Thursday, May 11, 2006

Is it fascism yet?

(Updated below)

The USATODAY blockbuster on NSA's other domestic spying scandal is getting lots of coverage, so I just want to point out a few things:
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."

As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.

Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans.

In other words, Dubya was lying. Again.

The White House would not discuss the domestic call-tracking program. "There is no domestic surveillance without court approval," said Dana Perino, deputy press secretary, referring to actual eavesdropping.
Good on you, USAToday, for pointing out the blatant weaseling here. The White House has decided that this operation does not fit their new and improved definition of "surveillance," ergo problem solved. See? Depends on what your definition of "is" is.
AT&T recently merged with SBC and kept the AT&T name. Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T are the nation's three biggest telecommunications companies; they provide local and wireless phone service to more than 200 million customers.

The three carriers control vast networks with the latest communications technologies. They provide an array of services: local and long-distance calling, wireless and high-speed broadband, including video. Their direct access to millions of homes and businesses has them uniquely positioned to help the government keep tabs on the calling habits of Americans.
The NSA's domestic program began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the sources. Right around that time, they said, NSA representatives approached the nation's biggest telecommunications companies. The agency made an urgent pitch: National security is at risk, and we need your help to protect the country from attacks.

The agency told the companies that it wanted them to turn over their "call-detail records," a complete listing of the calling histories of their millions of customers. In addition, the NSA wanted the carriers to provide updates, which would enable the agency to keep tabs on the nation's calling habits.

The sources said the NSA made clear that it was willing to pay for the cooperation. AT&T, which at the time was headed by C. Michael Armstrong, agreed to help the NSA. So did BellSouth, headed by F. Duane Ackerman; SBC, headed by Ed Whitacre; and Verizon, headed by Ivan Seidenberg.

With that, the NSA's domestic program began in earnest.

On the off chance you needed any additional convincing that there is a dangerous synergy between the concentration of power in the government and the concentration of power in the private sector, here you go. The quid pro quo could not be more obvious or more threatening to ordinary Americans: the Bush administraiotn gets unfettered access to our phone records; the telcos get markt power. Happy days, eh?

The really instructive part of the story is the exchange with the lone holdout, Qwest:
Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events

Coercion. Bribery. Blackmail. And that's how they treat their friends.

And how many times are we going to see this same story -- "Of course it's legal, but we don't to ask permission, because we're afraid we'll be told no."

And finally, as with every other Bush horror, it doesn't matter how bad it is -- it will probably get worse:
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.

We may not hear about it for a while, but somewhere in the bowels of some government office, I'll wager that this information is being used to build a dossier on Joe Wilson, or Ray McGovern, or me, or you.

Yeah, it's fascism.

Update: And how do the wingers react? Son of Downing Street. Yawn. It's old news. 1984 is so... 1984.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, it is fascism. These aren't the only records they have on all of us, either. The Patriot Act required all financial institutions to provide intelligence agencies direct access into all of their customer records so they also collect all of your financial data and can mesh the data together to track the doings of anyone . It's really creepy.

Remember that program that started in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency led by a guy named Poindexter? "Total Information Awareness" or TIA, it was called. When word got out that they were building it, the defense department immediately announced that they killed it. Well, they didn't. They just moved it to the NSA, where congress isn't allowed to oversee anything. This is part of that program.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The information is being used to build a dossier on ANY democrat. Do they think they're kidding us?

9:49 AM  
Blogger vermontraccoon said...

You are all bad, bad people..... as for me, I Love the Leader.....

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember reading 1984 in high school and thinking it was a crock because there was no way a (formerly) free society would ever degenerate to the point that people would tolerate a government that incredibly intrusive.

Yet, here we are, witnessing the final days of the Republic and the birth pangs of the oppressive new regime for whom we don't even have a word that properly encapsulates its foul brand of faux-cheery paranoia.

Good on ya, Orwell. Your cautionary tale's title was only off by a couple of decades. Pity we didn't heed your warning in time to stop it.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where you idiots been? Orwell's date was LATE, not early. What the hell do you think was happening under the grinning chimp Reagan? He was no more in charge than the current shrimp. Likeability is bullshit. The coup was OVER by 1984. You've all wasted the time you had to act. Now all you can do is sit and watch and moan. TFB.

11:06 AM  

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