Sunday, February 05, 2006

"civil liberty infringement engines"

Turns out that warrantless surveillance of communications between people in the US and overseas has resulted in the emails/phone calls of about 5000 Americans being read or listened to by intelligence analysts. And of those, only 40 or so have required any follow up.

Is such a broad search based on "reasonable" suspicion? Is this worth the violation of privacy and the erosion of civil liberties (not to mention the erosion of checks on an overpowerful executive branch) that such unauthorized searches constitute? Legal and security experts believe that this massive false-negative rate seriously undermines the (feeble, imho) argument of program defenders that this unwarranted domestic surveillance is legal.

De facto vice president Dick Cheney in December told CNN that this program "has saved thousands of lives," offering no further details. The Vice-Torturer and Snoop-in-Chief will have to excuse my skepticism. This de facto Administration has been quick to publicly flaunt its "successes" in the war on terror -- you know, the quick announcement of the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed back in 2003, Ashcroft's ridiculous announcement from Moscow of the arrest of Jose Padilla, the arrest or killing of a couple of dozen of Al Qaeda #3s... is there any reason to expect that if this domestic spying program had really thwarted an attack and saved thousands of lives that it would NOT have been splashed all over the news? Some press conference of Bush looking heroic and determined in front of a backdrop that reads "President Bush -- Saving Your Lives"? Modesty has not been a fault of this gang.

So the program may or may not be effective,and probably IS a violation of the Constitution. What else about it?

NSA IS SAVING ALL THE STUFF THAT'S BEEN INTERCEPTED. Yes, the NSA is apparently NOT deleting anything, and as the post quoted one lawyer of an intelligence official, many are"uncomfortable with the mountain of data they have now begun to accumulate."

DETAILS OF PROGRAMS ARE BEING HIDDEN. Not everybody in the de facto Bush Administration is comfortable with the expansion of this program. (Yes, there are even honest political appointees in this gang, not everybody is John Yoo.) And one senior intelligence official said it is becoming obvious that decisions are being taken in secret and hidden from other parts of the NSA/intelligence community. Cabal, anybody?

THEIR TECHNIQUES ARE INEFFECTIVE. NSA relies on computers to do pattern analysis of phone calls and emails, largely because terrorists long ago quit using easily traced phones. But despite NSA's impressive technical capability, the technology for this is simply not adequate. Jeff Jonas, a scientist who invented a data-mining program being used by the government said these techniques "are so far from reaching the level of accuracy that's necessary that I see them as nothing but civil liberty infringement engines."

So, we have a program that is being kept secret even from key inside officials, that has a false-positive rate of at least 99%, that relies on technology that simply isn't adequate, and is generating scads of information that is being saved even after the Americans in question have been exonerated of any involvement in terrorism.

What's not to like?