Whistleblower: NSA spied on everyone, targeted journalists
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Wednesday January 21, 2009
Former National Security Agency analyst Russell Tice, who helped expose the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping in December 2005, has now come forward with even more startling allegations. Tice told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann on Wednesday that the programs that spied on Americans were not only much broader than previously acknowledged but specifically targeted journalists.
“The National Security Agency had access to all Americans’ communications — faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications,” Tice claimed. “It didn’t matter whether you were in Kansas, in the middle of the country, and you never made foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications.” (my emphasis added)
Tice further explained that “even for the NSA it’s impossible to literally collect all communications. … What was done was sort of an ability to look at the metadata … and ferret that information to determine what communications would ultimately be collected.”
According to Tice, in addition to this “low-tech, dragnet” approach, the NSA also had the ability to hone in on specific groups, and that was the aspect he himself was involved with. However, even within the NSA there was a cover story meant to prevent people like Tice from realizing what they were doing.
“In one of the operations that I was in, we looked at organizations, just supposedly so that we would not target them,” Tice told Olbermann. “What I was finding out, though, is that the collection on those organizations was 24/7 and 365 days a year — and it made no sense. … I started to investigate that. That’s about the time when they came after me to fire me.”
Rest of the story here;
This was not a driftnet. This was not dragnet.
The government doesn’t and didn’t have a massive computer listening into phone calls and emails inside the United States listening for keywords. That technology you’ve seen in movies like the Bourne Identity — we don’t use that.
That’s what the Attorney General Michal Mukasey reiterated to a federal court Saturday, denying the NSA or its telecom partners engaged in “dragnet” collection on the contents of millions of communications […] for the purpose of analyzing those communication through key word searches to obtain information about possible terrorist attacks.” (emphasis in original)
And since that did not happen, the dozens of suits filed against companies such as AT&T alleging such a thing should be dismissed, according to Mukasey, who was invoking the telecom immunity provisions passed by Congress in July.
That same bill legalized most of the spying program that was not a dragnet. It also oddly legalized dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications.
So if there’s no Big Brother ear listening for the perfectly wrong word, what was going on?
Well, one might look to the things Mukasey would not deny or perhaps, look closer at the language of the denial (.pdf).
As for the widely reported allegation that the nation’s telecoms turned over Americans’ phone records to the government so its computers could sort through them to decide who looked like a terrorist?
The Attorney General refused to say publicly if that happened since doing so would destroy the nation faster than a trillion dollars in sham mortgages. Never mind that more than a handful of federal lawmakers briefed on the matter in 2006 confirmed media reports that such records were turned over. (my emphasis added)
There’s quite a wealth of information that can be gleaned from simply analyzing who calls whom and whom that whom calls next.
But Mukasey did admit in the public version of his filings to U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker that the carriers either didn’t do this or did so after the government told them that government lawyers thought it was legal, even though getting a single American’s phone records in a criminal case requires a judge’s order.
Either way, the AG said, the suits should be dismissed immediately or else such companies will never help again in the future when the government shows up with a secret and legally dubious request for records about Americans.
The government admits that the warrantless wiretapping of Americans’ international phone calls and emails is only a part of its secret post 9/11 intelligence operations inside the country. And it admits that some telecoms helped its so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program or TSP
But admitting which ones did and did not? Mukasey again withheld the goods, telling the court that disclosing publicly “whether particular provider-defendants assisted with the TSP would cause exceptional harm to national security.”
As for whether the telecoms turned over billions of communications to the government for analysis by algorithms that are smarter than key word searches for the word ‘bomb’ or ‘jihad’? The Attorney General artfully did not admit or deny.
What about storing communications in bulk for months or years simply for retrieval for future analysis? (my emphasis added) The Attorney General artfully did not admit or deny.
Some legal scholars — including the influential federal court judge Richard Posner argue that collecting everything and having algorithms sort through the country’s SMS messages, emails and phone calls doesn’t amount to surveillance, until a human looks at communications flagged by the computer.
hmmmmm…..same argument made in Singapore. Want to live there? https://axiomamuse.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/son-of-poindexters-total-information-awareness-singapore/
So if we are to take the Attorney General at his word — that leaves a very interesting question that still hasn’t been answered despite some outstanding behind-the-scenes reporting on the fight inside the Bush Administration over the program.
What was the government doing — if not a keyword dragnet — that led the top ranks of the Justice Department, including then Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the head of the FBI Robert Mueller to threaten to resign en masse?
One suspects it has something to do with purely domestic communications, which don’t come close to falling into the grey zones of the complicated rules about when the government does and does not need a court order to wiretap.
Anyone have any hypotheses. or better yet, documents?
January 23rd, 2009
Tice: NSA mixed spying with credit card data
NSA whistleblower: warrantless wiretaps targeted journos
Door to room 641A cracked open
Posted in Security, 25th January 2009 06:38 GMT
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