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Mar 25 2014

Docs Confirm Metadata Snooping Started Under Bush

Newly released documents that were apparently submitted by the federal government in several legal challenges to the NSA’s illegal surveillance programs confirm that the mining of metadata from emails began under direct order from President Bush.

The U.S. government has acknowledged that it swept up huge volumes of data from emails in the U.S. for several years without any court approval, based solely on the orders of former President George W. Bush.

In a court filings on Monday, government lawyers said that the Internet program ran in parallel with a program gathering so-called metadata about telephone calls. The counterterrorism efforts operated under presidential authority before a judge approved them in July 2004, said a 2007 court filing made public Monday by the Justice Department (and posted here.)

“After the 9/11 attacks and pursuant to an authorization of the President, [redacted] the NSA [redacted] the bulk collection of non-content information about telephone calls and Internet communications (hereafter ‘metadata’) activities that enable the NSA to uncover the contacts [redacted] of members or agents of al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations,” a senior NSA official wrote in an October 2007 declaration originally filed under seal as part of an effort to defeat litigation about the snooping Bush ordered…

The email program was effectively public since June of last year, after contractor Edward Snowden leaked a top-secret National Security Agency inspector general report that described the program.

Early press reports on the surveillance, such as The New York Times’s groundbreaking account in December 2005, discussed its application to emails. However, when Bush publicly acknowledged the surveillance in 2006, he was vague about the details and did not mention gathering of email data.

The document mentions both internet and telephony metadata. None of this is a surprise, of course, but it’s good that the documents are now public, if heavily redacted. You can see the filing here.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    William Murray (one of information security’s wise dinosaurs) has some sensible suggestions here:
    http://whmurray.blogspot.com/2014/03/thoughts-for-white-house.html

  2. 2
    Pierce R. Butler

    Why doesn’t Obama save himself a lot of time & trouble and just hire Dick Cheney and Karl Rove to run the country again?

  3. 3
    A Masked Avenger

    Hopefully we won’t let our relief that “Bush started it” dampen our outrage that Obama is continuing it, or cool our ardor to see the program stopped in its entirety.

  4. 4
    busterggi

    That’s different, everything done by a Republican is different even when its the same.

  5. 5
    Akira MacKenzie

    Hopefully we won’t let our relief that “Bush started it” dampen our outrage that Obama is continuing it, or cool our ardor to see the program stopped in its entirety.

    And if Obama had ended it, you know that the GOP would savage him for “weakening our national defense” by ceasing surveillance on “America’s enemies.”

    Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t…

  6. 6
    Marcus Ranum

    What I think is going on is that once Bush gave them the green light and they classified and threw away all the authorizations, the NSA and CIA realized that they can pretty much do whatever the fuck they want, and blame it on Bush. “LOOK, HE GAVE US A BLANK CHECK!” If I’m right, the strategy appears to be working, because Obama doesn’t care to rein it in, and knows it’s not going to be his problem soon.

  7. 7
    A Masked Avenger

    And if Obama had ended it, you know that the GOP would savage him for “weakening our national defense” by ceasing surveillance on “America’s enemies.”

    Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t…

    Who cares what the right-wingers say? Why should we fixate on that? Your “damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t” sounds like a false equivalence to justify sitting passively while he continues to shred our civil liberties [at home, while killing dusky foreigners abroad]. It’s the perfect chaser to a nice “Bush started it” to quoque.

    The question in my mind is, are we progressive because we defend civil liberties and basic human rights no matter who is assaulting them? Or are we merely mirror-image Republicans, who only protest evil when the other team does it?

  8. 8
    Marcus Ranum

    the GOP would savage him

    He should feel incredibly liberated, knowing that he can do whatever he wants and the GOP is going to foam at the mouth about it just the same way. If he ate a baked baby, they’d scream and yell, and if he ate a salad, they’d scream and yell. May as well try the baby, then.

    The problem Obama’s going to have to deal with is the oligarchs, who have realized that maybe what the NSA is doing is bad for business. So the not-so-invisible hand of the market is going to come down to apply a bit of “encouragement” Did you see the article about newly-minted oligarch Zuckerberg calling Obama to talk to him about the spying thing? You know, I think I’d like to have a chat with him, too…. But I can’t because my bank balance isn’t interesting enough.

  9. 9
    lorn

    Shutting those systems down in any meaningful way is far more complicated than it might otherwise seem. The fact is that the monitoring, data storage, analysis, and interfaces with the DoD, CIA, FBI, and many other defense/intelligence agencies/groups are almost all private corporations. These are multi-Billion dollar industries and growing and they interlock with wide swaths of the US economy. Telecommunications, networking, data storage and analysis, finance, logistics and heavy construction all have lucrative parts to play in what most people assume is just a matter of government agencies.

    So much in these areas has been handed over to civilian contractors and corporations that the government side has atrophied and they are now dependent on the civilian data feeds and analysis on anything but a very narrow subset of potential targets. Remember that Snoden was a civilian employee of a private contractor. That his leaks have exposed so much of the inner workings of government shows just how deep the private contractors are embedded in, and in control of, the system.

    If the government tried to shut it all down in one move the effect would be similar to what happened when Reagan abandoned the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan after the Russians left. In Afghanistan we left several tens of thousands of well trained, well armed, highly motivated and militant warriors, and their support system intact with nothing much to do. 9/11 was a direct result of this mistake.

    Cut these intelligence contractors loose and it all is up for sale to the highest bidder. Consider that the major complaint of the telecommunications companies about the surveillance of their customers was not the surveillance itself, the telcoms routinely maintain records of every call (they have to to bill you for it) their objection was that the intelligence gathering system eliminated the need to ask and pay the telcoms for the information. The telcoms, and pretty much every corporation holding information on you, is willing to sell the information to anyone willing to pay. They only resent the government monitoring because it undercuts their ability to sell the information they stole from you fair and square to the government.

    Of course their working for the government slows, but does not stop, the selling of their services to other parties. The Great Firewall of China was built, in large part, by western corporations and many dictators have contracted with telcom and network security companies to help track protestors and manipulate the networked systems to their advantage. Carelessly and naively Tweet bad things about Fearless Leader and, increasingly, his security service shows up at your house. Reflexively showing up to locations suggested by a political leader has sometimes ended up with people bent of protesting a foreign government getting caught in a trap set by the secret police. This sophistication was not a result of talent internal to the dictatorship.

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