-out of their tracking database even if it contains data about me. Great system there.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 9, 2006 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK
Is what is in the ChoicePoint database "public information"?

Legally, yes, in the sense that you have no legal right to prevent them from sharing it with other entities without your consent.

(There is, of course, debate on whether it should be public data.)

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Could somebody sort this out with, ya know, stuff ordinary people understand? I'm just not smart enough to grasp 'datamining', and 'total information awareness', etc.

I'm a 'dese, 'dem, and 'dose sorta guy.

I THINK there are three different kinds of scenarios.

1) I call Tariq Ramadan in Geneva. (He's in England now.) He's got Muslim Brotherhood connections (his grandfather founded it), so the NSA monitors the call, or at least, when he called me back. No need for "datamining", no need for a warrant before, no need (I think) to sustain surveillance for 72 hours: a little creepy, but more or less justified.

2) The NSA monitors ALL phone calls coming into the United States, looking for the digital voice patterns that match terrorists whose voices we have digitally recorded; AND for certain words or phrases -- not "the pigeon flies at midnight", but more like the "Off the pig" stuff that Bobby Seale was charged with in New Haven in 1970.

If the software is good enough, then at least in theory it COULD catch bin Laden calling from any phone from anywhere, so long as it came anywhere we were watching everything, right?

Likewise, if there are phrases (presumably in Arabic, mostly) which (as in the Panther example) credibly could mean "kill our enemies" which (assuming we have ANY intelligence at all) we know that al Qaeda and the other bad guys use -- again, if the software is good enough, then we COULD catch and then listen in on, anybody using one of these phrases, so long as it came anywhere we were watching everything, right?

It's the wizard war, and we win. Or are we only claiming the software isn't that good?

3) Pretending it's #2, the Bush folks listen in on EVERYTHING -- but they mix in enough #1 that the folks who get this data and direct its collection aren't interested in protecting America nor enforcing the law, they are out to get enemies -- like the Quakers, or, um, me.

Which are we worried about, which are we objecting to?

The first one is legal, as I understand it.

The second is not (I think), but even if it is, it is arguably useful if not invaluable. I wouldn't want to NOT keep an ear cocked for "the nukes are in DC".

The third is what we object to, right?

But NOT the second?

Could somebody sort this out for me? Along the lines of "we like 'dese, and 'dem, but 'dose are no good."

Posted by: theAmericanist on February 9, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

1) Probably requires a FISA warrant since there is a substantial possibility that information in which a US person has an expectation of privacy will be captured.

2) Is flatly illegal under FISA and, additionally, arguably violates the Fourth Amendment (though, again, there are past practices which weigh on the other side of the Constitutional argument.)

3) Is, of course, clearly illegal and (while usually "likely domestic political opponents" are more the issue than "everybody") one of the primary reasons that FISA was enacted.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

To expand, though, the details of whether #1 is illegal depend on whether they are specifically tapping his call back to you, and other factors. There are scenarios where it might not require a warrant, though in that case, they probably can't monitor the call to you even if they are generally tapping the line without some other indication that you are acting as his agent, and probably with a warrant, as I understand FISA.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Okay.

So -- leaving aside the legal specifics for a second -- the first case isn't a big deal unless they kept doing it for longer than 72 hours. That is, they're watching him, he calls me, they snoop, nothing there, they drop it.

The second poses technological as well as Constitutional issues. Start there: nobody in public knows much, I expect, about what the software really CAN do - but assume, for a second that it can really can listen to ALL THE FRIGGING PHONE CALLS IN THE WORLD, and pick out bin Laden's voice.

We gotta conclude that it can't (or, I suppose, that bin Laden now communicates only face to face, like some Mafia guy), because we'd have found him by now. (I rule out categorically that the NSA wouldn't be monitoring foreign phone calls for legal reasons, when we're trying to figure out what monitoring U.S. phone calls would mean.)

So there is some technological reason why we're only talking about U.S. calls -- coming in, anyway -- presumably cuz the NSA can listen in on a couple bottleneck places.

That would make the Constitutional argument against Bush doing this without (or in direct violation of) Congressional authority into a genuine conflict with his CinC authority -- which is what Bush is arguing, no?

He's making a cop in Times Square argument: sooner or later, everybody walks by him. He's just gotta be there listening, waiting on bin Laden to make a phone call to the U.S.

Politically (and I gotta figure this Supreme Court is gonna fall the election returns, not to mention the cloture vote), the "expectation of privacy" argument isn't strong enough to overcome that.

The third is the key: without Congressional oversight (for which, Cheney properly notes, there is no Administration upside), how are we ever gonna know how what they're looking for?

My point is that folks are confusing the scope of the snooping (which is at least arguably a good thing -- I LIKE that they're listening for bin Laden's voice, or Arabic phrases like "nukes in NY"), with a very different thing: having all that data to search through -- what are they looking for?

For some reason, I'm reminded of the break in at Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. Hunt and those guys were looking for, I dunno, Ellsberg telling his shrink that he was secretly gay, or that his nuclear targetting job was more than he could handle, he was cracking under the pressure -- stuff that could be leaked to the press (or, better yet, something like the first could be traced to some OTHER incident, which nobody could ever walk back to how they got on the trail).

Isn't a telling part of this story that they ARE finding plots (bogus ones, comic ones, but PLOTS, like the guy who wanted to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch) with tainted evidence that they can't use in court?

Let's not get into another 'liberals want killers to go free on technicalities' issue.

We LIKE # 1, we LIKE #2, but we THINK they're doing #3 -- right?

Posted by: theAmericanist on February 9, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Dees & dos,

Datamining 101

First you get your hands on all the information you can: a) listen to all phone and e-mail info and record it for future reference; b) open regular mail to snoop; c) lease access to public databases and use irs & soc sec databases if possible

Second, use computer software to search through e-mails and phone conversations for key words phrases names and such.

Third, toss out selected stuff for human beings to sort through (much slower than computers, but also more thorough).

Fourth, take really relevant stuff (a very tiny portion) to the lawyers to see if you can use it to track, follow or indict someone.

There may be a couple of other steps of analysis in there, but this is a rough outline of datamining.

One key problem is that the constant addition of new data to the ever-growing total is pretty mind-boggling. Even this message which says BOMB might have to be selected out for human investigation. It's got to be pretty tedious and very time-consuming.

Posted by: MarkH on February 9, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

"Washington was using electronic intercepts during time of war"

Was that when he, as President, went after the Whiskey guys in PA, or before we had a goverment in the 1770s? Exactly what foreign power did Washington wage war with during his two terms?

And did Franklin just hook up a kite to get the "electronic" thingie working?

Now, Julius Caesar had an incredible electronic surveillance operation.

If it had not been for the bad weather, Napoleon's U-2s could have worked wonders.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on February 9, 2006 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

LOL -- Mark, I know what datamining IS. (and using the term to mean opening paper letters is stretching a bit)

I'm trying to isolate and identify what the actual arguments are about.

The real deal, politically, is that by announcing he needs to be listening to EVERYTHING, Bush is pretty much admitting that more than four years after 9-11, we don't actually know much about al Qaeda. (Sorta like his budget, what he does contradicts what he says.)

Simple stuff: how many of 'em are there? Who do they recruit from, how do they join, what's the order of battle, the command structure?

All of that stuff is basic intelligence, all of it is essentialy to protecting our country and NONE of it requires datamining.

That said, there is a vague sense of winning a wizard war here, that if you just put the Big Ear to all phone calls coming into the U.S., NSA software would pull bin Laden's voice, or key al Qaeda phrases, like fishing that Titanic diamond from the bottom of the North Atlantic.

Okay: suppose that's true. What's the objection?

(NB -- there are lots of OTHER objections to OTHER ways the thing might work. But I'm a simple guy: explain what's wrong with THAT one, first.)

Posted by: theAmericanist on February 9, 2006 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Some of the problems are:
1) If they tell everyone what words, patterns, etc they are looking for, it is pretty easy for the bad guys to come up with schemes to avoid triggering the filters to flag them for a closer investigation.
2) If they don't tell anyone what they are looking for, we have no way to be sure that they will not adjust the filters to gather information on people other than terrorists.
3) Past history, both in the U.S. and out of it, is that without strict oversight, any intelligence service will eventually be used to go after political enemies, so finding the correct balance between 1) and 2) is crucial.
4) The way the current administration has politicized almost everything, plus reports of the DoD investigating peace activists even when they aren't currently protesting at DoD sites and the homeland security department saying that environmental and animal rights groups represent the greatest domestic terrorist threat, all suggest that concerns over misusing domestic spying programs are well founded with the current administration. This is not to say with any certainty that they have misused them, but it certainly is reasonable to not blindly trust that they won't misuse them.
5) The administration has conducted this program with excessive secrecy, providing only limited information to those they have briefed and limiting those briefings to fewer people than required by FISA, thus reducing or eliminating the opportunity for meaningful oversight per 2) and 3).
6) We have no way to know what is being done with all the information that they have collected that did not trigger any flags, that is for those people that are presumably not even suspected of anything. Is the information destroyed (deleted, shredded, etc)? Is it kept? What protections are there against unauthorized access?

Posted by: tanj on February 9, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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