Thursday, May 18, 2006

NSA had a LEGAL data program that Hayden and Bu$hCo quashed

Front Paged at Booman Tribune. Recommended at My Left Wing.

Well, isn't this just special, not to mention timely?

According to the Baltimore Sun (hat tip to TPM):

The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project -- not because it failed to work -- but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials.

Holy shit. So not only could this massive data collection been avoided and done without breaking the law, it seems like a program that was already in place was stopped because of Chimpy McSnooper's desire to spy on everyone in the name of "freedom".

I would hope that the Senate caught wind of this and can ask Hayden some questions on the origins of this program, why it was stopped, who ordered it stopped and how much more the new illegal program cost We the People.

The pilot program was originally intended to be used in the ramp up to "millennium threats" but had some very good safeguards in place. According to officials that for obvious reasons shall remain nameless:

The program the NSA rejected, called ThinThread, bundled together four cutting-edge surveillance tools, and would have:

  • Used more sophisticated methods of sorting through massive phone and e-mail data to identify suspect communications

  • Identified U.S. phone numbers and other communications data and encrypted them to ensure caller privacy

  • Employed an automated auditing system to monitor how analysts handled the information, in order to prevent misuse and improve efficiency.

  • Analyzed the data to identify relationships between callers and chronicle their contacts. Only when evidence of a potential threat had been developed would analysts be able to request decryption of the records.

OK, but the big question is, did it work?

Of course it did - if it didn't, then it would have been implemented full force by Dear Leader the Voyeur.

In what intelligence experts describe as rigorous testing of ThinThread in 1998, the project succeeded at each task with high marks. For example, its ability to sort through massive amounts of data to find threat-related communications far surpassed the existing system, sources said. It also was able to rapidly separate and encrypt U.S.-related communications to ensure privacy.

I know that I mentioned above that Hayden should be asked who killed this program. Because the program was killed by none other than Hayden himself!

But the NSA, then headed by Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, opted against both of those tools, as well as the feature that monitored potential abuse of the records. Only the data analysis facet of the program survived and became the basis for the warrantless surveillance program.

The decision, which one official attributed to "turf protection and empire building," has undermined the agency's ability to zero in on potential threats, sources say. In the wake of revelations about the agency's wide gathering of U.S. phone records, they add, ThinThread could have provided a simple solution to privacy concerns.

A number of independent studies, including a classified 2004 report from the Pentagon's inspector-general, in addition to the successful pilot tests, found that the program provided "superior processing, filtering and protection of U.S. citizens, and discovery of important and previously unknown targets," said an intelligence official familiar with the program who described the reports to The Sun. The Pentagon report concluded that ThinThread's ability to sort through data in 2001 was far superior to that of another NSA system in place in 2004, and that the program should be launched and enhanced.

The rest of the article is a must read, and it is VERY damning against Hayden, the NSA and Bu$hCo. For example, by not implementing this program, it undermined the ability to track the important stuff without running afoul of laws, or violating privacy. Besides those small bits of information, there are those close with the program that indicated that if ThinThread was in place, it could have potentially identified those associated with the 9/11 attacks.

So what happens after 9/11? The NSA decided to implement certain aspects of the program, but not those that were mentioned above which would protect privacy and use advanced technology to actually track terrorist activity.

It just gets worse and worse. Not only should Hayden NOT be confirmed, he should be held responsible for helping quash a program that would have been legal and extremely helpful as well as for pushing a watered down version of the program that didn't include any safeguards or advanced technology.

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