Friday, January 06, 2006

Lies, Distortion, Deception By The Press

To listen to much of the reporting surrounding the "domestic spying" row you would be lead to believe that the NSA is tapping into the communications of domestic citizens and eavesdropping on conversations across the country. Without saying it directly, the press reports create the impression that the government has a vast illegal intelligence operation underway inside the USA. In my opinion, this reporting borders on criminal.

Here is the reality as I understand it: NSA is tasked with (among other things) monitoring communications outside of the USA. In some instances a conversation is intercepted OVERSEAS where one of the parties to the communications is inside the US. So imagine a listening post someplace in Europe or Asia that intercepts a telephone conversation between someone in Pakistan and someone in the US. That person in Pakistan is known to be an al Qaeda operative. A very strict pre-911 interpretation of the law would say that NSA would only be allowed to "listen" to one side of the conversation. They would only be allowed to collect what the foreign citizen said. They would be required to contact the FBI and have the other side of the conversation collected by a different agency. Now for an intelligence analyst trying to make sense out of the conversation, you are asking them to coordinate between multiple agencies, get the data together, HOPE that the other agency can actually "catch" the data while the conversation is taking place, and that it can all be put back together into a conversation that the analyst can listen to ... or you simply record both sides while it is happening.

I have absolutely no problem with US overseas intelligence collecting communications between known or suspected terror operators in the US and known or suspected terror operators overseas. If NSA intercepts a satellite phone call from someone in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border area and someone in New York City, I would be angrier if they DIDN'T intercept it.

Look at it in this light: What if another incident happens and it turns out that the individuals involved had been in communications with people overseas, we had been monitoring their conversations but were forced to stop. The press would have a field day with "Government Knew of Terrorist in NYC" stories even though they might not have had any concrete information yet to arrest them before monitoring stopped.

The press is in the process of a deliberate distortion campaign designed to portray this eavesdropping as something that it isn't. It is designed to stir up emotions and get people upset at the administration to further the political agenda of the publishers. This impression that the NSA is at your telephone office listening to conversations between Americans inside the US without really saying so is what they are trying to create. If they were responsible, they would write about intercepting communications in FOREIGN countries with people inside the borders of the US. If you listen to the stories, you will notice that while they have reported the story that it is foreign communications being intercepted, it was reported once or twice and the remainder of the reporting has been about "domestic intercepts" which gives the impression that they are intercepting communications where both ends are inside the US. THAT would be against the law for NSA to do and I have seen absolutely no evidence that such a thing is happening.

Check out this article for another perspective and a recent case of intercepts foiling a terrorist operation:


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