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In the last seven years, your credit card data might have been mined and stockpiled by the U.S. government. But hey, it was all for national security.
According to Russel Tice, a former intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency, the credit card data of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens was seized, combined and stored with other information obtained by the NSA through data mining and phone wiretaps. The agency also monitored faxes, e-mails and network traffic from entire U.S. news agencies and specific U.S. journalists.
In his day-two appearance on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” Tice said the NSA obtained the financial records of U.S. citizens by searching through massive online databases. In those records was private credit card information, such as where consumers shopped and what they purchased. The agency then combined that data with additional records, such as phone calls and e-mails, obtained through domestic phone wiretaps and stored it in a digital database.
This information “could sit there for 10 years and then, potentially, it marries up with something else and 10 years from now they get put on a no-fly list and they, of course, won’t have a clue why,” Tice said on the show.
Tice said credit card information was monitored to keep tabs on “potential terrorists” and their spending habits. However, the majority of people spied on had no apparent link to terrorist organizations, he said.
“This is garnered from algorithms that have been put together to try to just dream up scenarios that might be information that is associated with how a terrorist could operate,” Tice said. “And once that information gets to the NSA, and they start to put it through the filters there … and they start looking for word-recognition, if someone just talked about the daily news and mentioned something about the Middle East they could easily be brought to the forefront of having that little flag put by their name that says ‘potential terrorist’.”
Journalists were specially targeted, according to Tice, so that the NSA could weed them out before it began more intense investigation. However, surveillance on journalists ceased to stop even after they were initially investigated, he said, implicating that there was never an intention to eliminate spying on anyone in the media.
During Tice’s first appearance, Olbermann asked him if that means there’s a folder somewhere with every phone conversation and every e-mail these reporters had with sources, co-workers and family members.
“If it was involved in this specific avenue of collection, it would be everything; yes.” Tice said.
The National Security Agency endured much public criticism after a 2005 New York Times piece revealed that President George W. Bush issued an executive order months after Sep. 11, 2001, that allowed the unwarranted telephone tapping of U.S. citizens. The 2006 case of American Civil Liberties Union v. the NSA found that the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program was unconstitutional and illegal. However, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling in 2007.
In his first week in office, President Obama has made plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and to return to the interrogation guidelines outlined in the Army Field Manual. These seem like obvious steps away from the Bush administration’s policies of anything goes when it comes to stopping terrorism. But will Obama step in and keep a closer eye on the NSA? It remains unclear.
Night one of Tice’s appearance on the “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”
What do you think? Should the government be able to monitor our spending habits in the name of national security?