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NSA Spying: “Overcollection” or Business as Usual?

New evidence that the National Security Agency (NSA) continues to systematically spy on Americans emerged on Thursday.

In an explosive report, The New York Times revealed that the agency “intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year.”

According to investigative journalists Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, “several intelligence officials” told the paper that the ultra-spooky NSA “had been engaged in ‘overcollection’ of domestic communications of Americans.”

As numerous critics have charged, the NSA’s driftnet surveillance of electronic communications would dramatically escalate precisely because of Congress’ passage of the shameful FISA Amendments Act (FAA) last summer.

When revelations that domestic spying have increased since Obama’s January inauguration are coupled with the Justice Department’s aggressive moves to suppress litigation that would hold former and present officials accountable, claims of “overcollection” by the agency become a code word for business as usual.

The Times points out that “classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts.”

But as The Wall Street Journal reported last year, “the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records.”

Acting in concert with private corporations, “transactional data” such as credit card purchases, bank transactions and travel itineraries are sold to NSA by corporate freebooters. Once this information is obtained, it is then fed into data mining programs, including NSA’s own Terrorist Surveillance Program or the FBI’s Digital Collection System formerly known as Carnivore in a quixotic search for “suspicious patterns.” As the Journal revealed:

The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called “black programs” whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say. Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach. Among them, current and former intelligence officials say, is a longstanding Treasury Department program to collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit-card transactions. (Siobhan Gorman, “NSA Domestic Spying Grows as Agency Sweeps Up Data,” The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2008)

As investigative journalist Christopher Ketchum reported last year in the now-defunct Radar Magazine, one such “black program” may be its ultra top secret Main Core database, “a secret enemies list of citizens who could face detention under martial law.”

Ketchum revealed that as many as “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect” and, in the event of a national emergency, “could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention.”
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