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Thursday, March 16, 2006

FDL Late Nite: Trust Us

A surprisingly large number of Senate Democrats seem to be completely out of touch with the anger and frustration felt by people in America over their failure to hold the President accountable for his illegal NSA wiretap activities. While Feingold, Boxer and Harkin have shown tremendous bravery and leadership in co-sponsoring the censure bill, many others seem reluctant to commit themselves and hope for some sort of investigation that will give them political cover.

There is not going to be an investigation, we know it, they know it and George Bush knows it. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted on March 7 not to investigate. Do they somehow think Arlen Specter is suddenly going to change his stripes? The censure resolution has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, which if the GOP holds true to form will probably mean they'll wind up investigating Feingold for treason.

In the mean time we're supposed to trust the Bush Administration that all of this warrentless spying is being handled judiciously and in the interest of fighting the war on terror.

Right. Because they handle everything else so very competently, we are to simply trust that everyone involved in developing and implementing government surveillance technology will do so with Solomonic wisdom.

What kind of people are being hired to work on this shit? From the TPM Muckraker, via Josh Marshall:
Here's an interesting -- but overlooked -- detail of the Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) saga: one of the crooked contractors who bribed the Duke Stir was apparently involved in a Total Information Awareness-like data-mining operation that looked at U.S. citizens' data.

Mitchell Wade, former CEO of MZM Inc., pleaded guilty to several conspiracy and bribery charges a few weeks ago in connection with the Cunningham scandal. But a little-noticed piece of his history goes into one of the most sensitive domestic spying operations we have heard of to date: the Pentagon's Virginia-based Counterintelligence Field Activity office (CIFA).

Wade got over $16 million in contracts with CIFA by bribing Duke Cunningham, who forced earmarks in to Defense appropriations bills on his behalf. Furthermore, Wade's second-in-command was a consultant to the Pentagon on standing up the operation.

In its brief life -- it was created in 2002 -- CIFA has had trouble keeping its nose clean. Despite the ink that's been spilled on the center, little is actually known about what it does, and how MZM serviced it.
Feeling better yet? I know I am.
The area that's gotten [CIFA] into hot water recently is TALON, a system of receiving "threat reports" from around the country and storing them in a database, known as Cornerstone. Last December, NBC news got their hands on a printout of a portion of the database which revealed they were keeping tabs on nonviolent protesters, mostly anti-war, around the United States.


Where does Wade and MZM come in? We're learning more every day, but here's what we know now: CIFA culls "commercial data," including financial records, criminal records, credit histories and more. MZM won a contract -- through Cunningham -- to provide a data storage system to CIFA, presumably to hold a lot of that information. Unfortunately it was a piece of crap, and was never installed.

In addition, the Washington Post has reported MZM assisted CIFA in "exploiting" the data -- presumably by searching it, organizing it, and looking for patterns.

Keeping databases on citizens engaging in protected political activities? Datamining credit histories looking for terrorists? It looks like the place bad ideas go to stay alive, behind the curtain of secrecy. As Wade has proven, you can get away with a lot behind that curtain (for a while, anyway). I wonder what more is back there we haven't heard about.
So, in summation: the DOD hired a crook who ripped off the government to pick through the underwear drawers of Quakers. To look through your credit history, your financial records, and no doubt a whole lot else. And we are supposed to trust that this guy with all this extremely private information about our personal lives will keep it confidential and not exploit it because -- well, because the Bushies say so, I guess.

It is an enormous mistake for anyone to stick their finger in the wind right now to see which way it's blowing before committing themselves on this issue. This is not partisan politics. This is not political chess. These are our core beliefs as Americans, our rights as citizens that are being fucked with here, auctioned off to the crook with the fattest wallet -- just like the ports.

Do the wavering Democrats understand this? I do not believe that they do.

Russ Feingold looks pretty damn good for having been the only one to vote against the Patriot Act, and a year hence he'll look even better for having stepped out in the forefront of this because the corruption and mismanagement are only going to become more painfully obvious as the details are unearthed over time.

The question is -- who's going to look good for having stood with him?