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Amygdala will move to an entirely new and far better blog template ASAP, aka RSN, aka incrementally/badly punctuated evolution.
Tagging posts, posts by category, next/previous post indicators, and other post-2003 design innovations are incrementally being tweaked/kludged/melting.
Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
you are welcome to do so via the PayPal buttons.
"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
The Bush administration has swept aside nearly thirty years of rules and regulations and has secretly brought the NSA back into the business of domestic espionage. The NSA is now eavesdropping on as many as five hundred people in the United States at any given time and it potentially has access to the phone calls and e-mails of millions more. It does this without court-approved search warrants and with little independent oversight.
President Bush has secretly authorized the NSA to monitor and eavesdrop on large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other Internet traffic inside the United States to search for potential evidence of terrorist activity, without search warrants or any new laws that would permit such domestic intelligence collection. Under a secret presidential order signed in early 2002, only months after the September 11 attacks, President Bush has given the NSA the ability to conduct surveillance on communications inside the United States. The secret decision by the president has opened up America's domestic telecommunications network to the NSA in unprecedented and deeply troubling new ways, and represents a radical shift in the accepted policies and practices of the modern U.S. intelligence community.
The NSA is now tapping into the heart of the nation's telephone network through direct access to key telecommunications switches that carry many of America's daily phone calls and e-mail messages. Several government officials who know about the NSA operation have come forward to talk about it because they are deeply troubled by it, and they believe that by keeping silent they would become complicit in it. They strongly believe that the president's secret order is in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches, and some of them believe that an investigation should be launched into the way the Bush administration has turned the intelligence community's most powerful tools against the American people.
One government lawyer who is aware of the NSA domestic surveillance operation told reporter Eric Lichtblau that the very few people at the Justice Department who are aware of its existence simply refer to it as "the Program." It may be the largest domestic spying operation since the 1960s, larger than anything conducted by the FBI or CIA inside the United States since the Vietnam War.
In order to overturn the system established by FISA in 1978, and bring the NSA back into domestic wiretaps without court approval, administration lawyers have issued a series of secret legal opinions, similar to those written in support of the harsh interrogation tactics used on detainees captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the Bush administration has never publicly discussed the NSA operation, the Justice Department did hint at the administration's thinking on domestic spying in a little-noticed legal brief in an unrelated court case in 2002. That brief said that "the Constitution vests in the president inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority." The search for foreign "agents" has led the NSA to peer into domestic streams of data.
Debate within the government about the moral and legal issues involved in the NSA operation has been extremely limited because only a handful of high-ranking government officials are aware of the existence of the eavesdropping program. "It was a closed program," said one very senior administration official. "People normally in the chain didn't have access to it."
The NSA eavesdropping operation has been hidden inside a "special access program," a level of secrecy reserved for the government's most sensitive covert operations. "This is the biggest secret I know about," said one official who was deeply troubled by what he knew.
The small handful of experts on national security law within the government who know about the NSA program say they believe it has made a mockery of the public debate over the Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act has given no new powers to the NSA. The Bush administration purposely did not seek congressional approval for the NSA operation, apparently because the White House recognized that it would be too controversial and would almost certainly be rejected. "There is nothing explicit in the Patriot Act for NSA," said one former congressional aide who was involved in the drafting of the Patriot Act, but who was unaware of the NSA operation. "Their surveillance is supposed to be directed outside the United States."
It is now clear that the White House went through the motions of the public debate over the Patriot Act, all the while knowing that the intelligence community was secretly conducting a far more aggressive domestic surveillance campaign. "This goes way beyond the Patriot Act," said one former official familiar with the NSA operation.
President Bush's secret order has given the NSA the freedom to employ extremely powerful computerized search programs -- originally intended to scan foreign communications -- in order to scrutinize large volumes of American communications. It is difficult to know the precise size of the NSA operation, but one indication of its large scale is the fact that administration officials say that one reason they decided not to seek court-approved search warrants for the NSA operation was that the volume of telephone calls and e-mails being monitored was so big that it would be impossible to get speedy court approval for all of them.
Any of this sounding familiar yet?
[...] NSA's technical prowess, coupled with its long-standing relationships with the nation's major telecommunications companies, has made it easy for the agency to eavesdrop on large numbers of people in the United States without their knowledge. Following President Bush's order, U.S. intelligence officials secretly arranged with top officials of major telecommunications companies to gain access to large telecommunications switches carrying the bulk of America's phone calls. The NSA also gained access to the vast majority of American e-mail traffic that flows through the U.S. telecommunications system. The identities of the companies involved have been kept secret. Unknown to most Americans, the NSA has extremely close relationships with both the telecommunications and computer industries, according to several government officials. Only a very few top executives in each corporation are aware of such relationships or know about the willingness of the corporations to cooperate on intelligence matters.
The main rationale behind the Program, officials said, was that existing rules curbing the domestic powers of the NSA and CIA had left gaps in the ability of the United States to detect and prevent terrorist attacks. They say that one such gap had opened up because many purely international communications -- telephone calls and e-mail messages from the Middle East to Asia, for example -- end up going through telecommunications switches that are physically based in the United States. As a result, the rules that limit domestic intelligence gathering by the NSA have meant that such international calls could not be monitored, since they were transiting the United States. Some phone calls and e-mail traffic among terrorists operating overseas were being missed by American counterterrorism investigators.
The new presidential order has given the NSA direct access to those U.S.-based telecommunications switches through "back doors." Under the authority of the presidential order, a small group of officials at NSA now monitors telecommunications activity through these domestic switches, searching for terrorism-related intelligence.
To understand how the Bush administration is spying on the American people, it is important to know a few basics about the U.S. telecommunications network. The telephone network today is digital and computerized, but is still built around a switching system that routes calls from city to city, or country to country, as efficiently and quickly as possible.
In addition to handling telephone calls from, say, Los Angeles to New York, the switches also act as gateways into and out of the United States for international telecommunications. A large volume of purely international telephone calls -- calls that do not begin or end in America -- also now travel through switches based in the United States. Telephone calls from Asia to Europe, for example, may go through the United States-based switches. This so-called transit traffic has dramatically increased in recent years as the telephone network has become increasingly globalized. Computerized systems determine the most efficient routes for digital "packets" of electronic communications depending on the speed and congestion on the networks, not necessarily on the shortest line between two points. Such random global route selection means that the switches carrying calls from Cleveland to Chicago, for example, may also be carrying calls from Islamabad to Jakarta. In fact, it is now difficult to tell where the domestic telephone system ends and the international network begins.
In the years before 9111, the NSA apparently recognized that the remarkable growth in transit traffic was becoming a major issue that had never been addressed by FISA or the other 1970s-era rules and regulations governing the U.S. intelligence community. Now that foreign calls were being routed through switches that were physically on American soil, eavesdropping on those calls might be a violation of the regulations and laws restricting the NSA from spying inside the United States.
But transit traffic also presented a major opportunity. If the NSA could gain access to the American switches, it could easily monitor millions of foreign telephone calls, and do so much more consistently and effectively than it could overseas, where it had to rely on spy satellites and listening stations to try to vacuum up telecommunications signals as they bounced through the air. Of course, that would mean NSA would also have direct access to the domestic telephone network as well.
Any debate within the NSA about the legalities of monitoring transit traffic became moot after 9/11.
President Bush was determined to sweep away the peacetime rules that had curbed the activities of the U.S. intelligence community since the 1970s, and he readily agreed to give the NSA broad new powers. The Bush administration's answer has been to place the NSA right into the middle of the American communications bloodstream by giving the agency the secret "trapdoors" into the switching system. One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the NSA said that the United States government has recently been quietly encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international communications traffic that is routed through American-based switches. It appears that at least one motive for doing so may be to bring more international calls under NSA scrutiny.
According to government officials, some of the most critical switches are in the New York area, a key intersection between the domestic and international telecommunications networks. Switching facilities in the region feed out to telecommunications cables that dive into the Atlantic Ocean bound for Europe and beyond. The NSA now apparently has access into those switches, allowing it to monitor telecommunications traffic as it enters and exits the United States.
In addition, the NSA has the ability to conduct surveillance on the e-mail of virtually any American it chooses to target. One of the secrets of the Internet is that its infrastructure is dominated by the United States, and that much of the world's e-mail traffic, at one time or another, flows through telecommunications networks that are physically on American soil. E-mail between Germany and Italy, for example, or Pakistan and Yemen, is often routed through America. The secret presidential order has given the NSA the freedom to peruse that international e-mail traffic -- along with the e-mail of millions of Americans.
In the Program, the NSA is eavesdropping both on transit traffic -- calls from one foreign location to another that are routed through the United States by international telecommunications systems -- and on telephone calls and e-mail between people inside the United States and others overseas. Officials who defend the Program claim that the NSA tries to minimize the amount of purely domestic telephone and Internet traffic among American citizens that it monitors, to avoid violating the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. But there is virtually no independent oversight of NSA's use of its new power. With its direct access to the U.S. telecommunications system, there seems to be no physical or logistical obstacle to prevent the NSA from eavesdropping on anyone in the United States that it chooses.
In the Program, the NSA determines, on its own, which telephone numbers and e-mail addresses to monitor. The NSA doesn't have to get approval from the White House, the Justice Department, or anyone else in the Bush administration before it begins eavesdropping on a specific phone line inside the United States. Instead, it has set up its own internal checklist to determine whether there is "probable cause" to begin surveillance. The Bush administration argues that the NSA checklist substitutes for the determination of probable cause in a court of law, but neither federal prosecutors nor other Justice Department attorneys even review the case of a suspect before the NSA begins to listen to his or her phone lines. Occasionally, top Justice Department officials audit the NSA program, but the NSA unilaterally decides on whom to spy. Bush's executive order gives the NSA broad latitude to decide what might constitute a suspicious phone number or e-mail address.
The existence of the Program has been kept so secret that senior Bush administration officials have gone to great lengths to hide the origins of the intelligence it gathers. When the NSA finds potentially useful intelligence in the U.S.-based telecommunications switches, it is "laundered" before it is widely distributed to case officers at the CIA or special agents of the FBI, officials said. Reports are said not to identify that the intelligence came from intercepts of U.S.-based telecommunications.
Bush administration officials offer conflicting information about whether intelligence gathered from the warrantless wiretaps is being used in criminal cases inside the United States. One senior administration official insisted that it never has been used in a criminal trial, but other top officials argued that the eavesdropping program has proved valuable in domestic terrorism investigations. Actually, both statements may be true. It appears that the NSA wiretaps are being used to identify suspects in the United States. But because the intelligence based on the warrantless wiretaps would almost certainly not be admissible in an American court, it is possible that the Bush administration is not attempting to take those cases to trial.
Bush administration officials say that the NSA is using the Program to conduct surveillance on the telephone and e-mail communications of about seven thousand people overseas. They also acknowledge that the NSA is targeting the communications of about five hundred people inside the United States. Each one of those individuals is likely to make several phone calls and send several e-mails each day, which could mean that the NSA is eavesdropping on thousands of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other communications inside the United States on a daily basis. Over time, the NSA has certainly eavesdropped on millions of telephone calls and e-mail messages on American soil.
Like I said. Shiver your own timbers, or be comforted, as you like, matey.
Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5; there's a bunch more in that excerpt. Digressive side-note: does it mean anything that on December 22nd, the President issued an Executive Order revising the line of succession to be Secretary of Defense, and that the Under SecDef/Intel is now 2nd in line after the DepSec? Probably just internal Pentagon politics, and unrelated to the possibility of Rummy going bye-bye any time soon. Probably.
ADDENDUM: The NY Observerprofiles James Risen. They have a lot of pointed questions as to why various stories didn't make it into the NY Times, his day job. They also report rumors that he's negotiating to jump ship for the LA Times, as well as call Risen "the anti-Woodward," which is amusing.
Something I'd not yet seen elsewhere:
His book ends on a slightly ominous note. In the last chapter, he describes a massive error committed in 2004 by a C.I.A. officer charged with handling communications with the agency’s spies in Iran. After a mistaken data transmission, a double agent handed over the names of all the C.I.A.’s operatives in Iran to Iranian security officials, who went and arrested many of them. It left the C.I.A. virtually unable to gather intelligence about nuclear activities in Iran. Mr. Risen describes the incident as an “espionage disaster” that, “of course, was not reported in the press.”