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September 27, 2012

While the Watchdog Press Slumbered....

... the horrible violations of American civil rights they obsessed over during The Evil Bush Years increased by 60%:

Justice Department documents released today by the ACLU reveal that federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans’ electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability.

The documents, handed over by the government only after months of litigation, are the attorney general’s 2010 and 2011 reports on the use of “pen register” and “trap and trace” surveillance powers. The reports show a dramatic increase in the use of these surveillance tools, which are used to gather information about telephone, email, and other Internet communications. The revelations underscore the importance of regulating and overseeing the government’s surveillance power. (Our original Freedom of Information Act request and our legal complaint are online.)

Pen register and trap and trace devices are powerfully invasive surveillance tools that were, twenty years ago, physical devices that attached to telephone lines in order to covertly record the incoming and outgoing numbers dialed. Today, no special equipment is required to record this information, as interception capabilities are built into phone companies’ call-routing hardware.

Pen register and trap and trace devices now generally refer to the surveillance of information about—rather than the contents of—communications. Pen registers capture outgoing data, while trap and trace devices capture incoming data. This still includes the phone numbers of incoming and outgoing telephone calls and the time, date, and length of those calls. But the government now also uses this authority to intercept the “to” and “from” addresses of email messages, records about instant message conversations, non-content data associated with social networking identities, and at least some information about the websites that you visit (it isn't entirely clear where the government draws the line between the content of a communication and information about a communication when it comes to the addresses of websites).

The reports that we received document an enormous increase in the Justice Department’s use of pen register and trap and trace surveillance. As the chart below shows, between 2009 and 2011 the combined number of original orders for pen registers and trap and trace devices used to spy on phones increased by 60%, from 23,535 in 2009 to 37,616 in 2011.

When asked, "Where in the hell was the press on this one?", Bill Keller, the Unitary Editor who once believed so strongly in the media's watchdog function that he was willing to break the law and endanger a classified anti-terrorism program to protect the public from their duly elected leaders, was unavailable for comment.

It turns out that Big Brother really was watching you. It's just that there's a (D) next to his name.


Meanwhile, other major national security stories the Times doesn't think the public has any need to know about:

Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda–affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers. Three separate U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said the early information was enough to show that the attack was planned and the work of al Qaeda affiliates operating in Eastern Libya.

There are two possibilities here. Possibility #1:

The intelligence community knew almost immediately that this was a terrorist attack, but withheld that information from their boss, the President of the United States... whose spokesman, as recently as September 20th, apparently had less information about the attack than CBS News:
[Jay Carney]...we have no information at this point that suggests that this was a significantly preplanned attack, but this was the result of opportunism, taking advantage of and exploiting what was happening as a result of reaction to the video that was found to be offensive.”
CBS News:
“Witnesses tell CBS News that there was never an anti-American protest outside of the consulate. Instead they say it came under planned attack. That is in direct contradiction to the administration’s

— Margaret Brennan CBS News correspondent, CBS News report aired Sept. 20

If possibility #1 turns out to be accurate, someone needs to tell "the most sophisticated consumer of intel on the planet" that he needs to read those PDBs a little more carefully. Of course there's always possibility #2:

The White House knew this was almost certainly a terrorist attack within 24 hours, but proceeded to tell the public a completely different story.

For the next two weeks.

Update: Full marks to the WaPo's Glenn Kessler for showing the curiosity the NYTimes couldn't quite muster.

Posted by Cassandra at September 27, 2012 05:05 PM

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Every move you make
Every breath you take
Someone is watching you

and their initials are probably "NSA"

What were once vices, are now habits. And this will be a hard habit for the government to be broken of. The day draws inexorably closer when the streets will really run with blood. There is still time to repent of all this, but it seems like some people just want to watch the world burn.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 27, 2012 05:27 PM

There is still time to repent of all this, but it seems like some people just want to watch the world burn.

Winter's coming, and it's gonna get cold. I need the fire.

Or as James Baldwin had it, No more water, the fire next time.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at September 27, 2012 06:29 PM

Good for CBS, And surprisingly, I have noticed CNN has gone after this story. They had the (in)famous Robert Baer on the other night and he had very harsh words for the Obama Administration.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 27, 2012 09:35 PM

and their initials are probably "NSA"

Pet peeve of mine. Unless your communication is with someone outside the US (and probably a member of a terrorist organization, and then only with a FISA warrant), their initials are FBI. Entirely domestic? FBI. NSA is external comms, and without a warrant, USSID 18 specifies severe jail time at Leavenworth if you knowingly record or listen to a comm where a participant is a US Citizen if you don't have a warrant.

Posted by: MikeD at September 28, 2012 08:41 AM

And just as I hit submit I note my Department of Redundancy Department mistake. Please mentally edit the last phrase out.

Posted by: MikeD at September 28, 2012 08:41 AM

Mike, the clue is that they are knowingly breaking the law. Really.


I think that the Attorney General of the United States may also be in collusion with this. Just a wild guess on my part.

Just remember that everything Nixon got in trouble about with regards to Watergate, Kennedy and Johnson had done as much or more in the previous years.

And I was told that just the other day, General David Petraeus was telling people that "They did it because of the You Tube video".

So yeah, they've bought his soul, too.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 28, 2012 01:52 PM