The NY Times escalates its war on America with its latest revelations about the high-tech capability of the NSA to monitor and data-mine international communications.
Among Those Told of Program, Few Objected
WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 - As members of Congress seek more information about the eavesdropping program authorized by President Bush, their requests are being complicated by the fact that Congressional leaders in both parties acquiesced in the operation.
Only the Senate Judiciary Committee, under Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, has pledged to hold hearings on the program, which was first publicly disclosed a week ago. Democrats are urging that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees conduct inquiries, but the Republicans who control those panels have not agreed to do so.
Some Republicans are suggesting that it is disingenuous to complain now about the eavesdropping effort.
"The record is clear; Congressional leaders at a minimum tacitly supported the program," Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the chairman of House Intelligence Committee, said this week. Mr. Hoekstra said Democrats should "attempt to understand why their leaders did not feel the same sense of outrage about the program" that some in the party are now expressing.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra had more to say on Friday afternoon in a radio chat with Mark Levin, sitting in for Sean Hannity - he was briefed twice in 2005, each time with the ranking House Democrat, Jane Harmon, and the two Senators from the SSCI, Chairman Pat Roberts and Sen. Rockefeller.
Rep. Hoekstra said that in each briefing they had ample opportunity to ask questions and gain more insight into the program. He also said that his impression was that his fellow Congressman were impressed by the results of the program as well as by the legal safeguards intended to protect the privacy rights of Americans.
But that was yesterday. Today, the Times is releasing even more information about this secret NSA program:
The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.
The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.
And hold your breath for this legal gray area:
As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.
The government's collection and analysis of phone and Internet traffic have raised questions among some law enforcement and judicial officials familiar with the program. One issue of concern to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has reviewed some separate warrant applications growing out of the N.S.A.'s surveillance program, is whether the court has legal authority over calls outside the United States that happen to pass through American-based telephonic "switches," according to officials familiar with the matter.
Several officials said that after President Bush's order authorizing the N.S.A. program, senior government officials arranged with officials of some of the nation's largest telecommunications companies to gain access to switches that act as gateways at the borders between the United States' communications networks and international networks. The identities of the corporations involved could not be determined.
The switches are some of the main arteries for moving voice and some Internet traffic into and out of the United States, and, with the globalization of the telecommunications industry in recent years, many international-to-international calls are also routed through such American switches.
One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic that is routed through American-based switches.
The growth of that transit traffic had become a major issue for the intelligence community, officials say, because it had not been fully addressed by 1970's-era laws and regulations governing the N.S.A. Now that foreign calls were being routed through switches on American soil, some judges and law enforcement officials regarded eavesdropping on those calls as a possible violation of those decades-old restrictions, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court-approved warrants for domestic surveillance.
Look - my inner geek is finding this to be very interesting. But is there any way in the world that the Times can be persuaded that this just might not be in America's best interest, even if it has some slight potential to embarrass Bush?
I only ask as a concerned citizen; as a vicious partisan, I think the NY Times, in combination with the Moore-Streisand wing of the party, is pushing the Dems off a cliff.
What is the Dem message here? "Oh my gosh, that evil Bush is spying on Al Qaeda and anyone who talks to them - as Democrats, we will never do that!"
Good luck. Let us know how that works out in '06.
As to stopping the Times - maybe we do need a ruthless investigation of these leaks. I don't know. But they are unaccountable and out of control, and they scare me.
Just remember, it was only last week that Risen and Lichtblau wrote this, when the broke the NSA story:
The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.
Emphasis added. Are we expected to believe that Risen and Lichtblau really developed this new story in the last week? I favor the alternative hypothesis - this is some of the information that, a week ago, was omitted for being useful to terrorists.
Or is the really good stuff coming out next week? I can't wait.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum agrees that these revelations look important:
This is interesting stuff, and it sounds like pretty useful stuff to me, too. This program and this technology might very well be important elements in the fight against al-Qaeda.
However, he then endorses oversight by way of the NY Times front page:
But that's not the point. The point is that it appears to be illegal, and if George Bush believed it was genuinely critical to our national security he should have asked Congress to pass legislation authorizing it. The president is simply not allowed to decide for himself to break the law simply because it's inconvenient, and the excuse that he couldn't go to Congress because that would expose valuable secrets to al-Qaeda is laughable.
Well. Where Kevin says "appears to be illegal", I would substitute "appears to be in a legal gray area", which I think more accurately captures the Times reporting. But what to say, after four years of briefings to Congressional leaders? Silence of the Lambs? Silence gives consent?
One supposed advantage of a representative democracy is that various factions, representing competing institutional interests (Executive versus Legislative) or party interests (Republicans versus Democrats) can resolve some issues IN SECRET! This particular NSA program appears to be well suited to such a quiet conversation. And one might have thought, after four years of briefings, that the quiet conversation was underway - Hoekstra apparently was fooled.
Lots more reax at Memeorandum.