Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The White House Carefully Chooses Their Words

As per recent habit -- administration critics of the NSA extra-legal warrantless spying program (CATCH-ALL) are missing the forest for the trees.

The truth of the matter is that the NSA warrantless spying program is so much bigger and all-encompassing than is generally known that the media and the public cannot get their minds around the idea.

This past weekend's legislation -- although it legalizes many overly intrusive measures and was passed due to the cowardice of the majority Democrats -- doesn't address the scope of the spying, which will continue to be conducted outside the legal constraints of FISA.

The White House maintained Monday that the surveillance measure signed into law by President Bush over the weekend did not give the government any sweeping new powers to eavesdrop on Americans without court warrants.

The chief concern of the White House centered on an assertion by Democrats, civil rights advocates and news organizations that the legislation in effect gave legal authorization to the National Security Agency's once-secret wiretapping program. [Apples and oranges - ed.] That program, approved by Mr. Bush soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, permitted the agency to eavesdrop without a court warrant on Americans' international e-mail messages and telephone calls, an operation that provoked intense debate about its legality.

The new measure, signed into law by the president on Sunday, allows intelligence officials to eavesdrop without a warrant on international phone calls or e-mail messages to or from an American inside the United States, but only if they conclude that the "target" is outside this country. The legislation gives broad discretion to the attorney general and the director of national intelligence, rather than a judge, in deciding how those complicated surveillance decisions are made.

Critics of the measure, which expires in six months, maintain that whether or not an American on United States soil is considered the "target" of an eavesdropping operation, the effect is the same: an end run around constitutional rights. But administration officials heatedly disputed that interpretation. ...

They said the legislation did not authorize "a driftnet" aimed at eavesdropping on large volumes of phone calls and e-mail messages inside the United States. But they declined to discuss in detail the N.S.A.'s broader efforts tracing and analyzing the patterns of American communications — who is calling and e-mailing whom — without actually listening to or reading the content of the conversations. Those broader data-mining activities were part of a heated dispute within the administration that led senior Justice Department officials in 2004 to refuse at first to certify the legality of the N.S.A. operations and to threaten to resign in protest over their continuation.


The "driftnet" most certainly is there. It is just not addressed in last weekend's legislation.

The first sift of the still secret part of the NSA program captures, inter alia all U.S. telephone and email traffic.

All of it.

That's why it is known as CATCH-ALL.


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