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May 13, 2006

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And I'm curious: what, exactly, is the threat to our privacy from which we are being fiercely protected?

Can you say "burka" baby?

Can you say 'non sequitur' (if not 'troll')?

The Whiff of Fascism in th Air ...Sandy Levinson

And scroll around. The dudes at Balkinization...Levinson, Balkin, Lederman... are in excited shrill mode, with maybe a dozen posts this weekend about impeachment and monsters in the White House. These are not schmucks, and I am a little surprised. There are more shrill gems than I can handle. But also a mood of dark seriousness.

"That is why so many Democrats speak of the "tragedy" of Bill Clinton--a person of enormous ability--whereas almost no one thinks well enough of George Bush to refer to him as a "tragic figure" ...Levinson

Frank Rich becomes Transcendentally Shrill

Raw Story pointer to subscription Times

"It's the recklessness at the top of our government, not the press' exposure of it, that has truly aided the enemy, put American lives at risk and potentially sabotaged national security," Rich continues. "That's where the buck stops, and if there's to be a witch hunt for traitors, that's where it should begin."

"Rich ends his column by suggesting that if Air Force General Michael Hayden is confirmed by the Senate to replace Goss then "someone should charge those senators with treason, too.""

I can really only link and quote at the moment. I have deleted three comments this weekend, not merely because of posting rules, but because they might violate US Statutes and get me arrested.

This isn't related, but I thought it was important and didn't know where to put the link.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/051306W.shtml

Bob- I went to Balkinization. Those people seem retarded to me. I don't have any patience for those who are wallowing in Clinton hatred at this point.

nrk, I'm dubious about accepting anything solely based on Leopold's reporting (as swopa says, he's "aggressive but often doubted"). Though it's not entirely clear what happened in the Leopold/Thomas White Enron memo kerfuffle, I think there's at least some reason to believe that Leopold is not trustworthy. (That is, either he got a raw deal or he is not trustworthy, and there is at least a nonzero chance that he did not get a raw deal.)

"Bob- I went to Balkinization. Those people seem retarded to me."

Well I suppose that many people dedicated to the rule of law, to the concept that the law will preserve and protect the people and therefore must be protected...are confused, dejected, and depressed right now. Except for the...umm blank...who get all quivery over a Rove indictment while our phones are tapped and troops are being deployed en masse on America soil. Hey at least Bush may bring the boys back home!

And there are those lawyers like Orin Kerr on the right who more in sadness etc find that yes, darn it all, Bush is a dictator and the law allows anything at all. Shucks. Whoda thunk it.

I am no fan of Clinton, the worst Democratic President in history. He let what we are going thru happen. He should have done everything Bush is doing times ten. DeLay and Lott should have been imprisoned on a whim, and let the shooting begin. The fascists were preparing the putsch, and if he was going to be impeached, he should have gotten good value out of it. What good did his high polls do anyone? I would prefer Democrats hated Clinton in a free country than admire him as the last honorable President in a tyranny.

Oh that has been noticed, hasn't it? Rove gets indicted, and Bush goes on national television to announce the deployment of the National Guard. What, to keep some Mexicans from crossing? To shore up his base six months ahead of the election?

Or maybe Bush & Cheney are sending a message?

Bob- I usually take you seriously (though probably you would be the first to discourage that) but not this time. Clinton couldn't have done any of the things you say you want, and if he'd tried, the Republicans would just have ended up fully in charge that much sooner. And the people at Balkies have a different set of objections to Clinton than you do, at least thats my reading of them.

I am no fan of Clinton, the worst Democratic President in history.

I prefer to think of him as the best Republican president ;^)

"Clinton couldn't have done any of the things you say you want"

Probably not. Since the "oh it is mean to hurt people" wing of the Democrats allowed the Republicans to turn the US military into its enforcers, they would not have followed Clinton.

"Southern strategy" + no draft + Democratic anti-militarism = dictatorship. Utterly predictable.

Bob- Yeah you are obviously right about that. I wish I could say I saw it coming but I was a libertarian until 2002.

What is happening with the nation guard. Haven't heard anything on CNN (haven't looked at fox yet today).
Speaking of CNN, i heard from there that an ABC poll showed 63%(?)of Americans weren't worried about the latest invasion of privacy. How come?

The ABC Poll was probably bogus, debbie. Badly phrased, too small a sample, a pollster with a pro-administration reputation. I am trying to remember a link about it.

Newsweek Poll This one is better. Although I can't swear to the mindset of Americans, or their tolerance for curtailment of civil liberties. We haven't been rioting in the streets about detention and torture.
...
Supposedly, the President is going on National TV Monday night to talk about his new immigration initiative and act to protect the US border with National Guard troops. I though that was illegal under posse comitatus law, but I believe the lat edition of the Patriot act granted Homeland Security and the President unlimited, unreviewable (courts) power over the borders. I bet a lot of people have forgotten that.

I am giving a small chance that the President Monday will go on TV and issue some pardons.

Debbie- The ABC poll isn't really representative. A political operative carefully framed the question to make the spying seem more popular than it is. Most of the current polls show a narrow majority against the spying.

Really there is nothing new here pollsters who ask their questions right always get a majority of Americans as against the Bill of Rights. People have been looking at that for decades.

Polling Hysteria

Glenn Greenwald on the WaPo poll:"The danger here is that Bush followers are attempting to instill as permanent conventional wisdom that the "vast majority of Americans" favor this program, something the national media stars (who love polls -- at least poll results -- because they're really easy to understand and explain) will be only too happy to pass along. This only works because Bush opponents allow it to work. They so often internalize this notion, too - "oh, boy - we better stay away from that issue. Most Americans are against us on this. They won't like it if we speak out." And then they run away from the issue, never articulate or advocate the other side, and then point to the fact that that position is a minority view as proof that they were right to run away from it."

Thanks guys. Very helpful.

Must agree with Kevin Drum. Whew, faith slightly restored. (newspoll link fm bob 12.29am)

Trail of Plame Lead to Cheney

Swopa of Needlenose, but much of the blogosphere is on the Mike Isikoff story.

"So, if it's really true that Karl Rove has been indicted, it seems kind of obvious which higher-up he should offer evidence against if he's in the mood to cut a deal." ...Swopa

I think Rove might give up Cheney (and maybe Bush) and has told Fitzgerald already, but as a challenge and a threat and way to shut Fitzgerald down. "If you indict me, you are taking on the very top of the WH. You ready for a Constitutional Crisis, Fitz? We are. We eat CC's for breakfast."

So maybe Bush pardons everybody real soon, like Monday night, or just lets the fun play out before the midterms. Bush and Cheney just come and say:"Yup. We did it. Whatcha gonna do, punks."

Nobody is going to jail.

Whoa, kids. So far, we only have the exciting-but-unreliable Leopold story claiming an imminent Rove indictment.

If Bush were to announce wholesale pardons Monday night (or anytime, really) he can kiss another few approval percentage points goodbye - and the GOP will have a choice whether to fall in with the mood of the country, and stop covering up for him, or face a bloodletting in November. (Diebold can't help a GOP candidate who's polling 15 points or more behind a Dem candidate.)

Bush has pissed off the country, the military, and the CIA. All he has left is the GOP-controlled House and Senate - and they're not going to protect him at the cost of their own seats.

Casey, this presumes that a significant number of Republican seats are at risk. In an honest election that would be true...but we won't be having honest elections this year, or in 2008 unless something changes dramatically. I'd like to believe that even so, many Republicans have much to lose, but I don't see any real reason to believe it.

"exciting-but-unreliable Leopold story claiming an imminent Rove indictment."

Karl Rove Indicted

"The other sites aren't reporting because they want confirmation from someone other than Leopold. I have more faith in Leopold's reporting than they do. I'm not vouching for the accuracy of the report any more than I vouch for any other news report. I'm not breaking news, I'm reporting Jason breaking news.

But if I thought it was a rumor, I would have labelled it such." ...Jeralyn Merritt(Talk Left) in comments
...
"It is not just Jason Leopold. Joe Wilson heard the same from other sources. And, more importantly, Jason is reporting based on multiple, more than two, sources." ...Larry Johnson, in a TalkLeft Update

CaseyL- Why can't Diebolt swing an election by 15% or more? You think the exit polls will give them away?

If Bush were to announce wholesale pardons Monday night (or anytime, really) he can kiss another few approval percentage points goodbye

What's the problem with that? You don't think the US is a democracy, do you? It doesn't matter who the voters want: it matters what the courts decide. And Bush has a clear majority on the Supreme Court.

Bush is the decider and the protector. I have some other titles for him:

Liar
Lawbreaker
Traitor

I'd go on, but, like bob, I don't want to violate some part of the U.S.C.

Oh, and if anyone wants fun conspiracy theories,

Plane Carrying Kennedy Hit by Lightning

Hasn't the Pentagon been testing laser weapons?

And, of course, we don't have any troop number issues:

Report: Mentally ill troops forced into combat

The [Hartford Courant] reported that some service members who committed suicide in 2004 or 2005 were kept on duty despite clear signs of mental distress, sometimes after being prescribed antidepressants with little or no mental health counseling or monitoring.

Just a question.

Somewhere in all the reports about the phone companies betraying us all, there was a comment that this particular program started before 9/11. I tried to go back and find it, and couldn't, but time limited my ability. So this is based upon my recollection.

The question is what did they want the information for? Bush himself admitted they didn't view terrorism as a big threat prior to 9/11.

What were they planning to use all this info for? (My normal cynical self has all sorts of nasty thoughts, which, like bob, I better not put into words, or else there may be a knock on my door.)

Also, one of the reasons why the polls come out th way they do, in addition to the way they are worded, is that this administration has made people be afraid of terrorism, seeing it as the greatest threat to this country.

Greenwald, in his new book, discusses this. An excerpt is at the following link:

http://www.alternet.org/story/36070

I think his overall point is excellent. A true risk assessment would say that the terrorists are not a major threat to out republic, in and of themselves. They do need to be dealt with, but the danger they present si nowhere near large enough to justify what this administration has done.

I could list off 4-5 other threats in today's world which are larger than terrorism.

I could list off 4-5 other threats in today's world which are larger than terrorism.

Of course you could, John: so could I, or probably any of us here who could spare a few moments of thinking. But that, alas, would require thinking, a habit and practice, which, as Adlai Stevenson famously noted, is not always part and parcel of the public mindset when dealing with matters of politics and/or governance. Emotions, particularly fear (with prejudice a close second), are far easier to engender by our "leaders", and manipulate to get support for whatever policies du jour they wish to foist upon us.

I wish the poll question was 'Would America be safer if the FBI listened to all of your phone calls?' Folks shouldn't have to think too much about that one.

The added bonus would be that they could arrest anyone who says yes.

Speaking of thinking, I liked Hoagland today:

"We are in a who-blinks-first game," Bush said of Iran to a recent White House visitor. It is in fact a who-thinks-first, and best, game.

The idea of attacking Iran is so completely [email protected] insane that, if Israel tries it we should shoot down their planes and if they manage to get a few bombs on target we should invade Israel.

Well Charlie, the FBI could do it legally, following the oversights designed for proper use.. Wierd how that isn't good enough these days, isn't it ?

"CaseyL- Why can't Diebolt swing an election by 15% or more? You think the exit polls will give them away?"

On a national level, a Presidential election, Diebold can do wonders, because the aggregation of numbers makes it impossible to nail down exactly where the chicanery took place without a huge investigation.

On a local level, for Congressional races, Diebold chicanery is more difficult because there's less aggregation. If the vote count is wildly different from the pre-election polls AND exit polls ("wildly different" = 15% or greater difference), it's possible to pinpoint the exact precincts where the numbers diverge. Those are the precincts an investigation would focus on.

"It doesn't matter who the voters want: it matters what the courts decide. And Bush has a clear majority on the Supreme Court."

Bush isn't running again. If he's still in office after Jan 21, 2009, a coup will have taken place. If that happens, the instrumentality to end the coup won't be within the province of the SCOTUS. It'll have to be a popular uprising - and I don't mean a few hundred thousand taking to the streets in NY or DC; I mean a national strike, and the will and willingness to take it from there. And if that doesn't happen, then the American people have decided they don't want a democracy anymore. Sic transit gloria Americanus.

If you're thinking the SCOTUS will seat Bush's annointed successor, you'll need to describe how you see that playing out. Bush is so very, very unpopular that anyone who runs as his chosen successor will be stained by it.

Also, the coalition of neo-theocons, "real" conservatives, and plutocrats that brought Bush to power and protected him is cracking along its seams. I don't see anyone managing to bring them all together again.

Please, CaseyL, gloria is feminine: Sic transit gloria Americana. But really it would be better to use a genitive noun rather than an adjective, to parallel the original: Sic transit gloria Americae.

Then again, "the glory of the world" in the original is glory granted by the world, not glory accorded to the world, so maybe the whole thing doesn't work.

</pedantic_overanalysis>

CaseyL: Bush isn't running again. If he's still in office after Jan 21, 2009, a coup will have taken place.

Sorry, I misspoke. The Bush administration will doubtless still be in office after Jan 21, 2009 - same faces, different President. They're in power, and I know of no means that the US public presently has of getting them out of power. Elections won't do it, as 2004 proved.

What were they planning to use all this info for?

*sigh* Well as an evil genius with a clever plan for world domination a regular guy with a fertile imagination and some exposure to both computers and living systems theory I can tell you what I would do with that info. I'd build a "sloppy" map of the major social/political/economic networks in the US (and abroad of course). I would then observe how various nodes and clusters participated in social, political and economic processes that I was interested in influencing.

This is pretty well established stuff, technically speaking. The only difference between ChoicePoint and the fed programs is that the feds have access to the connections between the nodes (individuals) in the graph (social network), as well as their individual behavior. ChoicePoint et al already know every detail of your economic behavior; but the only way they can construct a large-scale map of who's connected to whom and how closely and in what ways is by teasing those connections out of the data they have.

If ChoicePoint want to know who you're meaningfully connected to they have to figure it out piecemeal by looking at your credit card receipts, employment history, who you do business with etc. That's challenging with the kind of data that they have, and doing at any kind of large scale is prohibitively error-prone. They don't have access to your rolodex.

Contact info is the missing piece. With a reasonably complete list of contact frequency and duration, you can actually build a graph. With a graph plus some information about nodes and the content of contacts you can weight the connections to build a map. With a map, you can decide which nodes to target in the event that you want to sever or strengthen the connections between certain subnets, or reveal connections which are anomolous or indirect, or...

You'd need a big database, but modeling a graph with a few tens of millions of complex nodes is not a big deal nowadays (er, not a big deal technically -- it is a big deal budgetwise, as anyone trying to get supercomputer time at SDSC will tell you).

If you were hurting for processing power you'd just arrange for uninteresting nodes to be deleted, or archived outside of the "live" map, or you could consolidate multiple individuals into clusters according to any of dozens of existing algorithms that market research firms use. Compared to fluid dynamics modeling networks is trivial.

"The idea of attacking Iran is so completely [email protected] insane that"

Cannot even remember the source, so grain of salt, but last week I read that two additional carrier groups have been ordered to the general vicinity of Iran.

"Sic transit gloria Americana"

I'm thinking "Americae" would be more idiomatic here.

Isn't that what I said?

two additional carrier groups have been ordered to the general vicinity of Iran.

Rawstory.

Jim Henley follows up here.

KCinDC: D'oh.

"tens of millions of them, apparently, all here in the US"

You did it again! How bleeding stupid do you think your readers are? Do you really think that anyone apart from most deluded partisan will be gulled by such infantile idiocy?

It's just amazing that a seemingly-sentient person can make such a fool of himself or herself.

And you even used thsi cant in the cotext of accusing someone else of lying!

Jaw-dropping. It really is.

am, I know this rhetoric stuff is tricky, but if you look under reductio ad absurdum, you might get an idea of what hilzoy is getting at. Or maybe not, I don't actually hold out a lot of hope.

lj, I'm not sure that ras is really the right term. If it's true that the program revealed by USAToday means to record data from every phone call made in America (except those made with Qwest phones) but the government tells us it's only interested in the calls of AQ and those affiliated with it, then either (a) the government is lying about the scope of the program or (b) the government has an outsized notion of who's affiliated with AQ.

The problem is that when you have a bunker mentality, think 'you're either with us or against us,' think the biggest problem with the CIA -- for example -- is that it leaks to much, think that public opposition to Administration policies gives aid an comfort to the enemy, well, then maybe the idea of tens of millions isn't so far off. Remember, one need not have engaged in any intentional act at all to be an 'enemy combatant.' Inadvertent support of the enemy is sufficient.

Now I don't think we're on the verge of vast round-ups and such, not at all. I'm just saying that as to some in the Administration, and some if its friends, well, the shoe seems to fit . . .

(a) the government is lying about the scope of the program or (b) the government has an outsized notion of who's affiliated with AQ.

Hmm, I don't think that either this or hilzoy's original statement are quite fair. As far as we know, the NSA *is* targeting only Al Qaeda -- the millions of records are not "targets" in and of themselves, just the raw data being sifted through to find targets.

kenB: I think that reading the President's remark to mean: 'sure, we collect information about tens of millions of Americans, but we only actually target members of al Qaeda' is pretty strained. If that was what the President meant, I think he's being completely disingenuous.

We may have to simply agree to disagree on that one. I would take his meaning to be what is probably the reality -- they have a few phone numbers that they're searching on to see who they've called, or who's called them. The vast majority of the call records will just sit in the database and never be looked at, so they're not "targets" at all, at least in the way I understand that term.

Our fierce protector indeed, ABC News:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells us the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

Link.

Just a short step from here to political enemies (though I guess the WH views reporters as political enemies).

kenB, just a question regarding your supposition.

If the government knows the key phone numbers, and are just checking who caleld those numbers, or received calls from those numbers, then why do they need this massive listing?

They can get a subpoena or warrant to get records related to those numbers specifically.

Now, I don't pretend to understand all the technicalities involved in this or any other program. But I really don't see any valid reason to get all the records of everybody. If someone can give me an explanation of what value this data has, I really would like to hear it.

Value related to finding and capturing terrorists or preventing attacks, I mean.

I can see other value, but to this administration, not the United States.

john, I think the point would be:

You have the cell phone of a suspect X. You want to know who he's called, and who's called him. Maybe he called Y because Y is the pizza guy. Or maybe Y is also in the network. So you'd want to see who Y had called, and who they had called, and maybe Z had called X and bingo. Or you happen to know there was a terror plot planned for a particular time, and you have suspected networks A, B, and C, and you want to look at all activity relating to those networks around that time...

Anyway, I tend to agree with kenB here, though likely next week we'll find this to have been just another level of obfuscation.

Rilkefan, I understand that process and scenario, but I don't think there woukld be any problems getting warrants for that.

And you might want to look at Nell's comment in the other thread and ervise your last comment.

If the government knows the key phone numbers, and are just checking who caleld those numbers, or received calls from those numbers, then why do they need this massive listing?

Well, of course we can only guess. The most benign explanations would be that either they don't want to have to keep going back to each phone company every time they find a new suspect number, or that they have complicated algorithms for determining which records are "interesting" that they can't just ask the phone companies to run (or that ideally would run on one complete dataset of calls rather than on separate subsets).

Anyway, my point is just that whatever they're doing exactly, they're surely starting from the known and working their way out to the unknown, rather than starting at the top of the list and delving into each person's info one by one. If my call info is looked at only by a database search that immediately screens it out, I wouldn't consider myself to be "targeted".

I think that if the situation were as kenB and rilkefan suggest, getting the phone records in question would be pretty straightforward and similar to what happens in criminal investigations all the time. Certainly they never seem to have problems getting "LUDs" for relevant people (not just suspects) on "Law & Order".

But if that were really the situation, wouldn't some of the administration's defenders among the pundits and bloggers be using that argument, rather than talking about network analysis? Also, it seems horrendously impractical to get such a gigantic amount of data if you're only interested in the records of a few hundred or a few thousand people.

What CharleyCarp said, except that my interpretation of the words 'verge' and 'vast' are probably a little different. I would argue that we are by definition on the verge of vast round-ups, in the sense that the operational planning for such round-ups is fully developed and is the subject of continual adaptation and refinement.

The problem with words like 'verge' and 'vast' though is that they imply suddenness rather than gradualness. That's terribly unlikely. We are already "rounding people up" constantly -- by the thousands immediately after 9/11, in ones and twos and tens and even hundreds more and more often. (DEA and INS think nothing of locking up a couple of hundred people at a time, and most major-metro police forces can do the same).

DHS is not going to do mass detentions if they can possibly help it. But unless things change dramatically for the better they are going to detain more and more and more until 1k or 10k or even 100k is no more unmentionable than state sanctioned torture is today. That's what police states do, and police states flourish during the kind of major economic hardship that this country is about to experience.

And (back to network analysis) this is precisely why a Big Map of US sociopolitical clustering is so valuable. The key to both counterinsurgency and domestic surveillance is identifying clusters and supporters of the dissent/insurgency. Taking out individual insurgents as you identify them is all well and good, but collective punishment doesn't work unless you actually get the right collective, which may or may not be obvious family and friends. What you really want is to disrupt the economic viability of entities that (perhaps only peripherally) support the insurgency, preferably without destroying the whole economy... You want to do bypass surgery, not an amputation. And for that you need to know some anatomy.

This, I think, is a lesson that US military intelligence really did learn in Viet Nam, which they applied very diligently in Central America in the eighties, and which they are trying desperately to apply in Iraq, only they haven't got a clue who to target.

KC,

Well, even if they're using pure pattern-matching algorithms to fish for suspicious activity, I still don't think that that would justify calling everyone in the database a target of investigation.

IMO it's difficult to either defend or attack the program itself given the little information we have. Depending on exactly what they're looking for, I might have no problem with it at all. However, their seeming determination to have no independent oversight of the program doesn't leave me with warm fuzzies -- that, to me, is the most legitimate area for criticism (and perhaps alarm).

If things are as I imagined above this, I would think that the info they're looking for would in fact be available at a slight lag via FISA or other courts and this is just another case of the admin being unwilling to cede any freedom to oversight when they can have their way via fiat.

In essence, it all comes down to "Trust us, when have we ever led you wrong."

I don't care who is running our government, I would not place my trust that high.

I agreee, in principle with KenB, in that I don't think everyone is a "target." But the problem is that anyone could become a "target" at the whim of someone, and no one would be able to prevent that.

There are reasons that warrants, etc. are required under the law. And that is to protect everyone.

And as I mentioned once before, I don't consider the risk of terrorism, although real, high enough to sacrifice the basic principles this country was founded on.

Bobby Ray Inman, former NSA director (1977-81), is on Talk of the Nation now and says he doesn't believe that the database of billions, or even tens of millions, of calls exist. He also claims the NSA doesn't even have the computer capacity to handle such data. He says the NSA probably requested information about specific calls to Iraq, Iran, and other countries. This is a new approach to defending the administration.

I'm wondering whether things are leading into yet another one of those right-wing noisefests where because one part of a story ends up being wrong the whole subject can be ignored as the invention of the liberal media, as we've seen with Bush's National Guard service, Guantanamo prisoner abuse, and other stories.

He also claims the NSA doesn't even have the computer capacity to handle such data.

I don't have the personal knowledge to evaluate the claim, but I have a friend who's a journalist covering, among other things, the supercomputer market. He thinks he knows when and from whom the NSA bought the requisite capacity: that there was an unusual deal in the last couple of years, that when this story broke suddenly made sense. I'm trying to get him to write it up for me -- until then, it's a rumor.

"If the government knows the key phone numbers, and are just checking who caleld those numbers, or received calls from those numbers, then why do they need this massive listing?"

I've been blogging on this since December, explaining over and over and over and over and over and over. (Thus, not planning on repeating myself yet again.)

The links are all available in this post. Fortunately, I don't include all my NSA-related links -- just the relevant ones.

Gary, John's question was a response to Ken's speculation that "they have a few phone numbers that they're searching on to see who they've called, or who's called them." I don't think John was claiming there could be no reason for for the massive database, just that it wouldn't make sense in Ken's scenario.

My fault for not following this issue particularly closely -- I was reacting to a particular assertion revolving around the word "target", not trying to make sweeping statements about the exact nature of the program.

Gary, thank you. I did read most of the links you provided. One of the things it makes me conclude is that this is still only the tip of the iceberg and that the data base is quite likely to include far more than just phone numbers.

Again I ask the question, is there really any adminsitration you could trust to use all that information solely to fight terrorism?

KenB: I realize that is where you were coming from, and realize that it is somewhat absurd to use the term "target" for all people whose phone histories have been provided.

And I truly hope the information is only being used the way you indicate.

However, same question applies.

"However, same question applies."

Same possible answer applies: they wanted it because it was there, and they didn't have to go to any trouble to get (the great bulk of) it.

"One of the things it makes me conclude is that this is still only the tip of the iceberg and that the data base is quite likely to include far more than just phone numbers."

Which I've also explicitly stated time and again, including in the post I linked to, although I welcome enthusiastic agreement. :-)

You've probably also heard about today's this and I think this has been mentioned upthread; everyone has blogged it.

For what it's worth, I agree with a fair amount of what KenB's been saying; deliberately confusing that these improper/questionable/need-to-be-done-legally methodologies have terrorists as targets with the fact that the method uses sifting through the records of millions of people is a questionable rhetorical strategy, in my view; I dislike disingenuous approaches even in a good cause, as a rule. If it's merely a misunderstanding, it's distinctly large.

That's setting aside the issue of bugging/investigating reporters, and possibly other non-terrorists, and the other issues at stake here, and speaking only of how data-mining and social analysis works.

When Hilzoy writes

"strictly targets al Qaeda and its known affiliates" (tens of millions of them, apparently, all here in the US)
I take that to be a deliberate rhetorical strategy that somewhat distorts for political effect what's going on here, and I don't think it's the best approach.

It's entirely not a problem to attack the secretive nature of this program, and its lack of clear legal underpinning, and its lack of oversight, and its many other questionable aspects, without playing games with the rhetoric in return to the rhetorical game being served up to us by the Administration. I know some will disagree, but that's my view. I think it undermines credibility, and therefore is not the best approach.

Gary, there are many paths, and we don't all have to be on the same one.

I think it's significant that the government has not limited its warrantless information gathering to information directly relevant to terrorists, but has in fact sucked up everyone's information -- except yours, in all likelihood, assuming you're a Qwest customer. I think that the president is being intentionally misleading, and don't have any problem with some folks calling him on it.

My guess is that at the end of the trail, we're going to find a structure (and practice) that Presdient Nixon would've envied, and that it will have been deployed against people connected to PETA, to pick one example, not just AQ.

Then again, this may not even be necessary: telling journalists that they can't speak to government employees except as authorized by the higher ups (even, no especially, when no classified information is involved) is going to have enough chilling effect.

Regardless of what people the program is "targeting" or "focusing on", it seems to be collecting data on many millions of people, and it's going to be difficult to convince me that if the administration has a database that includes, for example, records of all the phone calls that an "unfriendly" journalist (or member of Congress, for that matter) has made in the past 5 years, there's no chance that it will use that information.

"I think that the president is being intentionally misleading, and don't have any problem with some folks calling him on it."

Neither do I. As it happens, I do it all the time.

And I agree that it's good and right for different people to take different paths of criticism, or attacking the crimes and flaws of this administration.

But none of that obviates my previously stated opinion, which I, however, won't reiterate. I just thought I'd note that what you said didn't contradict anything I said in the least.

Speaking of Bush's bull- er, contributions, folks might want to read this, which I excerpted the beginning of here, about Mary McCarthy.

Those of you holding out hope that Specter, as an "independent" Republican, might actually do something useful on NSA spying have been disappointed again. No doubt he'll be holding the football for you again in another month or two.

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