Monday, June 26, 2006

Prophesying Doom?

'Wash Post' Obtains Shocking Memo from U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

By Greg Mitchell

Published: June 19, 2006 6:20 PM ET

-- "More recently, we have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In
March, a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate."

NEW YORK The Washington Post has obtained a cable, marked "sensitive," that it says shows that just before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, "the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees."

This cable outlines, the Post reported Sunday, "the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government."

-- Embassy employees are held in such low esteem their work must remain a secret and they live with
constant fear that their cover will be blown. Of nine staffers, only four have told their families where they work. They all plan for their possible abductions. No one takes home their cell phones as this gives them away. One employee said criticism of the U.S. had grown so severe that most of her family believes the U.S. "is punishing populations as Saddam did."

It's actually far worse than that, as the details published below indicate, which include references to abductions, threats to women's rights, and "ethnic cleansing."

A PDF copy of the cable shows that it was sent to the SecState in Washington, D.C. from "AMEmbassy Baghdad" on June 12. 2006. The typed name at the very bottom is Khalilzad -- the name of the U.S. Ambassador, though it is not known if this means he wrote the memo or merely approved it.

-- Since April, the "demeanor" of guards in the Green Zone has changed, becoming more "militia-like," and some are now "taunting" embassy personnel or holding up their credentials and saying loudly that they work in the embassy: "Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people." For this reason, some have asked for press instead of embassy credentials.

-- "For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff members for translation at on-camera press events....We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their 'cover.'"

-- "More recently, we have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In March, a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we

The subject of the memo is: "Snapshots from the Office -- Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord."

As a footnote in one of the 23 sections, the embassy relates, "An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militiast are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq."

Among the other troubling reports:

-- "Personal safety depends on good relations with the 'neighborhood' governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant; even local mukhtars have been displaced or coopted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors."

-- One embassy employee had a brother-in-law kidnapped. Another received a death threat, and then fled the country with her family.

-- Iraqi staff at the embassy, beginning in March and picking up in May, report "pervasive" harassment from Islamist and/or militia groups. Cuts in power and rising fuel prices "have diminished the quality of life." Conditions vary but even upscale neighborhoods "have visibly deteriorated" and one of them is now described as a "ghost town."

-- Two of the three female Iraqis in the public affairs office reported stepped-up harassment since mid-May...."some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative." One of the women is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.

-- It has also become "dangerous" for men to wear shorts in public and "they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts." People who wear jeans in public have also come under attack. …

-- "More recently, we have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In March, a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate."

-- The overall environment is one of "frayed social networks," with frequent actual or perceived insults. None of this is helped by lack of electricity. "One colleague told us he feels 'defeated' by circumstances, citing his example of being unable to help his two-year-old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in stifling heat," which is now reaching 115 degrees.

-- "Another employee tell us that life outside the Green Zone has become 'emotionally draining.' He lives in a mostly Shiite area and claims to attend a funeral 'every evening.'"

-- Fuel lines have grown so long that one staffer spent 12 hours in line on his day off. "Employees all confirm that by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without. ... One staff member reported that a friend lives in a building that houses a new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power 24 hours a day."

-- The cable concludes that employees' "personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials."

The final line of the Cable is: KHALILZAD

“Iraq is a sinkhole of destruction, and if Americans could see it close up, the way we saw New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, they would be stupefied.

Americans need to understand that Mr. Bush's invasion of Iraq was a strategic blunder of the highest magnitude. It has resulted in mind-boggling levels of bloodshed, chaos and misery in Iraq, and it certainly hasn't made the U.S. any safer.

We've had enough clownish debates on the Senate floor and elsewhere. We've had enough muscle-flexing in the White House and on Capitol Hill by guys who ran and hid when they were young and their country was at war. And it's time to stop using generals and their forces under fire in the field for cheap partisan political purposes.

The question that needs to be answered, honestly and urgently (and without regard to partisan politics), is how best to extricate overstretched American troops — some of them serving their third or fourth tours — from the flaming quicksand of an unwinnable war. ”
Playing Politics With Iraq by Bob Herbert (TimeSelect)

Desert, not jungle. Splintered factions, instead of a unified enemy. This isn't Viet Nam, but the similarities are growing. Fear is growing, among the Iraqis who work for and with us. While the population at large, largely, distrusts us.

Thank God, that by and large, they don't trust the insurgents either.

The Taliban isn't just back. They're back in force. Attacking in company and possibly battalion sized units. They've got new tactics, IEDs and VBEDs ( improvised and vehicle borne explosive devices ), courtesy of the Iraq insurgency.

We're in danger of collapse in both the real (Afghan) and the phony (Iraqi) fronts of the war on terror, because we're enganged in a war on a tactic when we should be concentrating on the enemy who used it.

We've done exactly what the enemy wanted. Destroyed our own reputation and bolstered theirs. Even the capture and death of Zarkawi works in their favor.

Now, they can concentrate on attacks against us, instead of his counterproductive attacks against the Shia.

I suspect if they could have figured out a way to do it, Al Qaeda would have leaked Zarkawi's location to us. Jordanian intelligence made that unnecessary.

So, after wrecking our own stature, weakening our democracy, deprecating the Bill of Rights, what then Mr.(P)resident?…

Thursday, June 22, 2006

No Need To Be Informed When You're Born With The Answers

“In "The One Percent Doctrine," Mr. Suskind discloses that First Data Corporation — one of the world's largest processors of credit card transactions and the parent company of Western Union — began cooperating with the F.B.I. in the wake of 9/11, providing information on financial transactions and wire transfers from around the world. The huge data-gathering operation in some respects complemented the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program (secretly authorized by Mr. Bush months after the Sept. 11 attacks), which monitored specific conversations as well as combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might lead to terrorism suspects.

Despite initial misgivings on the part of Western Union executives, Mr. Suskind reports, the company also worked with the C.I.A. and provided real-time information on financial transactions as they occurred.

Mr. Suskind's book also reveals that Qaeda operatives had designed a delivery system (which they called a "mubtakkar") for a lethal gas, and that the United States government had a Qaeda source who said that plans for a hydrogen cyanide attack on New York City's subway system were well under way in early 2003, but the attack was called off — for reasons that remain unclear — by Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The book also reports that Al Qaeda had produced "extremely virulent" anthrax in Afghanistan before 9/11, which "could be easily reproduced to create a quantity that could be readily weaponized."

Just as disturbing as Al Qaeda's plans and capabilities are the descriptions of the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror and its willful determination to go to war against Iraq. That war, according to the author's sources who attended National Security Council briefings in 2002, was primarily waged "to make an example" of Saddam Hussein, to "create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States."

"The One Percent Doctrine" amplifies an emerging portrait of the administration (depicted in a flurry of recent books by authors as disparate as the Reagan administration economist Bruce Bartlett and the former Coalition Provisional Authority adviser Larry Diamond) as one eager to circumvent traditional processes of policy development and policy review, and determined to use experts (whether in the C.I.A., the Treasury Department or the military) not to help formulate policy, but simply to sell predetermined initiatives to the American public.

Mr. Suskind writes that the war on terror gave the president and vice president "vast, creative prerogatives": "to do what they want, when they want to, for whatever reason they decide" and to "create whatever reality was convenient." The potent wartime authority granted the White House in the wake of 9/11, he says, dovetailed with the administration's pre-9/11 desire to amp up executive power (diminished, Mr. Cheney and others believed, by Watergate) and to impose "message discipline" on government staffers.

"The public, and Congress, acquiesced," Mr. Suskind notes, "with little real resistance, to a 'need to know' status — told only what they needed to know, with that determination made exclusively, and narrowly, by the White House." ”

Most of us didn't want to know.

So all of us got what most of us wanted.

That's a real problem when most of us amounts to the 50.01 percent of the minority of our electorate that atually bothers to vote. When the executive declares that bare minority majority to be a mandate, a constitutional crisis is all but unavoidable.

In "The One Percent Doctrine," he writes that Mr. Cheney's nickname inside the C.I.A. was Edgar (as in Edgar Bergen), casting Mr. Bush in the puppet role of Charlie McCarthy, and cites one instance after another in which the president was not fully briefed (or had failed to read the basic paperwork) about a
crucial situation.

During a November 2001 session with the president, Mr. Suskind recounts, a C.I.A. briefer realized that the Pentagon had not told Mr. Bush of the C.I.A.'s urgent concern that Osama bin Laden might escape from the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan (as he indeed later did) if United States reinforcements were not promptly sent in. And several months later, he says, attendees at a meeting between Mr. Bush and the Saudis discovered after the fact that an important packet laying out the Saudis' views about the Israeli-Palestinian situation had been diverted to the vice president's office and never reached the president.

Keeping information away from the president, Mr. Suskind argues, was a calculated White House strategy that gave Mr. Bush "plausible deniability" from Mr. Cheney's point of view, and that perfectly meshed with the commander in chief's own impatience with policy details. Suggesting that Mr. Bush
deliberately did not read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was delivered to the White House in the fall of 2002, Mr. Suskind writes: "Keeping certain knowledge from Bush — much of it shrouded, as well, by classification — meant that the president, whose each word circles the globe,
could advance various strategies by saying whatever was needed. He could essentially be 'deniable' about his own statements."

Deniability metastisized

Need to use water torture on a suspect, but don't want to be a torturer?

Just redefine torture to exclude the coercive measures you've decided to apply.

How can anyone accuse you of breaking the law?

Don't they know the law is whatever the (p)resident says is law?

The recently retired war correspondent Joe Galloway describes the consequences of arrogance this way in his column last week on Haditha.

While he argued that any troops who committed crimes there must pay the price, much of the blame rests instead with officers who allowed it to happen and "political leaders" who have never "experienced the stress and insanity of combat, who took this nation to war in Iraq on a whim and a grudge."

Those who started the war, he added, have "managed it with the greatest accumulation of arrogance and ignorance and incompetence seen in wartime since World War I, or perhaps the Charge of the Light Brigade."

Then, this week, he observed that amid the current focus on Iraq, "no one appears to be noticing that heading south at an alarming pace."

He noted that "Mullah Omar's Taliban are on the comeback trail with a vengeance, operating in well-armed and disciplined battalion-size units in the south. Drawing on the experience of the Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban forces are employing more sophisticated improvised explosive devices as well as mines and ambushes against Afghan government forces and foreign military and aid officials.

"This is happening just a month before U.S. forces are scheduled to begin turning over responsibility for that volatile region to some of our NATO allies."

He then chronicled the errors in efforts to secure the situation after overthrowing the Taliban, caused by a White House "hell-bent on jumping off into a much higher-profile war in Iraq ....Before 2001 even ended, the administration began siphoning off some of the resources needed to finish Job One in Afghanistan to prepare for the invasion of Iraq.... Afghanistan would languish as a backwater, an afterthought, a 'victory' in the global war on terror to be trotted out occasionally to take people's minds off Iraq.

"If there was one place where we should have maintained full focus, it was Afghanistan. If there is one place where you never take your eye off the ball, it is Afghanistan. That's a lesson learned the hard way by invading armies from Alexander to the British Empire to the Soviet Union."

From Editor and Publisher

Monday, June 19, 2006

Gee, I Feel Safer Now, Don't You?

If they (a pair of treacherous bills ) had been in effect during the deadly spree of the Washington, D.C., snipers, the dealer who peddled the murder rifle and scores of other crime guns could never have been shut down under federal law.
“It is a ghastly fact of public safety that for the past three years the most basic information about illegal gun trafficking in America has been hermetically classified as a state secret — kept off limits to the public and the news media. The nation used to be told, for example, that 57 percent of crime guns came from just 1 percent of gun dealers, and something should be done about that. But — shhh — not any more: not since a malleable Congress and administration buttoned up reams of vital information by putting the privacy of unscrupulous gun dealers over the safety of the public.

And now the Republican-led House is preparing to make the secrecy restrictions even more lunatic by actually leaving police officers subject to felony conviction if they dare to share interesting data on illicit dealers with colleagues in other departments.

The criminalizing of peace officers for swapping federal data beyond their narrow jurisdictions is only one of the provisions in a pair of treacherous bills quietly on the move, in another sweeping triumph for the gun lobby. The bills would gut what is left of initiative in the hamstrung bureau that's supposed to control firearms. They would roll back laws for stopping illicit gun traffickers, water down criminal definitions and penalties, and snuff out the current notification to concerned police officials about the virtual fire sales of multiple guns to single buyers by dealers arming the underworld.”

Isn't it funny that the only amendment a republican congress won't attack in the name of counter-terrorism is the second amendment.

Soon, we won't have first, fourth or fifth amendmendt rights. We won't be able to speak out, protect our persons, property or posessions, be protected against self-incrimination or be free from coercion, but criminal gun sales will go on unimpeded by any consideration of risk, terrorism, common sense or right and wrong.

Feel safer now?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

No Early Warning

Published: June 13, 2006

Cambridge, Mass.

“DEALING with the reported massacre of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, last fall may actually turn out to be an easy case for the military. After all, American troops don't need refresher training to know that killing children at point-blank range is wrong.

The hard cases are the ones that happen nearly every day: these are the grindingly routine judgment calls, the snap decisions soldiers have to make when their foes (like suicide bombers) refuse to wear uniforms.

In the spiraling violence of Iraq, American troops are constantly learning on the job. Their actions must be closely monitored, especially the bellwether of civilian harm. Yet the military consistently denied the value of tracking civilian casualties. It therefore had no early warning system.

What's more, the military's institutional procedures helped keep the reality of abuses at a distance. The mechanism to make war more humane — the law of war — paradoxically limited understanding of war's impact.

Such a legalistic lens can create a blind spot. Investigations are not routine; they occur when the system suspects a problem. With civilian casualties invisible, it's harder to find a problem to suspect.

This spring, though, the military began investigating civilian deaths not simply to assess culpability but to enhance effectiveness. This groundbreaking approach builds on efforts, begun last year, to track incidents involving civilian harm at checkpoints and during convoys. Commanders were told to investigate the most serious of these incidents.

Why? To minimize civilian harm. The effort appears to have succeeded. Since January, Iraqi civilian deaths in these situations have been reduced from four to one per week. American forces have finally begun using meaningful metrics to improve their tactics and guard their professionalism.

If Haditha spurs outrage, it should be directed in the right place. Determining culpability is the best we can do after the fact. But prevention is a far better goal. The military didn't start analyzing checkpoint shootings until well into the war. Had it acted sooner, arithmetic suggests we could have spared hundreds of Iraqi lives.…

To learn from Haditha is to learn to notice not just the alleged massacres but the steady stream of civilian deaths that for too much of this war have remained invisible.

Sarah Sewall, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, was deputy assistant secretary of defense from 1993 to 1996.”

Maybe, just maybe, we've stopped recruiting for the insurgency.…

Unfortunately, our problem hasn't been blindness, but an outright refusal to look.

Nor did the problem start in Haditha, but with the first massacre of Falluja. Where our troops may have honestly believed they were shot at, but the physical evidence established nothing but rock throwing.

Refusal to look led to the second massacre in Falluja and the third which was a massacre of Iraqi policemen, some at pointblank range and the phisical evidence as well as the survivors tales established that not one of them fired at our troops.

It doesn't take much imagination to see how that lead to the ambush and lynching of the contractors, and the first and second battles of Falluja.

Maybe, finally, we've stopped ignoring reality.

Maybe, just maybe, we've stopped recruiting for the insurgency.…

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Persons, Houses, Papers and Effects

Once Again It's Legal Because Bush Says It Is

Reaching into homes and businesses across the nation, amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. The NSA program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. The spy agency claims to be using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity.

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

Last year, Bush authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Nor have warrants been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database.

According to the President the NSA is focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States." Domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were by implication private.

The implication is not the case. Through records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has a window into the habits of millions of Americans. Names and other personal information are, supposedly, not being handed over , but the records can be cross-referenced with other databases to obtain that information.

"There is no domestic surveillance without court approval," said Dana Perino, White House deputy press secretary, referring to actual eavesdropping.

She added that all national intelligence activities undertaken by the federal government "are lawful, necessary and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists." All government-sponsored intelligence activities "are carefully reviewed and monitored," Perino said. She also noted that "all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States."

Unfortunately, the reviewing and monitoring are being done by the same people who are collecting and using the information. You have to judge how likely it is that they'll find their own actions unlawful.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Do you think the Fourth Amendment ranks very high on their agenda?

Maybe, since they're not seeking warrants, or swearing any oaths, nor particularly describing places to be searched or persons and things to be siezed, they think they're complying with the Constitution, in the breach and by omission, collecting "external" data on domestic phone calls but not intercepting "internals," the actual content of the communication. Data collection from phone companies is not uncommon; it's been done before. The data are used for "social network analysis," to study how terrorist networks contact each other and how they are tied together.

Do you think they need billions of records, of millions of citizens to analyze those networks?

Are we all suspect, until proven loyal to the President?

And can someone tell me why there are three hundred and twenty-five thousand names on the terrorist watch list?

Or why it includes U.S. Senators, infants and senior citizens not charged, chargeable or even suspected of any crime at all?

The only hole in the NSA's database may be Qwest's refusal to participate. Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.

The NSA is charged with protecting the United States from foreign security threats. Once the agency was so secret the government refused to even confirm its existence. Insiders joked that NSA stood for "No Such Agency."

In 1975 congressional investigation revealed that the NSA had been intercepting, without warrants, international communications for more than 20 years at the behest of the CIA and other agencies. The spy campaign, code-named "Shamrock," led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was designed to protect Americans from illegal eavesdropping.

Enacted in 1978, FISA lays out procedures that the U.S. government must follow to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches of people believed to be engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States. A special court, which has 11 members, is responsible for adjudicating requests under FISA.

Code-breaking has continued to improve in parallel with technology. Today the agency is expert in the practice of "data mining" — sifting through reams of information in search of patterns — one of many tools analysts and mathematicians use to crack codes and track communications.

Paul Butler, a former U.S. prosecutor who specialized in terrorism crimes, said FISA approval generally isn't necessary for government data-mining operations. "FISA does not prohibit the government from doing data mining," said Butler, now a partner with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C.

The caveat, he said, is that "personal identifiers" — such as names, Social Security numbers and street addresses — can't be included as part of the search. "That requires an additional level of probable cause," he said.

The usefulness of the domestic phone-call database as a counterterrorism tool is unclear. Also unclear is whether the database has been used for other purposes.

They probably, lawfully, had the information needed on September 10, 2006 to thwart the attack on September 11th . What they didn't have were enough arabic, pashto, and farsi speaking analysts. Despite all warnings, despite previous attacks, they didn't take a band of fanatics seriously.

And still don't. We're so busy worrying about governments that the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan and insurgents have free reign from Iraq to Pakistan, from Madrid ,to Mogadishu, to the London subway system.

Local and regional phone companies have, in the past, required law enforcement agencies to present a court order before they would consider turning over a customer's calling data. That was innate in the personality of the old Bell Telephone System, out of which those companies grew.

NEW YORK -- Former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman lashed out at the Bush administration Monday night over its continued use of warrantless domestic wiretaps, making him one of the highest-ranking former intelligence officials to criticize the program in public, analysts say.

"This activity is not authorized," Inman said, as part of a panel discussion on eavesdropping that was sponsored by The New York Public Library. The Bush administration "need(s) to get away from the idea that they can continue doing it."

Since the NSA eavesdropping program was unveiled in December, Inman -- like other senior members of the intelligence community -- has been measured in the public statements he's made about the agency he headed under President Jimmy Carter. He maintained that his former colleagues "only act in accordance with law." When asked whether the president had the legal authority to order the surveillance, Inman replied in December, "Someone else would have to give you the good answer."

But sitting in a brightly lit basement auditorium at the library next to James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the surveillance story, Inman's tone changed. He called on the president to "walk into the modern world" and change the law governing the wiretaps -- or abandon the program altogether.

"The program has drawn a lot of criticism, but thus far former military and intelligence officials have not spoken up. To have Adm. Inman -- the former head of the NSA -- (come) forward with this critique is significant," said Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Chatter: Dispatches From the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping, who sat on the panel with Inman and Risen. "Because of the secrecy surrounding this type of activity, much of the criticism has come from outsiders who don't have a firm grasp of the mechanics and the utility of electronic intelligence. Inman knows whereof he speaks."

In 1978, Inman helped spearhead the effort to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which makes it illegal to eavesdrop on American citizens without court approval. Inman said he wouldn't have a problem sidestepping that law -- as a "limited response to an emergency situation," like the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But nearly five years since those strikes, the NSA is continuing to track phone calls and e-mails without warrants.

Inman didn't contest the Bush administration's claim that the FISA courts can't keep up with the NSA's new breed of surveillance. "My problem is not going to Congress to revise the statute to deal with the problems I didn't think of in '78," Inman said. "We can do what the country needs and work within the law."

The bedrock principle — protection of the customer — guided the company for decades. Gene Kimmelman, senior public policy director of Consumers Union said, "No court order, no customer information — period. That's how it was for decades."

Concern was based on law: Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what routes those calls take to reach their final destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are covered.

The financial penalties for violating Section 222 can be stiff. The Federal Communications Commission, the nation's top telecommunications regulatory agency, can levy fines of up to $130,000 per day per violation, with a cap of $1.325 million per violation. The FCC has no hard definition of "violation." In practice, that means a single "violation" could cover one customer or 1 million.

NSA representatives approached the nation's biggest telecommunications companies soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. The agency made an urgent pitch: National security is at risk, and we need your help to protect the country from attacks.They were told that it wanted their "call-detail records," a complete listing of the calling histories of their millions of customers. Plus, the NSA wanted the carriers to provide updates, which would enable the agency to keep tabs on the nation's calling habits.

Joe Nacchio, Qwest's CEO at the time, was extremely troubled by the NSA's claim that Qwest didn't need a court's order or approval — under FISA. Qwest was unsure about who would access its customers' information and how their information might be used.

Financial consequences were also a concern. Illegally divulging calling information can be subject to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines could be enormous.

Other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, might also have access to the data. The NSA regularly shares information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Qwest's lawyers were worried by the extent of the NSA request.

To pressure Qwest, NSA representatives told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the major telecommunications companies. It tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, then suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging could affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Qwest had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. The agency refused. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.”

The NSA record collection program

Excerpts From: Why Data Mining Won't Stop Terror

By Bruce Schneier
Wired News
March 9, 2005

…Many believe data mining is the crystal ball that will enable us to uncover future terrorist plots. But even in the most wildly optimistic projections, data mining isn't tenable for that purpose. We're not trading privacy for security; we're giving up privacy and getting no security in return.

Most people first learned about data mining in November 2002, when news broke about a massive government data mining program called Total Information Awareness. The basic idea was as audacious as it was repellent: suck up as much data as possible about everyone, sift through it with massive computers, and investigate patterns that might indicate terrorist plots.

Americans across the political spectrum denounced the program, and in September 2003, Congress eliminated its funding and closed its offices.

But TIA didn't die. According to The National Journal, it just changed its name and moved inside the Defense Department.

This shouldn't be a surprise. In May 2004, the General Accounting Office published a report (.pdf) listing 122 different federal government data-mining programs that used people's personal information. This list didn't include classified programs, like the NSA's eavesdropping effort or state-run programs like MATRIX.

The promise of data mining is compelling, and convinces many. But it's wrong. We're not going to find terrorist plots through systems like this, and we're going to waste valuable resources chasing down false alarms. To understand why, we have to look at the economics of the system.

Security is always a trade-off, and for a system to be worthwhile, the advantages have to be greater than the disadvantages. A national security data-mining program is going to find some percentage of real attacks and some percentage of false alarms. If the benefits of finding and stopping those attacks outweigh the cost -- in money, liberties, etc. -- then the system is a good one. If not, you'd be better off spending that capital elsewhere.

Data mining works best when you're searching for a well-defined profile, a reasonable number of attacks per year and a low cost of false alarms. Credit-card fraud is one of data mining's success stories: all credit-card companies mine their transaction databases for data for spending patterns that indicate a stolen card.

Many credit-card thieves share a pattern -- purchase expensive luxury goods, purchase things that can be easily fenced, etc. -- and data mining systems can minimize the losses in many cases by shutting down the card. In addition, the cost of false alarms is only a phone call to the cardholder asking him to verify a couple of purchases. The cardholders don't even resent these phone calls -- as long as they're infrequent -- so the cost is just a few minutes of operator time.

Terrorist plots are different. There is no well-defined profile and attacks are very rare. Taken together, these facts mean that data-mining systems won't uncover any terrorist plots until they are very accurate, and that even very accurate systems will be so flooded with false alarms that they will be useless.

All data-mining systems fail in two different ways: false positives and false negatives. A false positive is when the system identifies a terrorist plot that really isn't one. A false negative is when the system misses an actual terrorist plot. Depending on how you "tune" your detection algorithms, you can err on one side or the other: you can increase the number of false positives to ensure you are less likely to miss an actual terrorist plot, or you can reduce the number of false positives at the expense of missing terrorist plots.

To reduce both those numbers, you need a well-defined profile. And that's a problem when it comes to terrorism. In hindsight, it was really easy to connect the 9/11 dots and point to the warning signs, but it's much harder before the fact. Certainly, many terrorist plots share common warning signs, but each is unique, as well. The better you can define what you're looking for, the better your results will be. Data mining for terrorist plots will be sloppy, and it'll be hard to find anything useful.

Data mining is like searching for a needle in a haystack. There are 900 million credit cards in circulation in the United States. According to the FTC September 2003 Identity Theft Survey Report, about 1 percent (10 million) cards are stolen and fraudulently used each year.

When it comes to terrorism, however, trillions of connections exist between people and events -- things that the data-mining system will have to "look at" -- and very few plots. This rarity makes even accurate identification systems useless.

Let's look at some numbers. We'll be optimistic -- we'll assume the system has a one in 100 false-positive rate (99 percent accurate), and a one in 1,000 false-negative rate (99.9 percent accurate). Assume 1 trillion possible indicators to sift through: that's about 10 events -- e-mails, phone calls, purchases, web destinations, whatever -- per person in the United States per day. Also assume that 10 of them are actually terrorists plotting.

This unrealistically accurate system will generate 1 billion false alarms for every real terrorist plot it uncovers. Every day of every year, the police will have to investigate 27 million potential plots in order to find the one real terrorist plot per month. Raise that false-positive accuracy to an absurd 99.9999 percent and you're still chasing 2,750 false alarms per day -- but that will inevitably raise your false negatives, and you're going to miss some of those 10 real plots.

… In statistics, it's called the "base rate fallacy," and it applies in other domains as well. For example, even highly accurate medical tests are useless as diagnostic tools if the incidence of the disease is rare in the general population. Terrorist attacks are also rare, any "test" is going to result in an endless stream of false alarms.

This is exactly the sort of thing we saw with the NSA's eavesdropping program: the New York Times reported that the computers spat out thousands of tips per month. Every one of them turned out to be a false alarm.

And the cost was enormous -- not just for the FBI agents running around chasing dead-end leads instead of doing things that might actually make us safer, but also the cost in civil liberties.…

Data mining can work. It helps Visa keep the costs of fraud down, just as it helps Amazon alert me to books I might want to buy and Google show me advertising I'm more likely to be interested in. But these are all instances where the cost of false positives is low (a phone call from a Visa operator or an uninteresting ad) in systems that have value even if there is a high number of false negatives.

Finding terrorism plots is not a problem that lends itself to data mining. It's a needle-in-a-haystack problem, and throwing more hay on the pile doesn't make that problem any easier. We'd be far better off putting people in charge of investigating potential plots and letting them direct the computers, instead of putting the computers in charge and letting them decide who should be investigated.

The Total Information Awareness Project Lives On

Technology behind the Pentagon's controversial data-mining project has been acquired by NSA, and is probably in use.

By Mark Williams

In April, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the advocacy organization for citizens' digital rights, filed evidence to support its class-action lawsuit alleging that telecom giant AT&T gave the National Security Agency (NSA), the ultra-secret U.S. agency that's the world's largest espionage organization, unfettered access to Americans' telephone and Internet communications. The lawsuit is one more episode in the public controversy that erupted in December 2005, when the New York Times revealed that, following September 11, President Bush authorized a far-reaching NSA surveillance program that included warrantless electronic eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails of individuals within the United States.

Critics charged that the Bush administration had violated both the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against unwarranted search or seizure, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, which requires eavesdropping warrants to be obtained from a special court of judges empowered for that purpose.

In February 2006, the controversy intensified. Reports emerged that component technologies of the supposedly defunct Total Information Awareness (TIA) project -- established in 2002 by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop advanced information technology to counter terrorists, then terminated by Congress in 2003 because of widespread criticism that it would create "Orwellian" mass surveillance -- had been acquired by the NSA.

Washington's lawmakers ostensibly killed the TIA project in Section 8131 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal 2004. But legislators wrote a classified annex to that document which preserved funding for TIA's component technologies, if they were transferred to other government agencies, say sources who have seen the document, according to reports first published in The National Journal. Congress did stipulate that those technologies should only be used for military or foreign intelligence purposes against non-U.S. citizens. Still, while those component projects' names were changed, their funding remained intact, sometimes under the same contracts.

Thus, two principal components of the overall TIA project have migrated to the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), which is housed somewhere among the 60-odd buildings of "Crypto City," as NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, MD, is nicknamed. One of the TIA components that ARDA acquired, the Information Awareness Prototype System, was the core architecture that would have integrated all the information extraction, analysis, and dissemination tools developed under TIA. According to The National Journal, it was renamed "Basketball." The other, Genoa II, used information technologies to help analysts and decision makers anticipate and pre-empt terrorist attacks. It was renamed "Topsail."

Has the NSA been employing those TIA technologies in its surveillance within the United States? And what exactly is the agency doing, anyway?

The hearings that the Senate Judiciary Committee convened in February to consider the NSA's surveillance gave some clues. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, maintaining the administration's defense against charges that it violated the Fourth Amendment and FISA, told senators, firstly, that Article II of the U.S. Constitution granted a president authority to conduct such monitoring and, secondly, that the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) passed after September 11 specified that the president could "use all necessary and appropriate force" to prevent future terrorist acts. Regarding FISA, Gonzalez claimed, the NSA had sidestepped its requirements to obtain warrants for electronic eavesdropping in particular cases. But, overall, the attorney general said, FISA worked well and the authorities had used it increasingly. The available facts support Gonzalez's contention: while the FISA court issued about 500 warrants per year from 1979 through 1995, in 2004 (the last year for which public records exist) 1,758 warrants were issued.

But when senators asked why, given the fact that FISA had provisions by which government agents could wiretap first and seek warrants later, the Bush administration had sidestepped its requirements at all, Gonzalez claimed he couldn't elaborate for reasons of national security.

Former NASA director General Michael Hayden, in charge when the NSA's surveillance program was initiated in 2002, was slightly more forthcoming. FISA wasn't applicable in certain cases, he told the senators, because the NSA's surveillance relied on what he called a "subtly softer trigger" before full-scale eavesdropping began. Hayden, who is nowadays the nation's second-highest ranking intelligence official, as deputy director of national intelligence, said he could answer further questions only in closed session.

… testimony that the government is making increased use of FISA, together with his refusal to explain why it's inapplicable in some cases -- even though retroactive warrants can be issued -- implies that the issue isn't simply that government agents may sometimes want to act quickly. FISA rules demand that
old-fashioned "probable cause" be shown before the FISA court issues warrants for electronic surveillance of a specific individual. Probable cause would be inapplicable if NSA were engaged in the automated analysis and data mining of telephone and e-mail communications in order to target possible terrorism suspects.

… NSA has access to the switches and records of most or all of the nation's leading telecommunications companies. These companies' resources are extensive:

AT&T's data center in Kansas, for instance, contains electronic records of 1.92 trillion telephone calls over several decades.

… the majority of international telecommunications nowadays no longer travel by satellite, but by undersea fiber-optic cables, so many carriers route international calls through their domestic U.S. switches.

With the companies' compliance, the NSA can tap into those international communications far more easily than in the past, and in real time (or close to it). The NSA's supercomputers can digitally vacuum up every call placed on a network and apply an arsenal of data-mining tools.

Traffic analysis, together with social network theory, can, in theory, reveal patterns indiscernible to human analysts, possibly suggesting terrorist activity. Content filtering, applying highly sophisticated search algorithms and powerful statistical methods like Bayesian analysis in tandem with machine learning, can search for particular words or language combinations that may, in theory, indicate terrorist communications.

In practice … they produce massive watch lists and time wasting false alarms.

Whether the specific technologies developed under TIA and acquired by ARDA have actually been used in the NSA's domestic surveillance programs -- rather than only for intelligence gathering overseas -- has not been proved. Descriptions of the two former TIA programs that became Topsail and Basketball mirror descriptions of ARDA and NSA technologies for analyzing vast streams of telephone and e-mail communications. One project manager active in the TIA program before it was terminated has gone on record to the effect that, while TIA was still funded, its researchers communicated regularly and maintained "good coordination" with their ARDA counterparts.

This is the point. Whether or not those specific TIA technologies were deployed for domestic U.S. surveillance, technologies very much like them were. In 2002 ARDA awarded $64 million in research contracts for a new program called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data. A 2004 survey by the U.S. General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, found federal agencies operating or developing 199 data mining projects, with more than 120 programs designed to collect and analyze large amounts of personal data on individuals to predict their behavior. The accounting office excluded most of the classified projects, so the actual numbers would have been higher.

And, there exist all the data-mining applications currently employed in the private sector for purposes like detecting credit card fraud or predicting health risks for insurance. All of that information goes into databases which, given sufficient government motivation or even the normal mission creep, may sooner or later be accessible to the authorities.

How should data-mining technologies like TIA be applied in a democracy? It makes little sense to insist on rigid interpretations of the FISA law was passed by Congress 30 years ago. Terrorist threats on al Qaeda's scale did not exist and technological developments hadn't given unprecedented destructive power to small groups and individuals.…

In an essay published next month in the New York University Review of Law and Security, titled "Whispering Wires and Warrantless Wiretaps: Data Mining and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance," K. Taipale, executive director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy, points out that in 1978, when FISA was drafted, it made sense to speak exclusively about intercepting a targeted communication, where there were usually two known ends and a dedicated communication channel that could be wiretapped.

Today data, and increasingly voice communications, are broken into discrete packets. Intercepting such communications requires that filters be deployed at various communication nodes to scan all passing traffic with the hope of finding and extracting the packets of interest and reassembling them. Even targeting a specific message from a known sender today generally requires scanning and filtering the entire communication flow in which it's embedded. Given that situation, Taipale argues, were FISA to be "applied strictly according to its terms prior to any 'electronic surveillance' of foreign communication flows passing through the U.S. or where there is a substantial likelihood of intercepting U.S. persons, then no automated monitoring of any kind could occur."

Taipale, but not the Bush administration, proposes not that FISA should be modified to allow for the electronic surveillance equivalent of a Terry stop -- under U.S. law, the brief "stop and frisk" of a person by a law enforcement officer based on the legal standard of reasonable suspicion. In the context of automated data mining, it would mean that if suspicion turned out to be unjustified, after further monitoring, it would be discontinued. If, on the other hand, continued suspicion was reasonable, then it would continue, and at a certain point be escalated so that human agents would be called in to decide whether a suspicious individual's identity should be determined and a FISA warrant issued.

Of course, that turns the Bill of Rights on its head.

To attempt to maintain FISA and the rest of our current laws about privacy without modifications to address today's changed technological context, Taipale insists, amounts to a kind of absolutism that is ultimately self-defeating. For example, one of the technologies in the original TIA project, the Genisys Privacy Protection program, was intended to enable greater access to data for security reasons while simultaneously protecting individuals' privacy by providing critical data to analysts via anonymized transaction data and by exposing identity only if evidence and appropriate authorization was obtained for further investigation. Ironically, Genisys was the one technology that definitely had its funding terminated and was not continued by another government agency after the public outcry over TIA.

Home page image is available under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2. Caption: Original logo of the now-defunct Total Information Awareness Office, which drew much criticism for its "spooky" images.

con·cept: June 2006