The Obama administration is seeking increased domestic spying powers

Earlier this summer, we discussed a special report issued by the Washington Post on America’s rapidly expanding domestic surveillance infrastructure. I, and others, were shocked by the continued growth under the Obama administration. Among other things, it was noted that some 30,000 individuals are presently employed exclusively to listen in on our domestic conversations. Here, with more on that, is a clip from Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria:

…Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror. The amount of money spent on intelligence has risen by 250 percent, to $75 billion (and that’s the public number, which is a gross underestimate). That’s more than the rest of the world spends put together. Thirty-three new building complexes have been built for intelligence bureaucracies alone, occupying 17 million square feet—the equivalent of 22 U.S. Capitols or three Pentagons. Five miles southeast of the White House, the largest government site in 50 years is being built—at a cost of $3.4 billion—to house the largest bureaucracy after the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs: the Department of Homeland Security, which has a workforce of 230,000 people.

This new system produces 50,000 reports a year—136 a day!—which of course means few ever get read. Those senior officials who have read them describe most as banal; one tells me, “Many could be produced in an hour using Google.” Fifty-one separate bureaucracies operating in 15 states track the flow of money to and from terrorist organizations, with little information-sharing….

But, as Zakaria later notes, none of this so-called intelligence helped prevent Nidal Malik Hasan from killing 13 and wounding 30 at Fort Hood. Here, with more on that, is Zakaria:

…Some 30,000 people are now employed exclusively to listen in on phone conversations and other communications in the United States. And yet no one in Army intelligence noticed that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had been making a series of strange threats at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he trained. The father of the Nigerian “Christmas bomber” reported his son’s radicalism to the U.S. Embassy. But that message never made its way to the right people in this vast security apparatus. The plot was foiled only by the bomber’s own incompetence and some alert passengers…

And, from what I read in the press today, this vast security apparatus is continuing to grow unchecked. Today, the Obama administration confirmed that they will be requesting new powers to tap into our online communications. Following is a clip from the New York Times:

…Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.

James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design…

I can understand why the feds would want to make sure that they’re able to collect data that may prove critical in thwarting terrorist attacks, as new channels of communication are developed, and I’m sympathetic. But at what point do we draw the line? At what point do we say that our privacy is worth more to us than the illusion that increased domestic spying is keeping us safer. And, as Zakaria pointed out, it is an illusion. We had ample warning about Nidal Malik Hasan, and yet that attack still took place. Hell, Bush received a national security brief on Osama’s intention to strike within the United States, and there were a number of red flags concerning the individual 9/11 terrorists, but somehow those attacks still took place. Maybe I’d be more understanding if we had a better track record. The truth is, though, I don’t see how we’ll be in any better of a position as a country for having extended greater domestic spying rights to the feds.

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12 Comments

  1. Osama Yo Mama
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    “Hell, Bush received a national security brief on Obama’s intention to strike within the United States”

    Freudian slip typo reveals Mark’s secret Tea Party leanings…

  2. applejack
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Osama*

  3. Knox
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    I want to support the Obama administration blindly, but something about unlimited wire tapping and the desire to execute American citizens without trial kind of rubs me the wrong way.

  4. Anonymatt
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I heard a rumor that Obama takes his inspiration from the Prehensile Monkey Tailed Skink song, “I’m a Spy.”

  5. dragon
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    From C/net:

    By law, the US government publishes a report each year on all lawful wiretaps, Federal and state. Here is an excerpt from the latest report: “Public Law 106-197 amended 18 U.S.C. ? 2519(2)(b) to require that reporting should refect the number of wiretap applications granted for which encryption was encountered and whether such encryption prevented law enforcement officials from obtaining the plain text of communications intercepted pursuant to the court orders. In 2009, one instance was reported of encryption encountered during a state wiretap; however, this did not prevent officials from obtaining the plain text of the communications.” In other words, there was just one lawful wiretap last year where communications were encrypted and even in that case it did not stymie law enforcement. The proposed law is not about aiding law enforcement, it’s about perfecting the surveillance society.

  6. Edward
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that, Dragon. I agree that they have the tools necessary. We could have stopped the 9/11 attacks with the system that existed at the time, had our people acted accordingly, shared information, etc.

  7. Hestor Polloch
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    As long as we’re popping bubbles, it looks like Alan Grayson is something of a liar too.

    http://factcheck.org/2010/09/rep-grayson-lowers-the-bar/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=facebook

  8. Carl K
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    I expected more from a professor of constitutional law.

  9. Brackinald Achery
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Oh I see. You just want him to follow YOUR interpretation of the Constitution.

    This is exactly what that line of thinking leads to. Serves you right.

  10. Brackinald Achery
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Trust the experts to interpret the Constitution for you? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Suckers.

  11. Turk22
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Bruce Schneier has a good column on this today.

    Yes, communications technologies are used by both the good guys and the bad guys. But the good guys far outnumber the bad guys, and it’s far more valuable to make sure they’re secure than it is to cripple them on the off chance it might help catch a bad guy. It’s like the FBI demanding that no automobiles drive above 50 mph, so they can more easily pursue getaway cars. It might or might not work — but, regardless, the cost to society of the resulting slowdown would be enormous.

    It’s bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state. No matter what the eavesdroppers say, these systems cost too much and put us all at greater risk.

    The rest of the article:
    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/09/wiretapping_the.html

  12. Glen S.
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    From The Atlantic …

    Obama DOJ: John Yoo Memos on Spying Must Stay Secret

    The Obama administration has refused to declassify a secret memo from the George W. Bush presidency that justified the warrantless spying conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA).

    Matthew Aid, a writer who’s covered the NSA and surveillance policy, requested a copy of a 2001 Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion by John Yoo that discussed the legal grounds for electronic spying without permission from a special federal court. The Department of Justice mostly denied Aid’s Freedom of Information Act request, saying the redacted information in the OLC opinion was “classified, covered by non-disclosure provisions contained in other federal statutes, and is protected by the deliberative process privilege.”

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/08/obama-doj-john-yoo-memos-on-spying-must-stay-secret/244312/

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