Skip to comments.Q&A: NSA Domestic Surveillance Program
Posted on 01/28/2006 9:13:58 PM PST by NormsRevenge
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration faces daily questions about a highly secretive program at the National Security Agency aimed at monitoring terror suspects. Is it legal? Who's targeted?
Some questions and answers about the domestic surveillance program launched shortly after Sept. 11, 2001:
Q: Can the NSA eavesdrop on Americans?
A: Generally, it is prohibited without a court order. But under a directive signed by President Bush, and renewed more than 30 times, the National Security Agency can monitor the international communications of people inside the country, when one party to the call or e-mail is believed to be involved with al-Qaida.
Q: How many people are affected?
A: Only a tight-knit group of government officials know, and they won't say. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other senior officials have insisted the program is "targeted" to go after only the most dangerous types of communications those that may involve al-Qaida inside the United States.
Civil rights groups, scholars, lawyers for Muslim Americans, Democrats and others fear communications may have been more widely monitored.
Q: What did Bush's directive change?
A: In national security investigations, the program eliminated the need to go before a judge for approval of surveillance on U.S. residents.
Previously, government lawyers had to show the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there was "probable cause" a targeted person was an agent of a foreign power. A federal judge had to approve a warrant, and typically did. Bush's order allowed the NSA not a judge to approve the monitoring when officials had a "reasonable basis to believe" one party to the call or e-mail was linked to al-Qaida.
Q: Who decides who is monitored?
A: Last month, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the government's No. 2 intelligence official, said an NSA shift supervisor makes the call. The former NSA director rephrased his answer this week, saying only a small group of senior military officers or civilian counterterror experts at NSA get to decide, using criteria that has not been disclosed.
Q: How does the surveillance work?
A: Officials won't say. But Hayden said the NSA is not vacuuming up vast amounts of communications and running searches on it. In 2003 alone, U.S. citizens spent 200 billion minutes on international calls. Ethically and practically, he said, the NSA can't be a "drift net."
Despite his words, opponents are concerned the NSA captures a lot.
Q: Has the program foiled terrorist attacks?
A: Administration officials say they have gotten valuable information that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. For security reasons, they do not provide specifics.
Q: Why the uproar?
A: For the administration's critics, the program harkens back to the Nixon administration's wiretapping. It also raises constitutional questions about whether the monitoring is an unreasonable search, prohibited under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment.
Q: Was Congress told?
A: The administration says that members of Congress were briefed more than a dozen times. However, only select lawmakers were present. Called the "Gang of Eight," they include the top Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate and on the intelligence committees.
In the program's four years, the lawmakers included in that group have changed, so few if any attended all the briefings. And some privately say they weren't given all the information they needed.
Q: Has anyone who has been briefed on the program called for its halt?
No. Democrats, including California Rep. Jane Harman (news, bio, voting record), the intelligence committee's top Democrat, have complained about the size of the briefings and legal questions they want answered.
But none has said the program should end. Harman says she believes the program "is essential to U.S. national security."
Q: Did the White House consider asking Congress to change the law?
A: Yes. Although Bush says he has adequate legal authority now, Gonzales said the administration considered proposing changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2004. The attorney general said congressional leaders believed that move would jeopardize the program.
Some Democrats are quietly arguing the administration thought it was on shaky ground in 2003. A draft bill proposed giving legal cover to federal officials who conduct unauthorized surveillance ordered by the president or attorney general. That update to the Patriot Act, leaked to an interest group, was never introduced in Congress.
Q: Some people have sued the government, saying they believe their conversations might have been intercepted. How can they know?
A: They can't. At least two federal lawsuits are based on a belief that the individuals may have engaged in conversations that would have attracted the NSA's attention. If the courts allow the cases to proceed, the government may be forced to disclose information about the program and its targets.
Q: What is the NSA anyway?
A: The NSA is the largest of the nation's 15 spy agencies. Its 30,000 workers worldwide are charged with protecting U.S. information systems and eavesdropping on adversaries. They take pride in the nickname, "Never Say Anything," and adequate distance from Washington the headquarters is at Fort Meade, Md. to ensure a healthy population of Baltimore Ravens football fans.
In a news conference at the White House on Thursday, President Bush defends his program of warrantless surveillance. "There's no doubt in my mind it is legal," he says.
Q: When will Pinchey and the rest of the traitorous scumbags at the New York Slimes be charged with treason?
A: Not soon enough.
Two points here:
 My strong suspicion is that the suggestion that they might have attracted the NSA's attention is thin cover for the real purpose: to expose the program and thereby derail its mission. I'd bet a dollar or two these are people involved with others that are actively trying to oppose the United States.
 During 'discovery', one of the first things I'd ask from the Government side is "Okay, you think you got monitored. When phone numbers were you having conversations with?" If the numbers are not on "the list", then argue for dismissal... but consider adding them. If on "the list", then charge the plaintiffs with treason!
Well, why rock the boat ask the inquisitors? Just go to the court and get the warrant say the inquisitors.
What if one or more of your METHODS is very secret and not widely known. What if one of the FISA judges is leaking info. What if one of the FISA judges resigned in November/December about the time GWB started avoiding the court? Why would said judge resign? Is it possible that said Judge Robertson was appointed by Bubba and is guilty of revealing methods to the NYT, etc? Now, would that be a valid reason to go around FISA? To prevent the public learning of certain methods?
Name the foreign person with whom you were having a phone call, why you believe that person was a member or associated with al-Queda, the phone number he was calling from and what was said.
I watched a new show on Fox tonight with Paul Gigot...and 3 journalists from WSJ online, and Opinion Journal...
and they were saying that the Congresscritters that WERE told, were adamant about it NOT going to Congress for a change..because of the necessity of extreme secrecy.
Also, the FISA court being established in 1978, is SO FAR behind what the technology and the world is like...that they are pretty much obsolete for what is necessary re: terrorism.
And, now that Bin Ladin knows all about this program..in the process of calling or e-mailing orders to Zawahiri, or Zarqawi, he could fix it to where it would look like the call was originated in the US...and received there...so that his orders would NOT be allowed to be used under those rules..
It was a great discussion about why this whole NSA thing will NOT harm Bush or his presidency.
Your thoughts echo my own. This was brought up when the FISA judge resigned, then seemingly dropped like a rock. Why was it dropped? I want to know why he resigned. Give him an MRI brain scan. :) If Clinton stacked the FISA court or if there were associations between the judges and Muslim lawyers or CAIR, I want to know. Certainly, Bush would be forewarned of any such problems and might have decided he had to protect America, FISA court be damned?
I watched the show, too. It was excellent.
H*ll, that's progress.
Of course, the article still darkly intimates that there may be many of these calls. Doesn't the AP read its own prior articles? What are there in the world, maybe 10,000 known Al Qaeda suspects? How many of them make calls into, or receive calls from, the United States? How does that possible number of maybe 30 a day compare to the total international phone traffic to/from the US on a daily basis? Maybe one in a million?
The article doesn't say anything about other Presidents using the same powers (varying with current technology, for sure). Under President Roosevelt in WW II, all letters to and from Germany and Japan were being opened and read before delivery. And there was no "suspected agent" criterion. It was all of them.
I spit on the AP for not doing their homework fully on this story. I spit twice on the New York Times, because they did even less, and violated espionage laws by even publishing their story.
Did I miss anything?
The Times betrayed a closely held secret operation in time of war. I want to see these people in handcuffs. I am furious about it.
You can't use wire-tap information to prosecute someone in a criminal trial. This isn't a criminal matter, its war. If you are in communication with Al Qaeda, we should be hauling you away to one of those secret jails in Romania we keep hearing about, to sweat you for information about your pals, before dropping your body into the ocean.
This ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around. If you suspect your calls may have been intercepted, because you've been chit-chatting with your radical uncle from Peshawar who keeps trying to get you to carry packages for him, you are probably right. If somehow we missed you, bring it to our attention and we'll get to you as quickly as we can.
Okay, obsolete was my word, not theirs..
I was trying to remember exactly how they said it...and came up blank.
What the guy was saying was, that these terrorist have become so savvy, and that they know they are being "spied" on...so they change e-mail addresses very, often, as well as phone numbers...and there is no time to get a new warrant for every change that comes up...
so...they just can't "use" the FISA court for this kind of work the way they did in the days of rotary phones that were hooked to the wall...and before the internet.
Is that a better description...or are you looking for something else from me...??
That is a weak argument, since the law is the law, change if it does not work.
That said I think the Constitutional argument regarding Presidential powers in war time is a winner. The President as Commander-in-Chief protecting the country seems to winning traction among the People. The RATS jumping on the President for doing his job is like saying apple pie tastes bad and mom is a whore.
I lucked into seeing the WSJ show it was really nerdish and one sided -- I loved it.
Whew...I am so glad you did....they said so much...and I even forgot about the guy that said that it would be really hard for anyone to take this to court...because no one would have standing..as they can't prove that they were actually "spied" on...and that they were harmed by it.
Right? that is what he said, right?
Why do they think that??
Are they receiving phone calls and emails from al-Qaida
Are they plotting with terrorists to murder Americans
Or are they just wearing the tin foil hats a tad too tight
If you saw it...then you know the answer to why Bush didn't push for a law change...
How are you going to change a law affecting a program that is so secret and so necessary at that time??
EVEN the DEMS that were told agreed to that...
Which reminds me of something. Last year I tried for months on end to do something about getting a pedophilia incubator site taken down. The problem I ran into was that the servers were located outside the U.S. The owner did this so he couldn't be touched by U.S. laws. And he can't be.
I am also reminded of how Soros keeps his money safe from U.S. taxation. And it's all legal.
In this new day and age, phone and electronic communications make it very easy for all the bad guys to wreak havoc and do things like blow up the WTC. The government needs to be able to exploit the same tools they use to protect us.
LOL.. Thanks. That was the Q&A that caught my eye as well.
Civil rights groups (like the ACLU?), scholars(like Lawrence Tribe?), lawyers for Muslim Americans (Like Lynne Stewart), Democrats (specifically US Senators) and others(Like CAIR?) fear communications may have been more widely monitored.
Fear? Those who have secrets to keep or share with enemies are the ones that should fear the most. For the rest of us, if you're phone number hasn't been found amongst any number of the papers or computers captured the last few years as part of the al qaida hunt, that fear is more likely paranoia about other activities , I would suspect.
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