Feb 05 2006
Welcome Powerline Readers: I have to say John Hindraker has the best analogy out there for legal, warrantless searches – airline searches of bags and person. How is it we all missed THAT one!
The Washington Post has a new article out today on the NSA ‘issue’ which further confirms my impression of what the subject is really about – verses what the liberal media is sloppily claiming. Liberals give the impression that the NSA is now spying on Americans and is something Bush ordered after 9-11. The Liberal media is full of ‘domestic spying’ stories when the NSA has not changed what it has done since the mid 1970’s – they monitor international calls to suspected enemies of this country.
As I posted earlier, it was divulged in the 1970’s, during the Church Committee investigations, that NSA routinely intercepts calls to people in the US when monitoring overseas enemies – it is unavoidable. What the NSA did if and when this happened was to bury the information regarding the US side of the communication.
This is probably how 9-11 murders Midhar and Hazmi were missed when they were making all their calls overseas to what had to be targets of the CIA and German intelligence. The NSA would see the call, but due to short sighted and lazy policies that avoided arguing why these people should be monitored, their information would never be transmitted to the FBI.
What Bush did was direct the NSA to send their leads in the US to the FBI for investigation. That’s it. Even if the NSA did expand it surveillance into new methods, without opening the gate between the NSA and FBI the leads would still be hidden from domestic law enforcement.
The first indication this is what truly changed was a NYTimes piece which discussed the wave of investigations the FBI had to do – many of which turned up nothing of import. That is how you work these things. If you want to hide your communications, you do it inside a mass of innocent communications – the proverbial needle in a haystack. You do not try and do one or two and hope they do not get detected.
My contention was that, instead of bypassing FISA, the NSA was actually swamping FISA with new leads. This can be seen in the increase in the number of justices and the need for one or two justices to be local to the DC area to make sure there was immediate attention to leads. The resigning judge confirmed this suspicion when declaring the NSA ‘tainted’ the FISA process.
The Washington Post again confirms this view of events with another story that lamely states most leads are dead ends – like it is not worth the effort to try somehow.
Intelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat, according to accounts from current and former government officials and private-sector sources with knowledge of the technologies in use.
Where is the news here? With all the communications going on with terrorists just trying to gather information we will end up in terrorists calling hotels, airlines, parks, etc. All these leads need to be tracked down to find the one terrorist capable of taking out maybe 1,000 innocent Americans. That one in 1000 we need to be watchful for.
And the Post is playing loose with words
Bush has recently described the warrantless operation as “terrorist surveillance” and summed it up by declaring that “if you’re talking to a member of al Qaeda, we want to know why.” But officials conversant with the program said a far more common question for eavesdroppers is whether, not why, a terrorist plotter is on either end of the call. The answer, they said, is usually no.
Are they saying there is not a terrorist on either end or on both ends? This is not clear in the wording, but the administration sources say they focus on calls that have at least one side being a suspected terrorist enemy of this country. So I am suspect of the way this one is phrased.
But back to the main point. The Post’s reporting confirms the NSA leads not only did not bypass FISA, those deemed worthy of scrutiny would go to FISA to make the US entity a target of a warranted surveillance.
Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well. That step still requires a warrant from a federal judge, for which the government must supply evidence of probable cause.
Bush has said his program covers only overseas calls to or from the United States and stated categorically that “we will not listen inside this country” without a warrant. Hayden said the government goes to the intelligence court when an eavesdropping subject becomes important enough to “drill down,” as he put it, “to the degree that we need all communications.”
This is NSA properly handing their leads in the US off to the FBI. And I have said this over and over. The NSA will monitor the international calls only. The necessary leads in the US are taken to FISA in order to monitor all their communication inside the US.
The Post claims the traffic to FISA was not high (which I do not buy), but in doing so the Post confirms the big change was not directing NSA to do something different, but it was to have NSA pass information to domestic law enforcement, which would take high interest targets to FISA. A formal process was apparently set up with FISA in 2002 to open the door to these ‘tainted’ leads:
Yet a special channel set up for just that purpose four years ago has gone largely unused, according to an authoritative account. Since early 2002, when the presiding judge of the federal intelligence court first learned of Bush’s program, he agreed to a system in which prosecutors may apply for a domestic warrant after warrantless eavesdropping on the same person’s overseas communications. The annual number of such applications, a source said, has been in the single digits.
Clear as a bell – the NSA was not passing leads to FBI-FISA before then.
We should all note that over the last 4.5 years since 9-11, the Post is saying up to 45 terrorists may have been detected in the US before they could execute their plans to kill Americans. And Bush is in trouble for this?
What is described in the body of the article is normal operating procedure for the NSA going way back
The program has touched many more Americans than that. Surveillance takes place in several stages, officials said, the earliest by machine. Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears.
Successive stages of filtering grow more intrusive as artificial intelligence systems rank voice and data traffic in order of likeliest interest to human analysts. But intelligence officers, who test the computer judgments by listening initially to brief fragments of conversation, “wash out” most of the leads within days or weeks.
Nothing surprising here at all. And not new to the Bush administration.
But that is not what the liberal media portrayed – especially the NY Times. They complained about the NSA ‘bypassing’ FISA, which is now a proven lie. NSA used to avoid FISA by not reporting the US leads to law enforcement. Bush changed that so NSA leads now feed into FISA. The liberal media exposed a program to shop a tissue of lies to Americans.
Even the Washington Post promotes the lie after completely debunking it in previous paragraphs
The scale of warrantless surveillance, and the high proportion of bystanders swept in, sheds new light on Bush’s circumvention of the courts.
Yes it does. It demonstrates the administration is not g0ing to repeat the mistake of Midhar and Hazmi and not pass leads in the US to the FBI. The Post even use these terrorist as examples of the issue at hand
Khalid Almihdhar, one of the hijackers, was on a government watch list for terrorists and thus a known suspect. Mohamed Atta, another hijacker, was linked to Almihdhar by one degree of separation because he used the same contact address when booking his flight. Wail M. Alshehri, another hijacker, was linked by two degrees of separation because he shared a telephone number with Atta. Satam M.A. Al Suqami, still another hijacker, shared a post office box with Alshehri and, therefore, had three degrees of separation from the original suspect.
Those links were not obvious before the identity of the hijackers became known. A major problem for analysts is that a given suspect may have hundreds of links to others with one degree of separation, including high school classmates and former neighbors in a high-rise building who never knew his name. Most people are linked to thousands or tens of thousands of people by two degrees of separation, and hundreds of thousands or millions by three degrees.
What the reporting shows is how to follow these leads legally and logically. It shows how the process sifts out the obvious, innocent contacts within weeks, and does this prior to even sending a lead to the FBI. It shows leads that are still suspicious after an FBI review are taken to FISA for warrants to execute warranted ‘domestic spying’ – under court authorization. That is what has been divulged in all this. What we thought was supposed to happen.
What I loved is the Post used my favorite example: the car rental
Even unwitting Americans, they said, can take part in communications — arranging a car rental, for example, without knowing its purpose — that supply “indications and warnings” of an attack.
Well, terrorists rent cars too. They also make airplane reservations and they also stay in hotels. They transfer money. But they used to also call into their handlers and provide a clear discriminator between them and the innocent calls and emails. But thanks to the NY Times and Washington Post – the terrorists understand much better how to hide their efforts from scrutiny.
We do have a new Senator to add to the list of candidate leakers, and of course he is a Democrat out for Bush’s job
One thing the NSA wanted was access to the growing fraction of global telecommunications that passed through junctions on U.S. territory. According to former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who chaired the Intelligence Committee at the time, briefer told him in Cheney’s office in October 2002 that Bush had authorized the agency to tap into those junctions. That decision, Graham said in an interview first reported in The Washington Post on Dec. 18, allowed the NSA to intercept “conversations that . . . went through a transit facility inside the United States.”
Rockefeller and Graham should be testifying in front of a Grand Jury.
What is funny is how the liberal media finds FISA ‘silent’ when it clearly recognizes the administration’s (and thus the NSA’s) authority to monitor our enemies during war:
Until Bush secretly changed the rules, the government could not tap into access points on U.S. soil without a warrant to collect the “contents” of any communication “to or from a person in the United States.” But the FISA law was silent on calls and e-mails that began and ended abroad.
It is silent because that is not its jurisdiction – duh! And the damage? Well it is compounded by our successes and the media’s damaging leaks.
A more fundamental problem, according to a high-ranking former official with firsthand knowledge, is that “the number of identifiable terrorist entities is decreasing.” There are fewer starting points, he said, for link analysis.
Thanks to the liberal tissue of lies, there are even fewer leads now.
And let’s not forget how the news media leak also has affected tried and convicted terrorists – now they are shopping for liberal judges to set them free.