Despite Congress killing an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program five years ago meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns, the National Security Agency (NSA) — once confined to foreign surveillance — has been building what the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports (may require registration) is essentially the same system.
An inquiry into the central role the NSA has occupied in domestic intelligence gathering reveals that its efforts have evolved to gathering more data about people’s communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than other domestic surveillance programs brought to light since 9/11.
While the Bush administration continues revving up scare tactics in efforts to pursuade Congress to provide retroactive immunity for telecoms and other companies, the highly secretive role of the NSA in analyzing the data collected through little-known arrangements that can blur the lines between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering has been for the most part missing in public discussions.
Current and former intelligence officials told the WSJ the NSA now monitors ‘huge volumes of records of domestic emails and internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records.’ The NSA received this data from other agencies or private companies and sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Leads spit out by this program are explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government.