Listening in

Thomas R. Temin

In a celebrated real-life Mafia case, the FBI nailed the Boston crime boss Gennaro 'Jerry' Angiulo. He was convicted of racketeering charges in 1986, after a long investigation that included the use of listening devices deftly'and legally, by court order'hidden in the ceiling of his 98 Prince St. headquarters five years earlier.

Eavesdropping on the Mafia seems almost quaint compared to the global intelligence gathering the FBI and its federal intelligence, security and armed forces colleagues must do to begin the rout of terrorism.

It took five years of listening to the drivel of a local hood to amass enough evidence to convict him. What will it take to intercept and thwart the plans of an international web of suicidal fanatics bent on destroying Western democracy?

Nowadays people wishing to communicate privately have encrypted e-mail and anonymous hosts. So even with an eavesdropping tool such as the FBI's DCS1000, aka Carnivore, fishing anything useful out of the river of digital communications is unlikely.

Another question is whether the terrorists even use the obvious forms of communication.

A recent USA Today article quoted a former National Security Agency specialist about the bin Laden group's communications methods: 'This isn't low-tech. You'd have to really call it no-tech.' They use human messengers, safe houses and close-knit groups such as family members to send out his directives, the paper reported.

Maybe no-tech, maybe not. But it's unlikely the FBI will ear-witness anyone becoming a made member of a terrorist cell.

Which brings me back to privacy. The legacy of privacy still matters greatly in America. It is a heavy legacy, knowing as we now do how the terrorists operated under privacy.

In this war on terrorism, agencies must be aggressive in electronic surveillance. But the slim likelihood that surveillance alone will produce the intelligence needed means they must also be judicious.

This battle places the government on new ground. It's important the good guys win in a way that honors freedom and the values supporting it.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: [email protected]


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