Wed Dec 28, 2005 20:49

Capitol Hill Blue/DOUG THOMPSON
Spying on Americans by the super-secret National Security Agency is
not only more widespread than the government admits, but is part of a
concentrated, government-wide effort to gather and catalog
information on U.S. citizens, sources close to the administration
say. (All this while they fight to keep the Mexican border wide
open). Besides the NSA, the Pentagon, Federal Bureau of
Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and dozens of
private contractors are spying on millions of Americans 24 hours a
day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"It's a total effort to build dossiers on as many Americans as
possible," says a former NSA agent who quit in disgust over use of
the agency to spy on Americans. "We're no longer in the business of
tracking our enemies. We're spying on everyday Americans." "It's
really obvious to me that it's a look-at-everything type program,"
says cryptology expert Bruce Schneier. Schneier says he suspects that
the NSA is turning its massive spy satellites inward on the United
States and intentionally gathering vast streams of raw data from many
more people than disclosed to date — potentially including all e-
mails and phone calls within the United States. But the NSA spying is
just the tip of the iceberg.

Although supposedly killed by Congress more than 18 months ago, the
Defense Advance Project Research Agency's Terrorist Information
Awareness (TIA) system, formerly called the "Total Information
Awareness" program, is alive and well and collecting data in real
time on Americans at a computer center located at 3801 Fairfax Drive
in Arlington, Virginia. The system, set up by retired admiral John
Poindexter, once convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra
scandal, compiles financial, travel and other data on the day-to-day
activities of Americans and then runs that data through a computer
model to look for patterns that the agency deems "terrorist-related
behavior." Poindexter admits the program was quietly moved into the
Pentagon's "black bag" program where it does escapes Congressional
oversight. "TIA builds a profile of every American who travels, has a
bank account, uses credit cards and has a credit record," says
security expert Allen Banks. "The profile establishes norms based on
the person's spending and travel habits. Then the system looks for
patterns that break from the norms, such of purchases of materials
that are considered likely for terrorist activity, travel to specific
areas or a change in spending habits." Patterns that fit pre-defined
criteria result in an investigative alert and the individual becomes
a "person of interest" who is referred to the Department of Justice
and Department of Homeland Security, Banks says.

Intelligence pros call the process "data mining" and that is
something the NSA excels at as well says former NSA signals
intelligence analyst Russell Tice. "The technology exists," says
Tice, who left the NSA earlier this year. "Say Aunt Molly in Oklahoma
calls her niece at an Army base in Germany and says, 'Isn't it
horrible about those terrorists and September 11th,'" Tice told the
Atlanta Constitution recently. "That conversation would not only be
captured by NSA satellites listening in on Germany — which is legal —
but flagged and listened to by NSA analysts and possibly transcribed
for further investigation. All you would have to do is move the
vacuum cleaner a little to the left and begin sucking up the other
end of that conversation. You move it a little more and you could be
picking up everything people are saying from California to New York."
The Pentagon has built a massive database of Americans it considers
threats, including members of antiwar groups, peace activists and
writers opposed to the war in Iraq. Pentagon officials now claim they
are "reviewing the files" to see if the information is necessary to
the "war on terrorism." "Given the military's legacy of privacy
abuses, such vague assurances are cold comfort," says Gene Healy,
senior editor of the CATO Institute in Washington.

"During World War I, concerns about German saboteurs led to
unrestrained domestic spying by U.S. Army intelligence operatives,"
says Healy. "Army spies were given free reign to gather information
on potential subversives, and were often empowered to make arrests as
special police officers. Occasionally, they carried false
identification as employees of public utilities to allow them, as the
chief intelligence officer for the Western Department put it, `to
enter offices or residences of suspects gracefully, and thereby
obtain data.'" "There's a long and troubling history of military
surveillance in this country," Healy adds. "That history suggests
that we should loathe allowing the Pentagon access to our personal
information." In her book Army Surveillance in America, historian
Joan M. Jensen noted, "What began as a system to protect the
government from enemy agents became a vast surveillance system to
watch civilians who violated no law but who objected to wartime
policies or to the war itself."

"It's a nightmare," says a Congressional aide who recently obtained
information on the program for his boss but asked not to be
identified because he fears retaliation from the government. "We're
collecting more information on Americans than on real enemies of our
country." Sen. John Rockefeller says he raised concerns more than two
years ago about increased spying on Americans but – as a member of
the Senate Intelligence Committee – could not share that concern with
colleagues. "For the last few days, I have witnessed the President,
the Vice-President, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney-General
repeatedly misrepresent the facts," Rockefeller said last week. When
he was first briefed about the activity in 2003, we sent a
handwritten note to Vice President Dick Cheney outlining his concerns.

"I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the
secure spaces of the Senate intelligence committee to ensure that I
have a record of this communication," Rockefeller told Cheney.
However, Rockefeller says now, "my concerns were never addressed, and
I was prohibited from sharing my views with my colleagues." Missouri
Congressman William Clay worries that the Bush Adminstration is
skirting the law by letting private contractors handle the data
mining. "The agencies involved in data mining are trying to skirt the
Privacy Act by claiming that they hold no data," said Clay. Instead,
they use private companies to maintain and sift through the data, he
said. "Technically, that gets them out from under the Privacy Act,"
he said. "Ethically, it does not."

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