The Duck of Minerva


4 February 2006

I can’t believe it, but I’m actually linking to a post from Daily Kos. One of their regular posters, georgia10, calls attention to something that’s been bugging me ever since information about the illegal NSA wiretapping program began to surface.

At first glance, doesn’t it seem a bit like the Total Information Awareness program that Congress pulled the plug on back in 2003?

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.”

For more, see the Slate article “Tinker, Tailor, Miner, Spy”)

georgia10 links to a New York Times article from Thursday that includes the following passage:

In one pointed exchange, Senator Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, a Democrat, asked Mr. Negroponte whether there were any other intelligence programs that had not been revealed to the full intelligence committees.

The intelligence chief hesitated, then replied, “Senator, I don’t know if I can answer that in open session.”

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.

We can’t know Hayden’s answer, but the pattern here is certainly disturbing. Many of my conservative friends have defended the specifics–at least that we know about–of the NSA program; my response is always the same: it isn’t the individual program, but the administration’s rationale for it. If they think they can contravene express Congressional proscriptions, what can’t they do under the rubric of fighting the “War on Terror”? The question becomes, it seems, more pressing every day.

Now I’m going to go wash my hands. I feel unclean.

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