NSA Spying On Tens Of Millions Of Americans

May 11, 2006

From USA Today:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.

The sources would talk only under a guarantee of anonymity because the NSA program is secret.

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated Monday by President Bush to become the director of the CIA, headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. In that post, Hayden would have overseen the agency's domestic call-tracking program. Hayden declined to comment about the program.

The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database.

In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."

As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.

Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.

Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, declined to discuss the agency's operations. "Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide," he said. "However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law."

The White House would not discuss the domestic call-tracking program. "There is no domestic surveillance without court approval," said Dana Perino, deputy press secretary, referring to actual eavesdropping.

She added that all national intelligence activities undertaken by the federal government "are lawful, necessary and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists." All government-sponsored intelligence activities "are carefully reviewed and monitored," Perino said. She also noted that "all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States."

The government is collecting "external" data on domestic phone calls but is not intercepting "internals," a term for the actual content of the communication, according to a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the program. This kind of data collection from phone companies is not uncommon; it's been done before, though never on this large a scale, the official said. The data are used for "social network analysis," the official said, meaning to study how terrorist networks contact each other and how they are tied together.

Carriers uniquely positioned

AT&T recently merged with SBC and kept the AT&T name. Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T are the nation's three biggest telecommunications companies; they provide local and wireless phone service to more than 200 million customers.

The three carriers control vast networks with the latest communications technologies. They provide an array of services: local and long-distance calling, wireless and high-speed broadband, including video. Their direct access to millions of homes and businesses has them uniquely positioned to help the government keep tabs on the calling habits of Americans.

Among the big telecommunications companies, only Qwest has refused to help the NSA, the sources said. According to multiple sources, Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.

Qwest's refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.

Created by President Truman in 1952, during the Korean War, the NSA is charged with protecting the United States from foreign security threats. The agency was considered so secret that for years the government refused to even confirm its existence. Government insiders used to joke that NSA stood for "No Such Agency."

In 1975, a congressional investigation revealed that the NSA had been intercepting, without warrants, international communications for more than 20 years at the behest of the CIA and other agencies. The spy campaign, code-named "Shamrock," led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was designed to protect Americans from illegal eavesdropping.

Enacted in 1978, FISA lays out procedures that the U.S. government must follow to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches of people believed to be engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States. A special court, which has 11 members, is responsible for adjudicating requests under FISA.

Over the years, NSA code-cracking techniques have continued to improve along with technology. The agency today is considered expert in the practice of "data mining" — sifting through reams of information in search of patterns. Data mining is just one of many tools NSA analysts and mathematicians use to crack codes and track international communications.

Paul Butler, a former U.S. prosecutor who specialized in terrorism crimes, said FISA approval generally isn't necessary for government data-mining operations. "FISA does not prohibit the government from doing data mining," said Butler, now a partner with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C.

The caveat, he said, is that "personal identifiers" — such as names, Social Security numbers and street addresses — can't be included as part of the search. "That requires an additional level of probable cause," he said.

The usefulness of the NSA's domestic phone-call database as a counterterrorism tool is unclear. Also unclear is whether the database has been used for other purposes.

The NSA's domestic program raises legal questions. Historically, AT&T and the regional phone companies have required law enforcement agencies to present a court order before they would even consider turning over a customer's calling data. Part of that owed to the personality of the old Bell Telephone System, out of which those companies grew.

Ma Bell's bedrock principle — protection of the customer — guided the company for decades, said Gene Kimmelman, senior public policy director of Consumers Union. "No court order, no customer information — period. That's how it was for decades," he said.

The concern for the customer was also based on law: Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what routes those calls take to reach their final destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are covered.

The financial penalties for violating Section 222, one of many privacy reinforcements that have been added to the law over the years, can be stiff. The Federal Communications Commission, the nation's top telecommunications regulatory agency, can levy fines of up to $130,000 per day per violation, with a cap of $1.325 million per violation. The FCC has no hard definition of "violation." In practice, that means a single "violation" could cover one customer or 1 million.

In the case of the NSA's international call-tracking program, Bush signed an executive order allowing the NSA to engage in eavesdropping without a warrant. The president and his representatives have since argued that an executive order was sufficient for the agency to proceed. Some civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, disagree.

Companies approached

The NSA's domestic program began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the sources. Right around that time, they said, NSA representatives approached the nation's biggest telecommunications companies. The agency made an urgent pitch: National security is at risk, and we need your help to protect the country from attacks.

The agency told the companies that it wanted them to turn over their "call-detail records," a complete listing of the calling histories of their millions of customers. In addition, the NSA wanted the carriers to provide updates, which would enable the agency to keep tabs on the nation's calling habits.

The sources said the NSA made clear that it was willing to pay for the cooperation. AT&T, which at the time was headed by C. Michael Armstrong, agreed to help the NSA. So did BellSouth, headed by F. Duane Ackerman; SBC, headed by Ed Whitacre; and Verizon, headed by Ivan Seidenberg.

With that, the NSA's domestic program began in earnest.

AT&T, when asked about the program, replied with a comment prepared for USA TODAY: "We do not comment on matters of national security, except to say that we only assist law enforcement and government agencies charged with protecting national security in strict accordance with the law."

In another prepared comment, BellSouth said: "BellSouth does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any governmental agency without proper legal authority."

Verizon, the USA's No. 2 telecommunications company behind AT&T, gave this statement: "We do not comment on national security matters, we act in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers' privacy."

Qwest spokesman Robert Charlton said: "We can't talk about this. It's a classified situation."

In December, The New York Times revealed that Bush had authorized the NSA to wiretap, without warrants, international phone calls and e-mails that travel to or from the USA. The following month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T. The lawsuit accuses the company of helping the NSA spy on U.S. phone customers.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales alluded to that possibility. Appearing at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Gonzales was asked whether he thought the White House has the legal authority to monitor domestic traffic without a warrant. Gonzales' reply: "I wouldn't rule it out." His comment marked the first time a Bush appointee publicly asserted that the White House might have that authority.

Similarities in programs

The domestic and international call-tracking programs have things in common, according to the sources. Both are being conducted without warrants and without the approval of the FISA court. The Bush administration has argued that FISA's procedures are too slow in some cases. Officials, including Gonzales, also make the case that the USA Patriot Act gives them broad authority to protect the safety of the nation's citizens.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., would not confirm the existence of the program. In a statement, he said, "I can say generally, however, that our subcommittee has been fully briefed on all aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. … I remain convinced that the program authorized by the president is lawful and absolutely necessary to protect this nation from future attacks."

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., declined to comment.

One company differs

One major telecommunications company declined to participate in the program: Qwest.

According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest's CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA's assertion that Qwest didn't need a court order — or approval under FISA — to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers' information and how that information might be used.

Financial implications were also a concern, the sources said. Carriers that illegally divulge calling information can be subjected to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines, in the aggregate, could have been substantial.

The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.

The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.

Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.

In June 2002, Nacchio resigned amid allegations that he had misled investors about Qwest's financial health. But Qwest's legal questions about the NSA request remained.

Unable to reach agreement, Nacchio's successor, Richard Notebaert, finally pulled the plug on the NSA talks in late 2004, the sources said.

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CIA Nominee Hayden Linked to MZM

May 9, 2006

From The TPM Muckraker:

While director of the National Security Agency, Gen. Michael V. Hayden contracted the services of a top executive at the company at the center of the Cunningham bribery scandal, according to two former employees of the company.

Hayden, President Bush's pick to replace Porter Goss as head of the CIA, contracted with MZM Inc. for the services of Lt. Gen. James C. King, then a senior vice president of the company, the sources say. MZM was owned and operated by Mitchell Wade, who has admitted to bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham with $1.4 million in money and gifts. Wade has also reportedly told investigators he helped arrange for prostitutes to entertain the disgraced lawmaker, and he continues to cooperate with a federal inquiry into the matter.

King has not been implicated in the growing scandal around Wade's illegal activities. However, federal records show he contributed to some of Wade's favored lawmakers, including $6000 to Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) and $4000 to Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL).

Before joining MZM in December 2001, King served under Hayden as the NSA's associate deputy director for operations, and as head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

King worked at NSA Headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland, in 2004 and 2005, both sources told me. "King was out there working on same floor as Hayden," one former employee with firsthand knowledge of the arrangement said. "He was doing special projects for Hayden as an MZM employee." Neither former employee knew details of King's work for Hayden; one said he thought he was doing "special projects" for the director, while the other speculated it was "high-ranking advisory work."

The NSA did not immediately respond to my request for comment. Hayden left the NSA in April 2005 to take the post of Deputy Director of National Intelligence. The DNI office referred my call on the matter to the NSA.

As an MZM employee, King was involved in a number of controversial projects. In 2002, he was a key adviser to the team creating CIFA, the Pentagon's domestic surveillance operation. In 2004, he was one of three MZM staffers who worked on the White House Robb-Silberman Commission, which recommended expanding CIFA's powers.

NSA is home to its own controversial project, of course — the post-9/11 warrantless domestic wiretapping operation known as the "terrorist surveillance program." There is no indication that King has been involved in that project.

"I don't see anything nefarious" about King's work for Hayden, one employee told me, although he conceded he did not know what projects King worked on. "I think Hayden needed help."

King became president of MZM when Wade left the company in June 2005, following revelations he bribed Cunningham to win lucrative federal contracts. The company has since been sold and renamed Athena Innovative Solutions. It did not return my call for comment.


Bush Nominates Hayden To Head CIA

May 9, 2006

From Yahoo! News:

President Bush on Monday chose Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to lead the embattled CIA, re-igniting a debate over the domestic surveillance program that the one-time head of the National Security Agency once ran.

Republican and Democratic critics also questioned the wisdom of putting a military officer in charge of the civilian spy agency.

“Mike Hayden is supremely qualified for this position,” Bush said in the Oval Office, with Hayden at his side. Without mentioning Hayden’s critics or their objections, the president said: “He knows the intelligence community from the ground up.”

If confirmed, Hayden would replace Porter Goss, who resigned under pressure Friday.

He said that Hayden “has been a provider and consumer of intelligence.”

To balance the CIA between military and civilian leadership, the White House plans to move aside the agency’s No. 2 official, Vice Admiral Albert Calland III, who took over as deputy director less than a year ago, two senior administration officials said. Other personnel changes also are likely, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the changes are not ready to announce.

Talk of Hayden’s nomination rekindled debate over the administration’s domestic surveillance program, which Hayden used to oversee as the former head of the National Security Agency.

“There’s probably no post more important in preserving our security and our values as people than the CIA,” Hayden said.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that to send a signal of independence from the Pentagon, Hayden “may want to consider retiring from the Air Force. That would put to rest questions about whether an active duty military officer should lead the CIA at this time.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said in advance that he would use a Hayden nomination to raise questions about the legality of the domestic surveillance program.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was concerned that Hayden’s nomination would detract from the real issue of intelligence reform.

His sentiment was echoed by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who said Hayden’s military background would be a “major problem,” and by several Democrats.

Bush noted that Hayden was unanimously approved by the Senate for his current job — the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official.

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, who oversees the CIA and 15 other intelligence agencies, dismissed concerns about having an active military officer take over the civilian spy agency.

“Mike has both the breadth and depth of qualifications that are required for the position,” Negroponte said. He called Hayden “a very, very independent-minded person, blunt spoken, who I don’t think will have any difficulty whatsoever staking out positions that are independent and responsive to the needs of our civilian intelligence community.”

Many of Goss’ top aides were expected to soon leave the CIA. Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo has decided to retire, said an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet public.

The FBI is investigating whether Foggo’s friend, defense contractor Brent Wilkes, provided prostitutes and hotel suites to a California congressman jailed for taking bribes in exchange for government contracts. Foggo is also under investigation by the CIA’s inspector general.

Bracing for a tough nomination fight, the White House took the unusual step of pre-empting Bush’s announcement with a defensive media blitz. “We think the issue is getting the best man for the job and the president has determined that Mike Hayden is the best man for the job,” national security adviser Stephen Hadley told The Associated Press. He also appeared on morning news shows before Bush formally announced his nomination of Hayden.

“He’ll be reporting to the president of the United States, not Don Rumsfeld,” the secretary of defense, Hadley said, adding that other military officers have led the CIA, Hadley said. “So the precedents are clear.”

White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Hayden would be the fifth CIA chief in uniform. “He has been viewed as a non-comformist and an independent thinker,” Bartlett said.

Hadley said that any nominee to lead the CIA would face questions about the controversial domestic surveillance program by the National Security Agency and that Hayden, the former director of the agency, was the best man to answer those questions.

If Hayden were confirmed, military officers would run all the major spy agencies, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency.


Porter Goss, Criminal?

May 7, 2006

From Sploid:

Porter Goss: Fall of an American Criminal

The shameful resignation of CIA director Porter Goss is just the latest outrage for the monstrous spook who has cheapened and dirtied the United States for a half-century.

There is so much blood on Goss' hands and so many skeletons in his closets that it's impossible to guess what particular crime finally ended his odious career. But the growing "Hookergate" scandal connected to convicted criminal Duke Cunningham and CIA executive director Dusty Foggo may have finally wrapped its whorish tentacles around Goss' neck.

"Something happened," neo-conservative magazine editor William Kristol said on Fox News this afternoon. "It's going to be a bad few days. We're going to discover something … It will be something not good for the Bush Administration."

Fox News actually got a phone call from a "top White House official" during Kristol's damning comments, and Kristol was cut off so Bush mouthpiece Chris Wallace could say the Goss resignation is just a harmless part of the "White House shakeup." Sure.

If Hookergate is what ended Goss' long and terrible life of crime, it will once again prove that it's always some trivial little crime that brings down the evil ones.

His brief tenure as CIA director will be remembered for many crimes, but the most disgusting was his blunt refusal to investigate the pre-9/11 crimes of his agency.

His boss, the odious career criminal John Negroponte, fully backed Goss on this latest refusal to hold anyone in Washington accountable for the murder of 3,000 Americans or the wars launched in their name.

A life of crime

Porter Goss began his career as a spook at Yale, where he was member of "Book & Snake," a secret society dating back to 1863. (Former defense chief Les Aspin Jr. and White House storyteller Bob Woodward are also members of this bizarre club, said to be more secretive than Skull & Bones, which infamously produced the Bushes and John Kerry.)

Goss has been directly involved with almost every atrocity committed by the American government since the late 1950s. From the Bay of Pigs to the Death Squads of Central America, Goss was always on the job. His fingerprints can even be found on the JFK assassination coverup. Someone tried to kill him in London back in 1970, but the poison wasn't strong enough or maybe it just doesn't work on his kind.

He "retired" to Florida — specifically, to a colony of CIA agents in Sanibel, Florida. It was here that Goss would launch his "political" career in the 1970s and cement his partnership with Democrat Bob Graham. Goss represented this congressional district — Florida's 14th — for 16 years, in which the multimillionaire Republican did little more than shovel money to the CIA and other intelligence operations.

Oddly enough, in this same 20-mile stretch of Florida gulf coast, most of the named 9/11 hijackers settled (including, notoriously, Mohammed Atta in Naples). Odder still, Atta and his buddies supposedly trained to be pilots at shady CIA-financed pilot schools involved in the usual clandestine activities of money laundering and drug running. All the files and records from those flight schools were loaded onto a military cargo plane in the middle of the night of Sept. 12, 2001 — with Jeb Bush aboard, of all people — and flown to Washington, where they disappeared. So who really knows?!

All mathematical odds collapse in the presence of Porter Goss. He was in Pakistan weeks before the 9/11 attacks, planning a U.S. war in Afghanistan with Pakistani ISI chief Mahmoud Ahmad — the same Ahmad who directly funded the Taliban and worked directly with Osama bin Laden.

On the morning of the attacks, the Republican congressman and "former" CIA agent and lifelong Florida politician Bob Graham enjoyed breakfast with the same Mahmoud Ahmad, who was conveniently in Washington for high-level meetings on that infamous day.

It was Ahmad who arranged the transfer of $100,000 to alleged hijacker Mohammed Atta. This transfer was arranged in a top-secret conference room in the U.S. Capitol. The money passed through none other than Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the Pakistani intelligence agent and British "terrorist" and Afghanistan terror-camp administrator who reportedly killed Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. (The WSJ was the only major U.S. news organization pursuing the Ahmed-Sheikh-Atta connections, and Pearl was working on that very story when he was set up and kidnapped in Pakistan.)

Curiously enough, there is not a single mention of Goss and Graham's breakfast with Ahmad in the 868-page investigation chaired by … Goss and Graham.

And while Goss was fiercely against any investigation into the 9/11 attacks, once the investigation was in danger of becoming a reality, the lifelong spy Goss conveniently became the co-chairman of the Joint 9/11 Intelligence Inquiry … with none other than Bob Graham.

As busy as he was in the days before and after Sept. 11, 2001, he again showed remarkable personal strength by sponsoring the Patriot Act, a massive pile of new laws to strip Americans of civil and financial rights. This amazing collection of detailed new laws to return American intelligence to its pre-Watergate levels of domestic abuses was ready for Congress so quickly that a few have even suggested the entire thing was prepared in advance of the Sept. 11 attacks.

After finding no fault with the CIA, White House, Pentagon or any other intelligence agency, Goss must have been surprised when he was made the new CIA boss after the retirement of George Tenet — who did such a good job that the president gave him a medal!


CIA Chief Porter Goss Resigns

May 5, 2006

From Yahoo! News:

CIA Director Porter Goss resigned unexpectedly Friday, leaving behind a spy agency still struggling to recover from the scars of intelligence failures before America's worst terrorist attack and faulty information that formed the U.S. rationale for invading Iraq.

It was the latest move in a second-term shake-up of President Bush's team.

Making the announcement from the Oval Office, Bush called Goss' tenure one of transition.

"He has led ably," Bush said, Goss at his side. "He has a five-year plan to increase the analysts and operatives."

The president did not name a successor.

The former congressman from Florida, head of the House Intelligence Committee and CIA agent had been at the helm of the agency only since September 2004.

He came under fire almost immediately, in part because he brought with him several top aides from Congress who were considered highly political for the CIA.

He had particularly poor relations with segments of the agency's powerful clandestine service. In a bleak assessment, California Rep. Jane Harman (news, bio, voting record), the Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, recently said, "The CIA is in a free fall," noting that employees with a combined 300 years of experience have left or been pushed out.

The realignment of Bush's team amid the president's sagging poll standings started with the resignation of Andrew Card as chief of staff and his replacement by Joshua Bolten, who had been the budget director.

There has been rampant speculation that Treasury Secretary John Snow would be leaving.