Three of my whistleblower clients (Tom Drake, Bill Binney, and J. Kirk Wiebe) warned us a year ago that the NSA was already doing this: collecting and storing massive amounts of private data on innocent Americans with no connection whatsoever to terrorism, or any crime.
Now Attorney General Eric Holder is just making it official, with new guidelines that permit the federal counterterrorism investigators to collect, search and store data about Americans who are not suspected of terrorism, or anything. This is beyond even the "pre-crime" world of the then-fictional movie Minority Report. Now the government is admittedly collecting and storing information on Americans who are not even thinking about committing a crime, and is resorting to the usual fear-mongering to justify it.
The Obama administration is moving to relax restrictions on how counterterrorism analysts may retrieve, store and search information about Americans gathered by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats.
According to the Justice Department, law enforcement and other national security agencies can copy entire databases and sift through the data for suspicious patterns to stop potential terrorist threats. But the Justice Department is operating under one major logical fallacy: investigating innocent people tells you nothing about the guilty.
Meanwhile, the relaxed guidelines – which privacy advocates compare to the Bush-era now-defunct "Total Information Awareness" program – come on the heels of a blockbuster WIRED Magazine cover story by National Security Agency (NSA) expert Jim Bamford, featuring two GAP clients, NSA whistleblowers Bill Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe. Bamford's article sheds light on construction of a massive NSA facility in Utah designed to store a yottabyte of data, or in Bamford's words:
. . . it would be equal to about 500 quintillion (500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.
Rather than expanding guidelines for investigators to legitimize collecting and storing data on innocent Americans, the Obama administration should heed Binney's warnings about the NSA's extra-legal datamining of U.S. citizens.
Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email.
The former NSA official held his thumb and forefinger close together: “We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.”
It didn’t matter. It was just used as an excuse, that the fair game that NSA had, the legitimate ability of NSA to collect foreign intelligence from overseas, well, now that capability is being used to collect against U.S. citizens and everybody else in the United States of America.
The Justice Department claims the government needs the added power in the new guidelines to catch people like the 2009 Christmas Day/"underwear" bomber:
Intelligence officials on Thursday said the new rules have been under development for about 18 months, and grew out of reviews launched after the failure to connect the dots about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” before his Dec. 25, 2009, attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner.
And here I thought the expensive, soft-porn whole body scanners were supposed to stop the next "underwear bomber," but as it turns out, the U.S. spent buckets of taxpayer dollars on another ineffective "let's give the feeling of security without security" measure.
Moreover, all evidence suggests it wasn't a lack of authority or data that resulted in the U.S. failing to detect Adbulmutallab, but a Senate investigation concluded it was intelligence failures on the parts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), NSA, and the State Department - all of whom could have utilized information in their possession to detect Abdulmutallab.
Officials say the guidelines are aimed at "making sure relevant terrorism information is readily accessible to analysts," yet admit that 1) much of the information has nothing to do with terrorism, and 2) five years is a "reasonable time" to keep benign information because of "how long it takes analysts to search large data sets for relevant information." So much for relevant and readily accessible!
Yet, more than a decade after 9/11, and now under Obama, the Executive branch is still bent on "legalizing" as much data collection on Americans as possible under the guise of providing national security.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.