At the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson gets to the heart of the matter:

At least now we know that the Bush administration’s name for spying on Americans without first seeking court approval — the “terrorist surveillance program” — isn’t an exercise in Orwellian doublespeak after all. It’s just a bald-faced lie.

Clarity. It’s a beautiful thing.

No names are attached to the numbers. But a snoopy civilian with Internet access can match a name with a phone number, so imagine what the government can do.

What kills me are the people who say it’s just numbers; what’s the big deal? How many tmes do people have to get lied to before they notice a pattern?

You’ll recall that when it was revealed last year that the NSA was eavesdropping on phone calls and reading e-mails without first going to court for a warrant, the president said his “terrorist surveillance program” targeted international communications in which at least one party was overseas, and then only when at least one party was suspected of some terrorist involvement. Thus no one but terrorists had anything to worry about.

Not remotely true, it turns out, unless tens of millions of Americans are members of al-Qaeda sleeper cells — evildoers who cleverly disguise their relentless plotting as sales calls, gossip sessions and votes for Elliott on “American Idol.” (One implication, by the way, is that the NSA is able to know who got voted off “Idol” before Ryan Seacrest does.)

Some intelligence experts are saying this sounds like a dumb program. “If you’re looking for a needle, making the haystack bigger is counterintuitive,” says one.

terrorists have ways of not being caught in the net. Brian Bergstein of the Associated Press writes,

Social-network analysis would appear to be powerless against criminals and terrorists who rely on a multitude of cellphones, pay phones, calling cards and Internet cafes.

And then there are more creative ways of getting off the grid. In the Madrid train-bombings case, the plotters communicated by sharing one e-mail account and saving messages to each other as drafts that didn’t traverse the Internet like regular mail messages would.

As an exasperated Jack Cafferty asked on CNN yesterday, “Why don’t you go find Osama bin Laden and seal the country’s borders and start inspecting the containers that come into our ports?”

My answer is that the Bush Administration is all about grand gestures and magic bullets, not about doing the practical, basic, unglamorous, hard-slogging things that actually need doing. I wrote last October:

George W. Bush appears to be a “magic bullet” kind of guy. I have read that his oil businesses failed because he was determined to make a big strike rather than slowly and patiently build a business. “To George W. Bush, a Texan who revels in the myth of the wildcatter, running risks in pursuit of the big gusher is a quintessential part of the American character,” says this May 16, 2005 Business Week article. “But as the scion of an aristocratic Eastern dynasty, the budding young tycoon always had a network of family friends and relations to call on. Those golden connections bailed George W. out of his early forays into the oil business.”

As president, Bush struck a political bonanza in September 11. But his biggest gamble was the war in Iraq. See how he threw the dice–he (and his advisers) bet there would be WMDs in spite of flimsy evidence. He and his crew assumed no post-invasion planning would be required, since the happy Iraqis quickly would establish a democracy as soon as they were finished tossing flowers. And he and his crew seemed to believe that the mere removal of Saddam Hussein would be the magic bullet that would bring peace to the Middle East. Why bother with boring ol’ nation building when you’ve got a magic bullet?

Once he realized he’d taken a political hit from his inept response to Katrina, Bush worked hard–to find another “bullhorn moment.” One event after another was staged to show Bush in action. Yet FEMA and the rest the Department of Homeland Security still seem to be drifting. Bush has a rare gift for getting his picture taken with firemen, but whipping a drifting department of his administration into shape is beyond his skill.

The NSA spying programs are quintessential Bush — big, expensive, secretive, and impractical. Not to mention illegal.

An editorial in today’s Baltimore Sun gives us a clue who pushed Dubya into the spy business:

After World War II, the NSA’s predecessor, the Army Signal Security Agency, sent representatives to the major telegraph companies and asked for cooperation in getting access to all telegraph traffic entering or leaving the United States. The companies complied, over the objections of their lawyers. When these practices came to light as part of a 1976 investigation into intelligence abuses, President Gerald R. Ford extended executive privilege, which shielded those involved from testifying publicly, to the telecommunications companies on the recommendation of then chief-of-staff Dick Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to the Project on Government Oversight.

No more pardons, no more forgiveness, no more sweeping dirt under rugs. No more. From now on we must thoroughly investigate, expose, and prosecute administration officials — of any administration — who abuse power and breaks the law. If any Democrats start making noises about not investigating — because investigations are so unpleasant and upsetting and partisan — smack them fast and smack them hard.

What Glenn says.

18 thoughts on “Snoopy

  1. I’m completely flummoxed by the value or necessity for that “database” the NSA is purportedly building. Making the haystack bigger is right.

  2. This is insane! They couldn’t prevent 9/11 when they were told in advance that the terrorists were determined to strike us and with airplanes. Condi said well, we weren’t told when or where.

    How much more info did they need to take action!

    The best thing that happened to Bush was 9/11 and in 2000, it was the Fat Italian Supreme..

  3. Headline this morning:

    More Uranium REPORTEDLY found in Iran (caps mine)

    Priming the stupid pump.

    Back OT, you nailed it with this post. The anti-Americans trying to breathe life into the 1984 monster must be indicted, convicted, incarcerated. November 2006!

  4. If any Democrats start making noise about ‘not investigating’, I think those Democrats should themselves be subjected to the investigative microscope…….collusion among the beltway bosses is worth examining….and could explain the ‘keep quiet’ spinelessness of some Dem [non]leaders.

  5. The NSA, CIA and Administration need to cease viewing “algorithms” as the only way to gather information on terrorists. The best way is the hard way – human intelligence agents on the ground.

    Unfortunately the NSA and our noble President would rather sit on their butts in air-conditioned rooms, sipping latte’s while perusing their kahuna NSA database, rather than sending thousands of trained agents to foreign countries. The latter is difficult and costly but is the only “algorithm” proven effective.

    Machine algorithms have extremely high false-hit counts. The number of false-hits far exceeds the number of actual terrorists. So we end up shaking down innocents in most cases and finding very few (none to date) terrorists. [Go ahead, show me one verified case where the NSA programs were necessary to intercept a “terrorist” – there is no such case]. And in most cases, such as the innocent Brit who was killed fleeing the subway, and the innocent South American who was killed by U.S. Federal Air Marshals because he hadn’t taken his meds, we end up hurting/killing innocents. I know people who won’t fly because they’re afraid of the air marshals.

    And that is precisely why the 4th Amendment was added to the Constitution – to prevent false-hit shakedowns that were occurring prior to the American Revolutionary War – the Brits were breaking into American’s homes and searching them frivolously.

    Now it’s happening again, but instead of the Brits, it’s our own Executive branch that is out of control.

    Add to that the costs of developing ineffectual machine algorithmic techniques (billions of dollars are being poured into this field – every software vendor has a hand in the government honey pot of “intelligence data mining”). Do you think they can find terrorists? Show me _one_ terrorist that they’ve found! Show me _just_one_!

    I voted twice for Bush but he’s gone too far. The “War on Terror”, like the “War on Drugs” is ill-defined and never-ending. He has violated the 4th Amendment but admits nothing.

    Congressional Republicans should initiate impeachment proceedings. Sorry, but I cannot brook the thought of a Democratic administration (which seems inevitable at this time) coming to office with the current Executive’s powers. They would use those powers to dismantle our rights and bring chaos.

  6. They would use those powers to dismantle our rights and bring chaos.

    Sorta like what the Republicans are doing, huh?

    Although I reject the idea that the Dems would necessarily be worse, we agree that no chief executive of any party is above the law or the Constitution.

  7. Comment 6

    I take great pride in the fact that I have NEVER voted for any Bush and never will!

  8. The mainstream media is in full spin move today. It took them awhile but now they are saying this is old news (tied to the NYT’s story in Jan. 06). They must really think we are stupid. The thing that really troubles me is the cooperation of corporations (who have business in front of the FCC, SEC, etc.) with the NSA and Bu$hco. This is a prime example of why we need publicly financed campaigns in this country. The other thing that slays me is how may of these gun rights people (I happen to be one) think this whole NSA thing is O.K. I can’t see how the right to own a gun without the federal government knowing about it is more important than one’s right to communication privacy. You know after 9-11 bush said they (the terrorists) hate us for our freedom. Well apparently his solution is to take our freedoms away so they will not hate us anymore? Makes perfect sense.

  9. llardo, if it’s any consolation to you, as a lifelong Dem who also takes pride in never having voted for anyone named Bush, I’d hate to see any administration with the current Executive’s powers.

    “Illegal” and “unconstitutional” should have the same clear meaning to folks of both parties.

  10. Foggo’s home being search and his office also.

    He was 3rd Ranking in CIA

    Apparently, he was at the poker games at DC Hotels.

    He awarded a contract to his high school buddy, Wilkes, who is linked to convicted felon Cunningham.

    This coming down after Goss “resigned” last Friday.

  11. uncledad, thanks….I have been thinking about this gigantic invasion of privacy as it affects many professional codes of ethics which first and foremost stress the issue of confidentiality with respect to one’s patients or clients.

    These invaders of privacy can obtain the phone number of a psychiatrist or psychologist or other counselor, the phone number of a minister, or that of an abortion clinic, or even that of a stock broker…. and by connecting those numbers with other numbers, there is absolute wanton destruction of professional ethics of confidentiality affecting millions of folks. And what prevents the above-the-law ‘deciders’ from using that information to gain nefarious power over people’s vulnerabilities and most private decisions?

  12. comment 12-

    Also, Donna, think about those of us who phone to check on automated bank systems to check balances. You have to key in account number and access number. This could be detected and account wiped out by a thieve working for the gov’t. Our government is not checking background of employees properly. It’s astounding, the gov’t wants to “listen” to what we are doing but they can’t even hire properly! This could also get a credit card number detected if you make a phone order and give your number to pay for the purchase.

  13. As someone with an IT background who has studied data-mining, I understand the govt’s approach. It may sound like needle in a haystack, but that’s what data-mining is used for, to find non obvious patterns in massive amounts of data. It works, whether a govt is trying to find criminal activity or a business is trying to find new opportunities based on past sales.

    We need to understand the basic outlines of this technology in order to not come off as Luddites. This will allow us to argue the real issues, which is the immense potential for abuse of this technology by the hands of a corrupt govt.

    Data-mining can be used for anything, for purposes much vaster than simply tracking down terrorists’ phone calls. And of course, this is a gee-whiz techno “solution” that would be an easy sell to those who are seduced by technology over other more prosaic solutions to fighting terrorism.

  14. It seems to me that you can’t establish patterns within a dynamic environment where every bit of information added changes exponentially the possiblity against a pattern forming.Data mining might be great for static data like motor vehicle records if mined within given parameters, but I don’t think it’s going to work very well in human communications. I don’t know what Bush’s game is, but I’m certain it’s not looking for terrorists because everybody knows that the terrorist have switched to Quest.

  15. Aloysha, ‘seduced by technology’…..that would be Rumsfeld who proved the peter principle [rising to the one’s level of incompetence] with his many failures as Secretary of Defense…..alienating allies, nodding yes to torture, insufficient troop levels, insufficient troop protection, shock and awful invasion of Iraq that left huge explosives depots unguarded….

    ‘seduced by technology’—now power-grabber Rumsfeld wants a military man [who would be under Rumsfeld’s authority] over the CIA……do you think he wants to control the CIA’s work in Iran, and/or turn the CIA loose on Americans like NSA was turned loose on Americans?

  16. I’ve started receiving those nuisance “Privacy Rights” brochures from my credit card companies, life insurance company, auto insurance company, etc that I seem to get every year around this time. Funny, I haven’t gotten one from my telephone company.

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