Bush says “We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.” So... tens of millions then? Really, I’d like him to provide a definition of pretty much every word he used in this statement. “Innocent” is presumably meant in contradistinction to people that NSA functionaries have decided are guilty. But what does mining mean in an intel context? Or trolling? Or mining by trolls? If we don’t know the meaning of those words, or what Bush thinks the meaning of those words is, then his reassurance is literally meaningless. And of course he didn’t specifically deny the USA Today story that the NSA collected comprehensive phone records from the telecoms, without a warrant. Just by asking. In 2001, by the way, in case you thought that in the Internet Age secrets like this can’t be kept for years.
To that unreassuring reassurance, he adds this: “every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.”
As obnoxious as that is from the government, it’s problematic in other ways when it comes from AT&T, which told USA Today, “We do not comment on matters of national security”. It added that it only assists government agencies “in strict accordance with the law.” Actually, that’s a bit of misdirection, meant to make us think of formal warrants and courts and such, but those are the laws that apply to government action. Since in this case the NSA only asked, politely, for the information, the relevant laws are those applying to the protection of personal information by the telecoms, and I’m a little fuzzy about whether they were acting legally in just turning over that data or not.
(Update: not so much, according to Think Progress.)
What the NSA claims to be doing with this exercise of recording the details of phone calls made by, well, everyone is to map the pattern of calls made by innocent, decent, law-abiding, god-fearing Americans, so that when people deviate from this pattern, we’ll know they’re guilty terrorists and swoop down on them like vultures, vultures of freedom, liberty vultures if you will. Does that really sound feasible?