[Clips] Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report - New York Times

R. A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Sat Dec 24 06:04:44 PST 2005


Here's the un-summarized version...

Cheers,
RAH

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  Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report - New York Times
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 <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/24/politics/24spy.html?th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print>

 The New York Times



 December 24, 2005

 Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report

 By ERIC LICHTBLAU and JAMES RISEN

 WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 - The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed
 large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out
 of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President
 Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of
 terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

 The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice
 networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White
 House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping
 directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main
 arteries, they said.

 As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance
 without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American
 telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of
 domestic and international communications, the officials said.

 The government's collection and analysis of phone and Internet traffic have
 raised questions among some law enforcement and judicial officials familiar
 with the program. One issue of concern to the Foreign Intelligence
 Surveillance Court, which has reviewed some separate warrant applications
 growing out of the N.S.A.'s surveillance program, is whether the court has
 legal authority over calls outside the United States that happen to pass
 through American-based telephonic "switches," according to officials
 familiar with the matter.

 "There was a lot of discussion about the switches" in conversations with
 the court, a Justice Department official said, referring to the gateways
 through which much of the communications traffic flows. "You're talking
 about access to such a vast amount of communications, and the question was,
 How do you minimize something that's on a switch that's carrying such large
 volumes of traffic? The court was very, very concerned about that."

 Since the disclosure last week of the N.S.A.'s domestic surveillance
 program, President Bush and his senior aides have stressed that his
 executive order allowing eavesdropping without warrants was limited to the
 monitoring of international phone and e-mail communications involving
 people with known links to Al Qaeda.

 What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides
 actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large
 volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might
 point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large
 data-mining operation.

 The current and former government officials who discussed the program were
 granted anonymity because it remains classified.

 Bush administration officials declined to comment on Friday on the
 technical aspects of the operation and the N.S.A.'s use of broad searches
 to look for clues on terrorists. Because the program is highly classified,
 many details of how the N.S.A. is conducting it remain unknown, and members
 of Congress who have pressed for a full Congressional inquiry say they are
 eager to learn more about the program's operational details, as well as its
 legality.

 Officials in the government and the telecommunications industry who have
 knowledge of parts of the program say the N.S.A. has sought to analyze
 communications patterns to glean clues from details like who is calling
 whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of day it is made, and the
 origins and destinations of phone calls and e-mail messages. Calls to and
 from Afghanistan, for instance, are known to have been of particular
 interest to the N.S.A. since the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said.

 This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would,
 in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to
 trace who calls whom.

 The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush administration in
 other contexts has raised strong objections, most notably in connection
 with the Total Information Awareness system, developed by the Pentagon for
 tracking terror suspects, and the Department of Homeland Security's Capps
 program for screening airline passengers. Both programs were ultimately
 scrapped after public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil
 liberties.

 But the Bush administration regards the N.S.A.'s ability to trace and
 analyze large volumes of data as critical to its expanded mission to detect
 terrorist plots before they can be carried out, officials familiar with the
 program say. Administration officials maintain that the system set up by
 Congress in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not
 give them the speed and flexibility to respond fully to terrorist threats
 at home.

 A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company said that
 since the Sept. 11 attacks, the leading companies in the industry have been
 storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal
 government to aid in tracking possible terrorists.

 "All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared
 with them, and since 9/11, there's been much more active involvement in
 that area," said the former manager, a telecommunications expert who did
 not want his name or that of his former company used because of concern
 about revealing trade secrets.

 Such information often proves just as valuable to the government as
 eavesdropping on the calls themselves, the former manager said.

 "If they get content, that's useful to them too, but the real plum is going
 to be the transaction data and the traffic analysis," he said. "Massive
 amounts of traffic analysis information - who is calling whom, who is in
 Osama Bin Laden's circle of family and friends - is used to identify lines
 of communication that are then given closer scrutiny."

 Several officials said that after President Bush's order authorizing the
 N.S.A. program, senior government officials arranged with officials of some
 of the nation's largest telecommunications companies to gain access to
 switches that act as gateways at the borders between the United States'
 communications networks and international networks. The identities of the
 corporations involved could not be determined.

 The switches are some of the main arteries for moving voice and some
 Internet traffic into and out of the United States, and, with the
 globalization of the telecommunications industry in recent years, many
 international-to-international calls are also routed through such American
 switches.

 One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the
 N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American
 government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the
 telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic
 that is routed through American-based switches.

 The growth of that transit traffic had become a major issue for the
 intelligence community, officials say, because it had not been fully
 addressed by 1970's-era laws and regulations governing the N.S.A. Now that
 foreign calls were being routed through switches on American soil, some
 judges and law enforcement officials regarded eavesdropping on those calls
 as a possible violation of those decades-old restrictions, including the
 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court-approved
 warrants for domestic surveillance.

 Historically, the American intelligence community has had close
 relationships with many communications and computer firms and related
 technical industries. But the N.S.A.'s backdoor access to major
 telecommunications switches on American soil with the cooperation of major
 corporations represents a significant expansion of the agency's operational
 capability, according to current and former government officials.

 Phil Karn, a computer engineer and technology expert at a major West Coast
 telecommunications company, said access to such switches would be
 significant. "If the government is gaining access to the switches like
 this, what you're really talking about is the capability of an enormous
 vacuum operation to sweep up data," he said.

 --
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 R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
 The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
 44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
 "... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
 [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
 experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
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R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'





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