Dianne Feinstein: We Need to Collect Data on Every Single American Because We Can’t Control Our Informants

I will have far, far more to say about the claims about the various surveillance programs aired on the Sunday shows today.

But this is absolutely batshit crazy.

FEINSTEIN: Well, of course, balance is a difficult thing to actually identify what it is, but I can tell you this: These programs are within the law. The [Section 215] business records section is reviewed by a federal judge every 90 days. It should be noted that the document that was released that was under seal, which reauthorized the program for another 90 days, came along with a second document that placed and discussed the strictures on the program. That document was not released.

So here’s what happens with that program. The program is essentially walled off within the NSA. There are limited numbers of people who have access to it. The only thing taken, as has been correctly expressed, is not content of a conversation, but the information that is generally on your telephone bill, which has been held not to be private personal property by the Supreme Court.

If there is strong suspicion that a terrorist outside of the country is trying to reach someone on the inside of the country, those numbers then can be obtained. If you want to collect content on the American, then a court order is issued.

So, the program has been used. Two cases have been declassified. One of them is the case of David Headley, who went to Mumbai, to the Taj hotel, and scoped it out for the terrorist attack. [my emphasis]

Dianne Feinstein says that one of the two plots where Section 215 prevented an attack was used (the other, about Najibullah Zazi, is equally batshit crazy, but I’ll return to that) is the Mumbai attack.

What’s she referring to is tracking our own informant, David Headley.

And it didn’t prevent any attack. The Mumbai attack was successful.

Our own informant. A successful attack. That’s her celebration of success 215’s use.

So her assertion is we need to collect metadata on every single American because DEA can’t keep control of its informants.

Update: Technically DiFi didn’t say this was a success, just that it had been used. I’ve edited the post accordingly.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

26 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    This kind of detailed challenge to the lying assertions of Persons In The Know like feinstein is going to be critical to preventing the nascent larger challenge to the existing american authoritarianism from collapsing.

    Feinstein is using what rayne termed “fear, disinformation, and …” in one of her essays here several months ago. (Wish i could accurately recall the acronym).

  2. Ben Franklin says:

    Feinstein just made the same assertion on this Week, claiming the only portion of data looked at is in your phone bill….

    Then came the inevitable reference to 9/11, “you know as I was going to Lautenberg’s funeral I l flew over the
    WTC and the Statue of Liberty….”

    Another ‘Checkers’ speech.

  3. orionATL says:

    Feinstein also said she thought recently of the bodies of people at the wtc hitting the “canopy” after jumping during the sept 11 conflagration.

    the senator neglected to mention the little matter of fbi execs failing to prevent the wtc attack by refusing to allow their field agents in minnesota or arizona to question saudis who were training as airplane pilots.

  4. Ben Franklin says:

    True to form, both Feinstein and Rogers think the whistleblower should be prosecuted.

  5. Ben Franklin says:

    Greenwald was outstanding but naturally Steph was unprepared to invoke ‘Mumbai’ when Feinstein touted Headly.

    Greenwald also suggested there might be more than one WB.

  6. Roman Berry says:

    I don’t know how something can be within the law when the law itself, at least as it’s interpreted and implemented, seems plainly outside of the limits imposed by the highest law, the Constitution of the United States. But forget that for a second…

    Feinstein’s statements that “The program is essentially walled off within the NSA. There are limited numbers of people who have access to it.” is of little comfort even if true. Walled off? Maybe so. But walls have a bad habit of being breached no matter how strong. What Feinstein is saying is that even if they have all this info, we just have to trust the people in government now to be angels. And not just that, we have to trust the people in government forevermore to be angels, to keep those walls in good repair, and to not breach them themselves in order to put all of this information to some no good use.

    Imagine the security state wants a judge to rule a certain way, or to have a representative or senator to vote a certain way, or wants a president to push for a certain policy, or wants the CEO of a corporation to do or not do a certain thing and the security state has at its disposal a treasure trove of information that people in these positions would find embarrassing (or worse) if it were to come out. Maybe they’ve consorted with prostitutes. Maybe they scored a little blow while in office. Maybe they’ve had an affair, or cheated on a securities deal. Maybe they just habitually surf some really outrageous porn (The list of possibilities is endless.) Along the way they have left some form of tracks via telecommunications or digitally via the net. With this huge database of communications that covers not just the here and now but covers always and forever henceforth, why is that not a huge potential danger for blackmailing powerful people — even heads of state — into doing what is asked of them even if what is asked is wrong?

    The Constitution sets limits. Feinstein is basically saying that the government of today, like all governments, does not want to work under the limits. Instead of limited power and limited information about citizens, they want limitless power and an end to privacy.

    Dianne Feinstein has been in DC too long. She needs to go somewhere else. I sure know where I’d like to tell her to go.

  7. Frank33 says:

    The Headley story was mostly purged from the Embedded press. Mumbai 26/11, was in 2008, with more than 160 people murdered. The ten or so attackers did have some inside information as US “Intelligence Officers” were killed. Headley “cased” targets, including Bollywood stars. For years, Headley had been a DEA/CIA “informer” who went “rogue”, which happens frequently. CIA’s Philip Mudd was spreading much disinformation about Mumbai.

    Headley was in the safe house with ISI commanders who gave orders through a form of Skype. Headley had been recorded by the FBI before 26/11, as planning an attack. And several wives of Headley reported to Intelligence Authorities that he was a terrorist. The Intelligence Community gets so many of those reports that they cannot tell which wives are truthful.

    He was arrested a year later. Debbie Schlussel had the scoop. An immigration agent became suspicous. Headley had no business documents although he “worked” for First World Immigration. First World Immigration brings in skilled and semi-skilled terrorists to the US. PRISM had nothing to do with this. But there may be phone records.

    “We now know Headley rarely used mobile phones and computers; but he did have a Tata Indicom landline number that he used while operating this immigration business. His mobile number is also with us and is leading us to some of his local contacts/acquaintances,” the source said.

    Officially, Headley’s job was to facilitate US and Canadian visas for semi-skilled and unskilled workers. The investigators are trying to find out whether he had any contacts in local consulates.

    Dianne Feinstein is becoming the new John McCain as senility sets in for both.

  8. orionATL says:

    Repeating here a comment made in a preceeding post:

    “Chris Harries on June 9, 2013 at 9:37 am said:

    Let us all pause, bretheren, and consider the parable of John Wilkes, on the 250th anniversary of George III’s issuance of General Warrants to discover the source of the 45th edition of The North Briton’s scurrilities.
    Authority was offended. Wilkes was imprisoned. General warrants were denounced- and nowhere more strongly than in the restless colonies. And, thirty eight years later, they were specifically banned in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States whose very existence was not unrelated to the events in that annus mirabilis 1763.”

  9. Ben Franklin says:

    “Dianne Feinstein is becoming the new John McCain as senility sets in for both.”

    We definitely need something like ‘turd’ limits.

  10. ess emm says:

    Marcy, did you see Crowley’s interview with Udall?

    She basically asked if the USG is recording our calls, but just not listening to them.

    Udall gave a grimace and was silent before answering. Like he knew the answer was yes, but cant answer because it’s top secret.

    The USG recording calls and believing that somehow not listening to them is okay would be consistent with their excuses. Obama saying “nobody’s listening to your phone calls” would be technically true.

  11. lefty665 says:

    EW, what can we now infer from A.P. wiretaps and Rosen?

    (1) We know the metadata was available. Espionage Act charges made access to that quasi legitimate.
    (2) Did metadata fail to finger the leaker?
    (3) Did other collection methods not pick up voice content to correlate with metadata?
    (4) Is NSA truly tightfisted with what they turn over to the FBI?
    (5) Did FBI not want to ask “big brother” for the information? Was it turf spite?

    Curiouser and curiouser said Alice.

  12. P J Evans says:

    @ess emm:
    It’s also technically true if they’re using a computer to pick out the keywords and transcribe the conversations.

  13. omphaloscepsis says:

    Some technical obstacles to actually recording and/or digitizing all voice communications can be found in this post by Bruce Schneier, and in many of the comments on his post:


    The more quantitative comments imply that It may be too great a technological challenge at present to intercept and record all voice communication. But that doesn’t mean that it might not be feasible within a very short span of time. Build a massive storage and processing facility in Utah now, and they will come.

    Schneier, for any readers who might not know him, is one of the real gurus in the world of cryptography and computer and telecomm security. His company had one of the five finalists in NIST’s competition for the Advanced Encryption Standard. He often writes about the implications of the security state and its threat to democracy, such as this article from last week:


    There is a move afoot to convert all telephone communications inside the US to VoIP protocol, which would greatly simplify massive digital collection and storage. See:


    ” . . . a huge number of phone calls start out as Internet packets and end as Internet packets, but have to be switched to, and then from, a voice circuit in between . . . ”

    ” . . . most telephone companies these days move voice traffic and other types of traffic around their networks using Internet protocol . . . “

  14. stryx says:

    On the Media June 7 had an interview with Elizabeth Goitein and she brought up the point that (paraphrasing) the govt claims that it may record the data but will only use it if the person is one of interest; the question is, is the data used to identify the person? IOW, is this whole mess circular?

    I think we need to start using the word “allegedly” when describing things the govt says about any of this.

  15. Trapvet says:

    Excellent point. We’re just “storing” these communications. There are far too many to actually listen to. When we see something of interest, then we’ll pop in the audio tape.

  16. ess emm says:


    Here’s what Snowden said
    here at Guardian:

    You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.

    I understand what Schneier is saying, but all in all I am unconvinced.

  17. Rayne says:

    @Roman Berry: This bit here:

    “The program is essentially walled off within the NSA. There are limited numbers of people who have access to it.”

    Is going to haunt her ass, after today’s revelations.

    Walled off within the subcontractors, within the contractors, within the NSA. Blessed by Congress, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the White House and its Departments.


  18. ess emm says:

    @P J Evans: Thanks for the link. Reading the comments I found out a carrier cannot activate your phone w/o gps.

    I think the philosophic argument the government is making is that you dont have any rights to protect yourself from what machines and robots can do, that your rights only kick in when a living human being attempts the same thing.

  19. B.J. Honeycutt says:

    In addition to tracking targets the FBI has successfully flipped into informants, they’re probably tracking the sleeper agents. The government is letting potential terrorists enter the country in the hopes of tracking their communications with cells in the U.S. and abroad. They’re provided visas through the CIA and bypass normal security. These people may or may not know that they’re being tracked.

Comments are closed.