Vocabulary word of the day: “Overcollection”

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”
George Orwell "Politics and the English Language," 1946

Two months ago General Clapper sat before his bosses at the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer questions. They were engaging in a ritual called robust oversight. The ritual has a number of significant acts. First, the generals representing the intelligence community hold their hands in the air and promise not to lie, invoking the Almighty God. Then the representatives of the people ask questions that they think they know the answers to. The General then gives an answer which any of us would call a lie. The Senators then pretend to believe him.

General Clapper, when asked directly if data had been collected on millions of Americans said no. Normal people call this lying. Normal senators send people to prison for it. The Senate Intelligence Committee is not made up of normal senators. It is made up of senators chosen for their loyalty to the intelligence community. This permits the mutual stimulation of egos that takes place. The senators pretend the General is a lawful hero. The General pretends that the senators are in the know, when in reality they only know what he tells them and he only has to lie on rare occasions. The public gets to pretend, if we so choose, that we live in an America that is not post-constitutional.

The way this lying to Congress happens, and is not what non-sociopaths call a crime, is by the re-definition of words. In this case “collection,” as in collection of our personal data, means “reading information about a target.” If the target is overseas, the acts of reading, storing, analyzing and repackaging information are not collection if the information is not about the target.

Clapper has since admitted that when a senator says collection, and when he thinks collection, two different things are meant. Clapper calls what he said “The least untruthful answer.” This is a man who has now admitted his crimes in public. He retains his freedom, his job, his salary, his honors and most importantly his power to keep on collecting.

This week we get to add a new term to our vocabulary: “Overcollection.” The secret rules about data collection allow data to be collected not only on its way to and from a target, but also about a target. Thus, if I were to talk to a dissident in Syria about the civil war there, the government could have given itself the right to read my email -- all of it -- in case my hypothetical Syrian source, who has good reason to desire anonymity, is a terrorist. Further, it can scan all available internet traffic for mentions of me. It can store that traffic in case it is needed later. This is not called “collection” if they don't use it.

According to an article by Charles Savage in the New York Times today, this “information-about” collection leads to something called inadvertent “overcollection.” Savage's article cites unnamed officials. What is not clear from the article is what is meant by word collection in the word overcollection. Does that mean over-reading? Does that mean over-storing? Over-analyzing? Or does it mean over-targeting?

The un-prosecuted leak to Savage had companion revelations. Reuters revealed in an exclusive this week that the DEA had its own vast data-mining department. This department, the Special Operations Division, or SOD, collected emails, phone records and other data for use investigations of drug crime. It brought together personnel from the DEA, CIA, NSA, IRS, DHS and other agencies.

The information in this separate massive database was then used to initiate arrests by other means. A technique called “parallel construction” is then used to conceal the existence of the SOD. Thus a wiretap in some other investigation leads the SOD to conclude that drugs or money will be in a certain car at a certain time. A convenient police stop is arranged with some excuse for probable cause. The DEA is then called in and investigation commences as normal. The defendant, his or her lawyers, the prosecutor and the judge never know about the wiretap or even about the very existence of the SOD.

A defendant in such a case never has the opportunity to question or challenge the legality of the wiretap. Probable cause never actually existed because the traffic stop never would have happened. Evidence is concealed from prosecutors, and thus defense attorneys, thus violating the constitutional right of a person to confront and challenge evidence and witness in a trial. Wiretap information could have been garnered, for instance, from conversations between an attorney and their client and then used against a third party. In such a case not even the DEA agent assigned to fake the traffic stop would know.

This systematic process is a matter of policy. The federal agents that do it are under orders to do so. Normal people call this suborning perjury. When normal people suborn perjury it is a crime. The Reuters revelations claim that the DEA amasses its own records of phone calls, emails, texts and other data without input from the NSA. Since it is SOD policy to conceal the existence of the SOD, could NSA data be added to the DEA database without the knowledge of Reuter's sources? Did any of the data come to the DEA as a result of overcollection?

The IRS Criminal Enforcement Division also benefited from the DEA's SOD. According to Reuters “A 350-word entry in the Internal Revenue Manual instructed agents of the U.S. tax agency to omit any reference to tips supplied by the DEA's Special Operations Division, especially from affidavits, court proceedings or investigative files.” The entry was published and posted online in 2005 and 2006, and was removed in early 2007.

Again the policy is clear. Do it. Don't write about it. Omit it from court testimony. Purge it from the “truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth.” This is a policy, written in a manual. Thus the IRS suborns perjury as a matter of policy. An entire agency has been operating outside the law and routinely lying to the courts for a minimum of eight years.

By the time the data that the IRS is lying to the courts about reaches that point, it has been potentially over-collected by the NSA, had its source concealed once by the DEA and then been lied about by the IRS. That's three lies per affidavit about the source of the information. Should that affidavit lead to a wiretap, that information in turn enters the data base and the cycle begins again leading to imprisonment, fines and civil forfeitures that feed the endeavor. Engineers call this a “self-licking ice cream cone.” Normal people call it a criminal racket.

During the time that these illegal programs of wiretapping, data-mining, perjury and civil forfeiture were being revealed, President Obama appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno to talk to the nation. The outright lies ensued. "We don't have a domestic spying program," he assured us.

Obama did not lie to the press when he made that claim on Leno. He might have been confused by what is considered to be press after spending so much time amongst the toothless denizens of the beltway interior and mistaken comedian Jay Leno for an actual journalist and an appearance on a comedy-variety show with an actual press interview. Perhaps the definition has changed, and along collection not meaning read, comedian now means journalist, and constitution means bathroom tissue, last viewed by the President in Leno's green room.

Date Originally Published: 
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Article originally published at: 
Gerry Bello