Sunday, February 05, 2006

Holy Woodstein, Batman -- The WaPo connects dots!

In today's piece that reveals some new details about the illegal wiretap story, Surveillance Net Yields Few Suspects, Post reporters Barton Gellman, Dafna Linzer and Carol D. Leonnig sneak some actual thinking past editor Len Downie.

The article discloses that perhaps 5,000 of us have had our conversations recorded under the program, but only ten or so U.S. persons a year "have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well." If you assume they've been doing this for four years, that's a batting average of a littel below 1%, give or take.

The article also notes that

The program has touched many more Americans than that. Surveillance takes place in several stages, officials said, the earliest by machine. Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears.
If the machine surveillance is also illegal, the batting average goes down by these additional orders of magnitude, of course. But leave that aside for the moment.

In a remarkable turnaround, the paper actually teases out a hugely important implication from this fact:

The scale of warrantless surveillance, and the high proportion of bystanders swept in, sheds new light on Bush's circumvention of the courts. National security lawyers, in and out of government, said the washout rate raised fresh doubts about the program's lawfulness under the Fourth Amendment, because a search cannot be judged "reasonable" if it is based on evidence that experience shows to be unreliable.

(cue sound of dime dropping)

There are lots of possible reasons why the junta preferred not to go to the FISA court. This one is now a major candidate in my book -- if the Keystone Kops select targets more or less at random, probable cause is a statistical impossibility.

The external court approval is in place to serve as a feedback loop. There are a number of grounds for denying a warrant, but certainly if what you are doing is ineffective, one of them is that the FISA court is going to refuse to condone it for long. This intrusive program has been a failure. And like every other time the Bush Administration has screwed something up (which, coincidentially, is every time it has attempted anything), it reacts not by changing strategy or tactics, but by denying the validity and/or authority of external oversight.

Kudos to the Post for not only reporting the story but also helping us see its significance.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am of the opinion that the purpose of the huge amount of worthless data searched is a smokescreen, it is the minute amount of data that is extracted and used we should be looking for and at. I believe the purpose of the program for this administration is primarly for spying on members of congress. Look at how the Dems every move is blocked in hours, not days. No one is that good, unless they knew in advance what the Dem strategy would be. And given their backgrounds, identifying opportunities for business advantage.I am glad the Post came through on this issue, but there is a lot more to the plot. A firend said to me a while ago about this administration I feel like I am trapped in a Ludlum novel, we are arn't we? I hope to heaven we get to write some of the text.
Keep up the great work Blue, you are my hero!

7:34 AM  

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