Peeling Back the Layers of the U.S Surveillance Program

A prior blog of mine focused on the data-mining at Verizon, another program gathering information from Internet and other data sources and the “Boundless Informant” program that forms a “global heat map” of those countries which are providing the billions upon billions of pieces of information deemed to be an important part of carrying out  counterterrorism activities. We are learning, however, that there are additional components and capabilities in the overall surveillance program.

The McClatchy news service has exposed “a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish lthose who fail to report their suspicions.” McClatchy says the Insider Threat Program “is sweeping in its reach.” It has re ceived scant public notice “even lthough it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments.” The program “emphasizes leaks of classified material but catchall definitions of ‘insider threat’ give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.” 


Diane Dimond, who has a regular column in the Saturday Albuquerque Journal, de-bunks the notion that the government is not looking at content in the information it is scooping up. Dimond writes in the July 13, 2013 issue that after the Boston Marathon bombing, Tim Clement, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, appeared on CNN and openly spoke of the capability of U.S. intelligence agencies to “Go back and find out what was said.” During phone calls between bomber Tanerian Tsamaw and his wife, the government knows what they were saying. Dimond conludes that the government is capturing content of phone calls, not just numbers dialed. 

In the same column, Dimond refers to a recent report of a long-time surveillance system called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program, which.photographs the outside of every piece of paper mail processed in the United States. That’s about 160 billion pieces every year! Dimond concludes: “And can you imagine the total manpower hours expended on these surveillance programs? Can you fathom how much we are paying to gather up what turns out to be mostly superfluous information.”

As onion layers seem to go on forever, we don’t know how many more layers of surveillance programs and activiites are still a secret to the public.