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What Was the Program Confirmed by the President?

31232480_c77471828d_m.jpg During the many tortured hours of public statements and Congressional testimony that Alberto Gonzales gave before he resigned as AG, he repeatedly sought to distinguish among multiple intelligence gathering programs which the government is currently running. He repeatedly said the phrase “the program the President has confirmed.”

It got me thinking about all the programs that we know something about, because we have to assume that the program(s) everybody on Capitol Hill are pussyfooting around are some variation, expansion or combination of one or more of the following:


Echelon is a global signals intelligence gathering and analysis network. It is done pursuant to a treaty among the English speaking nations of the world (UK, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada). It used to be performed primarily through the maintenance of “listening stations” set up to capture communications satellite signals, but as more and more world wide communications have moved to fiber optic cable, so too has Echelon moved to capturing information via switch rooms in certain key locations around the world, yes, including San Francisco.


Carnivore was a system implemented by the FBI similar to wiretapping, although instead of listening in on telephone calls, the system monitors a person’s Internet traffic, that is emails and web use.

The Carnivore system is a Microsoft Windows-based workstation with packet-sniffing software and a removable disk drive.[1] This computer must be physically installed at an Internet service provider (ISP) or other location where it can “sniff” traffic on a LAN segment to look for email messages in transit. The technology itself is not highly advanced — it uses a standard packet sniffer and some fairly straightforward filtering (such as a Perl script).

Getting the cooperation of the ISPs or the owner of the LAN onto which Carnivore is to be placed can either be voluntary or by court order; however, once a system is in place it is allegedly not allowed to simply capture every email that passes through the system — by existing U.S. law, publicly acknowledged USG personnel are required to get a warrant or court order naming specific people or email addresses that may be monitored. When an email passes through that matches the filtering criteria mandated by the warrant, the message is logged along with information on the date, time, origin and destination.

Supposedly the FBI abandoned its own customized software in favor of off the shelf commercially available packet sniffing software sometime in 2001. I find myself wondering if this “commercially available” software is not the very same software that the telephone companies and Internet Service Providers use themselves to do their own market research on…


Could it be a program related to the rules and programs implemented under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (a/k/a CALEA)? Passed in 1994, CALEA amended the US Criminal Code which obliges telephone companies to make it possible for law enforcement agencies to tap any phone conversations carried out over its networks, as well as making call details (often referred to as MUDs—message unit details, and LUDs—long distance unit details) available. The act also stipulates that it must not be possible for a person to detect that his or her conversation is being monitored by the respective government agency.

In 2005, in response to a petition dated March 10, 2004 by the DOJ and FBI, [Ed. note, if you only have time to click on one link—this is it!] the FCC issued a report and Order that said that CALEA applied to facilities-based broadband Internet access providers and providers of interconnected (with the PSTN, Public Switched Telephone Network) Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP) services. There’s a great wiki here. BTW, the hospital room confrontation between Comey and Ashcroft happened on March 10, 2004.

Anyway, these are my top suspects. Anybody out there have any to add to the list?

Update: If my theory is correct, namely that the “program”= eschelon (utilizing the latest version of Carnivore) + CALEA; that would help to explain a lot about the Comey/Gonzo clash in Ashcroft’s hospital room.

Comey is not the sort of puffed up idiot who would provoke a crisis over the parsing of a couple words. So, I have always believed that the reason for the crisis, had to be something that was just black and white under the law.

If you look at the timing, Comey talks to Ashcroft on March 9th and Ashcroft agrees not to re-authorize the program. Hours later Ashcroft collapses.

March 10th is the application date of the DOJ application to the FCC to have CALEA extended to Internet. Just because that is the application date, does not mean they filled out and submitted the application on that date. It was just the date chosen to start a clock running. Why, because often (but not always) in law, if you apply to do something, you can go ahead and do it while your application is still pending. So, if the AG wasn’t going to certify, and they didn’t want to have an interruption in the spying, they had to have another way to keep it going until the could make it legal.

IIRC there was some reference to needing a couple weeks to make it “legal”. Well that’s about how long it would take to put together the FCC application. Also, Goldsmith has said publicly that he was not opposed to the activity, just that you had to have a legal authority to do it.  Getting an FCC ruling would do that.

And getting an FCC ruling would create at least the appearance of independant decision making. And you threw in the DEA as a legitimate consumer of this spying product to be a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

I think the showdown was over internet spying.

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