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The ITT List

Wednesday, May 17, 2006, 10:53 pm

Heckuva Job Hayden (Either Not So Familiar With The Fourth Amendment Or Could Just Care Less)

By Brian Zick

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Siobhan Gorman for the Baltimore Sun reports that "The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project -- not because it failed to work -- but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials."

Under Clinton, it seems, the NSA wanted to expand its tech capabilities, to keep up with the evolution of threats to national security. And in so doing it also placed great emphasis on respecting the Fourth Amendment, and guarding against violation of civil liberties. The result was a successful pilot program, code-named ThinThread, which utilized encryption of data prior to analysis, so that nobody's particular phone calls could be identifed without decryption, which could only be done when call patterns suggested illegality sufficiently to justify a warrant for further investigation. (ThinThread was designed very carefully from a legal point of view, although in 1998 "lawyers feared that expanding NSA data collection to include communications in the United States could violate civil liberties, even with the encryption function.")

After 9/11. Michael Hayden kiboshed ThinThread, in favor of an alternative program called Trailblazer, which he personally initiated when he first arrived at the NSA. Trailblazer has proved to be a "sub-par tool for sniffing out information, and that has diminished the quality of its analysis, according to intelligence officials" because its "data-sorting has produced a database clogged with corrupted and useless information."

via Josh Marshall
Kevin Drum has a brief synopsis of the story.
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