Thursday, May 11, 2006


Of The President, By The President, And For The President

“...Of the people, by the people, and for the people...” is no longer true.

Two related news stories—AP and USA Today—on the obvious changes in the way government works. The National Security Agency refused to let lawyers from another government agency, the Justice Department, have security clearance in order to investigate domestic wiretaps and spying. At the same time, another lie by the president has come to light, about the nature of the spying on American citizens. First, Bush had said that only calls outside the country were being checked. It now turns out that all calls are being observed—to the extent that the world’s largest database has been accumlated by the government. The database is composed of billions of phone-calls within the United States. But we’ll never know exactly what and why this is all about.

According to the stories, the NSA is not recording conversations—it is looking at patterns of phone calls, who where when how. However, considering that Bush lied when he said only phone calls with one end outside the country were monitered, there’s no reason to believe this latest piece, either. Among other lies Bush has told, of course—if Bush told me the sun rose in the east, I’d check to make sure it was still doing that before I’d believe him.

The Bush Cheney Junta has decided it has the right to spy, one way or another, on everybody in the country. And it also is above the law. Nobody can investigate these actions. The administration has decided the laws don’t apply to them.

So, what can be done? Can Congress force an investigation? Would they? Might they? I doubt it. The administration has told us, over and over, that it doesn’t have to do anything it doesn’t want to do. Presumably, this means they don’t even have to leave office in 2008, if they don’t want to.

What the hell has happened to this country?

Security Issue Kills Domestic Spying Probe
The Associated Press
Thursday 11 May 2006

Washington - The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers' role in the program.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the terrorist surveillance program "has been subject to extensive oversight both in the executive branch and in Congress from the time of its inception."

Roehrkasse noted the OPR's mission is not to investigate possible wrongdoing in other agencies, but to determine if Justice Department lawyers violated any ethical rules. He declined to comment when asked if the end of the inquiry meant the agency believed its lawyers had handled the wiretapping matter ethically.

Hinchey is one of many House Democrats who have been highly critical of the domestic eavesdropping program first revealed in December. He said lawmakers would push to find out who at the NSA denied the Justice Department lawyers security clearance.

"This administration thinks they can just violate any law they want, and they've created a culture of fear to try to get away with that. It's up to us to stand up to them," said Hinchey.

In February, the OPR announced it would examine the conduct of its own agency's lawyers in the program, though they were not authorized to investigate NSA activities.

Bush's decision to authorize the largest U.S. spy agency to monitor people inside the United States, without warrants, generated a host of questions about the program's legal justification.

The administration has vehemently defended the eavesdropping, saying the NSA's activities were narrowly targeted to intercept international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the U.S. with suspected ties to the al-Qaida terror network.


NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls
Date: Thursday, May 11 @ 10:17:05 EDT

Leslie Cauley, USA TODAY

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. 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.

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.

The sources would talk only under a guarantee of anonymity because the NSA program is secret.

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.

The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database.

In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."


The usefulness of the NSA's domestic phone-call database as a counterterrorism tool is unclear. Also unclear is whether the database has been used for other purposes.

The NSA's domestic program raises legal questions. Historically, AT&T and the regional phone companies have required law enforcement agencies to present a court order before they would even consider turning over a customer's calling data. Part of that owed to the personality of the old Bell Telephone System, out of which those companies grew.

Ma Bell's bedrock principle — protection of the customer — guided the company for decades, said Gene Kimmelman, senior public policy director of Consumers Union. "No court order, no customer information — period. That's how it was for decades," he said.

The concern for the customer was also based on law: Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what routes those calls take to reach their final destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are covered.

The financial penalties for violating Section 222, one of many privacy reinforcements that have been added to the law over the years, can be stiff. The Federal Communications Commission, the nation's top telecommunications regulatory agency, can levy fines of up to $130,000 per day per violation, with a cap of $1.325 million per violation. The FCC has no hard definition of "violation." In practice, that means a single "violation" could cover one customer or 1 million.

In the case of the NSA's international call-tracking program, Bush signed an executive order allowing the NSA to engage in eavesdropping without a warrant. The president and his representatives have since argued that an executive order was sufficient for the agency to proceed. Some civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, disagree.

Contributing: John Diamond

Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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