"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What surveillance might have heard

I wrote last month about the controversy over surveillance by the U.S. authorities of phone calls made to abroad. The Chicago Tribune has a crucial new piece of information that should frame any such debate. According to a classified report from the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel seen by the newspaper, "206 international telephone calls were known to have been made by the leaders of the [9/11] hijacking plot after they arrived in the United States--including 29 to Germany, 32 to Saudi Arabia and 66 to Syria." Interestingly, and somewhat worryingly too, 54 months to the day after 9/11 "the hijackers' connections to Saudi Arabia and Syria are far from fully explained." If these calls could have been intercepted, the plot that resulted in the atrocities om New York and Washington - and which intended an assault on either the Congress on Capitol Hill or the White House - might have been avoided. But the key lesson is that president Bush's instinct was right: the surveillance statute was insufficient for the new war. He wasn't right, however, to fail for so long to put the required changes on a secure legal footing.


Anonymous Tom said...


I could be wrong, but I thought that the legislation available to GWB Junior prior to 11th of Sepetember 2001 allowed for retroactive warrants. In other words, calls could be listened to and then, up to 72 hours after the fact, permission could be received from a FISA court for the wire tap.

My understanding of the current situation is that there is no accountability built into the system being operated by the NSA, even retrospectively, leaving open the possibility, however remote, of misuse or abuse of wire taps by government agencies.

Mon Mar 27, 02:14:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger karole said...

You're right on the second point. My impression of the situation was that there wasn't any provision for retroactive warrants. Even if there was, that wouldn't be enough. It's no longer a case of simply identifying a particular suspect and getting a warrant (even retroactively) for surveillance of his communications: "If we agree that the National Security Agency now needs to trace and analyze large volumes of phone and Internet traffic looking for particular patterns and to cross-reference leads, then it seems clear that traditional, specific warrants may sometimes not be appropriate." (Philip Bobbitt).

There is oversight at the moment but it is outside the procedures laid down in the statute.

See my original February post linked to in this one.

Mon Mar 27, 02:28:00 PM GMT+1  

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