The revelations from James Risen’s and Eric Lichtblau’s NSA expose in the NY Times keep coming. And the Times is parcelling them out in serial fashion just like Dickens used to release chapters of his novels in monthly magazine installments. In today’s story, the NSA is revealed to have monitored broad swaths of U.S. telecommunications traffic thanks to the willing cooperation of our phone companies and internet providers:
The NSA has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States…to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.
The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system’s main arteries, they said.
As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.
Looks like the latter opened their switch boxes and traffic logs to NSA snooping so the spy agency could search for patterns of terror activity and zero in on potential bad hombres. As the Times points out, this reminds one of two other Big Brother-type programs the Bush Administration was forced to abandon once their existence was uncovered:
The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush administration in other contexts has raised strong objections, most notably in connection with the Total Information Awareness system, developed by the Pentagon for tracking terror suspects, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Capps program for screening airline passengers. Both programs were ultimately scrapped after public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil liberties.
So if your phone company and ISP don’t explain to your satisfaction their level of involvement (if any) in this program, give ’em hell. I’m starting with my own: Qwest and Comcast. I want to know to what extent you’ve opened your equipment to the NSA. If you have, I’d like to know why. Now that the cat’s out of the bag are you going to stop your participation or not? I’ve written each company’s corporate communications staff asking these questions. I’ll let you know what, if anything, they say in response.