BRANDOLAND: Talking to God...For You!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Letter!

Yo.

Gonna cover a weird angle in this whole "Snoop-gate" thing. Specifically, Jay Rockefeller's reference to JOHN POINDEXTER in his letter to Dick Cheney.

Trust me: We're really dealing with some bad b-movie stuff.

But first...

Democrats Say They Didn't Back Wiretapping

Excerpts:
WASHINGTON - Some Democrats say they never approved a domestic wiretapping program, undermining suggestions by President Bush and his senior advisers that the plan was fully vetted in a series of congressional briefings.
I said this on Saturday, but I'll say it again.

You know how that meeting went down:
OUR KID - We're doin' all we can to...protect Americans.

DEMOCRATS - Can you be more specific?

OUR KID - We're doin' all we can.

DEMOCRATS - Okay then.
Back to the first article:
"I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse, these activities," West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, said in a handwritten letter to Vice President Dick Cheney in July 2003.

"As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney."
Here's that HANDWRITTEN letter, courtesy of the Daily Kos:
July 17, 2003

Dear Mr. Vice President,

I am writing to reiterate my concern regarding the sensitive intelligence issues we discussed today with the DCI, DIRNSA, and Chairman Roberts and our House Intelligence Committee counterparts.

Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues.

As you know, I am neither a technician or an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities.

As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveiliance.

Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or techical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.

I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication.

I appreciate your consideration of my views.

Most respectfully,

Jay Rockefeller
Chilling. Absolutely chilling.

Sen. Rockefeller was obviously covering his butt because he knew that something about the Neo-Con plan was, uh, not quite right. Something that reminded him of John Poindexter's "Total Information Awareness" project.

Because Sen. Rockefeller - the great-grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller and nephew of former U.S. Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller - knows a thing or two about the machinations of power.

Capice?

GREAT GRANDPA WAS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL PEOPLE EVER!

Aaaggghhh!!!

(I'll come back to John Poindexter in a bit.)
Rockefeller is among a small group of congressional leaders who have received briefings on the administration's four-year-old program to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the United States with suspected ties to al-Qaida.

The government still would seek court approval to snoop on purely domestic communications, such as calls between New York and Los Angeles.

Some legal experts described the program as groundbreaking. And until the highly classified program was disclosed last week, those in Congress with concerns about the National Security Agency spying on Americans raised them only privately.
DEMOCRATS - Some of us are...concerned about this.

CHENEY - I'm sorry. Did you just say something?

DEMOCRATS - What? Oh, no, no. We were just...thinking out loud. Dinner plans.
Bush, accused of acting above the law, on Monday issued a forceful defense of the program he first authorized shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

His senior aides have stressed the program was narrowly targeted at individuals with a suspected link to al-Qaida or affiliated extremist groups.
Here's the deal on that point: The Bushies "suspect" that EVERYONE "NOT THEM" has a link to Al-Qaeda.

Including PETA and the Catholic Workers.

From today's NY Times:

F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show

Feel safer?
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 - Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

*

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, John Ashcroft, who was then attorney general, loosened restrictions on the F.B.I.'s investigative powers, giving the bureau greater ability to visit and monitor Web sites, mosques and other public entities in developing terrorism leads.

The bureau has used that authority to investigate not only groups with suspected ties to foreign terrorists, but also protest groups suspected of having links to violent or disruptive activities.

But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.

One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project."

Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology."

A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
No snarky comments. Draw your own conclusions.

Time to return to the first article:
(Bush's) senior aides have stressed the program was narrowly targeted at individuals with a suspected link to al-Qaida or affiliated extremist groups.

And Bush said it was "a shameful act" for someone to have leaked details to the media.
Got that?!

That's a key Republican talking point: It was "a shameful act" for someone to have leaked details to the media...because the evildoers now know that we're, uh, spying on them.

LIKE THEY DIDN'T KNOW THAT ALREADY?!

PLEASE! They've seen "True Lies!"

*

As promised, a quick note on John Poindexter and the "TIA."

This is really cheap, but I'm just gonna post the Wikipedia line on a guy who knows some things about "intelligence":
Admiral John Marlan Poindexter (born August 12, 1936 in Odon, Indiana) is best known as a prominent United States Department of Defense official.

He was a controversial figure in his high profile roles as Deputy National Security Advisor and National Security Advisor for the Reagan administration.

More recently, he served a brief stint as the Director of the DARPA Information Awareness Office for the administration of George W. Bush.

*

Poindexter was convicted on multiple felony counts on April 7, 1990 for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, defrauding the government, and the alteration and destruction of evidence pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair.

The convictions were reversed in 1991 on the grounds that the prosecution's evidence may have been tainted by exposure to Poindexter's testimony before the joint House-Senate committee investigating the matter, in which Poindexter's testimony was compelled by a grant of 'use immunity'.

The prosecution was not able to re-try the case.
After that episode, Poindexter joined the "private sector," and went to work on a number of defense related projects.

Like "data collecting" and "information gathering."
From December, 2002, to August, 2003, Poindexter served as the Director of the DARPA Information Awareness Office (IAO).

The controversial mission of the IAO was to imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate and transition information technologies, components, and prototype closed-loop information systems that will counter asymmetric threats (most notably, terrorist threats) by achieving total information awareness: enabling preemption; national security warning; and, national security decision making.
More Wikipedia fun regarding Pondexter, the IAO & the TIA (briefly mentioned in Rockefeller's letter):
The IAO has the stated mission to gather as much information as possible about everyone, in a centralized location, for easy perusal by the United States government, including (though not limited to) Internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver's licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available data.

In essence, the IAO’s goal is to develop the capacity to recreate a life history of thoughts and movements for any individual on the planet on demand, which some deem necessary to counter the threat of terrorism. Critics claim the very existence of the IAO completely disregards the concept of individual privacy and liberties.

They see the organization as far too invasive and prone to abuse.

*

The integrity of Poindexter as head of the IAO also came under scrutiny, given his conviction on five felony charges for lying to Congress and deliberately altering and destroying documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair, although those convictions were later overturned.

*

DARPA changed the name of the "Total Information Awareness" program to "Terrorist Information Awareness" on May 20, 2003, emphasizing in its report to Congress that the program is not designed to compile dossiers on US citizens, but rather to gather information on terrorist networks.

Despite this name change and reassurance, the description of the program's activities remained essentially the same in the report, and critics continue to see the system as prone to massive Orwellian abuses.

*

A Senate defense appropriations bill passed unanimously on July 18, 2003 explicitly denies any funding to Terrorist Information Awareness research, which will effectively kill the program if implemented.

The Pentagon office that was developing a vast computerized terrorism surveillance system would be closed and no money could be spent to use those high-tech spying tools against Americans on U.S. soil, House and Senate negotiators have agreed on September 25, 2003.

But they left open the possibility that some or all of the high-powered software under development might be employed by different government offices to gather intelligence from U.S. citizens and others abroad or from foreigners in this country.
Some would say that the, uh, "high-powered software" has been used.

Josh Marshall:
I've been suggesting that what's in play here in this NSA matter is a NEW TECHNOLOGY of some sort -- one which conducts searches in ways that you just can't get warrants for.
Money making new technology, methinks.
And here Kevin Drum pulls together several threads of information that point in what figure is likely the correct direction.

He concludes by writing: "It seems clear that there's something involved here that goes far beyond ordinary wiretaps, regardless of the technology used. Perhaps some kind of massive data mining, which makes it impossible to get individual warrants? Stay tuned."

Like I said, a bunch of information I've heard over the last 48 hours tells me he's on the mark here.

Not precisely, perhaps. I'm not sure it's data-mining precisely. Perhaps they're doing searches for certain patterns of words or numbers, perhaps something as simple as a phone number.

But unlike 'traditional' wiretapping, in which you're catching the conversations of a relatively small and defined group of people, this may involve listening in on a big slice of the email or phone communications in the country looking for a particular phone number or code or perhaps a reference to a particular name.

From a technological point of view there's not really much outlandish about this at all.

This is just the sort of thing the NSA is in the business of doing overseas.

But you can see how this would just be a non-starter for getting a warrant.

It is the definition of a fishing expedition.
We'll see.

Data-mining: A very LUCRATIVE gig if you can get it.

Entiendes?

THIS IS A BIG RABBIT HOLE, and getting to be ri-goddamn-diculous.

More later...

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