Whistleblower Spills the Beans on the Real Scope of the Spying
Business Insider notes today:
The reason that Business Insider is speculating about the use of private Israeli companies to thwart the law is that 2 high-ranking members of the Senate Intelligence Committee – Senators Wyden and Udall – have long said that the government has adopted a secret interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act which would shock Americans, because it provides a breathtakingly wide program of spying.
Last December, top NSA whistleblower William Binney – a 32-year NSA veteran with the title of senior technical director, who headed the agency’s global digital data gathering program (featured in a New York Times documentary, and the source for much of what we know about NSA spying) – said that the government is using a secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act which allows the government to obtain:
(relevant quote starts at 4:19).
I called Binney to find out what he meant.
I began by asking Binney if Business Insider’s speculation was correct. Specifically, I asked Binney if the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act was that a foreign company – like Narus, for example – could vacuum up information on Americans, and then the NSA would obtain that data under the excuse of spying on foreign entities … i.e. an Israeli company.
Binney replied no … it was broader than that.
Binney explained that the government is taking the position that it can gather and use any information about American citizens living on U.S. soil if it comes from:
I followed up to make sure I understood what Binney was saying, asking whether the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act was that the government could use any information as long as it came from a private company … foreign or domestic. In other words, the government is using the antiquated, bogus legal argument that it was not using its governmental powers (called “acting under color of law” by judges), but that it was private companies just doing their thing (which the government happened to order all of the private companies to collect and fork over).
Binney confirmed that this was correct. This is what the phone company spying program and the Prism program – the government spying on big Internet companies – is based upon. Since all digital communications go through private company networks, websites or other systems, the government just demands that all of the companies turn them over.
Let’s use an analogy to understand how bogus this interpretation of the Patriot Act is. This argument is analogous to a Congressman hiring a hit man to shoot someone asking too many questions, and loaning him his gun to carry out the deed … and then later saying “I didn’t do it, it was that private citizen!” That wouldn’t pass the laugh test even at an unaccredited, web-based law school offered through a porn site.
I then asked the NSA veteran if the government’s claim that it is only spying on metadata – and not content – was correct. We have extensively documented that the government is likely recording content as well. (And the government has previously admitted to “accidentally” collecting more information on Americans than was legal, and then gagged the judges so they couldn’t disclose the nature or extent of the violations.)
Binney said that was not true; the government is gathering everything, including content.
Binney explained – as he has many times before – that the government is storing everything, and creating a searchable database … to be used whenever it wants, for any purpose it wants (even just going after someone it doesn’t like).
Binney said that former FBI counter-terrorism agent Tim Clemente is correct when he says that no digital data is safe (Clemente says that all digital communications are being recorded).
Binney gave me an idea of how powerful Narus recording systems are. There are probably 18 of them around the country, and they can each record 10 gigabytes of data – the equivalent of a million and a quarter emails with 1,000 characters each – per second.
Binney next confirmed the statement of the author of the Patriot Act – Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner – that the NSA spying programs violate the Patriot Act. After all, the Patriot Act is focused on spying on external threats … not on Americans.
Binney asked rhetorically: “How can an American court [FISA or otherwise] tell telecoms to cough up all domestic data?!”
Update: Binney sent the following clarifying email about content collection:
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