Jan 27 2006

Why The NSA Never Tipped Off The FBI

Published by at 4:46 pm under All General Discussions,FISA-NSA

The Federal Government is a lumbering giant that is impossible to re-direct most of the time. War is one of the few instances where corrections can finally be imposed rapidly. The problem is the changes may spring back to their previous, inept conditions if there is not enough time to establish the new norm. We face that with the Patriot Act and the NSA program – liberals so obsessed with political power they are ready to put us all at risk again for short term gain.

In the NSA-FISA dust up I had wondered what was the big change Bush wrought post 9-11? It seemed inconceivable that the NSA was not monitoring our enemies and collecting communications with people in the US. But as I wrote in my recent round up the only thing that appeared to change was specific leads being passed to the FBI, who would check them out and then take the high priority leads to FISA for domestic surveillance. The only complaint by the left leaning FISA justuices was ‘tainting’ the FISA process. The complaint by the FBI was an avalanche of leads.

Now I think I see what the big change was. It seems minor in the ‘real world’, but in DC and within the imperial federal bureaucracy this change was momentous. I found it in the 1976 Senate Committee report I referenced earlier:

4. “Incidental” Intercepts of Americans’ Communications

Although NSA does not now target communications of American citizens, groups, or organizations for interception by placing their names on watch lists, other selection criteria are used which result in NSA’s reviewing many communications to, from, or about an American. The initial interception of a stream of communications is analogous to a vacuum cleaner: NSA picks up all communications carried over a specific link that it is monitoring. The combination of this technology and the use of words to select communications of interest results in NSA analysts reviewing the international messages of American citizens, groups, and organizations for foreign intelligence.

The interception and subsequent processing of communications are conducted in a manner that minimizes the number of unwanted messages. Only after an analyst determines that the content of a message meets a legitimate requirement will it be disseminated to the interested intelligence agencies. In practically all cases, the name of an American citizen, group, or organization is deleted by NSA before a message is disseminated.

Internal NSA guidelines ensure that the decision to disseminate an intercepted communication is now made on the basis of the importance of the foreign intelligence it contains, not because a United States citizen, group, or organization is involved. This procedure is, of course, subject to change by internal NSA directives.

Emphasis mine. I think we finally have found the big change Bush ordered post 9-11. Now, when leads are detected overseas, the name or identity of the US based contact is passed along to the FBI. That explains the wave of leads on the FBI, the ‘tainting’ complaints by some FISA judges and the resistance by the establishment in general.

The Gorelick Wall in all its essence was meant to strengthen the barriers between intelligence and law enforcement. This barrier existed in 1976, and after going the other direction for almost a quarter of a century culminating in the Gorelick Wall, to then go back and undo this one simple process must have seemed like the entire legal system had collapsed for the insanely paranoid liberals. This little change would have seemed enormous. But it is so obvious too! How else to make sure contacts in the US are not final preparations for an attack. Just think about the argument being made to undo this and what it means?

Think about it. That one change, which seems obvious and simple to us in the ‘real world’, would seem like rolling back protections to a time even before FISA and the Church Committee – since this was the process prior to then.


Democrats are going to be stunned to find out that the origination of the NSA’watch list’ (which I believe is a legitimate privacy and 4th amendment concern) go back to the Kennedy’s (from the above link):

1. Early Period: 1960-1967

The exact details of the origin of the watch list activity are unclear. Testimony from NSA employees indicates that the early 1960s marked the beginning of watch lists and the inclusion of names of American citizens. According to a senior NSA official, “the term watch list had to do with a list of names of people, places or events that a customer would ask us to have our analysts keep in mind as they scan large volumes of material.” 28

Originally these lists were used for two purposes: (1) monitoring travel to Cuba and other communist countries; and (2) protecting the President and other high Government officials.

Sadly, the effort did not succeed in John F Kennedy’s case. But the Cuba connection makes sense for the Kennedy administration.


Another snippet from this 1976 report which strengthens President Bush’s claims regarding the war on terror

3. Termination of Drug Activity

Three months after the CIA monitoring was initiated, CIA General Counsel Lawrence Houston issued an opinion which stated that the intercepts may violate Section 605 of the Communications Act of 1934. 73 This law, as amended in 1968, prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of any private communication of an American citizen to another party, unless undertaken pursuant to the President’s constitutional authority to collect foreign intelligence, which is crucial to the security of the United States. 74 Since intercepted messages were provided to BNDD, Houston concluded that the activity was for law enforcement purposes, which is also outside the CIA’s charter. As a result of this memorandum, the CIA suspended its collection. NSA, which has no charter, continued to monitor these links for drug information.

NSA Deputy Director Buffham testified that after the CIA decided to stop the United States-South American drug monitoring, NSA began to review the legality and appropriateness of its efforts in support of BNDD. Although NSA is not prohibited by statute or executive directive from disseminating information that may pertain to law enforcement, it has always viewed its sole mission as the collection and dissemination of foreign intelligence. A senior NSA official testified: “We do not understand our mission to be one of supporting an agency with a law enforcement responsibility.”

Clearly if the monitoring was targetted to national security and time of war, there woul be no issue. Which means we have no issue today.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Why The NSA Never Tipped Off The FBI”

  1. clarice says:

    That might explain why there’s so much resistence to discussing Able Danger, wouldn’t it?

  2. AJStrata says:


    It would explain why there was a wall put up between SOCOM talking to the FBI about possible leads in the US. If this was the crippling mentality prior to 9-11, then that could explain that one aspect of it.

    My problem with Able Danger is it was gutted because a sister program on China influence in America apparently snagged some Clinton administration names, and in the name of political CYA our one outside chance to see 9-11 coming was torn apart.

    Able Danger was working outside the NSA and using a new technology that sometimes can get around barriers and allow common sense to return to a blind bureaucracy. In that sense Able Danger was a lost opportunity to penetrate this agent, theoretical wall.

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  4. Ghost Dansing says:

    We just experienced a three-day propaganda blitz to convince us all that its secret program to spy on us is something we really want and need.

    Perhaps we have some obligation to try to sift through what it means that our government is spying on us in violation of the law and the Constitution.

    The response by real conservatives on this issue is on the money. But the authoritarian streak in the Republican Party backing Bush on this is counfounding.

    Here’s the real questions at issue:

    Would you think this was a good idea if Hillary Clinton were president?

    Would you be defending the clear and unnecessary violation of the law?

    Do you have complete confidence that she would never misuse this “inherent power” for any partisan reason?

    This Republican administration has tried to cast this as a kind of abstract legal debate for some open-ended issue. The abstract legal debate was debated years ago, and Dubya violated the resulting law that was its conclusion.

    Another interesting thing about this is that the public debate is being handled before any serious investigation regarding what exactly was done, specifically what has the Republican administration collected on the basis of Dubya’s decision to violate standing law?

    They say the intercepts were known terrorist phone calls coming into the United States. Are we sure about that?

    Dubya also said before the scandal broke that all wire-tapping of Americans required a warrant…that the rule “hadn’t changed”…while defending the Patriot Act.

    When the State of Texas had a political dispute over Tom Delay-facilitated gerrymandering and Democratic politicians crossed the border to protest that actions being taken at the Republican-dominated Statehouse, Tom Delay used Federal assets to track them.

    We’re talking Republicans here, who have been shown time and time again to be untrustworthy…some of whom are now under indictment, and for whom huge questions of deception cloud justifications for a major war from which there appears to be no clean exit.

    I would suggest that upon investigation, we will find that Dubya’s violation of the law rendered little, if any new capability to the NSA, other than the evasion of legal oversight. It probably yielded no value added in terms of the effectiveness in the war on terror, and only makes sense within the context of Republican ideology seemed bent on providing dictatorial powers for the Executive Branch.

    We will probably also find, upon investigation, that the nature of the NSA operations were not as limited as Dubya and his lawyers suggest.

    As far as passing things from the DOD to the FBI, and back, there are still laws in place governing this, and the problem the FBI was experiencing, specifically being deluged with information, simply points out that the FBI is and was a Law Enforcement agency, not an intelligence agency. They were totally unequipped to process that sort of raw collected information in any organized fashion. And they probably still are.

  5. OleJim says:

    We have to cauterize the Carter wounds which have been bleeding us dry for the past 30 years.
    As a physician with an interest in microbes, I followed the Senate anthrax story closely. I fear it is a model of the real workings of the FBI. That appears a ridiculous pursuit of one man, while the leads grew stale as they spent so much time and effort on one guy.

    It appears that the FBI commonly is directed by the DoJ lead US Attorney on a particular case. This becomes the steering of the “criminal complaint” and frankly the judgement of that lead Attorney seems to taint the investigation as information evolves to refer something to the US Attorney’s office.

    I suspect the FBI has been in this mode too long. They cannot direct their own investigations anymore. They leave that to the US Attorney of the district where the probable crime occurred. In intelligence and counter-intelligence, they cannot do the job now.
    I fear the Carter administration still influences the actions of the CIA, FBI, DoJ, and even NSA and we are doomed until those people are flushed out and turned out.

  6. AJStrata says:


    I rarely comment back to you because there is no way we are going to agree. I have no clue why you post here since you ignore all my points and just write what is in your head.

    But regading your Hillary Clinton question I will answer: Yes, I would still be for the program. (1) It is not illegal because you don’t get warrants for war activities, (2) it is necessary to protect the people, so (3) being an over the top partisan just to risk people’s lives is a bit too small minded for my taste, and (4) Hillary would not be the one selecting the targets for surveillance. And neither would her administration. The program is set up to follow leads – not snoop on politicians. And it has sufficient review for a real whistleblower to come forward if a Clinton or Bush decided to misuse the program. Misuse = jail time in the Federal Government on a program like this.

    You can’t order people to risk jail time. Not going to happen.

    So, when you tear away all the liberal fantasies your point is silly. Absolutely silly.

  7. […] As I posted earlier, it was divulged in the 197o’s during the Church Committee that NSA always intercepts some calls to people in the US when monitoring overseas enemies – it is unavoidable. What the NSA did if and when this happened was to bury the information regarding the US side of the communication. […]

  8. […] AJ has covered this before. NSA cannot — under the FISA statute, NSA cannot put someone on coverage and go ahead and play for 72 hours while it gets a note saying it was okay. […]

  9. […] avoid any possibility of abuse of power. A weak, culturally embedded, excuse to be blind, but that was the law since the late 70’s, and possibly […]