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Another obvious reason the NSA story is so damned important

August 5, 2013
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Other Agencies Clamor for Data N.S.A. Compiles

The recent disclosures of agency activities by its former contractor Edward J. Snowden have led to widespread criticism that its surveillance operations go too far and have prompted lawmakers in Washington to talk of reining them in. But out of public view, the intelligence community has been agitated in recent years for the opposite reason: frustrated officials outside the security agency say the spy tools are not used widely enough.

“It’s a very common complaint about N.S.A.,” said Timothy H. Edgar, a former senior intelligence official at the White House and at the office of the director of national intelligence. “They collect all this information, but it’s difficult for the other agencies to get access to what they want.”

“The other agencies feel they should be bigger players,” said Mr. Edgar, who heard many of the disputes before leaving government this year to become a visiting fellow at Brown University. “They view the N.S.A. — incorrectly, I think — as this big pot of data that they could go get if they were just able to pry it out of them.”

Smaller intelligence units within the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have sometimes been given access to the security agency’s surveillance tools for particular cases, intelligence officials say. [...]

At the drug agency, for example, officials complained that they were blocked from using the security agency’s surveillance tools for several drug-trafficking cases in Latin America, which they said might be connected to financing terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Of course, the DEA has never had any problems coming up with a drug-terror connection whether one exists or not.

So… The DEA is upset that the NSA won’t share all of its illegally obtained information with them. Yet what happens when we share something we got illegally?

Note: I would take the totality of this story in the New York Times with a major grain of salt. The complaining by other agencies that they’re not getting enough NSA data could be a ruse to try to show that at least the NSA data isn’t getting used by everyone, as evidenced by this statement from a former senior intelligence officer.

As furious as the public criticism of the security agency’s programs has been in the two months since Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, “it could have been much, much worse, if we had let these other agencies loose and we had real abuses,” Mr. Edgar said. “That was the nightmare scenario we were worried about, and that hasn’t happened.”

Yeah, right. Given everything else that has come to light, why should we believe that? After all, if a programmer at a government contractor like Booz-Allen had relatively unfettered access, how can we be sure that the DEA didn’t?

Update: And sure enough… we now have this:

Exclusive: U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans

(Reuters) – A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges. [...]

A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. “You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.

After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as “parallel construction.”

And despite Reuter’s blaring headline, those in the know will tell you that this isn’t in any way new, but has been going on for a long time.

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Pete Guither is the editor of drugwarrant.com

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