New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
BY RICHARD SISK
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Friday, May 12th, 2006
WASHINGTON - A new furor over Big Brother tactics erupted yesterday
when it was revealed that the Bush administration has been tracking
nearly every phone call in the country over the past five years.
The colossal secret database of phone calls, first reported by USA
Today, prompted Democratic and Republican members of Congress to
demand answers from the White House, and at least one Senate committee
chairman promptly called for public hearings.
President Bush did not confirm the massive tracking program, but in a
hastily arranged White House announcement tried to assure Americans he
was protecting their privacy.
"We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions
of innocent Americans," Bush said.
"The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court
approval. ... The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected
in all our activities," the President said. He did not take any
Bush defenders on Capitol Hill confirmed that the National Security
Agency began collecting records of landline and cell phone calls
shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and condemned leaks on the
"This is nuts," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "We are in a war, and we
have got to collect intelligence on the enemy. And you can't tell the
enemy in advance how you're going to do it."
But Democrats and several Republicans questioned the program's
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) said she was "deeply disturbed" by the
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that "when the average American hears
that his or her phone records might have been used, they're going to
say, 'What? What happened? How did they use it? What permission did
they have to use it?'"
After 9/11, the NSA secretly contracted with AT&T, Verizon and
BellSouth for the records on all calls made over the more than 200
million phones serviced by the firms. The Denver-based Qwest firm
refused to turn over data on its 14 million phones.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino tried to downplay any
sense of domestic spying.
"If you are calling to make reservations at a restaurant, and if you
are calling your daughter at college or if you are calling to plan
your wedding, the government has no interest in knowing about those
calls," Perino said.
She said the government is only "interested in finding out if Al Qaeda
is planning an attack in America."
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, said he
would subpoena the phone companies to appear before his committee.
"We're really flying blind on the subject and that's not a good way to
approach the Fourth Amendment and the constitutional issues involving
privacy," Specter said.
The uproar in Congress recalled the debate earlier this year of the
NSA's eavesdropping without court approval on phone calls and e-mails
between the U.S. and overseas where an Al Qaeda link was suspected.
The Justice Department claimed then that a Bush executive order
allowed the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to be
bypassed. The White House did not say yesterday whether an executive
order had been signed for the phone record collection.
With Kenneth R. Bazinet
10 Things You Should Know About Phone Scandal
1. What is the National Security Agency doing?
The government spy agency is collecting the telephone records of
ordinary Americans and building a massive database of nearly every
call made within the country. We're talking 200 million phone lines
across the U.S. and billions of calls, including an untold number
just in New York City.
2. When did this start?
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to USA Today. The
bigger question is, where does the NSA snooping stop? Because if they can
track our calls, there's little to prevent them from reading our e-mails,
text and video messages. Even Internet phone services that encrypt their
calls could be vulnerable to Big Brother.
3. Why is the NSA doing this?
Identify potential terrorists by tracking who talks to whom in
personal and business calls, whether local or long distance. It's a
process known as "social network analysis" that aims at identifying
previously undetected connections between people.
4. Are the feds listening in to our phone calls?
They claim they are not. But they are keeping track of who we
call. The NSA records don't include names and addresses. But critics
say identifying a caller from a phone number is a snap. They also
question the government's rationale for doing this because terrorists
can easily get off "the grid" by using pay phones, calling cards and
Internet cafes. They can also cover their tracks by using disposable --
or a variety of -- cell phones.
5. Which telephone companies turned over their records to the NSA?
Verizon -- with 7 million landline users just in New York State --
AT&T, and BellSouth Corp. cooperated with the feds. They are the
nation's biggest telecommunications companies and provide local and
wireless phone service to more than 200 million customers. But Qwest,
which has 14 million customers in 14 mostly Western states, refused.
Bell South said it refused also.
6. What's President Bush's position?
Bush insists the feds are not "mining or trolling through the personal
lives" of Americans. He says the NSA's actions are "lawful" and that
he has briefed members of Congress.
7. What does Congress say?
Many Democrats and some Republicans are outraged and are demanding
answers. They suspect it may be unconstitutional and violate privacy
rights. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has vowed to grill phone company
honchos about the NSA snooping. But Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is
defending the program as a necessary tool for fighting terrorism.
8. What is the potential political fallout?
It could stall the confirmation of Bush's pick to run the CIA, Air
Force Gen. Michael Hayden. He was already taking flak for spearheading
the NSA's electronic eavesdropping program on telephone calls and
e-mails from within the U.S. to suspected terrorists overseas.
9. So that's different from what we're finding out now?
Yes. That program involved the NSA tapping telephone calls and e-mails
from within the U.S. to suspected terrorist overseas - without
warrants. This NSA program keeps tabs on all of us - also without our
10. What happens now?
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned of a "major constitutional
confrontation." The debate over civil liberties and the legal
underpinnings for the Bush administration's actions has already
begun. But the public is divided over how much privacy should be
sacrificed in the name of safety from terrorism.
What the administration has said
about domestic surveillance:
Gen. Michael Hayden, deputy director of national intelligence: "This
is not about intercepting conversations between people in the United
... This is focused. It's targeted. It's very carefully done. You shouldn't
President Bush: "This is a targeted program to intercept
communications in which intelligence professionals have reason to
believe that at least one person is a member or agent of Al Qaeda or a
related terrorist organization. The program applies only to
Feb. 6 Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: "Only international
communications are authorized for interception under this
program. ... To protect the privacy of Americans still further, the
NSA employs safeguards to minimize the unnecessary collection and
dissemination of information about U.S. persons."
President Bush: "The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely
protected in all our activities. We're not mining or trolling through
the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."
NSA spokesman Don Weber: "The NSA takes its legal responsibilities
seriously and operates within the law."
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Way back in the 1960's when Electronic
Switching Systems (ESS) were first being developed, telco's major
complaint was that the telephone network had essentially gotten out of
control; among other things, anyone who knew how the 'system' worked
(and more people were find out every day about the old-style 'frames'
and other apparatus; how ancient and unreliable it was becoming; and
the various limitations of the 'system' where people who were less
than honest were concerned, or people who were malevolent in their
intentions, and telco finally had enough of it and said the entire
system had to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Now, what telco said to the public was there would now be all these
new, modern conveniences such as 'call waiting', 'three way calling'
and such, to smooth over their _real_ intention, which was to get a
phone system which was totally under their thumbs for once. What telco
did _not_ tell you was that no longer, to 'trace a call' did an
operator have to call a tech to go back in the frames and spend 30-45
minutes looking around, only to after several minutes hear the
sickening sound of the tandems collapsing; all he could do at that
point was shrug his shoulders, turn around and walk away and tell the
business office -- or whoever had ordered the trace -- that it failed
but 'maybe tomorrow we can find out who the bugger is ... '. And ditto
when the feds wanted something done; it was a real pain in telco's
backside to have to run those jumpers around all over in the frames
area. Now with ESS, it became a very simple matter to go see the
nerd who was sitting at the terminal and ask him 'did X talk to Y
today? When? How long? He could tell you in a few seconds who was
doing what at any given time, and provide you with a print out of
it as well.
So, while the smiling service rep was talking _you_ into purchasing a
few of the new features 'which we are now equipped to provide in your
calling area' the overall intent of ESS was a lot more nefarious. Why
hell, we can even let the public in on certain subsets of these new
toys such as 'return last call' and 'speed dialing' and charge them
for those new conveniences also. By nickle-and-diming the subscribers
for these new toys, we can even amortize a small portion of what it
cost us to instll them. Should any of the customers get nosy and
ask us, "just how do _you_ know who I talked to earlier today?" we
just pass it off as a peculiar question and let it go at that.
No, ESS was not intended as a 'customer convenience'; it was intended
to restore telco to the people who built it in the first place. PAT]