Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tweedledee, Meet Tweedledum

A while ago, Ben outlined the differences between Obama's anti-terrorism policy and that of Bush. There are some differences, of course, but as the NYT reports, they're getting smaller every day:
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.
I'm not sure I buy the "unintentional" thing. I don't know how you "unintentionally" spy on someone.

Now first off, it's good that we're at least finding out about this. On the other hand, it's disturbing that Obama would continue the same policy as Bush regarding surveillance until someone called him out on it. I'm hoping this is a lost-in-transition problem that won't be a permanent feature of the Obama administration... but given this administration's admittedly short history of maintaining bullshit "state secrets" arguments, I'm not holding my breath.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Since I wrote that post, the differences have indeed gotten smaller. Glen Greenwald and Bruce Fein, among others, have noted some extremely disturbing examples of Obama's DOJ making very broad claims of executive authority. I still stand by my analysis in the Guantanamo detainees case, but this isn't good.

That said, I do find the "unintentional" thing plausible. As I understand it, they kind of have this "net" which is only supposed to capture communications which take place outside America. They used to need a warrant to look at the stuff caught in that "net." Now, Congress has said they only need a warrant if the communication in the "net" is exclusively domestic. As I understand it, they are having trouble figuring out which communications are exclusively domestic, and thus "overcollected". It strikes me as mostly a technical problem.

What does NOT strike me as a mere technical problem is the aborted scheme to spy on a Congressman which is described late in that article. Like the DOJ filings, that is something intentional that can't be chalked up to technical issues. I'm glad someone higher up shot that one down (and I hope they actually DID shoot it down).