Tuned this story out after the Monday a.m. post but I’m tuning it back in now. Some commenters argued at the time that having NSA’s warrantless wiretaps program front and center at Hayden’s confirmation hearings would be a good thing, that it would rally the public to the GOP’s side. Oh really? Someone had better tell Hayden, then:

Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said Hayden told him in a private meeting he was concerned when he set up the highly secretive program that approaching Congress could reveal tactics, techniques and procedures used by U.S. intelligence to track al Qaeda suspects.

“He said, however, that with all the publicity that’s been surrounding this program, he may be closer to the possibility of asking for a change,” Durbin, the Democratic whip, told reporters after meeting with Hayden for 35 minutes…

“What the people in the room felt he was trying to say was that they want to continue using sources and methods they’re using now and would be willing to have that program, structured much the way it is now, reviewed by a judge,” Shoemaker said.

Yeah, I know. “Don’t trust Durbin.” How can I not trust a man capable of lines like this?

“I want to find a way to make it legal for us to be safe as a nation.”

It reminds me of that Fox headline during el gran boicot: “Does America have the right to enforce its own borders?” Run it by the Hague, see if we can get an advisory opinion.

The Times has a new CIA story out too pegged to Goss receiving the Distinguished Service Award from the House of Representatives today. Sure sounds like he got sandbagged by Bush, and judging by the tone of the quotes, some of his friends in Congress aren’t happy about it. Hastert’s been especially blunt, telling an audience yesterday he doesn’t think a military officer should be head of the CIA and that the move “looks like a power grab by Mr. Negroponte.”

Ken Timmerman says Republicans should be worried about the new face at Langley — but he doesn’t mean Hayden’s. Read all of this one, because if it’s bad as he says…

It can’t be as bad as he says. Can it?

Update: SFPH says we’ve heard this song before from Durbin. Hey, the man’s just trying to make it legal for our nation to be safe, okay?

Meanwhile, USA Today says the NSA has assembled a giant database of Americans’ phone calls with the help of AT&T and some of the other big carriers. According to “people with direct knowledge of the arrangement,” of course.

Er, not to minimize it, but hasn’t NSA had access to a database of Americans’ phone calls for awhile now?

Before the September 11, 2001 attacks and the legislation which followed it, US intelligence agencies were generally prohibited from spying on people inside the US and other western countries’ intelligence services generally faced similar restrictions within their own countries. There are allegations, however, that ECHELON and the UKUSA alliance were used to circumvent these restrictions by, for example, having the UK facilities spy on people inside the US and the US facilites spy on people in the UK, with the agencies exchanging data (perhaps even automatically through the ECHELON system without human intervention).

Media Blog has more on the database story and notes that it was originally reported (by Wired) more than a month ago. Odd that USA Today would present it as a bombshell to coincide with Hayden’s nomination, no? Spruiell also notes that NSA doesn’t have access to the content of the calls, just the “external” data (i.e., when the call was made, from what number, etc.). NSA: our national SiteMeter.

Update: The pushback begins. Moran surveys some of the thoughtful, measured reactions on the left, Stop the ACLU congratulates USA Today on its new powers of declassification, and Confederate Yankee asks, “Isn’t this what we pay them to do?”

Update: The boss is enthusiastic.

Update: James Joyner runs a cost-benefit analysis: “In this case, I believe the surrender of liberty is infinitesimal while the potential gain in security is huge.” Sean Hackbarth says he’s asking for trouble.

Update: A British government report says they might have been able to stop the London bombings if they’d devoted more resources to terrorism. In related news, you have a better chance of solving virtually any problem by devoting more resources to it.

Update: Newsmax points to an episode of 60 Minutes from February 2000 alleging that the NSA under Clinton was using ECHELON to harvest data from Americans even then. Here’s the page at CBSNews.com. Note this part:

Democracies usually have laws against spying on citizens. But Frost says Echelon members could ask another member to spy for them in an end run around those laws.
For example, Frost tells Kroft that his Canadian intelligence boss spied on British government officials for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “(Thatcher) had two ministers that she said, quote, ‘they weren’t on side,’ unquote…So my boss…went to McDonald House in London and did intercept traffic from these two ministers,” claims Frost. |”The British Parliament now have total deniability. They didn’t do anything. We did it for them.”

The quote from then-Congressman Porter Goss is worth highlighting, too.

Update: Bush won’t confirm or deny the USAT report. But:

“Our intelligence activities strictly target al-Qaida and their knwon [sic] affiliates,” Bush said. “We’re not mining or trolling through the private lives of innocent Americans.”

Not trolling, perhaps, but surely they are mining. That’s the whole point of ECHELON: cast a wide net (i.e., mine) and then pick through (i.e., troll) the good stuff.

Update: More from Bush:

Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaida and their known affiliates. So far we’ve been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.

As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.

If you think that last line was merely hypothetical, read AJ Strata’s first update.

Update: DefenseTech says the whole idea behind the program is stupid.