Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SWIFT, BUT NOT A BOAT....The New York Times and the LA Times both have big stories today about a U.S. program to subpoena records from SWIFT, a Brussels-based network that tracks instructions for international financial transactions. However, instead of issuing subpoenas for individual records, the government has relied on national security letters to scoop up large amounts of data. But how large? The New York Times gets an answer from Stuart Levey, an undersecretary at the Treasury Department:

"We are not on a fishing expedition," Mr. Levey said. "We're not just turning on a vacuum cleaner and sucking in all the information that we can."

Not a vacuum cleaner? Here's the LA Times:

Under the program, Treasury issues a new subpoena once a month, and SWIFT turns over huge amounts of electronic financial data....The SWIFT information is added to a massive database that officials have been constructing since shortly after Sept. 11. Levey noted that SWIFT did not have the ability to search its own records. "We can, because we built the capability to do that," he said.

The LA Times also has this to say about the breadth and sweep of the program:

During the last five years, SWIFT officials have raised concerns about the scope of the program, particularly at the outset, when it was handing over virtually its entire database. The amount of data handed over each month has been winnowed down.

"The safeguards were not all there in September 2001," Levey acknowledged. "We started narrowing it from the beginning."

But why has the program been narrowed? The New York Times explains:

By 2003, the cooperative's officials were discussing pulling out because of their concerns about legal and financial risks if the program were revealed, one government official said....In 2003, administration officials asked Swift executives and some board members to come to Washington. They met with Mr. Greenspan, Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, and Treasury officials, among others, in what one official described as "a full-court press." Aides to Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Mueller declined to comment on the meetings.

The executives agreed to continue supplying records after the Americans pledged to impose tighter controls. Swift representatives would be stationed alongside intelligence officials and could block any searches considered inappropriate, several officials said.

So the scope of the program was narrowed only because SWIFT executives threatened to pull out. The original program, the one the Bush administration wanted to keep going forever, involved turning over "the entire Swift database" according to the NYT and "virtually" the entire database according to the LAT. If that's not a vacuum cleaner, what is?

POSTSCRIPT: This is probably a pretty good program, although the sources in the two stories are ambivalent about just how effective it's been. And regardless of whether or not you like national security letters, it appears to be on fairly solid legal ground much more solid than the NSA's warrantless domestic spying program, at any rate.

But, again, the big problem with this is the Bush administration's insistence that it can conduct this kind of program without congressional approval. Why do we need legislation if the program is (probably) legal without it? Because we have only the Bush administration's word that they'll use this database solely for narrowly-targeted terrorism-related investigations and human nature being what it is, that promise is likely to be broken at some point. Legislation that mandates appropriate judicial oversight is the way to handle things like this. Remember: Laws, not men.

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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Comments
This is probably a pretty good program

The basis for this conclusion is...what, exactly?

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

This is exactly why I use illegal aliens to bring in all my money and goods.

Posted by: craigie on June 23, 2006 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: The basis is the fact that tracing financial flows is something that virtually every counterterrorism expert recommends. It's precisely the kind of thing that we should be doing instead of invading and occupying countries in the Middle East.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on June 23, 2006 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

The basis for this conclusion is...what, exactly?

Number of terrorists who have successfully attacked America since the program was implemented: Zero.

Posted by: Al on June 23, 2006 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

The most efficient way to track organizations like al Qaeda is to track their money - small cells with shadowy people are hard to track, but big money can't be hidden.

The sad thing is that this White House has so little respect for the American people that it's not willing to even try and make that argument in the context of a congressional debate.

No, they just do what they want by executive order, and if they're smart enough to come up with that argument after the fact, they append it with a healthy dose of "...and whoever thinks we can't do this is siding with the terrorists."

Posted by: mmy on June 23, 2006 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

It is very important that the US starve Palestinian children for its Middle Eastern ally, so this program will help prevent compassionate people from inadvertently helping those who are deemed inhuman.

Posted by: Hostile on June 23, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

yeah.... what's with the endorsement?

These programs will eventually be used on the 'enemies' within... ie tax matters, child support - anything where the feds can 'demonize' the targets.

I was shocked at your reaction.. calling it 'good'.... the other thing that bothers me is the reach of American Zionists in these things.. they AIPAC every program... and you can bet your beanie they are monitoring legitimate Arab charities - hoping to cut off funding for their Palestinian victims.

THESE PROGRAMS ARE ALWAYS EVIL - they are used by the group in power against any and all who question their authority.

Posted by: tj on June 23, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Remember: Laws, not men.

This is the nub of where people, and Republicans also, lose their marbles. Something isn't a good idea just because Herr Bush says so. (and I do try and remember that something isn't a bad idea just because he says so either, though so far the evidence is certainly running that way)

It's about process and law, not hero worship and codpieces. Try and keep that in mind, conservaloonies.

Posted by: craigie on June 23, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK
Number of terrorists who have successfully attacked America since the program was implemented: Zero.

The program was implemented in September 2001, per the articles.

There have been terrorist attacks in the US -- both the anthrax attacks and the LAX attack -- since September 2001.

Therefore, even if the conclusion that this program is good followed logically from the premise that no such attacks had taken place since it started (which it doesn't), your argument would still have the fatal flaw of resting on a false premise.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

"We are not on a fishing expedition"

He means that they don't have a boat, rod & reel, a couple quarts of Strohs and so forth.

Have a nice day

PS
You should run a pool predicting when the Orange Alerts start up again. The mid-terms are coming closer and closer.

Posted by: Pierre Asciutto on June 23, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Al,Al, Al -- the number of 'terrorists' that attacked us on 9/11 is ZERO as well...

the event was staged - to get saps like you onto the Islamophic band wagon. Islam may not be perfect or consistent with Western culture... but Zion subverts our culture from within -- making enemies where there were none... to advance THEIR agenda rather than ours.

The agenda was simple .. enlist Americans in the war on Islam --

THESE are the terrorists.. and they have been operating at the highest levels since WWII.

Posted by: tj on June 23, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

As with the story on phone records, the right wing is pushing the incoherent argument that "Journalists are endangering national security by exposing secrets -- and it's not news because everyone already knew about it."

Posted by: KCinDC on June 23, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK
The basis is the fact that tracing financial flows is something that virtually every counterterrorism expert recommends.

"Tracing financial flows" in general may be good, that doesn't mean this specific program is good, or even probably good, merely because it is implemented for the purpose of tracing financial flows.

It's precisely the kind of thing that we should be doing instead of invading and occupying countries in the Middle East.

I would agree that "tracing financial flows" is, zoomed out to broad outline level, among the things we ought to be doing; that's a far cry from saying this program is "precisely" what we ought to be doing.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

It's not about national security. It is about accumulation of raw power by two persons who have some issues with their paternal relationships.

Posted by: nut on June 23, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK
But, again, the big problem with this is the Bush administration's insistence that it can conduct this kind of program without congressional approval.

If this is a "big problem", the program wouldn't seem to be "probably good".

Why do we need legislation if the program is (probably) legal without it?

Well, I think you miss the main reason for this; we need legislation because advances in information technology and government practice increasing lead to "hoovering" of vast swathes of data to hunt for a few bits of relevant data, rather than targetted gathering of data for which there is some reasonable basis to believe it will be relevant; the mere absence of modern technology, previously, was itself a factor which constrained the intrusiveness of government, and our existing laws have not caught up with technology and provided a framework for reasonable constraints that still meet the legitimate needs on government in the information age.

Because we have only the Bush administration's word that they'll use this database solely for narrowly-targeted terrorism-related investigations and human nature being what it is, that promise is likely to be broken at some point.

Well, that and the fact that power that the Bush Administration has asserted or sought for terrorism related reasons in the past has been applied elsewhere; I don't know why you need to resort to vague references to human nature.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

And the world's bankers and business executives do not object that every one of their private transactions and communications is readable by any Republiccan political operative who gets planted in this program?

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

cld: you don't know what you're talking about. read the NY Times article and come back.

cmdicely: since you always do this; how about you instead suggest a specific program for tracing terrorism-related cash flows (explaining how the data will be identified, where it will be gathered, and the legal justification).

on the whole, the fact that this program was suggested from WITHIN THE FINANCIAL INDUSTRY as being the most effective method of tracing terrorism-related cash flows gives it immediate credibility as a useful and "pretty good" program.

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

uh, Nathan... the financial industry is largely Jewish. So if I were an Arab business man or charity - I am being monitored.

If I am a Jew -- well, we all know what happens to unfavorable stories about Jews.

Posted by: Carol on June 23, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't George Bush say something about how other countries' governments cause difficulties because they're not transparent?

Posted by: Cali4nian on June 23, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan

The very definition of terrorist is subjective. This 'pretty good' program serves specific men with very specific agendas.

You can be sure it won't snag any well connected traitors.

Posted by: tj on June 23, 2006 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: The basis is the fact that tracing financial flows is something that virtually every counterterrorism expert recommends. It's precisely the kind of thing that we should be doing instead of invading and occupying countries in the Middle East.
Posted by: Kevin Drum

I think we're all aware of this. But the Bush administration has obviously cast an unnecessarily wide net on eavesdropping that I think most thoughtful Americans (all 150 of us) are probably correct in believing that they'll just abuse this as well.

The whole "war on terror" just reeks of ham-fisted police state tactics. There is no finesse in anything they do. A great example is the arrests made in Miami. The folks they've busted were not in possession of weapons or explosives. If they were so sure that these people were up to what has been alleged, why didn't they wait to arrest them when they could have nailed their sources for the explosives and other contacts? Seems like the jumped the gun a bit. But then, poll numbers must be propped.

Posted by: JeffII on June 23, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

why is it that financial industry posts bring out the antisemites? and on left-wing blogs no less?

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

JeffII:

why the FBI went in now I don't know...but you clearly haven't bothered to read any news stories for posting on the subject and exposing your ignorance.

they had no sources for explosives. they were asking the FBI informant to give them explosives.
read the indictment.

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan,

You live in a dreamier world than an opium eater.

They suck in the entire internet,


http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/06/21/att_nsa/index_np.html


and now this.

Every time something like this has come out they tell us how careful and strict their precautions are and how they have greatest and deepest respect for privacy, then a few weeks later we see maybe they're not quite so careful. Then we find they're even less careful than that. Then it come out oh, they just don't give a damn, they'll look at anything they want to and farm out the data analysis to some Republican company who can be 'trusted' with it.

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

"They suck in the entire internet,"

er, bullshit. you might want to learn something about bandwith and processing limitations. if you black helicopter people actually knew anything about technology....

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

AL we have been attacked at least 2,500 times since 9/11. Not a very good track record.Sorry big fella try again.

Posted by: Then on June 23, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan thinks the topic brings out specific groups who hate Jews.

I tell my Jewish friends things like that all the time. And they agree.

It is no secret that Jews enjoy power beyond their numbers. And to recognize a cabal of neocons who happen to be Jewish does not mean I advocate concentration camps and gas chambers for your people.

What an asshole

Posted by: karen on June 23, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK
And the world's bankers and business executives do not object that every one of their private transactions and communications is readable by any Republiccan political operative who gets planted in this program?

Since the Republican Party is a paid agent of the world's capitalist class, why would they be?

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

To be sure, we need more than the administration's word that the program is above board and proper. But legislation is likely not the appropriate path. We already have laws that detail what intelligence agencies can and cannot do. What is needed is an assurance that the appropriate bodies tasked with overseeing those agencies are doing their job. You can't simply pass legislation for every anti-terrorism program created by these agencies.

Moreover, it is impossible to assure the public of any of this without compromising the secrecy of these programs. Leaving aside the recklessness of the media in reporting these stories, the bottom line is that we need to trust that our institutions are doing their jobs. And the fact is that in both the international phone call surveillance and this financial surveillance programs, the appropriate institutions were involved. That doesn't mean the programs were perfect but it does mean that there is more than the administration's assertion to back the claim that the programs met the legal hurdles we should always insist they meet.

What is clear in any event is that we cannot successfully go after these terrorist organizations if our leading papers continue to splash word of these programs over the objections of our government even though there is no indication that any laws were broken or rights violated.

Posted by: Hacksaw on June 23, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

"The very definition of terrorist is subjective."

can't believe I'm responding to an obvious bigot but....
you're committing a standard fallacy (not a classical one per se since it's uniquely a 20th century one)...assuming that since a certain classification is subjective on the margins all objects of that classification are subjectively determined.

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

That is why George, Dick and I Bank in the Caymans,They are way better at keeping my money secret then the U.S. and my boys have made it so easy to hide our money from you money sucking libs.

Posted by: Vert Rich on June 23, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK
cmdicely: since you always do this;

Define "this"? Request that unsubstantiated conclusions be fleshed out into actual arguments rather than opaque bald assertions, perhaps?

how about you instead suggest a specific program for tracing terrorism-related cash flows

Why?

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

OF COURSE, YOU REGRESSIVE-DEMOCRATS HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH THE IRS KNOWING THE MINUTAE OF TAXPAYER'S FINANCIAL LIVES IF IT MEANS YOU AND YOUR CONSITUTENTS CAN TAKE MORE OF THEIR MONEY . . . TO WASTE. THAT'S FINE.

IT'S TOO SILLY.

TOH

Posted by: The Objective Historian on June 23, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Carol:

wow, your true colors are revealed. are some of your friends black too?

(btw, you ignorant hag, I'm actually not Jewish (funny you would assume that off my name...) ... but I am part Romany....but I'm sure both everyone Jewish and everyone Romany is grateful for the fact that you don't actually endorse gas chambers for us)

cmdicely, have you fucking fallen off the deep end?

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK
can't believe I'm responding to an obvious bigot but.... you're committing a standard fallacy (not a classical one per se since it's uniquely a 20th century one)...assuming that since a certain classification is subjective on the margins all objects of that classification are subjectively determined.

You assume that that is the basis for his claim that the definition of terrorism is subjective...why?

Sure, its possible he's committing that fallacy, its also possible he is claiming there is no general, consitently applied definition, rather than reasoning from the premise of subjectivity at the margins.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Hacksaw:

word.

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

I think he's noting cases at the margins (Irgun et al) and extrapolating from there that the definition of "terrorist" is always subjective.

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

The Objective Historian has a point. Concerns about the government knowing things about us is kind of selective.

Posted by: leon on June 23, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Assuming the data covers traditionally secretive international bank accounts, there are a good number of trousers in DC that just got a couple pounds heavier.

Posted by: B on June 23, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan, er, bullshit.. you might want to learn something about bandwith and processing limitations.


You might try reading the article. NSA technology will be at least ten years ahead of anyone else's and they have no limit on funding.

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

"NSA technology will be at least ten years ahead of anyone else's "

they wish that were true.

stupid speculation like this has been around forever (like the far-out claims for Echelon..an actually pretty prosaic program)

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

This is not a new program it is just an unrestricted version that has been in place since the late 60's.The C.I.A. has always monitored our money flow patterns.

I use only cash now and never use the phone.The American people are who these programs are watching.Not Terrorist.

The actions today follow exactly a pattern described in a course offered at the University of Louisville,Ky. in 1974, "America the Police State" Unless we the people take action rather than just running our mouths we will not be a free republic much longer.

Posted by: Richard on June 23, 2006 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

did someone let the freaks out of the institution?

Kevin: where did you find the bigots and black helicopter folks.

this thread makes dailykos and redstate look sane.

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

If it wasn't for the rampant politicization of the executive branch and the current lack of congressional and judicial oversight, I'd be all for sending the data to the IRS.

Why do conservatives like Objective Historian think cheating on taxes is justified? If you payed what you owed, I'd be able to pay less.

Posted by: B on June 23, 2006 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan,

The best technology on Earth is not more than ten years ahead of my computer?

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2006 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

cld, I have no clue what equipment you have;
but the NSA wishes it was 10 years ahead of the best of private industry in terms of processing power and bandwith.

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK
The best technology on Earth is not more than ten years ahead of my computer?

The best technology on earth may years more advanced than your computer (though perhaps not "ten years", depending on what metric you are using), but your computer probably isn't the best technology on Earth outside of the NSA, either.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

B - if I cheat on my taxes - it is because my government is cheating me - thugs and thieves that they are.

And I don't want them spying on me while I usher my CASH out of their hands and into MY pockets.

you are a doofus if you let these monsters suck you dry.

Posted by: karen on June 23, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

An important point is that they built themselves the system for searching the Swift database. Swift had nothing to do with it, so they are totally vulnerable to this thing.


Nathan,

As we read here,

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/06/21/att_nsa/index_np.html

the NSA has a direct tap on the primary AT&T ciruits. Every single thing going through any AT&T owned line or server is open to them.

I would think they have the same set-up in just about every other large telecommunications company.

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

but your computer probably isn't the best technology on Earth outside of the NSA, either.


God knows. It can barely drag itself to refresh this page.

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan nails it. I totally trust the President to do what is right with all of this information on me. And I worry not! This administration has conducted itself with the utmost integrity and a rock-solid belief in upholding the law.

Of course, I was talking with one of my country-club Republican friends. He wasn't in the last concerned about the NSA listening in on his international calls. He expressed some concern about this program, however. I told him not to worry... he's a Republican and therefore beyond scrutiny or criticism.

Santorum/Keyes '08!

Posted by: HappyConservative on June 23, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

The basis is the fact that tracing financial flows is something that virtually every counterterrorism expert recommends. It's precisely the kind of thing that we should be doing instead of invading and occupying countries in the Middle East.

Agreed, but I sure as hell don't trust this administration to do it the right way. Why do I htink this is going to turn out like the phone records scandal? First, Bush will run out and say, "It's only a handful of international transactions", until we find out that they've been tracking demestic activity, as well. Then Bush will run out and say, "No one is looking at your financial racords", and then we find out that they've been looking at the financial records of millions of Americans. Cue the wingnuts to say, "9/11 changed everything!".

Maybe I'm just a cynical bastard.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on June 23, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

on the whole, the fact that this program was suggested from WITHIN THE FINANCIAL INDUSTRY as being the most effective method of tracing terrorism-related cash flows gives it immediate credibility as a useful and "pretty good" program.
Posted by: Nathan

I don't disagree, Nathan, but you have to agree that it is ripe for abuse. Where's the congressional oversight? With that, I'm OK with it.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on June 23, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

I bet the NSA don't have one of these,

http://www.e4engineering.com/Articles/295021/Teaching%20robot%20dogs%20linguistic%20tricks.htm

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

you might want to learn something about bandwith and processing limitations. if you black helicopter people actually knew anything about technology....
Posted by: Nathan

Come on, this is an absurd comment. You're going to tell me the US government lacks resources???? Like they couldn't find the bandwidth necessary and build computer networks to handle processing billions of transactions???

If they can track every phone call made from and to the US, I'm thinking they can handle all of its financial transactions.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on June 23, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

THANK YOU, "B".

FOR ADMITTING THAT GOV'T INTRUSION TO TAKE PEOPLE'S MONEY IS JUSTIFIED, BUT TO DEFEND AMERICAN LIVES IT IS NOT. I'LL NOTE, IRONICALLY, THAT YOU PRESUME TAX CHEATS TO JUSTIFY INTRUSION CONTRARY TO EVERY OTHER REGRESSIVE-DEMOCRAT INSISTENCE THAT GOV'T PRESUME INNOCENCE AND LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE, I.E., DO NOT DATA MINE, ETC.

YOU SEE THE ABSURED R-D LOGIC; STOPPING PEOPLE FROM CHEATING ON TAXES IS IMPORTANT; STOPPING A NUKE ATTACK IN NYC OR STOPPING US-BASED FUNDING OF AL-QAEDA IS NOT. SO THESE ANTI-PATRIOT ACT, ANTI-CIA VIGILANCE R-Ds THINK IT'S OK TO FORCE PEOPLE TO REVEAL UPON PENALTY OF JAIL, WHERE THEY LIVE, WHAT THEY OWN, HOW MANY CHILDREN THEY HAVE, WHAT THEIR MEDICAL EXPENSES ARE, WHAT THEY SPEND MONEY ON FOR LEISURE, ETC. WITH ARBITRARY AUDITS TO INCLUDE DISCOVERY OF BANK RECORDS, PHONE CALLS, E-MAILS, ETC. (ACTUALLY FDR WAS FAMOUS FOR BEING THE PRESIDENT MOST AGGRESSIVE IN TARGETING HOSTILE NEWSPAPER EDITORS WITH AUDITS, SO "ARBITRARY").

MEANWHILE, WHILE WE'RE AT IT, ALL YOU CIVIL LIBERTIES ANTI-AUTHORITARIAN REGRESSIVE-DEMOCRATS: SOMEHOW IT'S OK FOR GOV'T TO FORCE PEOPLE NOT TO OWN A GUN, TO FORCE PEOPLE TO PAY OTHERS $7.25/HOUR WHEN BOTH PARTIES WOULD AGREE TO LESS, TO FORCE PEOPLE TO RENT APARTMENTS TO WHOM FOR HOWEVER MUCH THE GOVERNMENT DECIDES, ETC. I SAY IT WITH CONFIDENCE; SHOW ME A 21ST CENTURY AMERICAN DEMOCRAT AND I'LL SHOW YOU A FASCIST. BUT, THAT WOULD BE FINE, THESE R-D POLICY POSITIONS ARE FASCIST IN THEIR WAY, BUT VIEWS AMONG VIEWS; BUT, YOU'D JUST STOP THE DISTURBED SELF-ABSORBED HYPOCRITICAL CRYING ABOUT GOVERNMENT INTRUSIONS TO PROTECT US WHILE GOVERNMENT INTRUSION INTO PRIVACY AND INTO TAXPAYER LIVES IN TERMS OF SUBSTANTIVE TAKING IS THE REGRESSIVE-DEMOCRAT LIFE-BLOOD . . . TAXPAYER $$$.

TOH

Posted by: The Objective Historian on June 23, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Truly amazing

I envy you guys.

That must be some spectacularly great dope you're smoking.

Don't forget to share!!

Black helicopters, hell.

Dipsticks, by the dozen.

Posted by: ain't it amazing on June 23, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Why do conservatives like Objective Historian think cheating on taxes is justified? If you payed what you owed, I'd be able to pay less.

I've wondered about that too B. Or rather why are taxes necessarily a bad thing? It seems to be the same argument that is often made about guns can be made about taxes: they both are just tools that have no intrinsic moral agency. Taxes can only be put to bad purposes by the people we elect, so if you don't like the quantity of your taxes or the use they're put to, that would seem to mean you need to send different people to Washington.

Personally, I think taxes are a sign of civilised society that agrees to the existence of a common good, and that some parts of this common good (infrastructure for example) can be acheived through shared expenses.

Posted by: cyntax on June 23, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Objective Historian, you have my vote for perfect pitch and clarity.


You're a breath of fresh air in this smug insane asylum.

Posted by: ain't it amazing on June 23, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

"If they can track every phone call made from and to the US"

er, they can't. not really. I suppose in theory every such call is logged (by many different companies) and could be compiled into a database...but the contents of the call, heck no. way too much data.

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

You ignorant dirtbags have to go REALLY far out of your way to totally ignore the fact that Congress has been briefed on this every inch of the way, has not seen fit to leak it, has not objected to it in the least.

Congressional oversight has been there all along, just not on the front pages of the NY Slimes.

Posted by: ain't it amazing on June 23, 2006 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Of course IMPORTANT people like the Bush family and the Bin Ladens are given a free-pass on their money transactions; regardless of whether some of that money finds it's way into the hands of death-squads or terrorists, or arms dealers, or narcotics smugglers.

Posted by: American Fuck on June 23, 2006 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Congress has been briefed on this? That's like when the Godfather tells the Consigliere as much as he needs to know to do his job.

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Funny that you argue against the Executive Branch taking measures to protect people without specific Congressional legislation.

That's the same argument some conservatives made against all the regulations produced by Exec. Branch agencies which are promulgated by the thousands of pages.

Think about it.

Posted by: Birkel on June 23, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Congressional oversight has been there all along, just not on the front pages of the NY Slimes.
Posted by: ain't it amazing

And you know that...how? Amazing, indeed.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on June 23, 2006 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

After looking at TOH's post, I've changed my mind!

Torture *IS* justified in some circumstances!

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on June 23, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

but the contents of the call, heck no. way too much data.
Posted by: Nathan

And, similarly, they can keep records of financial transactions taking place. The parties involved, the amount of money involved, when and where. It's not as though they have to keep detailed notes.

Financial institutions must keep detailed records of each transaction, that's why they need so much pipe. The gov't can keep only the major details and use much less.

Not that I disagree that financial records should be tracked, I just don't see why this all should be kept from congress. I'm amazed at how conservatives, when one of their own is in office, eschew their libertarian principles.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on June 23, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Because most of these famous measures to protect people violate existing laws or articles of the Constitution.

Think about it.

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

TOH, your doctor just called. Back on the meds, please.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on June 23, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'll make it simply for you OH,

status quo IRS audits conducted under longstanding rules, in the open, under the observation of the tax payer and his representation, and under potential review of mediators and the judicial branch -- not scary.

secret searches of one's home, electronic records, emails, and phone calls upon evidence that is less than the constitutionally required reasonable cause and without the warrant required by legislative act -- scary

Posted by: B on June 23, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

For the record:

I'm probably for this program. Just against the executive branch lying about it and making actual oversight difficult.

I have no problem with the IRS, filling out there forms, IRS audits, or spot checks on unusual financial transactions. That's the status quo.

I have no abstract problem with gun ownership. I do recognize that a line has to be drawn somewhere between hunting rifle and grenade launcher. I personally don't see the need for ownership of fully automatic military style assault rifles, but I am willing to listen to arguments.

I'm not really afraid of nuke attack in NYC, but I favor strong port security regardless.

I'm in favor of federal observation of US-international financial transactions that might be associated with terrorism.

I'm in favor of strong human intelligence in the CIA.

I'm in favor of vigorous law enforcement activity as long as it has actual judicial oversight and does not operate under secrecy for the sake of secrecy.

I'm in favor of my government not lying to me for the purpose of avoiding oversight.

I'm in favor of the executive branch not holding secrets from the judicial and legislative branches to avoid oversight.

I'm OK with the minimum wage status quo and figure it would be reasonable for it to increase along with wage inflation.

I'm against the partisan or biased application of potentially intrusive searches, law enforcement, and judicial remedies.

---------------
In other words I favor the rule of law, checks and balances written into the constitution, and good government. That's probably too many contradictions and absurd bits of logic for an asshole like TOH to count.

Posted by: B on June 23, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, TOH, the assumption of tax cheating was based upon your statement that upon scrutiny you'd be forced to give more money to the government.

Posted by: B on June 23, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

And regardless of whether or not you like national security letters, it appears to be on fairly solid legal ground much more solid than the NSA's warrantless domestic spying program, at any rate.

BS!
Allow me to quote from the NYT article: After an initial debate, Treasury Department lawyers, consulting with the Justice Department, concluded that the privacy laws applied to banks, not to a banking cooperative like Swift. They also said the law ["Right to Financial Privacy Act"] protected individual customers and small companies, not the major institutions that route money through Swift on behalf of their customers.

[snip]

Indeed, the cooperative's executives voiced early concerns about legal and corporate liability, officials said, and the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control began issuing broad subpoenas for the cooperative's records related to terrorism. One official said the subpoenas were intended to give Swift some legal protection.

Does that sound like solid legal ground? The NYT article has the guy who it says wrote the book on banking privacy and several former officials questioning its legality, to say nothing about the swift people. This smells like AT&T changing its contracts turning traffic data into business records, which is patriot act language.

I mean seriously: "the law only protects individual customers"? I guess I cant get john doe`s data, lets just get it together with the data on his next door neighbor, hell lets just get the data on the whole city! If you allow an argument like this get in the New York times you should start looking for a new job.

Then there is the usual lack of congressional briefing which everyone has come to know and love... well Cheney loves it anyway. (NYT: While the banking program is a closely held secret, administration officials have held classified briefings for some members of Congress and the Sept. 11 commission, the officials said. More lawmakers were briefed in recent weeks, after the administration learned The Times was making inquiries for this article. )

Then there is the the shaky constitutional ground of national security letters which already failed in the courts.

Then there is the fact that this is international stuff. Remember how the European court disagreed with the passenger data deal? It will disagree with this. This is especially important since the CIA would be delighted to trade information learned from the program with the EU intelligence agencies from the countries whose citizens transaction are involved. Such arrangement would let EU intelligence agencies avoid oversight legislation! The courts know this. And the CIA has been working very hard to get informers in European Islamic groups, radical or otherise. Just ask the people released from Guantanamo about the offers they got. They probably will trade a lot to get to the information provided by European run informers.

European banks can not knowingly cooperate with a program like this. The NYT article mentions the top people at the big banks of industrialized nations were in on this. (Heads up to the Deutche bank: expect questions) Its in clear violation of the European human rights treaty (to say nothing of the privacy laws). And as it recently turned out, that thing actually gets enforced. That is until the British criminal intelligence agency has a bright idea. The idea of mandatory telecommunication traffic data collection and retention was turned into law recently despite this document proving proponents were aware that it doesn't fit within article 8 of the European human rights treaty and British privacy laws.

Europeans are traditionally mostly pro-big-brother and the european commision is worse. There are political spying using intelligence resources stories at least once a year, though this has been an exceptionally good year already ;-) And whenever these stories pop up everyone just would like to know who was sleeping with who, not which politician was was spying and on who and what will be done to stop it.

There is one exception, however, and that is banking secrecy. Everyone at EU level talks about the importance of collecting taxes, and thanks to the political spying in for example the clearstream case we know the real attitude of political leaders. They, as it turns out, occasionally want a secret bank account ;-)

And when the US officials say the CIA doesn't use this data for tax purposes I get the feeling they are only talking about US citizens. There are NSA people on the record saying they only protect US commercial interest if other nations engage in bribery. So If the CIA got a hold of suspicious transaction data surrounding a weapons deal that screws Lockheed, will they ignore it? And will they ignore it is the US doesn't approve of the sale to begin with? (China is still in the market for EU weapons)

And then there is the hawala scene (labeled underground banking ) said to be used by Islamic radicals who apparently never trusted jewish banks that give interest to begin with... No mention of that in these articles despite it kind of blowing away the leak helps terrorist rhetoric. And did anyone notice how this story appeared in three newspapers. I guess somebody didn't want this to sit in Judy Millers inbox for more than an election year... Damn the New York times for making me break my rigorous boycot of them again ;-)

al:
Number of terrorists who have successfully attacked America since the program was implemented: Zero.

(that torpedo did NOT self-destruct. You heard it hit the hull, and I... was never here, also, there were no anthrax letters, no moon landings... )

Posted by: ab on June 23, 2006 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

if you guys actually read the NY Times article you might know that members of Congress were briefed on this program.

is it too much to ask that you actually do some reading before opining?

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

if you guys actually read the NY Times article you might know that members of Congress were briefed on this program.

is it too much to ask that you actually do some reading before opining?

Posted by: Nathan on June 23, 2006 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

It might susprise you to know that there are plenty of us out here who think Congress isn't doing it's job of oversight, let alone rubber-stamping apparently illegal acts and executive overreach of this administration.

Again, any limitation at all came at the behest of legal worries from the commercial entity involved, NOT the administration or the legislative branch, and they were accommodated. What if, like QWest, SWIFT had refused?

In my opinion, this has gone way too far for far too long. There should at least be an investigative inquiry.

Posted by: notthere on June 23, 2006 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

B: One could use the honor system to collect taxes; people privately tabulate what they owe and then pay. Er, uh, is it not the honor system we use as the default for drug use, weapons possession, etc.? IRS requirements amount to a yearly search of the most personal aspects of a person's life. And it is not constitutionally mandated; income taxes themselves are. It's true, one does not have an expectation of privacy as to one's personal life in regard to tax filings one might have in regard to phone calls overseas, etc. THAT IS THE POINT. Government normally intrudes in the minutae of our lives and now that it is doing so less so for the extreme requirement sof self-defense, R-Ds are wailing. R-Ds complain about privacy intrusions that pale in comparision to ones considered par for the course up to this point. So, the intrusion itself is by now commonplace. So, given the IRS, why should anyone expect or demand privacy per se on an ideolgical basis? What then is so horrible about the Patriot Act? And, all the president is doing is well precedented in case law and conducted by President's of both parties since, er, uh, 1789 (esp., technolgically speaking, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton).

Someone said something nice; "ain't it amazing", I think. Sir or Madam "ain't it amazing"; take heart; we, as in "We, The Patriots", will cast back into their graves these flesh-eating zombie Regressive-Democrats who've crawled out of the coffins we put them into in 1981. They will not regress us back to 1976-1980 while they still breathe who are long-lived enough to experience first hand their socio-economic mass destruction of our cities, our towns, and our national defense; these R-Ds still hold our poor children hostage through their restraint-of-trade, monopoly-price-and-service jackboot-thugs at the UFT, but we reach our enemy there, too.

TOH . . . United States of America, the Beautiful . . . Amen. NOW, I'LL TAKE MY MEDS . . . BY THE WAY, MY "MEDS" ARE MY MEDITATIONS ON THE TOTAL ERRADICATION, METAPHYSICALLY, OF ALL THAT REMAINS OF REGRESSIVE-DEMOCRACY.

Posted by: The Objective Historian on June 23, 2006 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

I am not a big conspiracy guy, BUT, this article:

Confirms what I have been thinking about all along. The NSA phone records thing couldn't be the only peice of info the gov is looking at. Phone records can be very revealing but not really give you a complete picture. I build datawarehouses for a living and I can tell you they are very expensive and built for big reasons. In business we build these databases to try to find the most profitable customers or design new more profitable products. For a secret gov agency they likely are putting together your name, address, phone records, bank records, credit card activities, email, any known clubs, organizations etc...

in short for every person over the age of 14? they very likely have a kind of profile of your life, you are likely grouped into one or more demographic subgroups that they are analyzing etc..

Now for the vast majority of us these profiles are dormant and will never even get out the computer system they are in, kind of electronic floatsam if you will

BUT

it is rediculous to think this is all about chasing down terrorists

are you really going to try to convince someone like me that a comprehensive effort of this magnitude is JUST to catch the (how many?) terrorists there are?

I mean really there can only be what 1000-5000 people max (I actually think this number is too high) in US that would actually carry out an Al-Queda style terroist activity or help someone else to knowingly?

So, why would collect ALL this info on 250+ million people just to find some hundredsish or so terroists?

sorry not buying it, not drinking the coolaid on this one dudes

I not saying I know what all their doing with all this info I am just saying they are doing way more than just looking for Al-Queda types.

Posted by: tim on June 23, 2006 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

AND, do you really think this adminstration isn't also willing to brazenly turn over private business financial information about competitors or upstarts to the adminstration's friends in corporate world.

The big boys have really started cutting up the pie now!

Posted by: ChetBob on June 23, 2006 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

Carol: the financial industry is largely Jewish.

Somebody should get hold of Carol and tell her somebody is posting rubbish in her name.

Posted by: anandine on June 23, 2006 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

At NRO's the Corner, a commentator asserts that this proves that the NYT doesnt care about national security but the only thing they want to do is the "defeat of George W Bush, and the devil take the consequences."

Im not sure what this defeat they alleged want is. Its pathetic the NRO should stoop so low, true conservatives should shame them for such reckless unsubstatiated rants.

Odd that he didnt mention the Wall Street journal in his diatribe. He did, howver, embrace Santorum's pathetic attempt to portray old news of 18 year old unusable shells as some how a coverup of a big story.

Sad...he reads like a troll.

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MDQ1ZGRhMTBhNmQzZGI4ZTc3M2VhYmUzNjVjZmIyY2Y=

Posted by: Catch22 on June 23, 2006 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

Knee-jerk Wingnuttia is calling for executions of the NY Times and LA Times reporters who wrote about this. As others have pointed out, the story also ran in the Wall Street Journal, something the wingnuts ignore. But I think we might see a different reaction to this from conservative Republicans than their typical blithe acceptance of other administration infringements on privacy. This program hits Wall Street and corporate America where they live, and with daily business sections reading like a white-collar police blotter, giving the government broader subpoena powers to snoop at financial records is not exactly welcome news to them. As with the NSA taps, the spew will be about how it's limited to terrorist-related records of course, but that won't be any comfort to nervous bankers and brokers. And if they get too nervous, I'd bet the Swift program will quietly fade away.

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on June 23, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

When you say "regardless of whether or not you like national security letters, it appears to be on fairly solid legal ground"

Have you taken into account that SWIFT is a non-US based organization with members from some 22 countries. Yes, the privately-owned system serves financial institutions by tracking multiple transactions between them to the level of knowing the parties to money wired from bank to bank. Lots of data.

Do you believe the other countries who have members of SWIFT can also get the same data on their citizens, and those of other countries of interest.

Or persons of interest, for example I'd like to see Kevin Bacon's wire transfer records, and any six people he knows.

My question is really that I'm not sure if you are considering the non-US countries losing sovereignty over their citizens' data, and would you feel the same way if another country was accessing your financial data.

You've been great lately, much enjoying Political Animal. Keep it up.

Posted by: jonku on June 24, 2006 at 6:20 AM | PERMALINK

Who cares if there was congressional oversight, this is obviously not a domestic affair but a scandal with international dimensions and I can assure you that the program violates the data protection laws of quite a few countries.

Posted by: novakant on June 24, 2006 at 6:31 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's time to take the the good ol' Espionage Act out for a spin.

Posted by: Brian on June 24, 2006 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

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