I was reading AJ Strata this morning, and with every paragraph on this newly manufactured NSA "scandal" my head was spinning. I'm not sure what draws out my anger more, USA Today's cynical mischaracterization of the NSA data,
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime.
Or that yet another senior intelligence official finds it necessary to threaten national security.
This is where I come out. I'm going to come out and say it: I worked on FISA applications for the FBI. These are the formal, legal requests for surveillance on individuals in the United States, whether they're citizens (US Pers) or foreign nationals. I only did this for 6 months, but six months is long enough to know the difference between surveillance and phone data. Phone data is just that, data. It usually consists of a phone number, a time/date stamp, and perhaps a length of call. It's the data you receive on your phone bill. It's often made available in criminal and civil legal cases, and commercial marketing is often based on such data. GroupIntel explains how this kind of data is used.
It's also important to note that this data is not protected under FISA, because it's not surveillance. It's data, and you can't eavesdrop on a date/time stamp.
The article has a curious internal structure with clarification discussion following one ominous claim after another. Like this:
[Hysterical sentence] The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. [Mitigating facts] This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
It gives the report a sense of threat that doesn't exist in the article as a whole, and offers disingenuous bloggers and commentators the option of cherry-picking the most hysterical claims, and ignore mitigating facts, like, say, no personal information is given. The leaker says as much:
Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said.
This inconvenient fact is forgotten in the left-wing commentary, most of which falls off the cliff into complete hysteria. My favorite are the ones crying "dictatorship!" and "domestic eavesdropping." What is "domestic eavesdropping"? Can someone tell me? It sounds like what I used to do to my big sister when I tried to listen in on her phone calls to her boyfriend. This is another scandal-of-the-day, worked up by a few people who probably know that nothing described in this article is illegal, let alone unconstitutional.
Timing is everything, and since this comes on the heels of the President's nomination of Michael Hayden, I suspect the leaker came from the CIA. The expectation that a military man would head what's left of the CIA probably has a few of the Agency hippies unraveling at their desks. You have to remember that the old office of Director of Central Intelligence (once the CIA's center of power within the IC) probably still contains a few Gollum-like characters: old and angry, and pining for their precious power. A military officer -- from the NSA no less! -- is probably seen as a major threat to whatever power and control they have left. The idea of working under a military man (someone who probably hunts! and eats meat!), too, must possess their sleeping hours. I knew a few in my time in the IC. They're mostly nice people, but they're bureaucrats and they're old. In a few sad cases they've never gotten over the fact that Reagan won the '80 election.
Unfortunately, some of these folks are R.I.P., gov-speak for being retired in place. They're not working, but they're also unfireable, and unwilling to quit until they have their 25 or 30 years. In some cases, they don't want to quit because they're making a GS-15 salary, just for sleeping at their desks.
Idle minds can cause trouble. It's time for a major mandatory voluntary buy out in the IC. Give them their retirement parties with the Costco wraps and the giant sheet cakes, hand them a plaque honoring their decades of service, and send them off to their second homes in the OBX.
We have a jihad to engage, and we shouldn't be spending our precious resources baby-sitting a bunch of Carterites.