|May 15, 2006|
When One Plus One Equals Six, or More
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
Revelations in the May 11th issue of USA Today, about the NSA's domestic spying program, which has built a database of nearly every phone call made in the country, is immensely disturbing to anyone concerned with the unfettered reach of the Bush administration's efforts to secretly monitor ordinary American citizens. Certainly there are those desperate hangers-on to President Bush's failed policies who will see no need to be alarmed, mistakenly assuming that just because there are no names attached to the data the NSA received from BellSouth, AT&T and Verizon, that there is no privacy intrusion, and hence the information is "harmless". However, anyone familiar with intelligence knows otherwise.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence identifies six basic intelligence sources, or collection disciplines. They are: Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT), Human-Source Intelligence (HUMINT), Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Geospatial Intelligence. The two that will be discussed further, and are immediately relevant to the issue at hand are SIGINT and OSINT. As noted on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Signals Intelligence is derived from signal intercepts comprising -- however transmitted -- either individually or in combination: all communications intelligence (COMINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT) and foreign instrumentation signals intelligence (FISINT). Open-Source Intelligence is publicly available information appearing in print or electronic form including radio, television, newspapers, journals, the Internet, commercial databases, and videos, graphics, and drawings. While open-source collection responsibilities are broadly distributed through the Intelligence Community, the major collectors are the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).
The information supplied by the phone companies is COMINT, and is the first number in our equation. Reverse phone number lookups and telephone books are OSINT, and are the second number in our equation. These two intelligence sources share a common parameter, your phone number. As any database savvy person knows, you can combine two seemingly unrelated pieces of information, if they share a common parameter. That "harmless" listing of COMINT records now has your name and address attached. But the COMINT and OSINT data share another common parameter, the phone number of the person you called. Now that "harmless" listing of COMINT records includes the name and address of the other person on the call too.
We started with two phone numbers common to two different data sources. Now we have two phone numbers, two names and two addresses - six pieces of information from two. This integration of information from different data sources is greater than the sum of its parts, and is a classic example of how seemingly unrelated unclassified data becomes sensitive, a privacy intrusion, or true classified data. USA Today reported, "Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program." As I have clearly demonstrated, the phone companies didn't need to turn over customer's names or street addresses. The NSA can, and did, figure that out all by themselves. When additional OSINT or COMINT data are integrated with the original or integrated data, the permutations and wealth of information that can be derived about one or more individuals becomes staggering.
But here is the "or More" part, by analyzing the number of calls to or from a particular phone number, one can quickly discern patterns of behavior. The intelligence term used to describe extraction of this type of information is called data mining. For example, if you call your mother in Chicago every Monday evening, from your home in Atlanta, that will produce a repeatable pattern from the COMINT data source. The NSA now knows where you were at a given time, and what you were doing. If one then searches the COMINT data source for any occurrences of calls to your mother's phone in the previously determined time frame, but were not made from your home phone, rather from your cell or business phone, they can quickly determine that you called her from somewhere other than your home. If you do this on the second Monday of every month, the NSA now knows when you are away from your home on a recurring basis. Pretty handy information for any government agency that wants to track where you go and when you are away, or maybe for an opportune time to search your home without your knowledge. Information like this is a composite of integrated and mined data and can be used in very troubling ways, the effects of which can be chilling for media informants and government whistleblowers. The government needs only to mine the calls received by media organizations and their employees, and compare that to lists of suspected informants' or whistleblowers' phone numbers or their friends', coworkers', families', or associates' phone numbers. This very technique may in fact have been used recently, in the discovery of a CIA agent who was fired for providing information that contributed to a Washington Post story last year saying there were secret U.S. prisons in Eastern Europe, and was accused of a "pattern of behavior," including multiple contacts with more than one reporter.
Perhaps one of the most insidious implications of behavior patterning is the ability to apply coercive techniques to persons whose patterns have been discovered, and which now can be exploited. This is one of the oldest and still most effective HUMINT techniques. For example, if you are regularly calling the person with whom you are having an extramarital relationship, the government and law enforcement now have an avenue to coerce you into assisting them. The threat of producing for your spouse, a detailed phone record from your work number to that of your lover's phone number, would be a very powerful incentive for anyone to comply with nearly any government demand. Even easier to do would be to produce records of times when a person was making personal phone calls, during business hours. The threat of the loss of one's employment is a very powerful motivator. The government need not monitor the actual subject of an investigation however. Friends, family and coworkers are reliable and well tested HUMINT resources, and are regularly employed by intelligence services throughout the world. Flip someone's spouse or lover and you have access to an individual that no court order could ever provide.
Why would the government even bother to get a wiretap warrant for a phone, or a physical search warrant, when it can coerce someone to simply agree to a wiretap or physical search, under threat of marital collapse or unemployment? Law enforcement would have a similar field day with the Fourth Amendment. No need for warrants to search for evidence of criminal bookmaking activities. Simply flip a regular customer of a suspected bookie, with the threat of prosecution based upon his or her phone records. The possibility of creating thousands of intimidated civilian informants must be causing drooling of biblical flood proportions among intelligence and law enforcement circles. Political operatives who may gain access to this kind of information could effectively destroy any opposition before it had the chance to get organized. As former US Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife and former CIA agent Valerie Plame learned, the current administration is certainly capable of using intelligence for political gain.
The refusal of the National Security Agency to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearances to investigate the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, the government's request to dismiss a federal lawsuit accusing AT&T of colluding with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, and Bush's CIA Director nominee and former NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden's refusal to answer if the NSA was wiretapping Bush's political enemies, speak volumes about what our government is trying to hide and what it is most likely doing illegally. This latest discovery about secret surveillance of American citizens' phone records should compel every single American to demand an immediate criminal investigation of all persons in the current administration, who have played any role in these domestic spying programs. If the Executive branch of our government, the enforcers of the law, is reduced to nothing more than a cabal of lawbreakers, then our government has effectively ceased to exist. We must demand that our representatives in Congress stop the Bush administration before our nation becomes the world's newest and most powerful criminal dictatorship.
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
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