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Bush spied on purely domestic calls

One of the defenses offered up by the Bush administration in this latest scandal (dubbed “SnoopGate”, which I can’t get into because Calvin Broadus has nothing to do with it) is that though the spying may have been on US citizens who were making calls while in the US, those citizens were calling foreign locations deemed to be “suspicious”. I’ve even read the Freepers defend it with lines like “So if your name is Ahmad Mohammed and you’re constantly making phone calls to a radical mosque in Syria, sure, nothing to worry about there!” The idea here is to show the president only went out of his way to break the law and ignore the Constitution for the purpose of eavesdropping only on US-foreign transmissions. He’s only spying on those people, not good ol’ Americans like you and me just making calls to our friends in the States.

Mr. Bush and his senior aides have emphasized since the disclosure of the program’s existence last week that the president’s executive order applied only to cases where one party on a call or e-mail message was outside the United States.

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the former N.S.A. director who is now the second-ranking intelligence official in the country, was asked at a White House briefing this week whether there had been any “purely domestic” intercepts under the program.

“The authorization given to N.S.A. by the president requires that one end of these communications has to be outside the United States,” General Hayden answered. “I can assure you, by the physics of the intercept, by how we actually conduct our activities, that one end of these communications are always outside the United States.”

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales also emphasized that the order only applied to international communications. “People are running around saying that the United States is somehow spying on American citizens calling their neighbors,” he said. “Very, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”

Well, so much for that defense:

(NY Times) WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 – A surveillance program approved by President Bush to conduct eavesdropping without warrants has captured what are purely domestic communications in some cases, despite a requirement by the White House that one end of the intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil, officials say.

The officials say the National Security Agency’s interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches at the National Security Agency in determining whether a communication was in fact “international.”

Telecommunications experts say the issue points up troubling logistical questions about the program. At a time when communications networks are increasingly globalized, it is sometimes difficult even for the N.S.A. to determine whether someone is inside or outside the United States when making a cellphone call or sending an e-mail message. As a result, people that the security agency may think are outside the United States are actually on American soil.

Great point. Maybe, then, we should have a set of procedures and laws to follow in these cases, with some judicial and congressional oversight, so we won’t be so quick to make these mistakes, huh?

I don’t know about you, but if a stranger sees me running around inside my house naked, I don’t care whether he intentionally planned to be a Peeping Tom or if he accidentally spied me in the buff because he was turning his head and got just the right angle to see through my window blinds. Intentional or accidental, domestic spying on American citizens requires a warrant.

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