Yet one more in a long line of hyped stories about the NSA and datamining. The USA Today breathlessly reports, starting off with an eye-catching headline:
NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime.
Gasp! Shocking, right? Wrong. Read on (emphasis added):
This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
“It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA’s activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency’s goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, this person added.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.
What’s involved in datamining?:
Paul Butler, a former U.S. prosecutor who specialized in terrorism crimes, said FISA approval generally isn’t necessary for government data-mining operations. “FISA does not prohibit the government from doing data mining,” said Butler, now a partner with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C.
The caveat, he said, is that “personal identifiers” — such as names, Social Security numbers and street addresses — can’t be included as part of the search. “That requires an additional level of probable cause,” he said.
The telecommunication companies involved:
The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.
Good on them, but bad on Qwest, who pushed back and refused to take part in the program:
According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest’s CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA’s assertion that Qwest didn’t need a court order — or approval under FISA — to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers’ information and how that information might be used.
Financial implications were also a concern, the sources said. Carriers that illegally divulge calling information can be subjected to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines, in the aggregate, could have been substantial.
The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as “product” in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest’s lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.
The NSA, which needed Qwest’s participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.
Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest’s patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest’s refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.
In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest’s foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.
Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest’s lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.
The NSA’s explanation did little to satisfy Qwest’s lawyers. “They told (Qwest) they didn’t want to do that because FISA might not agree with them,” one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest’s suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general’s office. A second person confirmed this version of events.
In June 2002, Nacchio resigned amid allegations that he had misled investors about Qwest’s financial health. But Qwest’s legal questions about the NSA request remained.
Unable to reach agreement, Nacchio’s successor, Richard Notebaert, finally pulled the plug on the NSA talks in late 2004, the sources said.
So let’s see. Thanks to this
whistleblown leaked story, if you’re a terrorist and you don’t want to worry about your call being datamined, what telecommunications company are you going to turn to? Hmmmm … I wonder.
Look for Qwest to be given hero status by the hate-Bush wing of the Democratic party (Rick Moran confirms this with a sampling of outraged reactions from the usual suspects), and for Bush’s pick for CIA director Gen. Hayden to take major heat for this because:
Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated Monday by President Bush to become the director of the CIA, headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. In that post, Hayden would have overseen the agency’s domestic call-tracking program. Hayden declined to comment about the program.
Others blogging about this: Stephen Spruiell at NRO’s Media Blog, Allahpundit, Michelle Malkin, AJ Strata, Stop The ACLU, Confederate Yankee, James Joyner, Joe Gandelman, RightWinged.com, Blog For All, Tom Maguire
PM Update II: The President defends the NSA datamining program.
PM Update III: Very fitting.
Related Toldjah So posts:
- FDR and domestic surveillance
- Sen. Russ Feingold demagogues NSA surveillance ‘scandal’
- It doesn’t get any better than Jeff Goldstein (re: Feingold’s stunt)
- Senator Russ Feingold calls for censure of Bush
- House approves Patriot Act, Senate panel rejects broad NSA inquiry
- NSA Surveillance Program ‘scandal’ – update
- Congressional probe of NSA surveillance may not happen afterall
- Admin briefs Congress on NSA surveillance
- Thomas Sowell on the NSA ‘scandal’ controversy
- NSA ‘scandal’ fallout: convicted terrorist conspirators wanting cases thrown out
- Intelligence officials: NSA leak has undermined ability to fight terrorism
- On politicizing the Patriot Act and the NSA ‘scandal’
- NYT: NSA scandal is worse than WWII Japanese internment camps
- Link between disposable phone sale surge and NSA leak?
- Whistleblower or leaker?
- Joe Klein: How to Stay Out of Power (and undermine the war in the process)
- Why it was important to keep the cat in the bag
- The Rep. Jane Harman flip flop
- NSA initially acted on its own after 9-11
- Investigations begin into the NSA eavesdropping leak
- “â€¦ the only thing outrageous about this policy is the outrage itself”
- Michael Barone on the MSM’s â€˜eavesdropping’ coverage
- Brief history of warrantless searches
- Past presidents and the NSA
- Bill Clinton and the NSA
- WSJ: “Thank you for wiretapping”
- The Prez fires back
- Prez essentially says â€˜let me do my job’