US Spy Program Operated in Secret, Beyond Wiretaps

Dennis Faas's picture

A massive data mining system aimed at identifying terrorists may have continued to operate under an executive order signed by President Bush in October 2001, despite an order to shut it down by Congress.

In 2001 the Defense Department was briefed on the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program developed by Admiral John Poindexter. TIA was concocted to created a massive database program that would be accessible to the CIA, the FBI, and numerous other police agencies around the U.S.

President Continued Program

In the summer of 2002, JetBlue, Inc. turned over the names and addresses of 1.5 million passengers to the Pentagon so a database about Americans' travel patterns could be created and credit card transactions could be monitored by the Pentagon.

Congress shut down the program in 2003 and withheld funding for the project, but the program appears to have continued because of secret authorization by former President George W. Bush.

TIA, the 'suspicionless surveillance' program differed from the warrantless wiretaps Bush authorized: it was broader in scope. It gave law enforcement the authority to mine commercial and other private data on American citizens, to listen in on phone calls, to monitor emails and to inspect credit card and bank transactions without any judicial oversight.

The program authorized by Bush became known as the President's Surveillance Program (PSP).

Spying Didn't Identify a Single Terrorist Attack

A report by federal agencies says President Bush justified his warrantless wiretapping by relying on Justice Department attorney John Yoo's theories of unlimited presidential wartime powers. They also said that the spying began before any formal opinions or memos were issued by Yoo. (Source:

The report didn't identify one terrorist attack that was thwarted by the PSP, despite Bush's allegations that the illegal spying detected and prevented terrorist attacks.

The federal report suggested that the the information collected under the PSP should be carefully monitored.

The PSP stretched the limits of what could be accomplished by the NSA, and some accounts suggest that Bush's program crossed the line from zeroing in on specific surveillance targets to 'data-mining' a broad spectrum of electronic communications. (Source:

Most of the undisclosed elements of the PSP remain classified.

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