Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 16, 2007

Myths about N.S.A. Domestic Spying

The new Lichtenblau, Risen, Shane piece on domestic spying deserves notice as it dispels with some myths.

Myth 1: "It's about terrorism"

To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, ...

Myth 2: "It began after 9/11"

In the drug-trafficking operation, the N.S.A. has been helping the Drug Enforcement Administration in collecting the phone records showing patterns of calls between the United States, Latin America and other drug-producing regions. The program dates to the 1990s, according to several government officials, but it appears to have expanded in recent years.


Senior Justice Department officials in the Bush and Clinton administrations signed off on the operation, which uses broad administrative subpoenas but does not require court approval to demand the records.


In December 2000, agency officials wrote a transition report to the incoming Bush administration, saying the [N.S.A.] must become a “powerful, permanent presence” on the commercial communications network, a goal that they acknowledged would raise legal and privacy issues.

Myth 3: "This is only about international calls"

In a separate N.S.A. project, executives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to their most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been previously reported.


The agency, those knowledgeable about the incident said, wanted to install monitoring equipment on Qwest’s “Class 5” switching facilities, which transmit the most localized calls.


The officials, [a former telecom engineer] said, discussed ways to duplicate the Bedminster system in Maryland so the agency “could listen in” with unfettered access to communications that it believed had intelligence value and store them for later review. There was no discussion of limiting the monitoring to international communications, he said.

Myth 4: "This is secure"

The same lawsuit accuses Verizon of setting up a dedicated fiber optic line from New Jersey to Quantico, Va., home to a large military base, allowing government officials to gain access to all communications flowing through the carrier’s operations center. In an interview, a former consultant who worked on internal security said he had tried numerous times to install safeguards on the line to prevent hacking on the system, as he was doing for other lines at the operations center, but his ideas were rejected by a senior security official.

The last point is not obvious for non-technicians, but an unsecured fiber could be snopped at somewhere along the line. No operation center engineer would want to have such a line at all. It's like having three locks on the front door while leaving the backdoor wide open. A unsupervised line into a telecom's operation center is a hackers wet dream.

Tomorrow Senator Reid will introduce the Intelligence Committee N.S.A. bill to the Senate. It includes immunity for the telecoms who, despite the laws forbidding such, allowed the government to snoop on their customers.

Reid could instead introduce the Judiciary Committee bill that doesn't include immunity. But it looks like he was not careful enough in his private communications via phones and email. Now they have him by the balls.

There are several open lawsuits against the telecoms, which would reveal how much the U.S. government really spies on its people. With immunity, all will be terminated.

Senator Dodd promised to filibuster any bill that includes immunity.

He should be careful about what he says on the phone ... After all, he is living in a Surveillance State.

Posted by b on December 16, 2007 at 11:41 AM | Permalink


I doubt that anyone capable of working through anything more intricate than a doorknob had actually internalized those "myths". The info presented here is good and solid, but it largely confirms what we already know.

Hell, only a few hours ago, I ran across a print ad for a vodka from New Zealand which acknowledges precisely what this program is all about.

Posted by: Monolycus | Dec 16, 2007 12:57:27 PM | 1

And I had already mentioned before how domestic surveillance is not just about telephones. Don't think your privacy is any less quaint than habeous corpus or the Geneva Conventions. If it walks like a totalitarian duck...

Posted by: Monolycus | Dec 16, 2007 1:06:07 PM | 2

The info presented here is good and solid, but it largely confirms what we already know.

Yep - because we daily spend hours on the web. But to get the info into the mainstream, a NYT page 1 piece is something else than alternative net-news and blog posts.

On the myth issues the NYT piece, I believe, is the first MSM source to print them. TV is likely to pick up on that. That should get some of the real conservatives going ...

Posted by: b | Dec 16, 2007 2:19:14 PM | 3

@b #3 "Yep - because we daily spend hours on the web. But to get the info into the mainstream, a NYT page 1 piece is something else than alternative net-news and blog posts."

You're right, of course, although the great work you and the regs here do seriously cuts down on my scouring time. I was using the advertisement as a barometer. If the program is being mocked openly to sell vodka, I was guessing that most folk are already in the know. Putting the hard numbers into the mainstream might rouse people if they hadn't already accepted the situation as a done deal beyond their control.

Posted by: Monolycus | Dec 16, 2007 10:40:46 PM | 4

Tomorrow Senator Dodd will filibuster the FISA bill - after being screwed over by Sen Reid who has refused to honor Dodd's hold on the bill while honoring numerous republican holds. I hope MoA folks here in the States will join in the efforts to support Dodd in this ...

Posted by: Siun | Dec 17, 2007 12:26:44 AM | 5

Siun, speaking as a fellow American, why bother? They are going to get their way one way or another, why drag it out? Tis mere theater my friend. We already lost.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Dec 17, 2007 12:57:19 AM | 6

There will be mistakes, there will even be abuses. We are human beings. If there are controls, checks and balances built in to the system, there is a chance that these mistakes & abuses can be identified & corrected.

If there is no transparency, mistakes and abuses will become endemic to the system.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Dec 17, 2007 3:12:21 AM | 7

They probably need to rationalize this to themselves and their friends. I think that terrorism and drug lords don't hold water in those circles either. I would not doubt that they voice sentiments like "Violent disaffection may result from a long term degradation of quality of life in an expanding global labor market amidst resource scarcity". Of course doing something about the root causes there would be a cure worse than the disease. Like b said, it's official policy: the freedom that is the essence of our "way of life" is in the market, not our lives.

Posted by: boxcar mike | Dec 17, 2007 7:16:54 PM | 8

Dodd has won - for now - Democrats Delay a Vote on Immunity for Wiretaps

After daylong debate in the Senate on the wiretapping issue, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, announced at the end of the day that there would not be time to consider the legislation this week as he had hoped. With a dozen competing amendments on the issue and an omnibus spending bill separately awaiting consideration, Mr. Reid said he believed it would be difficult to give the wiretapping issue the close consideration that it deserved this week before the Senate leaves for its Christmas recess.

“Democrats are committed to improving our nation’s intelligence laws while protecting Americans’ civil liberties,” Mr. Reid said. “We need to take the time necessary to debate a bill that does just that, rather than rushing one through the legislative process.”

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat and presidential candidate, spent much of the day attacking the idea of giving immunity to the phone companies, and he took credit for the delay.

“Today we have scored a victory for American civil liberties and sent a message to President Bush that we will not tolerate his abuse of power and veil of secrecy,” Mr. Dodd said in a statement.

Posted by: b | Dec 18, 2007 1:45:42 AM | 9

While the lefty blogsphere was watching the Dodd fight in the Senate, the House was on to the real stuff

The legislation, which passed 253 to 154, funds every agency of government but the Defense Department for fiscal 2008. The House then voted 206 to 201 to approve an amendment that includes $31 billion for fighting in Afghanistan but none for the war in Iraq.

Today, the Senate is likely to take up resolutions tying Iraq war funding to the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. If those fall victim to Republican filibusters, as expected, senators are likely to vote to increase the House's war funding to $70 billion and make it available for Iraq fighting as well.

Posted by: b | Dec 18, 2007 3:59:00 AM | 10

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