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Big Brother Watch Vol. 1, No. 8 PDF Print E-mail
Contributed by James Plummer   
Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Total Information Awareness back from the dead

SWIFTly shunting aside privacy

FISA court may hear case on NSA warrantless surveillance program

Big Brother Watch Vol. 1, No. 8 

by James Plummer
June 27, 2006

Big Brother Watch is published by the Big Brother Watch Center, a project of the Liberty & Privacy Network, a 501(c)3 affiliated with Liberty Coalition. A website is forthcoming at www.watchingbigbrother.org

Total Information Awareness back from the dead

A recent National Journal article, "Signals and Noise" (June 19), offers an update on whatever happened to the allegedly-extinguished Total Information Awareness system. The TIA system was designed by Iran-Contra vet Admiral John Poindexter to mine data, including on Americans, in the name of fighting terrorism.  The program was run under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a Pentagon agency.  TIA had it funds cut off by the U.S. Senate in 2003 after Poindexter was unable to justify his invasions of the privacy of Americans.

But it now turns out that another Penatgon agency, Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), part of the National Security Agency, adopted TIA in late 2003, and carried on the actions and privacy violations of this “experimental” network. TIA received a new name to cover its tracks, the Research Development and Experimental Collaboration (RDEC).  Robert Popp, Poindexter’s chief deputy for the TIA program, told National Journal that it seems “plausible” RDEC is using the same “tools” which got TIA in hot water.  And The Washington Post reported in May that the Defense Intelligence Agency uses RDEC in its campaign of spying against American antiwar activists.

SWIFTly shunting aside privacy

The New York Times reported on Friday that the CIA, working with the Treasury Department, has been accessing financial data via the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a transactions-clearinghouse consortium based in Brussels.  Rather than seeking a warrant, even from the secretive and cooperative Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the administration has been seizing the financial records using a so-called “administrative subpoena,” which doesn’t involve any oversight from the judicial branch.

As always, the Bush Administration has attempted to justify the surveillance by citing the need to monitor “al-Qaeda” operatives.  Of course, without judicial oversight, there is no way to verify that the data seized and examined has a real bearing on the activities of real terrorists.  Although the focus of SWIFT is on international banking transactions, the system does record some purely domestic activities – and Treasury officials were unable to definitively deny to the New York Times that no such transactions were monitored.  

It’s also worth noting that the problem with fighting terrorism has never been a lack of data.  Alleged lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta received a $100,000 wire transfer from Pakistan, well above the threshold for reporting limits..  No disciplinary measures were ever taken against officials who should have noticed it; just as no measures were taken against the FBI officials who blocked investigations of flight schools and no measures were taken against State Department officials in Saudi Arabia who improperly issued visas for the alleged.

FISA court may hear case on NSA warrantless surveillance program

Sen. Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Judiciary is close to a deal with the White House on the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program.”  Specter told “Fox News Sunday” that the White House had an “inclination” to submit the program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Specter was quick to caution that the idea was not finalized, however.   Such a caution certainly makes sense, since the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” itself seems little more than a device through which to initiate wiretaps without getting the approval of the FISA Court.  Any compromise acceptable to the White House would likely have to involve a lower threshold for wiretaps than that established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and its amendments.



Big Brother Watch is a part of the Liberty and Privacy Network, a DC-incorporated 501(c)(3) organization, affiliated with the Liberty Coalition (http://libertycoalition.net/).

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