Congresswoman Jane Harman has been pushing a higher wall on FISA than most of her Democratic colleagues because she doesn’t trust the administration’s line on why it wants to wiretap without warrant massive numbers of Americans. She got duped by the administration (and admits it) on its intelligence before the Iraq War and thinks now that we should have very, very high standards before giving the administration powers that no presidential administration has had before.
Now, Shane Harris of National Journal has a huge story on the interaction between telecom firm Qwest and the National Security Agency in which the alleged reasons for the government wanting access to massive call records was not to chase down terrorists but to look for individual and foreign government computer network hackers.
Harris’ intro to his piece, “NSA Sought Data Before 9/11“:
Beginning in February 2001, almost seven months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the government’s top electronic eavesdropping organization, the National Security Agency, asked a major U.S. telecommunications carrier for information about its customers and the flow of electronic traffic across its network, according to sources familiar with the request. The carrier, Qwest Communications, refused, believing that the request was illegal unless accompanied by a court order.
After terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, the NSA again asked Qwest, as well as other telecom companies, for similar information to help the agency track suspects with the aim of preventing future attacks, current and former officials have said. The companies responded in various ways, with Qwest being the most reluctant to cooperate. However, in February 2001, the NSA’s primary purpose in seeking access to Qwest’s network apparently was not to search for terrorists but to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government forces trying to penetrate and compromise U.S. government information systems, particularly within the Defense Department, sources said. Government officials have long feared a “digital Pearl Harbor” if intruders were to seize control of these systems or other key U.S. infrastructures through the Internet.
A former White House official, who at the time was involved in network defense and other intelligence programs, said that the early 2001 NSA proposal to Qwest was, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon refers to a signals intelligence network operated by the NSA and its official counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
The NSA realized that it was blind to many of the new online threats and to who was using the privately owned telecom networks, and it thought that Qwest was in a position to help. The agency needed better intelligence in the face of a burgeoning Internet, and Qwest was then building a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic that had caught the attention of senior intelligence officials. The NSA, in effect, wanted Qwest to be the agency’s online eyes and ears.
This is even more indication of the Orwellian realities that the Bush administration has foisted on America. I was talking to some conservative Republicans from Oklahoma, Nevada and Nebraska the other day — and they are deeply ashamed of Bush and the fact that this happened under their own party’s watch.
There is no reason why in cases of national security that the NSA could not have secured warrants for their requests from Qwest and other firms. They are engaging in Soviet style impunity.
— Steve Clemons