Sunday, April 23, 2006

The President's Analyst

On April 6, Mark Klein, a retired twenty-two year AT&T technician, told the U.S. District Court in San Francisco that in October 2003 the National Security Agency (NSA) installed data mining equipment in a secret room adjacent to AT&T’s San Francisco Internet and telephone switching hub. AT&T documents Klein submitted suggested that similar rooms exist in Atlanta and elsewhere. He says other technicians reported similar monitoring rooms were installed in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.

"It appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet, whether that be people's e-mail, Web surfing or any other data," Klein said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.

“Can you hear me now?” unnerved AT&T customers might say.

After the New York Times revealed the existence of the NSA program in December, Klein went public. His affidavit was filed as part of a class-action lawsuit a civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), filed against AT&T in January.

Other wiretapping lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and others target the government, which President Bush deflects by claiming constitutional authority as Commander in Chief. So instead the EFF suit goes after private-sector accomplices.

EFF charges AT&T with violating customers’ privacy by participating in “a secret and illegal government program to intercept and analyze vast quantities of Americans’ telephone and Internet communications.” The suit alleges that in providing direct access to its voice and data network and its massive telephone and Internet records, AT&T is in direct violation of electronic surveillance and communications privacy laws.

The Times quotes an anonymous network designer who believes that the locations of the sites are consistent with administration assertions that only foreign communications or those between foreign countries and the United States are being targeted. He and other experts acknowledge, however, “it would be a simple technical matter to reprogram the equipment to intercept purely domestic Internet traffic.”

That is, assuming the NSA’s "semantic traffic analyzers" aren’t already warrantlessly tapping purely domestic calls. Asked about that very possibility the same day Klein’s lawyer released his statement, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the House Judiciary Committee, "I'm not going to rule it out."

When The President’s Analyst starring James Coburn ruled it in back in 1967, it was meant as satire.

Dr. Sidney Schaefer (Coburn) goes on the lam from his high-stress job as the president’s psychiatrist. Hunted by intelligence agencies from around the world, Sidney is ultimately “rendered” to an electronic fortress – a telephone switching hub, coincidentally – not by international spies, but by TPC (the phone company).

The corporation wants to reduce capital costs and boost profits by injecting telephonic microchips into people’s brains. TPC’s smiling, animatronic CEO explains:

“Can you imagine the ease, the fun with which you can place a call?” Just think the number and “you’re in instant communication, anywhere in the world.” All secretly monitored from a central location.

The phone company simply needs a law replacing people’s names with numbers as legal identification and requiring prenatal implantation of the “cerebrum communicator.”

But first it must overcome the public’s “misguided resistance.”

After torturing the president’s personal secrets out of Schaefer, TPC expects to blackmail the president into using his office to “mold public opinion and get that legislation.”

Pure fantasy. From 1967.

Anyway, blackmail is no longer necessary, so “pre-9/11,” as a former Halliburton CEO, Vice-president Dick Cheney, might say. “Torture doesn’t work,” as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might say. About getting that legislation, “Would 10K … help?” as one of lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s e-mails might say.

Instead of trusting to kidnapping, torture, threats and wiretapping, a modern CEO president can use town meetings as authentic as Disney’s “Hall of Presidents” to overcome misguided public resistance to, say, eliminating Social Security or to his second war.

Or his third.

“Wild speculation,” as President Bush might say.

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