There's new news on the NSA's bulk data collection front. First, which will come as no surprise, the government has confirmed that it swept up huge amounts of data from emails, in the U.S., without any court approval. For several years. Under the order of then-President George W. Bush. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court finally approved that collection in 2004, probably in the wake of the big confrontation when then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey refused to reauthorize some aspect of the warrantless surveillance program.
The confirmation of this program is included in a 2007 court filing made public Monday by the Justice Department, though documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed the program, which was hinted at when the cell phone warrantless surveillance story broke in 2005. And they wonder why we don't trust them.
The second story will do little to help the nation's diplomatic efforts abroad in the midst of the Ukraine and Syria crises. The Washington Post's Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report that the NSA has built a surveillance system that can record 100 percent of a country's telephone calls, store those recordings, and go back to them to listen as long as a month after they were recorded. The country in question is not named in the report.
A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.But that's all happening overseas, right? So Americans don't need to be concerned, right? Well ... "Present and former U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide context for a classified program, acknowledged that large numbers of conversations involving Americans would be gathered from the country where RETRO operates." Those calls are not filtered out, but are part of that amorphous "incidental" acquisition that the NSA says is okay because the real targets are foreign.
The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere. […]
Some of the documents provided by Snowden suggest that high-volume eavesdropping may soon be extended to other countries, if it has not been already. The RETRO tool was built three years ago as a “unique one-off capability,” but last year’s secret intelligence budget named five more countries for which the MYSTIC program provides “comprehensive metadata access and content,” with a sixth expected to be in place by last October.
Again, they wonder why we don't trust them? Maybe Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), having found her committee at the wrong end of some illegal surveillance by the CIA, will now see the value in having some real oversight hearings of the NSA as well as the CIA.