For Once, the Public Is a Winner in a Bureaucratic Turf War

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While all the rest of us are fretting over the NSA’s mind-bogglingly wide surveillance powers, it turns out that the rest of the intelligence community is fretting that they aren’t quite wide enough. The New York Times reports:

Agencies working to curb drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement complain that their attempts to exploit the security agency’s vast resources have often been turned down because their own investigations are not considered a high enough priority, current and former government officials say.

….At the drug agency, for example, officials complained that they were blocked from using the security agency’s surveillance tools for several drug-trafficking cases in Latin America, which they said might be connected to financing terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere.

….The security agency’s spy tools are attractive to other agencies for many reasons. Unlike traditional, narrowly tailored search warrants, those granted by the intelligence court often allow searches through records and data that are vast in scope. The standard of evidence needed to acquire them may be lower than in other courts, and the government may not be required to disclose for years, if ever, that someone was the focus of secret surveillance operations.

Needless to say, this is precisely what a lot of us are concerned about: that every drug investigation in the world will suddenly become linked to “financing of terrorist groups,” and therefore authorized to trawl endlessly through NSA’s information pool and take advantage of rubber-stamp FISA warrants that cover anyone who meets a certain profile. For now, at least, I think we can be grateful that bureaucratic turf wars have apparently kept that under tight control.

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