A secret U.S. intelligence program to collect emails that is at the heart of an uproar over government surveillance helped foil an Islamist militant plot to bomb the New York City subway system in 2009, U.S. government sources said on Friday…
On Friday, CBS News correspondent John Miller, a former U.S. intelligence and FBI official, reported that U.S. authorities had discovered the Zazi plot after running across an email sent to a rarely used al Qaeda address that was associated with a notorious bomb-maker based in Pakistan.
Miller said authorities traced the sender of the email to a suburb of Denver. At the time of Zazi’s arrest, U.S. authorities revealed that he had been tracked from Denver to New York, where, after a brief interlude during which U.S. investigators lost track of him, he was arrested by the FBI.
The string of revelations over the past 48 hours about sweeping government surveillance of American telephone records and Internet activity by foreigners, including e-mail, stirred expressions of concern across the country on Friday — along with something of a collective national shrug.
It is not that people were not upset to learn that the government might be tracking their telephone calls, Facebook posts and Yahoo accounts. It is that in this age of “Homeland,” and a culture that encourages people to share photos and minute-by-minute activities and opinions on public Web sites, the news that the government might be looking in too was something short of a surprise…
“It doesn’t bother me because the government is going to do what they’re going to do regardless of what anyone thinks,” [Cedric Hudson] said. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”…
“I think it’s something that we have to get used to,” [Rob] Johnson added. “Your habits and activities are being watched. I already assume that Google is tracking everything I do.”
The program does not represent a violation of the Constitution because the Fourth Amendment does not protect dialed phone numbers, in contrast to the content of the communications, because individuals lose privacy over those numbers when they are given to the phone company. The Constitution protects the content of the communications, whether it be a phone call, e-mail, or old-fashioned letter. And Congress approved a change to the FISA statute to allow such collection, and a court of federal judges approved it. And as commander-in-chief, the president has the wartime authority to find and intercept enemy communications, known as signals intelligence. Analyzing such metadata — what is sometimes called data mining — is perhaps the most effective way to find terrorist cells in the U.S. and stop future attacks because the Obama administration has dropped our best methods for producing intelligence (the detention and interrogation of al-Qaeda leaders).
The revelation of broad e-mail surveillance is more troubling, but it is because we don’t know the program’s scope. If the program only intercepts the content of e-mails for foreigners abroad, as is being reported, there is no constitutional violation. As the Supreme Court has made clear, the Fourth Amendment does not protect the communications of non-U.S. persons that take place abroad. In fact, the Justices reached that conclusion because they observed that it would be impossible for the U.S. to fight a war against a foreign enemy if limited by the Fourth Amendment. Allowing the government to intercept foreign, potentially enemy signals intelligence abroad without a warrant recognizes the reality of war, as opposed to the precise targeting of communications that would apply if domestic law enforcement were the framework.
The National Security Agency has at times mistakenly intercepted the private email messages and phone calls of Americans who had no link to terrorism, requiring Justice Department officials to report the errors to a secret national security court and destroy the data, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials…
Ret. Adm. Dennis Blair, who served as President Obama’s DNI in 2009 and 2010, told NBC News that, in one instance in 2009, analysts entered a phone number into agency computers and “put one digit wrong,” and mined a large volume of information about Americans with no connection to terror. The matter was reported to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose judges required that all the data be destroyed, he said…
The judges “were really upset about this,” said the former official. As a result, Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to the judges that the intelligence agencies would take steps to correct the problem as a condition of renewing the NSA’s surveillance program.
Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledged that debate over such basic issues as the limits of personal privacy and the governments ability to seek out domestic threats won’t be subject to much of a public debate or input. In fact, they won’t even be able to discuss what, if any, changes they may be considering to the surveillance laws they have in some cases repeatedly signed off on over the years.
“To the extent that there [would be] changes, they’d probably be classified,” committee member Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters. “Those of us who know more about [this] are sort of hamstrung because of the confidential and classified nature of it. So it’s a tough place to be,” Rubio added.
Research also shows that closely watched prisoners’ sense of perpetually being watched contributes to anxiety, an inability to form bonds, and loss of individual initiative. In authoritarian regimes such as China and Iran, dissidents speak compellingly of the trauma and despair they endure as a result of being followed, monitored, and tracked in a dossier. Scarcely a week ago, the United States announced the easing of sanctions on Iran to permit the flow of technologies and tools to enable Iranians to be “more able to protect themselves against government hackers.” The rationale seemed obvious.
The few studies that have looked at the effects of similar tactics in less hostile and restrictive settings have confirmed similar, though more muted, effects. An EU privacy study documented that under surveillance, individuals make choices that are more likely to conform to mainstream expectations. A Finnish research project installed cameras and recording devices in the homes of 12 families and documented annoyance, concern, anxiety, and anger among the watched, as well as a loss of spontaneity as inhabitants contemplated any new social event or activity being captured by the cameras.
Now multiply that 12 by 100 million and there are grounds for concern about how surveillance may reshape Americans’ moods, psychology, and social life on a national scale.
When the state has the power to know everything about everyone, the integrity of the civil service is the only bulwark against men like Holder. Instead, the ruling party and the non-partisan bureaucracy seem to be converging. In August 2010, President Obama began railing publicly against “groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity” (August 9th, a speech in Texas) and “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names” (August 21st, radio address). And whaddayaknow, that self-same month the IRS obligingly issued its first BOLO (Be On the Look-Out) for groups with harmless-sounding names, like “tea party,” “patriot,” and “constitution.”
It may be that the strange synchronicity between the president and the permanent bureaucracy is mere happenstance and not, as it might sound to the casual ear, the sinister merging of party and state. Either way, they need to be pried apart. When the state has the capability to know everything except the difference between right and wrong, it won’t end well.
Do you know why no hard-core Leftist ever publicly admits that he is? It’s because he knows what membership in that club means. A word about Purges. Once I was told that Leftists were smarter than conservatives, to which I retorted, “then how come they all wound up in the Gulag?” But they too can wise up.
By whatever process, the existence and operation of these vast data mining schemes have lost legitimacy within the establishment and even the bureaucracy itself. Perhaps it was because some saw these magnificent virtual machines perverted in ways they were never intended to serve, converted into political persecution machines, or worse taken over by an enemy who could bribe his way into anything.
Perhaps it was because some True Believer finally realized he was a True Chump. When he finally realized “it’s you they are talking about, your IM message they are hacking, your email they’re analyzing, your phone calls they are tracing. You are not exempt.”
Well why would you be? But we should take luck as it comes. To those who’ve finally chosen put the questions out in the public space, welcome to the fight. And never say your part is small, for whatever you do may prove more important then you think.
CHRIS WALLACE: If I make a call to you ask that record is held by a third party, namely the phone company, that we have no presumption of privacy and that is government’s business. So the Supreme Court has said that kind of data mining is constitutional.
SHEP SMITH: That’s good. I knew privacy was dead. Now it’s confirmed. FOX News can now confirm there’s no more privacy. It’s over.
Senator Obama in 2007 was rightly concerned that telecommunications companies might get away with sharing clients’ private information without legal scrutiny. This week, we learned that the president’s National Security Agency compelled Verizon to hand over all of its client data records…
If the seizure and surveillance of Americans’ phone records – across the board and with little to no discrimination – is now considered a legitimate security precaution, there is literally no protection of any kind guaranteed anymore to American citizens. In their actions, more outrageous and numerous by the day, this administration continues to treat the US constitution as a dead letter…
No one in America should be above the law. Including this president.