This morning’s New York Times reports that 9/11 spurred the NSA to shrug off its institutional safeguards without any direction from the president, based at least in part on declassified correspondence between Nancy Pelosi and Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, then head of the N.S.A.
One step that the agency took immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, Ms. Pelosi wrote in her letter, was to begin forwarding information from foreign intelligence intercepts to the F.B.I. for investigation without first receiving a specific request from the bureau for “identifying information.”
In the past, under so-called minimization procedures intended to guard Americans’ privacy, the agency’s standard practice had been to require a written request from a government official who wanted to know the name of an American citizen or a person in the United States who was mentioned or overheard in a wiretap.
In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency began monitoring telephone calls and e-mail messages between the United States and Afghanistan to track possible terror suspects. That program led to the broader eavesdropping operation on other international communications, officials have said.
The agency has also tapped into some of the nation’s main telecommunications arteries to trace and analyze large volumes of phone and e-mail traffic to look for patterns of possible terrorist activity.
If this is true then Bush’s 2002 executive order almost seems like a justification after-the-fact. As unnecessary as it seem to point it out, Hoover’s reign at the FBI shows the danger that an agency with extensive intelligence capabilities can pose to our democracy when the rest of the government is either afraid or unwilling to act as an effective check. Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller clearly wanted to act as a check, but doing anything more than what they actually did would likely have netted them a prison sentence. Bush’s executive order suggests that he felt more comfortable in the enabler’s role.
Fiction teachers will always tell you to show rather than tell. Read this bit from a recent piece in Slate and tell me that you’re comfortable with these guys tapping whomever they please.
The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a “data-mining” operation, which might eventually cull “millions” of individual calls and e-mails.
Like the pressure applied to ITT a half-century ago, our source says the government was insistent, arguing that his competitors had already shown their patriotism by signing on. The NSA would not comment on the issue, saying that, “We do not discuss details of actual or alleged operational issues.”
Here you have one of many ways that dishonest people took advantage of the 9/11 dead to turn the word ‘patriotism’ into a blunt weapon with which to beat their enemies. What did it mean, in those months following the September attacks, to lack patriotism? In the words of the great leader, he of 90% approval ratings, you either stood with him, patriotically, or you stood with the terrorists. By using an ultracharged but conveniently ill-defined word like ‘patriotism’ the NSA implied that telecom providers either assist them in breaking the law or they stood with insatiable, bloodthirsty America-hating savages. George Orwell would be proud.