Able Danger Blog


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Friday, December 23, 2005

Able Danger and "over-eager rule-followers"

Two interesting new perspectives today. First, from Just Left of Center at TPMCafe:

Today, this is all likey done by data-mining and profiling. Think "Able Danger" and "TIA". Information is still scanned in real-time as before but it is also logged. Powerful programs then scan the data looking for profiles. Individual pieces of different types of relatively un-important information, taken together, suggest that an individual might be "a person of interest". A phone call to a specific country, together with a visit to an extremist website, together with a charge card transaction to a flight school might combine to cause your name to be put on a list. Send a domestic email to someone else on the same list and you move to a higher list.

In theory, this could be a very powerful tool for defense. In practice it can be incredibly dangerous and invasive. Change the profile to scan for contributions to candidates of a particular party, visits to gay websites, and email containing certain intimate words and you have a completely different list that pops out. All it takes is access to the right databases of government gathered intelligence.

Orwellian.

That these techniques can be used for defense is obvious. That they can be easily abused is equally obvious. The difference is a fine line and some type of oversight is a must. Americans expect to be protected by our government. Have we entered the age where now we need protection from it?

Somewhere in the annals of government this post is now stored. The keywords of NSA, CIA, Able Danger, and TIA, with others, will find it. That information can be used to put my name on a list. Who will determine if that is a legitimate search for the government to run and who will determine what the government can do with that information once found. Those questions don't have answers today. It's all too new. Soon, very soon, they must.


Second, from James Pinkerton at Newsday:

It even appears that during George W. Bush's administration, many Democrats in Congress were briefed on at least some details. Most of them, it appears, didn't have any objection to this secret surveillance program - until it was reported in last Friday's New York Times.

That report seems to have encouraged the Democrats to speak out, perhaps in hopes of scoring points against "Big Brother Bush."

But if that's what the Democrats think will happen, they are probably mistaken. Why? Because when the American people learn red tape has gotten in the way of thwarting terrorists, they react badly toward the red-tapers. The credibility of the 9/11 commission was badly hurt by reports that one of the 9/11 commissioners, Jamie Gorelick, blocked intelligence-sharing between the CIA and the FBI when she worked in the Clinton Justice Department. Americans are still scratching their heads over reports that valuable intelligence on future 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta, gathered under the "Able Danger" program, was destroyed in 2000 by some over-eager rule-follower.

There will be hearings and lawsuits galore over the new surveillance revelations, but the key question, in the minds of most folks, is motive. Did the Bush administration seek out information for political or personal gain, a la Richard Nixon? That would be an impeachable offense. Or, were the Bush folks so worried about threats to America that they bent the law - like in every episode of the counterterror TV show "24"? That's a winning hand for Bush.


The fact that Rush Limbaugh and others are making the connection between Able Danger and the new NSA scandal should not be lost on anyone, either. There's a connection.