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Profile: Steve Kroft

Steve Kroft was a participant or observer in the following events:

Mike Frost.Mike Frost. [Source: NineMSN]One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 [CBS News, 2/27/2000] which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. [Washington Post, 12/22/1988] “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don’t think it can’t happen in Australia. Don’t think it can’t happen in Canada, because it does.” [NineMSN, 5/23/1999]
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” [CBS News, 2/27/2000]

Entity Tags: Greenpeace, Wayne Madsen, Glyn Ford, Echelon, Communications Security Establishment, Central Intelligence Agency, Amnesty International, Strom Thurmond, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Steve Kroft, Princess Diana, Mike Frost, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Newsham, National Security Agency, Robert “Bob” Barr, House Intelligence Committee, Porter J. Goss, Ilich Ramírez Sanchez

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that if there is to be a war with Iraq, it will be short and relatively painless: “The idea that it’s going to be a long, long, long battle of some kind, I think is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990 (see August 7, 1990). Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that. It won’t be a World War III.”
Invasion about Iraqi WMDs, Not Oil - Rumsfeld refuses to say directly what the US will do if Iraq uses chemical or biological weapons on US invasion forces: “The United States government, the president and others, are communicating with people in Iraq, in the military, very forcefully that they ought not to use those weapons. Anyone in any way connected with weapons of mass destruction and their use will be held accountable, and people who helped avoid that would be advantaged.” If UN weapons inspectors find no weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld says that would prove only that “the inspections process had been successfully defeated by the Iraqis.” The upcoming invasion is entirely about WMD, he insists: “It has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil. It has nothing to do with the religion.” [US Department of Defense, 11/14/2002; CBS News, 11/15/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 267-268]
Iraq and 9/11 - Rumsfeld then directly conflates the upcoming invasion with September 11. Interviewer Steve Kroft asks how he would explain the invasion to a family whose son or daughter is in the military and about to be placed in harm’s way. Rumsfeld replies: “What would I say to you? Well, I would look you in the eye and I would say, go back before September 11th and ask yourself this question, was the attack that took place on September 11th an imminent threat the month before, or two months before, or three months before, or six months before? When did the attack on September 11th become an imminent threat? When was it sufficiently dangerous to our country that had we known about it that we could have stepped up and stopped it and saved 3,000 lives? Now, transport yourself forward a year, two years, or a week, or a month, and if Saddam Hussein were to take his weapons of mass destruction and transfer them, either use them himself, or transfer them to the al-Qaeda, and somehow the al-Qaeda were to engage in an attack on the United States, or an attack on US forces overseas, with a weapon of mass destruction you’re not talking about 300, or 3,000 people potentially being killed, but 30,000, or 100,000 of human beings. So the question is, when is it such an immediate threat that you must do something, is a tough question. But if you think about it, it’s the nexus, the connection, the relationship between terrorist states and weapons of mass destruction with terrorist networks that has changed our lives, and changed the security environment in the world.… Our task, your task as a mother, and as a citizen, as a voter, and my task, is to try to connect the dots before something happens, not afterwards. People say, well where’s the smoking gun? Well, we don’t want to see a smoking gun from a weapon of mass destruction.” [US Department of Defense, 11/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Steve Kroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

CBS graphic illustrating interview with General Anthony Zinni.CBS graphic illustrating interview with General Anthony Zinni. [Source: CBS News]Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni was the chief of the US Central Command until 2000, and, until just before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration’s special envoy to the Middle East. Now he has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war efforts in Iraq. Zinni gives an interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes, in part to promote his new biography, Battle Ready, co-authored by famed war novelist Tom Clancy.
'Dereliction of Duty' among Senior Pentagon Officials - Zinni says that senior officials at the Pentagon, from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on down, are guilty of what he calls dereliction of duty, and he believes it is time for “heads to roll.” Zinni tells correspondent Steve Kroft: “There has been poor strategic thinking in this. There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to ‘stay the course,’ the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it’s time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it’s been a failure.” In his book, Zinni writes: “In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence, and corruption.… I think there was dereliction in insufficient forces being put on the ground and fully understanding the military dimensions of the plan. I think there was dereliction in lack of planning.”
'The Wrong War at the Wrong Time' - Zinni calls Iraq “the wrong war at the wrong time,” and with the wrong strategy. Before the invasion, Zinni told Congress (see October 31, 2002): “This is, in my view, the worst time to take this on. And I don’t feel it needs to be done now.” The generals never wanted this war, Zinni says, but the civilians in the Pentagon and the White House did. “I can’t speak for all generals, certainly,” he says. “But I know we felt that this situation was contained (see Summer 2002-2003). Saddam was effectively contained.… And I think most of the generals felt, let’s deal with this one at a time. Let’s deal with this threat from terrorism, from al-Qaeda.”
Much Larger Force Required - Zinni was heavily involved in planning for any invasion of Iraq, going back to at least 1999 (see April-July 1999). Zinni always envisioned any such invasion as being implemented with enough ground forces to get the job done quickly and cleanly. Rumsfeld had different ideas—the invasion could be carried off with fewer troops and more high-tech weaponry. Zinni wanted around 300,000 troops: “We were much in line with General Shinseki’s view. We were talking about, you know, 300,000, in that neighborhood.” Would a larger force have made a difference? Kroft asks. Zinni replies, “I think it’s critical in the aftermath, if you’re gonna go to resolve a conflict through the use of force, and then to rebuild the country.” Rumsfeld should have anticipated the level and ferocity of violence that erupted in the aftermath of the toppling of the Hussein government, but, Zinni says, he did not, and worse, he ignored or belittled those such as Shinseki and a number of foreign allies who warned him of the possible consequences. Instead, Zinni notes, Rumsfeld relied on, among other sources, fabricated intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (see September 19-20, 2001).
'Seat of the Pants Operation' - The entire reconstruction effort was, in Zinni’s mind, a seat-of-the-pants affair. “As best I could see, I saw a pickup team, very small, insufficient in the Pentagon with no detailed plans that walked onto the battlefield after the major fighting stopped and tried to work it out in the huddle,” he says, “in effect to create a seat-of-the-pants operation on reconstructing a country.” Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer is “a great American who’s serving his country, I think, with all the kind of sacrifice and spirit you could expect. But he has made mistake after mistake after mistake.” Bremer’s mistakes include “Disbanding the army (see May 23, 2003). De-Baathifying (see May 16, 2003), down to a level where we removed people that were competent and didn’t have blood on their hands that you needed in the aftermath of reconstruction—alienating certain elements of that society.” Zinni reserves most of the blame for the Pentagon: “I blame the civilian leadership of the Pentagon directly.”
Heads Should Roll, Beginning with Rumsfeld's - Zinni continues: “But regardless of whose responsibility I think it is, somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they’ve screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That’s what bothers me most.” The first one to go, Zinni says, is Rumsfeld: “Well, it starts with at the top. If you’re the secretary of defense and you’re responsible for that.”
Neoconservatives at Fault - Next up are Rumsfeld’s advisers, whom Kroft identifies as the cadre of neoconservatives “who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel.” Zinni says: “Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced.” Kroft identifies that group as including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle; National Security Council member Elliott Abrams; and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Zinni calls them political ideologues who have hijacked US policy in Iraq: “I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody—everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do.” Like so many others who criticized them, Zinni recalls, he was targeted for personal counterattacks. After publishing one article, he says: “I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that’s the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it.”
Fundamental Conceptual Flaws - Zinni says the neoconservatives believed they could remake the Middle East through the use of American military might, beginning with Iraq. Instead, the US is viewed in the region as “the modern crusaders, as the modern colonial power in this part of the world.”
Changing Course - Zinni has a number of recommendations. He advises President Bush and his senior officials to reach out much more strongly to the United Nations, and to US allies, and secure the UN’s backing. Do these other countries “want a say in political reconstruction? Do they want a piece of the pie economically? If that’s the cost, fine. What they’re gonna pay for up front is boots on the ground and involvement in sharing the burden.” Many more troops are needed on the ground, and not just American troops, he says, enough to seal off the borders, protect the road networks.
Exit Strategy - Zinni says that planning for an exit is necessary because it is inevitable that the US will want to withdraw, and that time will come sooner rather than later. “There is a limit,” he says. “I think it’s important to understand what the limit is. Now do I think we are there yet?”
Speaking Out - He is speaking out, he says, because it is his duty to do so: “It is part of your duty. Look, there is one statement that bothers me more than anything else. And that’s the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning, and troops were dying as a result. I can’t think anyone would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what’s the difference between a faulty plan and strategy that’s getting just as many troops killed?” [CBS News, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Anthony Zinni, Eric Shinseki, Ahmed Chalabi, Al-Qaeda, US Department of the Army, Steve Kroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Tom Clancy, US Department of Defense, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, US Central Command, Joint Chiefs of Staff, L. Paul Bremer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group about his knowledge of governmental illegality in eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see Early January 2006), gives an interview for CBS’s flagship news program 60 Minutes. The interview is conducted by Steve Kroft. Klein later describes the interview as “good [and] solid,” and says it should make for a “blockbuster news story.” Klein has agreed to give CBS an “exclusive,” so he gives no interviews for the next four months while CBS fails to run the story. “I was silent during the entire 2006 election period,” Klein will write. Klein’s lead attorney, civil rights lawyer Jim Brosnahan, is astonished at CBS’s failure to run the segment, telling Klein the network has “no good reason” for not broadcasting it. CBS will never air the segment featuring Klein. Klein will later write, “It seems obvious to me that someone higher up at CBS had killed the story for political reasons, but could not tell us that, so they put us off without explanation.” Klein will later grant interviews to ABC and PBS; those interviews will be aired. [Klein, 2009, pp. 62-63]

Entity Tags: Public Broadcasting System, ABC News, AT&T, CBS News, Steve Kroft, James Brosnahan, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Martin Peretz, the editor in chief of The New Republic, falsely accuses Jewish billionaire George Soros of being a Nazi collaborator. Soros is now a target of conservative opprobrium for his financial support of Democratic and progressive causes. As a 14-year-old boy, Soros escaped from the Nazis by hiding with a non-Jewish family in Hungary; the father of that family sometimes served deportation notices to Hungarian Jews. Peretz now calls Soros “a young cog in the Hitlerite wheel.” The progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that Peretz is following the lead of right-wing extremists David Horowitz and Richard Poe, whose book The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party claimed that Soros “survived [the Holocaust] by assimilating to Nazism.” The book was found to be riddled with doctored quotes and factual errors (see August 8, 2006). Peretz uses a transcript of a 1998 interview Soros gave to 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft to prove his claim, but edits the transcript to leave out a key section that shows Soros did not collaborate with Nazis. [Media Matters, 2/5/2007; New Republic, 2/12/2007] (The article is dated February 12, 2007, but was posted on the New Republic Web site a week earlier.)

Entity Tags: Richard Poe, David Horowitz, George Soros, Media Matters, Steve Kroft, Martin Peretz

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Responding to speculation that his administration will continue the policies of torture and indefinite detention, President-elect Barack Obama says flatly that he will shut down the Guantanamo detention center as part of his administration’s new policy towards terror suspects. CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asks: “There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?” Obama responds: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2008; CBS News, 11/16/2008] Two days into his administration, Obama orders that the Guantanamo detention facility be closed (see January 22, 2009).

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Steve Kroft, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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