Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Yet another nutshell moment

This should be another bombshell, this time courtesy the Baltimore Sun:
The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project -- not because it failed to work -- but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials.

The agency opted instead to adopt only one component of the program, which produced a far less capable and rigorous program. It remains the backbone of the NSA's warrantless surveillance efforts, tracking domestic and overseas communications from a vast databank of information, and monitoring selected calls.
The program the NSA rejected, called ThinThread, was developed to handle greater volumes of information, partly in expectation of threats surrounding the millennium celebrations. Sources say it bundled together four cutting-edge surveillance tools. ThinThread would have:

* Used more sophisticated methods of sorting through massive phone and e-mail data to identify suspect communications.

* Identified U.S. phone numbers and other communications data and encrypted them to ensure caller privacy.

* Employed an automated auditing system to monitor how analysts handled the information, in order to prevent misuse and improve efficiency.

* Analyzed the data to identify relationships between callers and chronicle their contacts. Only when evidence of a potential threat had been developed would analysts be able to request decryption of the records.

The point of the the whole thing must, at long last, be obvious to all: they rejected Thin Thread because of the safeguards. If they can't misuse the data, they have no interest in it. It was never the case that they decided to sacrifice a principle they beleived in -- civil liberties -- to secure our physical safety from terror. If that had been the case, Thin Thread would have been enthusiastically adopted. GWOT was, from 9/12 onward, the MacGuffin, a convenient plot device that served to distract us while they gained access to the tools they needed to achieve their real goal - a police state without safeguards or limits on their power to spy on and intimidate all who dare to dissent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As in everything else involving the government's surveillance antics, contracting and procurement should be an interesting avenue of inquiry. No one involved is interested in telling the truth, but dollars give everyone mixed motives. There may be a documentary trail, and there may be businesspeople and current or former government personnel who feel that they got stung or who need to sing to stay out of deeper trouble.

Questions that might be relevant in this instance: Who designed the program, who was contracted to develop and execute it. When the program was canceled or narrowed, who lost out? And who came out on top?

It's clear that the national interest was not paramount in any of this.

6:53 AM  
Blogger bluememe said...

True in theory, A, but black ops contracts have never really had effective oversight, and under Bush there is no effective oversight of anything, so I don't see that as realistic option unless/untill Dems get subpoena power.

7:41 AM  

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