Bush Administration Planted Fake News Stories In Media (Again)

May 31, 2006

From The Independent:

Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products.

Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking information about stations across the country after a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.

The report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77 television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who had produced the items.

"We know we only had partial access to these VNRs and yet we found 77 stations using them," said Diana Farsetta, one of the group's researchers. "I would say it's pretty extraordinary. The picture we found was much worse than we expected going into the investigation in terms of just how widely these get played and how frequently these pre-packaged segments are put on the air."

Ms Farsetta said the public relations companies commissioned to produce these segments by corporations had become increasingly sophisticated in their techniques in order to get the VNRs broadcast. "They have got very good at mimicking what a real, independently produced television report would look like," she said.

The FCC has declined to comment on the investigation but investigators from the commission's enforcement unit recently approached Ms Farsetta for a copy of her group's report.

The range of VNR is wide. Among items provided by the Bush administration to news stations was one in which an Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying "Thank you Bush. Thank you USA" in response to the 2003 fall of Baghdad. The footage was actually produced by the State Department, one of 20 federal agencies that have produced and distributed such items.

Many of the corporate reports, produced by drugs manufacturers such as Pfizer, focus on health issues and promote the manufacturer's product. One example cited by the report was a Hallowe'en segment produced by the confectionery giant Mars, which featured Snickers, M&Ms and other company brands. While the original VNR disclosed that it was produced by Mars, such information was removed when it was broadcast by the television channel – in this case a Fox-owned station in St Louis, Missouri.

Bloomberg news service said that other companies that sponsored the promotions included General Motors, the world's largest car maker, and Intel, the biggest maker of semi-conductors. All of the companies said they included full disclosure of their involvement in the VNRs. "We in no way attempt to hide that we are providing the video," said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel. "In fact, we bend over backward to make this disclosure."

The FCC was urged to act by a lobbying campaign organised by Free Press, another non-profit group that focuses on media policy. Spokesman Craig Aaron said more than 25,000 people had written to the FCC about the VNRs. "Essentially it's corporate advertising or propaganda masquerading as news," he said. "The public obviously expects their news reports are going to be based on real reporting and real information. If they are watching an advertisement for a company or a government policy, they need to be told."

The controversy over the use of VNRs by television stations first erupted last spring. At the time the FCC issued a public notice warning broadcasters that they were obliged to inform viewers if items were sponsored. The maximum fine for each violation is $32,500 (£17,500).


FCC Won’t Investigate NSA

May 24, 2006

FCC Chariman Kevin Martin announced today that the FCC was incapable of investigating the telecommunications companies who gave their customer's records to the NSA.  Congressman Markey, who is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet had requested Martin open an investigation.

 Martin writes to Mackey: 

"In this case, however, the classified nature of the NSA's activities makes us unable to investigate the alleged violations discussed in your letter at this time," writes Martin. "The representations of [Director of National Intelligence John] Negroponte and [National Security Agency Director] General Alexander make clear that it would not be possible for us to investigate the activities described in your letter without examining highly sensitive classified information."

"The Commission has no power to order the production of classified information."

In his response, Markey chastised the FCC for "refus[ing] to demand answers."

"We can't have a situation where the FCC, charged with enforcing the law, won't even begin an investigation of apparent violations of the law because it predicts the Administration will roadblock any investigations citing national security," Markey remarked. "If the FCC initiates an investigation and gets blocked by the White House, then the White House is stonewalling. But if the FCC refuses to even demand answers, then the White House never has to block the enforcement agency from getting to the bottom of this. The American people deserve answers." 

Official notification is posted here.


AT&T Whistle-Blower’s Evidence

May 19, 2006

From Wired News:

Former AT&T technician Mark Klein is the key witness in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class-action lawsuit against the company, which alleges that AT&T illegally cooperated in an illegal National Security Agency domestic-surveillance program.

In this recently surfaced statement, Klein details his discovery of an alleged surveillance operation in an AT&T office in San Francisco, and offers his interpretation of company documents that he believes support his case.
For its part, AT&T is asking a federal judge to keep those documents out of court, and to order the EFF to return them to the company. Here Wired News presents Klein's statement in its entirety, along with select pages from the AT&T documents.

AT&T's Implementation of NSA Spying on American Citizens

31 December 2005

I wrote the following document in 2004 when it became clear to me that AT&T, at the behest of the National Security Agency, had illegally installed secret computer gear designed to spy on internet traffic. At the time I thought this was an outgrowth of the notorious Total Information Awareness program which was attacked by defenders of civil liberties. But now it's been revealed by The New York Times that the spying program is vastly bigger and was directly authorized by President Bush, as he himself has now admitted, in flagrant violation of specific statutes and constitutional protections for civil liberties. I am presenting this information to facilitate the dismantling of this dangerous Orwellian project.
AT&T Deploys Government Spy Gear on WorldNet Network

— 16 January, 2004

In 2003 AT&T built "secret rooms" hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company's popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing. Documents showing the hardwire installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities.

The physical arrangement, the timing of its construction, the government-imposed secrecy surrounding it, and other factors all strongly suggest that its origins are rooted in the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program which brought forth vigorous protests from defenders of constitutionally protected civil liberties last year:

"As the director of the effort, Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, has described the system in Pentagon documents and in speeches, it will provide intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials with instant access to information from internet mail and calling records to credit card and banking transactions and travel documents, without a search warrant." The New York Times, 9 November 2002

To mollify critics, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) spokesmen have repeatedly asserted that they are only conducting "research" using "artificial synthetic data" or information from "normal DOD intelligence channels" and hence there are "no U.S. citizen privacy implications" (Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General report on TIA, December 12, 2003). They also changed the name of the program to "Terrorism Information Awareness" to make it more politically palatable. But feeling the heat, Congress made a big show of allegedly cutting off funding for TIA in late 2003, and the political fallout resulted in Adm. Poindexter's abrupt resignation last August. However, the fine print reveals that Congress eliminated funding only for "the majority of the TIA components," allowing several "components" to continue (DOD, ibid). The essential hardware elements of a TIA-type spy program are being surreptitiously slipped into "real world" telecommunications offices.

In San Francisco the "secret room" is Room 641A at 611 Folsom Street, the site of a large SBC phone building, three floors of which are occupied by AT&T. High-speed fiber-optic circuits come in on the 8th floor and run down to the 7th floor where they connect to routers for AT&T's WorldNet service, part of the latter's vital "Common Backbone." In order to snoop on these circuits, a special cabinet was installed and cabled to the "secret room" on the 6th floor to monitor the information going through the circuits. (The location code of the cabinet is 070177.04, which denotes the 7th floor, aisle 177 and bay 04.) The "secret room" itself is roughly 24-by-48 feet, containing perhaps a dozen cabinets including such equipment as Sun servers and two Juniper routers, plus an industrial-size air conditioner.

The normal work force of unionized technicians in the office are forbidden to enter the "secret room," which has a special combination lock on the main door. The telltale sign of an illicit government spy operation is the fact that only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter this room. In practice this has meant that only one management-level technician works in there. Ironically, the one who set up the room was laid off in late 2003 in one of the company's endless "downsizings," but he was quickly replaced by another.

Plans for the "secret room" were fully drawn up by December 2002, curiously only four months after Darpa started awarding contracts for TIA. One 60-page document, identified as coming from "AT&T Labs Connectivity & Net Services" and authored by the labs' consultant Mathew F. Casamassima, is titled Study Group 3, LGX/Splitter Wiring, San Francisco and dated 12/10/02. (See sample PDF 1-4.) This document addresses the special problem of trying to spy on fiber-optic circuits. Unlike copper wire circuits which emit electromagnetic fields that can be tapped into without disturbing the circuits, fiber-optic circuits do not "leak" their light signals. In order to monitor such communications, one has to physically cut into the fiber somehow and divert a portion of the light signal to see the information.

This problem is solved with "splitters" which literally split off a percentage of the light signal so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet referred to above: Circuits are connected into it, the light signal is split into two signals, one of which is diverted to the "secret room." The cabinet is totally unnecessary for the circuit to perform — in fact it introduces problems since the signal level is reduced by the splitter — its only purpose is to enable a third party to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the internet.

The above-referenced document includes a diagram (PDF 3) showing the splitting of the light signal, a portion of which is diverted to "SG3 Secure Room," i.e., the so-called "Study Group" spy room. Another page headlined "Cabinet Naming" (PDF 2) lists not only the "splitter" cabinet but also the equipment installed in the "SG3" room, including various Sun devices, and Juniper M40e and M160 "backbone" routers. PDF file 4 shows one of many tables detailing the connections between the "splitter" cabinet on the 7th floor (location 070177.04) and a cabinet in the "secret room" on the 6th floor (location 060903.01). Since the San Francisco "secret room" is numbered 3, the implication is that there are at least several more in other cities (Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego are some of the rumored locations), which likely are spread across the United States.

One of the devices in the "Cabinet Naming" list is particularly revealing as to the purpose of the "secret room": a Narus STA 6400. Narus is a 7-year-old company which, because of its particular niche, appeals not only to businessmen (it is backed by AT&T, JP Morgan and Intel, among others) but also to police, military and intelligence officials. Last November 13-14, for instance, Narus was the "Lead Sponsor" for a technical conference held in McLean, Virginia, titled "Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception and Internet Surveillance." Police officials, FBI and DEA agents, and major telecommunications companies eager to cash in on the "war on terror" had gathered in the hometown of the CIA to discuss their special problems. Among the attendees were AT&T, BellSouth, MCI, Sprint and Verizon. Narus founder, Dr. Ori Cohen, gave a keynote speech. So what does the Narus STA 6400 do?

"The (Narus) STA Platform consists of stand-alone traffic analyzers that collect network and customer usage information in real time directly from the message…. These analyzers sit on the message pipe into the ISP (internet service provider) cloud rather than tap into each router or ISP device" (Telecommunications magazine, April 2000). A Narus press release (1 Dec., 1999) also boasts that its Semantic Traffic Analysis (STA) technology "captures comprehensive customer usage data … and transforms it into actionable information…. (It) is the only technology that provides complete visibility for all internet applications."

To implement this scheme, WorldNet's high-speed data circuits already in service had to be rerouted to go through the special "splitter" cabinet. This was addressed in another document of 44 pages from AT&T Labs, titled "SIMS, Splitter Cut-In and Test Procedure," dated 01/13/03 (PDF 5-6). "SIMS" is an unexplained reference to the secret room. Part of this reads as follows:

"A WMS (work) Ticket will be issued by the AT&T Bridgeton Network Operation Center (NOC) to charge time for performing the work described in this procedure document….
"This procedure covers the steps required to insert optical splitters into select live Common Backbone (CBB) OC3, OC12 and OC48 optical circuits."

The NOC referred to is in Bridgeton, Missouri, and controls WorldNet operations. (As a sign that government spying goes hand-in-hand with union-busting, the entire (Communication Workers of America) Local 6377 which had jurisdiction over the Bridgeton NOC was wiped out in early 2002 when AT&T fired the union work force and later rehired them as nonunion "management" employees.) The cut-in work was performed in 2003, and since then new circuits are connected through the "splitter" cabinet.

Another "Cut-In and Test Procedure" document dated January 24, 2003, provides diagrams of how AT&T Core Network circuits were to be run through the "splitter" cabinet (PDF 7). One page lists the circuit IDs of key Peering Links which were "cut-in" in February 2003 (PDF 8), including ConXion, Verio, XO, Genuity, Qwest, PAIX, Allegiance, AboveNet, Global Crossing, C&W, UUNET, Level 3, Sprint, Telia, PSINet and Mae West. By the way, Mae West is one of two key internet nodal points in the United States (the other, Mae East, is in Vienna, Virginia). It's not just WorldNet customers who are being spied on — it's the entire internet.

The next logical question is, what central command is collecting the data sent by the various "secret rooms"? One can only make educated guesses, but perhaps the answer was inadvertently given in the DOD Inspector General's report (cited above):

"For testing TIA capabilities, Darpa and the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) created an operational research and development environment that uses real-time feedback. The main node of TIA is located at INSCOM (in Fort Belvoir, Virginia)…."

Among the agencies participating or planning to participate in the INSCOM "testing" are the "National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the DOD Counterintelligence Field Activity, the U.S. Strategic Command, the Special Operations Command, the Joint Forces Command and the Joint Warfare Analysis Center." There are also "discussions" going on to bring in "non-DOD federal agencies" such as the FBI.

This is the infrastructure for an Orwellian police state. It must be shut down!


More On Narsus

May 18, 2006

From Wired News:

The equipment that technician Mark Klein learned was installed in the National Security Agency's "secret room" inside AT&T's San Francisco switching office isn't some sinister Big Brother box designed solely to help governments eavesdrop on citizens' internet communications.

Rather, it's a powerful commercial network-analysis product with all sorts of valuable uses for network operators. It just happens to be capable of doing things that make it one of the best internet spy tools around.

"Anything that comes through (an internet protocol network), we can record," says Steve Bannerman, marketing vice president of Narus, a Mountain View, California, company. "We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their (voice over internet protocol) calls."

Narus' product, the Semantic Traffic Analyzer, is a software application that runs on standard IBM or Dell servers using the Linux operating system. It's renowned within certain circles for its ability to inspect traffic in real time on high-bandwidth pipes, identifying packets of interest as they race by at up to 10 Gbps.

Internet companies can install the analyzers at every entrance and exit point of their networks, at their "cores" or centers, or both. The analyzers communicate with centralized "logic servers" running specialized applications. The combination can keep track of, analyze and record nearly every form of internet communication, whether e-mail, instant message, video streams or VOIP phone calls that cross the network.

Brasil Telecom and several other Brazilian phone companies are using Narus products to charge each other for VOIP calls they send over one another's IP networks. Internet companies in China and the Middle East use them to block VOIP calls altogether.

But even before the product's alleged role in the NSA's operations emerged, its potential as a surveillance tool was not lost on corporate America.

In December, VeriSign, also of Mountain View, chose Narus' product as the backbone of its lawful-intercept-outsourcing service, which helps network operators comply with court-authorized surveillance orders from law enforcement agencies. A special Narus lawful-intercept application does this spying with ease, sorting through torrents of IP traffic to pick out specific messages based on a targeted e-mail address, IP address or, in the case of VOIP, phone number.

"We needed their fast packet-detection and inspection capability," says VeriSign Vice President Raj Puri. "They do it with specialized software that can isolate packets for a specific target."

Narus has little control over how its products are used after they're sold. For example, although its lawful-intercept application has a sophisticated system for making sure the surveillance complies with the terms of a warrant, it's up to the operator whether to type those terms into the system, says Bannerman.

That legal eavesdropping application was launched in February 2005, well after whistle-blower Klein allegedly learned that AT&T was installing Narus boxes in secure, NSA-controlled rooms in switching centers around the country. But that doesn't mean the government couldn't write its own code to do the dirty work. Narus even offers software-development kits to customers.

"Our product is designed to comply (with) all of the laws in all of the countries we ship to," says Bannerman. "Many of our customers have built their own applications. We have no idea what they do."


FCC Commissioner Call For Inquiry Into NSA Wiretapping

May 16, 2006

From The FCC Website:

COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS CALLS FOR THE FCC TO OPEN AN INQUIRY INTO THE LAWFULNESS OF THE DISCLOSURE OF AMERICA’S PHONE RECORDS
 
Washington, D.C.—Reacting to recent news reports that the nation’s largest telecommunications carriers provided the government with customers’ calling records, Commissioner Michael J. Copps stated:

“Recent news reports suggest that some – but interestingly not all – of the nation’s largest telephone companies have provided the government with their customers’ calling records. There is no doubt that protecting the security of the American people is our government’s number one responsibility.  But in a Digital Age where collecting, distributing, and manipulating consumers’ personal information is as easy as a click of a button, the privacy of our citizens must still matter.  To get to the bottom of this situation, the FCC should initiate an inquiry into whether the phone companies’ involvement violated Section 222 or any other provisions of the Communications Act. We need to be certain that the companies over which the FCC has public interest oversight have not gone – or been asked to go – to a place where they should not be. ”


BellSouth Denies Giving Records To NSA

May 16, 2006

Senators Frist and Lott apparently believe that if you "aren't doing anything wrong" you should not be worried about being illegally wiretapped.  So much for preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution.  I wonder of they think only guilty people "pleed the fifth"?  Perhaps they shuld both enroll in a remedial constitutional law class?

–DS

From CNN:

Despite media reports to the contrary, BellSouth said late Monday it had not participated in any effort by the National Security Agency to collect customer phone records.

"We have provided no customer information whatsoever to the NSA," said BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher.

In a statement released Monday, Atlanta-based BellSouth said it had conducted an internal review after reports surfaced last week that the company and two other telecommunications firms, Verizon and AT&T, had provided information to the NSA.

"Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract [with the NSA] exists, and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA," the statement said.

The newspaper USA Today reported Thursday the companies had provided the NSA with records of billions of domestic phone calls since shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

According to the report, the NSA does not record or listen to the conversations, but uses data about the calls — numbers, times and locations — to look for patterns that might suggest terrorist activity. (Full story)

Bush: Privacy 'fiercely protected'

In the wake of the report, President Bush and other administration officials neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a program.

But Bush insisted that NSA intelligence activities are lawful and target only suspected al Qaeda operatives.

"The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," he said Thursday. "The privacy of ordinary Americans is being fiercely protected."

Verizon and AT&T each issued statements saying they could neither confirm nor deny they had given customer records to the NSA.

Both companies insisted, however, that data would have been provided only with safeguards to protect customers' privacy.

According to the USA Today report, Qwest, a Denver, Colorado-based telecommunications company, refused to cooperate with the program.

In March, San Antonio, Texas-based AT&T announced it would acquire BellSouth in a $67 billion deal that will create the nation's biggest phone company.

Calls for hearings

Lawmakers from both parties said the USA Today report raised new questions about the extent of the administration's surveillance efforts.

Some warned it could complicate Bush's nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden, a former NSA director, to replace Porter Goss as head of the CIA.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would call phone company executives to testify about their involvement.

Specter has complained the administration has been reluctant to provide details of the previously known surveillance program since its disclosure in December.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, told reporters he "strongly" agrees with Bush and said, "We'll discuss whether hearings are necessary." Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi said Specter should back off his call for hearings.

"What are people worried about? What is the problem?" asked Lott, a former majority leader. "Are you doing something you're not supposed to?"

Hayden, now deputy national intelligence director, faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee for the CIA post on Thursday.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, said Thursday's disclosure presented "a growing impediment" to his nomination.

"I happen to believe we are on our way to a major constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure," said Feinstein, who had expressed no reservations about Hayden earlier this week.

White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration would continue to push Hayden's nomination "full steam ahead."

"All I would want to say is that everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done, and that the appropriate members of Congress, the House and Senate, are briefed on all NSA activities," Hayden said last week.


Feds Tracking ABC Reporters Phone Calls

May 16, 2006

From The Blotter at ABC News:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

One former official was asked to sign a document stating he was not a confidential source for New York Times reporter James Risen.

Our reports on the CIA's secret prisons in Romania and Poland were known to have upset CIA officials. The CIA asked for an FBI investigation of leaks of classified information following those reports.

People questioned by the FBI about leaks of intelligence information say the CIA was also disturbed by ABC News reports that revealed the use of CIA predator missiles inside Pakistan.

Under Bush Administration guidelines, it is not considered illegal for the government to keep track of numbers dialed by phone customers.

The official who warned ABC News said there was no indication our phones were being tapped so the content of the conversation could be recorded.

A pattern of phone calls from a reporter, however, could provide valuable clues for leak investigators.