S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

"Like an ubiquotous spook" - Part I

(Image: Stock.xchng)

Today's word, boys and girls, is -
"Ubiquitous." According to it means:

adj. Being or seeming to be everywhere at the same time; omnipresent: “plodded through the shadows fruitlessly like an ubiquitous spook” (Joseph Heller).

"U.S. to Expand Domestic Use Of Spy Satellites" - This story was first broken in the Wall Street Journal in the middle of August. I missed Robert Block's story. And I am sorry because it now feels like a blockbuster to me, given how much I have followed the domestic surveillance issue, and given how ubiquitous these hidden eyes in the sky would be. Reconnaissance satellite surveillance covering almost all countries around the world has been ubiquitous for many years. NPR soon had the story on 8/15/07 on "All Things Considered." Here's a quote,
Officials say the change is intended primarily to help them monitor the borders and coastal areas. But it is also raising some serious privacy concerns.

For more than 30 years, domestic agencies have had access to images gathered by U.S. spy satellites. But for the most part, the information has been used for scientific research or to monitor things such as hurricanes and volcanic activity.
We have it; why not use it? Just because the technology exists does not mean it should be used in this manner. In 2006 a so-called Blue Ribbon Commission recommended that the use of spy satellites be formalized, expanded to include the United States, and put under the Homeland Security Department. In the past the Defense Department's spy satellite imagery had been used domestically by the Department of the Interior, or on an ad hoc basis only (NYC on 9/11/01, widespread forest fires or Hurricane Katrina, as examples). In the spring of 2007 Director of National Intelligence, General Michael McConnell gave Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff authority over the program. Civil liberties officers at Homeland Security Security were brought in very late and Congress was only very minimally involved.
Congress and the Fourth Amendment: blindsided and minimized - It must have felt this way to House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson and California Member Jane Harman and others when they also learned of the program via the newspaper. And their objections are not really connected to turf or to politics. This Committee is the authorizing committee for Homeland Security activities with very large constitutional Fourth Amendment implications. The program had been briefed to certain Intelligence and Appropriations committee members only. This came out in their first committee hearing on the proposed domestic spying program on 9/7/07 , broadcast on C-SPAN.
House Homeland Security Cmte. Hearing on Domestic Spy Satellite Use -. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MD) chairs a Homeland Security Cmte. hearing titled "Turning Spy Satellites on the Homeland: the Privacy and Civil Liberties Implications of the National Applications Office." Beginning in October 2007 the Department of Homeland Security will open a new office called the National Applications Office (NAO) charged with civil/domestic intelligence gathering. 9/6/2007: WASHINGTON, DC: 2 hr. 25 min.
Representative Thompson and other members of the Committee were furious that they were never notified of the proposed program. Rep. Jane Harman spoke with great passion about the risks to American civil liberties posed by this change. As a member of the Group of Eight briefed on all Intelligence matters, she knows how powerful the satellites' capacities are, as well as the potential conflicts with the Posse Comitatus Act. (One civil liberties advocate witness, Lisa Graves of the Center for National Securities Studies, testified to the visual power of the images, "on a resolution scale of inches)." To quote Harman,
"You let this thing go, it may be another blank check to the executive. It may morph into things that will terrify you if you really understand the capabilities of satellites," said Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), former ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
A Benign Fate Accompli? Government witnesses had characterized the views as comparable to that from a hovering helicopter. Another issue is the lack of supporting documentation provided to the committee, particularly the legal structure within which the program will stand. The DHS administrator who will be in charge of the program gave a perfunctory apology and then insisted that the program will be rolled out on October 1 anyway. None of the government's witnesses gave satisfactory answers to Members' Posse Comitatus concerns about sharing imagery with state and local law enforcement, given that these satellites belong to the Defense Department. To quote Wikipedia,
It generally prohibits Federal military personnel and units of the United States National Guard under Federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress. The Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act substantially limit the powers of the Federal government to use the military for law enforcement.
MSM blogger writes - ABC News Brian Ross at The Blotter (9/6/07) details the expected criticism of House Members during the hearing. To quote,
DHS Chief Intelligence Officer Charles E. Allen has insisted that all of the "relevant committees" in Congress were briefed on the plan to create a permanent office for sharing satellite data with federal, state and local officials operating within the United States.

. . . Thompson and the committee will hear from a skeptic as well. Lisa Graves, a former Justice Department official, will testify to her serious concerns about the proposed office.

The special commission whose 2005 study recommended the office had some provocative ideas that deserve closer scrutiny, according to Graves, now an expert with the nonpartisan Center for National Security Studies.
Because I have yet to get all of this off my chest, and because the momentum in favor of this questionable program is so intense, it will be continued in "Like an ubiquitous spook" - Part II."
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Cross posted at The Reaction.
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The Future Was Yesterday said...

You continue to ask the questions for which there is no clear cut answers. We tried as hard as we could in '04, only to have our hearts broke. We need a litmus test, and I don't know of one that would ensure our voice is heard.

Just because the technology exists does not mean it should be used in this manner.
Like "new and improved" which ends up being worse than before, this'll end up being sold as "for our protection", something and/or somebody will be demonized to vouch for the know how this song goes..(:

The DHS administrator who will be in charge of the program gave a perfunctory apology and then insisted that the program will be rolled out on October 1 anyway.

And that, really, is our problem in a nutshell. They do what they want; there seems to be nobody/nothing to stop them. I'm getting tired of being told "I'm sorry I ran over you" then they back up to see if I'm ok!:)

Carol Gee said...

Howdy, Future - I'll reply to both of your welcome comments, if I may.
I do include a lot of info, I'm sure too much at times. I love the research aspect of blogging, I think.
This spy satellite episode is a perfect example of how the administration operates and, more to the point, what drives their actions. It feels like a thirst for power, driven by arrogance. You can see it as your watch the faces of officials as they condescendingly explain themselves to their (struggling -doing the best they can, I think) congressional oversight committees. Their affect is flat, their eyes hooded, and their body language is revealing. They seem to be saying, "I've got another meeting to go to soon that is more important than being here. I can only stay a little while. . . Don't worry about anything. We've got professionals in charge of all this. . . It is absolutely necessary to keep you safe; we need it right now." Etc., etc.
I loved your phrase, "I'm getting tired of being told "I'm sorry I ran over you" then they back up to see if I'm ok!:)"
That says it all. Thanks again.