12/26/2005

Wiretaps said to sift all overseas contacts - The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency, in carrying out President Bush's order to intercept the international phone calls and e-mails of Americans suspected of links to Al Qaeda, has probably been using computers to monitor all other Americans' international communications as well, according to specialists familiar with the workings of the NSA.

The Bush administration and the NSA have declined to provide details about the program the president authorized in 2001, but specialists said the agency serves as a vast data collection and sorting operation. It captures reams of data from satellites, fiberoptic lines, and Internet switching stations, and then uses a computer to check for names, numbers, and words that have been identified as suspicious.

''The whole idea of the NSA is intercepting huge streams of communications, taking in 2 million pieces of communications an hour," said James Bamford, the author of two books on the NSA, who was the first to reveal the inner workings of the secret agency.

''They have a capacity to listen to every overseas phone call," said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which has obtained documents about the NSA using Freedom of Information Act requests.

The NSA's system of monitoring e-mails and phone calls to check for search terms has been used for decades overseas, where the Constitution's prohibition on unreasonable searches does not apply, declassified records have shown.

But since Bush's order in 2001, Bamford and other specialists said, the same process has probably been used to sort through international messages to and from the United States, though humans have never seen the vast majority of the data.

.. Bush's order cleared the way for the NSA computers to sift through Americans' phone calls and e-mails.

According to a New York Times report last week, Bush authorized the NSA's human analysts to look at the international messages of up to 500 Americans at a time, with a changing list of targets.

Hayden, now the deputy director of national intelligence, told reporters this week that under Bush's order, a ''shift supervisor" instead of a judge signs off on deciding whether or not to search for an American's messages.

The general conceded that without the burden of obtaining warrants, the NSA has used ''a quicker trigger" and ''a subtly softer trigger" when deciding to track someone.

Bamford said that Hayden's ''subtly softer trigger" probably means that the NSA is monitoring a wider circle of contacts around suspects than what a judge would approve.

Wiretaps said to sift all overseas contacts - The Boston Globe

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