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Friday, January 27, 2006

This Administration Could Use Some Artificial Intelligence III

Even as we suffer the whims of an administration bent on prying into innocent citizens’ lives, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek magazine unpacks yet another spying machine, this time at the Pentagon. “The Other Big Brother” article in the January 30 issue, talks about how the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) tracked a harmless demonstration at Halliburton’s Houston headquarters. You remember Halliburton…Dick Cheney’s old stomping grounds and the company that was investigated for favoritism in Iraq contracts.

CIFA is complemented by one of former deputy Defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz’s brainchilds: an operation code-named TALON for Threat and Local Observation Notice. It was created in 2003 to collect raw information about suspicious incidents. There goes another database of personal data. Isikoff states that these “…activities are the latest in a series of disclosures about secret government programs that spy on Americans in the name of national security.”

In a recent Village Voice article, “No Place to Hide” by Nat Hentoff, the late, Senator Frank Church is quoted from a 1975 investigation of the NSA. Paraphrased, the Senator did not want the U.S. to cross the line on tyranny and that the NSA—or any agency possessing the technology to spy on individuals—should operate within the law, with supervision. He goes on to comment how this “abyss” is a point…”from which there is no return.” We may very well be on the edge.

The article quotes another recent piece by Ruth Marcus from the Washington Post that confirms that the National Security Administration, prior to Frank Church’s investigation, had been using a “watch list” of American citizens and organizations in connection with foreign communications for years. As Hentoff put it: “After Frank Church died, Congress dozed as the NSA flourished.” My take is that “dozing” has become a Congressional lifestyle when the issue makes it convenient, and the American consumer’s privacy rights have been neatly tucked away in the current labyrinth of meaningless legislation.

Apparently NSA’s technological capabilities are supported with ties to U.S. telecommunications companies that control the telecom “switches,” through which the majority of U.S. phone calls and e-mail traffic flow. Meta-tags—also used by search engines to define the subject of a query—are employed by NSA to determine the basic substance of a communication. Taken further, the agency uses sophisticated algorithms—artificial intelligence/neural networks—to analyze the phone calls and e-mails to find the bad guys.

So what’s the general consensus on the administration’s spying antics? One of the GOP’s own, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican from Pennsylvania, has skepticism over Bush’s domestic eavesdropping, and will hold hearings on the matter. The Democrats, of course, are all giddy, but it remains to be seen if they can turn this into a meaningful investigation. In a recent AP-Ipsos poll, 56 percent of the respondents said the government should have to get court warrants to eavesdrop, even when a communication is tied to terrorism.

Quoting again from the Village Voice article, Nat Hentoff says Thomas Jefferson has the answer: “The people…are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” If we don’t start hearing from the “people” soon, it’s going to be too late, and George Orwell’s reluctant prophesy in 1984 will be fulfilled.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is everyone just apathetic? Or so enthralled with their reality tv that nobody's waking up to the real issues of the day?

Good Jefferson quote, and I'll add my favorite Ben Franklin quote to it: "They that give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety"