Government Surveillance Now Deemed Necessary - Under Obama

I'm tempted to notify Ripley's Believe It Or Not! about this, but they might reject it as too far-fetched.

By now you've probably heard the news of blueprints for Marine One, the helicopters used by the president, mysteriously downloaded onto a computer in Iran.

The alarming story was first reported by Rick Earle, an investigative reporter with NBC Pittsburgh affiliate WPXI. Earle described what he uncovered on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show Monday night --

MADDOW: How did these blueprints for Marine One, this other sensitive information about the president's helicopter, end up on a computer abroad?

EARLE:  Well, that's the big question everybody here wants to know and it appears that this company that's based just outside of Pittsburgh here, a company by the name of Tiversa, they monitor these file-sharing networks, these file-sharing programs, and they were able to track this, these blueprints from Marine One, they found them out there on the World Wide Web. They apparently had been downloaded on a computer that was using this file-sharing network. Now those are file-sharing networks like LimeWire, BearShare, those networks that people use routinely to exchange music or videos.

Apparently someone with this defense contracting company was using that program on their computer and those sensitive Marine One documents were somehow downloaded out onto the World Wide Web through this file-sharing network and they wound up traced to this computer in Iran, and that's where this company, Tiversa, found those documents just last week. So it's just an incredible story here.

MADDOW: Do we know that this is something that foreign governments, foreign intelligence agencies, do? That they troll the Internet looking for computers that might have peer-to-peer sharing software on them and therefore might offer access to the files on their hard drives?

EARLE: You know, that's a very good question and that's one we asked general, retired general Wesley Clark. He's also a board member on this, with this company Tiversa and he says, yeah, that's what they do. He says they're out there, perusing these file-sharing programs, looking for sensitive documents such as this, about Marine One. You can find a host of other things out there as well. I mean, we're talking everything from tax returns to any confidential information that you may have on your computer. If you have one of these file-sharing programs on there, it opens everything up on your hard drive to the World Wide Web and people have access to that. So anything can be compromised.

MADDOW: It's one thing to imagine your own personal information, your own personal financial information, even a company's financial information. But this is the blueprints, all the avionics information for Marine One. What did this Internet security company do after they discovered these Marine One files and has the White House had any reaction to this?

EARLE: Well, this Internet security company immediately contacted the federal government and alerted them about what they perceived to be a real big breach of security here. They said they are working with the federal government to get to the bottom of all of this right now. They say they've also been in contact with the Secret Service working on this. Now we called the White House over the weekend when this story broke. We couldn't get a response from them over the weekend but we did talk to them today and they referred us to the Department of the Navy. The Department of the Navy, meanwhile, says they are aware of this and they are looking into this, but again it's a very serious issue here.

And General Clark told us the other day that this is something the government really needs to look at and really needs to clamp down on, whether you monitor this in real time, have someone actually sitting there monitoring these file-sharing programs so you can see what's going out, so you can put a stop to it, or whether you go to the extent of encrypting some of these documents. So there are some ways you can actually prevent this, but (Clark) says the government has to be more diligent when it comes to monitoring this stuff.

MADDOW: Rick Earle, investigative reporter with WPXI in Pittsburgh, congratulations on this scoop, incredible and scary story. Thanks. Have a good night.

Never thought I'd see the day when a prominent Democrat says "the government has to be more diligent when it comes to monitoring this stuff" -- as in, telecommunications.

Same story when George W. Bush was president, this isn't reported as "monitoring." MSNBC would have condemned it as "spying."

Earle's revelation about Clark wanting the government to do more, uh, monitoring, came at the end of the segment, with Maddow not having time to do more than thank him. But before then, Maddow missed her chance to ask obvious questions.

For example, is Tiversa a private contractor working for the government to spy on -- sorry, "monitor" -- file-sharing networks? Is this why Tiversa notified federal authorities when it discovered the security breach, because it is contractually obligated to do so? According to Tiversa's Web site, it provides "intelligence services to corporations, government agencies and individuals."

If Tiversa is a defense contractor (working for the Navy, perhaps?), did its spying/monitoring begin under Bush -- or Obama? Regardless of whether Tiversa is a defense contractor, is the ACLU aware of its shadowy activities? And has anyone considered the potential here for trampling on terrorists' rights?

I'm not surprised by the lapse in Maddow's aversion to surveillance when I remember Marine One's most frequent passenger -- President Obama.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts