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Declassified Docs Show Fight Over Surveillance, Telecom Immunity

Alex Constantine - December 13, 2007

eye77 709557 - Declassified Docs Show Fight Over Surveillance, Telecom ImmunityDecember 11, 2007
Posted by Declan McCullagh

The Bush administration has released formerly classified documents that show how it is pressing Congress to rewrite surveillance law and immunize telecommunications companies from lawsuits.

What's also interesting about the documents, which were released in response to the Freedom of Information Act on Monday, is how much is redacted. Entire pages have been excised, in one case leaving only two paragraphs visible.

A few highlights from the the files (1 and 2) obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation after a court battle:

• Pages 6-8 of file 1: National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell told Congress three months ago that surveillance red tape required intelligence agencies to wait 12 hours to tap an Iraqi phone number--a claim that already has been called into question.

These documents give a detailed timeline that doesn't exactly jibe with what McConnell claimed. They say that the the NSA notified the Justice Department at 12:53 p.m. on May 15 that it believed it had the authorization to conduct domestic eavesdropping in this situation. The Justice Department received a formal request at 5:15 p.m. Because Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was traveling, he was not able to authorize it until 7:18 p.m. That's not exactly 12 hours.

• Page 35 of file 1: McConnell argues in a "TOP SECRET" document that retroactive immunity for AT&T and other telecommunications companies is necessary: "It is equally critical that private entities that are alleged to have assisted the (intelligence community) in preventing further attacks on the United States be insulated from liability for doing so."

So that's all the nation's top spook is willing to say in a "TOP SECRET" document? Maybe "TOP SECRET" classifications are like U.S. dollars: They used to be worth a lot more than they are today.

• Pages 59-64 of file 1: In a kind of governmental FAQ, the National Security Agency claims that its "minimization procedures" that limit electronic eavesdropping of U.S. citizens protect Americans' privacy rights. If the NSA is targeting a foreigner overseas, it says, its eavesdroppers will take extra precautions.

The NSA says, however, that it is "not reasonable to impose time limits" on when it should "drop that individual"--a U.S. citizen inside the United States--as a person of interest. It also objects to enshrining those internal procedures in law, claiming it would "be difficult to change" if necessary.

• Page 6 of file 2: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has located a "telephone message slip that contains the handwritten personal notes" from an employee. It's being withheld under FOIA on four separate grounds--including that it's been classified.


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