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The best data source in the world... notice the discussion of
increasing the "betweenness" of phone switches in America. From the
Dec 24, 2005 NY Times... http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/24/politics/
Happy Holidays to All!
> Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report
> By ERIC LICHTBLAU and JAMES RISEN
> WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 - The National Security Agency has traced and
> analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications
> flowing into and out of the United States as part of the
> eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept.
> 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity,
> according to current and former government officials.
> The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and
> voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger
> than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was
> collected by tapping directly into some of the American
> telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.
> As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic
> surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the
> cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain
> backdoor access to streams of domestic and international
> communications, the officials said.
> The government's collection and analysis of phone and Internet
> traffic have raised questions among some law enforcement and
> judicial officials familiar with the program. One issue of concern
> to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has reviewed
> some separate warrant applications growing out of the N.S.A.'s
> surveillance program, is whether the court has legal authority over
> calls outside the United States that happen to pass through
> American-based telephonic "switches," according to officials
> familiar with the matter.
> "There was a lot of discussion about the switches" in conversations
> with the court, a Justice Department official said, referring to
> the gateways through which much of the communications traffic
> flows. "You're talking about access to such a vast amount of
> communications, and the question was, How do you minimize something
> that's on a switch that's carrying such large volumes of traffic?
> The court was very, very concerned about that."
> Since the disclosure last week of the N.S.A.'s domestic
> surveillance program, President Bush and his senior aides have
> stressed that his executive order allowing eavesdropping without
> warrants was limited to the monitoring of international phone and e-
> mail communications involving people with known links to Al Qaeda.
> What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians,
> besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have
> combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in
> search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some
> officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation.
> The current and former government officials who discussed the
> program were granted anonymity because it remains classified.
> Bush administration officials declined to comment on Friday on the
> technical aspects of the operation and the N.S.A.'s use of broad
> searches to look for clues on terrorists. Because the program is
> highly classified, many details of how the N.S.A. is conducting it
> remain unknown, and members of Congress who have pressed for a full
> Congressional inquiry say they are eager to learn more about the
> program's operational details, as well as its legality.
> Officials in the government and the telecommunications industry who
> have knowledge of parts of the program say the N.S.A. has sought to
> analyze communications patterns to glean clues from details like
> who is calling whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of
> day it is made, and the origins and destinations of phone calls and
> e-mail messages. Calls to and from Afghanistan, for instance, are
> known to have been of particular interest to the N.S.A. since the
> Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said.
> This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States
> would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the
> government wanted to trace who calls whom.
> The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush
> administration in other contexts has raised strong objections, most
> notably in connection with the Total Information Awareness system,
> developed by the Pentagon for tracking terror suspects, and the
> Department of Homeland Security's Capps program for screening
> airline passengers. Both programs were ultimately scrapped after
> public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil liberties.
> But the Bush administration regards the N.S.A.'s ability to trace
> and analyze large volumes of data as critical to its expanded
> mission to detect terrorist plots before they can be carried out,
> officials familiar with the program say. Administration officials
> maintain that the system set up by Congress in 1978 under the
> Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not give them the speed
> and flexibility to respond fully to terrorist threats at home.
> A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company
> said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the leading companies in the
> industry have been storing information on calling patterns and
> giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible
> "All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and
> shared with them, and since 9/11, there's been much more active
> involvement in that area," said the former manager, a
> telecommunications expert who did not want his name or that of his
> former company used because of concern about revealing trade secrets.
> Such information often proves just as valuable to the government as
> eavesdropping on the calls themselves, the former manager said.
> "If they get content, that's useful to them too, but the real plum
> is going to be the transaction data and the traffic analysis," he
> said. "Massive amounts of traffic analysis information - who is
> calling whom, who is in Osama Bin Laden's circle of family and
> friends - is used to identify lines of communication that are then
> given closer scrutiny."
> Several officials said that after President Bush's order
> authorizing the N.S.A. program, senior government officials
> arranged with officials of some of the nation's largest
> telecommunications companies to gain access to switches that act as
> gateways at the borders between the United States' communications
> networks and international networks. The identities of the
> corporations involved could not be determined.
> The switches are some of the main arteries for moving voice and
> some Internet traffic into and out of the United States, and, with
> the globalization of the telecommunications industry in recent
> years, many international-to-international calls are also routed
> through such American switches.
> One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked
> at the N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities,
> the American government had in the last few years been quietly
> encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount
> of international traffic that is routed through American-based
> The growth of that transit traffic had become a major issue for the
> intelligence community, officials say, because it had not been
> fully addressed by 1970's-era laws and regulations governing the
> N.S.A. Now that foreign calls were being routed through switches on
> American soil, some judges and law enforcement officials regarded
> eavesdropping on those calls as a possible violation of those
> decades-old restrictions, including the Foreign Intelligence
> Surveillance Act, which requires court-approved warrants for
> domestic surveillance.
> Historically, the American intelligence community has had close
> relationships with many communications and computer firms and
> related technical industries. But the N.S.A.'s backdoor access to
> major telecommunications switches on American soil with the
> cooperation of major corporations represents a significant
> expansion of the agency's operational capability, according to
> current and former government officials.
> Phil Karn, a computer engineer and technology expert at a major
> West Coast telecommunications company, said access to such switches
> would be significant. "If the government is gaining access to the
> switches like this, what you're really talking about is the
> capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data," he said.
> Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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