I was up until about 2am last night (Romanian time) watching C-Span’s coverage of Abu Gonzales’ testimony to the Senate on the NSA spying program.
I was going to use parts of Gonzales’ speech, as well as questions that were put to him. I may do that later but right now I want to give you the super-condensed re-cap of what happened.
Gonzales came to the committee to discuss one thing and one thing only. He calls it the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP), a term coined by bloggers. I will refer to it as NSA Domestic Spying Plan One (DSP1).
I’ve read many traditional media articles and dozens of blogger posts about what happened yesterday. But what’s important to understand is that DSP1 and only DSP1 was discussed yesterday.
Gonzales came to the table with his 2-prong defense of DSP1: that Congress authorized it with the AUMF and that the President “always” had the power to do this (bypass FISA warrants). Numerous questions revealed that DSP1 solely concerns listening to telephone calls (and only telephone calls) where one end is international and the other end is in the United States. And that the person on the international end is Al-Qaeda or an affiliate.
Gonzales basically said that the DSP1 was “authorized” because they had the legal justification to do it and so they did it. Gonzales was asked point blank about phone calls which are purely domestic (America to America) and he admitted that those are done solely with FISA warrants. So all this stuff about how FISA is too tedious and time-consuming for DSP1 is bunk, because FISA is apparently “good enough” for solely domestic calls.
What nobody talked about was all the other DSP programs, numbers 2-999. The ones that are not strictly focused on international calls. I’m talking about programs like data mining browser and search engine usage (DSP2), surveillance of peace and anti-war groups (DSP3), data mining emails (DSP4), using JPEN and other “total information awareness” type databases (DSP5), using computers to data mine domestic phone calls (DSP6), passing along NSA information on Americans (illegal) to other agencies like the FBI (DSP7), etc.
The Senate hearings were interesting, that’s for sure, but they were largely useless. Gonzales was there to talk about DSP1 and only DSP1 and since it involves people reasonably believed to be Al-Qaeda terrorists, the Congress is going to do nothing about it. The American people don’t care if the government is spying on Al-Qaeda (even in America), in fact they support it wholeheartedly. I finally figured out why the administration is stumping on the issue – it’s because they’re only talking about DSP1 and it sounds great. Who could really be opposed to spying on “known” terrorists?
DSP1 is just one tiny “tool” used by the administration and it is by far the most acceptable one to the American people. When the New York Times revealed that there were DSP’s, the administration focused on DSP1 and only on DSP1 and framed it in such a way that only petty sticklers to the law could object. This is a war after all!
The traditional media and blogosphere is consumed by the term “dots” as in “connect the dots”. But DSP1 is adding almost none of the dots at all. When the Washington Post says that the FBI got some 5,000 dots and chased them down to find no terrorists, they’re not talking only about DSP1. They’re talking about all the other DSP’s. Think about it for a minute. If you’ve got a known Al-Qaeda member in say, Pakistan, and he’s calling someone in Ohio, is that really going to be a dead end “dot”? Is it going to lead to 5,000 dead end “dots” and no hits?
DSP1 is the administration’s point program. It’s the one in the lead. They found legal justifications for it (however shaky) and kept it secret until someone blew the whistle. And now they’re actively promoting it for a reason – because all the furor and Senate testimony covers up the existance of all the other DSP’s, which were built on the backbone of the justifications for DSP1.
And don’t think this is restricted just to the NSA. The entire military has a number of DSP programs, some of which I’ve written about (like JPEN) and others which we’ve never heard of. Some of them, like DSP1, are known as Special Access Programs (SAPs), which are highly classified. Only 8 members of Congress are even briefed on SAP’s like DSP1. SAP’s budgets and existance are completely classified and “off the books”.
That’s scary enough but there’s an even scarier group of DSP’s, known as ACCM‘s, which have no Congressional oversight at all. William Arkin says there are “hundreds” of ACCM’s and that they cover intelligence gathering operations. Who knows when we will learn about these, if ever.
One DSP is not technical in nature at all. General Hayden discussed it during his speech in front of the National Press Club, which I covered. That DSP is simply the fact that prior to 9/11, NSA did not share information about Americans with other agencies or government officials, except in certain circumstances. Essentially, prior to 9/11, the NSA would invariably “collect” data on innocent Americans, which would be logged but destroyed (as required by law). After 9/11, this raw information about Americans was disseminated widely, both to agencies like the FBI as well as directly to the Vice President’s office.
What’s the old story about the Hydra? Heracles would cut off a head and two would grow back. Only in this case, the Congress will make weak slashing movements at the neck of DSP1 and fail to even draw blood. The traditional media will keep up a lot of pro-administration rhetoric and the blogosphere will abound with anger, speculation and partisan stands, all of which will create a wall of noise that drowns out the deadly nature of what’s actually going on.
Put me in cryogenic suspension and wake me up in 50 years. Either the details of this program will be declassified or, as Gonzales acknowledged yesterday, we’ll still be in a war with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
Cross-posted from Flogging the Simian