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.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Intelligence is necessary and relative.

"Civil libertarians" in the blogosphere like me collect intelligence on Intelligence, the world of espionage. All of it that we are able to analyze necessarily comes from open sources, unclassified records and information. My posts attempt to reveal to readers the already known sources used in the field. The methods we use are to watch and read the news generated by the Main Stream Media, to search the Internet, and to read our most trusted bloggers' posts on the subject of intelligence.

In this case Glenn Greenwald is still the very best blog source on national intelligence. This link will let you know all you need to know about our current intel circumstances. It is a must-read for all of us who care about our country's future. To quote his opening:

Lawbreaking telecoms still conniving to obtain immunity from Congress

Over the past several months, Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Harry Reid have been the two most valuable instruments in the Bush administration's efforts to obtain vastly expanded warrantless eavesdropping powers and immunity for lawbreaking telecoms. As the Senate returns to Washington next week, Reid is apparently now more determined than ever before to ensure that the Bush administration's FISA demands are complied with in full.

Of the traditional intel sources, the MSM is, unfortunately, the least reliable. I do not classify C-SPAN as an MSM source, incidentally. As for methods, it is my goal as a civil libertarian to reveal the known methods used in intelligence community that appear to me to violate our citizen protections under the U.S. Constitution. And in doing so, I am convinced that the words used in my posts on the subject are surveilled for any possible threats to national security. (See my 1/17/08 S/SW post, "DNI Mike McConnell's Primer on Intelligence," for his most recent explanation of the world of intel).

What does it mean to be thus observed? As I understand the system, everything in the blogosphere get "scooped up" into the back room wiretapping operations maintained for the government by our cooperating telecommunications companies. The Internet contains public information and thus is seen as open-source by the government. The language (billions of bits a day) is auto-searched with algorithms looking for suspicious words and phrases that might indicate that the writer has nefarious motives threatening to the nation. Certain material eventually bubbles to the surface that is read and analyzed by a human being, whose job it is to spy on those who would harm us. Eventually the Director of National Intelligence decides what threats his customers should know about, based on the current NIPF. What is the NIPF? According to the FBI, from which I quote,

The National Intelligence Priorities Framework is the DNI’s guidance to the IC on the national intelligence priorities approved by the President. The NIPF guides prioritization for the operation, planning, and programming of U.S. intelligence analysis and collection. The NIPF is updated semiannually.

The FBI and other members of the IC support the DNI in establishing national intelligence priorities within the NIPF. The FBI has adopted the NIPF as a method of prioritizing intelligence collection and production for the FBI. As such, the FBI is expected to collect against NIPF requirements and to integrate efforts with the DNI. All FBI intelligence requirements for collection are and must be based on and traceable to the NIPF.

The current Congressional challenges are left over from November and December of last year. The government asked that the FISA law be updated permanently. It was changed, but only on a temporary basis. The changes that were made fixed the problems with the technology issues in the FISA law. What did not happen, thanks to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House bill, was a grant of retroactive immunity for the telecoms who have been making it possible for the government to illegally spy on its own citizens. I am including here a couple of articles that provide additional background on the issues being debated today prior to the Senate's return to business next week.

  • From The Register (Nov4. 2007) via Maud Newton: "No E-mail Privacy Rights under Constitution." To quote:

    On October 8, 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati granted the government's request for a full-panel hearing in United States v. Warshak case centering on the right of privacy for stored electronic communications. At issue is whether the procedure whereby the government can subpoena stored copies of your email - similar to the way they could simply subpoena any physical mail sitting on your desk - is unconstitutionally broad.

    This appears to be more than a mere argument in support of the constitutionality of a Congressional email privacy and access scheme. It represents what may be the fundamental governmental position on Constitutional email and electronic privacy - that there isn't any. What is important in this case is not the ultimate resolution of that narrow issue, but the position that the United States government is taking on the entire issue of electronic privacy. That position, if accepted, may mean that the government can read anybody's email at any time without a warrant.

  • From Newsbuster, "Government Seeks to Redefine Privacy," Nov 11, 2007, By PAMELA HESS.

    WASHINGTON (AP) - A top intelligence official says it is time people in the United States changed their definition of privacy. Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, a deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguards people's private communications and financial information.

    Kerr's comments come as Congress is taking a second look at the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act. Lawmakers hastily changed the 1978 law last summer to allow the government to eavesdrop inside the United States without court permission, so long as one end of the conversation was reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S.

    The original law required a court order for any surveillance conducted on U.S. soil, to protect Americans' privacy. The White House argued that the law was obstructing intelligence gathering. The most contentious issue in the new legislation is whether to shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for allegedly giving the government access to people's private e-mails and phone calls without a court order between 2001 and 2007.

    Some lawmakers, including members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appear reluctant to grant immunity. Suits might be the only way to determine how far the government has burrowed into people's privacy without court permission.

    . . . The central witness in a California lawsuit against AT&T says the government is vacuuming up billions of e-mails and phone calls as they pass through an AT&T switching station in San Francisco.

    Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, helped connect a device in 2003 that he says diverted and copied onto a government supercomputer every call, e-mail, and Internet site access on AT&T lines.

Howard Berkowitz at TPMCafe wrote a very interesting post; the thread went on for days. We have often discussed the intel world, in which he is much more expert than I. He has made a number of entries into Wikipedia on the subject. Here is one of his comments as food for thought -- another source to close this post. Howard writes:

. . . When it comes to such things as the NSA surveillance, there are some reasonable expert guesses from outside about what they were actually collecting. My sense is that it was the records of who called whom, rather than the contents of calls. In theory, you can get patterns from that, although you need to both lucky and in possession of a lot of computing power -- and also have an adversary that doesn't know much about concealing his communications.

A legal case can actually be made that call records aren't especially protected. There is a provision in the Communications Act of 1934 where collecting them can be done without a warrant, but with the certification of the Attorney General that it's a lawful process. In Smith vs. Maryland, the Supreme Court said there is no expectation of privacy for these records.

On the other hand, all of these statutes and precedents assumed that an individual was being targeted -- a mass surveillance just wasn't being considered.

-- Howard

What can you do? Talk to your senator or representative about making sure that your civil liberties are protected when these bills come up - perhaps next week.

A few of my previous posts on civil liberties or securities are listed below:

  1. Bigger and Bigger Brothers - 1/1/08

  2. Behavior is an indicator of leadership capacity - 12/19/07

  3. Filibuster Digest - 12/18/07

  4. Like an Oasis in the Desert - 12/17/07
  5. Fifty Ways to Understand the Protect America Act - 9/28/07

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