Archive for the ‘NSA’ Category

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You Can’t Hear That Whistle Blow

July 29, 2006


If a whistleblower whistles in a forest, and no one is permitted to hear, does (s)he make a sound?

I’ve mentioned Russell Tice, the would-be NSA whistleblower, who knows about agency domestic spying programs yet unrevealed to Congress, and has had a hard time getting the beans properly spilled.

Tice’s closed testimony before the House Armed Services committee is probably the source of the faux indignation from Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Goosestep) on May 17, over not being told about some unspecified “program”. Hoekstra quieted down once he’d made his point, which was presumably that he’d better get an extra portion of pork for awhile, if the White House expected him to jolly their lawbreaking along.

(Hoekstra also made the front pages by acting as stage magician Rick Santorum’s lovely assistant, when Rick went before the cameras to perform his most crowd-pleasing trick: making the elephant WMDs appear. Despite the fact that every elephant on the stage was a fake, the crowd was most appreciative. Over the following weeks, the percentage of Americans deluded into the belief that Saddam actually had WMDs at the start of the war leapt from 38% to 50%.)

The entrails tell this augur that Hoekstra and the White House are back on the best of terms, and ready to work in tandem to quash all inquiry into whatever it is that Tice knows. The federal intimidation machinery cranked into high gear yesterday, issuing a subpoena to haul Tice before a Grand Jury to testify about “violations of criminal law” – which is the term the Feds now use for informing the public about the Government’s violations of criminal law.

In a statement issued by the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, of which Tice is a member, he declared “This latest action by the government is designed only for one purpose: to ensure that people who witness criminal action being committed by the government are intimidated into remaining silent.”

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Afterthought: the Poison Tree Triple Play

May 16, 2006

In my previous post, I explained why the “national security logic” demands that the NSA must be listening in without warrants to the content of purely domestic conversations. Having slept on it, I’ve decided my logic wasn’t airtight.

As we learned Monday, the feds have also been collecting the phone records of journalists – but they’ve been doing it perfectly legally. They just fork over an NSL, a National Security Letter, a dodge made legal by the USAPATRIOT Act. Certain agencies, such as the FBI, may issue NSLs and compel the production of private information, without a warrant, and it is illegal for the provider to inform anyone of the search. (In theory, these letters were to be used only to track down potential terrorists, but the language of the Act is conveniently fuzzy, and a journalist is now the same thing as a terrorist in the eyes of this particular law.)

Here, then, is the value of the phone records the NSA collects. Once they’ve located a “pattern”, they know which phones they want to bug for content. They can’t go to the FISA court with that, because they’d have to admit to breaking the law, and they’d find their spooky behinds tossed out on the pavement.

But what they can do is go to the FBI and say, “Here are some phone numbers of interest.” The FBI can then present NSLs to the phone companies, demanding phone records for those numbers. Lo and behold, the parties in question have been talking to Suspicious Characters. Now, the Hooverites trot down to the FISA court. Fortunately, our crack Tinsel Wing staff has the courtroom bugged; transcript follows.

Hooverite: “We’d like to listen in on the conversations of this individual, who is talking to some potential Bad Actors. These phone records show probable cause.”

FISA judge: “Did you get these phone records from the illegal NSA database which we, of course, know nothing about and have never heard of?”

Hooverite: “Your honor, we cannot tell a lie, we got these records from a National Security Letter, in accordance with USASNOOPONPATRIOTSACT, section this, part that, and here’s the paperwork.”

FJ: “What led you to issue this particular NSL?”

Hooverite: “Well, your honor, sometimes we just get hunches. This one panned out.”

FJ: “Sounds aboveboard to me. Where do I sign?”

It’s a classic Tinker to Evers to Chance to Tinker to Chance to that little celebrated catcher Bfstplk. The phone giant at SS passes records to NSA at 2nd: one hundred percent illegal. The NSA passes the resulting tip to the FBI at 1st: one hundred percent illegal. The FBI launders the tip by going back to the shortstop, who pass the ball, now clean as a whistle, to the FBI, who throws it home to the FISA judge. A triple play, and the stands go wild.

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Tice and the poison tree

May 14, 2006


Ever since the NSA domestic wiretapping story broke, 20-year NSA analyst Russell Tice has been petitioning Congress for a chance to testify about what the public hasn’t learned. For a long time, Congress didn’t want to know, and the big committees (intelligence and Judiciary) still prefer to be ignorant. But this week, he will speak to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Tice said his information is different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program that Bush acknowledged in December and from news accounts this week that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of millions of Americans. “It’s an angle that you haven’t heard about yet,” he said. … He would not discuss with a reporter the details of his allegations, saying doing so would compromise classified information and put him at risk of going to jail. He said he “will not confirm or deny” if his allegations involve the illegal use of space systems and satellites.

Perhaps thanks to Tice it will be sooner. In any case, sooner or later we are going to learn that the NSA has been listening without warrants to the content of purely domestic conversations.
How do we know this? The national security logic demands it. The whole point of the database of all US citizens’ phone calls is to look for “patterns” suggestive of terrorism. Now, suppose they find just such a pattern. Suddenly they have probable cause to believe that a domestic phone owner is taking part in a terrorist conversation. How can they use what they’ve learned?
The next step is plain. They’ve got probable cause, so they go to the FISA court and ask for a warrant to tap the phone in question. Problem is, they can’t go to the court. They violated the law when they did the surveillance that turned up the “pattern”. The court will be obliged to toss out their claim of probable cause, on the grounds that it is the fruit of the poison tree.

Therefore, once the NSA has started down this road, the only way to take advantage of having found the “pattern” is to go ahead and listen in to the purely domestic calls, without benefit of a warrant. Since they knew from the beginning that this would be the only way to utilize the intelligence coming from the phone database, they would not have bothered to set up the database unless they were planning to listen in on content. Without warrants.

Anyone care to place a bet that this isn’t what Tice will tell the Senate ASC?

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So hold me, Mom, with your long arms…

May 13, 2006

The NSA would like to remind everyone to call their mother’s this Sunday. They need to calibrate their system.

Tip of the nicteis wing to Bruce Schneier’s blog.

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But I’m all ears

May 11, 2006

I can admire the sentiment when Steven Dedalus mutters, “Silence, exile, cunning.” But I doubt I’ll ever learn to adopt such restrained ideals.

USA Today has never got the respect it deserves. Now it will. They don’t do a ton of investigative reporting, but when they do, they nail their story to the wall. It’s a shame they’ll only land a Pulitzer prize for this story. There was never a better time to institute a super-Pulitzer, a best of decade award.

Because this, folks, is it. This is the fire raining down at last on the City of the Potomac Plain, the fall of the Tower of Babel, the upness of the jig.

Sure, the Bush administration was not just a lame duck, it was the duckly equivalent of a quadruple amputee. But the sad truth is, this was not any old delimbed fowl; this was one of the walking, hobbling, flopping undead. When a government arrogates to itself, as this government has, the right to violate any law it sees fit to defy, and when it operates entirely in secret, with no oversight whatsoever from Congress or the courts, and only the occasional token peep of curiosity from the media – then it doesn’t matter whether its approval numbers are in single digits. It will remain the 500 pound zombie gorilla duck, sleeping, defecating, and eavesdropping wherever it likes.

It was able to preserve its secrecy, relinquishing only onion-thin layers of it to the occasional whistleblower, or to the sporadic incursion into the mass media of the common knowledge of the Internets, only because at least half of the citizenry accepted, or wanted to accept, the rationale for the secrecy. That Bush was not trying to keep Americans, but the terrorist enemy, in the dark about everything he did. That rationale is blown.

The country was evenly split on whether they approved of the NSA cross-Atlantic wiretapping. That was largely because, first, the media never bothered to explain the little details: what the Fourth Amendment actually says; the powers already available to the Administration under FISA, including the power to tap first and answer questions 3 days later. And, second, the average citizen, too harried making ends meet to track down every detail, was inclined to trust Bush’s hasty assurances that only a select few evildoers were swept up in the net. Half the country felt it didn’t touch their lives, didn’t touch their own privacy, and didn’t matter too much.

Now they know better. We know better. We know that Big Brother is watching us. And we also know incontrovertibly that Bush, Gonzales, Hayden, the whole tapping tapdancing pack of voyeurs, spent every night with ears pressed to the bedroom door of Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch, and then for months spent every day looking us straight in the face and lying about it.

Here, incidentally, is one of the statutes Bush was breaking. Note that there’s a seven year penalty for each violation. At 200 million odd illegal acts, Bush should get out of the slammer at about the time the sun goes nova.

The eavesdropping was never a winning issue for Karl Rove in the fall, not if lovers of the Constitution stood up to him on it. Up til now, Rove has been able to frighten the more weak-kneed lovers of the Constitution, most of our elected Democrats among them, into making only the feeblest protests. But now there isn’t a politician in the length and the breadth of the land who can pretend the issue hands Bush anything but his head on a platter.

I confidently predict poll numbers for Dubya stabilized under 30 well by the end of the month.

[Breaking: New Harris poll puts Our Fearful Leader at 29%. And that’s before the Snoopgate story broke.]

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I’m speechless. Just speechless.

May 11, 2006

Because that appears to be the only way left to avoid being overheard by the No Such Agency.