The Military is Spying on Americans

The Defense Department is collecting data on perfectly legal, peaceful, anti-war protesters.

The DOD database obtained by NBC News includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center. One “incident” included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes—a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The Fort Lauderdale protest was deemed not to be a credible threat and a column in the database concludes: “US group exercising constitutional rights.” Two-hundred and forty-three other incidents in the database were discounted because they had no connection to the Department of Defense—yet they all remained in the database.

The DOD has strict guidelines (PDF link), adopted in December 1982, that limit the extent to which they can collect and retain information on U.S. citizens.

Still, the DOD database includes at least 20 references to U.S. citizens or U.S. persons. Other documents obtained by NBC News show that the Defense Department is clearly increasing its domestic monitoring activities. One DOD briefing document stamped “secret” concludes: “[W]e have noted increased communication and encouragement between protest groups using the [I]nternet,” but no “significant connection” between incidents, such as “reoccurring instigators at protests” or “vehicle descriptions.”

Personally, I am very worried about this increase in military activity inside our country. If anyone should be making sure protesters stay on the right side of the law, it’s the police…not the military.

And it could get worse.

EDITED TO ADD (12/16): There’s also this news :

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials…..

Mr. Bush’s executive order allowing some warrantless eavesdropping on those inside the United States including American citizens, permanent legal residents, tourists and other foreigners is based on classified legal opinions that assert that the president has broad powers to order such searches, derived in part from the September 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing him to wage war on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, according to the officials familiar with the N.S.A. operation.


….officials familiar with it said the N.S.A. eavesdropped without warrants on up to 500 people in the United States at any given time. The list changes as some names are added and others dropped, so the number monitored in this country may have reached into the thousands over the past three years, several officials said. Overseas, about 5,000 to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are monitored at one time, according to those officials.

This is a very long article, but worth reading. It is not overstatement to suggest that this may be the most significant violation of federal surveillance law in the post-Watergate era.

EDITED TO ADD (12/16): Good analysis from Political Animal. The reason Bush’s executive order is a big deal is because it’s against the law.

Here is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Its Section 1809a makes it a criminal offense to “engage in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute.”

FISA does authorize surveillance without a warrant, but not on US citizens (with the possible exception of citizens speaking from property openly owned by a foreign power; e.g., an embassy.)

FISA also says that the Attorney General can authorize emergency surveillance without a warrant when there is no time to obtain one. But it requires that the Attorney General notify the judge of that authorization immediately, and that he (and yes, the law does say ‘he’) apply for a warrant “as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance.”

It also says this:

“In the absence of a judicial order approving such electronic surveillance, the surveillance shall terminate when the information sought is obtained, when the application for the order is denied, or after the expiration of 72 hours from the time of authorization by the Attorney General, whichever is earliest. In the event that such application for approval is denied, or in any other case where the electronic surveillance is terminated and no order is issued approving the surveillance, no information obtained or evidence derived from such surveillance shall be received in evidence or otherwise disclosed in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, grand jury, department, office, agency, regulatory body, legislative committee, or other authority of the United States, a State, or political subdivision thereof”.

Nothing in the New York Times report suggests that the wiretaps Bush authorized extended only for 72 hours, or that normal warrants were sought in each case within 72 hours after the wiretap began. On the contrary, no one would have needed a special program or presidential order if they had.

According to the Times, “the Bush administration views the operation as necessary so that the agency can move quickly to monitor communications that may disclose threats to the United States.” But this is just wrong. As I noted above, the law specifically allows for warrantless surveillance in emergencies, when the government needs to start surveillance before it can get a warrant. It explains exactly what the government needs to do under those circumstances. It therefore provides the flexibility the administration claims it needed.

They had no need to go around the law. They could easily have obeyed it. They just didn’t want to.

Posted on December 16, 2005 at 6:49 AM65 Comments


Devil's Advocate December 16, 2005 7:40 AM

In many respects, the current war is being fought in the media, and those protests in effect are the front lines.

robber_baron December 16, 2005 8:43 AM

It isn’t so much the fact that “security organizations” like the DoD are spying on citizens. Rather the objection is two fold: 1) This isn’t the military’s role. If there are to be domestic investigation of terrorism claims this is the role of the FBI perhaps with request support from the military. 2) Without oversight there is no way to ensure [other then blind trust of the US military] that those citizen’s whom they are wiretapping unconstitutionally are actual threats to the government and not political non-violent legal dissidents.

The surprise is that their actions are questionable constitutional and legal and were until recently hidden from public eye. Perhaps not surprising, but despicable.

Concerned December 16, 2005 8:43 AM

Why is anyone suprised by this? Security organisations spy on everyone.

Suprised? No! concerned yes! Hitler spied on people, used draconian laws to single out, interogate, torture, and transport people in ways that the CIA today is doing more or less totally legally under “new” draconian post 911 legislation.

Concerned December 16, 2005 9:14 AM

What about the fact that NBC got hold of “secret” documents? Shouldn’t that be a story on a breach of security? Have these documents been declassified or is NBC in breach of a number of federal laws for A) having the documents in the first place and B) publicizing the documents?

dermitt December 16, 2005 9:16 AM

So is the NSA.
“The National Security Agency has eavesdropped, without warrants, on as many 500 people inside the United States at any given time since 2002, The New York Times reported today.”
It sounds kind of totalitarian. If you have a security threat, the best thing to do is have a legal process to neutralize the threat. That keeps the police and law enforcement safer and everybody safer in the long run. You can’t just have everybody doing their own thing and hoping you get lucky or don’t get caught. That’s what dumb criminals do.
I don’t think we are very well protected with this sort of system.

ARL December 16, 2005 9:31 AM

Interesting that there were so many sources from the NSA. Sounds like someone there asked for the wiretaps and when something else was not to their liking they released the information as “pay back”.

This along with the “outing” of the CIA analyst looks more and more like these agencies are playing political hard ball.

cyphertube December 16, 2005 9:45 AM


I’m not surprised to see sources from inside NSA. Over the past few years, the NSA has tried hard to actually develop a decent image and has been working to recruit new people. Cleaning house is something that perhaps needs to be done, because spying on Americans without warrants or authorisation is outside their mandate.

A fair number of people are lifers at NSA. For them, perhaps, this is more about the long-term, because for this to go on and on without getting cleaned up could result in big, big problems.

Additionally, the personal sacrifice some of these people make requires great ethics to do in the first place. Putting them in an ethical bind like this is bound to result in whistle-blowing.

@nonymou5 December 16, 2005 9:46 AM

Once again we are left with a fuzzy definition regarding spying vs.intelligence . In the past Bruce advocates collecting intelligence (but usually foreign intel.). In this article he calls it spying. The NBC report calls it “intelligence collection” and “domestic intelligence”. So is the U.S. gov. spying or collecting intelligence?

Even the frequent poster Davi Ottenheimer said, “I personally believe that more effective (not necessarily just more) intelligence gathering is a far better use of funds and time.”
So is this a good us of funds? Is this good security? If not, why not? And if not, then why is it good for us to collect on other countries?

So now once again we are left with the debate of what is spying and what is intelligence? I also offer up my previous point that what is the difference between “intelligence collection” and NIDS/NIPS systems? Both are collecting information to give management an idea what is going on. It’s up to management to act in a responsible way with the information.

In light of how Bruce likes to examine things I offer the following questions.
How much collection makes us unsafe and will too little collection make us unsafe?

Bruce often provides answers that give him wiggle room to say “you have misinterpreted my opinion”. So how about it Bruce. What are your rules on “intelligence collection”, both domestic and foreign?

Why/how will your rules make us safer?

TG December 16, 2005 10:04 AM

Monitoring sounds ominous but what does it really mean. Is reading this blog monitoring? Sure the intelligence gatherer needs to keep up with what is going on. If monitoring means, listening in to phone conversations, reading e-mails etc. then that is a different ballgame.

Savik December 16, 2005 10:11 AM

Ever hear of a word called “sedition” ?

Sedition is illegal and what these “anti-war protestors” are doing is clearly seditious.

We are at war…these people are equivalent tot he English sympathizers during the revolutionary war.

Davi Ottenheimer December 16, 2005 10:24 AM

@ Savik

I don’t know where you get your definition of “sedition” (hey, this could be the start of a song, all about how you are wrong)…it usually requires some “illegal” anti-government activity that clearly “interferes” with the government’s ability to wage war.

As the DoD clearly states, these were not a credible threat to their ability to wage war. More specifically, they were citizens “exercising constitutional rights”, which obviously means the protests were not even a petition for sedition. I guess I’m in a rhyming mood today…

Pork Soda December 16, 2005 10:34 AM

Ah, but how can the DoD determine seditiousness without collecting information? You can’t say the DoD shouldn’t have collected info because there is no threat when the only reason they know there is no threat is due to the collected information. It’s a chicken and egg problem.

Davi Ottenheimer December 16, 2005 10:35 AM

“It is not overstatement to suggest that this may be the most significant violation of federal surveillance law in the post-Watergate era.”

I thought a BBC comment was especially interesting:

“the [NYT] reported that questions about the legality of the scheme led the Bush administration to suspend it temporarily last year and impose new restrictions”

Sounds like even the Bush administration found the military was using illegal surveillance.

Those who say that the illegal surveillance was effective, need to consider what “effective” (or fair and balanced) is really supposed to mean. In information security there is often a joke that problems will go away if you can get rid of all the users…but the US government seems to have taken this line of reasoning to heart.

Davi Ottenheimer December 16, 2005 10:39 AM

@ Pork Soda

Funny name and comment. The whole question is whether illegal surveillance done by the military is ok, not whether any intelligence gathering is ok at all. Clear and present danger, warranted, etc. are all useful criteria that fly out the window if you have a federal junta that operates entirely above the law.

J.D. Abolins December 16, 2005 10:42 AM

@Savik’s comment

For one of the basic US federal laws on sedition, see 18 U.S.C. 2388 (also called Espionage Act of 1917). It may seem to apply to anti-war protesters the way Savik describes. The 1917 law was drafted and applied in such a way during the US World War One years.

But the application of sedition laws for basic protest or criticism of the government has changed since the early portion of the 20th Century. The legal and social history is too long to post here; just do a search for the law. Suffice it to say that a lot has happened in the past eight decades that does allow protests and criticism of the government as part of an open society.

The application of laws such as 18 U.S.C. 2388 is reserved for specilised situations, not to the run of mill protestors, bloggers, etc.

Meanwhile, don’t try to make a citizen’s arrest of some motorist who has an anti-war bumper sticker.

jammit December 16, 2005 10:50 AM

For the DoD person on your Christmas list:
If you don’t hate me from the previous thread, you’ll hate me now. I really don’t find anything wrong with the DoD surveillance of protestors. It looks like they investigated, saw nothing going on, put a check next to their name, and then moved on to the next target. I can see leaving the “cleared” protestors on the list, that way another DoD person could look at the list and skip them because they’ve been done already. But I do agree with everyone here who is upset at the gub’mnt breaking the law (or really, really bending it) to suit their own needs . Expanding the snooping won’t catch anybody except those who were at one time free to express their opinion.
I don’t think protests are sedition unless they break the law.
And besides, the Sedition Act ended in March 3, 1801.

AG December 16, 2005 11:08 AM

Drudge Report is reporting(redundent?) that the NYT is releasing the Spying on America story in lines with a new book being released by the story’s Author.
Money? Money? (Dirka, Dirka)

Kurzleg December 16, 2005 11:14 AM

@ Jammit

“But I do agree with everyone here who is upset at the gub’mnt breaking the law (or really, really bending it) to suit their own needs.”

That’s exactly what the DoD is doing. In addition to being illegal, it’s not the DoD’s role to spy on / monitor domestic activity.

Bruce Schneier December 16, 2005 11:35 AM

“So now once again we are left with the debate of what is spying and what is intelligence? I also offer up my previous point that what is the difference between ‘intelligence collection’ and NIDS/NIPS systems? Both are collecting information to give management an idea what is going on. It’s up to management to act in a responsible way with the information.”

This issue is not about collection, it’s about oversight. Law enforcement already has the ability to perform the most invasive of searches against Americans. The reason this works is that we have an independent judiciary making sure that law enforcement doesn’t abuse this power.

Davi Ottenheimer December 16, 2005 11:43 AM

@ Frank

Eh? Do you seriously propose that Michelle Malkin should be used to provide “proportion and realism”?

She is a perfect example of the sort of half-baked thinking that I was talking about above. She would probably sooner advocate stripping Americans of all of their inalienable rights than admit that the government has made a mistake.

Have you read her book called “In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror”?

Apparently she disagrees with the official US government apology issued in 1983, which clearly stated that the internment was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

And you call her views proportioned and realistic? She’s about as extreme and unrealistic as they come…

Anonymous December 16, 2005 11:50 AM

@Bruce Schneier

This issue is not about collection, it’s about oversight. Law enforcement already has the ability to perform the most invasive of searches against Americans.

This I do agree with you.

When I stated:

Both are collecting information to give management an idea what is going on. It’s up to management to act in a responsible way with the information.

I should have added and it’s up to the governing agencys to enforce proper oversight and (hopfully) prevent abuse.

But since this was posted with the title of “Spying” and in previous postings no one was for “spying” but everyone was of “Intelligence”, I posed the question back then what is spying vs. intelligence. Apparently it’s not an easy question since no one could answer.

Lyger December 16, 2005 12:01 PM

One thing that we should remember is that there is a difference between gathering information and keeping that information. There’s really nothing wrong with the US intelligence community keeping tabs on anti-war protests here and there. The last thing that you want (and I suspect this is true even for the protesters) is for the protests to become fronts or cover for potentially dangerous activity. (WTO riots, anyone?) But if it turns out that nothing untoward or treasonous (everyone who says that simply criticising the President or any given policy is treasonous can kiss by butt) is going on, why keep that information? Especially if your own rules say that you aren’t supposed to be keeping it.

The impression that’s created is that the government would like to know who its critics are, so that effective pressure or retaliation can be brought to bear, even if plain laziness (someone decided they had something better to do then clean out the DB) or sloppiness (whoops! missed a few) is the real answer. Also interesting is the theory that the leak is actually a scare tactic, designed to let protesters know that they’re being watched. (The infamous chilling tactic again.)

Having taken pictures of “competing” protests (they were actually pro-administration/pro-military personnel on one side and anti-Iraq war on the other – not quite diametrically opposed positions) for a photo contest a few years back, I found concern on BOTH sides that I was some sort of operative, and that the pictures would wind up in “the wrong hands.” (Interestingly, it was mainly women who expressed concern – the men were much more interested in making sure that I got shots of both sides of their signs, took pictures of them holding up flags, saw this or that clever prop they’d created, et cetera.)

Rounin December 16, 2005 12:03 PM

Intelligence is the final processed product in the “Intelligence Cycle”. Until then, it is merely information-gathering, collection, or the result of spying.

As far as oversight goes, how do you balance civil liberties with the ability of intel and law enforcement agencies from acting in a timely manner? If they have to jump through half a dozen buearacratic hoops to get something done, you may as well forget it.

The whole process needs to be streamlined.

Davi Ottenheimer December 16, 2005 12:03 PM

@ Anonymous

Correct. It’s not an easy question, which is why there need to be checks and balances. If it were easily resolved, then it would be easily audited and controlled…

But in general terms “spying” implies intelligence gathering performed specifically without authorization (since it would never be authorized even if you tried).

Moshe Yudkowsky December 16, 2005 12:09 PM

I don’t quite understand how this counts as “news.” The US government has always spied on communications between the US and foreign countries; you’ll note that no court order was needed.

And through the Echelon project, the US uses foreign agencies to spy on intra-US communications (which favor the US returns for the Echelon partners).

Davi Ottenheimer December 16, 2005 12:21 PM

@ Moshe

You’re probably right that not all of the surveillance is news-worthy, but some is relevant to specific recent events and therefore probably qualifies. For example, why does the non-violent UCSC protest of ROTC qualify as a credible threat to the DoD, even though the prior line in the database “violence against recruiters” was found to be non-credible?

Here’s the news story on UCSC…

“A protest against military recruiting on the University of California, Santa Cruz campus in April was the subject of government surveillance after being deemed a “credible threat,” according to report obtained by NBC News. More than 300 students marched into a campus job fair to protest the presence of military recruiters last spring, and the Army’s 902nd Military Intelligence Group collected information on the event.”

Bruce Schneier December 16, 2005 12:22 PM

“I don’t quite understand how this counts as ‘news.’ The US government has always spied on communications between the US and foreign countries; you’ll note that no court order was needed.”

Why the scare quotes for news? Or, to answer your question, I don’t think this is “news.” I think this is actual, important news — and as such will be ignored by most of the media.

Yes, the U.S. government has always spied on international communications. This is the U.S. military spying on Americans inside America, something they are specifically prohibited from doing. So I’m not sure why the parallel is interesting.

And through the Echelon project, the US uses foreign agencies to spy on intra-US communications (which favor the US returns for the Echelon partners).

“And through the Echelon project, the US uses foreign agencies to spy on intra-US communications (which favor the US returns for the Echelon partners).”

Yes, that has been alleged. I have always believed that 1) it is true, and 2) it is illegal. And in any case, I don’t think that a past allegation of a behavior automatically makes any other allegation of the same behavior no longer news.

Bruce Schneier December 16, 2005 12:26 PM

“But since this was posted with the title of ‘Spying’ and in previous postings no one was for ‘spying’ but everyone was of ‘Intelligence’, I posed the question back then what is spying vs. intelligence. Apparently it’s not an easy question since no one could answer.”

It’s definitely not an easy question. It’s a subtle and complilcated question, and the answer is very situation dependent.

This complexity highlights why any system of this type needs checks and balances, and why the warrant process keeps us all safe.

Bruce Schneier December 16, 2005 12:27 PM

“But since this was posted with the title of ‘Spying’ and in previous postings no one was for ‘spying’ but everyone was of ‘Intelligence’, I posed the question back then what is spying vs. intelligence. Apparently it’s not an easy question since no one could answer.”

It’s definitely not an easy question. It’s a subtle and complilcated question, and the answer is very situation dependent.

This complexity highlights why any system of this type needs checks and balances, and why the warrant process keeps us all safe.

antimedia December 16, 2005 12:39 PM

If you want to worry about people spying on you and invading your privacy, I’d worry about Sears and Mastercard, BankAmerica and people like that first. They have a lot more info on you than the government ever will.

If the government couldn’t find the 9/11 hijackers when they had the information right in front of their noses, how much of a threat do you think they really pose?

J.D. Abolins December 16, 2005 12:46 PM

A tangent regarding “intelligence vs. spying”:

It reminds of an intelligence word play:

Our guy does it: He’s an intelligence officer.
Our friend does it: She’s an allied intelligence service member.
Somebody we don’t like does it: He’s a damn spy!

another_bruce December 16, 2005 1:38 PM

i’ve heard about echelon enough times to assume that all my telecommunications were monitored, it rankles me that foreign intelligence agencies may be doing this to circumvent laws prohibiting domestic agencies from doing this; if i’m gonna be spied on i want it being done by real americans.
this won’t catch the dedicated bad guys, they’ll use code phrases like “east wind, rain.”
railing and posturing against the government isn’t going to do a damn bit of good. the answer is to educate and empower individuals. pretty good privacy was a pretty good start; if i want to send a really sensitive message i can figure out how to do it safely, meanwhile, i regret that my sex life is somewhere south of the young warren beatty or bill clinton on the public interest scale, not quite enough to make that foreign intelligence officer fall off his chair.

Moshe Yudkowsky December 16, 2005 2:23 PM

Bruce states, “This is the U.S. military spying on Americans inside America.”

I get the distinct impression from the article that the military was keeping tabs on people who might, according to whatever criteria the military was using, pose a risk of attack against the US military.

If the military were not keeping tabs on threats against them, they’d be derelict in their duties. That’s why military bases have military guards, not FBI agents, patrolling the perimeter.

I also note that the military is pretty clear on what is not a threat: people exercising their civil rights.

In other words, I’m not any happier about Echelon than you are, or the spying on international communications; but I fail to perceive the new threat. At least, so far.

Bruce Schneier December 16, 2005 2:41 PM

“I get the distinct impression from the article that the military was keeping tabs on people who might, according to whatever criteria the military was using, pose a risk of attack against the US military.”


piglet December 16, 2005 4:31 PM

@Lyger “There’s really nothing wrong with the US intelligence community keeping tabs on anti-war protests here and there.”

Really? You know, back in the cold war, when the Soviet Union and her allies did things like that, we used to say “how ugly, they are spying on their own citizens, lucky this could never happen in our FREE DEMOCRATIC countries.” This is a tendency. What used to be scandalous, totalitarian and what not pre 1990 is becoming increasingly acceptable in the “free world” of the 21st century.

Roy Owens December 16, 2005 6:28 PM

Is the US military right to spy on US citizens inside the US because those citizens might threaten the military?

Of course not. That’s the job of the FBI.

If the military cannot see this then obviously the miitary is in critical need of civilian oversight.

Davi Ottenheimer December 16, 2005 6:36 PM

“the military is pretty clear on what is not a threat: people exercising their civil rights”

That’s the theory, but the practice, as I mentioned above, seems to be that a group of campus protestors are monitored by military intelligence and labeled as a credible threat to the DoD while an Internet forum on “violence against recruiters” is labelled non-credible.

It’s about as clear as mud, in reality, that military intelligence should run unregulated (no oversight) in these situations — does the DoD really need to protect themselves from UCSC?

For what it’s worth, the students were as much protesting the discriminatory hiring practices of the military as anything else. Their slogans were related to the fact that the military should comply with federal labor laws and UC non-discrimination policies.

Incidentally, just to muddy the water further, the 1995 Solomon amendment, says that federal funding can be denied to universities that bar military recruiters from campus. Harvard Law School, however, has actually banned military recruiters after a federal appeals court invalidated the amendment. The Justice Department is of course planning to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but in the meantime it seems like this is all hard to write off as “same old story”. Things are definitely changing.

Furthermore, I don’t know if you are familiar with UCSC but the campus was actually opened in 1965 right when the campus anti-war and civil-rights protests were probably most prevalent. Some say the absence of any lawns or “gathering” areas at UCSC and two main ingress/egress points was related to the fear that another open campus area would facilitate protestors. But most notable is that in 1967 the President of the University of California Clark Kerr was reportedly fired by Governor Ronald Reagan for being too lenient with campus anti-war protestors. So while I’ll grant that “wide-ranging and unlawful covert operations at the university involving the head of the CIA and Gov. Ronald Reagan” have happened in the past, it was apparently the FBI and CIA at work at UCSC in the 1960s, not the DoD:

dermitt December 17, 2005 7:51 AM

This could be a boom for the commercial real estate business. Say you have a building and are being watched by the DOD, NSA or the CIA or who knows who. You could tell potential clients that the place is ultra secure, got sats tuned in, high tech military monitoring and the works. The place is full of sensors and night vision cameras.

You can’t buy this level of security! That’s a sales pitch.

Charge a premium for secure office space. You could park undercover looking black sedans or big SUV’s around the place and have guys walking around talking into their lapels.
Chances are the DOD or NSA doesn’t care what you are doing and you are going to have to contract for your own security, which won’t be as good as Howard Stern security, because he’s tight with the guys running the talk radio satellites and that’s where the money is. The DOD can park a Humvee in my yard for all I care. I wonder if I can get the NSA to come over to the house and help get my PC secure or replace the burned out Christmas light bulbs. Happy Christmas or Merry Holidays or whatever you are supposed to say. Norad is spying on Santa!
Norad, which uses four high-tech systems, satellites, radar, Santa cams, and jet fighter aircraft, to track Santa in his present delivery route. Ho Ho Ho!

Trichinosis USA December 17, 2005 9:09 AM

First, show me the money. If intelligence collection abilities are being abused one way, it’s guaranteed that they’re also being abused for other purposes – for example insider trading done with intelligence ostensibly used to monitor flows of financial information. The current situation is all about money and always has been. I still maintain that Cantor Fitzgerald was a deliberate target during 9/11 specifically because it was THE entity that handled large transactions for the Federal Reserve. They knew exactly where those offices were and they took them out with only one survivor – the CEO (which is in itself interesting). You want to find out who the real bad guys are? Follow the money.

Secondly, I find little to justify “spreading the net wider” domestically or otherwise increasing the powers of the federal government to spy if they have yet to produce Bin Laden and if they have so much internal dirty laundry to do. All throwing additional money and resources (and innocent targets) at the problem will do is WASTE those resources and buy the real bad guys time to hide their stolen loot and distract the general populace with chaff. Somehow I fail to believe that we’re going to find Osama Bin Laden in a Quaker meeting house. The rats are turning on each other – that’s how these stories are getting out to the general public. It’s not time to frantically look OUTSIDE our intelligence community for the problem, because the problem is clearly INSIDE.

Anonymous December 17, 2005 3:52 PM

How can ordinary citizens defend themselves against or mitigate the useful data gathered by such surveillance?

mike December 17, 2005 8:50 PM

Today (Sat. 12/17/05) the President broke from his position when interviewed on the Lehrer News Hour that he would not comment on intelligence gathering activities and used his radio address to both detail and then to defend the operation which the NYTimes had reported. His “legal” arguments for the NSA operation will undoubted fill the Sunday papers and the TV shows. I would like to hear your reaction to the following statement of the President in the same address: “Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.”

Davi Ottenheimer December 18, 2005 12:41 AM

@ Mike LP

Interesting example. I found this bit chilling:

“Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk. ”

I guess you wouldn’t want to be caught studying world history in the USSR without the central security agency’s approval and oversight. Ooops, I meant the US.

@ mike

“the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations”

Oh the irony. I think he’s confused his own policies with those of his detractors. Take for example the serpentine mess of US DoD-funded propagandists trying to profit in Iraq:,0,1826110.story?coll=la-home-headlines

“Several workers who carried out Lincoln Group’s offensive, including a $20-million, two-month contract to influence public opinion in Iraq’s restive Al Anbar province, describe a campaign that was unnecessarily costly, poorly run and largely ineffective at improving America’s image in Iraq. […] ‘In my own estimation, this stuff has absolutely no effect and it’s a total waste of money,’ said another former employee, echoing the sentiments of several colleagues. ‘Every Iraqi can read right through it.'”

Has there ever been a US President who has single-handedly created so much backlash due to their own “improper” provision of information? I can’t think of anyone. Not even Adams, Hoover, Johnson, Nixon, Grant, Wilson or Harding.

I guess another way of looking at it is “President George W. Bush ranks as the least popular and most bellicose of the last ten U.S. presidents, according to a new survey.” Do you think that leads to trust?

Mike Wall December 18, 2005 2:39 AM

Why is it that my bank account webpage has a secret reference to, meant only to log my visit to my bank? (I know that because the “ad” loaded is only 1 pixel big) Google-ads gets to know nearly every webpage I visit. My bank gets to sell blandified versions of all my checks and credit card purchases and zipcode visits to huge data congealerators. Even these guys at get the IP address of everyone visiting this very webpage. and can get together to figure out what bank I use. To their credit, my account # was not immediately visible in the huge URL string sent to by my browser when I loaded my account webpage.

Commercial monitoring bothers me. I really don’t care if the military logs all the library books I’ve checked out or the visits to all the anti-war protests I go to… as long as they bother to operate within the laws they bothered to get passed.

Who is anyway? If that’s the CIA, then… nevermind.

directorblue December 18, 2005 9:24 AM

First the opposition party criticizes the President for not following the 9/11 Commission’s dictates. Now they pillory the administration for following the commission’s recommendations (i.e., to monitor suspect communication transiting international borders).

By the way, you have to get about fifty paragraphs into the original New York Times article to read this little gem:

“…[In 2002,] Justice Department lawyers disclosed their thinking on the issue of warrantless wiretaps in national security cases in a … brief… [which said] that “the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority.”


Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), other congressional representatives, a FISA court, and a judge presiding over the FISA court all knew about and approved the taps.

And there’s an interesting parallel of this hysterical reporting with that of the Barrett Report. Remember the Barrett Report?

This was the product of an independent counsel investigating the Clinton administration’s alleged abuse of the IRS in targeting its political foes. An investigation that finished in 2004 but has not been released to the public due, apparently, to political maneuvering by various Clinton-era officials.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall much interest by the Times in the civil liberties issues raised by this investigation. That is, the Times has plainly ignored the Clinton administration’s alleged use of the IRS as a vindictive tool to suppress political targets. And if an administration deploys the IRS to abuse citizens, isn’t that an affront to all we hold dear? Isn’t that an affront to our civil liberties?

I wouldn’t hold my breath to see these leaks (or the results of the Barrett report) investigated with the same fervor as that of Plamegate.

J.D. Abolins December 18, 2005 10:06 AM

The Washington Post site has an interesting column by William M. Arkin on the DoD surveillance and the database. See

Arkin looked at the database and found three major types of entries. 1) apparently valid (who determines “valid”?) potential terrorism tip-offs; 2) anti-war and anti-military protests by civilians (including a Quaker group); 3) security incidents with only the most tentative terrorism connection (e.g.; lost military IDs, solicitations of military spouses, etc.)

The third category can reflect a creeping move plot threat mentality. Also, if one’s role is to looking for threats and not integrated with overall good security design/procedures and resilience, it’s easy to read evil into the small stuff. To “seat the small stuff”.

Also, there are “rewards” for collecting the small stuff. It’s interpreted as paying attention and proactively thinking. Not often there’s a penalty for cluttering with the small stuff. If something “small” was a piece of a real attack, then collecting that small piece looks smart while dismissing the small piece looks damning.

J.D. Abolins December 18, 2005 10:20 AM

Mike LP pointred to an article about “DHS Agents” visit to a UMass Dartmouth student because he checked out Mao’s Little Red Book from the library. ( )

I am trying to determine the accuracy of the article. It is so tempting to accept into the exhibits files of governmental incursions on civil liberties, especially after the recent reports about the NSA and the DOD. But the article actually has some weaknesses that give me concern.

I’ll post them soon on my blog (linked from this entry’s “J.D. Abolins” sign off below). But the biggest difficulties are:
1) Article is almost solely a report of two professors’ account of a what a student told them. No info or direct interview with the student.
2) No indication on what is meant by “DHS agents”. No businesses card type of info, names, unit/bureau/office, etc. Could have been a national security concern other than the DHS itself. FBI, Join Terrorism Task Force, state police, etc.
3. The professor’s concerns about the “book watchlist” is based upon what the student told them the agents said. The agents could have lied simply for convenience or to mask a library staffer’s tip-off. (By the way, a NJ library surveillance incident arose from an individual staffer’s personal tip to the authorities about a patron’s behaviour, not from the library officially.)

I did find it a tad ironic that the article quotes a professor saying that the student sought the Mao book because they encouraged student’s to go to direct sources. Yet, the article lacks the direct sources that would have been so helpful.

Davi Ottenheimer December 18, 2005 2:19 PM

@ directorblue

Are you being sarcastic or serious? I do not see anywhere in the 9/11 commission that the Commander in Chief should resort to extra-legal methods to gather intelligence — circumvent congressional and judicial oversight. Perhaps you can point out that section to us:

Your suggestion that it authorizes the Commander in Chief to “monitor suspect communication transiting international borders”, seems to me a gross oversimplification. The Commission suggested a reorganization the existing “stove-piped” intelligence agencies to become more effective at working together while preserving checks and balances. In fact, if you review chapter 13 you might find that the Commission not only suggests that “The CIA should retain responsibility for the direction and execution of clandestine and covert operations, as assigned by the relevant national intelligence center and authorized by the National Intelligence Director and the president” but that they also warn “Of all our recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important.” And then they go on to say “The FBI’s job in the streets of the United States would thus be a domestic equivalent, operating under the U.S. Constitution and quite different laws and rules, to the job of the CIA’s operations officers abroad.”

I am not a lawyer but it seems to me that not only is there a lack of a mandate for any “secret order to allow spying on people in the United States” (as Reuters described it this morning
), but there is the exact opposite: a mandate to create more efficient and effective intelligence community that operates under the law with direct Congressional oversight to prevent abuse of power.

The real issue is thus whether the President has been able to lead Congress and the Judicial branch to perform a critical oversight role to a new intelligence gathering system, or whether he has been derelict and only debriefed Congress after the fact as though they are now little more than a plain rubber stamp of directives he gives to his favored minions.

Bush’s method of “delegate and pray” leadership is not only increasingly inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the country but it also explains why he was never successful in business.

And you think we should compare unfettered military surveillance of citizens to IRS audits? Do you see paramilitary control over all aspects of your life as equal in risk to auditors being told to review your tax returns? The risks seem worlds apart to me, not to mention it is a total red herring…I’d take an IRS audit any day over indefiniate detention and torture by a junta. You?

Capt. Jean-Luc Pikachu December 18, 2005 6:26 PM

Mike Wall, modify your HOSTS file so that your computer can’t surf to or… It’ll take a little trial and error before you nail all the webbugs spying on you, but it’s worth it.

Harrold December 19, 2005 1:50 AM

There are already secret courts that grant such requests for warrant-based searches, but apparently even secret courts are too much trouble and so it’s now time to just do it — violate whatever in the name of fear. It’s just loathing for the rest of us. What a loser nation the U.S. has become. It’s afraid of everything, despite the obvious fact that current terrorists are very powerless.

Ed T. December 19, 2005 11:28 AM

Just curious…

From the reports, this activity was declared “permitted” based on an Executive Order. So, since IANAL, I am not sure of the legal difference (and order of precedence) between statute, EO, and regulation.

However, if I recall, the prohibition on assassination is also based on an EO. So, why is an EO “the legal thing” in one case and not the other?

(Please note I happen to share Mr. Schneier’s concerns about the practice of domestic intelligence-gathering operations by the NSA. It is the debate on the legality I am addressing in this post, not the debate on the rightness.)

Roy Owens December 19, 2005 11:49 AM

Since Bush confessed publicly, arrest him, jail him with no bail, let him plead guilty, and off he goes to prison. If he insists on a trial, it shouldn’t take long.

Remember that privileges are privileges, not rights, and when he gets arrested he loses some privileges. Conviction loses him some more.

VeeGee December 26, 2005 11:18 PM

I find the fact that Bushie and his administration are spying on Americans VERY troubling, I mean, this is the most paranoid administration (listen to ‘chicken little’ Cheney) since Nixon’s ‘get them lists’–this is UN-AMERICAN at it’s best, and who knows what at it’s worst–especially since now we are finding out that hundreds of thousands have been spyed on with the help of the phone companies (and there can’t be that many potential middle east terrorists in this country unless they are walking across our unguarded borders–oh wait, maybe they are!!). I want to know WHO is being spied on, is it people like Cindy Sheehan? People who protest wars? Or legitimate possible terrorists? This is very scarey indeed and these people need to be voted out of office all who think this is a good idea!!!

VeeGee December 26, 2005 11:32 PM

I guess what I am trying to say is this is the administration that said trust us, there are WMD’s in Iraq–LIE, that outed a secret agent to punish someone who disagreed with them, that said Saddam was getting nukes–LIE, that said Saddam was in on 9-11 (indeed, pork chop butt Cheney was spouting that as recent as a couple months ago)–LIE, that said the Irai’s would greet us as liberators all happy and with joy to be freed from Saddam–LIE, that said in May 2003 the war was over–LIE!! On and on and on with the LIES and now they are asking us to believe and trust them about SPYING on us?????? I don’t think so Mr Bushie!!

DougC January 6, 2006 8:50 PM

Heck, my info says (sadly uncheckable) that 500 isn’t even close to the number. Here in a rural place where there’s little possibility of terrorism, they are doing traffic analysis on ALL calls from and to EVERYONE — They are getting all phone company call logs in realtime. Since they don’t bother to listen to the content unless the pattern analysis shows something interesting, they think this is fine. This is also why they bypassed the courts, as no court would allow this sort of blanket ticket. NSA (and others) have wanted this for a long time, now they have it. The thing is, most terrorist planning is done face to face, so what are they really after here?
The government is pretty bad at keeping secrets, especially from themselves, so I bet agencies like DEA and IRS are getting a nice take from this.

meoi January 25, 2007 1:36 AM

The following simple and obvious questions and observations have been touched on ‘100 ways’ here — I will reiterate in my own words:

Without proper congressional oversight how do we know that domestic electronic surveillance that is carried-out by NSA and other government entities is not being utilized in order to further target American citizens for political purposes ?

I’ll add that the average American citizen has absolutely no understanding of the immense potential vunerability of individuals and groups who are surveilled as referred to above; the possibilities for abuse are profound. Information obtained can be used in support of simple, easily carried out, covert manipulations [‘operations’] that, for example, could be utilized to undermine political opponents, be utilized to support blackmail operations, be utilized to undermine targeted businesses, to undermine independent researchers, etc.

The as of yet not fully explained move by the Bush administration to “go warrantless” and the subsequent aggressive efforts by the administration to avoid oversight, and other actions by the adiministration indicate that the administration may be involved in a cover-up of illegal activitiy connected to the use of SAPs.

Permanent victim of surveillance March 3, 2011 6:13 PM

Despite leading a simple life, having a kind and giving heart, living life with honesty and truth; my personal life is like a Watergate scandal forever started initially due to a man’s creation and he wanted to try on me each and every suspicion (non-existing) – on earth in all aspects of life in any corner regardless where on this earth and by any means to include all genuine telecommunication. It may include misinterpretation of simple verbal or written communication as in day to day sue one does not care what is being said or written without proofread. But then, what is personal or private if it is disseminated to friends, organizations, coworkers, bosses, contractors, doctors who after ignoring initially start becoming suspicious and order and reorder and reorder investigations thinking there must be crime involved. Some enjoy learning about my personal life so they want surveillance to continue. This person will never be told directly so she cannot say that she is being defamed to ask for compensation or her privacy is attacked and persona information is all public due to constant intrusion. Some may advise husband to take divorce or it may result into irritation, and unhappy life style. It may create financial ruins, and affect health and harmony with family and friends.
Is this the neglect of an innocent citizen whose extended family is not in USA?

Surveillance March 3, 2011 6:19 PM

Like a Watergate scandal, those who harm the victim defend themselves by ordering investigation/surveillance with employer’s empower on authorities so that they know what this victim might do against them to protect her civil rights. They will know whom this person is approaching so they plan how to win over that. They may even approach her helper and it causes obstruction of justice. They break this person’s friendship with her friends so she feels helpless and then they will say she is isolated. This personis left with no dignity, integrity and resect which she deserves.

Loss of civil rights like other citizens March 3, 2011 6:41 PM

Unreasonable surveillance and dissemination of private information. Anything happens she is alleged and she is not informed why etc while others involved in that incident/accident are notified about everything leaving her in dark as soon as something happens, the icon pops up and she is victimized.
If an action is done by someone or others, it will not cause any suspicion but same thing will trigger a suspicion against her.
She has never smoked. What she knows is the second hand smoke but due to investigation business, they will make this new suspicion which is baseless.
There has been a continuous loss of civil rights of an employee who is left alone to join a friend circle, group or know office matters unofficially like all other employees, leaving this victim who only knows when the office news is public. They know about their and her promotion or bosses’ plan about her but she won’t know about herself. The supervisor will be interested in her false arrest.

hateful March 4, 2011 6:52 PM

Electronic surveillance and chime type lock sounds affect (torture) a victim due to bias or knowing that this person has a weak support system so they can put all blames on the innocent and get all personal and private GENUINE (nothing illegal) information (unless it is misinterpreted) of this victim. If she says something, arrest her or unless she keeps her mouth shut what they do to her. The news travel faster than anything without delay to the places she visits. What it is, why it is, how long will it last or it is forever for what reason, which is actually doing it with what motif – all is a mystery. Loss of dignity. Helplessness!!!

Gina White September 6, 2019 6:28 PM

There is some spying going on. There a group of people that are target individuals (T.I’s) where theres spying and electromagnetic weapons and what also is called V2K where the target individuals is tested with Techology weaponry weapons. You can research any of this: T.I’s Target Individuals, V2K, Military Contractors, Electromagnetic Weaponry to found out more information of how far they go with there spying.

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