Thursday, May 18, 2006


Did Y'all Catch This?

Being paranoid, I figured that the inclusion of Bell South in the USA Today article about the phone number harvesting was a false lead fed the the reporters who had a few real leads in order to discredit the whole story about the NSA domestic wiretapping whose publication was inevitable. But it turns out I may have been wrong. I don't know how many of y'all caught this, but Jeff Battcher, Vice President of Corporate Communications, BellSouth on the Brian Lehrer show yesterday did not know (i.e. he wasn't told) whether his company or it's affiliates had provided the government information pursuant to one of those "security letters" issued by Bush & CO.

So there you have it. None of the companies involved were approached by NSA, most likely -- they were approached by someone with a "security letter". So they deny being approached by the NSA and are not lying (while still managing to keep the FCC and Congressional overseers, such as they might someday actually wish to engage in oversight, off their backs). And unlike as it has been misreported, the payment alleged is not direct (hence they are able to deny the direct payments), but quid pro quo, nu? It was pay to play in a manner that would make the NJ political machines green with envy (they must really be fish-eyed about Bush & CO's skills: compared to them corrupt NJ machine politicians are pikers).

Also, interesting was the discussion today on Air America about some Clinton era program ("thick strand" or something like that -- I guess it was related that Eschelon program the same 'conservatives' who even so embraced TIA so feared) that was reasonably legal and more effective than whatever Bush & CO want to do -- and Bush & CO killed it. As soon as someone reminds us of the name, we should all write Bush & CO why they killed a reasonably legal surveillance scheme that actually had a chance of working and replaced it with a scheme that is likely illegal and is unlikely to work?

And, BTW: when will the commentariat get it? The issue with phonetapping is not whether you have anything to hide about your personal life (frankly, if my personal life is so interesting to some "bureaucrat in the bowels of NSA", that bureaucrat needs not only more work, which there certainly is to be done, but also a life of his/her own), whether the information will be used to convict you for a crime a la the innocents have nothing to hide argument (heck, guilty people have nothing to hide: the program, even by the "if it's reasonable, it's Constitutional" argument, isn't Constitutional -- the spying creates too big of a haystack in which to find any needle) or whether the government will be persecuting people based on what they learn about people's political beliefs from private conversations or even call records (that just ain't happening -- yet). The issue right now at this very moment as demonstrated by the ABC story is whistleblowers. If the government or even big business with government ties has a whistleblower they would like to ferret out, all they need to do is search the phone records of a journalist breaking a story or a cop investigating the case, etc. And, without judicial oversite or even a sealed record in a location physically outside of the control of the executive branch -- it may be that no-one will ever be able to independently review the snooping to see if it's justified, etc. Think of what might even happen as the NSA becomes a tool bandied about it bureaucratic turf wars: who's gonna be minding the door regarding terrorists?

This is the most frightening aspect of the domestic spying: that supposing the executive branch does something immoral, illegal, or what have you. They can find out and go after whomever leaked the wrongdoing and nobody can say "wait a minute -- it would be immoral, illegal and a waste of precious resources that could go into catching real bad guys to go into a reporter's or cop's phone records to identify a whistleblower".

Indeed ... it is precisely those who did no wrong (but who are reporting the wrongdoing of others) that have the most to fear from NSA wiretapping (as I said -- those who did wrong will not have their secrets uncovered by such a profligate data-dump based program; if the government knows enough about what to look for in a data dump, they know enough to get a search warrant. To use Bush's framing of this: "if we know from where Al Qaeda is calling you that we would know that it is Al Qaeda calling you, then we can get a warrant to intercept the call") -- I wish that the media would get this (and that they don't: is that ignorance mere ignorance or is it willful?).

I talk to a friend in French once a week. We have always figured that those calls were monitored even though she lives two roads over from me. At least after the run up to the Iraq invasion.

What is interesting about the Republicans and their kept press is the contrast between this and the swivet they went into because someone, outside the government published Bork's video rental records. And I don't believe those enjoyed legal protection.

Maybe that the press isn't more upset about the possible tracking of their conversations because Karl Rove's staff institutes all of their talks with their sources. Judith Miller's would seem to follow that pattern.

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