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Interview: NSA's McConnell claims warrantless surveillance datamining is "surgical" without mentioning the Internet. He's lying.

[Welcome to the French, C&L readers, Blog Report readers, and devotees of the girl in the grey flannel bra.]

[More surprises: Today's uncritical coverage mindlesly repeats McConnell's "surgical" obfuscation.]


Honestly, reading the McConnell interview in the El Paso Times, of all places, is like having your head pushed through mush. The guy is just an obfuscatory master of the filibuster. And has anyone ever noticed how much he sounds like Bush the First? ("Don't want to go there. Just think, lots"; "Just let me leave it, not too much detail." Na ga happen...)

There's plenty of Inside Baseball stuff, and McConnell develops his own timeline for the Democrats FISA betrayal, but this exchange leaped out at me, because our hair has been on fire about this for years:

[MCCONNELL] Now there's a sense that we're doing massive data mining. In fact, what we're doing is surgical. A telephone number is surgical. So, if you know what number, you can select it out. So that's, we've got a lot of territory to make up with people believing that we're doing things we're not doing.

The warrantless surveillance program targets both voice and data. Ever since Bill Keller allowed James Risen to break this story after Bush was safely elected, when the administration and its enablers wish to conceal the scope of the program, they focus on voice, and don't mention data at all (see here at "diversionary tactic"). McConnell does that here, and the interviewer---surprise!--falls for it again.

As the Christian Science Monitor wrote back in 2006:

The US government [outlaw Bush regime] is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.

A major part of ADVISE involves data-mining - or “dataveillance,” as some call it. It means sifting through data to look for patterns. If a supermarket finds that customers who buy cider also tend to buy fresh-baked bread, it might group the two together.

What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information - from financial records to CNN news stories - and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records.

This is "surgical"?

The NSA has built "secret rooms" to intercept all internet traffic, according to ABC and Wired Magazine:

“ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross will sit down for an exclusive interview with AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, a former technician who describes secret NSA rooms at AT&T switching centers that he says allows the government to intercept all domestic internet traffic. Speaking publicly for the first time, Klein details how he discovered the secret rooms and the lengths the government has gone to keep his story from the public.”

This is "surgical"?

The NSA has been collecting the cell phone records of tens of millions of Americans, according to USA Today:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The agency’s goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, this person added.

This is "surgical"?

Even hardenend Republican Justice officials threatened mass resignations because of the data (not voice, notice) aspects of the program:

A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.

It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.

This is "surgical"?

The NSA's programs are so massive that the NSA is running out of electrical power to run the damn computers!

The demand for electricity to operate its expanding intelligence systems has left the high-tech eavesdropping agency on the verge of exceeding its power supply.

This is "surgical"?

FISA judges have found the program so egregious that they've resigned in protest, according to WaPo:

A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush’s secret authorization [sic] of a domestic spying program, according to two sources.

“What I’ve heard some of the judges say is they feel they’ve participated in a Potemkin court.”

This is "surgical"?

There's plenty of other good stuff, too, like the claim that putting the warrantless surveillance program under the rule of law in a democratic society kills people, how the telcos helped Bush break the law, and so they should be given retroactive immunity, and McConnell's straight-faced, hilarious claim that he's non-political. But this will do to go on with.

What I'd really like to understand the regime's definition of "foreign." Not their public explanation, but whatever they've had some Federalist Society operative gin up in Cheney's dank basement. Here's what McConnell says on "foreign":

Q: And this is still all foreign to foreign communication?

A: All foreign to foreign.

But I want to know what foreign means in this context: If they argue that it's OK to surveill a foreigner if their data flows through a US router, is it OK to surveill me if my data goes through a foreign router? If so, that means that they can surveill my data whenever they want, because a packet switching network like the Internet is agnostic about political boundaries. All data is potentially "foreign." I've got no evidence of this at all, of course; just this general sense that because they're operating under the carefully crafted Theory Of We Get To Do Whatever The Fuck We Want, they're doing whatever the fuck they want. Give these guys an inch, and they take off our whole arm up to the shoulder.

NOTE 1 The discussion in our famously free press has been predictably hapless, focusing on raised eyebrows for [his] frank discussion". I hope we've disposed of that canard, at least. (For previous examples, see Izvestia on the Hudson and Pravda on the Potomac.)

NOTE 2 I'm still waiting for the "politicall explosive disclosures" to which McClatchy alluded after Bush deigned to place the program under the authority of the FISA court. Or was non-disclosure the Democrat's price for their midnight capitulation?

wp-alien-1-lNOTE 3 Of course, I'm aware of Spencer Ackermann's great work at TPM parsing out the distinction between the so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program" and "the program the President authorized" and Project X and so forth. So me, they're all tentacles of the same hydra, so why worry too much about such fine distinctions?

NOTE 4 I assume McConnell put this interview out to help calm the furor and give his new BFFs, the Beltway Dems, a hand. It didn't work for me.

UPDATE Oddly, or not, WaPo doesn't put the great Walter Pincus on this story, even though it's his beat. Joby Warrick falls for McConnell's line like a Christianist teen when their pastor invites them over for milk, cookies, and a discussion of the duties owed to a man of God:

In an interview with the newspaper, he attempted [that he did] to explain the distinction between court-sanctioned surveillance of Americans and the kind of warrantless surveillance that U.S. officials can now conduct under legislation signed into law by President Bush earlier this month.

The new law allows expanded, warrantless eavesdropping on foreigners' calls and e-mails to people in the United States, as long as the Americans involved are not considered [by whom] targets of the investigation.

No mention of the years of breaking FISA before the Democrats helpfully airbrushed Bush's criminal record for him.

No questioning of McConnell's figures. Why on earth would we believe 100?

The usual confusion between email and voice data.

The bland assumption that a loophole that you or I could drive a truck through -- "as long as the Americans involved are not considered targets" -- will never be abused.

And on and on and on.

If WaPo puts Pincus on this one, we'll know they're not in the tank. This story is so deep in the tank that, well, I don't think our Joby is even going to come up for air.

UPDATE Right on cue, the wingers issue yet another imprecatory prayer for a second 9/11 so that McConnell's "kill Americans" line comes true.

Perhaps the writer of a few weeks back was right we do need another 9/11. Not to unite us, but to finalize the indictment of the left in this country.

(OK, "Perhaps." Fine.) So much for McConnell's claim that he's not political. Because der Dolchstosslegende is supremely, political, eh?

Meanwhile, the Grey Lady is still stretching and yawning, and has yet to bestir herself to cover the story. Great, now they've checked the wires and they're running the AP story. Stellar work. Kudos all round.

UPDATE As we said a long time ago: "It's very simple. Bush broke the law". As Glenn the Good wrote today:

The NSA scandal has always been, and always will be, this simple and crystal clear. In 1978, the American people responded to the discovery of decades-long abuses of secret eavesdropping powers by making it a felony for any government official to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant. What McConnell describes an "arrangement worked out between the Congress and the administration" is what most people call a "federal law," but McConnell's basic point -- that "we did not want to allow th[e intelligence] community to conduct surveillance . . . of Americans . . . unless you had a warrant, so that was required" -- is exactly correct.

Think about how amazing this is. McConnell clearly described that in 1978, we enacted a law prohibiting warrantless eavesdropping; the Bush administration broke that law repeatedly; and the telecommunications companies actively participated in that lawbreaking. And now -- as a matter of national security -- the Bush administration is demanding that Congress pass a new law declaring that telecom companies are immune from any and all consequences -- both civil and criminal -- in the event they are found to have violated the law. It is hard to imagine open contempt for the rule of law being expressed more explicitly than this.

That government officials like McConnell feel so comfortable openly admitting that the government broke the law, obtaining amendments to legalize that behavior after the fact, and then demanding immunity for the lawbreakers, demonstrates how severely the rule of law has been eroded over the last six years. It is not hyperbole to say that government lawbreaking has become formally legitimized.

So much of this is due to the profound failure of the media and our various "experts" simply to state the basic facts here.

The real open issue is not whether the Democratic Congress will un-do the damage they have done. The issue, as McConnell makes clear, is whether the Congress will submit to still further administration demands by granting retroactive immunity to all lawbreakers (governmental and private lawbreakers alike).

McConnell's comments yesterday suggested strongly that Democrats were prepared this last round to include immunity, but only requested more time to determine how best that should be done and to obtain some information they have sought about past eavesdropping ("the issue was alright, look, we don't want to work that right now, it's too hard because we want to find out about some issues of the past").

Basically, then, the administration's posture towards Congress is now this: "we have been refusing to provide you any information about what we did over the last six years, and we will provide you some of that information only on the condition that you agree to provide full immunity for the consequences of any lawbreaking." Between (a) the Democratic Congress completing its capitulation to the administration's demands by granting full immunity and (b) reversing themselves on FISA after the 6-month period elapses, it hardly requires much consideration to know which is the far more likely outcome.

Harry, Nancy: Nice work. And the polling numbers reflect it!

Good thing Bush didn't give anybody a blowjob. Otherwise, the country might really be divided.

LOYALTY PROPHYLACTIC Yes, there are good Democrats, especially outside the Beltway. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party as an institution is less than the sum of its parts.

No votes yet


Submitted by lambert on

Maybe McConnel meant "surgalicious"?

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

kelley b's picture
Submitted by kelley b on

The DINOcrats are the new Company BFF not only because they "control" Congress, but because they seem to be the only ones that listen to Poppy's Consigliere and the Iraq Study Group's recommendations.

HilBamEdwards all basically want to tone down 'Merikan presence in Baghdad and leave the troops at the bases (a.k.a. oilfields). But they also want to know who you are and what you're thinking. If you don't buy into the Company Preznitial protocols, you get the Dennis Kucinich treatment if you're lucky, and likely the Bobby Kennedy treatment if you are popular anyway. But there's no need for that this time around apparently.

What we're seeing in the 2008 Preznitial $elections is a struggle on the Company Board between Cheneyburton naked Imperialism and Poppy/Baker kinder gentler English Leather economic dominance. Since there's no Family member stepping up this time around, and since the time and the personel aren't right for a total takeover, Poppy's happy to see a DINOcrat step up so he can bring Jebbie along in 2012 to consolidate the gains of Bu$hCo without the overtly gauche idiocy of Cheneyburton and Junior's Abu Gonzales.

It's the difference between razor wire on your skin and a bludgeon if you step out of line.

No Hell below us
Above us, only sky

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

'Surgical' data-mining, yet another infringement on our rights by the gov't. Add it to the ever-growing list of violations:
They violate the 1st Amendment by opening mail, caging demonstrators and banning books like America Deceived (book) from Amazon.
They violate the 2nd Amendment by confiscating guns during Katrina.
They violate the 4th Amendment by conducting warrant-less wiretaps.
They violate the 5th and 6th Amendment by suspending habeas corpus.
They violate the 8th Amendment by torturing.
They violate the entire Constitution by starting 2 illegal wars based on lies and on behalf of a foriegn gov't.
Support Dr. Ron Paul and end this madness.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Surgical - as in guillotine!

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

His name is Mike McConnell. Amazingly, not one person used his full name here.

Mark Koernke describes them (you know who they are) as having "shark eyes." Does McConnell have shark eyes? Do you think that you will be able to better spot "them" now?

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

to wit:

agnostic about political boundaries

You use it in specific reference to data flow but I think if you back up and think about the bigger picture this line just encapsulates the meta-problem we're dealing with here.

Corporations regard national boundaries principally as providing conventions in shipping addresses. The notion that something "is" an American company, or a British company, or a French company, is pretty much obsolete and regarded as such by the higher officials of the companies involved.

We have been trained to accept this without considering the effect of the mindset, which is as important as the legal matter of what effect any one country's passage of laws has on the operations of the companies in quesiton. But blaming the situation on NAFTA or cursing Bill Clinton is silly--those laws just brought out in the open a situation which had in fact been in place for some times.

Not going all Trilateral Commission on anybody mind you; the situation has been evolving since the earliest days of the Dutch East India company and other firms from the same time. We are not going to get a handle on ways to impose the regulations these businesses need to rescue them from their own excesses until we too back off and look at the situation globally rather than nationally.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Someone lure him into Blowing Cave, Kennebunk and IMPEACHMENT fait accompli!

Submitted by lambert on

The country would never stand for it!

Now, if a President were doing something serious, like trashing the Fourth Amendment, or committing felonies....

Oh, wait....

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan