Saturday, December 17, 2005

NSA story not being related completely

The National Security Agency (NSA) is the intelligence agency charged with the security of telecom and computing, to put an incredibly simplistic spin on it. They are the agency performing radio and telecom intercepts and they've got the best crypto people in the country. It is their charter to keep us informed, from an intel perspective, when the information being sought is on a cell phone call or in an encrypted file on a computer system. Like the CIA, they are not chartered to perform those duties in investigations against US Citizens in this country. That duty falls to the FBI. That's not to say the NSA never did such intercepts here in the States but they did them at the request of the FBI where the Bureau found the NSA's capabilities more applicable to the task. For such operations, warrants were always required. For international communications, however, warrants are not required and such intercepts are what you call, "intelligence gathering."

The NY Times article that caused the ruckus yesterday announces that the Bush administration signed over authority to the NSA to perform intercepts on Americans and forgo the warrants that had always been required. Or, at least, that's what the lead says. Keep reading. (And thanks to Captain's Quarters for pulling out the details in a convoluted story.) Turns out that the 2002 order does no such thing. What it does do is define "international communication" as communication where 1 end of the comm isn't in the United States. This is being made out to be such a huge deal and a radical shift in definition, but I must agrue that it's nothing we all don't assume.

Pick up your phone and dial someone in Chicago. Is that an international call? Not if you live in the United States. That's completely domestic. Now, make a call from the same place to someone in London. International communication? You betcha, and the phone company's certainly going to charge you like it is. Buried in the Times' story is the admission that the 1st example (the domestic-to-domestic call) still requires a warrant and the administration has made no moves whatsoever to change that.

:::::::: Since 2002, the agency has been conducting some warrantless eavesdropping on people in the United States who are linked, even if indirectly, to suspected terrorists through the chain of phone numbers and e-mail addresses, according to several officials who know of the operation. Under the special program, the agency monitors their international communications, the officials said. The agency, for example, can target phone calls from someone in New York to someone in Afghanistan.

Warrants are still required for eavesdropping on entirely domestic-to-domestic communications, those officials say, meaning that calls from that New Yorker to someone in California could not be monitored without first going to the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Of course, you need to read down several paragraphs to get that far.

With all the ballyhoo about Valerie Plame, however, I have to wonder if the same Democratic Senators and Congressmen are going to be howling for investigations and resignations among the people who leaked this info to the press. I'm not holding my breath.