WSJ article on NSA data-mining

March 11, 2008

An article by Siobhan Gorman in today’s WSJ looks at the data-mining activities of the NSA in some detail (link via Slate’s Today’s Papers column).

Here are some highlights from the (very long) piece. I’ve bolded some parts for emphasis:

“NSA officials say the agency’s own investigations remain focused only on foreign threats, but it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish between domestic and international communications in a digital era, so they need to sweep up more information.”

“If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city — for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans — the government’s spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city.

“The NSA uses its own high-powered version of social-network analysis to search for possible new patterns and links to terrorism. The Pentagon’s experimental Total Information Awareness program, later renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, was an early research effort on the same concept, designed to bring together and analyze as much and as many varied kinds of data as possible. Congress eliminated funding for the program in 2003 before it began operating. But it permitted some of the research to continue and TIA technology to be used for foreign surveillance.

Some of it was shifted to the NSA — which also is funded by the Pentagon — and put in the so-called black budget, where it would receive less scrutiny and bolster other data-sifting efforts, current and former intelligence officials said. “When it got taken apart, it didn’t get thrown away,” says a former top government official familiar with the TIA program.

My favorite spooky detail: the FBI maintains a telecommunications activity information database that it used to call “Carnivore.”

Update (Tuesday 9am): mcjoan over at DailyKos has a cogent detailed post on this story. She also offers some convincing arguments why this is yet another reason why the FISA legislation currently sought by the administration should be scrapped.

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