May 16, 2006
Three Hundred and Twelve Terabytes

The Republicans are probably right that a majority of Americans can be frightened into preferring taps on their phones to another 9/11. But that consensus depends on the theory that there’s a connection between the two. Problem is, the facts appear to be otherwise.

This is the administration that, if you take the whistleblowers seriously, had at least one message pinpointing the day on which Al Qaeda intended to attack, but failed to make translations in time. FBI management appeared to be more interested in maneuvering for larger budgets than in ensuring timely translations. In fact, according to Sibel Edmonds that’s a serious understatement — she was explicitly told not to keep up with the translations, to help prove that they needed more people. She was also aware of personal connections between translators and some of the FBI’s high-value targets. This was not simple corruption; it was at least the intentional creation of weakness. As anyone familiar with the JFK story knows, you don’t have to cause an assassination; you just get out of the way, and it happens. Larger scale, same deal.

The people who missed the needle are now calling for a bigger haystack.

The most likely use of the biggest database in history, reportedly 312 terabytes (approximately 220,000 CD-ROMs) is to track political dissidents. This administration is comfortable with tricks like using fake Secret Service agents to make people leave a Bush audience because they had a Kerry sticker on their car.

Here’s a perfect example of the real threat posed by Bush’s track-everybody approach:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

[…]

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

I find it difficult to believe that the Cheney administration will get any significant benefit from the database regarding the search for terrorists. Data mining seems to me to be best suited for data that’s scattered because it’s disorganized. But if the subjects of the search are aware they’re being searched for, and are working to frustrate the search, I don’t think data mining is going to be nearly as effective.

To put it bluntly, I doubt that fighting terrorism is the point of collecting all this data; it is at most the excuse.

I’m much more ready to believe that a government in which Rove still has a great deal of influence would subvert the democratic process and avoid legislative and judicial oversight to screw its political enemies. For one thing, this is Rove’s signature. For another, there are several Nixon- and Reagan-era dirty tricksters in the administration (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Elliot Abrams, Negroponte); and if anyone knew how to cheat the public out of its Constitutionally guaranteed control of the government, it was the unitary-executive types who supported Nixon and Reagan. I half-expected someone to propose that the American Senate should take a cue from the Roman version and deify Reagan.

But we muddled through, and I expect we will again.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at May 16, 2006 06:53 AM
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Until we have access to the appropriate information, it is not really arguable whether or not all this data mining has prevented any terrorists attacks. But that's not really what civil liberties is all about. It sets an extremely high bar before we say that the loss of our liberties is worth the candle. And further, it goes beyond civil liberties; it has to do with the fact that this administration continues to actively decide what the law is. And really. In essence, there is no law. Le roi is the law.

As far as that goes, wouldn't we all be safer is cameras were installed in all our homes. Why stop at all those cameras that are already installed in public places.

Posted by: t on May 16, 2006 9:51 AM

For one investigative story on the obvious political uses of such "data mines" see Greg Palast's story---summarized in recent interviews, of his new book [to reach the streets in early June].

Posted by: Hoffmann on May 16, 2006 10:50 AM
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