Over the last couple


Over the last couple days I’ve heard informed speculation from several knowledgeable sources that what is likely really at issue here is the nature of the technology being deployed — both new technology and technology which in the nature of its method of collection turns upside down our normal ways of thinking about what constitutes a reasonable or permissible search.

Here’s what one reader sent in this evening …

I suspect that others have noticed an odd element in Sen. Rockefeller’s letter. He takes pains to point out that he is neither a lawyer nor a technical specialist – presumably, the latter referring to the technology being proposed for the non-FISA wiretaps that the Administration has put into place. And, he complains that he needs the help of staff to make sense of what he was briefed on.

It’s an odd comment, if all that was sought by Cheney was the ability to look, prospectively, at telephone or computer communications. Where’s the technical novelty? and for that matter, the law isn’t that complex. You might expect Rockefeller to say, I disagree, but he wouldn’t stress the need for staff help in order to review complex new issues of law and technology.

But it fits together if what was being proposed was to look, either prosepectively or retrospectively, at everyone’s E-mail — which the NSA is reportedly capable of — and then filter it for certain key words. Presumably, those messages which meet certain search criteria would then be culled for further study, or longer-term monitoring might be done of both the sender and recipient.

That sort of dizzying effort would raise both technical and legal issues, such as: what technical capabilities and safeguards are possible to implement; what is the legality of read-and-discard searches, and so on. Indeed, since I believe that retrospective searches could be done, the Administration might be seeking to look at all prior communications as well, once a hit was found. No FISA authorization would be possible, since this sort of activity was not contemplated by that law.

This fits all too well with the TIA comment that Rockefeller makes in his note, and his ominous warning that he is keeping a record. And I fear that this is what has been underway for the past two years.

Another TPM Reader, AF, had this to say …

I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, today I read the Rockefeller memo. I am sure you’ve read enough bureaucratic communications to know what this memo says: “When this hits the fan, I am keeping a copy of this so you can’t take me down with you.” I hope you explicitly bring this out in one of your postings. The consulted senators knew this was ultimately going to go nuclear.

Then finally there was this note from TPM Reader CM

To read Sen. Rockefeller’s feeble handwritten letter is like reading a note sent from a jailed political prisoner, isn’t it? This must be the “oversight” Bush was talking about this morning – giving a Senator an iota of information regarding extra-legal executive branch activities, prohibiting him to even tell his own staff, and then refusing to respond in any meaningful way when he writes a handwritten letter of concern to the VP …

What do you think? Share your thoughts with fellow readers at this thread we just set up at TPMCafe.