Saturday, January 6, 2007

What John Negroponte Wouldn't Do

The answer to the title of this post appears to be "increase surveillance on domestic communications". All I can say is "holy crap!". If this is true, there are some seriously bizarre behind-the-scenes goings on at the White House these days.

According to Richard Sale, via Patrick Lang's site, John "Throw Sister From The Plane" Negroponte, who most recently was the Director of Intelligence, was transferred to the State Department because he refused to increase electronic collection of domestic communications. Apparently, the next step in the Bush Administration's surveillance plan was too much for even Mr. Negroponte, which has me thinking along the same lines as this commenter at Col. Lang's site:

OK. Just let me know when these bastards go so far that we should impeach them, because I'm convinced that's the only way we're going to stop them. Too illegal for Negroponte? That's a scary thought.

Posted by: semper fubar 06 January 2007 at 05:58 PM

Of course, electronic surveillance without a warrant was illegal to begin with. What additional collection were they attempting to do? I can see a couple of possibilities:

  1. The surveillance actually was done in a more-or-less legal fashion, in that
    the data from the illegal taps at least weren't retained beyond the limits of FISA, and Negroponte was asked to retain them longer

  2. There was a new form of analysis or new criteria for increased surveillance
    that went beyond what's reasonable to combat terrorism, like maybe spying on the Administration's political enemies or for some business interest of theirs.

That's what occurs to me after thinking about it a few minutes. I freely admit to having no idea what the NSA is collecting or how. That's what FISA is about.

I'm going to keep watching this, but this thing is wierd, and I don't know if it will be covered at all in the traditional press.

Update: Forgot to mention: hat tip to powwow, who commented on this at Firedoglake.

Update 2: After thinking about it a little more, it seems quite possible that whatever the NSA were asked to do would require scarce resources. Listening in on large volumes of traffic creates a lot of data, which requires a lot of effort to store and analyze. If it's dumped after a short time, it might not even be put on permanent media like DVD-ROM, but if it's going to be kept more-or-less permanently, then it likely has to be backed up and stored somewhere. This also fits into what I will charitably call my impression of Negroponte being someone not given to idealism.

Update 3: (Jan. 8, 2007) A commenter to the Pat Lang blog article that started this mentioned this summary of Negroponte's term as DNI (PDF file) written by Negroponte's office. This isn't all that unusual a practice - most government officials of any rank like to write post-mortems of what they've done or tried to do while there. This memo spends considerable time explaining steps Negroponte took to make the intel community more efficient at gathering and sharing information.
The Chief Information Officer (CIO), appointed in December 2005, implemented a classified information sharing initiative that enhanced and expanded information sharing with key U.S. allies. While the success of this program is only one step toward overhauling the IC's information management system, it represented a paradigm shift in the Community’s information sharing policies.

He also claims he tried to streamline information sharing with law enforcement agencies:

Created a Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment, who recently released the Information Sharing Environment Implementation Plan and Privacy Guidelines which provides the vision and road map for better sharing information within the Intelligence Community and with our fellow Federal, State, local, and tribal counterparts, as well as with the private sector.

I'm not sure how comfortable I am with this for a number of reasons, but it's possible this could be a good thing if it's done in such a way that it respects our laws and our privacy. One clear lesson of the 9/11 attacks was that the intel community hasn't been good at doing this in the past.

He also tried to make the intel community's work more closely related to our security objectives.
Promulgated the first unclassified National Intelligence Strategy (NIS), linking the Community’s goals to the National Security Strategy and establishing specific objectives and metrics for accomplishment. Also began implementation of a structured strategic planning process to ensure NIS objectives are met.

The sense I get from reading this document is that his primary focus was trying to get the intelligence agencies working more efficiently on the things he, the DoD, and the President thought were important. This tends to reinforce the impression I wrote about in Update 2, which is that if Negroponte objected to increased collection, it had more to do with him thinking it was inefficient than that it was an invasion of our privacy.

Update 4: (Jan. 8, 2007) Another commenter at the Pat Lang article, Will, points to a UPI article that claims that Negroponte refused to back Vice President Cheney on using the CIA to torture people:
Nov. 7, 2005; Wasington - U.S. intelligence czar John Negroponte is declining to support Vice President Dick Cheney's effort to exempt the CIA from law banning mistreatment of detainees.

"It's above my pay grade," he told a secret briefing for Senators last month, Time Magazine reported Sunday, adding that Negroponte then "artfully dodged another question about whether the harsher interrogation tactics Cheney wants the agency to be free to use actually produce valuable intelligence."

Note that this was more than a year ago. You'd think that Negroponte would have no problem backing Cheney on this. So, was this a matter of principle, or a power struggle between Cheney and the "old guard" at the IC?

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