An Instructive Example of CIA Wiretap Use

23:57 Tue 21 Jul 2009
[, , , ]

I occasionally read Consumerist, and a trope on that site (and perhaps in the larger culture) concerns company spokespeople stating that they take (insert some egregious abuse or screwup here) “very seriously”. This line is used so often, and is folowed by meaningful action so rarely, that it has become more or less synonymous with empty posturing. This is why the last paragraph of this article in the San Francisco Chronicle today made me laugh out loud:

CIA spokesman George Little offered a brief response to the case, saying the agency takes its obligation to the U.S. courts seriously.

—Nedra Pickler, Associated Press. “CIA committed fraud in court, judge rules”. SFGate.com, 21 Jul 2009.

The article has some interesting pieces in it. The first highlight, and the key to why the judge is stating that fraud was committed, is that the case involves the former CIA station chief in Burma allegedly ordering illegal wiretaps. The CIA requested that the case be thrown out in order to protect the covert status of the station chief. The case was thrown out in 2004… but:

… [his] cover had been lifted in 2002, even though the CIA continued to file legal documents saying his status was covert.

—Nedra Pickler, Associated Press. “CIA committed fraud in court, judge rules”. SFGate.com, 21 Jul 2009.

In other words, they knew the “protect his covert status” line was no longer true, but found it convenient to keep using it anyway.

The second highlight is who was suing the CIA for wiretapping them. A suspect in a terrorism case? A suspected international criminal mastermind? Apparently not: the suit was brought by a former DEA agent, who claims that he was being wiretapped by the CIA because their local branch disagreed with the direction his work with Burmese officials in relation to the Burmese drug trade was taking.

In other words, it was a political dispute, possibly a bureaucratic turf war, and potentially the CIA protecting very dodgy connections with the Burmese drug trade. That last is my own speculation, but even throwing that out, it’s clear that this is the kind of thing they do anyway, and that they’ll do with as much abandon as they can manage if restrictions on who they can wiretap are loosened.

The same applies to all other government agencies. Information is power, and this is even more true when the individuals and groups involved are engaged in political disputes. Give them the ability to acquire that information and they will use it all the time, for purposes unrecognizably different from those they discuss when they’re lobbying.

Leave a Reply