Echelon is Us


Remember Echelon? For a few years the NSA's global surveillance operation was all the outrage. Why the NSA should not be spying on U.S. citizens, even via an international set up like Echelon. Everyone knows the FBI is supposed to do domestic spying.

Then post 9/11—as has been well-documented—everything changed. President Bush gave the NSA a secret OK to directly spy on international communications from the U.S. without even troubling the rubber stamp that is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The legal opinions justifying the NSA op remain classified, so don't go getting all uppity. This is for your own good.

NEXT: The Torch I Bear Is Scorching Me

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Anybody who voted for Bush (the second time) was implicitly voting for this. That he would do something like this was exceedingly obvious.

  2. Legacy of Bill Clinton. Bush was just the guy who actually went for the honeypot. As if a hypothetical President Kerry wouldn’t have…

  3. Enough about Kerry – you complain about the government you have, not about the government you wish you could have.

  4. None dare call it Stasi.

  5. They would have done it anyway somehow even if Bush hadn’t given them permission in so many words. Why not? They’ve probably been doing it all along anyway under a hundred different little forms, names, and workarounds. Only difference here is we know about a particular instance.

  6. take this in conjunction with the aztalan wall and wonder if we are not intent on becoming east germany because of 9/11.

  7. Suddenly it all makes sense – we become East Germany, we make Iraq into America, and then I guess Germany will have to become Iraq to complete the cycle

  8. is there anything better than a complete cycle, mr qbryzan? ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Gaius,

    The East German wall was to keep people from leaving. They shot people for trying to leave.

    That was not so long ago, I thought you would remember that.

  10. i don’t think that matters much — in the end, wall-building isn’t only about the direction of the flow. i posted this on the other thread, mr tjit, but i’ll copy it here:

    they are different in this respect of course — but to be honest, mr warren, on some levels i don’t think it matters which way the flow goes across the limes. hadrian’s wall and the rhine/danube limes were erected only after rome had begun to experience the potential destructiveness — military and cultural — of its massive imperial conquest. such walls were a misguided reaction to the development of a deeply pervasive roman sense of insecurity — similar to the one the beset the postwar russian empire — and obviously now our own empire of anglophone globalization.

    it is the nature of empire to drive society mad with angst, insecurity and aimlessness, punctuated by bouts of genuine attack from within and without. this wall is a manifestation of america’s descent into that imperial madness.

  11. Enough about Kerry – you complain about the government you have, not about the government you wish you could have.

    Who’s complaining about the government? I’m not complaining about the government! Nope, not me! I wouldn’t know anything about that sort of thing. (Sweats, tugs at collar nervously.)

  12. didnt we all just assume this was going on?

  13. I would like to propose Qbryzan’s First Law of Conservation of Freedom: Freedom can neither be created nor destroyed, and the increase in freedom in one area (Iraq) will result in an equal but opposite decrease in freedom somewhere else (America)

  14. didnt we all just assume this was going on?

    Yea. And that’s why conservatives were all hot around the collar when Clinton and Reno were in office. Now those same people are responding with a resounding, “eh.” Hypocrites at best.

    Bush supporters need to remember that these laws & policies apply no matter who is in power. Bush may have a few years left, but at some point there are going to be Democrats at the helm. Just keep asking yourself, “do you want Hillary to have this much power?”

  15. NYTIMES:”Several officials said the eavesdropping program had helped uncover a plot by Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker and naturalized citizen who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting Al Qaeda by planning to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches.”

    BLOWTORCHES? Is that possible?

  16. I forgot all about that guy. He was going to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch. Which is about as plausible as bringing it down with angry looks. No matter, the conviction of this cunning operative was touted as a victory in the War on Terror. He was from Columbus and there was some hubub about terrorist cells in the heartland. I remember some feverish stuff about Somalis in Columbus (I used to read Instapundit and the like back then). They did buy up all the Quikimarts from Sikh dudes when I lived there from 93-98. Our are 40s, cigs, lotto tickets, and wank mags funding terrorism?

  17. Only days ago a SlashDot discussion lamented the European Union’s vote to track all email, internet surfing and phone calls (links and headers only, not content). Many comparisons to the USA but no mention of the NSA’s powers:

    It’s ‘1984’ in Europe, What About Your Country?

    Now I find that the USA has been tracking _everything_ (headers, links, content, everything) on potentially _everyone_ inside the USA since 2002.

    Bush has violated the checks-and-balances of the Constitution by issuing a secret Presidential order usurping Congressional oversight of intelligence matters.

    Perhaps I should not be surprised, since I also found
    “Bush on the Constitution: ‘It’s just a goddamned piece of paper'”

  18. This is nothing new. It sucks, but it isn’t new. The NSA has been clandestinely eavesdropping on these phone calls for decades. Read “The Puzzle Palace” by James Bamford.

  19. I’ll be curious to see the lede on the evening news. My bet is this is will have legs, and will be a fair-sized negative for Bush.

  20. now comes word James Risen’s article is only one of many “explosive newsbreaking” stories that can be found — in his upcoming book — which he turned in 3 months ago!

    The paper failed to reveal the urgent story was tied to a book release and sale.

    “STATE OF WAR: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration” is to be published by FREE PRESS in the coming weeks, sources tell the DRUDGE REPORT.

    Carisa Hays, VP, Director of Publicity FREE PRESS, confirms the book is being published.

    The book editor of Bush critic Richard Clarke [AGAINST ALL ENEMIES] signed Risen to FREE PRESS.

  21. Sorry, this seems like a minor and reasonable change to me (assuming it is a change, which Peenie says it isn’t). The article notes that the NSA is looking at some domestic-international communications, but still gets FISA warrants for anything domestic-domestic. So comparisons with the Stasi seem overblown.

    But hey, this is Hit & Run, so flame away! Be sure to refer to slippery slopes, trading freedom for security, and so on.

  22. “in the end, wall-building isn’t only about the direction of the flow.”

    gaius and i may differ on some things, but it’s hard not to just see the plain basics of this plan – THEY’RE BUILDING A FUCKING WALL ACROSS THE BORDER – as alarming.

    on the plus side, i’m going to be hanging out with some serious paranoids tonight so i’ll have plenty of company to vent in, until we get to the skull and bones/international satanic conspiracy portion of the evening.

  23. I would just like to say at this point in time that the real work is done by those in the trenches, the actual NSA technicians and analysts who spend hour after hour listening in on the lines, reading email after email and every tedious USENET and blog posting. Computers can’t do it all, you know. These folks are true heroes and I, for one, believe they are grossly underpaid. I am moved to send a message to my Representative and Senators saying as much forthwith. Won’t YOU do the same?

  24. I for one have had it with government snooping. Why, everyday I get a half dozen to a dozen emails from the FBI and CIA telling me I’ve been going to illegal websites.

  25. No, no, W. You’re supposed to be imminentizing the eschaton!

  26. Qbryzan;

    “I would like to propose Qbryzan’s First Law of Conservation of Freedom: Freedom can neither be created nor destroyed, and the increase in freedom in one area (Iraq) will result in an equal but opposite decrease in freedom somewhere else (America)”

    I submit that your proposal is already true. In New Orleans, the Army and National Guard were disarming American citizens, for their own good of course. In Iraq, OTOH, I understand that each household is allowed to keep a fully functional AK-47 as long as the household has no RPG’s or heavier weapons.

  27. They’ve probably been doing it all along anyway under a hundred different little forms, names, and workarounds.

    I seem to recall people pointing out in the late 90s that there was nothing prohibiting the NSA from receiving intercepts of American communications from European intelligence agencies.

  28. Eric,
    Supposedly that was how Echelon worked. We spied on their peeps, they spied on ours and, “Hey, wanna share?”

  29. CTD: Brilliant.

    I may have only seen the nice ones, but the FBI and intel people I’ve met were rigorous in their observation of constraints to the point of compulsion. I don’t believe everyone is like that, but what little I’ve seen gives me hope.

    That having been said, I think the real story is the abdication of congressional authority. I seem to recall we had a presidential finding in the early 90’s to the effect that it was o.k. to whack Saddam Hussein, despite a law prohibiting the assassination of foreign heads-of-state.

    I have always believed that the FISA court is probably like Tax court. Not quite predetermined, but not great. If someone like Judge Kollar-Kotelly is on there, I have hope. She’s been a force for reason on issues of the Internet, crypto, MP3s and all kinds of technology stuff in the face of luddites and censors.

  30. There has never been a legilatively promulgated law banning the assasination of heads of state. Instead, starting with Carter, each President has signed an executive order stating that no heads of state may be executed. I think Bush may have made adjustments to his version of the executive order, but IIRC it basically still stands.

  31. CTD: Yes, but it’s “immAnent“, meaning, loosely, “present; in the here and now”, not “immInent”, meaning “about to happen”. Either way, you shouldn’t let Them do it.

  32. You might be interested in a report I did a few years ago
    regarding the NSA spying on us domestically.

    It includes a treatment of how they perform Internet email
    monitoring, by way of my describing how I monitored the
    emails of more than 7000 employees on Wall Street.


    Somehow I’ve also managed to include a description of how
    life begins from lifeless atoms.

    Can you say, ‘bloviate’? Well, it was my first polemic.

  33. From the article: the White House asked the New York Times not to publish the article and the New York Times delayed publicaton for a year.

    Does anyone else find this disturbing? I mean I suppose it’s awefully nice of them that they decided to publish it at all!

    It’s not only that the Bush administration was spying on Americans without a warrant, it’s that it wanted to hide the fact that it had the power to do so (secret authorization), and wanted to stop publication of this information when it came to light. And all the while congress is only partly in the loop.

    Ah, but at least “Administration officials are confident that existing safeguards are sufficient to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans”. I guess we’d just better trust NSA guidelines to protect our righs, eh? With no check on NSA’s power such as would be required by a warrant, and worse with little awareness prior to now of the existence of this issue by congress, the judiciary, or the american people, what other checks were possible?

  34. And as for the guy writing a book expose and maybe profittering on it. So what? Talk about an ad hominem and a bush-bot talking point to boot.

    Even if the book was all misinformation, and Bush has admitted that this part isn’t(!), am I really supposed to take the danger of author profiteering more seriously than the danger of an administration gone power-mad? In what alternate universe?

    And they did delay the publication of this article for a year for heavens sake.

    Yes, I believe errosion of civil liberties to some extent was inevitable whoever was elected (because that seems the general direcion of things – growth of government in all areas including erosion of civil liberties). I just don’t think it had to or would have happened this fast without Bush.

    How bad does it have to get before some people can admit it’s bad? The answer my friends, is blowing in the wind.

  35. I just wanted to remind all of you United States Citizens, Puerto Rico and Guam not included, that the United States of America is becoming (or has become) a TOTALITARIANISM state with a AUTHORITARIAN leader. The U.S. Government wants blind loyalty to it (much like the USSR and its sattelite countries) with the current leader, George Bush, behaving like STALIN, CEUSCESCU (sp?), and KIM IL SUNG/JONG IL. He is the TRUE terrorist because he claims the U.S. is fighting a war on terrorism, but, he is keeping U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan only because of his ego–nothing else.

  36. I just wanted to remind all of you United States Citizens, Puerto Rico…

    I wouldn’t except Puerto Rico from that list. They use the National Guard quite readily. Not long ago there were Guardsmen all over the place with machine guns following shoot-up at a San Juan mall (Plaza de las Americas I think).

    I think they do some of their social experimening down there before implementing things here. Time will tell. ๐Ÿ™‚

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.