Featured Documentary

PBS | Frontline | Spying on the Home Front | Season 25, Episode 10 2007 - 13 min.

Director: Public Broadcasting Corporation; Frontline; Rick Young
Synopsis:

'So many people in America think this does not affect them. They've been convinced that these programs are only targeted at suspected terrorists. … I think that's wrong. … Our programs are not perfect, and it is inevitable that totally innocent Americans are going to be affected by these programs,' former CIA Assistant General Counsel Suzanne Spaulding tells FRONTLINE correspondent Hedrick Smith in “Spying on the Home Front.”

"Spying on the Home Front" also looks at a massive FBI data sweep in December 2003. On a tip that Al Qaeda "might have an interest in Las Vegas" around New Year's 2004, the FBI demanded records from all hotels, airlines, rental car agencies, casinos and other businesses on every person who visited Las Vegas in the run-up to the holiday. Stephen Sprouse and Kristin Douglas of Kansas City, Mo., object to being caught in the FBI dragnet in Las Vegas just because they happened to get married there at the wrong moment. Says Douglas, 'I'm sure that the government does a lot of things that I don't know about, and I've always been OK with that -- until I found out that I was included.'

A check of all 250,000 Las Vegas visitors against terrorist watch lists turned up no known terrorist suspects or associates of suspects. The FBI told FRONTLINE that the records had been kept for more than two years, but have now all been destroyed.

In the broad reach of NSA eavesdropping, the massive FBI data sweep in Las Vegas, access to records gathered by private database companies that allows government agencies to avoid the limitations provided by the Privacy Act, and nearly 200 other government data-mining programs identified by the Government Accounting Office, experienced national security officials and government attorneys see a troubling and potentially dangerous collision between the strategy of pre-emption and the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Peter Swire, a law professor and former White House privacy adviser to President Clinton, tells FRONTLINE that since 9/11 the government has been moving away from the traditional legal standard of investigations based on individual suspicion to generalized suspicion. The new standard, Swire says, is: 'Check everybody. Everybody is a suspect.'