Tuesday, June 20, 2006

wasting our time, but not theirs

As time goes by, it becomes more and more apparent to me that the Bush Administration’s illegal domestic data-mining operation is one lousy terrorist-catching program—but it is a windfall for the folks that do opposition research and/or flat out want to intimidate folks (like reporters and their sources).

I really suspected it almost immediately, when various experts dismissed the intelligence value of a massive data dragnet, and then, when ABC reporters were basically told, “we know who you called,” it seemed pretty clear I was on the right track. Now, TPMmuckraker has pointed me toward a story buried inside Monday’s Washington Post that provides more grist for my ever-turning mill.

In a piece titled “Data Mining Still Needs a Clue to Be Effective,” Guy Gugliotta reports that the mountains of data collected by the NSA program are of little help without a “useful lead.” By “useful lead,” experts in this case basically mean a name.

Details of the NSA's activities remain unclear, but data mining experts say they are puzzled about how the information might be used. It would work best, they say, when investigators can trace telephone numbers of known suspects and build a web of contacts, in much the same way police use phone records to track drug traffickers.

But to discern suspicious call patterns from lists of dialed numbers, they will have to dig past the raw data into callers' identities, and, in the vast majority of cases, will find they have simply tapped into networks of law-abiding people involved in daily routines. This approach, several experts said, raises privacy questions even as it wastes time.

(emphasis added)

Given that this program requires a starting place, a lead, a “target” for it to be at all effective, and given that (as the same WaPo article points out) Gen. Michael Hayden admitted during his DCI confirmation hearings that the NSA had a target file, and given that if you want to collect wire data on a target or suspect, you can do that by either obtaining a standard wiretap warrant or a FISA warrant, and given that, once again, experts have shown the mass mining of data to be inefficient, ineffective, and illegal, I ask again, why does the administration need this program?

Could it be that they in the White House need to gather data in cases where the target would never meet the standard required for a public court order or the already overly permissive, super secret FISA warrant? Who could those targets be? Surely not suspected terrorists.

(cross-posted over at Daily Kos under the nom de blog “Red Wind”)


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