Minus The Nemesis
A Collaboration of Some of the Finest Thought on Today's World


Tuesday, May 16, 2006
As recently as 11 May 2006 several different people have "broken" a story about the alleged NSA wiretapping. There is an aura of scandal surrounding articles such as this one due to the possibility what is being reported is largely speculation on the part of the journalist or even the reader. Some will take the print and consider it fact without completing any further research and thusly having formed a solid opinion on some of their country's intelligence assets, which is fairly arrogant. Granted, some articles may be taken at face value, but in my opinion something as serious as the potential of the US government to simply deny the people their 4th Amendment rights, sweeping aside the FISA court and associated personal liberty penetrations are definitely deserving of not only scrutiny, but also further individual discovery. This entry is nothing more than a report of personal discovery as it pertains to the written words in the media as I have been reading it. As a caution to the reader of this entry: don't take this information as doctrine either; use it to further your own research and come up with your own educated decision vice relying on the words of someone with no real vested interest in the legalities, legitimacy or otherwise of the NSA program.

*Note to readers: While I haven't fully worked out the "Read More!" code, this post definitely qualifies, so please click "Read More!" to get the full post.

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) is the United States' cryptologic organization in that it has a twofold mission. First is the protection of US information systems and second is the production of foreign signals intelligence information. The NSA/CSS became part of the US intelligence community on 4 November 1952 as a result of then President Truman working with the National Security Council and the subsequent issuance of a revision of National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) No. 9 on 24 October 1952. The NSA also has its roots in another Department of Defense (DoD) agency that has since ceased to exist: the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA) dating from around 1949. The CSS is merely a link between the NSA and the cryptologic elements of the armed forces of the US; formed in 1972 as the result of a Presidential Directive. The NSA by law can only collect foreign intelligence information. With that in mind, I would encourage the reader to at least have a glance at Executive Order 12333, which is the NSA's charter. It would seem that although the NSA may typically rely on the FBI to handle business within the borders of the US in dealing with any sort of collection of information (of intelligence value), the advent of the 9/11 travesty has brought about some trying scenarios for many agencies. I am hesitant to state flatly that in any of my research of any intelligence entity's charter does it state that their goal is to keep tabs on the American public, spy on Americans, perpetrate a "Big Brother" mentality, coerce the public via fear or any other such nonsense. I believe that these agencies are in place (indeed the roots of said agencies are firmly planted in decades past) for good reason. A protection of US assets is a must, but at the same time personal liberty must be taken into consideration.

As told to a certain newspaper by "people with direct knowledge of the arrangement", and evidently filtered down to the desk of one journalist, the National Security Agency has allegedly been collecting the telephone call records of millions of Americans with the help of three telephone companies. Those three alleged assistants in the telco industry are AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. This is all well and good, but what I perhaps am not understanding is the apparent lack of obligation to any sort of affirmation statements or otherwise by the "people with direct knowledge of the arrangement". Due to the following (from the NSA website):
"NSA/CSS has a responsibility to the citizens of the United States not to disclose our sources or methods of intelligence, as we could potentially lose vital information, with dire consequences to the United States. For this reason, the long-standing policy within the United States Intelligence Community is that we refrain from commenting on actual or alleged intelligence issues"
I take the persons with any knowledge of any arrangement to be that of telco employees and not those of the NSA. That is not to say that someone from the NSA decided to speak to the press about sensitive programs, but I would hope that's not the case. Again, it is because of EO 12333 that the NSA abides by the rules that it does, take a look at it.

When I looked further into the possible system and related program of which the media seems to have exposed (this is another myth; it's been common knowledge for some time now), I found information pertaining to Echelon. Echelon is apparently a global surveillance network run by the NSA but participated in by the US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Because people see fit to divulge sensitive information after their tenure in the intelligence community, information about sensitive topics are brought to the general public by persons like Mike Frost; a 20-year veteran of the CSE (essentially the Canadian version of the NSA). Thanks to a special put forth by 60 Minutes, Mike Frost is apparently the only high-ranking intelligence official to speak publicly about the Echelon program. Whether or not this is a good idea to make this sensitive information publicly accessible seems like a no-brainer to me. The very people and government's that may be considered enemies will now perhaps have a better understanding of the system that may bring them down; or at least prevent them from fulfilling the desire to bring the US and her allies down.

In that respect, I suggest reading the 60 Minutes transcript for your own edification. This aired back in 2000 by the way. What I gathered was that due to the global coverage of the Echelon program, all of the information is sent back to the NSA proper and its supercomputers take over the information all the while scanning transmissions word for word, looking for specific phrases, keywords or even voices that may be pertinent. From that data (telephone numbers, people's names, specific keywords) are further analyzed and according to Mr. Frost:
"And people are getting caught, and--and that's great."
That is a good thing in my opinion as well. Those that are taking advantage of the American people to propagate terrorism and other illegal activities should be brought to justice. There are many inconsistencies making this system inefficient in my opinion as well. Take for example an instance spoken about by Mr. Frost in which a woman was speaking on the telephone about a play her son was in the previous night; "Danny really bombed last night" was intercepted by the NSA computers and subsequently by an analyst (you don't think computers do all of the work do you?!) and erring on the side of caution associated the woman's name and telephone number with terrorism. Therein may lay one of the inefficiencies of the system, human interaction. As it turns out the final disposition, is in fact made by human analysts who take in the bytes of what the computer has recorded.

As far back as the 1960's the NSA has been swarmed with scandal in regards to spying on America's citizens. During the '60s it was apparently commonplace to record telephone conversations of anti-war protestors as well as the infamous civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Congress did not take kindly to these allegations and drafted rather strict laws prohibiting the agency from spying on citizens. Apparently called "Shamrock" this program lead to the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978. As of late, there is further interest in this type of activity and that is why we see a literal storm of these types of allegations and related media stories. It is hard to tell as an average citizen where to define what is truth and what is fiction as printed and said. Personally, I don't trust the media all that much; I am willing to bet there are indeed some goings on at the NSA as of late, but to what extent I am not certain. The media, I am sure, isn't certain either.

What seems to be happening is that the NSA likes to ensure certain safeguards are in place and operational in dealing with the security of the US. As requested by then Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Porter Goss, the NSA divulged information pertaining to said safeguards and also the insurance they weren't being abused. The former Committee Chairman firmly believes that the NSA isn't spying on innocent American citizens. It has been questioned in the past that if the NSA does indeed possess the means to screen the millions of faxes, emails and telephone calls of American citizens, how do you make sure that the innocent ones aren't involved? There are unspoken measures in place to safeguard against that from what I have read. I don't know to the extent of their reach nor capabilities, but am fairly certain this is all part of a larger contingency planning effort. Also from some precursory research, the NSA doesn't seem to acknowledge the existence of a program named Echelon. It is a strange fact though that there are persons that allegedly have firsthand experience with all of this type of secrecy and see fit to share with the public. It seems like a cheap spy novel at times. I remember a while back when a dude named Bob Lazar "came forward" about the goings on of Area 51! All I am trying to say is take what is read/heard/seen (including this) with a grain of salt and relative caution and do as much research as you possibly can so that you have a bit more knowledge to work with than you may have previously had.

From what I gather, the FISA is in place to prevent American's from being illicitly spied on. Under FISA and furthermore, requests for surveillance of the electronic variety as well as physical searches of persons believed to be involved in espionage or terrorism against the US are adjudicated by an 11-member court; the FISA court. Some decent reading on the subjects of case law, amendments to the FISA as well as legislative history can be found at the website for the Center for National Security Studies (CNSS). This site is labeled as: "Protecting Civil Liberties and Human Rights" and I found it to be more fact based than a biased site of tripe. There are decent reads pertaining to exactly what we as the public are hearing about via the media today and stemming all the way back to 1975. To quote then President Carter at the signing of the FISA into law in 1978, "one of the most difficult tasks in a free society like our own is the correlation between adequate intelligence to guarantee our Nation's security on the one hand, and the preservation of basic human rights on the other." Usually, I am not a big Carter fan in the slightest and think he is an abject failure at times (in reference to several brokered deals that weren't all that great in days gone by) but try and recognize his efforts as a humanitarian. I feel that this quote, no matter whom spoken by, is accurate. There needs to be a separation in the sense that yes, the nation definitely needs to be secure but not at the expense of the American people by progressing towards an alleged "police state". It is also my opinion that nobody wants that state. Carter was convinced that the "difficult balance" would be achieved by the new FISA in 1978. Also of note was an amendment made to the FISA in 1994 by then Attorney General Janet Reno. Prior to this date, Congress decided that secret warrantless physical searches of homes and offices weren't legit. AG Reno authorized such an action in 1994 to search the home of CIA spy Aldrich Ames. Naturally the spy's attorney challenged it saying it was unconstitutional, but the Clinton administration asked Congress to extend the FISA to encompass such acts. The reaction by the civil rights community was one of disagreement and objection claiming such searches were unconstitutional, however, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said, "wait a second there civil rights community! It is better to have said searches approved by the FISA than just acted on and approved by the AG." That, of course, being the gist of the reaction by the DoJ and not a real quote. The end result as we know it was the amendment of the FISA by Congress to include these types of searches. In a "different but related" event, the Supreme Court ruled that the persons who were searched (offices, homes, etc.) should be given notice to that fact (re: Squillacote v. United States, 532, U.S. 971 (2001)). The jury is still out as to whether or not this "notice of being searched" means that the newly amended secret searches under the FISA are unconstitutional; stay tuned! It is further reported that the PATRIOT Act has allowed further amending of the FISA and arguably (of course) that it has taken away some of the safeguards that protect against abuse. Since the PATRIOT Act there have been a slew of FISA court rulings; it's probably better just to pursue this research on your own time as there are volumes of information that would make this already boring entry even more so!

According to Paul Butler (a former US prosecutor) the FISA usually isn't an issue in relation to data mining by the government. Also said is that the FISA doesn't prohibit the government from doing so, however, personal identifiers such as SSN, name, address, etc. require "higher level of probable cause". With that in mind, historically the telco industry has required law enforcement (LE) to make with a court order before they could cough-up someone's toll records. Where the NSA program as reported may lead into some confusion is where it meets Section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934. Basically it states that it's not legit for the telephone companies to give out information regarding customer's calling habits.

In closing, I think that I cannot draw a definitive answer as far as what's being reported. I can, however, take a look at the multitude of sources that will give me a better understanding of what may be occurring. The point is to take the time to do some (at least a little) research to come to a better conclusion. As it turns out, this is not a partisan issue and shouldn't be. Trying to simply point fingers and justify which "side" is more- guilty is futile and any original intent seems to begin to get lost. It's easy and perhaps a bit arrogant to stop there. What you end up with is just that; the finger has been pointed, now what? If your research convinces you one way or another, so be it, but give additional time and energy into some precursory research. There is so much data to read over and sift through that I don't think it is possible to become completely aware of the truth as the NSA knows it, but you can certainly become closer by glancing at it, that's for sure. I am by no means an expert, but I found that a bit of reading cleared up some things that I had questions about. Due to the multitude of sources (both proponent and opponent) it will take some more time before I can call myself convinced one way or another. I intend to keep up with it as personal liberties are involved and I don't like the fact that they may be infringed upon or that I may not have any control over that. Education, in this case, seems to be the key to not letting that happen.

Suggested links (also used in the creation of this entry):

1. Executive Order 12333
2. 60-minutes transcript with Echelon
3. NSA website
4. Center for National Security Studies
5. Wikipedia article
6. National Security Archives


Comments: Post a Comment