[digg-reddit-me]James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the Times – who previously broke the wireless wiretapping story – relay concerns of a number of Congressmen about the extent of email surveillance by the NSA. These Congressmen are concerned about the number of domestic emails being intercepted and analyzed under the current program – which is identified as “Pinwale.” Marc Ambinder identifies this as the fourth NSA anti-terrorist surveillance program we’ve found out about in his piece responding to the story. Risen and Lichtblau also reveal for the first time that it was this Pinwale program that was at the heart of the dispute that led to the dramatic middle-of-the-night hospital room showdown between Acting Attorney General Comey, ailing Attorney General Ashcroft, and FBI director Mueller and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez and Chief of Staff Andy Card.
But what got my attention was a small side-note buried in the story:
The former analyst added that his instructors had warned against committing any abuses, telling his class that another analyst had been investigated because he had improperly accessed the personal e-mail of former President Bill Clinton.
I had presumed the program worked by screening vast amounts of email for keywords and perhaps tracking who particular people emailed, creating webs of relationships – with attempts to filter results to exclude Americans. This is how the program had been described – and through most of this most recent piece, it clearly suggests the program works this way. But this particular item here suggests that this NSA program is of a different sort – and is capable of accessing any email account individually – and that this is so easy to do that one can look into a prominent former official’s emails just to see what’s up.
The possibility of abuse in this is clearly enormous – from spying on one’s girlfriend or wife to fishing for embarassing information on politicians whose job it is to regulate you.
What this story confirms is that if the potential for abuse exists, abuse will occur.
[Image by jacromer licensed under Creative Commons]