NSA Spying: So They Are Listening In, After All
By Tom Burghardt
June 24, 2013
Clearing House -
Despite a stream of mendacious twaddle from President Obama,
congressional grifters and spook agency mouthpieces like Office
of the Director of National Intelligence head James Clapper, FBI
Director Robert Mueller and NSA chief General Keith Alexander,
it turns out our guardians are listening in to America's, and
most of the world's, telephone conversations after all.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, former FBI
counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente was
asked by CNN whether there's a way that investigators "can
get the phone companies" to cough up audio of a particular
Clemente responded: "No, there is a way. We certainly have ways
in national security investigations to find out exactly what was
said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that
the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help
lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her [the
alleged bomber's wife]. We certainly can find that out."
CNN's incredulous reply: "So they can actually get that? People
are saying, look, that is incredible."
Clemente: "No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being
captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not."
questioned the next day whether he would confirm his
previous statements, Clemente told CNN, "I'm talking about all
digital communications are--there's a way to look at digital
communications in the past. I can't go into detail of how that's
done or what's done. But I can tell you that no digital
communication is secure. So these communications will be found
out. The conversation will be known."
While there was scant media follow-up to Clemente's assertions,
recent revelations of NSA dragnet spying have confirmed what
analysts, researchers and whistleblowers have been saying for
years: the secret state has the technological wherewithal to
digitally record the content of all electronic communications,
including telephone calls, and store them in massive cloud
computing server farms in the event they're needed for future
And as it turns out, according to
founder, computer engineer Brewster Kahle, who has wide
experience storing large amounts of data, the cost of doing so
is incredibly cheap.
spreadsheet created by Kahle estimates it would cost the
government a mere $27 million to "store all phonecalls made in a
year in the 'cloud'." To do so would require less than 5,000
square feet of space and $2 million in electricity costs to
store the estimated 272 petabytes of data generated annually in
the United States!
A Giant Blackmail Machine
Recent disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have done
much to dispel remaining myths (government spying is "focused,"
"legal," etc.) surrounding the secret state's privacy-killing
It now seems likely that NSA is hoovering up far more than the
"telephony metadata" revealed by The Guardian's
publication of the secret
FISA Court Order to Verizon Business Services.
Following-up on PRISM program reporting,
The Washington Post disclosed June 15 that the Bush
administration's "warrantless wiretapping" program STELLAR WIND
"was succeeded by four major lines of intelligence collection in
the territorial United States, together capable of spanning the
full range of modern telecommunications, according to the
interviews and documents."
"Two of the four collection programs, one each for telephony and
the Internet," Barton Gellman reported, "process trillions of
'metadata' records for storage and analysis in systems called
MAINWAY and MARINA, respectively."
According to the Post, "Metadata includes highly
revealing information about the times, places, devices and
participants in electronic communication, but not its contents.
The bulk collection of telephone call records from Verizon
Business Services, disclosed this month by the British newspaper
the Guardian, is one source of raw intelligence for MAINWAY."
Dropping a bombshell, although withholding supporting documents,
Gellman reports that the "other two types of collection, which
operate on a much smaller scale, are aimed at content. One of
them intercepts telephone calls and routes the spoken words to a
system called NUCLEON."
"MARINA and the collection tools that feed it are probably the
least known of the NSA's domestic operations," the Post
averred. "Yet they probably capture information about more
American citizens than any other, because the volume of e-mail,
chats and other Internet communications far exceeds the volume
of standard telephone calls."
"The NSA calls Internet metadata 'digital network information.'
Sophisticated analysis of those records can reveal unknown
associates of known terrorism suspects. Depending on the methods
applied, it can also expose medical conditions, political or
religious affiliations, confidential business negotiations and
In other words, it seems likely that harvested data gleaned from
phone calls, emails, video chats and credit card records are
being used in ways that are as old as the spy game itself:
political and economic blackmail.
Indeed, NSA whistleblower Russ Tice, the principal source for
The New York Times exposé of illegal Bush administration
spy programs, told Sibel Edmonds' Boiling Frogs Post
podcast that the secret state has ordered surveillance on a
wide range of groups and individuals, including antiwar
activists, high-ranking military officials, lawmakers and
According to Tice: "Okay. They went after--and I know this
because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort
of things--they went after high-ranking military officers; they
went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House,
especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed
services committees and some of the--and judicial. But they went
after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms.
All kinds of--heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after
judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court
that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former
FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials.
They went after people in the executive service that were part
of the White House--their own people. They went after antiwar
groups. They went after US international--US companies that that
do international business, you know, business around the world.
They went after US banking firms and financial firms that do
international business. They went after NGOs that--like the Red
Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian
work. They went after a few antiwar and civil rights groups. So,
you know, don't tell me that there's no abuse, because I've had
this stuff in my hand and looked at it."
"Here's the big one," Tice told hosts Sibel Edmonds and Peter B.
Collins, "this was in summer of 2004, one of the papers that I
held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated
with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator for Illinois. You
wouldn't happen to know where that guy lives right now would
you? It's a big white house in Washington, D.C. That's who they
went after, and that's the president of the United States now."
Other political targets revealed by Tice included all nine
Supreme Court justices, Senate Intelligence Committee head
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), House Minority
leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and ousted CIA director General David
Petraeus, who allegedly resigned over a sex scandal.
Is it any wonder then, that House and Senate leaders driving the
"oversight" clown car are the ones now braying loudest for Ed
Like ECHELON, Only on Steroids
A new series of disclosures published by
The Guardian, based on the Snowden files but, like the
Post, without public disclosure of the actual documents,
we learned that Britain's Government Communications Headquarters
(GCHQ) "has secretly gained access to the network of cables
which carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic and has
started to process vast streams of sensitive personal
information which it is sharing with its American partner, the
National Security Agency (NSA)."
"The sheer scale of the agency's ambition is reflected in the
titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet
and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much
online and telephone traffic as possible," The Guardian
Britain's "Mastering the Internet" scheme was first reported by
The Register and
The Sunday Times back in 2009;
Antifascist Calling published an analysis of NSA's key
role in the GCHQ program; a few months later, citing documents
AFC commented on the cozy relations amongst private
intelligence contractors, the European Union and the secret
The architecture of these highly intrusive, illegal programs was
created decades ago however, in intelligence-sharing
arrangements in the English speaking world under the rubric of
NSA's global surveillance network known as ECHELON.
As one of the "Five Eyes" partner agencies of the Cold War-era
UKUSA Security Agreement (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New
Zealand) exposed by journalists
and Nicky Hager
in their ECHELON investigations, GCHQ, through a contemporary
operation code named TEMPORA, has tapped into and stored vast
quantities of data gleaned from fiber optic cables passing
through the UK.
"This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email
messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet
user's access to websites--all of which is deemed legal, even
though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to
a specified range of targets," The Guardian reported.
But as we know from Campbell and Hager's reporting, while
intelligence and law enforcement officials in Britain and the
United States are required to obtain an individualized
warrant to target a suspect's communications in their own
nation, no such restrictions apply should one of the five
"partner agencies" spy on another country's citizens. One must
assume this arrangement continues today.
"The documents reveal that by last year GCHQ was handling 600m
'telephone events' each day," The Guardian disclosed, and
"had tapped more than 200 fibre-optic cables and was able to
process data from at least 46 of them at a time."
That GCHQ did so on the basis of "secret agreements with
commercial companies, described in one document as 'intercept
partners'," should come as now surprise to readers of this blog.
According to Snowden documents "seen" but not published by
The Guardian, "some companies have been paid for the cost of
their co-operation and GCHQ went to great lengths to keep their
names secret. They were assigned 'sensitive relationship teams'
and staff were urged in one internal guidance paper to disguise
the origin of 'special source' material in their reports for
fear that the role of the companies as intercept partners would
cause 'high-level political fallout'."
"It's not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this
fight," Snowden told The Guardian. "They [GCHQ] are worse
than the US."
The latest revelations have certainly raised eyebrows in Hong
Kong and China, long accused by US political hacks of waging
"aggressive cyberwarfare" against US defense and financial
On Sunday, the
South China Morning Post disclosed that "US spies are
hacking into Chinese mobile phone companies to steal text
messages and attacking the servers at Tsinghua University,"
according to documents provided to the Post by Edward
The Post revealed that the US is "hacking" computers "at
the Hong Kong headquarters of Pacnet, which owns one of the most
extensive submarine cable networks in the region."
"Pacnet," the Hong Kong newspaper explained, "recently signed
major deals with the mainland's top mobile phone companies, owns
more than 46,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cables. The cables
connect its regional data centres across the Asia-Pacific
region, including Hong Kong, the mainland, Japan, South Korea,
Singapore and Taiwan. It also has offices in the US."
Talk about the (US) pot calling the (Chinese) kettle black!
NSA Data Fed to Main Core Security Index?
As sinister as these programs are, is there another component
which taps "into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called
'black programs' whose existence is undisclosed," as alluded to
The Wall Street Journal five years ago?
In a recent interview with the conservative web site,
The Daily Caller, former NSA technical director and
whistleblower William Binney said while he doesn't think
"they're recording all of it," what they do however, "is take
their target list, which is somewhere on the order of 500,000 to
a million people. They look through these phone numbers and they
target those and that's what they record."
"500,000 to a million people"? Who are they? Foreign citizens,
Americans? If the latter, is Binney's statement confirmation of
reporting by journalists
Christopher Ketchum and
Shorrock about the existence of a secret "Continuity of
Government" database of "suspect" Americans known as Main Core?
"One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are
now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect," Ketchum
reported. "In the event of a national emergency, these people
could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and
tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention."
As we now know, US government intelligence agencies including
the CIA, DHS, the FBI, military outfits such as US Northern
Command and the 70-odd "public-private" fusion centers scattered
across the country have spied on antiwar activists, Ron Paul
supporters, anarchists, socialists, gun rights' proponents and,
as revealed by journalist Beau Hodai in his troubling report,
Dissent or Terror, Occupy Wall Street.
Did all the data secretly scooped up on law-abiding Americans
exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech
wind up in the government's ultra-secret Main Core security
"Another well-informed source--a former military operative
regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community" told
Ketchum: "'The more data you have on a particular target, the
better [the software] can predict what the target will do, where
the target will go, who it will turn to for help,' he says.
'Main Core is the table of contents for all the illegal
information that the U.S. government has [compiled] on specific
targets.' An intelligence expert who has been briefed by
high-level contacts in the Department of Homeland Security
confirms that a database of this sort exists, but adds that 'it
is less a mega-database than a way to search numerous other
agency databases at the same time'."
A few months after Ketchum's report appeared, Shorrock informed
us that during an interview with financial consultant Norman
Bailey, who headed "a special unit within the Office of the
Director of National Intelligence focused on financial
intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela--the NSA has been using its
vast powers with signals intelligence to track financial
transactions around the world since the early 1980s."
"After 9/11," Bailey told Shorrock, NSA signals intelligence
intercept capabilities were "instantly seen within the US
government as a critical tool in the war on terror--and
apparently was deployed by the Bush administration inside the
"In September 2001," Shorrock disclosed, "a contemporary version
of the [Reagan era] Continuity of Government program was put
into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when
Vice President Cheney and senior members of Congress were
dispersed to 'undisclosed locations' to maintain government
"It was during this emergency period," Shorrock wrote, "that
President Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively
using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance."
"If Main Core does exist, says Philip Giraldi, a former CIA
counterterrorism officer and an outspoken critic of the agency,
the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its likely home,"
"'If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a
place where there are no legal issues'--the CIA and FBI would be
restricted by oversight and accountability laws--'so I suspect
it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such
"Giraldi notes that DHS already maintains a central list of
suspected terrorists and has been freely adding people who pose
no reasonable threat to domestic security. 'It's clear that DHS
has the mandate for controlling and owning master lists. The
process is not transparent, and the criteria for getting on the
list are not clear.' Giraldi continues, 'I am certain that the
content of such a master list [as Main Core] would not be
carefully vetted, and there would be many names on it for many
reasons--quite likely, including the two of us'."
While we don't know whether Binney is referring to the NSA
component of Main Core, or some other highly illegal, hitherto
unknown program, his statements seem to confirm Gellman's
reporting in The Washington Post that "spoken words" are
routed "to a system called NUCLEON." Again, without publishing
supporting documentation supplied by Edward Snowden, the picture
is far from clear.
Recent revelations however, building on scandals surrounding the
interception of the sensitive communications of Associated Press
and Fox News reporters, along with President Obama's Nixonian
obsession with stopping "leaks" as part of the administration's
war on whistleblowers, it should be clear by now that the police
state Rubicon has already been crossed.
In 1976, during Senate hearings into earlier government
lawbreaking, Senator Frank Church warned: "The National Security
Agency's capability at any time could be turned around on the
American people, and no American would have any privacy left,
such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone
conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no
place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the NSA could
enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to
"I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge,"
Senator Church cautioned. "I know the capacity that is there to
make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this
agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate
within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never
cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no
What should also be clear, is that the bipartisan consensus
that seeks to criminalize the leak and not the illegality of the
programs exposed, reflects the profound fear in elite Washington
circles of the American people. As opposition to endless war and
austerity continues to percolate below the surface, it is only a
matter of time before the breaking point is reached.
This article was originally published at
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