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Leaks Tipping Off Terrorists About Our Intelligence Gathering

  • Leaks Tipping Off Terrorists About Our Intelligence Gathering

  • 28 May 2006 by 1 Comments

Leaks Tipping Off Terrorists About Our Intelligence Gathering
By Richard Larsen
Published: Idaho State Journal, 05/28/06

So is it domestic “spying?” Or is it utilization of technology to cross-reference potential terrorist threats? Many are concerned with the most recent disclosure of further NSA phone data gathering activities. However, of greater concern should be the fact that the tools utilized by the government to protect against terrorist activity are being leaked to the press.

USA Today ran a story last week that the NSA (National Security Agency) was collecting domestic phone call data, including numbers called and from whence those calls originated, as well as time and duration of those calls. According to the report, some U.S. phone companies provided call records, without customer information, to the NSA, which set up a database to look for patterns that could signal terrorist activity.

Following the disclosure a response was made by Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who said, “With all the misinformation about it … and all the leaks about it … all the partisanship that comes with it — the best way to handle it is to brief the whole committee.” Scheduling for this briefing is now underway.

Programs like this are essential in the ongoing war on terror. Michael Chertoff, Director of Homeland Security told Fox News earlier this week, “The critical element in defending this country against terrorism is intelligence. As the president said today, it’s a matter of connecting the dots, and that means we first have to collect the dots . The programs that the government engages in, in compliance with the law, are all designed to give us the kind of information we need to essentially give us early warning of terrorist activity.”

This is obviously a different program that what was revealed in December, 2005, when the existence of the NSA international call surveillance program was leaked. The administration has referred to JR114, passed 10/16/02, for the legality of this program. This Joint Resolution states that the president has the authority to “take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States.”

The legal foundation for the most recent leaked program originates from an act of the Democratically controlled Congress during the Clinton administration. The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994, was passed by voice vote in both the House and the Senate. This law makes clear a telecommunications carrier’s duty to cooperate in the interception of communications for law enforcement and other purposes,” and that access to call-identifying information effected within its switching premises be made available as requested by the government.

This law not only made clear the phone companies’ “duty” to cooperate, it authorized $500 million in taxpayer funds to reimburse the phone companies for equipment “enabling the government, pursuant to a court order or other lawful authorization, to access call-identifying information that is reasonably available to the carrier.”

After collecting the data from the phone companies, the NSA undoubtedly runs the data through Echelon. Echelon is a world-wide signals intelligence and analysis system that can capture radio and satellite communications, telephone calls, faxes and e-mails nearly anywhere in the world and includes computer automated analysis and sorting of intercepts. The data is undoubtedly scrubbed and run through sophisticated algorithms to establish patterns and cross-references. Echelon is credited with the successful arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in March of 2003 by tracking cell phone activity in Pakistan.

Is there the possibility of abuse with programs such as these? Absolutely. Can you imagine how much Nixon would have loved something like this? But the question for us to consider is whether it’s being abused, assuming that the operation of these programs is within the parameters of the 1994 and 2002 statutes upon which they are based

After stripping away the emotive elements of the issue, logic dictates the necessity of both of the aforementioned programs. Prior to the disclosure of the international call monitoring program, terrorists overseas may have thought they could call their cronies here with indemnity and without detection. After this week’s leak regarding the call data gathering, terrorists already here may be more wary of their phone calling habits and feel forced to find other less detectable means of communication.

The leaking of these two programs severely jeopardizes our ability to “gather the dots” before they can be connected, as Chertoff explains it. The crime being committed is not the intelligence gathering, but the “leaking” of information regarding our intelligence gathering programs.

Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at

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More than anything, I want my readers to think. We're told what to think by the education establishment, which is then parroted by politicians from the left, and then reinforced by the mainstream media. Steeped in classical liberalism, my ideological roots are based in the Constitution and our founding documents. Armed with facts, data, and correct principles, today's conservatives can see through the liberal haze and bring clarity to any political discussion.

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