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Context of 'February 27, 2000: NSA Spied on Public Figures, Human Rights Organizations, Intelligence Officials Reveal'

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The NSA, following up on its successful pilot program of satellite-based intelligence gathering called “Canyon” (see 1968), develops a much more sophisticated satellite surveillance program called “Rhyolite.” Rhyolite, later renamed “Aquacade,” is a breakthrough in the world of signal intelligence (sigint). Most importantly, it can monitor microwave transmissions, used extensively by the Soviet Union for its most secure transmissions. Its possibilities, says one insider, are “mind-blowing.” Britain’s own security agency, GCHQ, is a full party to Rhyolite/Aquacade. Former Army sigint officer Owen Lewis recalls in 1997, “When Rhyolite came in, the take was so enormous that there was no way of handling it. Years of development and billions of dollars then went into developing systems capable of handling it.” The NSA will pass much of the information it gathers to the GCHQ for transcription and analysis. Subsequently, the NSA will deploy new and even more sophisticated surveillance systems, code-named “Chalet” and “Vortex.” In doing so, it constructs numerous listening stations on friendly foreign soil, including the Menwith Hill facility that will later become a linchpin of the satellite surveillance program known as Echelon (see February 27, 2000). The new programs will revitalize the lapsed sigint alliance between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (see July 11, 2001). [Federation of American Scientists, 7/17/1997]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Echelon, Rhyolite, Chalet, Government Communications Headquarters, Owen Lewis, Canyon

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board recommended in 1970 that “economic intelligence be considered a function of national security” equal to that of other intelligence. In 1977, the NSA, CIA, and Department of Commerce forms a joint “Office of Intelligence Liaison” (later renamed the “Office of Executive Support”) specifically authorized to handle “foreign intelligence” of interest to the Commerce Department, much of it provided by the NSA. The other countries using Echelon, the NSA’s satellite surveillance program, which include Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, all operate similar programs. President Bill Clinton will extend this operation in 1993. In 1993, the European company Panavia will be specifically targeted over aircraft sales to the Middle East. In 1994, US companies will be given NSA and CIA intelligence intercepts that help them win contracts in Indonesia. Other information that will be provided by US intelligence to US and allied corporations include information about the emission standards for Japanese automobiles, 1995 trade negotiations over the US importing of Japanese luxury cars, France’s participation in the GATT trade negotiations of 1993, and the 1997 Asian-Pacific Economic Conference. [Science and Technology Assessments Office, 8/15/2000]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, National Security Agency, Office of Executive Support, Panavia

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Following the revelations of the Church Committee’s investigation into the excesses of the CIA (see April, 1976), and the equally revealing New York Times article documenting the CIA’s history of domestic surveillance against US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974), Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In essence, FISA prohibits physical and electronic surveillance against US citizens except in certain circumstances affecting national security, under certain guidelines and restrictions, with court warrants issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), operating within the Department of Justice as well as with criminal warrants. FISA restricts any surveillance of US citizens (including US corporations and permanent foreign residents) to those suspected of having contact with “foreign powers” and terrorist organizations. FISA gives a certain amount of leeway for such surveillance operations, requiring that the administration submit its evidence for warrantless surveillance to FISC within 24 hours of its onset and keeping the procedures and decisions of FISC secret from the public. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 9/27/2001; Legal Information Institute, 11/30/2004] On September 14, 2001, Congress will pass a revision of FISA that extends the time period for warrantless surveillance to 72 hours. The revision, part of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002, will also lower the standard for the issuance of wiretap warrants and make legal “John Doe,” or generic, warrants that can be used without naming a particular target. FISA revisions will also expand the bounds of the technologies available to the government for electronic and physical surveillance, and broaden the definitions of who can legally be monitored. [US Senate, 9/14/2001; Senator Jane Harman, 2/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Department of Justice, Church Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Strom Thurmond.Strom Thurmond. [Source: US Government]Former Lockheed software manager Margaret Newsham, who worked at the Menwith Hill facility of the NSA’s Echelon satellite surveillance operation in 1979, says she heard a real-time phone intercept of conversations involving senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC). She was shocked, she recalls, because she thought only foreign communications were being monitored. Newsham, who was fired from Lockheed after she filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging fraud and waste, tells the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Louis Stokes (D-OH), of the overheard conversations. In July, Capital Hill staffers will leak the story to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Thurmond says he doesn’t believe Newsham’s story, but his office admits that it has previously received reports that Thurmond had been a target of NSA surveillance. Thurmond will decline to press for an investigation, and the reason for the surveillance has never been revealed. [CBS News, 2/27/2000; Patrick S. Poole, 8/15/2000]

Entity Tags: Strom Thurmond, National Security Agency, House Intelligence Committee, Louis Stokes, Echelon, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Margaret Newsham

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A lieutenant general meets with Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio and Dean Wandry, who heads Qwest’s government business unit. According to documents filed in 2006 by Nacchio concerning his trial on insider trading charges (see October 12, 2007), the general “told Mr. Wandry that he ran the largest telecom operation in the world, he had looked at Qwest’s network, and he wanted to use it for government purposes.” The general in question could be NSA Director Kenneth Minihan, who will be replaced in 1999 by another lieutenant general, Michael Hayden, but neither Minihan nor Hayden will comment on the allegation. Many former intelligence officials will say that it is likely Minihan who met with Nacchio and Wandry. Nacchio’s court documents indicate that he and Wandry agree to work with the general. Nacchio is not allowed to announce the contract publicly, but according to the court documents, he “understood at the time this was the beginning of a relationship which had enormous potential for future work. This proves increasingly true as time went on.” By 1999 Qwest is working extensively with the NSA. Minihan is particularly concerned about the potential of “cyberwarfare” by foreign governments, terrorist organizations, drug cartels, and organized crime, a prospect which he felt the NSA is unprepared. He particularly worries about Russia and China; in June 1998, he will testify are training personnel in potential cyber-attacks. “These opportunists, enabled by the explosion of technology and the availability of inexpensive, secure means of communication, pose a significant threat to the interests of the United States and its allies,” Minihan will state. In 2007, a former senior NSA official will say that the agency felt those groups knew US privacy laws all too well and were capable of using those laws against the NSA and other intelligence agencies. He will say, “There was such a nuanced understanding of how to tie us in knots and use American law against us, that there were certainly pockets of people saying, ‘We’ve got to be assertive; we’ve got to be more aggressive on this.’” Hayden, Minihan’s successor, will be particularly willing to push agency operations to the edge of legality. After 9/11, Hayden will say, “We’re pretty aggressive within the law. As a professional, I’m troubled if I’m not using the full authority allowed by law.” [National Journal, 11/2/2007] The NSA will approach Qwest will a similar offer in the months before 9/11 (see February 2001).

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Dean Wandry, Kenneth Minihan, National Security Agency, Joe Nacchio, Qwest

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Princess Diana at a mine field in Angola in 1997.Princess Diana at a mine field in Angola in 1997. [Source: Tim Graham / Corbis]The NSA admits that US intelligence agencies possess 1,056 pages of classified information regarding Britain’s Princess Diana. British tabloids portray the documents as rife with salacious information on Diana’s “most intimate love secrets” about her relationship with Egyptian billionaire Dodi al-Fayed, but the actual documentation may not be so lurid. The NSA recently denied a Freedom of Information request from the Internet news service APB Online about information it has collected on Diana, who died in a tragic car accident in 1997. (It is unclear whether US intelligence has any unreleased information about the circumstances of Diana’s death. [APB Online, 11/30/1998; Washington Post, 12/12/1998] The NSA has denied monitoring Diana on the night of her death, an allegation raised by The Observer in 2006.) [MSNBC, 12/11/2006] In the two-page letter denying the request, the NSA admits to possessing a “Diana file,” but refuses to divulge what is in that file. A US intelligence official says the information is made up of conversations between other people who mentioned Diana; the references to Diana in those intercepted conversations are “incidental.” The official says Diana was never a particular target of the NSA’s Echelon surveillance program. However, the NSA has classified 124 pages of the “Diana documents” as top secret “because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” According to a recent report by the European Parliament, the NSA routinely monitors virtually “all e-mail, telephone and fax communications… within Europe” (see July 11, 2001). Intelligence expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says “the US and our allies promiscuously collect electronic communications around the world. Whether the descriptions of Echelon are accurate or not, that much is definitely true.” Some believe that lurid snippets of information leaked to the British press regarding Diana’s affair with Fayed, and her ambivalent relationship with Prince Charles, may have come from Echelon wiretaps and surveillance. Another FAS scientist, John Pike, says the NSA and other US intelligence agencies may have been monitoring Diana to protect her from terrorist attacks. Pike says it is also possible she may have been monitored because of her involvement in banning land mines, a position opposed by the Pentagon. [APB Online, 11/30/1998; Washington Post, 12/12/1998] Former NSA official Wayne Madsen will say in 2000, “[W]hen NSA extends the big drift net out there, it’s possible that they’re picking up more than just her conversations concerning land mines. What they do with that intelligence, who knows?” [CBS News, 2/27/2000] In August 1999, the NSA will deny another Freedom of Information request about its “Diana file” from the British newspaper The Guardian. [Guardian, 8/6/1999]

Entity Tags: Steven Aftergood, Prince Charles, The Guardian, John Pike, Dodi al-Fayed, Echelon, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), National Security Agency, Princess Diana

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The NSA’s Echelon satellite surveillance system has eavesdropped on numerous public figures, human rights organizations, charities, and even the Vatican, former British intelligence officials admit (see February 27, 2000). The NSA, which shares information with Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, has eavesdropped on, among others, Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), Mark Thatcher (the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher), the Pope, Mother Teresa, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, and others. It is unclear exactly when the NSA performed its surveillance operations, and what information it collected. The officials choose to speak out after the European Parliament announces it will open an inquiry into Echelon’s operations (see July 11, 2001). Former NSA official Wayne Madsen says, “Anybody who is politically active will eventually end up on the NSA’s radar screen.” The NSA routinely monitors charities and human rights organizations operating overseas because they often have access to information about regimes opposed to Western interests. Madsen believes the NSA spied on Diana because of her human rights work; he says that “undisclosed material held in US government files on Princess Diana was collected because of her work with the international campaign to ban landmines.” Mark Thatcher was monitored in the 1980s because of his work on the huge al-Yamamah arms contract being negotiated between Britain and Saudi Arabia. The NSA also monitored conversations by officials of the Panavia consortium, which builds the Tornado fighter plane. British Aerospace is a major partner in the consortium. “I just think of Echelon as a great vacuum cleaner in the sky which sucks everything up,” says former Canadian intelligence officer Mike Frost. “We just get to look at the goodies.” Former US computer software manager Margaret Newsham, who worked during the 1980s at the Menwith Hill listening station in Yorkshire, says, “I was aware that massive security violations were taking place. If these systems were for combating drugs or terrorism, that would be fine. But not for use in spying on individuals.” Newsham recalls being shocked when she overheard conversations by then-US senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). “It was evident American constitutional laws had been broken,” she says. [London Times, 2/27/2000]

Entity Tags: Strom Thurmond, Wayne Madsen, Panavia, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Christian Aid, British Aerospace, Amnesty International, Echelon, European Parliament, Margaret Newsham, Margaret Thatcher, National Security Agency, Mark Thatcher, Mike Frost

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US routinely denies that its satellite surveillance program, Echelon, provides any information to corporations, noting that the law clearly prevents such transactions. But former CIA director James Woolsey confirms that the US does indeed conduct economic espionage against its European allies, though he does not specifically mention Echelon. Woolsey, a well-known neoconservative, justifies such actions by accusing European companies of using bribery to gain unfair advantages against US corporations. “We have spied on you because you bribe,” he writes in the Wall Street Journal. “[European] products are often more costly, less technically advanced or both, than [their] American competitors’. As a result [they] bribe a lot.” [BBC, 7/6/2000]

Entity Tags: Echelon, Wall Street Journal, James Woolsey

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The NSA completes a report for the incoming Bush administration entitled “Transition 2000” that tells how the NSA is planning to improve its intelligence gathering. More importantly, it tells incoming White House officials that in the process of improving its intelligence gathering, some US citizens will inevitably be targeted for surveillance, though, according to a former NSA official, analysts were supposed to “delete the name of the” citizen being surveilled. Such inadvertent surveillance of US citizens took place even during the Clinton administration, says that former official, but the citizens’ names were always deleted from the transcripts of the communications intercepts. The law expressly prohibits the NSA from spying on US citizens, US corporations, or even permanent US residents. (With the permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the NSA can spy on diplomats and foreigners inside US borders.) An NSA official will tell the Boston Globe in October 2001, “If, in the course of surveillance, NSA analysts learn that it involves a US citizen or company, they are dumping that information right then and there.” However, once President Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice will undergo a radical change (see Spring 2001). [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006] In the same transition report, agency officials say that the NSA must become a “powerful, permanent presence” on the commercial communications networks, a goal they admit will raise legal and privacy issues. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The NSA asks Qwest, a major US telecommunications firm and a cutting-edge provider of high-tech wireless and Internet connectivity, to reveal information about its customers and their phone calls. Qwest’s CEO, Joe Nacchio, refuses after meeting with NSA officials and deciding that the program is illegal without court orders (see February 27, 2001). The NSA refuses to seek court authorization for its wiretaps and electronic surveillance. The NSA will renew its request from Qwest after the 9/11 attacks, and will also ask the firm to help it track suspected terrorists. Other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, will comply with the NSA’s requests (see February 2001 and Beyond).
Fears of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor' - According to a former White House official, the NSA’s primary purpose before 9/11 is to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government agents trying to hack into the government’s computer information systems, particularly those within the Defense Department. Government officials fear a “digital Pearl Harbor” if hackers were ever to seize control of those systems or other key US infrastructures. The former official will say in 2007 that the NSA’s proposal to Qwest is, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon is the NSA’s enormous signals intelligence (SIGINT) network used by the agency and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain. Qwest is constructing a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic, and the NSA wants Qwest to keep records of its customers’ transactions for it. The NSA, another source will say, wants to analyze call, e-mail, and other transmissions’ traffic patters for signs of suspicious activity. The White House official will say that telecom firms such as Qwest “have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering” capability. They don’t have to target individual customers to “look for wacky behavior,” or “groups communicating with each other in strange patterns.” Such information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, and enable the NSA to collect the information it wants without violating laws prohibiting it and other intelligence agencies from directly gathering data on US citizens.
Ill Will from NSA - Nacchio’s refusal to go along with the NSA’s request garners it some ill will among the US intelligence community, the former White House official will say. Nacchio will contend that because of his refusal, the NSA denied Qwest a lucrative government contract. A former high-level intelligence official will add that other telecom companies had little problem agreeing to the NSA’s requests. Nacchio believes that the NSA’s request is illegal under the Telecommunications Act without court orders; the former White House official will acknowledge that it might violate the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. After 9/11, that law will be amended by the USA Patriot Act to give the government more room to monitor US citizens.
Qwest, Other Telecom Firms Cooperative with Other Agencies - Qwest is apparently less reluctant to share other information with the Pentagon. Qwest began sharing its technology and information as far back as 1997 (see 1997). In May 2001, Commerce Secretary Don Evans will tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that his department helped persuade Qwest to “share proprietory information with the Defense Department to evaluate the vulnerability of its network.” Qwest, which serves the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions of the country, covers the areas that house some of the military’s most important command-and-control facilities, including the US Strategic Command. In the 1990s, Qwest began actively pursuing contracts with the Defense Department to build more modern, private, secure networks for defense and intelligence agencies. [National Journal, 11/2/2007]
Meetings with Bush Officials - In court documents filed in 2006 to challenge his prosecution for insider trading and, in heavily redacted form, released to the public in 2007, Nacchio will indicate that telecom executives met frequently with Bush administration officials before 9/11, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Many telecom firms are working closely with the government to develop highly classified operations, including joint networks to which the government will have unfettered access. The future director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, works with telecom firms to expand the cooperation between the telecom industry and the federal government. [Salon, 10/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Verizon Communications, AT&T, US Department of Commerce, Senate Appropriations Committee, US Strategic Command, BellSouth, Donald L. Evans, Echelon, Richard A. Clarke, Qwest, Mike McConnell, National Security Agency, Joe Nacchio, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Joseph Nacchio.Joseph Nacchio. [Source: publicity photo via Business Week]Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio meets with NSA officials in Fort Meade, Maryland, to discuss two topics of mutual interest: a $100 million infrastructure upgrade that Qwest, one of the US’s largest telecommunications firms, can perform for the agency, and another topic that remains classified. (The meeting will be revealed in heavily redacted court documents released six years later—see October 12, 2007). Observers believe the discussion is about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program of US citizens, which the government will conceal for years (see December 15, 2005), and which the Bush administration will insist did not come about until after the 9/11 attacks (see December 17, 2005). Nacchio meets with NSA officials to discuss the agency’s “Groundbreaker” project (see February 2001), which the NSA will later claim is merely a modernization and upgrade of its technological infrastructure. A June 2006 lawsuit against AT&T over that firm’s cooperation with the NSA alleges that “Groundbreaker” is part of a secret domestic surveillance operation. According to the court documents, Nacchio and the NSA are unable to agree on an unrevealed topic of discussion; after that disagreement, the NSA will withdraw its “Groundbreaker” contract from consideration for Qwest. Nacchio, according to the documents, believes that the unrevealed topic of discussion involves illegal and inappropriate actions. He asks the agency officials whether “a warrant or other legal process had been secured.” The NSA officials, according to the documents, have a “disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process,” leading Nacchio to conclude that “the requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act.” When Nacchio refuses to cooperate with the NSA, the agency withdraws its offer of the “Groundbreaker” contract. [Raw Story, 10/12/2007; Marketwatch, 10/13/2007] James F.X. Payne, the former chief of Qwest’s government business unit, will later tell investigators, “There was a feeling also that the NSA acted as agents for other government agencies.” [National Journal, 11/2/2007] In 2007, the New York Times will reveal that Qwest refuses to give the NSA access to its most localized communications switches, carrying largely domestic phone calls. The arrangement would have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order. [New York Times, 12/16/2007] The NSA has more success with other companies—and has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Qwest as well (see February 2001).

Entity Tags: Qwest, New York Times, James F.X. Payne, Bush administration (43), AT&T, Joe Nacchio, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The National Security Agency (NSA) engages in apparently illegal surveillance of US citizens beginning shortly after the inauguration of George W. Bush as president. This will not be revealed to the public until media reports in January 2006, a month after the press revealed that the NSA had engaged in similar illegal wiretaps and surveillance of American citizens after the 9/11 attacks, using those attacks as justification for the surveillance (see December 15, 2005). The former NSA and counterterrorism officials who reveal the pre-9/11 spying will claim that the wiretaps, e-mail monitoring, and Internet surveillance were all “inadvertent,” as NSA computers “unintentionally” intercepted US citizens’ international phone calls and e-mails when the computers flagged keywords. NSA protocol demands that such “inadvertent” surveillance end as soon as NSA analysts realize they are spying on those citizens, and the names of the monitored citizens are supposed to be deleted from the NSA databases. Instead, the NSA is instructed to continue monitoring some citizens that are characterized as “of interest” to White House officials. Those officials include President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, say the former NSA and counterterrorism officials. In December 2000, the NSA told the incoming Bush administration that some US citizens are being inadvertently targeted for surveillance, but the names of the citizens are deleted because the law expressly prohibits the NSA from spying on US citizens, US corporations, or even permanent US residents (see December 2000). However, once Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice undergoes a radical change. In the first few months of the administration, President Bush assigns Vice President Cheney to make himself more of a presence at the various US intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, NSA, and DIA. Cheney, along with other officials at the State and Defense Departments, begins making repeated requests to the NSA to reveal the identities of those Americans which had previously been deleted, so that administration officials can more fully understand the context and scope of the intelligence. Such requests are technically legal. But Cheney goes well beyond the law when he requests, as he frequently does, that the NSA continue monitoring specific Americans already caught up in the NSA’s wiretaps and electronic surveillance. A former White House counterterrorism official will later claim that Cheney advised Bush of what he was learning from the NSA. “What’s really disturbing is that some of those people the vice president was curious about were people who worked at the White House or the State Department,” says another former counterterrorism official. “There was a real feeling of paranoia that permeated from the vice president’s office and I don’t think it had anything to do with the threat of terrorism. I can’t say what was contained in those taps that piqued his interest. I just don’t know.” [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, National Security Agency, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Nicky Hager.Nicky Hager. [Source: Rotorua District Council]New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager appears before a European Parliament investigative committee to testify about the US’s satellite surveillance program, Echelon (see July 11, 2001). Hager has discovered information about Echelon’s use by the New Zealand equivalent of the NSA, the Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB). In researching Echelon’s use by the USA, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, Hager learned of the extent of the system’s “capability to monitor the whole of governments, regional and international organizations, non-government organizations, companies and individuals throughout Europe.” Although Hager warns the committee not to focus exclusively on Echelon’s use for corporate benefits, he gives several examples of such uses in the South Pacific, including monitoring “deals to do with Japan… collecting intelligence on meat sales, which is very important for New Zealand… intelligence to do with oil prices… [and] a particularly large Japanese development project in the South Pacific where there was potential for New Zealand companies to win contracts. In other words, there were both macro-level and micro-level economic intelligence being collected.” Corporate executives routinely received such information, Hager testifies, and tells about “the fantastic amount of intelligence that was arriving, for example, monitoring international trade meetings.… From my sources, they said that whenever there was a GATT meeting or another major international meeting, there were hundreds of reports of the monitoring of the different delegations which were arriving in New Zealand and being shared between [British]/USA partners, and I have absolutely no doubt about that, because I have talked to people who saw it coming from the NSA.” [European Parliament, 4/24/2001]

Entity Tags: Government Communication Security Bureau, Echelon, National Security Agency, Nicky Hager, European Parliament

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

One of the approximately 30 radomes at the Echelon station in Menwith Hill, England. A radome covers an antenna to protect it from the weather and disguise the direction it is pointing.One of the approximately 30 radomes at the Echelon station in Menwith Hill, England. A radome covers an antenna to protect it from the weather and disguise the direction it is pointing. [Source: Matt Crypto / Public domain]The BBC reports on advances in electronic surveillance. The US’s global surveillance program, Echelon, has become particularly effective in monitoring mobile phones, recording millions of calls simultaneously and checking them against a powerful search engine designed to pick out key words that might represent a security threat. Laser microphones can pick up conversations from up to a kilometer away by monitoring window vibrations. If a bug is attached to a computer keyboard, it is possible to monitor exactly what is being keyed in, because every key on a computer has a unique sound when depressed. [BBC, 4/4/2001] Furthermore, a BBC report on a European Union committee investigation into Echelon one month later notes that the surveillance network can sift through up to 90 percent of all Internet traffic, as well as monitor phone conversations, mobile phone calls, fax transmissions, net browsing history, satellite transmissions and so on. Even encryption may not help much. The BBC suggests that “it is likely that the intelligence agencies can crack open most commercially available encryption software.” [BBC, 5/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Echelon, British Broadcasting Corporation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

In July 2001, NSA director Michael Hayden tells a reporter that the NSA does not monitor any US citizens without court warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). “We don’t do anything willy-nilly,” Hayden says. “We’re a foreign intelligence agency. We try to collect information that is of value to American decision-makers, to protect American values, America—and American lives. To suggest that we’re out there, on our own, renegade, pulling in random communications, is—is simply wrong. So everything we do is for a targeted foreign intelligence purpose. With regard to the—the question of industrial espionage, no. Period. Dot. We don’t do that.” When asked how Americans could verify that, Hayden says that they should simply trust the NSA to police and monitor itself, along with oversight from the White House and from Congress. However, it will later come to light that the NSA began illegally monitoring US citizens from the start of the Bush administration (see Spring 2001). A former NSA official will later dispute Hayden’s account. “What do you expect him to say?” the official says. “He’s got to deny it. I agree. We weren’t targeting specific people, which is what the President’s executive order does. However, we did keep tabs on some Americans we caught if there was an interest [by the White House.] That’s not legal. And I am very upset that I played a part in it.” [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006] Hayden also denies persistent allegations from European government officials that the agency has engaged in economic espionage to help American companies against European competitors (see April 4, 2001). In March 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Barry Steinhardt says that “since there is no real check on [the NSA], there is no way to know” if they are following the law. Steinhardt says that Congress is the only real check on possible NSA abuses, but it has consistently failed to exercise any sort of aggressive oversight on the agency. [CNN, 3/31/2001]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Barry Steinhardt, Michael Hayden, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Glyn Ford.Glyn Ford. [Source: British Labour Party]The European Parliament releases its final report on its findings about the secretive US surveillance program known as Echelon. The report, two years in the making, exhaustively details many of Echelon’s surveillance capabilities, and lists many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world. One of the more interesting sections of the report concerns its apparent use on behalf of US corporations. According to the report, Echelon—operated by the NSA as a highly classified surveillance program ostensibly for tracking terrorist threats and activities by nations hostile to the West—is also being used for corporate and industrial espionage, with information from the program being turned over to US corporations for their financial advantage. The report gives several instances of Echelon’s use by corporations. One is the use of Echelon to “lift… all the faxes and phone calls” between the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Saudi Arabian Airlines; that information was used by two American companies, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, to outflank Airbus and win a $6 billion contract. The report also alleges that the French company Thomson-CSF lost a $1.3 billion satellite deal to Raytheon the same way. Glyn Ford, the MP who commissioned the report, says he doesn’t have a problem with Echelon itself, but in the way it is being used. “Now, you know, if we’re catching the bad guys, we’re completely in favor of that… What we’re concerned about is that some of the good guys in my constituency don’t have jobs because US corporations got an inside track on—on some global deal.” [Washington Post, 11/14/1999; CBS News, 2/27/2000; BBC, 7/6/2000; European Parliament, 7/11/2001] In 1977, the US government began providing Echelon-based intelligence to US corporations (see 1977). In April 2001, New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager testified about Echelon’s use by US allies for corporate and economic purposes (see April 2001), and former CIA director James Woolsey confirmed that US surveillance programs were used to benefit US corporations (see March 2000).

Entity Tags: US Department of Commerce, Thomson-CSF, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Glyn Ford, McDonnell Douglas, Central Intelligence Agency, Boeing Company, Echelon, Airbus, European Parliament, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An Echelon station in Menwith Hill, Britain.An Echelon station in Menwith Hill, Britain. [Source: BBC]By the 1980s, a high-tech global electronic surveillance network shared between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is gathering intelligence all over the world. The BBC describes Echelon’s power as “astounding,” and elaborates: “Every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism.” [BBC, 11/3/1999] One major focus for Echelon before 9/11 is al-Qaeda. For instance, one account mentions Echelon intercepting al-Qaeda communications in Southeast Asia in 1996 (see Before September 11, 2001). A staff member of the National Security Council who regularly attends briefings on bin Laden states, “We are probably tapped into every hotel room in Pakistan. We can listen in to just about every phone call in Afghanistan.” However, he and other critics will claim one reason why US intelligence failed to stop terrorism before 9/11 was because there was too much of a focus on electronic intelligence gathering and not enough focus on human interpretation of that vast data collection. [Toronto Star, 2/2/2002]

Entity Tags: United Kingdom, United States, Osama bin Laden, Echelon, National Security Council, Canada, Australia, Al-Qaeda, New Zealand

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

An illustration of the NIMD dataflow.An illustration of the NIMD dataflow. [Source: LibertyThink.com] (click image to enlarge)Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA awards $64 million in research contracts for a program called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD). [New York Times, 5/21/2003; National Journal, 1/20/2006] NIMD is one of several cutting-edge data mining technologies that not only has the capability of finding keywords among millions of electronically monitored communications, but can find hidden relationships among data points, and even critique the thinking and biases of a particular analyst and suggest alternative hypotheses differing from the human analysts’ conclusion. Like other data-mining technologies, the NSA will steadfastly refuse to discuss whether NIMD is used to analyze data from domestic surveillance operations. NIMD is designed as an preliminary sort program, to keep human analysts from becoming overwhelmed by raw data. In essence, NIMD is an early-warning system. “NIMD funds research to…help analysts deal with information-overload, detect early indicators of strategic surprise, and avoid analytic errors,” according to the “Call for 2005 Challenge Workshop Proposals” released by the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA). ARDA was founded in 1998 to create, design, and field new technologies for US intelligence agencies, particularly the NSA. A selected few Congressional lawmakers (see January 18, 2006) were informed that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by President George W. Bush (see Early 2002) was designed to be an early-warning system for possible terrorist attacks or plans. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella will inform the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence committees in December 2002 that the “president determined that it was necessary following September 11 to create an early-warning detection system” to prevent more attacks. He will justify the use of programs such as NIMD by claiming, as NSA director Michael Hayden and other administration officials have repeatedly claimed, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to obtain warrants to conduct domestic eavesdropping or wiretapping, “could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early-warning detection system.” Many experts outside of the Bush administration feel that NIMD and other programs do not have to operate outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because of limitations in the law, but because of the fact that the programs cannot meet the law’s minimum requirements for surveillance. FISA requires that any such surveillance must have a probable cause that the target is a terrorist. NIMD has no such threshold. Steven Aftergood, an expert on intelligence and government secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists, will say in 2006, “Logistically speaking, the early-warning approach may involve a significant increase in the number of surveillance actions. It may be that neither the Justice Department nor the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves wiretapping warrants] is prepared to prepare and process several thousand additional FISA applications per year, beyond the 1,700 or so approved in 2004.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006] Some experts will later express the opinion that NIMD is the controversial Total Information Awareness program in a slightly different form (see February 2003 and September 2002).

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, Total Information Awareness, William E. Moschella, Tom Armour, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, Steven Aftergood, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency, Advanced Capabilities for Intelligence Analysis, Advanced Research and Development Activity, John Poindexter, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former AT&T employee Mark Klein.Former AT&T employee Mark Klein. [Source: PBS]The National Security Agency, as part of its huge, covert, and possibly illegal wiretapping program directed at US citizens (see Spring 2001 and After September 11, 2001), begins collecting telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by telecommunications firms such as AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth (see February 5, 2006). The media will not report on this database until May 2006 (see May 11, 2006). The program collects information on US citizens not suspected of any crime or any terrorist connections. Although informed sources say the NSA is not listening to or recording actual conversations, the agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity. “It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” says one anonymous source. The NSA intends “to create a database of every call ever made.” As a result, the NSA has detailed records of the phone activities of tens of millions of US citizens, from local calls to family and friends to international calls. The three telecommunications companies are working with the NSA in part under the Communications Assistance Act for Law Enforcement (CALEA) (see January 1, 1995 and June 13, 2006) and in part under contract to the agency.
Surveillance Much More Extensive Than Acknowledged - The wiretapping program, which features electronic surveillance of US citizens without court warrants or judicial oversight, is far more extensive than anything the White House or the NSA has ever publicly acknowledged. President Bush will repeatedly insist that the NSA focuses exclusively on monitoring international calls where one of the call participants is a known terrorist suspect or has a connection to terrorist groups (see December 17, 2005 and May 11, 2006), and he and other officials always insist that domestic calls are not monitored. This will be proven false. The NSA has become expert at “data mining,” sifting through reams of information in search of patterns. The warrantless wiretapping database is one source of information for the NSA’s data mining. As long as the NSA does not collect “personal identifiers”—names, Social Security numbers, street addresses, and the like—such data mining is legal. But the actual efficacy of the wiretapping program in learning about terrorists and possibly preventing terrorist attacks is unclear at best. And many wonder if the NSA is not repeating its activities from the 1950s and 1960s, when it conducted “Operation Shamrock” (see 1945-1975), a 20-year program of warrantless wiretaps of international phone calls at the behest of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Operation Shamrock, among other things, led to the 1978 passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). [USA Today, 5/11/2006] In May 2006, former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman will say, “[T]his activity is not authorized” (see May 12, 2006). [Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006]
Secret Data Mining Center - In May 2006, retired AT&T technician Mark Klein, a 22-year veteran of the firm, will file a court affidavit saying that he saw the firm construct a secret data-mining center in its San Francisco switching center that would let the NSA monitor domestic and international communications (see January 2003). And former AT&T workers say that, as early as 2002, AT&T has maintained a secret area in its Bridgeton, Missouri, facility that is likely being used for NSA surveillance (see Late 2002-Early 2003).
Domestic Surveillance Possibly Began Before 9/11 - Though Bush officials admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, some evidence indicates that the domestic surveillance program began some time before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).

Entity Tags: Terrorist Surveillance Program, Verizon Communications, Mark Klein, George W. Bush, AT&T, BellSouth, Central Intelligence Agency, Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Qwest, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Nancy Pelosi.Nancy Pelosi. [Source: US Congress]House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) writes to NSA Director Michael Hayden questioning the nature and extent of the apparently illegal warrantless wiretapping of US citizens by the agency. Pelosi and other members of the House Intelligence Committee were briefed on October 1, 2001, by Hayden, whose agency began conducting surveillance against US citizens after the 9/11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). Pelosi will release the letter on January 6, 2006, three weeks after the New York Times revealed that the NSA had been conducting electronic surveillance of US citizens without warrants since at least 2002 (see December 15, 2005.) Pelosi’s office will also release Hayden’s response, but almost the entire letter from Hayden is redacted.
Letter to Hayden - Pelosi writes in part, “[Y]ou indicated [in the briefing] that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related statutes, orders, regulations, and guidelines.… For several reasons, including what I consider to be an overly broad interpretation of President Bush’s directive of October 5 on sharing with Congress ‘classified or sensitive law enforcement information’ it has not been possible to get answers to my questions. Without those answers, the concerns I have about what you said on the First can not be resolved, and I wanted to bring them to your attention directly. You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted ] being of foreign intelligence interest. As a result, you were forwarding the intercepts, and any information [redacted ] without first receiving a request for that identifying information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although I may be persuaded by the strength of your analysis [redacted ] I believe you have a much more difficult case to make [redacted ] Therefore, I am concerned whether, and to what extent, the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting. Until I understand better the legal analysis regarding the sufficiency of the authority which underlies your decision on the appropriate way to proceed on this matter, I will continue to be concerned.” The only portion of Hayden’s October 18 reply regarding Pelosi’s concerns that has not been redacted reads, “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” In January 2006, an NSA official will say that Pelosi’s concerns were adequately addressed in Hayden’s reply, and in a private briefing shortly thereafter. [Washington Post, 1/4/2006; Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006]
Pelosi Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). Pelosi is apparently unaware of any of this.

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney summons the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to the White House for a classified briefing on the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Cheney makes it clear to the lawmakers that he is merely informing them about the program, and not seeking their approval. [Washington Post, 12/18/2005] Officials later say that under any of the previous presidents, such a meeting of this import would involve the president. But the four lawmakers are hustled away from the Oval Office. Instead, “[w]e met in the vice president’s office,” Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later recalls. President Bush has already told Graham that “the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House.” Cheney, according to the president, “has the portfolio for intelligence activities.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007] The leaders are briefed by Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. The Congressional leaders will later mostly refuse to comment publicly about what they do and do not learn about the program, even after it is revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). In 2003, when Senator John D. Rockefeller ascends to the Democratic leadership of the Senate committee, and is himself briefed on the program, he will write to Cheney expressing his concerns over it (see July 17, 2003). [New York Times, 12/15/2005]
'No Discussion about Expanding' NSA Wiretapping - In December 2005, after the program is revealed to the public, one of the Congressmen present at the briefings, Graham, the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will discuss his knowledge of the program. In contradiction to the characterizations of Bush and other White House officials, Graham will say that he recalls “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of US citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States,” and knew nothing of Bush’s intention to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA court). “I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy,” Graham will recall, using new methodologies to intercept overseas calls that passed through US switches. He thought that NSA eavesdropping would continue to be limited to “calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a US-based communications system.” Instead, Graham will say, it now seems that Bush decided to go “beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to US citizens’ communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney.” A senior intelligence official, who refuses to reveal his identity but says he is speaking with the permission of the White House, will accuse Graham of “misremembering the briefings,” which he will call “very, very comprehensive.” The official will refuse to discuss the briefings in any but the most general terms, but will say they were intended “to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, ‘I was briefed on this but I had no idea that—’ and you can fill in the rest.” Graham will characterize the official’s description as saying: “[W]e held a briefing to say that nothing is different.… Why would we have a meeting in the vice president’s office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was also present at the meeting as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, will say the briefing described “President Bush’s decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” She will note that she “expressed my strong concerns” but did not go into detail. [Washington Post, 12/18/2005]
Lawmakers Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). In the briefing, Cheney informs the lawmakers of none of this.

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, John D. Rockefeller, House Intelligence Committee, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Sometime in early 2002, President Bush signs a secret executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap phone conversations and read e-mails to and from US citizens. The order extends an operation set into motion at least as early as October 2001 to begin wiretapping US citizens’ phones in a response to the 9/11 attacks. When the program is revealed by the US media in late 2005 (see December 15, 2005), Bush and his officials will say the program is completely legal, though it ignores the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that requires the government to obtain court-issued warrants to mount surveillance against US citizens. They will insist that only those suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda are monitored, and only when those individuals make or receive international communications. [New York Times, 12/15/2005; Washington Post, 12/22/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] Bush’s order authorizes the NSA to monitor international telephone conversations and international e-mails of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of US citizens without court warrants, in an effort to track what officials call “dirty numbers” linked to al-Qaeda. When the program is finally revealed by the New York Times over three years later (see December 15, 2005), officials will say that the NSA still seeks warrants to monitor domestic communications. But there is little evidence of this (see, for example, Spring 2001). The presidential order is a radical shift in US surveillance and intelligence-gathering policies, and a major realignment for the NSA, which is mandated to only conduct surveillance abroad. Some officials believe that the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping crosses constitutional limits on legal searches. “This is really a sea change,” a former senior official who specializes in national security law will say in December 2005. “It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches.” [New York Times, 12/15/2005] Some sources indicate that NSA domestic surveillance activities, such as data-mining, the use of information concerning US persons intercepted in foreign call monitoring, and possibly direct surveillance of US persons, took place prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The NSA’s enormous data mining program, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD—see After September 11, 2001), closely resembles another data mining program, the Defense Department’s Total Information Awareness program (see March 2002). TIA, which will be suspended in 2003 after outcries from citizens and legal experts concerned over that program’s refusal to comply with fundamental Constitutional guarantees of privacy, was also designed as an early-warning system that not only compiled intelligence data, but mined through private financial databases for credit-card and other financial transactions. Six of the corporations and research institutions who win NIMD contracts also held contracts for the earlier TIA project. Much of their work with TIA duplicated the same aspects and protocols to be used by NIMD, including challenging analytic assumptions and building prototype data-mining devices. Both TIA and NIMD attempt to second-guess human analysts’ conclusions over a particular data schema by creating a database of what TIA creator John Poindexter once called “plausible futures,” or likely terrorism scenarios. NIMD is a creation of the Advanced Research and Development Activity agency (ARDA); another ARDA project, the Advanced Capabilities for Intelligence Analysis (ACIA) also envisions a similar database (see 2005). Though TIA focused more on counterterrorism than the more sweeping NIMD, the two projects coordinated closely with one another, according to former program manager Tom Armour, who worked in Poindexter’s office.
NIMD Survives In Other Agencies - Congress will eliminate funding for TIA and other Poindexter projects, but many of those projects, and related projects such as NIMD, do not disappear. Many are instead transferred to intelligence agencies such as the NSA. Although information about these projects is strictly classified, a former Army intelligence analyst familiar with the programs will confirm in 2006 that large elements of TIA were transferred to other agencies, where they will continue to be researched and implemented. It is highly likely that NIMD is an offshoot and outgrowth of TIA. Armour will say the two programs are specifically designed to analyze large amounts of phone and e-mail traffic: “That’s, in fact, what the interest is.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006]
Government 'Shell Game' - Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says in 2004, “The whole congressional action looks like a shell game. There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing.” [Associated Press, 2/23/2004] Aftergood will note that NIMD has thrived in the shadows where TIA died of exposure: “Pursued with a minimal public profile and lacking a polarizing figure like Admiral Poindexter to galvanize opposition, NIMD has proceeded quietly even as TIA imploded.” [Defense Tech, 9/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Tom Armour, Total Information Awareness, Steven Aftergood, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, John Poindexter, National Security Agency, Advanced Research and Development Activity, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), George W. Bush, Advanced Capabilities for Intelligence Analysis

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A sample page from Mark Klein’s AT&T documentation.A sample page from Mark Klein’s AT&T documentation. [Source: Mark Klein / Seattle Times]Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), gravely concerned by the National Security Agency (NSA) spying operation going on in AT&T’s San Francisco facility (see October 2003) and now in possession of documents which prove the nature and scope of the telecommunications surveillance activities (see Fall 2003 and Late 2003), writes a memo summarizing his findings and conclusions. He appends eight pages of the unclassified documents he has in his possession, along with two photographs and some material from the Internet which documents the sophisticated surveillance equipment being used to gather data from AT&T’s electronic transmissions. The NSA and AT&T were, he later says, “basically sweeping up, vacuum-cleaning the Internet through all the data, sweeping it all into this secret room.… It’s the sort of thing that very intrusive, repressive governments would do, finding out about everybody’s personal data without a warrant. I knew right away that this was illegal and unconstitutional, and yet they were doing it.… I think I’m looking at something Orwellian. It’s a government, many-tentacled operation to gather daily information on what everybody in the country is doing. Your daily transactions on the Internet can be monitored with this kind of system, not just your Web surfing. All kinds of business that people do on the Internet these days—your bank transactions, your email, everything—it sort of opens a window into your entire private life, and that’s why I thought of the term ‘Orwellian.’ As you know, in [George] Orwell’s story [1984], they have cameras in your house, watching you. Well, this is the next best thing.… So I was not only angry about it; I was also scared, because I knew this authorization came from very high up—not only high up in AT&T, but high up in the government. So I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to do about it, but I thought this should be halted.”
Gathering 'the Entire Data Stream' - In his memo, Klein concludes that the NSA is using “splitter” equipment to copy “the entire data stream [emphasis in the original] and sent it to the [NSA’s] secret room for further analysis.” Klein writes that the splitters actually “split off a percentage of the light signal [from the fiber optic circuits] so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet… 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 [the NSA] to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the Internet.” (Emphasis in the original.) In his book, Klein will explain that “each separate signal,” after being split, “contains all the information, nothing is lost, so in effect the entire data stream has been copied.” He will continue: “What screams out at you when examining this physical arrangement is that the NSA was vacuuming up everything flowing in the Internet stream: email, Web browsing, voice-over-Internet phone calls, pictures, streaming video, you name it. The splitter has no intelligence at all, it just makes a blind copy.” Klein later explains to a reporter: “The signals that go across fiber optics are laser light signals. It’s light basically that runs through a fiber optic, which is a clear glass fiber, and it has to be at a certain level for the routers to see the light and interpret the data correctly. If the light gets too low, just as if you get a weak flashlight with bad batteries, at a certain point it doesn’t work. If the light level drops too low, the router starts dropping bits and getting errors, and eventually you get loss of signal, and it just doesn’t work at all.… The effect of the splitter is to reduce the strength of the signal, and that may or may not cause a problem, depending on how much the signal is reduced.” A telecommunications company would not, as a rule, use such a splitter on its backbone Internet traffic because of the risk of degraded signal quality. “You want to have as few connections on your main data lines as possible,” Klein will say, “because each connection reduces the signal strength, and a splitter is a connection, and if you can avoid that, all the better.”
Inherently Illegal - Klein will explain that there is no way these activities are legal: “There could not possibly be a legal warrant for this, since according to the Fourth Amendment, warrants have to be specific, ‘particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.’ It was also a blatant violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA—see 1978], which calls for specific warrants as required by the Fourth Amendment. This was a massive blind copying of the communications of millions of people, foreign and domestic, randomly mixed together. From a legal standpoint, it does not matter what they claim to throw away later in their secret rooms, the violation has already occurred at the splitter.” [AT&T, 12/10/2002; AT&T, 1/13/2003; AT&T, 1/24/2003; Wired News, 5/22/2006; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 37, 119-133]
The Narus STA 6400 - Klein discusses one key piece of equipment in the NSA’s secret room, the Narus STA 6400 (see Late 2003). Narus is a firm that routinely sells its equipment not only to telecom firms such as AT&T, “but also to police, military, and intelligence officials” (see November 13-14, 2003). Quoting an April 2000 article in Telecommunications magazine, Klein writes that the STA 6400 is a group of signal “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.” Klein quotes a 1999 Narus press release that says 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.” The Narus hardware allows the NSA “to look at the content of every data packet going by, not just the addressing information,” Klein will later write.
A 'Dream Machine for a Police State' - Klein later writes of the Narus STA 6400: “It is the dream machine of a police state, one that even George Orwell could not imagine. Not only does it enable the government to see what millions of people are saying and doing every day, but it can build up a database which reveals the connections among social groups—who’s calling and emailing whom. Such a device can easily be turned against all dissident protest groups, and even the Democratic and Republican parties, with devastating effect. And it’s in the hands of the executive power, in total secrecy.” [AT&T, 12/10/2002; AT&T, 1/13/2003; AT&T, 1/24/2003; Wired News, 5/22/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 37-40] In support of the memo and an ensuing lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006), Klein will later write: “Despite what we are hearing, and considering the public track record of this administration, I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA’s spying program is really limited to foreign communications or is otherwise consistent with the NSA’s charter or with FISA. And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals’ phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of Internet communications of countless citizens.” [Wired News, 4/7/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Narus, Mark Klein, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, AT&T

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Thomas Tamm.Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Electronic Frontier Foundation logo.Electronic Frontier Foundation logo. [Source: Flickr.com]The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties and privacy-advocacy organization, files a lawsuit against telecommunications giant AT&T for allegedly violating the law and the privacy of its citizens by cooperating with the National Security Agency in the NSA’s construction of what the EFF calls a “massive, illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications.” EFF lawyer Kevin Bankston says: “Our goal is to go after the people who are making the government’s illegal surveillance possible. They could not do what they are doing without the help of companies like AT&T. We want to make it clear to AT&T that it is not in their legal or economic interests to violate the law whenever the president asks them to.”
Unprecedented Access to Communications System - EFF alleges that as part of the NSA’s domestic spying program, AT&T has allowed the NSA direct access to the phone and Internet communications passing over its network, and has given the government “unfettered access to its over 300 terabyte ‘Daytona’ database of caller information—one of the largest databases in the world.” One of AT&T’s databases, nicknamed “Hawkeye,” contains 312 terabytes of data detailing nearly every telephone communication on AT&T’s domestic network since 2001, the lawsuit alleges. The suit goes on to claim that AT&T allowed the NSA to use the company’s powerful Daytona database management software to quickly search this and other communication databases. AT&T, the suit claims, is in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments, federal wiretapping statutes, telecommunications laws, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The suit requests fines up to $22,000 for each AT&T customer, and punitive fines—damages that could potentially reach into the billions of dollars. The EFF lawsuit is one of over 30 lawsuits filed for similar reasons (see June 26, 2006). The lawsuit will survive a number of initial legal challenges by the Justice Department and AT&T, including AT&T’s contention that “whatever we did, the government told us to do” and therefore it should be immune from such lawsuits, and the Justice Department’s invocation of “national security” and the possibility of the revelation of “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953). EFF retorts, “In this country we follow the law, we don’t just follow orders.” Bankston tells a reporter, “If state secrecy can prevent us from preserving the rights of millions upon millions of people, then there is a profound problem with the law.”
Suit Alleges Criminal Actions, Does Not Challenge Government's Right to Wiretap - The lawsuit does not challenge the government’s right to electronically monitor legitimate terrorism suspects, nor does it challenge the judicial right to issue warrants for such surveillance. Rather, EFF writes: “Wiretaps on terrorists are allowed under the law, and this lawsuit is not challenging the wiretap laws. We have sued AT&T for breaking those laws—the telecommunications giant gave the government access to its communications switches and its huge databases of information on millions of ordinary Americans. These are AT&T customers who have not even been accused of affiliations with terrorists. Americans can be both safe and free: if the government truly believes it has cause to wiretap a suspect, it can order AT&T to provide information under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]—for up to 72 hours before going to the court. But AT&T has no business providing direct access to the communications of millions of ordinary Americans, without the checks and balances of Congress or the courts.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1/31/2006; Wired News, 1/31/2006]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, National Security Agency, AT&T, US Department of Justice, Kevin Bankston

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

USA Today headline.USA Today headline. [Source: CBS News]USA Today reports that “[t]he National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by the nation’s three biggest telecommunications providers, AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth,” according to “people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.” None of the sources would allow USA Today to identify them by name, job, or affiliation. The USA Today story claims that the NSA program “does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations,” but does use “the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity,” according to their sources. One source says that the NSA program is compiling “the largest database ever assembled in the world,” with the goal of creating “a database of every call ever made” within US borders. President Bush has said that the NSA program is focused exclusively on international calls, and for the calls to be recorded, “one end of the communication must be outside the United States.” However, this is now shown not to be the case (see January 16, 2004). A US intelligence official says that the NSA program is not recording the actual phone calls themselves, but is collecting what he calls “external” data about the communications to allow the agency to emply “social network analysis” for insight into how terrorist networks are connected with one another. Another large telecommunications company, Qwest, has refused to help the NSA eavesdrop on customer calls (see February 2001, February 2001 and Beyond, and February 27, 2001). USA Today’s sources say that the NSA eavesdropping program began after the 9/11 attacks, a claim that is not bolstered by the facts (see 1997, February 27, 2000, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, February 2001 and Beyond, February 2001, Spring 2001, April 2001, April 4, 2001, July 2001, Before September 11, 2001, and Early 2002). The sources say that the three companies agreed to provide “call-detail records,” lists of their customers’ calling histories, and updates, which would allow the agency to track citizens’ calling habits. In return, the sources say, the NSA offered to pay the firms for their cooperation. After the three firms agreed to help the agency, USA Today writes, “the NSA’s domestic program began in earnest” (see After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, September 2002, and Spring 2004). NSA spokesman Don Weber says the agency is operating strictly “within the law,” but otherwise refuses to comment. Former US prosecutor Paul Butler says that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which governs surveillance operations by US intelligence agencies, “does not prohibit the government from doing data mining” (see 1978). White House press spokesman Dana Perino says, “There is no domestic surveillance without court approval,” and all surveillance activities undertaken by government agencies “are lawful, necessary, and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists.” All government-sponsored intelligence activities “are carefully reviewed and monitored,” she adds, and says that “all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States” (see October 11, 2001 and October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001). Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, refuses to discuss the agency’s operations, saying: “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. However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law.” All three firms released similar comments saying that they would not discuss “matters of national security,” but were complying with the law in their alleged cooperation with the NSA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing AT&T for what it calls its complicity in the NSA’s “illegal” domestic surveillance program (see January 31, 2006). [USA Today, 5/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Verizon Communications, USA Today, Qwest, Paul Butler, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Jane Harman, AT&T, BellSouth, National Security Agency, Dana Perino, Don Weber

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Two public interest lawyers sue Verizon Communications for $5 billion, claiming the telecommunications firm violated privacy laws by giving the phone records of its customers to the NSA for that agency’s secret, warrantless domestic surveillance program. Lawyers Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer are asking that Verizon stop turning over its records to the NSA without either a court order or the consent of the customer. Afran says of the NSA program, “This is the largest and most vast intrusion of civil liberties we’ve ever seen in the United States.” [CBS News, 5/12/2006] Days later, AT&T and BellSouth are added to the lawsuit. [CNN, 5/17/2006]
Verizon Helped Build an NSA Database? - The day before, the press reports that the NSA has built a database of millions of domestic phone records since shortly after the 9/11 attacks, using records from Verizon, BellSouth, and AT&T (see May 11, 2006). Former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, whose firm refused to cooperate with the NSA, says that he was approached months before the attacks to help set up such a program (see February 27, 2001). The NSA has the power, under President Bush’s interpretation of his wartime authority, to have the agency eavesdrop on international calls made to or from the US, but cannot legally eavesdrop on internal calls unless it has a court order. The lawsuit claims that the telecoms violated the Constitution and the Telecommunications Act by giving its records to the government without court authorization. The lawsuit seeks $1,000 for each violation of the Telecommunications Act, or $5 billion if the case is certified as a class-action suit. The lawyers are seeking documents detailing the origins of the NSA program, as well as Bush’s own role in authorizing the program. “Federal law prohibits the phone companies from giving records to the government without a warrant,” says Afran. “There was no warrant, nor was there any attempt to get warrants, which is in violation of the constitution and the Telecommunications Act.” [CBS News, 5/12/2006; CNET News, 5/15/2006] Afran says, “One of the purposes of this case is to, quite frankly, hold the threat of financial destruction over the heads of the phone companies to make them abandon this policy of cooperating with warrantless searches by the government.” [National Public Radio, 5/17/2006] The lawsuit alleges that Verizon constructed a dedicated fiber optic line from New Jersey to a large military base in Quantico, Virginia, that allowed government officials to gain access to all communications flowing through the carrier’s operations center. A former consultant who worked on internal security will later say he had tried numerous times to install safeguards on the line to prevent hacking on the system, as he was doing for other lines at the operations center, but he was prevented from doing so by a senior security official. One of the allegations against Verizon in the lawsuit is made by Philadelphia resident Norman LeBoon, who says after he read of the alleged surveillance of US citizens, he began asking Verizon if his landline communications were being shared. LeBoon says he eventually spoke with “Ellen” in Verizon customer service, who told him, “I can tell you, Mr. LeBoon, that your records have been shared with the government, but that’s between you and me.… They [Verizon] are going to deny it because of national security. The government is denying it and we have to deny it, too. Around here we are saying that Verizon has ‘plausible deniability.’” [Truthdig, 8/9/2007]
AT&T Grants Unlimited Access? - The lawsuit claims that in February 2001, days before Qwest was approached, NSA officials met with AT&T officials to discuss replicating an AT&t network center to give the agency access to all the global phone and e-mail traffic that ran through it (see February 2001).
Earlier Reporting Made Key Error - Earlier reporting of the NSA’s cooperation with the telecoms got a key detail wrong, says telecom analyst Scott Cleland: “What I think people got wrong with the original reporting, was that this was local phone companies tracking local phone calls. What is clear now is they were tracking long distance calls.” [National Public Radio, 5/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Norman LeBoon, Qwest, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Joe Nacchio, Michael Hayden, Bruce Afran, Carl Mayer, Verizon Communications

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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