Did A DOJ Official Just Try To Distance The Agency From The NSA's Bulk Records Collection Program?
from the prelude-to-the-ugliest-of-divorces? dept
A very interesting statement was made by an unnamed DOJ official while defending the US Marshals’ flying cell tower spoofers. It’s something I didn’t catch the first time through, but something that should be examined more closely.
A Justice Department official on Friday refused to confirm or deny the existence of such a program, because doing so would allow criminals to better evade law enforcement. But the official said it would be “utterly false’’ to conflate the law-enforcement program with the collection of bulk telephone records by the National Security Agency, a controversial program already being challenged in the courts and by some members of Congress.
We need to ask ourselves (since we obviously can’t ask the anonymous official) why he/she felt the need to point out that the program shouldn’t be “conflated” with the NSA’s bulk telephone records collections.
When Section 215’s constitutionality is challenged in court, it’s DOJ lawyers that provide the counterarguments. The DOJ also pens the “white papers” that provide the legal rationalizations for the NSA’s collection programs. It’s the DOJ that shelters the identities of telecommunication companies “participating” in the bulk records collection.
Now, when asked to defend another secret program, a DOJ official makes it very clear that this program (airborne IMSI catchers) is not like the Section 215 program. But how is it different? And why would this official feel the need to clearly differentiate between the two?
One possibility is that the DOJ views the US Marshals’ program as “targeted,” whereas the NSA’s program is admittedly (or at least, undeniably — thanks to leaks) untargeted. This would be a perfectly good point to make… except that it implies that there’s something wrong with the Section 215 program.
The DOJ shifts to defense mode after an unexpected leak and instinctively (or inadvertently) distances itself from a rather toxic NSA program. To state that the US Marshals’ surveillance is different than the bulk records collection is to damn by comparison. It wants the public to believe the US Marshals’ program isn’t just indiscriminately hoovering up cell phone numbers, even though the DOJ — in its courtroom defenses and white papers — believes indiscriminate, untargeted collections are not only acceptable, but Constitutional. This official’s statement comes across as a strident “Hey, at least it’s not the Section 215 program!”
Was this just a flustered misstatement by a DOJ official? Or is the DOJ looking to distance itself from the NSA’s most visible and most discussed (but certainly not its most controversial) program? It seems to be the only program the NSA is willing to cede ground on.
If so, we may see more of this in the future. But for now, it appears that even some DOJ officials find the untargeted bulk records collection to be at least a little bit objectionable.