05 February 2006

The Spying Game

The Washington Post reports:

The Bush administration refuses to say -- in public
or in closed session of Congress -- how many
Americans in the past four years have had their
conversations recorded or their e-mails read by
intelligence analysts without court authority. Two
knowledgeable sources placed that number in the
thousands; one of them, more specific, said about

The program has touched many more Americans
than that. Surveillance takes place in several
stages, officials said, the earliest by machine.
Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic
information about hundreds of thousands of faxes,
e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the
United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny
by human eyes and ears.

Successive stages of filtering grow more intrusive
as artificial intelligence systems rank voice and
data traffic in order of likeliest interest to human
analysts. But intelligence officers, who test the
computer judgments by listening initially to brief
fragments of conversation, "wash out" most of the
leads within days or weeks.

The scale of warrantless surveillance, and the high
proportion of bystanders swept in, sheds new light
on Bush's circumvention of the courts. National
security lawyers, in and out of government, said
the washout rate raised fresh doubts about the
program's lawfulness under the Fourth Amendment,
because a search cannot be judged "reasonable" if
it is based on evidence that experience shows to be
unreliable. Other officials said the disclosures
might shift the terms of public debate, altering
perceptions about the balance between privacy lost
and security gained.

Reddhead writes:

Five years of this incompetence, and nothing to
show for it. Bloody brilliant. (Allow me to pause
for a moment to bang my head on the keyboard.)