The heart of the warrantless surveillance was domestic data, not voice
[The story of Bush's odd bike ride near NSA headquarters is at the end. As Josh points out, "the intensity of the covering up doesn't match the alleged secret." However, if Bush was personally involved in handling any of the warrantless surveillance data, that would definitely account for the intensity. Foily? Who but the foiliest, back even after 9/11, could have imagined this story would even be happening?]
The Times, today:
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.
Well, well. As we wrote over a year ago, after combining careful examination of how Republicans parse their statements with network engineering knowledge available through open sources:
Long story short: (1) Internet surveillance is Bush’s goal, not voice calls; (2) the Republican “wiretap” talking point is a diversion, to voice, away from from Internet surveillance; (3) Bush’s domestic surveillance system would pose no engineering challenges whatever to NSA. No rocket science—or tinfoil hats—required.
Can we please stop talking about "wiretaps" now? It's not your voice communications Bush wants. It's your mail.
I don't have time tonight, alas, to summarize all our work on warrantless surveillance (go read).
So I'll summarize some key points as I see them. Don your foil:
1. All email could be deemed "international" by White House lawyers. Remember how they keep saying the surveillance is "international"? Let's ask ourselves what they mean when they parse those words so carefully.
Packet switching is the technology that underlies the Internet. (See here for a detailed technical analysis.) When you press Submit in your mail program, your message is not put in the electronic equivalent of a sealed white envelope and sent to the recipient. Rather, it is dis-assembled into many small packets, each of which is individually routed to the recipient, where it is re-assembled. (This design is the result of an original requirement for the Internet, that it be able to survive a nuclear attack.)
The Internet's packet switching architecture has two consequences, one technical and one legal.
The technical consequence is that the packets can be intercepted and read ("sniffed") by anyone with the right technology. (For example, by anyone using Narus technology in AT&T's "secret room" at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco.)
The legal consequence it that, since the packets are routed based on efficiency, and without regard to geopolitical boundaries, any packet, from any mail arguably goes outside the boundaries of the United States. Let's see why.
Suppose Shooter got some smart, conscience-free Federalist Society lawyer to write a memo that said "any email that can reasonably be expected to be routed outside the United States is international email..." Mission accomplished! Under that theory, all email can be surveilled, since all email, by the nature of packet switching, is potentially international under that definition. And you can't tell before the Submit button is pressed where the packets will go, so you just have to surveill everything.
Not saying it happened, mind you, only that a smart lawyer could make it happen if Shooter wanted it to happen.
2. The focus of the warrantless surveillance program must be domestic because we don't have enough translators who know Arabic. And not because the stupid wingers had teh gay translators fired. A Times reader did the math:
If 1 percent of just one billion messages are in another language, that is still 10 million messages. Even 1 percent of 1 percent presents a formidable, perhaps insurmountable, translation task. And the shortage of government translators, particularly for Arabic, has been widely reported.
The only conclusion one can draw is that the National Security Agency surveillance program is designed to spy primarily on English speakers.
Duh. As I asked over a year ago:
Who is "our enemy" to this administration? Certainly journalists and their source, because they've told us so. What about the Kerry campaign? What about members of the opposition party? How about participants in the WHIG disinformation campaign? What about activists in areas where Bush campaign and Social Security rallies were held? (For example, the Denver three were supposedly kicked out of a Bush rally by a Bush operative because they had a "No blood for oil" bumper sticker on their car. And indeed they did. But the story that they were kicked out because of the bumper sticker comes from the Secret Service. Should we trust them? Why? What about the other "eerily similar" events in Arizona and North Dakota? Bumper stickers there, too? And why is Bush is fighting so hard to conceal his sources and methods on this one? Why not just sacrifice the "overzealous volunteer" and move on?) What about fishing expeditions against ordinary Democrats, now that the IRS is keeping records of political affiliations?
So, what "enemy" email are they reading? It is—in the words of Reagan hagiographer Peggy Noonan—irresponsible not to speculate. My answer is: A conservative estimate is that they're reading all email inside the Beltway. After all, everyone inside the Beltway is either a known enemy or a potential one. (Cf. "Asking the unasked question about Bush's illegal domestic spying.") This would account for the curious tendency of many players in this drama to consign important information only to paper. Examples include: Jay Rockefeller's handwritten letter to Cheney, Judy Miller's notebooks, and Scooter Libby three-ringed binders. It's as if all the players assumed that anything electronic would be read. In addition, assuming for a moment that the administration regards the entire Democratic apparatus as an enemy, wiring the entire Beltway would seriously disrupt the "enemy's" command and control systems.
If everybody in the Beltway is behaving like they're being blackmailed, that's because they are being blackmailed with the treasure trove of material that the warrantless surveillance program threw up. I'm sure the Dark Desires of Diaper Davey Vitter aren't the only stories out there (oddly, or not, the client list of Shirlington Limo has never been disclosed). Ratfucking anyone?
3. The program is huge. In fact, NSA is running out of power. Note that the warrantless surveillance program were using social network analysis to link the email records into chains of communication, power needs would grow rapidly, because representations of such networks grow exponentially.
4. Bush's odd bike ride near NSA headquarters. As I wrote, sigh, over a year ago:
Remember when the administration had scrambled jets to intercept a
fucking Cessnalight plane? (here) And Bush wasn’t (we are told) informed? However, as a Kossack dug up, Bush was riding his bike in Patuxent Park right next to Fort Meade, the NSA’s home. So, was Bush making a run for Unka Karl, picking up the latest hot stuff on Harry Reid? (Note that standard practice with NSA intercepts is to hand carry them to be read and not retained. This makes some sort of meet necessary. Hence Bush’s bike ride.)
Foily, I know, but when the going gets tough, the tough get foily…
NOTE About the image.
UPDATE On Saturday, WaPo placed Solomon's story on A03. Today, they further inter the follow-up on A04. (Meanwhile, another callow, loyal Bushie suppresses a scientific report because it doesn't focus on the accomplishments of Dear Leader. Ho-hum, old news. A01.) As Xan suggests, they narrow the focus to perjury. There's plenty else to convict Gonzales of perjury on. What about the fucking program? Of course, since our famously free press either believes in the program, is getting blackmailed because of it it, or some combination of the two, that's the part of the story that's very conveniently going unstressed.