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Some More About the SWIFT Story

By Brian | June 24, 2006 | Share on Facebook

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on how SWIFT messages work, but I have worked with/for Wall Street firms for more than a decade, so I do know a thing or two about them. The more I read about this story, the more I am dumbstruck at the apparent lack of knowledge being displayed (or, as is more likely the case, ignored for political purposes). So, some facts that might help:

Based on the above, I think it’s fair to say that those calling this an “abuse of power” or an “invasion of privacy” are being somewhat disingenuous. The probability of personal information being present in this data decreases dramatically as the ubiquity of the transactions increase. In other words, the more common your banking business is, the less likely it will be available for “spying.”

It’s also a bit disingenuous to call this a secret. The 9/11 Commission Report makes several mentions of the US monitoring Al Qaeda’s money movements, and Al Qaeda’s attempts to foil them. For example, Page 171:

Al Qaeda frequently moved the money it raised by hawala, an informal and ancient trust-based system for transferring funds. In some ways, al Qaeda had no choice after its move to Afghanistan in 1996: first, the banking system there was antiquated and undependable; and second, formal banking was risky due to the scrutiny that al Qaeda received after the August 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, including UN resolutions against it and the Taliban.

And this from Page 185:

The second major point on which the principals had agreed on March 10 [,2002] was the need to crack down on terrorist organizations and curtail their fund-raising.

The embassy bombings of 1998 had focused attention on al Qaeda’s finances. One result had been the creation of an NSC-led interagency committee on terrorist financing. On its recommendation, President [Clinton] had designated Bin Ladin and al Qaeda as subject to sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. This gave the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) the ability to search for and freeze any Bin Ladin or al Qaeda assets that reached the U.S. financial system. But since OFAC had little information to go on, few funds were frozen.

In July 1999, the President applied the same designation to the Taliban for harboring Bin Ladin. Here, OFAC had more success. It blocked more than $34 million in Taliban assets held in U.S. banks. Another $215 million in gold and $2 million in demand deposits, all belonging to the Afghan central bank and held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, were also frozen. After October 1999, when the State Department formally designated al Qaeda a foreign terrorist organization, it became the duty of U.S. banks to block its transactions and seize its funds.

And one of the report’s 41 recommendations deals specifically with this kind of a program (Page 382):

Recommendation: Vigorous efforts to track terrorist financing must remain front and center in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The government has recognized that information about terrorist money helps us to understand their networks, search them out, and disrupt their operations.

This recommendation goes on to say that “The U.S. financial community and some international financial institutions have generally provided law enforcement and intelligence agencies with extraordinary cooperation, particularly in supplying information to support quickly developing investigations.”

Anyone who knows anything about the banking industry (and I think it’s safe to assume that Al Qaeda fits into that category) knows that the primary international financial institution referred to here is SWIFT. After all, there aren’t that many international financial institutions and SWIFT is far and away the largest and most popular.

Which brings me to another point – it’s a bit disingenuous to claim that this revelation will lessen or eliminate the effectiveness of the program. Al Qaeda has been seeking out non-SWIFT ways to transfer money between banks since before 9/11/01, but doing so severely limits their ability to transfer funds. In most cases, SWIFT is their only choice, and the knowledge that we’re monitoring those messages doesn’t help them in the least.

On a political note, I offer only this thought: The Bush administration has been criticized for doing too little to fight terrorism, for not having a plan, for being incompetent and disorganized, etc. As these secret programs are revealed – tracking of phone calls to foreign lands, data mining of all dialed phone numbers in search of patterns, and analysis of inter-bank financial data, aren’t the administration’s critics inadvertently providing rather compelling proof of a comprehensive strategy, formulated and put into action by the Bush administration just after the 9/11 attacks?

I applaud the diligence with which our civil liberties are protected, and would encourage healthy debate on the topic (although I don’t see what benefit is gained by divulging specifics such as the SWIFT network). Any national security measure, by it’s very definition, creates civil liberties concerns, and the fact that we spend so much time focused on these issues is part of what makes this country different from most others.

Those concerns aside, though, the existence of these programs suggest to me a concerted effort by our leaders to protect us – not just with words, but with actions as well.

Topics: Money Talk, Political Rantings | 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Some More About the SWIFT Story”

  1. Jeff Porten says at June 25th, 2006 at 3:30 pm :
    I haven’t been following the wire transactions story too closely, because — yeah, it’s well known that this has been going on for a long time, more to track drug transactions than anything else. I knew a guy, back before OTA was shut down by the Gingrich Revolution, who was the fed’s go-to man for information this topic, and that was back in the early 90s.

    So the real story would be not that this is being traced, but whether any of the pre-existing protections have been eradicated. Since American’s protections concerning secrecy of money transfers has always been fairly tenuous, this isn’t yet one of my hot buttons. Add in the fact that I don’t agree with the Supreme Court that money is speech — although isn’t it funny that money is constitutionally protected in the political arena, but not here? I smell a blog post.

    What strikes me, though, is that you feel like Bush is acting strongly because he’s doing a great job of collecting huge amounts of data — I just want to point out that *collecting* data does not make you secure, it’s what’s *done* with the data. Schneier et al. have been extremely good laying out a framework demonstrating that the mass suck of personal (and other data) has effectively decreased our security, the tag line being, “We’re looking for a needle in a haystack, so we’re trying to find all the hay we can.” I recommend you check out his blog from time to time.

  2. Brian says at June 26th, 2006 at 12:40 pm :
    I will definitely check out Schneier’s blog, as I’ve heard you say this before, and I’m curious to learn more about the theory.

    That said, I’ll tell you that I’m going in with a bias: everything from the Neilsen TV ratings to political polling to Amazon’s “people who bought A also bought B” service to the decision to sell beer and not toilet paper during the Superbowl is based on the practice of collecting large amounts of data, looking for patterns, and then taking action on those patterns.

    As for politics, I will readily conceed that we don’t really know what the government is doing with all of this data it collects, and that this makes all the difference in the world. However, the fact that they’ve so completely covered the spectrum of large datasouces to tap does suggest to me that some thought went into this. And the more “secret government abuse” stories that get run, the less it sounds to me like a meaningless quest for uber-power, and the more it sounds like an attempt to catch the bad guys.

    But here’s my question for you: when all the usual suspects call this one an “abuse of power” and a “strike against civil liberties,” and you don’t agree, does it make you question their judgement on the previous stories? In other words, does their seemingly knee-jerk reaction to this story lessen their credibility in your eyes on other stories to which they’ve had the same reaction?

  3. Jeff Porten says at June 27th, 2006 at 10:37 am :
    the fact that they’ve so completely covered the spectrum of large datasouces to tap does suggest to me that some thought went into this

    Actually, that says to me, “Let’s just suck it all down and figure out what to do with it later.”

    the more “secret government abuse” stories that get run, the less it sounds to me like a meaningless quest for uber-power, and the more it sounds like an attempt to catch the bad guys.

    Wait… are you saying that it’s the quantity of stories? Or that the content of all of those stories is giving you this impression? If the former, I’d say there’s a serious error in your logic.

    For the record, although I think I’ve said this before: I agree that even the most egregious intrusions of privacy are likely motivated, in general, by a sincere effort to catch the bad guys. I believe that these people are generally ignorant of the ways in which these tools can also be used to implement a more fascist regime than we generally associate with American government. I also believe that there are some people who are desirous of these fascist tools, and who see their opportunity to implement them — they are the minority, but that doesn’t mean they are to be ignored.

    But here’s my question for you: when all the usual suspects call this one an “abuse of power” and a “strike against civil liberties,” and you don’t agree, does it make you question their judgement on the previous stories?

    Depends on the source. There are some people whose judgment, when it disagrees with mine, causes me to research my opinions. Others I blow off.

    does their seemingly knee-jerk reaction to this story lessen their credibility in your eyes on other stories to which they’ve had the same reaction?

    Well, this highlights one of my major disagreements with the Greenberg view of the world. You imply here that knee-jerk judgments are bad, and I disagree — I think they’re neutral. Your knee-jerk reaction in 2025 when Avery brings home a girlfriend who’s a member of the American Nazi Party is entirely correct; on the other hand, if she’s a druid or Satanist, perhaps not so much. Sociologists and anthropologists will tell you that we’re 99.99% knee-jerk about the things we believe, and that for deep-rooted sociological constructs, we are unable to question our beliefs and will violently oppose change. That’s not bad, that’s human.

    More to your question, if a pundit has a knee-jerk unsourceable reaction on a topic I care about, I don’t have to reduce my opinion of him because my opinion is already low. If a pundit can back up their opinion and still come up with their party line, I might increase my opinion of them if I approve of their logic, even if I disagree with their conclusion.

    And to answer your unstated question, if a pundit has a knee-jerk reaction that I agree with which is poorly thought out and easily attacked, my most likely reply is, “That’s unfortunate. He should have used my argument, which is much better.” If my argument isn’t any better, then that’s my opportunity to go into the tank and question my own beliefs. It happens pretty rarely, because my beliefs are rarely confronted with arguments that are better than mine are. I don’t believe I’m being hubristic saying that — I think it’s more a reflection on how piss-poor the arguments on the opposing side tend to be.

  4. Brian says at June 28th, 2006 at 1:30 am :
    It’s not the quantity of the stories, per se, it’s the pattern that emerges in each subsequent story. “Let’s just suck it all down and figure out what to do with it,” would have involved a more scattershot approach, I think. This was methodical – travel, communication, financials. The three things the 9/11 report says Al Qaeda had going for them in order to pull off the attacks. I don’t disagree that the potential for misuse exists (same can, and has, been said of the internet, right?), but I think the potential for facism is miniscule. The presence of all this data comes with the presence of millions of watchdogs (and I’m not talking here about the press).

    As for knee-jerk reactions, you’ve posed a few strawmen, but none of them are the question I’ve asked.

    When sociologists talk about knee-jerk reactions, they’re talking about our social interactions, not our opinion of national politics. Most knee-jerk opinions in the world of current events are just laziness or political maneuvering.

    My question was a sequential one: a pundit has a knee-jerk reaction to something you agree with, followed by the same knee-jerk reaction to something else with which you disagree. Logic suggests to me that when the same reasoning can so easily bring about the wrong conclusion, that it’s time to examine what that reasoning is used for. No?

  5. Jeff Porten says at July 1st, 2006 at 10:36 am :
    “Let’s just suck it all down and figure out what to do with it,” would have involved a more scattershot approach, I think.

    I have trouble understanding your logic on that conclusion.

    I don’t disagree that the potential for misuse exists (same can, and has, been said of the internet, right?), but I think the potential for facism is miniscule.

    Which implies that you have a model for fascist behavior that this falls short of — I’d like to know what that is. For me, the ability to declare people criminal without trial (enemy combatant or terrorist being the favorite labels), the ability to hold people in prison without trial, and the mass collection of data on Americans comes pretty close to my model.

    The presence of all this data comes with the presence of millions of watchdogs (and I’m not talking here about the press).

    Who are you talking about? Because it’s clearly not the activist community, or you’d be agreeing with us for the need for transparency. It’s impossible to watchdog a process when it’s secret, and when the people who expose parts of it are routinely branded “despicable” by the government.

    A pundit has a knee-jerk reaction to something you agree with, followed by the same knee-jerk reaction to something else with which you disagree. Logic suggests to me that when the same reasoning can so easily bring about the wrong conclusion, that it’s time to examine what that reasoning is used for. No?

    Again, I’m having trouble following you. I’m defining knee-jerk as “the guy is saying exactly what I’d expect him to say” based on his party or political affiliation. There are any number of leftist positions with which I disagree, so you’d just have to pick the genre to find an area where I’d disagree with someone. Take a radical feminist — I’d agree with him most of the time, but not on a position against pornography. That doesn’t mean that he needs to reexamine his feminism, or that I should. So what do you have in mind with your question?

  6. Brian says at July 1st, 2006 at 4:29 pm :
    For me, the ability to declare people criminal without trial (enemy combatant or terrorist being the favorite labels), the ability to hold people in prison without trial, and the mass collection of data on Americans comes pretty close [to Facism] to my model.

    You seem to be suggesting that our treatment of 450 people in Guantanamo Bay automatically defines our nation’s policy for dealing with all 300 million of us.

    This is ironic for two reasons. First, the Guantanamo detainees have been in front of the SCOTUS twice now, and have won both times. So while one may argue that they have been mistreated, it’s hard to argue that the judicial system has tossed them aside, or that they haven’t been given the opportunity to redress their greivances.

    Second, these are not ordinary US Citizens. In fact, they’re not citizens at all. In fact, they’re foreigners who were captured on enemy battlefields.

    I’m not saying this makes them guilty of a crime, or that they don’t have rights, but before we define the country as a fascist state, we should carefully note that US Citizens are in no more danger than they’ve ever been of being declared criminal or unduly held in prison without trial.

    As for data collection, you’re shortcutting past the true story here, and I think you know it. All of the wiretapping & data collection that’s been alleged (or admitted) to date has been directed at specific groups (people making calls to known terrorists) or aggregated data used for identifying patterns. There has been a great deal of (valid) discussion about the effectiveness of these programs, and the potential for their misuse.

    The only citizens (that I know of) that have actually had their phone calls tracked outside of these cases were the two ABC reporters who were suspected of having a hand in tipping off USA Today about the classified wiretap program. And the authorities got subpoenas for those taps, making it nothing more than a case of news cataloging.

    And yet, you (and others) casually refer to the whole affair as “the government spying on its citizens,” which is why a remarkable 1 in 4 people think their personal phone was tapped.

    It’s impossible to watchdog a process when it’s secret, and when the people who expose parts of it are routinely branded “despicable” by the government.

    All evidence of the past few months to the contrary? Come on – the government is critcizing those who have revealed these stories, but they’ve been huge boons to the papers that have printed them (to the point where I believe that’s why they published them – especially the SWIFT story – but that’s another blog post).

    So what do you have in mind with your question?

    Perhaps an example:

    Politician declares NSA Wiretapping program an “abuse of power by a President who thinks he’s above the law” eight seconds after the story appears in the newspaper (obviously clueles about the particulars – hence the term “knee-jerk.”) Jeff, who has obstensibly thought the issue through a bit further, agrees with said politican.

    Politician makes the same statement about the SWIFT network program (again, with no facts). Jeff doesn’t see this program as a big deal.

    Shouldn’t the politican’s position on the NSA Wiretapping program now carry less weight in Jeff’s mind?

  7. Jeff Porten says at July 3rd, 2006 at 10:00 am :
    You seem to be suggesting that our treatment of 450 people in Guantanamo Bay automatically defines our nation’s policy for dealing with all 300 million of us.

    Well, that’s funny you should think I’m limiting the discussion that way, because when I talk about “declaring people criminal without trial” I’ve also got Abu Ghraib in mind, as well as about a dozen more facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with wherever they held Jose Padilla the first year or two, and any other locations I’m forgetting or that it’s still treasonous to know about, and the folks that we’ve remanded to the care of Syrian, Egyptian, and Pakistani prisons. That’s more along the lines of the scope I have in mind.

    First, the Guantanamo detainees have been in front of the SCOTUS twice now, and have won both times. So while one may argue that they have been mistreated, it’s hard to argue that the judicial system has tossed them aside, or that they haven’t been given the opportunity to redress their greivances.

    Not surprisingly, this is where I see the scattershot and piecemeal approach. I also suggest that if any American were detained overseas under similar judicial circumstances, the same people who think our procedures are full of liberty and justice would be the first people screaming about those antidemocratic bastards.

    we should carefully note that US Citizens are in no more danger than they’ve ever been of being declared criminal or unduly held in prison without trial.

    Jose Padilla is a US citizen. Yes, you’re right, the vast majority of people whom we’ve heard about, for whom we’ve subverted our legal system to incarcerate, are non-citizens. I will note first the phase “whom we’ve heard about”, and second note that with a friendly Congress and Supreme Court, about the only thing protecting your rights are the good intentions of King George et al. Perhaps you can understand why I am less reassured than you are.

    All of the wiretapping & data collection that’s been alleged (or admitted) to date has been directed at specific groups (people making calls to known terrorists) or aggregated data used for identifying patterns.

    Brian, I would prefer to believe you’re not being willfully ignorant here, but we’ve gone through this before. The only evidence that we have (and it’s pretty scant) is precisely that the pen trace wiretapping is occurring at trunklines and is sucking down records indiscriminately. The sole evidence that audio recording is only targeting those under investigation (without warrant, again), is the say-so of the people who attempted to keep it secret in the first place.

    Repeating what I’ve said before, you know nearly nothing about what’s being tapped (like the rest of us), and when you choose to minimize what’s being done, you’re choosing to believe what the administration says about what they’re doing — despite the fact that they’ve previously been caught lying about whether they were doing any of this at all. That’s your right, but please try not to repeat it as fact.

    And yet, you (and others) casually refer to the whole affair as “the government spying on its citizens,” which is why a remarkable 1 in 4 people think their personal phone was tapped.

    Well, Brian, “the government is spying on its citizens” is factually accurate. What we don’t know is the scope thereof, and the reason we don’t know is that they’ve chosen not to tell us. Personally, I think that’s quite a valid conclusion to draw in the atmosphere of fear that the administration has fomented, and if they’ve got to deal with that paranoia directed back at themselves, no crocodile tears here.

    they’ve been huge boons to the papers that have printed them (to the point where I believe that’s why they published them – especially the SWIFT story – but that’s another blog post)

    I’ll make a point to be out of town that week, or at least to stock up on high blood pressure medication.

    Have to say, considering I’m the big government liberal, your blind faith in government benevolence is downright flabbergasting.

    Shouldn’t the politican’s position on the NSA Wiretapping program now carry less weight in Jeff’s mind?

    Apparently I wasn’t clear before. I don’t know much about the SWIFT story, and honestly, I would be highly likely to re-examine my own thinking before I crucified anyone else for theirs on the topic.

    I find it interesting that in your hypothetical you talk about politicians who know nothing, when in fact, if we’re talking about members of Congress, these are precisely the people who are required by law to be briefed on the actions of the administration. So if they do in fact know nothing, then my first question is why they know nothing, rather than to question what they said in that condition.

    Beyond that, and maybe this is part of our differences on these issues, I don’t think of politicians as expert sources on most of these problems — when I talk about a pundit, I’m generally referring to someone from a nonprofit or think tank. If it’s someone or an organization I know, all the better.

  8. Brian says at July 3rd, 2006 at 10:40 am :
    Well, Brian, “the government is spying on its citizens” is factually accurate. What we don’t know is the scope thereof, and the reason we don’t know is that they’ve chosen not to tell us. Personally, I think that’s quite a valid conclusion to draw in the atmosphere of fear that the administration has fomented, and if they’ve got to deal with that paranoia directed back at themselves, no crocodile tears here.

    Factually accurate? That’s like saying I know the phone number of everyone in my hometown because I own a phone book. Or that I’ve memorized the complete works of William Shakespeare because I have access to Guttenberg. You can’t just turn something potential into something kinetic because it suits your argument and then gape at those who haven’t done the same. Doing so could be characterized as creating an “atmosphere of fear,” but that accusation appears to already have been taken…

    and when you choose to minimize what’s being done, you’re choosing to believe what the administration says about what they’re doing — despite the fact that they’ve previously been caught lying about whether they were doing any of this at all. That’s your right, but please try not to repeat it as fact.

    This again? Really? Please show me where I’ve minimized what’s being done. Please show me where I’m defending the administration’s secrecy here. What I said was “There has been a great deal of (valid) discussion about the effectiveness of these programs, and the potential for their misuse.” I like to think that we’ve contributed to those discussions (in an unbelievably miniscule way) on our respective blogs.

    But it’s an inconvenient truth (another term that’s been taken…) that no one has even accussed the government of spying on private citizens (with two exceptions – both of which carried the proper warrants). You’re taking a discussion about the potential for misuse, casually turning it into factual evidence that the misuse has occurred, and then accusing me of minimizing the potential for misuse (or being wilfully ignorant) when I point this out. And 26% of Americans are falling for it.

    There aren’t two sides to this argument, there are three:

    1) The government is spying on its people.
    2) The government is spying on terrorists in a way that gives it the ability to spy on its people.
    3) The government is not spying on its people.

    I’m arguing #2, and you’re telling me that if I’m not arguing #1, then I have to be arguing #3.

  9. Brian says at July 3rd, 2006 at 10:40 am :
    Well, Brian, “the government is spying on its citizens” is factually accurate. What we don’t know is the scope thereof, and the reason we don’t know is that they’ve chosen not to tell us. Personally, I think that’s quite a valid conclusion to draw in the atmosphere of fear that the administration has fomented, and if they’ve got to deal with that paranoia directed back at themselves, no crocodile tears here.

    Factually accurate? That’s like saying I know the phone number of everyone in my hometown because I own a phone book. Or that I’ve memorized the complete works of William Shakespeare because I have access to Guttenberg. You can’t just turn something potential into something kinetic because it suits your argument and then gape at those who haven’t done the same. Doing so could be characterized as creating an “atmosphere of fear,” but that accusation appears to already have been taken…

    and when you choose to minimize what’s being done, you’re choosing to believe what the administration says about what they’re doing — despite the fact that they’ve previously been caught lying about whether they were doing any of this at all. That’s your right, but please try not to repeat it as fact.

    This again? Really? Please show me where I’ve minimized what’s being done. Please show me where I’m defending the administration’s secrecy here. What I said was “There has been a great deal of (valid) discussion about the effectiveness of these programs, and the potential for their misuse.” I like to think that we’ve contributed to those discussions (in an unbelievably miniscule way) on our respective blogs.

    But it’s an inconvenient truth (another term that’s been taken…) that no one has even accussed the government of spying on private citizens (with two exceptions – both of which carried the proper warrants). You’re taking a discussion about the potential for misuse, casually turning it into factual evidence that the misuse has occurred, and then accusing me of minimizing the potential for misuse (or being wilfully ignorant) when I point this out. And 26% of Americans are falling for it.

    There aren’t two sides to this argument, there are three:

    1) The government is spying on its people.
    2) The government is spying on terrorists in a way that gives it the ability to spy on its people.
    3) The government is not spying on its people.

    I’m arguing #2, and you’re telling me that if I’m not arguing #1, then I have to be arguing #3.

  10. Jeff Porten says at July 5th, 2006 at 8:34 am :
    Ugh. Okay. First, go here, follow that link, and follow those links.

    Second, I just don’t get what you’re saying here. “The government is spying on its citizens” is fact. You’re arguing that I’ve said “all” for “its”, which actually might the case, but that’s not what I’m saying because that hasn’t yet been proven.

    Your reply about data in a published book being akin to the data being collected is not a proper analogy, in that your phonebooks by definition contain public data. The data that is being collected by the government is ostensibly private. The word for this is “spying”.

    You seem to be arguing that collection without action is somehow okay, to which I’ll reply that if I hack into a computer system, copy all the files, and then do nothing with them, I’m not exactly in the legal clear. If a government does this, it’s called “spying”.

    This again? Really? Please show me where I’ve minimized what’s being done.

    Just reread your posts and look for the words “all they’ve done” and “only”….

    that no one has even accussed the government of spying on private citizens

    Oh, they’ve been accused by just about everyone who cares. If you’re asking why there aren’t lawsuits yet, it’s because it’s so damned hard to get standing. You need to show damage, which means you need to know who’s being tapped, which is a national secret. Please don’t tell me that you’re buying into that bit of circular logic.

    The government is spying on terrorists in a way that gives it the ability to spy on its people.

    Finally, let’s get something straight. These programs, at their best are not in place to spy on terrorists. We had plenty of laws in place to allow spying on known terrorists. At their best, these programs are designed to spy on people under suspicion of being terrorists, but whom have not yet done anything that rises to the level of issuing a warrant. In other words, under a very broad and unsupervised definition of “suspicion”. And I don’t believe these programs are operating anywhere near their best, precisely because they’ve been set up in such a way as to circumvent the sort of oversight that leads to best practices.

    At their worst, they can pretty much end any possibility of living in a free country. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I do think that’s a potential endgame.

  11. Brian says at July 5th, 2006 at 5:42 pm :
    You seem to be arguing that collection without action is somehow okay, to which I’ll reply that if I hack into a computer system, copy all the files, and then do nothing with them, I’m not exactly in the legal clear. If a government does this, it’s called “spying”.

    OK. We have a legitimate difference in how we define “spying.” I would grant you that if you copied all my files and did nothing with them, you’re not exactly in the legal clear. I don’t think I could get you for “spying,” though. Maybe “stealing.” But INAL…

    The other factor (which I’m guessing you’re happy to ignore) is the presence of another, more legitimate reason to collect all the data. You’ve put forth arguments for the ineffectiveness of data mining, but the fact remains that data mining is very much real, and has been very successful in numerous facets of numerous industries over the last 10+ years. And while this proves nothing, the data mining scenario fits the facts better than the spying scenario, which at least puts spying (IMHO) back in the “potential” bucket, rather than the “factual” bucket.

    This is not to say it didn’t happen, mind you, just that we have very little reason to believe it has. As to your point about no lawsuits being filed, my standard of proof would be a whole lot lower. Show me one person, for instance, who has tangible evidence that the government has intercepted their phone calls, bank records, or internet traffic and caused them harm in some way. I’ve gotta believe that in this environment, where various MSM outlets would gladly pay big money for that story, someone who’s had this experience would not remain silent for long.

    Just reread your posts and look for the words “all they’ve done” and “only”….

    Did you actually do that? I did, and I see minimal references (“SWIFT is the only option…”, “I offer only one thought”, etc.)

    Finally, let’s get something straight. These programs, at their best are not in place to spy on terrorists. We had plenty of laws in place to allow spying on known terrorists. At their best, these programs are designed to spy on people under suspicion of being terrorists, but whom have not yet done anything that rises to the level of issuing a warrant.

    Point conceeded.

    As we’ve discussed at length in earlier posts, though, we now live in a world where it’s possible to knock down two skyscrapers without doing anything that rises to the level of issuing a warrant. Data mining strikes me as a reasonable (and perhaps our best?) method of defense without trodding on individual civil rights. The problem of potential misuse is one that needs to be addressed – as it has been with every significant technological advancement of the last 50 years.

    At their worst, they can pretty much end any possibility of living in a free country. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I do think that’s a potential endgame.

    First sentence – yeah, I guess. Second sentence, absolutely not. Too many obstacles between the government actually spying on individuals and all of our freedoms vanishing (cf. Senator Joe McCarthy).

  12. Jeff Porten says at July 6th, 2006 at 12:10 pm :
    Too many obstacles between the government actually spying on individuals and all of our freedoms vanishing

    Once again, I want to know what Sherry feeds you for breakfast, because it would be awfully nice to go through life with your cheerful optimism.

    Really, all you need to do is read up on the social history of Germany between WWI and WWII, and on the radical political movements that gained traction here during the Great Depression. You seem to think that freedom and liberty are inalienable birthrights of being American — it’s more accurate to say that they’re birthrights of living in current American culture, which is malleable and subject to change over time. The actions we take today will determine how Avery and Brandon and their peers define those words; likewise our grandparents remembered a free America that denied the right to vote to all but white males.

    It’s only been 25 years since we defined ourselves against the Soviet Union as a place where you didn’t need papers to travel. Maybe we need enemies like that, or we get soft on our own principles.

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