ComputerWorld on NSA spying

I like it when others agree with me. And I like not letting go of old peeves. So when I see someone talking about something I talk about, agreeing with me, and saying what they have to say months after everyone else forgets about it, I’m happy. In this case, I’m pleased with this ComputerWorld article on what’s wrong with the NSA spying authorized by Bush. I still maintain that this is illegal, that President Bush should be removed from office, and that the less than a dozen congress-critters who were informed of this and didn’t work to stop it should all be removed as well. Here’s some of what Ira Winkler had to say.

As a former NSA analyst, I’m dismayed by the continuing revelations of the National Security Agency’s warrantless — and therefore illegal — spying. The case involves fundamental issues related to NSA’s missions and long-standing rules of engagement. What’s even more dismaying is the lack of public reaction to this.

. . .

The FISA law allows NSA to request those warrants up to 72 hours after the fact — that is, after the data has been analyzed. And lest you think that the courts from which such warrants are requested are staffed by a bunch of liberal, activist, criminal-coddling judges, they have reportedly turned down only five warrants in the last 28 years. So when President Bush says, “If Osama bin Laden is calling someone in the United States, we want to know about it,” followed by his nervous laugh, he’s laughing at the American public, since “knowing about it” is a totally irrelevant issue. FISA blocks no legitimate acquisition of knowledge.

. . .

If Bush didn’t like the FISA laws, he could have asked Congress to amend them. After all, after 9/11 Congress passed a wide variety of laws (without, for the most part, reading them) that were supposed to prevent another attack. They could have easily slipped something modifying FISA into all of that legislation. They did not, though recent revelations about this administration’s use of signing statements may indicate that they simply didn’t want to raise the possibility of questions.

Ignoring FISA’s rules concerning warrants is illegal. It also weakens national security, since the process of obtaining the warrants has an effect on quality control. To date, FBI agents have been sent out to do thousands of investigations based on this warrantless wiretapping. None of those investigations turned up a legitimate lead. I have spoken to about a dozen agents, and they all roll their eyes and indicate disgust with the man-years of wasted effort being put into physically examining NSA “leads.”

. . .

We have snakes in our midst, yet we are chasing a mythical beast with completely unreliable evidence.

And now we discover that the NSA is searching through every possible phone call made in the U.S.. They claim that the NSA is not receiving any personally identifying information. Frankly, you have to be a complete moron to believe that. It is trivial to narrow down access to a phone number to just a few members of a household, if not in fact to exactly one person.

The government claims that it got the information legally since it was given the data or bought it from the telecom companies. Perhaps, but USA Today reports that at least one company (Qwest) received threats from the U.S. government for not cooperating. That’s extortion — another crime.

Congress is not exercising any backbone at all, and neither are its constituents — a.k.a., you.

. . .

The arguments I hear for it are that 1) I have nothing to worry about so I don’t care if they investigate me, 2) we need to do everything we can to protect ourselves, or 3) the NSA isn’t listening to the content of the calls, so there’s no harm.

Addressing the first point, people who did nothing wrong have been investigated and jailed in this country and others over the years.  Additionally, I believe that Saddam Hussein would cheerfully agree with the tired allegation that if you did nothing wrong, you shouldn’t mind the government looking at your calls.  I think Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and the Chinese government would also agree with that line of thought.  Is this the company we consent to keep in the name of safety?

. . .

At the same time, we have seen the Bush administration go after Joesph Wilson, the ambassador who spoke out against the Bush administration, by leaking potentially classified information about him.  They vigorously tried to undermine the credibility of Richard Clarke and others who spoke out against them.  Now consider that the NSA telephone call database is not classified; there’s no legal reason that they can’t use this database as vindictively as they did, even when the data was potentially classified, as in releasing the information that Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife, worked for the CIA.

Please, go read the full article.  There’s a lot I’ve left out.  I will be very forward and admit that I think President Bush is a terrible President, that the current administration is bad for America, that our rights are slowly and quietly being stripped away and that I think we Americans were willfullly and maliciously lied to about Iraq to get approval for the war in Iraq that would not have been granted had the truth been provided.  I also think, though, that things would probably be worse, although in a different way, had Kerry won the last election, and the Al Gore likely would not have been a good or inspirational leader after 9/11 when America needed someone who was ready to lead the country through tough times.

All that said, my current anger about the illegal NSA spying transcends party lines – what was done is wrong no matter who decided to do it.  President Clinton lied about his affair with Monica Lewinski.  I didn’t care.  He then lied during a trial while under oath.  Then I started caring.  That was enough to justify removing him from office.  What President Bush has done is even worse, in my eyes, and it really concerns me that so few people in America care that the President has broken the law and doesn’t even care.

I will keep posting about this every time I see a well written article about it, because it matters enough that people need to be constantly reminded until those responsible for this are appropriately punished.

[tags]President Bush broke the law, NSA Spying, Bush hates America, Bush above the law?[/tags]