NSA Whistleblower To Testify Before Senate

May 14, 2006

NSA Whistleblower To Expose More Unlawful Activity: ‘People…Are Going To Be Shocked’

CongressDaily reports that former NSA staffer Russell Tice will testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee next week that not only do employees at the agency believe the activities they are being asked to perform are unlawful, but that what has been disclosed so far is only the tip of the iceberg. Tice will tell Congress that former NSA head Gen. Michael Hayden, Bush’s nominee to be the next CIA director, oversaw more illegal activity that has yet to be disclosed:

A former intelligence officer for the National Security Agency said Thursday he plans to tell Senate staffers next week that unlawful activity occurred at the agency under the supervision of Gen. Michael Hayden beyond what has been publicly reported, while hinting that it might have involved the illegal use of space-based satellites and systems to spy on U.S. citizens. …

[Tice] said he plans to tell the committee staffers the NSA conducted illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. citizens while he was there with the knowledge of Hayden. … “I think the people I talk to next week are going to be shocked when I tell them what I have to tell them. It’s pretty hard to believe,” Tice said. “I hope that they’ll clean up the abuses and have some oversight into these programs, which doesn’t exist right now.” …

Tice said his information is different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program that Bush acknowledged in December and from news accounts this week that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of millions of Americans. “It’s an angle that you haven’t heard about yet,” he said. … He would not discuss with a reporter the details of his allegations, saying doing so would compromise classified information and put him at risk of going to jail. He said he “will not confirm or deny” if his allegations involve the illegal use of space systems and satellites.

Tice has a history for blowing the whistle on serious misconduct. He was one of the sources that revealed the administration’s warrantless domestic spying program to the New York Times.


Telecom Giants Face Billions In Suits

May 14, 2006

From The NY Times:

The former chief executive of Qwest, the nation's fourth-largest phone company, rebuffed government requests for the company's calling records after 9/11 because of "a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process," his lawyer said yesterday.

The statement on behalf of the former Qwest executive, Joseph P. Nacchio, followed a report that the other big phone companies — AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon — had complied with an effort by the National Security Agency to build a vast database of calling records, without warrants, to increase its surveillance capabilities after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Those companies insisted yesterday that they were vigilant about their customers' privacy, but did not directly address their cooperation with the government effort, which was reported on Thursday by USA Today. Verizon said that it provided customer information to a government agency "only where authorized by law for appropriately defined and focused purposes," but that it could not comment on any relationship with a national security program that was "highly classified."

Legal experts said the companies faced the prospect of lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages over cooperation in the program, citing communications privacy legislation stretching back to the 1930's. A federal lawsuit was filed in Manhattan yesterday seeking as much as $50 billion in civil damages against Verizon on behalf of its subscribers.

For a second day, there was political fallout on Capitol Hill, where Senate Democrats intend to use next week's confirmation hearings for a new C.I.A. director to press the Bush administration on its broad surveillance programs.

As senior lawmakers in Washington vowed to examine the phone database operation and possibly issue subpoenas to the telephone companies, executives at some of the companies said they would comply with requests to appear on Capitol Hill but stopped short of describing how much would be disclosed, at least in public sessions.

"If Congress asks us to appear, we will appear," said Selim Bingol, a spokesman at AT&T. "We will act within the laws and rules that apply."

Qwest was apparently alone among the four major telephone companies to have resisted the requests to cooperate with the government effort. A statement issued on behalf of Mr. Nacchio yesterday by his lawyer, Herbert J. Stern, said that after the government's first approach in the fall of 2001, "Mr. Nacchio made inquiry as to whether a warrant or other legal process had been secured in support of that request."

"When he learned that no such authority had been granted, and that there was a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process," Mr. Nacchio concluded that the requests violated federal privacy requirements "and issued instructions to refuse to comply."

The statement said the requests continued until Mr. Nacchio left in June 2002. His departure came amid accusations of fraud at the company, and he now faces federal charges of insider trading.

The database reportedly assembled by the security agency from calling records has dozens of fields of information, including called and calling numbers and the duration of calls, but nothing related to the substance of the calls. But it could permit what intelligence analysts and commercial data miners refer to as "link analysis," a statistical technique for investigators to identify calling patterns in a seemingly impenetrable mountain of digital data.

The law governing the release of phone company data has been modified repeatedly to grapple with changing computer and communications technologies that have increasingly bedeviled law enforcement agencies. The laws include the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, and a variety of provisions of the Electronic Communications and Privacy Act, including the Stored Communications Act, passed in 1986.

Wiretapping — actually listening to phone calls — has been tightly regulated by these laws. But in general, the laws have set a lower legal standard required by the government to obtain what has traditionally been called pen register or trap-and-trace information — calling records obtained when intelligence and police agencies attached a specialized device to subscribers' telephone lines.

Those restrictions still hold, said a range of legal scholars, in the face of new computer databases with decades' worth of calling records. AT&T created such technology during the 1990's for use in fraud detection and has previously made such information available to law enforcement with proper warrants.

Orin Kerr, a former federal prosecutor and assistant professor at George Washington University, said his reading of the relevant statutes put the phone companies at risk for at least $1,000 per person whose records they disclosed without a court order.

"This is not a happy day for the general counsels" of the phone companies, he said. "If you have a class action involving 10 million Americans, that's 10 million times $1,000 — that's 10 billion."

The New Jersey lawyers who filed the federal suit against Verizon in Manhattan yesterday, Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, said they would consider filing suits against BellSouth and AT&T in other jurisdictions.

"This is almost certainly the largest single intrusion into American civil liberties ever committed by any U.S. administration," Mr. Afran said. "Americans expect their phone records to be private. That's our bedrock governing principle of our phone system." In addition to damages, the suit seeks an injunction against the security agency to stop the collection of phone numbers.

Several legal experts cited ambiguities in the laws that may be used by the government and the phone companies to defend the National Security Agency program.

"There's a loophole," said Mark Rasch, the former head of computer-crime investigations for the Justice Department and now the senior vice president of Solutionary, a computer security company. "Records of phones that have called each other without identifying information are not covered by any of these laws."

Civil liberties lawyers were quick to dispute that claim.

"This is an incredible red herring," said Kevin Bankston, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy rights group that has sued AT&T over its cooperation with the government, including access to calling records. "There is no legal process that contemplates getting entire databases of data."

The group sued AT&T in late January, contending that the company was violating the law by giving the government access to its customer call record data and permitting the agency to tap its Internet network. The suit followed reports in The New York Times in December that telecommunications companies had cooperated with such government requests without warrants.

A number of industry executives pointed to the national climate in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to explain why phone companies might have risked legal entanglement in cooperating with the requests for data without warrants.

An AT&T spokesman said yesterday that the company had gotten some calls and e-mail messages about the news reports, but characterized the volume as "not heavy" and said there were responses on both sides of the issue.

Reaction around the country also appeared to be divided.

Cathy Reed, 45, a wealth manager from Austin, Tex., who was visiting Boston, said she did not see a problem with the government's reviewing call logs. "I really don't think it matters," she said. "I bet every credit card company already has them."

Others responded critically. Pat Randall, 63, a receptionist at an Atlanta high-rise, said, "Our phone conversations are just personal, and to me, the phone companies that cooperated, I think we should move our phone services to the company that did not cooperate."

While the telephone companies have both business contracts and regulatory issues before the federal government, executives in the industry yesterday dismissed the notion that they felt pressure to take part in any surveillance programs. The small group of executives with the security clearance necessary to deal with the government on such matters, they said, are separate from the regulatory and government contracting divisions of the companies.


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.


Inman Blasts NSA Wire Tapping

May 11, 2006

From Wired News:

Former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman lashed out at the Bush administration Monday night over its continued use of warrantless domestic wiretaps, making him one of the highest-ranking former intelligence officials to criticize the program in public, analysts say.

"This activity is not authorized," Inman said, as part of a panel discussion on eavesdropping that was sponsored by The New York Public Library. The Bush administration "need(s) to get away from the idea that they can continue doing it."

Since the NSA eavesdropping program was unveiled in December, Inman — like other senior members of the intelligence community — has been measured in the public statements he's made about the agency he headed under President Jimmy Carter. He maintained that his former colleagues "only act in accordance with law." When asked whether the president had the legal authority to order the surveillance, Inman replied in December, "Someone else would have to give you the good answer."

But sitting in a brightly lit basement auditorium at the library next to James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the surveillance story, Inman's tone changed. He called on the president to "walk into the modern world" and change the law governing the wiretaps — or abandon the program altogether.

"The program has drawn a lot of criticism, but thus far former military and intelligence officials have not spoken up. To have Adm. Inman — the former head of the NSA — (come) forward with this critique is significant," said Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Chatter: Dispatches From the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping, who sat on the panel with Inman and Risen. "Because of the secrecy surrounding this type of activity, much of the criticism has come from outsiders who don't have a firm grasp of the mechanics and the utility of electronic intelligence. Inman knows whereof he speaks."

In 1978, Inman helped spearhead the effort to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which makes it illegal to eavesdrop on American citizens without court approval. Inman said he wouldn't have a problem sidestepping that law — as a "limited response to an emergency situation," like the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But nearly five years since those strikes, the NSA is continuing to track phone calls and e-mails without warrants.

Inman didn't contest the Bush administration's claim that the FISA courts can't keep up with the NSA's new breed of surveillance. "My problem is not going to Congress to revise the statute to deal with the problems I didn't think of in '78," Inman said. "We can do what the country needs and work within the law."

Inman put the White House's reluctance to change the surveillance regulations squarely on the shoulders of Vice President Dick Cheney. He noted that Cheney formerly served as chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, who was in power before the FISA restrictions were put in place. Cheney never really agreed with the controls, Inman asserted. "The ultimate test," the retired admiral added, will be whether President Bush "walks away from the vice president on this."

Despite his critical remarks, Inman was supportive of Gen. Michael Hayden, who initiated the controversial wiretap program as NSA director. Hayden was nominated Monday by Bush to take over the troubled CIA, which has been pounded by critics for a string of intelligence failures. Hayden "proved over time to be someone who could transform an organization" geared to deal with Cold War demands, changing it into one that could handle the new challenges of counterterrorism.

Inman also brushed aside criticism that Hayden, as a military man, might be subservient to the secretary of defense. "(Donald) Rumsfeld can't abide him," he said.

But Inman, who also served as the CIA's deputy director during the Reagan administration, said that he was surprised that Hayden would take the new job.

"It's an impossible task," he said. A decade ago, Inman noted, he became "persuaded … that (the CIA) was a broken agency." Testifying before Congress, he advocated separating the agency's intelligence analysts from its clandestine agents because the analysts "always want to make the collectors look good." Those same pressures are, if anything, stronger today.

Risen agreed, saying that the Bush administration "managed under (outgoing director Porter) Goss to break the spirit of the place." The agency is now "permanently a backbencher" in intelligence circles, Risen added.

Risen was less charitable toward Hayden, however. Early in Hayden's term as NSA director, he was "constantly out there, saying, 'We never spy on Americans,'" Risen noted. Those proclamations abruptly stopped after 9/11, but Hayden left the impression that Americans were still being left out of the surveillance net. "He has a credibility issue," said Risen.