American Samizdat

Monday, October 08, 2007. *
Two months after vowing to roll back broad new wiretapping powers won by the Bush administration, Congressional Democrats appear ready to make concessions that could extend some of the key powers granted to the National Security Agency.

Bush administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened wiretapping authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess, and some Democratic officials admit that they may not come up with the votes to rein in the administration.

As the debate over the N.S.A.’s wiretapping powers begins anew this week, the emerging legislation reflects the political reality confronting the Democrats. While they are willing to oppose the White House on the conduct of the war in Iraq, they remain nervous that they will be labeled as soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on intelligence gathering.



With all the necessary caveats regarding the dubious nature of the
source, the following seems to be a must-read link on the state of the art in NSA technology for total information awareness. (Is the search for this capacity not a type of blasphemy or satanic overweening pride?)

For several years the consensus among NSA watchers ... was that the NSA had failed in its quest for "the grail" despite over two decades of research. What was this "grail"?

Consider the following joke, popular in U.S university mathematics departments where for several years the NSA had hired half of all new maths Phds:

The NSA offers exciting and interesting work for recent college graduates in mathematics and computer science. Pick up the phone, call your mom, and ask for an application.

The NSA, not known for its sense of humor, was pained that this joke was not a universal reality. While its bases, spy satellites, undersea cable taps and secret deals with telcos could mass-intercept the world's voice calls, the NSA would need millions of employees to listen for "NSA", "application" and whatever else the agency or its political masters were interested in. What the NSA needed was a way to automate both listening and interception.
Removing the human element would permit the NSA to leap from millions of daily voice intercepts, with a few thousand human transcriptions, to millions of daily voice intercepts with millions of transcriptions, archived and "googleable" for eternity. Historically the two primary checks on NSA powers have not been Congressional oversight nor even the economic costs of bulk interception, but of costs of bulk transcription and translation. By 1999 translation had been partially automated (enough for search) and transcription remained as the final barrier to the agency's goal of being the universal spy with an ear in every international (and now every domestic) phone call.
posted by Uncle $cam at 11:42 PM
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