National Security Mission Creeps: Forget Terrorists, Feds Want Hackers


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


18 comments on “National Security Mission Creeps: Forget Terrorists, Feds Want Hackers

  1. Sandy says:

    Hmm, wonder why Jane and her buddies don’t invite Sibel Edmonds to speak:


  2. pauline says:

    poa wrote:
    “[I] don’t exactly understand what exactly he thinks Obama or Hillary have “done”
    Obama has,uh…well…Obama has…um-m-m-m…Obama has learned to dress well and speak well in public…Obama is supposedly related to Cheney…in fact between that ancestral connection and other members of Cheney’s family, there’s more diversity there than in the whole GOP!…doesn’t that somehow make him qualified to be president? (sorry, that’s about all I can come up with, other than his use of the word “inclusion” in many of his stump speeches.)
    Now Hillary, she…doesn’t represent me well at all…Hillary, ah…she’s learned a special skill of speaking out of both sides of her mouth while smiling and saying opposite things all at the same time…she can not only hold her own against all those men in the debates, she can out cuss ’em if needed…she will work long hours on marketing a designer presidential pantsuit…she will offer all kinds of promised programs for our society’s and economy’s ills, but she will never ever talk specifics, because, well, that’s part of her “nature”…she will put the sometimes hubby on display sometimes to help show she’s from a “solid” family and that she has connections…she’ll hire an entire village to watch over her hubby, especially at night…she’ll be more than willing to accept Israel as our 51st state without ever asking them to apply for statehood. Extra special “emergency funds” will instantly become available for her 51st state, because, well, because…well…because…New Orleans and California already got enough emergency funds…and she…well, don’t ask her, she’s going to do it anyway, just because…she’s also experienced in…walking the White House hallways, talking to past presidents and first ladies and she truly believes this has given her special insight and powers…she will promise reformed healthcare until she (or we) are blue in the face…she will wear the appropriate baseball cap, depending on which city she’s in and how important that vote is…she will appear with Martha Stewart and learn to bake new cookies…she will market on late nite tv, “How to turn a $1,000 investment into over $100,000 almost overnight!”…She will have a special posing with her hubby for the new $3 bill…now come on, she’s got to be…”qualified”, right?!?


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Where they’re going, I don’t know, but I do know that in this area by far the most visible candidate, the one with the biggest following (if banners, talk shows, yard signs and bumper stickers are any indication) is Ron Paul.”
    Haven’t you heard? Ron Paul hasn’t “done enough” to warrant Steve’s consideration. Of course, I don’t exactly understand what exactly he thinks Obama or Hillary have “done”, but hey, whatever.


  4. PW says:

    Here in Texas, too, many Republicans are horrified by what they see as Bush’s Orwellian intrusiveness. Defections became noticeable among Republicans I know when the first Patriot Act was being debated. These tend to be educated, traveled Republicans with graduate degrees, as distinct from a huge Republican population here which thought (until recently) that Bush could do no wrong and who listen to Limbaugh and Hannity religiously.
    Both major parties, as Charlie Cook notes, have lost a lot of their former voters to the very mixed “independent” pile and both parties may get some shocks in the next several election cycles. I never — never! — thought I’d stop being a straight-ticket Democrat. But from the moment Dems went along with the authorization for force against Iraq, I was outta there. Now I only vote for and contribute to selected Democrats, and refuse to contribute a thin dime to the party, local or national. I think some of my Republican friends and neighbors are doing the same. Where they’re going, I don’t know, but I do know that in this area by far the most visible candidate, the one with the biggest following (if banners, talk shows, yard signs and bumper stickers are any indication) is Ron Paul. By far.
    It looks like quite a few frogs noticed the water was getting warm and got out. But a lot of frogs stayed in and are cooked by their own parties.


  5. eatbees says:

    “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.”
    I keep wondering why these people don’t speak out on the floor of Congress if they are ashamed of where Bush has taken their party and the conservative “brand.” If they believe Bush has violated the principles of the Constitution (and they should) they should be clamoring for his impeachment. It would show the nation there is still a conservative conscience, and it would be good politics as well. Otherwise they will see Hillary taking over with all the powers Bush and Cheney have acquired.


  6. Dan says:

    Sorry, but the picture here of plain Jane makes her look like Joe Lieberman, only with more hair.


  7. pauline says:

    What exactly has Harmon done to show you she’s a pro-Arab state enthusiast?
    She seems to me to be a captive of AIPAC and that wouldn’t allow her to seriously back even a House resolution about a pro-Arab state.
    Wasn’t the DOJ looking closer at her as AIPAC lobbied hard to help not just spy Larry Franklin but also worked to keep Harmon on the House Intelligence Committee?
    Where’s the pro-Arab state stuff? I’m just asking…


  8. Sandy says:
    Published: Friday November 2, 2007
    A US judge ruled Friday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, and other top officials can be subpoenaed to testify in a spying case against lobbyists for Israel.
    Federal court judge T.S. Ellis ruled to allow the request by lawyers for Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, to subpoena Rice, Hadley and 13 other current and former top government officials to testify in the case, according to court documents.
    Rosen and Weissman, accused of passing secret US defense information to unauthorized people while they worked for AIPAC, hope the testimony of the government officials will support their defense that they were not engaged in spying.
    “The defendants claim that testimony from these current and former officials will tend to show that the overt acts reflect nothing more than the well-established official Washington practice of engaging in ‘back-channel’ communication,” according to Friday’s opinion issued in Alexandria, Virginia.


  9. Sandy says:

    How can we trust anything they say? They are caught… continuously…in their own lies and hypocrisy. Saying one thing…doing exactly the opposite.
    And, how about NANCY PELOSI having known all about the illegal wiretapping…..BEFORE SEPTEMBER 11, 2001!
    No WONDER “impeachment is off the table”!
    Disgusting….the lot of ’em.


  10. JohnH says:

    “I’ve spent time with her, talked with her, and listened to serious policy tracks…”
    Unfortunately, a lot of the Dems SOUND good, particularly in one on one situations or in groups sharing a common agenda. Then they move on to the next group, which espouses a diametrically opposed viewpoint, and they SOUND good to that group as well. It’s called being a politician.
    You can NEVER judge them by what they say, only by what they do and how they vote. As Nixon I believe once said, “Look at what we do, not what we say.”


  11. Lurker says:

    Harman had Negroponte to a private dinner at her beach estate. I used to live in her district and helped work on Marcy Winograd’s campaign.
    With all due respect, Steve, you are easily snowed.
    Harman is all about Israel — she’s the limited hang-out gal to make us think that Congress is actually doing something to limit the ability of the U.S. government to spy on us in this “War on Terror,” i.e., war against Islam (because Israel wants the Middle East and wants us to fight for her to get it) as well as war against internal dissent.
    Like Emanuel and Schumer, Harman is a snake. And, like the other two, she will risk the lives of Americans to further Israel’s goals.
    Banish them! We’re about to enter the real Dead Zone if these Israel-firsters lie about or actually stage a false flag “terrorist” incident blamed on Iran.
    People – fight for your lives — call congress and demand that Israel gets out of U.S. foreign policy!
    As Darth and Dumbo have said repeatedly, the issue of Iran might start WW III — what they don’t say is that it’s Israel and her supporters driving the push.
    I’m glad that there’s going to be a Writers’ Guild strike –that give us a break from all the pro-Israel, anti-Arab /Muslim propaganda that has flooded the world since the formation of that rogue, apartheid, terrorist state.


  12. selise says:

    correction to my comment above… it hasn’t been since the august recess – it’s only been in the last month that representative harman seems to have backed off the excellent support of our civil rights that i appreciated so much this summer.


  13. selise says:

    steve –
    i was on board with your assessment of representative harman’s change of course… and her actions, especially her floor speech in early august, during the fisa debacle this summer completely won me over. wow!
    but since the august recess, it’s looked like another switch back to the old style i did not like. i was epecially disappointed in representative harman’s support of the so-called fisa “restore act” – which is really horrible, including basket warrants and all kinds of bad things. what made her support even worse was that the bad “restore act” was rushed through committee and to the house floor for a vote before many people had had a chance to study it – and all the while, a pretty good fisa bill (from representative holt and other members of the house intelligence committee) was blocked in committee by the house leadership.
    that’s just not consistent with “trying to stop the administration’s abuse of our civil liberties.” have you looked carefully at the restore act or followed the games that were played by the house leadership? or maybe it looks different from the outside than it does from the inside?
    what happened? can you help me understand how this does not mean we have the old representative harman back? i really want to believe… but the evidence i now see is against it.


  14. Steve Clemons says:

    I disagree with those of you who feel Jane Harman has not learned from the first Bush round on Iraq. I’ve spent time with her, talked with her, and listened to serious policy tracks she was considering that are doing far more than most of the Dem leadership to prevent a retread action by the administration on Iran — and trying to stop the administration’s abuse of our civil liberties.
    I’m a big fan of Jane Harman actually — and think that she’s exactly the kind of person in the national security camp who can articulate what a pro-US, pro-Israel, pro-Arab state, pro-civil liberties policy framework would look like.
    I’m tired of zero-summers….and she’s not one.
    best regards,
    Steve Clemons
    The Washington Note


  15. JohnH says:

    Wise advice, Cheshire11:
    2a. “You should question authority and you should not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth.” –JK Rowling
    2b. “Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.”
    2c. “Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless.” Based on experience, all administration claims about Iraq, Iran, Al Qaeda, wiretapping, and domestic policy must be presumed false until proven otherwise. Anyone who repeats or defends administration claims (think tanks, pundits, bloggers) must be presumed to be hired pens, paid to disseminate lies.
    Sadly, Jane Harman has learned precious little from experience with the Bush administration: it’s not just hackers and terrorists that the administration wants intelligence on–it’s also Democrats, political opponents and anyone who dissents. Every time Democrats cave, they’re agreeing to eavesdropping on their most precious secrets. It doesn’t get any more pathetic than that!


  16. pauline says:

    If “golden AIPAC girl” Harmon got duped, maybe she and the rest of her cohorts last August were too busy planning exotic summer corporate-sponsored vacations. Is that why they were all in such a rush to pass the FISA bill just to leave town on the first jet? imo, Harmon was duped because she can’t/doesn’t read the bills presented to her, and not really because she’s hired a staff who doesn’t communicate well with their beltway boss. And besides, she’s an AIPAC golden girl, so others are really deciding her congressional votes. She knows who butters her bread an it’s not anyone claiming to be a follower and upholder of the constitution.
    Look, for the record, American citizens can have their basic constitutional rights tossed in the trash if they’re declared “enemies of the state” and if the charges are false, and no one would get a day in court to prove their innocence. The FISA law applies to Americans as well as foreigners, and it could apply to me, you and yours if the no legislative changes are made. bushwacker, Hillary or whoever could decide you’re a threat, maybe because they just don’t care for your politics.
    As for Harmon, she’s already had a grand and expensive AIPAC dinner affair outside on her palatial grounds. So, just don’t expect much. Her mere words are 99 44/100 % symbolic, while her upholding of the constitution congressional voting approaches zero.


  17. erichwwk says:

    “They are engaging in Soviet style impunity.”
    AMEN!! Kudos for your stand!
    European papers have long covered the use of Echelon to spy on European competitors, gleaning either technical trade secrets or terms of contracts on which they were bidding, going back to the mid 1990s. The purpose of NSA on other spying agencies is not so much to gather information on those who might have tendencies to commit violence, but to gather information on political and economic opponents. Do your own search on echelon in major European papers, especially in Germany and France.
    Have we forgotten the fiasco behind the supposed UN resolution warning Saddam of “dire consequences” (passed with the understanding that the US MUST go back to the security council BEFORE military action would be authorized by the UN)to spy on all the members of the UN Security Council.
    The most appropriate venue for hearing these wiretap allegations, and other war crimes would be the Hague.
    The bottom line: Are we a nation of laws, or of a unitary decider?


  18. Chesire11 says:

    The key to preserving a vital, functioning democratic society really isn’t very difficult. Institutional structures and checks and balances are all well and good, but they aren’t enough if the people forget two fundamental axioms of democracy:
    1. Individuals are always innocent until proven guilty.
    2. The state is always guilty until proven innocent.
    It doesn’t get much more basic than that.


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