Tuesday, March 23, 2010

That data mining again...

Remember all the brouhaha over the supposedly illegal NSA data-mining and the Able Danger team? Well, it turns out that the Clinton Adminstration had a much more intrusive program going on - and one which was aimed solely at benefitting the Democratic Party. It was called Echelon.

Among other things, the program reportedly was used to eavesdrop on Republican congressmen and win contracts for American companies. As 60 Minutes host Steve Kroft said in an 2000 interview with Porter Goss and others,
Ms. NEWSHAM: It was definitely an American voice, and it was a voice that was distinct. And I said, 'Well, who is that?' And he said it was Senator Strom Thurmond. And I go, 'What?'

KROFT: Do you think this kind of stuff goes on?

Mr. FROST: Oh, of course it goes on. Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.

KROFT: You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in...

Mr. FROST: Well, I--I...

KROFT: ...in the United States?

Mr. FROST: Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It's not; not the world of fiction. That's the way it works. I've been there. I was trained by you guys.

Rep. GOSS: Certainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?

KROFT: What do you mean?

Rep. GOSS: It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it's very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it's there. But what I can make sure is that it's not abused--the capability's not abused, and that's what we do.

KROFT: Much of what's known about the Echelon program comes not from enemies of the United States, but from its friends. Last year, the European Parliament, which meets here in Strasbourg, France, issued a report listing many of the Echelon's spy stations around the world and detailing their surveillance capabilities. The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.

I was reminded of this by the tumult over Google's disagreement with China. I do believe that companies should be subject to national laws of the country in which they do business. but I also believe that China is a growing threat and think that if we are to have any influence over them, we must demonstrate that we are not always pushovers, no matter how much President Obama might genuflect.

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