Category Archives: The Surveillance State

Big Brother’s Eyes In The Sky

I’ve written before about the increased use of street-level surveillance cameras in cities like New York, now it appears that the Federal Government is increasing the use of spy satellites over American territory:

The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.

A program approved by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security will allow broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery beginning as early as this fall, with the expectation that state and local law enforcement officials will eventually be able to tap into technology once largely restricted to foreign surveillance.

Administration officials say the program will give domestic security and emergency preparedness agencies new capabilities in dealing with a range of threats, from illegal immigration and terrorism to hurricanes and forest fires. But the program, described yesterday by the Wall Street Journal, quickly provoked opposition from civil liberties advocates, who said the government is crossing a well-established line against the use of military assets in domestic law enforcement.

Although the federal government has long permitted the use of spy-satellite imagery for certain scientific functions — such as creating topographic maps or monitoring volcanic activity — the administration’s decision would provide domestic authorities with unprecedented access to high-resolution, real-time satellite photos.

They could also have access to much more. A statement issued yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security said that officials envision “more robust access” not only to imagery but also to “the collection, analysis and production skills and capabilities of the intelligence community.”

The beneficiaries may include “federal, state, local and tribal elements” involved in emergency preparedness and response or “enforcement of criminal and civil laws.” The “tribal” reference was to Native Americans who conduct semiautonomous law enforcement operations on reservations.

Given the seeming public acceptance of surveillance cameras in public areas, I imagine that many people won’t have a problem with this.  The problem, though, is that there is yet another erosion of the line between domestic law enforcement and the military first established in the Posse Comitatus Act.

As KipEsquire notes, the concept is really quite simple:

The sole purpose of a military, and of military hardware, is to protect American citizens from external threats. Combating internal threats is the role of domestic law enforcement. These two purveyors of government force must be kept separate to the greatest extent possible, and the government should be required to demonstrate the most urgent and desperate need before allowing that partition to be breached. Separation of army and police is at least as important a check on oppression as are separation of church and state, co-equal branches and the federal system.

Since September 11th,  the line between the army and the police has become increasingly blurred. In some cases, this makes sense. The idea that the FBI and CIA barely shared intelligence about known terrorist threats — which, in and of itself, was the reason that the things we did know about the 9/11 hijackers before the attacks were never acted on — is, it seems absurd. If the CIA finds something out through foreign surveillance regarding a threat against the homeland, they should be allowed to share that information with law enforcement in hopes that the attack can be thwarted.

Turning the very hardware of the military and intelligence communities over to domestic law enforcement and, in effect, spying on the American public  goes a step too far, and takes us further down the road that the Posse Comitatus Act was intended to divert us from.

Padilla — Results Buttresses Bush & His Detractors

Jose Padilla was tried and convicted in a civilian court of law, and this result is being claimed as a victory for both sides.

The Bush administration can point to this victory as a sign of it’s ability to find and prove that Padilla was in fact guilty of being an active supporter of terrorism:

The guilty verdict against Jose Padilla showed the Bush administration could win a high-profile terrorism conviction despite questions over whether it acted legally in detaining the U.S. citizen for 3-1/2 years without charges.

Given the way that this case came down for the Administration, they should be happy to take what they can get. Had he been exonerated, it would have been a big black mark on their ability to prosecute the War on Terror here at home.

Even so, he was never charged with the “dirty bomb” plot for which he was originally apprehended, and only convicted for being a part of an existing terrorism investigation on other matters.

This has two implications. First, it shows that Bush need not rely on detaining suspects as “enemy combatants” and never bringing them to trial. It suggests that if he has enough evidence to consider someone a terrorist, it is possible to give that suspect a fair hearing in court. Second, it shows that this is possible in civilian court, not only in military tribunals. Both suggest a victory for habeas corpus and accountability of government. Both suggest a defeat for the secretive tactics– dangerous to liberty– that this administration used.

This result can be seen as a victory for the adminstration, but only so far as it was not a major defeat. On the other hand, the case can be seen as support for those who have always claimed that the detention of enemy combatants is illegal, by giving them cause to also claim that it is unnecessary. Even more importantly, to see that we can apprehend and convict terrorists without the attack on civil liberties that the Bush administration claims are necessary is a win for America and the rule of law.

I Want To Be Invisible (To Hillary Clinton, Anyway)

Hillary Clinton’s Latest Ad:

I want to be invisible to this government.

I want my phone calls, letters, and emails to be invisible to this government.

I want my paycheck and bank account to be invisible to this government.

I want my health care choices to be invisible to this government.

I want my retirement plans to be invisible to this government.

I want my family configuration, conventional though it may be, invisible to this government.

I want the number of gallons my toilet flushes invisible to this government.

I want my newborn son to be invisible to this government, not numbered at birth and recorded in their little databases.

I want his education to be invisible to this government.

But Hillary doesn’t want that.

Hillary wants every decision you make to be visible to your government. In fact, she’d rather make your decisions for you, because you might not make them the way she thinks best. She wants to take your paycheck from you and buy everything you need for you, instead of letting you do it on your own. She thinks the government can do all and should know all, as long as she gets to be in charge.

After all, giving over all your money to Hillary to be spent on the “common good”, and letting her make your decisions, is the only way to experience true freedom, as she understands it.

Bush And Congress Expand Warrantless Wiretaps

On Sunday, President Bush signed into law a new bill that greatly expands the ability of the Federal Government to eavesdrop on international communications without a warrant:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 — President Bush signed into law on Sunday legislation that broadly expanded the government’s authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants.

Congressional aides and others familiar with the details of the law said that its impact went far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists. They said seemingly subtle changes in legislative language would sharply alter the legal limits on the government’s ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States.

They also said that the new law for the first time provided a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens.

“This more or less legalizes the N.S.A. program,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, who has studied the new legislation.

Previously, the government needed search warrants approved by a special intelligence court to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, e-mail messages and other electronic communications between individuals inside the United States and people overseas, if the government conducted the surveillance inside the United States.

Today, most international telephone conversations to and from the United States are conducted over fiber-optic cables, and the most efficient way for the government to eavesdrop on them is to latch on to giant telecommunications switches located in the United States.

By changing the legal definition of what is considered “electronic surveillance,” the new law allows the government to eavesdrop on those conversations without warrants — latching on to those giant switches — as long as the target of the government’s surveillance is “reasonably believed” to be overseas.

In other words, what was once an illegal Executive Branch operation is all nice and legal now.

Just wonderful.

Why Bush Cancelled Warrantless Wiretapping Program

Some of you may remember this story, from mid-January (covered by Doug here). The tone of the story is that Bush backed down to pressure from Democrats and the American public, and realized that his program might be over the line.

The Bush administration said yesterday that it has agreed to disband a controversial warrantless surveillance program run by the National Security Agency, replacing it with a new effort that will be overseen by the secret court that governs clandestine spying in the United States.

The change — revealed by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in a letter to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee — marks an abrupt reversal by the administration, which for more than a year has aggressively defended the legality of the NSA surveillance program and disputed court authority to oversee it.

Administration officials suggested that the move was aimed in part at quelling persistent objections to the NSA spying by Democrats who now control Congress and that it is intended to slow or even derail challenges making their way through the federal courts. The Justice Department immediately filed a notice with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit yesterday informing the panel of the new program and promising to file papers “addressing the implications of this development” on pending litigation.

I didn’t quite buy it then… Bush is a “decider” and once he’s made a decision, it rarely changes. So for him to give up a power that he believes he has seemed a bit strange.

And today we find out why, as he backed down not out of respect for the rule of law or the Constitution, but because a judge forced his hand:

A federal intelligence court judge earlier this year secretly declared a key element of the Bush administration’s wiretapping efforts illegal, according to a lawmaker and government sources, providing a previously unstated rationale for fevered efforts by congressional lawmakers this week to expand the president’s spying powers.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) disclosed elements of the court’s decision in remarks Tuesday to Fox News as he was promoting the administration-backed wiretapping legislation. Boehner has denied revealing classified information, but two government officials privy to the details confirmed that his remarks concerned classified information.

The judge, whose name could not be learned, concluded early this year that the government had overstepped its authority in attempting to broadly surveil communications between two locations overseas that are passed through routing stations in the United States, according to two other government sources familiar with the decision.

The decision was both a political and practical blow to the administration, which had long held that all of the National Security Agency’s enhanced surveillance efforts since 2001 were legal. The administration for years had declined to subject those efforts to the jurisdiction of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and after it finally did so in January the court ruled that the administration’s legal judgment was at least partly wrong.

Now, because of the secretive nature, a lot of the timeline is missing here. It is unclear whether the judge’s final ruling came before or after the Administration changed their tune, but portions of the letter Gonzales released on Jan 17 did refer to orders by a judge handed down on Jan 10.

Either way, it’s clear that this was not the administration backing down from wrongdoing, this was the administration being forced into compliance.

Which, frankly, is the only way to get this administration to do anything it doesn’t want to do.

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