Long-time NSA-watcher James Bamford has a lengthy story in April’s Atlantic Monthly on the recent revelations about the NSA. The story is behind their subscription firewall, but right now the full text is available here.
Some key excerpts:
It used to be that before the NSA could place the name of an American on its watch list, it had to go before a FISA-court judge and show that it had probable causeâ€”that the facts and circumstances were such that a prudent person would think the individual was somehow connected to terrorismâ€”in order to get a warrant. But under the new procedures put into effect by Bushâ€™s 2001 order, warrants do not always have to be obtained, and the critical decision about whether to put an American on a watch list is left to the vague and subjective â€œreasonable beliefâ€ of an NSA shift supervisor….
…If telephone records indicate that one of the NSAâ€™s targets regularly dials a given telephone number, that number and any names associated with it are added to the watch lists and the communications on that line are screened by computer. Names and information on the watch lists are shared with the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, and foreign intelligence services. Once a personâ€™s name is in the files, even if nothing incriminating ever turns up, it will likely remain there forever. There is no way to request removal, because there is no way to confirm that a name is on the list….
…As the domestic eavesdropping program continues to grow, such uncertainties may plague innocent Americans whose names are being run through the supercomputers even though the NSA has not met the established legal standard for a search warrant. It is only when such citizens are turned down while applying for a job with the federal governmentâ€”or refused when seeking a Small Business Administration loan, or turned back by British customs agents when flying to London on vacation, or even placed on a â€œno-flyâ€ listâ€”that they will realize that something is very wrong. But they will never learn why.
Most of the information in the story is contextual, reprising his books The Puzzle Palace and Body of Secrets, but it’s worth reading as a powerful argument for the need for more transparency and oversight in the intelligence system.