Mr. President, Tear Down This Database!
Today's revelation that untold millions of domestic telephone calls have been secretly stored in NSA databases didn't strike me as surprising. You just knew that there was more to the program than the supposedly "limited" nature which the White House and its defenders were claiming. In fact, Attorney General Abu Gonzales kind of let the cat out of the bag on this about a month ago in an open House hearing when he said "I wouldn't rule it out" when asked if the President has authority to monitor domestic wiretaps without a warrant. Clearly this White House thinks there is no check on the power of the executive branch in a time of war (a war undeclared by Congress). So this report is nothing more than confirmation of that arrogant, anti-democratic stance.
The President is breaking the law, willfully and without any remorse. He again said today that it's limited and they're not "trolling through the private lives of innocent Americans." Well, then that means we have at least 10 million Al Qaeda members or their sympathizers in the country, in which case we're all screwed. But since that's almost entirely impossible, what the President is doing here is lying. Or at least hiding the truth.
I wouldn't be surprised if the actual number of Americans in that database is PERFECTLY EQUIVALENT to the number of Americans that voted for John Kerry. It'd just be an AMAZING coincidence.
Nixon must be looking up from hell at these guys and thinking, "Well, jumping Jehosophat, even I only bugged a few people and broke into a guy's psychiatrist's office! Be discreet, you maniacs!"
And am I the only one that sees the proposed giveaway to telecom companies in the bill calling for the destruction of "network neutrality" as a giant payback? "OK, thanks for the millions of phone call information, now here's your payoff." That such a bill is orchestrated by Bush's minions in Congress lends creedence to that scenario. Pelosi is pushing against this kickback and the telcos are majorly pissed about it. After all, they're OWED this.
There's a big court battle right now over opening up VOIP services like Vonage (which I have) to this data mining as well. That court challenge could be where the precedent is set that walks this whole thing back. In the meantime, the President must stop this program, which violates civil liberties and is rife with potential for abuse. It is not our duty as Americans to blindly trust the government to work benignly. The Founders distrusted powerful people in powerful places, and created checks on their power. To circumvent them is to end this system of government as we know it, the greatest system of government the world has known.
UPDATE: Qwest Communications, the only telco unwilling to make this Faustian bargain with the NSA, may have been offered bribes to do so:
Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.
In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.
Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.
UPDATE 2: The man who ran the NSA when this program was implemented was the nominee for CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden, and according to his own words he personally met with telco executives to get the program going.
I have met personally with prominent corporate executive officers. (One senior executive confided that the data management needs we outlined to him were larger than any he had previously seen). [...] And last week we cemented a deal with another corporate giant to jointly develop a system to mine data that helps us learn about our targets.
He cannot be allowed to remain in government.