Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Distinction?

A TalkLeft reader I am not familiar with wrote the following. Read at your own risk, as it is not further sourced, but it has a certain logical appeal.

Let me ask why every smart blogger out there and every pundit on TV is talking about wiretapping when the obvious problem is that the U.S. government is now monitoring the entire U.S. Internet a la Echelon or Raptor.

Why do Gonzales and Condi Rice keep mentioning the "technical" aspects of the program as a dodge around FISA?

Why this seemingly inconsequential parsing by Bush of the difference between "monitoring and detection"? Bush says they use FISA if they're montioring, but this is about "detection."

Why, in his letter, does Rockefeller state that he's "not a technician."?
Why the mention of TIA in Rockefeller's letter?
And why the mention of "large batches of numbers all at once"?


These are not phone numbers we're talking about...These are IP addresses, email addresses.

A system is in place that basically filters on certain triggers (text, phoneme, etc.) within Internet "conversations." This is "detection" or at least it's tortured definition that was placed in this idiot Bush's mind. "Monitoring" would be recording an entire conversation, like in a phone conversation.

That system then collects information on those conversations including...ta da...source and destination IP addresses. Those IP addresses can then be stored for further investigation on other "conversations."

E.g., I start an email thread with a friend in France. I mention Al Qaeda. My conversation is "detected" and my info is stored. The system then segments my address into another system and starts a deeper "detection" on any further "conversations" for further triggers. Hence, the system could still be said to be in the detecting mode, not monitoring. If I don't mention any other "evil" words, if I simply send medical records or lusty love letters or diatribes against liberals, I'll eventually be dropped.


Anybody doing anything on the Internet whose traffic gets routed overseas, no matter why, no matter how, is being sniffed. Let's just call it sniffed. Spare me the parsing of "detection" versus "monitoring."

This is happening right now, as we speak.

Update: As to the analog vs. digital in the title, it came from this afterthought by the same writer:

If you say "wiretapping" you automatically think of point-to-point analog conversations. But we're talking about digital communications on a multipoint routed network. Because of the structure of Internet communications, specifically the IP protocol, they basically can "sniff" on anybody because, theoretically, any one piece of this email could be routed overseas just because it found a quicker path to it's destination, even if it's destination was within the U.S.

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    This post is on target. But take it further. How is "detection" not essentially a wiretap with computers doing the listening instead of people? And if you think of it as a mass indeiscrimate wiretap, then how can it be legal? How can any information obtained thereby be lawfully used to justify a warrant for closer monitoring? That's the key: The NSA is wiretapping everybody. The key words are used to flag your communication so that it can be recorded for further (human) study. By the way, ALL Internet traffic IS routed overseas. The internet is not a point to point switch like telephone service. So if you want to monitor US-foreign communications, you monitor it all.

    Do a Google on Echelon.

    The most confusing part of this to me is TalkLeft's choice of "Analog vs. Digital" in the title. I doubt the NSA makes any such distinction. Perhaps the original poster should have written "These are not just phone numbers we're talking about..." Of course, the telephone network is almost all digital these days anyway.
    By the way, ALL Internet traffic IS routed overseas.
    I wouldn't agree that it ALL IS routed overseas, but the internet doesn't care about national borders. You can't assume that a message to your friend across town won't be routed through Toronto, say. The monitoring means recording not listening redefinition is, I suspect, a legalism that only a lawyer could make sense out of.

    Yeah, I may be technically wrong about all traffic routed everywhere, but I think I'm right about these things: 1. The NSA is tapped in at the Internet backbone. 2. When you're on the backbone, you see pretty much everything, no matter where it's going. It's more a matter of what you ignore. 3. The NSA used to ignore everything domestic (by law). I'm not sure that's the case anymore. I think Dick Cheney has them monitoring everything now.

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#5)
    by wg on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 10:44:10 PM EST
    Rockefeller's letter reflects a very troubling and unfortunately routine, these days, situation. To create some semblance of congressional notification they go to a few of them, befog them with a purposefully confusing and usually intellectually dishonest language, and finish with a warning never to talk about it under the penalty of being charged with treason. Huge amounts of highly aggressive/controversial stuff get nominally approved by Congress this way. Same methods are used to deal with municipal and state authorities. Oversight my foot.

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#6)
    by Linkmeister on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 10:54:14 PM EST
    The same sort of discussion is taking place over at Political Animal. Kevin Drum speculates it's data mining of some sort; some of his commenters are more inclined toward the Echelon idea.

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#7)
    by Kitt on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 11:23:48 PM EST
    Saw something about this over at DU...then found this while tooling around in google.

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#8)
    by wg on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 11:25:27 PM EST
    If memory serves right, the system described by your correspondent has been openly discussed in the past. The chances are that it was secretly implemented. The problem, as I see it, is not that "detection" is inherently wrong, rather that this technique should be openly debated before being implemented. At least in democratic countries.

    wg...you can't have "detection" without having "monitoring". If you need a warrant to monitor people's phone calls then you should also need one to monitor their electronic conversations. Period. This is yet another case of fear threatening civil liberties. People are afraid of the big bad terrorists (50 years ago it was communists) and politicians are afraid of being blamed for the next terror attack (50 years ago it was being "soft on communism"). And there are people who intend to capitalize on this fear to persecute their politcal enemies and any number of criminalistic things that these kind of people do. Wingnuts take heed! Do you want a President Hilary to inherit these powers?

    Obviously, routing all or most U.S. internet traffic overseas would be prohibitively expensive due to underseas cables physically only being able to carry so much information. I also looked at the Rockefeller letter first at D-ugh-K then in the original PDF file. I didn't see anything in there about the "numbers" mentioned in the post. Where is the full quote containing that?

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#11)
    by ras on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 12:12:25 AM EST
    Interesting to see that commenters here fully opposed to Clinton's Echelon tactics. I wonder if he told Hillary?

    Update: As to the analog vs. digital in the title
    OK, that leaves me even more confused! I'm sure, though, that the original writer meant to emphasize that it's not just phone calls, but all forms of communication that the NSA monitors. I'm guessing the author knows the Internet better than the telephone network, while I have exactly the opposite problem. Closer to the real issue, one thing that does perplex me - back in the day, when I used to keep track of all this stuff, before the medication, the official gossip had GCHQ as proxy for the NSA on domestic US communications. Was the gossip not true? And even if it wasn't, couldn't George W. Bush have gone to the British and asked for just that help after 9/11, until he could have put in place a legal capability in the USA? Of course, I also thought GCHQ had some involvement in Echelon.

    The National Security Archive has reposted its NSA briefing book: "The largest U.S. spy agency warned the incoming Bush administration in its "Transition 2001" report that the Information Age required rethinking the policies and authorities that kept the National Security Agency in compliance with the Constitution's 4th Amendment prohibition on "unreasonable searches and seizures" without warrant and "probable cause" "Wiretapping the Internet inevitably picks up mail and messages by Americans that would be "protected" under legal interpretations of the NSA's mandate in effect since the 1970s" Your reader hits it right on the nose, I think. This may in fact be inextricably linked to the now-defunded TIA.

    Libby: The following statement contains some misconceptions:
    When you're on the backbone, you see pretty much everything, no matter where it's going. It's more a matter of what you ignore.
    The so-called Internet backbone is not a single network. It is a collective term for the tier-1 networks (also referred to as ISPs) that comprise the 'core' of the Internet. Messages on the Internet broken into data "packets", which are routed from origin to destination across the participating networks as determined by two protocols -- IP (Internet Protocol) within a network, and BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) when they are transferred between networks. BGP is the mechanism that implements the business arrangements (called peering) that ISP's make with one another to carry each other's traffic. These peering arrangements are what makes the Internet work -- without them, there would be no "World Wide" Web, there would just be a lot of isolated networks. Most legacy (Telco) voice traffic is treated differently -- it is not encoded as IP packets, and does not travel on the Internet per se. But Voice over IP (VoIP), an expanding technology, places voice traffic on the Internet alongside any other data traffic. Anyway, it is quite wrong to talk about "the backbone" as if it were a single component of the Internet that everyone shares, and it is also wrong to suggest that by monitoring any single segment or component of the Internet you could see everything. To see all Internet traffic, you would pretty much have to tap into every major peering point. This is not to say that the NSA could not do just that, in the light of the wikipedia description of the scale of ECHELON.

    Get ISPs on record now Not clear on how this "internet-mining" thing would work... seems to me that monitoring the internet would require complicity from ISPs or email service providers. Someone should be asking Comcast, Verizon, Google, Yahoo, etc whether or not they've given the NSA access to their data or networks without warrant.

    I found ths article via a comment over on America Blog; it describes the hardware firepower behind technology like Eschelon and Carnivore. It also describes some of the features of those types of programs, features which are consistant with the premise of this thread: http://www.techworld.com/storage/news/index.cfm?NewsID=2430 15 October 2004 Want to know the hardware behind Echelon?

    "Ramifications: Anybody doing anything on the Internet whose traffic gets routed overseas, no matter why, no matter how, is being sniffed. Let's just call it sniffed. Spare me the parsing of "detection" versus "monitoring." This is happening right now, as we speak." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I posit a correction here. This is a program that is reviewing EVERY communication of every person or business regardless or where it originates or where it's sent. This "overseas/foreign" aspect is a canard. It ALL gets looked at. I could e-mail my mother about Christmas dinner and enough key words and phrases get used I'm on a watch list. Doesn't matter we both live in the Lower 48, it's getting looked at. If you think otherwise you're deluded or in denial.

    Remembering that former Admiral John Poindexter had been in charge of the purportedly defunct (but who knows what it became next?) TIA (Total Information Awareness) project, I googled "TIA Admiral John Poindexter." From epic.org here is a resulting source of some useful information on related issues.

    And here is the current home page for EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center), which has been recently updated (as of today, 12/20/2005). Worth taking a look at, I think, in the contexts of their previously-posted research links re: TIA and the Patriot Act's provisions that have been in operation since 9/11. Their linked pdf file statement on last week's failed Patriot Act bill is also worth reading for context.

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#20)
    by yudel on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 06:18:07 AM EST
    I think the government has made a very determined, and successful, effort to ensure that internet communications are in the hands of government-friendly corporations -- or at least corporations large enough, and sufficiently accountable to shareholders, that they can't afford not to be cooperative. If you look back over the history of the internet economy, the most overpriced IPOs or corporate buyouts were for "community" sites -- places where people could create "content", or in other words, write their own materials. There was never any rational valuation for places like MySpace or theGlobe or even Blogger.... except that now, all of the communications at those places are available to the NSA with a simple polite request. I suspect that if David Winer had made bloghosting a major endeavor, he would have found a nice multimillion purchaser for Userland. Because Dave would probably have given the NSA a hard time about date mining absent a warrant, and I don't think the powers that be want to allow that much freedom on the net.

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#21)
    by Patriot Daily on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 07:07:35 AM EST
    We posted this story yesterday of a transcript from a 60 minutes interview in Feb. 2000. Says Echelon is run by NSA and collects all data (from cell phones, portable phones, data transfers, baby monitors etc) and then looks for key words like "bomb" or perhaps "hate Bush." Lots of innocent people then tagged with terrorist label and targeted by government. So, one explanation for Bush not getting an easy FISA warrant is that no court would approve because they are collecting data on everyone, perhaps using some for terrorists and also other targets, like political opponents. story at this link: 60 minutes interview transcript

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#22)
    by Johnny on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 07:18:58 AM EST
    "But I do believe that especially in the day and age we live in, the nature of the threats of we face — and this is true during the Cold War as well as I think is true now — the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy," the vice president said.

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#23)
    by learned hound on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 07:19:06 AM EST
    I don't understand the digital/analog issue. Is it more helpful to think of this as "pen registers" vs. "wiretaps". And then pursuit of the information obtained from the pen register?

    Re: Analog vs. Digital Snooping: Is This Bush's Di (none / 0) (#24)
    by profmarcus on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 07:31:00 AM EST
    kevin drum at washington monthly is groping for an answer to his question...
    Lots of people have suggested that the NSA program has something to do with Echelon, a massive project that vacuums up communications of all kinds from all over the globe. The problem is that Echelon has been around for a long time and no one has ever complained about it before — so whatever this new program is, it's something more than vanilla Echelon.
    echelon isn't and never has been "vanilla," kevin... freakin' far, far from it... (from Echelon Watch...)
    Echelon is perhaps the most powerful intelligence gathering organization in the world. Several credible reports suggest that this global electronic communications surveillance system presents an extreme threat to the privacy of people all over the world. According to these reports, ECHELON attempts to capture staggering volumes of satellite, microwave, cellular and fiber-optic traffic, including communications to and from North America. This vast quantity of voice and data communications are then processed through sophisticated filtering technologies. This massive surveillance system apparently operates with little oversight. Moreover, the agencies that purportedly run ECHELON have provided few details as to the legal guidelines for the project. Because of this, there is no way of knowing if ECHELON is being used illegally to spy on private citizens.
    there have been many attempts to get governments to either confirm or deny echelon's existence with zero success... some materials on echelon have been archived by the aclu... information on an fbi offshoot of echelon, carnivore, was sought by the aclu in 2001... (more...)
    Previous inquiries by the European Parliament have resulted in reports detailing the existence of a surveillance system known as ECHELON, which is led by the NSA in conjunction with its counterpart agencies in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. According to the reports, ECHELON has communications receiving stations all over the world and attempts to capture all satellite, microwave, cellular and fiber-optic communications worldwide, including communications to and from North America. Computers then sort through conversations, faxes and emails searching for keywords and other triggers. Communications that include triggers chosen by the intelligence agencies are transcribed and forwarded for further investigation. [...] "It appears that the NSA is engaged in a surveillance system of epic proportions," Steinhardt said. "If these reports are true, ECHELON dwarfs the extensive surveillance of Americans already conducted by the FBI and other domestic law enforcement agencies."

    Gold sold: The Carlyle Group dishes out $72M If we have seen with our own eyes how the corporate media have allowed themselves to become the willing handmaidens of this presidency, then is it too much of a stretch to wonder if other corporations are secretly doing the same kind of whoring?

    Some times we will get lost in the forest because were so busy looking at the trees. What to me is really the huge issue here and scary is the fact that we are now living that world where every prediction in the Book "1984" is becoming a reality. The only error so is it's happening 20 years late! It is very scary to realize "OUR" American Big brother is watching and listening in on each and everyone of us, right now. If I understand what we are discussing here is correct, we are at this very moment being added to a secret data base and the more we discuss this issue the more we wiil place our selves in jepardy of Official scrutiny!

    Bushism: Fool me once . . . (video). ["Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."--Chinese proverb, aptly applied (or attempted thus) not only by George W. Bush to Saddam Hussein, but also by us to Bush himself.]

    Not clear on how this "internet-mining" thing would work... seems to me that monitoring the internet would require complicity from ISPs or email service providers. Someone should be asking Comcast, Verizon, Google, Yahoo, etc whether or not they've given the NSA access to their data or networks without warrant.
    And what good would it do to ask them, when a condition of their cooperation would surely be that the operation is covert, and assigned the highest possible security levels? The answer would not be the truth, probably because the person answering has never been told the truth. And if they did know, they would have a misleading answer ready.

    On Tuesday night's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer Gwen Ifill presented "A Closer Look at NSA":
    The Bush administration has recently come under fire for authorizing the National Security Agency to spy on people in the United States suspected of terrorism ties. Gwen Ifill discusses the powers of the NSA with John McLaughlin, senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University and former acting director of the CIA, and James Bamford, author of two books about the NSA.
    They discuss several issues raised in this thread on TL by various posters. Audio link here. Transcript should be available within 24 hours (Wed.).

    See also account of Senator (D-CA) Barbara Boxer's citing Dean here.

    There is another error in what I wrote above, which I'm correcting in brackets as follows:
    such as that [called for in an 'open letter' reply to] House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in her letter reproduced here. Last I heard, some mainstream Democrats were too afraid of a backlash (losing votes in the next election) to go as far as to join [that writer's] call for impeachment . . .
    [or, as of yet, to follow the suggestions being made on Dec. 19th by Barbara Boxer in her letter to the four presidential scholars re: Dean's comment].

    The online transcript of Gwen Ifill's interview with James Bamford and John McLaughlin from The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, as broadcast on Dec. 20, 2005 is here.