The other day, Julian wondered how the NSA can be sure that the calls and e-mail messages it intercepts under President Bush's order allowing warrantless wiretaps are in fact "international," as his order requires. Turns out it can't:
At a time when communications networks are increasingly globalized, it is sometimes difficult even for the N.S.A. to determine whether someone is inside or outside the United States when making a cellphone call or sending an e-mail message….In at least one instance, someone using an international cellphone was thought to be outside the United States when in fact both people in the conversation were in the country….With roaming cellphones, internationally routed e-mail, and voice-over Internet technology, "it's often tough to find out where a call started and ended," said Robert Morris, a former senior scientist at the N.S.A. who is retired. "The N.S.A. is good at it, but it's difficult even for them. Where a call actually came from is often a mystery."
The accidental intercepts of purely domestic communications are thought to be a tiny fraction of the total. But this complication again raises the question of why the NSA is even trying to avoid domestic calls and messages, given President Bush's broad view of his own powers in fighting terrorism.