Monday, May 15, 2006

NSA phone-monitoring aimed at journalists?

The War on Journalism continues. ABC News is reporting that the Federal Government is using using electronic surveillance to root out those who provide journalists with information about the government. For the first, oh, let's say 214 years since the Constitution was adopted, Americans understood that journalists need sources in order to report anything worth reading. Of course, considering current events, the government has a vested interest in the people not reading anything, and they're counting on the perennial apathy of the American people as they continue their assault on the First Amendment.

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.


Our reports on the CIA's secret prisons in Romania and Poland were known to have upset CIA officials.

People questioned by the FBI about leaks of intelligence information say the CIA was also disturbed by ABC News reports that revealed the use of CIA predator missiles inside Pakistan.
Just an aside, but has anyone else noticed how emotion has been interwoven into the fabric of government and media in the past 6 years? When Senators are tasked with confirming a Presidential employee, we hear more about their families, their pets, and their favorite colors than we do about their administrative or judicial philosophies. When an appointee faces tough questioning, we hear more about how it made his victimized wife cry (possibly on cue) than about his non-answers. We have an "Office of Homeland Security," rather than an "Office of Domestic Security." The CIA isn't "determined to end leaks," it's "upset" or "disturbed." Something is very wrong when both government and Media begin using terminology that appeals more to the emotional centers of the brain rather than the logic centers. Anyway...

Under Bush Administration guidelines, it is not considered illegal for the government to keep track of numbers dialed by phone customers.
It seems none of us paid attention in second grade when they taught us about the three branches of government. Apparently it's the executive branch, not the judicial or legislative, that gets to decide what is and isn't legal.


Chuck said...

Apparently, you may have forgotten a couple of things...but it can be forgiven.
1) Phone companies have been keeping track of dialed numbers for YEARS!

2) The Government (darn, I can't spell the proper word!)"Requested" these records through proper channels, and with the the security of this country at stake, the records were turned over.

This is not to say that I agree with this policy. I do not. (Boy, am I in trouble with the government now??)

::sigh:: If we could just return to the days before September 11, 2001!

Darrin Bell said...

Chuck, if you don't agree with this policy, then you'll be happy to hear that you're completely wrong.

1) Phone companies keep track of dialed numbers indefinitely. That's their function. Thanks to the Constitution of the United States, government is not allowed to compile such records on American citizens without first obtaining a warrant from a court. If the government has reason to believe an American citizen is a terrorist, they can easily obtain a search warrant and then ask the phone company for the record of any calls that individual has made. That's how it's always been done, and there's absolutely no reason not to continue doing it that way (unless you're spying on people you shouldn't be spying on, such as journalists or political opponents).

2) The government did not request these records "through proper channels." The proper channel is called a "search warrant." Data-mining large numbers of American citizens is illegal. Spying on individual citizens is also illegal without a court warrant. Read your Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment. Then read the Communications Act of 1936, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The world has not changed since 9/11, Chuck, that's a myth. We had all the tools we needed to prevent 9/11 prior to the attack. Clinton's administration had been meeting daily in the last years of his administration to keep abreast of terrorist activities, and they thwarted several attacks, mostly around the Millennium, by working within existing rules. When they left office, they warned the Bush administration that Al Qaeda would be their biggest challenge. Yet President Bush did not convene the terrorism task force once in the 9 months leading up to September 11. Instead, they focused on building a space-based weapons system aimed at fending off attacks from North Korea. The Bush administration had valuable people inside the FBI work on stopping pornography instead of chasing down terrorists in our country. They decided not to deal with terrorism at all. We were hit not because we had too many civil liberties, but because the President took his eye off the ball for nine months.

All this talk about "nobody could have foreseen this" was a lie. This exact scenario was foreseen by the previous administration, and they had been informed about it months earlier. All this talk about the world being "different now" and about how our civil liberties were to blame for the attack is just a smokescreen designed to cover the asses of an incompetent administration that fell asleep at the wheel.

TEM said...

One of many smokescreens, if I may add - like the now forgotten terror alert system (what color are we now?), this current immigration push (I doubt it's a coincidence that this is coming up at exactly the same time the info about the phone records is coming up), the bird flu push (around the same time people were hopping mad about FEMA's failures during Katrina), etc., etc., etc.

Chuck said...

Darrin, I guess I ought to clarify my thoughts a bit-- and I must admit, you've made points here. However, I will bring up some other things shortly.
I've said that the Phone companies have been keeping track of dialed numbers for years. I didn't say they had been keeping them for years. I knew of nothing that said that they had to keep them indefinitely. The term I was seeking was Subpeona, rather than search warrant. (I hope I spelled that right!)
I also didn't say that I approve of surveillence of American Citizens. If I somehow implied it, It was not intentional!
(And, true be told, I thought phone companies were supposed to help supply communication, rather than keep track of dialed numbers!)

However, you did state that the Clinton Administration helped prevent some attacks around the Millenium. I would assume you mean the year 2000, rather than 2001 (Sorry to nitpick...!). I recall something like that.
But, There are some things like the first bombing of the WTC. And, the attack on our Naval vessel in the Persian Gulf... Perhaps the Clinton Adminstration didn't see those coming...

No matter. I'll do the reading you suggested. Just because I am more of GOP leaning doesn't mean I'm stubborn.

It's not the world that's changed since 9-11. It's us. We now realize that we are no longer "untouchable". It's sobering!

OH, by the way: Even if we think the other is wrong, I will continue to read your strip and blog. I enjoy them too much to boycott over a philosophical difference!

And Thanks for responding. You've done great!

Darrin Bell said...

Thanks, Chuck!

Chuck said...

I did some research might be surprised to learn that George W. Bush is not the first President to order "Illegal Domestic Surveillance". While the Supreme Court (in 1937, and 1939) said that the Communications act of 1934 (Not 1936...While there were some changes then, however) did not allow it, This particular President believed, and live up to, his belief that in "Normal conditions" it applied, but NOT when it came to matters of National Security. Now, who was it? Hmmmm. It might surprise you that the FIRST President to Violate the act wasn't Bush at all. Nor was it Nixon. Not Kennedy, either. FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT was the one. And from my reading (The American Spectator) it seems that he believed that the act did NOT apply when it came to matters of National Security. Of course, J. Edgar Hoover was also involved.

Just a thought... and something to think about!

Darrin Bell said...

None of that is surprising at all. I've heard the same misinformation on Fox News and Limbaugh. The 1934 and 1936 Communications Acts are two separate laws. And Roosevelt wasn't subject to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Regardless, he was wrong. And unless our mothers were wrong when they told us "two wrongs don't make a right," Roosevelt's infringing on the Fourth Amendment does not excuse Bush doing the same.

Chuck said...

If this is "Misinformation", maybe you ought to mention it to the Pioneer Press, as well. That Paper is what got me to check things out. And, "American Spectator" seems to bash both sides equally--So, if it's all a lie, at least their lying about both sides. (grin)
I've found very little on the 1936 Communications act...almost nothing. Perhaps you can recommend a site?

Anyway: Even if two wrongs don't make a right, you must admit: Both are consistent with their beliefs. That, of course is part of the problem...But when politicians are too consistant, they are generally "consistantly wrong", but if they change, the media are going to accuse them of "Flip-flop" well as their opponents.

I guess it's just the "Perils of Politics", eh?

In 217 years, only 2 presidents have ever been "Fully" impeached--and tried. Neither one was thrown out. I'm not sure what that says about the country--but it does say a lot for stability!

Darrin Bell said...

No website that I know of will give you the text of the 1936 act, although you can find solid references to its existence via a simple Google search. You're going to have to look this one up in the library (they're not obsolete yet, apparently).

The "misinformation" I refer to is the conflation of Roosevelt's actions with those of Bush without pointing out that Bush is subject to laws that didn't exist in Roosevelt's day. I don't know about you, but I believe that's a vital distinction. I still believe Roosevelt was wrong, and his surveillance program was just one in a list of several impeachable offenses he committed (not the least of which was the internment of Japanese-Americans).

About impeachment, the two who were impeached were impeached for political reasons, and Senators of conscience voted to acquit them. Many others who deserved to be impeached, weren't. And as we know, were it not for Nixon's resignation, we could add him to that ignominious list. The House judiciary committee passed resolutions of impeachment. The Vice President also resigned rather than face impeachment. As you point out, it's a tool that's been used far too infrequently. We have a culture that seems to tolerate almost anything from our elected officials.

That lack of accountability is not necessary for a stable country.

Chuck said...

Ok, then it's the Library. I guess it DOES work! :)

Now, of course-- I think the reason we tolerate so much from our elected folk is simple: We just don't want to change things every 6 months. Some Governments changed almost like that since WWII. Israel leaps to mind with the constant change. So does Italy.

I guess it comes down to this: Does National Security conflict with Civil Rights? And how can we make them not conflict without giving up freedoms? It's a question for philosophers, and I'm not one.

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