The flap over the NSA's ability to scoop up the metadata surrounding your phone calls may be what used to be called a "limited hangout." For a while now, I've argued that they are actually taking in -- everything. As in: EVERYTHING.
In other words, the NSA has taken its cue from the immortal Lord Buckley: "Dig...infinity
A sophisticated speech-to-text engine can translate your calls into easily-stored text, and decades' worth of the stuff can be stored in that new NSA HQ in Utah. Such was the purport of a Washington Post story published last month. The article references an NSA project called NUCLEON, about which we need to learn much more:
Two of the four collection programs, one each for telephony and the Internet, process trillions of “metadata” records for storage and analysis in systems called MAINWAY and MARINA, respectively. Metadata includes highly revealing information about the times, places, devices and participants in electronic communication, but not its contents. The bulk collection of telephone call records from Verizon Business Services, disclosed this month by the British newspaper the Guardian, is one source of raw intelligence for MAINWAY.
The other two types of collection, which operate on a much smaller scale, are aimed at content. One of them intercepts telephone calls and routes the spoken words to a system called NUCLEON.
Current NSA director Keith B. Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. have resolutely refused to offer an estimate of the number of Americans whose calls or e-mails have thus made their way into content databases such as NUCLEON.
The agency and its advocates maintain that its protection of that data is subject to rigorous controls and oversight by Congress and courts. For the public, it comes down to a question of unverifiable trust.
If congressional oversight exists, then why do so many congressfolk complain that they can't get a straight answer from the NSA?
More importantly still: How can there be congressional oversight when this program, by its very nature, scoops up blackmail information on politicians?
Here's another important question: Just who can access this data? Some of you may recall that Tim Clemente, formerly of the FBI, shocked a CNN reporter when -- in a classic "oops!" moment
-- he casually divulged that investigators looking into the Boston bombers could simply review past telephone and internet communications between the accused suspect and his wife. "Welcome to America," said Clemente. "All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not."
That very issue is addressed here
The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls, a participant in the briefing said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed on Thursday that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."
If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. "I was rather startled," said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.
Remember when Edward Snowden was booed and derided by mainstream liberals because he said (more or less) the same thing? DNI James Clapper somewhat obliquely addressed Snowden's allegation:
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement on Sunday saying: "The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress." Clapper's statement did not elaborate, however, on what "proper" authorization would be. Some reports have suggested that permission from a "shift supervisor" would also be required.
Spooks lie. You must understand that simple fact. They prefer to say things that are technically true even if misleading -- flirting with the truth makes them feel extra
-clever -- but if necessary, they will just flat-out fib. High-ranking intelligence officials very rarely get into trouble when they lie, although former DCI Richard Helms was convicted in 1977 of lying to Congress.
Those days are not these days. Congress is now much more docile.
After all, today's congressfolk all know that the NSA is storing their every telephone call and email.