Friday, February 03, 2006
Yesterday's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing may have seemed just like a dry-run for Gonzales grilling set to take place next week. Yet there were some startling revelations made that may shed light on just how explosive a scandal this story has become.
Specifically, note this exchange between Senator Wyden and General Hayden:
A similarly revealing sparring session came when Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, pressed the intelligence officials about whether a controversial Pentagon data-mining program called Total Information Awareness had been effectively transferred to the intelligence agencies after being shut down by Congress.
Mr. Negroponte and the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, both said they did not know. Then came the turn of Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who headed N.S.A. for six years before becoming the principal deputy director of national intelligence last spring.
"Senator," General Hayden said, "I'd like to answer in closed session."
Right around the time Bush says he signed his domestic spying order, the government created a massive data-mining program called "Total Information Awareness" (TIA). Created in January 2002, the program was heralded as "adapting" our technology to meet the threat of terrorism. The New York Times reported on the controversial program in 2002:
The Pentagon is constructing a computer system that could create a vast electronic dragnet, searching for personal information as part of the hunt for terrorists around the globe -- including the United States.
As the director of the effort, Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter (yes, that Poindexter), has described the system in Pentagon documents and in speeches, it will provide intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials with instant access to information from Internet mail and calling records to credit card and banking transactions and travel documents, without a search warrant.
More background on TIA and the Information Awareness Office here and here. On January 16, 2003, Senator Feingold introduced S. 188, the "Data-Mining Moratorium Act of 2003." His bill called for a moratorium on data-mining under TIA and "any other program." It also called on the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General, and the head of any other Department, to fully report to Congress on any data-mining activites. Feingold's bill was referred to committee.
While Feingold's bill didn't pass, the program was so controversial, Congress eventually pulled its funding on September 24, 2003. It wasn't just the program, it was the way the program was implemented. As the Conference Report explains: "The conferees are concerned about the activities of the Information Awareness Office and direct that the Office be terminated immediately." So why is Wyden's question so critically important? In pulling its funding for the program, Congress explicitly said the following:
c) In this section, the term "Terrorism Information Awareness Program" means the program known either as Terrorism Information Awareness or Total Information Awareness, or any successor program, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or any other Department or element of the Federal Government, including the individual components of such Program developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Was TIA resurrected? The DoD had already spent quite a bit of money on equipment for the program. When the program's funding was pulled, the government didn't want all this precious data-mining software to go to waste. So, the conferees agreed "to shift some of the TIA's high-powered software tools to agencies involved in gathering foreign intelligence."
Ahem. That would of course, include the NSA.
Thus, if Bush was using the "Total Information Awareness" technology for his "Terrorist Surveillance Program" after Congress explicitly said he could not, well, that would clearly be an illegal act. Is Bush's "terrorist surveillance program" just the same TIA program but with a fancier name? Could that account for why Bush has fervently refused to inform Congress about the nature of the program? Could that account for why the "briefings" he gave to eight members of Congress were given solely on a "don't tell, don't question" basis? Also, was this one reason why Comey refused to sign off on the program in 2004? All we have as a result of Hayden's answer are more questions, questions that need to be addressed in the upcoming hearings.
I'd note that in May 2004, the General Accounting Office revealed that the government had been using or was planning to use some 200 data-mining programs, 122 of which involve personal information. (PDF report). When officials at the Senate Intelligence Committee were asked whether the government is employing any other spying programs without informing Congress, the officials refused to answer in open session.
Update [2006-2-3 16:33:43 by georgia10]:: Slate is also running a piece on TIA. In it, they describe the program in detail:
Poindexter envisioned a "privacy appliance," a device that would strip any identifiers from the information—such as names or addresses—so that government miners could see only patterns. Then if there was reason to believe that the information belonged to a group that was planning an attack, the government could seek a warrant and disable the privacy control for that specific data. TIA funded research on a privacy appliance at the Palo Alto Research Center, a subsidiary of Xerox Corp. "The idea is that this device, cryptographically protected to prevent tampering, would ensure that no one could abuse private information without an immutable digital record of their misdeeds," according to a 2003 government report to Congress about TIA. "The details of the operation of the appliance would be available to the public."
The NSA's domestic eavesdropping program, however, appears to have none of these safeguards.