Thursday, May 11, 2006

Spying on Americans

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) articulated my reaction to the USAToday report that the NSA has been "secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth."

"Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al Qaeda? These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything ... Where does it stop?'
The WH went into full denial mode with a flimsy attempt to blunt the damage as a scowling President Bush stepped up to the lectern at the WH.
In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."
As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.
Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
Big brother is watching you under the guise of fighting terrorism. Ha! What a joke. So where's Osama?
The NSA's domestic program began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the sources. Right around that time, they said, NSA representatives approached the nation's biggest telecommunications companies. The agency made an urgent pitch: National security is at risk, and we need your help to protect the country from attacks.
The agency told the companies that it wanted them to turn over their "call-detail records," a complete listing of the calling histories of their millions of customers. In addition, the NSA wanted the carriers to provide updates, which would enable the agency to keep tabs on the nation's calling habits.
The sources said the NSA made clear that it was willing to pay for the cooperation. AT&T, which at the time was headed by C. Michael Armstrong, agreed to help the NSA. So did BellSouth, headed by F. Duane Ackerman; SBC, headed by Ed Whitacre; and Verizon, headed by Ivan Seidenberg.
With that, the NSA's domestic program began in earnest.
AT&T, when asked about the program, replied with a comment prepared for USA TODAY: "We do not comment on matters of national security, except to say that we only assist law enforcement and government agencies charged with protecting national security in strict accordance with the law."
In another prepared comment, BellSouth said: "BellSouth does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any governmental agency without proper legal authority."
Verizon, the USA's No. 2 telecommunications company behind AT&T, gave this statement: "We do not comment on national security matters, we act in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers' privacy."
I wonder how many Republican corporate donors will get a nice dossier on consumers to help them market their products and services. Big Pharma already has received a billion dollar hand-out at the expense of taxpayers with the prescription drug bill and that took congressional approval--legislators who were bamboozled with an intentionally faulty price tag. Data-mining, however, under King George doesn't get the oversight of Congress, not when Pat Roberts (R-KS) runs the show. Roberts has stonewalled the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation into how the Administration misused intel in its march to war on Iraq. Oversight by the Senate Intelligence Committee virtually doesn't exist with wacky Chairman Roberts in charge.

Had enough... yet? I know I have a long time ago. Will the Rubber Stamp Republicans do something about stopping the intrusion of Big Government into the private lives of Americans? Probably not. Read Digby on how our government has been abusing the promise that we're spying only on terrorists. When Republicans say they object to Big Government what they really mean is they object to them not running it.

It's time to kick the bums out this fall and elect Democrats who can put the brakes on Big Brother Bush and his gang.