Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Nation of Suspects

We have become a nation of spies and criminal suspects, our private lives an open book to government bureaucrats sifting through data collected illegally on massive supercomputers.

I've written repeatedly about the clear signs that the illegal domestic spying program whose existence the President and Attorney General Gonzalez have admitted is almost certainly neither the beginning nor the end of the illegal spying that is being conducted. It seems we have only scratched the surface of the Bush Administration's criminal surveillance of its own citizens.

We now have a report from Radar’s Christopher Ketcham on an ominous program identified as “Main Core”:
According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.
8 million citizens pre-identified for detention? Obviously this article deserves a nice, slow read. Here is another disturbing graf:
A host of publicly disclosed programs, sources say, now supply data to Main Core. Most notable are the NSA domestic surveillance programs, initiated in the wake of 9/11, typically referred to in press reports as "warrantless wiretapping."

. . . According to the Journal, the government can now electronically monitor "huge volumes of records of domestic e-mails and Internet searches, as well as bank transfers, credit card transactions, travel, and telephone records." Authorities employ "sophisticated software programs" to sift through the data, searching for "suspicious patterns." In effect, the program is a mass catalog of the private lives of Americans. And it's notable that the article hints at the possibility of programs like Main Core. "The [NSA] effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called black programs whose existence is undisclosed," the Journal reported, quoting unnamed officials. "Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach."

The following information seems to be fair game for collection without a warrant: the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards. All of this information is archived on government supercomputers and, according to sources, also fed into the Main Core database.

Main Core also allegedly draws on four smaller databases that, in turn, cull from federal, state, and local "intelligence" reports; print and broadcast media; financial records; "commercial databases"; and unidentified "private sector entities." Additional information comes from a database known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, which generates watch lists from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for use by airlines, law enforcement, and border posts. According to the Washington Post, the Terrorist Identities list has quadrupled in size between 2003 and 2007 to include about 435,000 names. The FBI's Terrorist Screening Center border crossing list, which listed 755,000 persons as of fall 2007, grows by 200,000 names a year. A former NSA officer tells Radar that the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, using an electronic-funds transfer surveillance program, also contributes data to Main Core, as does a Pentagon program that was created in 2002 to monitor antiwar protesters and environmental activists such as Greenpeace.

If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protesters, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people.
Many around the blogosphere have excellent takes on these revelations. Here are a few to get you started. Digby:
I don't know about you, but I sort of go with the assumption that there will be another terrorist attack on US soil at some point. I don't know if it will be Islamic or homegrown. (After all we've had big attacks from both in the last 15 years.) The difference now is that we have a big new police apparatus built up during the Bush years and an entire propaganda machine organized around the idea that the boogeyman is trying to kill us all in our beds. It's not a stretch to think that under pressure, any government could, (*ahem*) overreach just a tad and decide that certain political undesirables need to be dealt with. If they've built the capability, there is every chance they will use it. It's how these things work.

Meanwhile, some dillweed federal bureaucrat can rifle through all of your personal information whenever he feels like it.
Emptywheel:
This explanation . . . fits neatly with a lot of things we know about the Bush Administration.
Tristero (linking to this article by Naomi Klein in Rolling Stone about China's new electronic surveillance state and the big business that created it):
To make a long story short, but you really MUST read the long story, China is perfecting what Klein calls Market Stalinism, wedding a turbo-charged capitalist culture with the psychotic obsession for total control of a totalitarian state And now you know why the liberal blogosphere will never let the issue of American telcoms immunity go. Ever.
Getting the Republican establishment that set up these secret systems out of office is the absolute first priority. Priority two is keeping the current Democratic Congress from capitulating and giving amnesty to the big telecom companies for cooperating with the secret, illegal government surveillance programs -- which as the Radar article suggests, we know very little about. To that end, Glenn Greenwald and others are starting a campaign to begin pressuring House "Blue Dog" Democrats like Chris Carney from forcing the amnesty that Bush and his corporate allies are demanding.

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