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US Civil Liberties

Database Programs

Project: US Civil Liberties
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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The FBI, led by director J. Edgar Hoover, begins to “accumulate the names, identities, and activities” of American citizens who are regarded as suspect. The information is gathered in a “security index,” which rapidly expands. In a letter to the White House during the Truman administration, Hoover will state that in the event of certain emergency situations, suspect individuals would be held in detention camps overseen by “the National Military Establishment.” By 1960, a congressional investigation will later reveal, the FBI list of suspicious persons will include “professors, teachers, and educators; labor-union organizers and leaders; writers, lecturers, newsmen, and others in the mass-media field; lawyers, doctors, and scientists; other potentially influential persons on a local or national level; [and] individuals who could potentially furnish financial or material aid” to unnamed “subversive elements.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover

Category Tags: Database Programs, Privacy

Mount Weather, a secret underground government installation located about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1950-1962), maintains a “Civil Crisis Management” program aimed at monitoring and managing civil emergencies, such as resource shortages, labor strikes, and political uprisings. The installation is a key component of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of national emergency. “We try to monitor situations and get them before they become emergencies,” says Daniel J. Cronin, assistant director of the Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA), which is responsible for managing parts of the facility and program. As part of the program, Mount Weather collects and stores data regarding military and government installations, communications, transportation, energy and power, food supplies, manufacturing, wholesale and retail services, manpower, medical and educational institutions, sanitary facilities, population, and stockpiles of essential resources. The Progressive reports in 1976, “At the heart of the Civil Crisis Management program are two complicated computer systems called the ‘Contingency Impact Analysis System’ (CIAS) and the ‘Resource Interruption Monitoring System’ (RIMS).” The complex systems apparently interpret crisis situations, predict future outcomes, and provide possible solutions for emergencies. According to a 1974 FPA report obtained by The Progressive, CIAS and RIMS are used in close cooperation with private US companies “to develop a range of standby options, alternative programs… to control the economy in a crisis situation.” The Civil Crisis Management program is put on standby during several national anti-war demonstrations and inner city riots in 1967 and 1968. The program is activated during a 1973 Penn Railroad strike and is put to use again in 1974 when a strike by independent truckers threatens food and fuel shipments. By March 1976, the Civil Crisis Management program is being used on a daily basis to monitor potential emergencies. Senator John Tunney (D-CA) will claim in 1975 that Mount Weather has collected and stored data on at least 100,000 US citizens (see September 9, 1975). [Progressive, 3/1976]

Entity Tags: Federal Preparedness Agency, Mount Weather, John V. Tunney

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, Other Surveillance

The government establishes the Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations within the Department of Defense. The directorate will oversee civil disturbance operations, such as Garden Plot and Cable Splicer (see Winter 1967-1968), and conduct surveillance on US citizens in search of possible security threats. The directorate is headquartered in the basement of the Pentagon in what will become known as the “domestic war room.” The center utilizes a massive computer system to monitor “all public outbursts and political dissent” within the United States. New Times magazine will describe the war room as follows: “Surrounded by acetate map overlays, a fulltime staff of 180, including around-the-clock ‘watch teams,’ [uses] teletype machines, telephones, and radios to keep in constant communication with every National Guard headquarters and all major military installations in the continental United States.” Seven Army infantry brigades totaling 21,000 troops are at the directorate’s disposal. [New Times, 11/28/1975]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Database Programs

The Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, uncovers the existence of a sophisticated computer system used by the Department of Defense to monitor US citizens suspected of “subversive” activities. The system is operated from the military’s “domestic war room,” overseen by the Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations in the basement of the Pentagon (see April 1968). It is designed to keep track of “all public outbursts and political dissent” inside the United States. The Senate subcommittee uncovers a database of thousands of US citizens labeled as possible threats to national security. According to New Times magazine, the subcommittee discovers “computerized files on 18,000 of the celebrated to obscure, on people such as Senator George McGovern and former Massachusetts Gov. Francis Sargent down to ordinary citizens who had, sometimes unknowingly, become ‘associated with known militant groups.’” [New Times, 11/28/1975]

Entity Tags: Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations, George S. McGovern, Francis Sargent, US Department of Defense, Sam Ervin

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Continuity of Government, Database Programs

The Federal Preparedness Agency, later renamed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has its own domestic surveillance system in place, according to an investigation by Senator John Tunney (D-CA). He finds that the agency is maintaining electronic dossiers on at least 100,000 Americans that contain information gleaned from wide-ranging computerized surveillance. The database is located in the agency’s secret underground city at Mount Weather, near Bluemont, Virginia. The senator’s findings will be confirmed in a 1976 investigation by the Progressive magazine, which will find that the Mount Weather computers “can obtain millions of pieces [of] information on the personal lives of American citizens by tapping the data stored at any of the 96 Federal Relocation Centers”—a reference to other classified facilities. According to the Progressive, Mount Weather’s databases are run “without any set of stated rules or regulations. Its surveillance program remains secret even from the leaders of the House and the Senate.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: John Tunney, Federal Preparedness Agency

Category Tags: Continuity of Government, Database Programs

Senator John V. Tunney, chairman of the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, claims Mount Weather, a secret government facility located about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1952-1958), has collected and stored data on at least 100,000 US citizens. During a Congressional hearing into reports of domestic surveillance, Tunney alleges, “computers—described as ‘the best in world’—can obtain millions of pieces of information on the personal lives of American citizens.” Mount Weather maintains a state-of-the-art surveillance system as part of the facility’s Civil Crisis Management program (see 1967-1976). General Robert T. Bray, who is called to testify at the hearing, refuses to answer repeated questions regarding the data collection programs. Bray says he is “not at liberty” to disclose “the role and the mission and the capability” at Mount Weather, “or any other precise location.” Mount Weather and nearly 100 other “Federal Relocation Centers” are considered a key aspect of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see 1950-1962), which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of national emergency. Bray admits to committee members that Mount Weather stores data relating to “military installations, government facilities, communications, transportation, energy and power, agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale and retail services, manpower, financial, medical and educational institutions, sanitary facilities, population, housing shelter, and stockpiles.” Senator James Abourezk says, “the whole operation has eluded the supervision of either Congress or the courts.” Senator Tunney says Mount Weather is “out of control.” [Progressive, 3/1976]

Entity Tags: Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, James Abourezk, Mount Weather, John V. Tunney, Robert T. Bray

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, Other Surveillance

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North uses a sophisticated brand of software known as PROMIS to track potential security threats in the United States. Intelligence officials will later tell Wired magazine that North has a command center connected to a larger Justice Department facility utilizing the software. “According to both a contractor who helped design the center and information disclosed during the Iran-Contra hearings,” North maintains a “similar, but smaller, White House operations room… connected by computer link to the [Justice Department]‘s command center.” According to Wired, North uses computers in his operations center to track “dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States as part of a domestic emergency preparedness program.” North is assigned to work with FEMA on the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program from 1982 to 1984 (see 1982-1984). Wired will later report, “Using PROMIS, sources point out, North could have drawn up lists of anyone ever arrested for a political protest, for example, or anyone who had ever refused to pay their taxes.” Compared to PROMIS, Wired notes, “Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Sen. Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude.” [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Continuity of Government, Database Programs

As a part of the plan to ensure Continuity of Government (COG) in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike or other emergency, the US government begins to maintain a database of people it considers unfriendly. A senior government official who has served with high-level security clearances in five administrations will say it is “a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources say that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core, and one says it was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Alleged Link to PROMIS - The database will be said to be linked to a system known as PROMIS, the Prosecutor’s Management Information System, over which the US government conducts a long-lasting series of disputes with the private company Inslaw. The exact connection between Main Core and PROMIS is uncertain, but one option is that code from PROMIS is used to create Main Core. PROMIS is most noted for its ability to combine data from different databases, and an intelligence expert briefed by high-level contacts in the Department of Homeland Security will say that Main Core “is less a mega-database than a way to search numerous other agency databases at the same time.”
Definition of National Emergency - It is unclear what kind of national emergency could trigger such detention. Executive orders issued over the next three decades define it as a “natural disaster, military attack, [or] technological or other emergency,” while Defense Department documents include eventualities like “riots, acts of violence, insurrections, unlawful obstructions or assemblages, [and] disorder prejudicial to public law and order.” According to one news report, even “national opposition to US military invasion abroad” could be a trigger.
How Does It Work? - A former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community will be told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations using “social network analysis” and artificial intelligence modeling tools. “The more data you have on a particular target, the better [the software] can predict what the target will do, where the target will go, who it will turn to for help,” he will say. “Main Core is the table of contents for all the illegal information that the US government has [compiled] on specific targets.”
Origin of Data - In 2008, sources will reportedly tell Radar magazine that a “host of publicly disclosed programs… now supply data to Main Core,” in particular the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs initiated after 9/11. [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency, Inslaw, Inc.

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Category Tags: Continuity of Government, Database Programs

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop plans for implementing martial law in the event of a national emergency. The plans are developed under the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of disaster. As a member of the National Security Council (NSC), North is assigned to the Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board (EMPB), formed by President Reagan to coordinate civil defense planning among the NSC, FEMA, and White House (see December 29. 1981). According to the Miami Herald, the martial law plans would “suspend the Constitution in the event of a national crisis, such as nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent, or national opposition to a US military invasion abroad.” Sources will claim North is involved in a major domestic surveillance operation as part of the COG program (see 1980s and 1980s or Before). During investigations into the Iran-Contra affair, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) will be barred from asking North about his involvement with the plans and the secret program (see 1987). [Miami Herald, 7/5/1987; Reynolds, 1990; Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board, National Security Council, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Oliver North, Jack Brooks

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Continuity of Government, Database Programs

US Representative Henry B. Gonzalez (D-TX) claims the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is prepared to detain 400,000 Central Americans residing in the United States in the event of an emergency. According to the Texas Observer, Gonzalez says reliable intelligence sources have informed him that the plan, if implemented, would also include a certain number of US citizens, noting that the agency maintains a list of “subversive” individuals to be monitored and/or apprehended in the event of a national emergency, a possible reference to the FBI’s Administration Index (see 1985). [Texas Observer, 5/15/1987; Miami Herald, 7/5/1987]

Entity Tags: Henry Gonzalez, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments in US, Continuity of Government, Database Programs

Starting in 1997, the FBI constructs a sophisticated surveillance system that can perform near-instantaneous wiretaps on almost any telephone, cell phone, and Internet communications device, according to documents declassified in August 2007. The system is called the Digital Collection System Network, or DCSNet. It connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by land-line operators, Internet-telephony companies, and cellular providers. The documents show that DCSNet is, in reporter Ryan Singel’s words, “far more intricately woven into the nation’s telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.” Steven Bellovin, a computer science professor and surveillance expert, calls DCSNet a “comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS [short message service, a protocol allowing mobile devices to exchange text messages], and push-to-talk systems.” The system is an entire suite of software that together collects, sifts, and stores phone numbers, phone calls, and text messages. The system directly connects FBI wiretapping offices around the country to a sprawling private communications network. DCSNet is composed of three main clients:
bullet The DCS-3000, also called “Red Hook,” handles pen-registers and trap-and-traces, a type of surveillance that collects signaling information but not communications content.
bullet The DCS-6000, or “Digital Storm,” captures and collects the content—the spoken or written communications—of phone calls and text messages.
bullet The most classified system of the three, the DCS-5000, is used for wiretaps targeting spies or terrorists.
Between the three, the system can allow FBI agents to monitor recorded phone calls and messages in real time, create master wiretap files, send digital recordings to translators, track the location of targets in real time using cell-tower information, and stream intercepts to mobile surveillance vans. The entire system is operated through a private, secure and self-contained backbone that is run for the government by Sprint. Singel gives the following example: “The network allows an FBI agent in New York, for example, to remotely set up a wiretap on a cell phone based in Sacramento, California, and immediately learn the phone’s location, then begin receiving conversations, text messages and voicemail pass codes in New York. With a few keystrokes, the agent can route the recordings to language specialists for translation.” Dialed numbers are subjected to data mining, including so-called “link analysis.” The precise number of US phones being monitored and recorded in this way is classified.
Genesis of DCSNet - The system was made possible by the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) (see January 1, 1995), which mandated that telecom providers must build “backdoors” in US telephone switches to be used by government wiretappers. CALEA also ordered telecom firms to install only switching equipment that met detailed wiretapping standards. Before CALEA, the FBI would bring a wiretap warrant to a particular telecom, and that firm would itself create a tap. Now, the FBI logs in directly to the telecom networks and monitors a surveillance target itself through DCSNet. FBI special agent Anthony DiClemente, chief of the Data Acquisition and Intercept Section of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, says the DCS was originally intended in 1997 to be a temporary solution, but has grown into a full-featured CALEA-collection software suite. “CALEA revolutionizes how law enforcement gets intercept information,” he says. “Before CALEA, it was a rudimentary system that mimicked Ma Bell.” Now, under CALEA, phone systems and Internet service providers have been forced to allow DCSNet to access almost all of its data (see 1997-August 2007 and After).
Security Breaches - The system is vulnerable to hacking and security breaches (see 2003). [Wired News, 8/29/2007]

Entity Tags: Steven Bellovin, Ryan Singel, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Anthony DiClemente, Operational Technology Division (FBI), Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), Digital Collection System, Data Acquisition and Intercept Section (FBI), Sprint/Nextel

Category Tags: Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, Other Surveillance

Some time after he is appointed CIA Director (see July 11, 1997), but before 9/11, George Tenet negotiates a series of agreements with telecommunications and financial institutions “to get access to certain telephone, Internet, and financial records related to ‘black’ intelligence operations.” The arrangements are made personally by the companies’ CEOs and Tenet, who plays “the patriot card” to get the information. The arrangement involves the CIA’s National Resources Division, which has at least a dozen offices in the US. The Division’s main aim is to recruit people in the US to spy abroad. However, in this case the Division makes arrangements so that other intelligence agencies, such as the NSA, can access the information and records the CEOs agree to provide. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 323-5] There is a history of co-operation between the CIA’s National Resources Division and the NSA. For example, Monte Overacre, a CIA officer assigned to the Division’s San Diego office in the early 1990s, said that he worked with the NSA there, obtaining information about foreign telecommunications programs and passing it on to the Technology Management Office, a joint venture between the two agencies. [Mother Jones, 1/1998] One US official will say that the arrangements only give the CIA access to the companies’ passive databanks. However, reporter Bob Woodward will say that the programme raises “serious civil liberties questions and also demonstrate[d] that the laws had not kept pace with the technology.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 324-5] There will be an interagency argument about the program after 9/11 (see (2003 and After)).

Entity Tags: Monte Overacre, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA Technology Management Office, Bob Woodward, George J. Tenet, CIA National Resources Division

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs

NSA servers used to collect and sift data.NSA servers used to collect and sift data. [Source: FrancesFarmersRevenge.com]The National Security Agency (see 1952) begins building a massive data-mining system, code-named “Trailblazer,” that is intended to sift through reams of digital communications intercepts and find nuggets of information relevant to national security. The program’s task is huge—to sort through the 2 million bits of data the NSA collects every hour—and one made even more complex by the relatively new types of wireless, Internet, cell phone, and instant messaging communications now becoming ever more commonplace. Trailblazer is strongly embraced by General Michael Hayden, who became the NSA’s director in March 1999. Hayden recognizes from the outset that the NSA is years behind the technological curve, and casts Trailblazer as the future of the agency’s intelligence gathering and sorting. In November 1999, Hayden makes Trailblazer the centerpiece of his “100 Days of Change,” his plan to transform the agency into a leaner, more efficient organization, fast-tracking the program to vault it ahead of other initiatives. “It was going to structure us to handle the digital revolution,” a former intelligence official will recall. But from the outset the program has problems: a meeting between NSA and other government officials in December 1999 is unpromising, and, according to one government oversight official, the program “kicked off with not a real great definition of what it was trying to achieve.” Program managers fail to define standard data formats to allow for the proper sorting of information. After six years, $1.2 billion in expenditures, and endless man-hours of work, the utterly failed program will be recognized as the “biggest boondoggle… in the intelligence community” (see January 2006). [Baltimore Sun, 1/29/2006]

Entity Tags: Trailblazer, National Security Agency, Michael Hayden

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs

According to a 2006 lawsuit against three major US telecommunications firms that alleges the companies illegally cooperated with the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program (see May 12, 2006), NSA officials meet with AT&T officials to discuss that firm’s participation. (Days later, NSA officials will also meet with officials from Qwest, who refuse to cooperate—see February 27, 2001). The officials discuss replicating an AT&T network center in Bedminster, New Jersey, to give the agency access to all the global phone and e-mail traffic that runs through it. According to an AT&T engineer’s court statements, the NSA officials want to “listen in” with unfettered access to communications that they believe may have intelligence value, as well as the ability to store those communications for later review. There is no discussion of limiting the monitoring to international communications, the engineer says: “At some point, I started feeling something isn’t right.” Two other AT&T employees will contradict the engineer’s claims, saying that the NSA merely wanted to upgrade its own internal communications. The lawsuit’s legal counsel, Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, will say that internal AT&T documents can verify the engineer’s account. Mayer will say that the engineer sees “decisive evidence that within two weeks of taking office, the Bush administration was planning a comprehensive effort of spying on Americans’ phone usage.” [New York Times, 12/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Bruce Afran, AT&T, Carl Mayer, National Security Agency, Qwest

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The National Security Agency seeks the assistance of global telecommunications corporation AT&T to help it set up a domestic call monitoring site to eavesdrop on US citizens’ phone communications, according to court papers filed in June 2006 as part of a lawsuit against AT&T (see October 2001). The NSA is expressly forbidden from spying on US citizens within US borders unless authorized by the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court (FISC) (see 1978). When the NSA program, which wiretaps phone and email communications often without court warrants, becomes public knowledge well over four years later (see December 15, 2005), President Bush, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and other White House and government officials will assert that the program was set up in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If the claims made in the lawsuit are accurate, these assertions are provably false. “The Bush administration asserted this became necessary after 9/11,” lawyer Carl Mayer will claim in 2006. “This undermines that assertion.” Unbeknownst to most Americans, the NSA is operating a secret “data mining” operation that, by 2006, will have compiled phone records and contact information on millions of domestic phone and email communications. The NSA project is code-named “Project Groundbreaker,” and is ostensibly an above-board attempt announced in June 2000 to have AT&T and other firms help modernize its technological capabilities. The project originally seeks to have AT&T build a network operations center that duplicates AT&T’s facility in Bedminster, New Jersey; this plan will be altered when the NSA decides it will be better served by acquiring the monitoring technology itself. The agency is seeking bids for a project to “modernize and improve its information technology infrastructure,” including the privatization of its “non-mission related” systems support. [TechWeb, 6/13/2000; Bloomberg, 6/30/2006] Groundbreaker’s privatization project is expected to provide up to $5 billion in government contracts to various private firms such as AT&T, Computer Sciences Corporation, and OAO Corporation, [Computerworld, 12/4/2000; Government Executive, 9/1/2001] and up to 750 NSA employees will become private contractors. Hayden, who has aggressively instituted a corporate management protocol to enhance productivity and has brought in numerous senior managers and agency executives from private defense firms, is a strong proponent of privatizing and outsourcing much of the NSA’s technological operations, and in 2001 will say that he wants the agency to focus on its primary task of breaking codes and conducting surveillance. Hayden does not admit that Groundbreaker is part of a larger NSA domestic surveillance program, [Government Executive, 9/1/2001] and publicly, NSA officials say that the project is limited to administrative and logistics functions. [Computerworld, 12/4/2000] The covert data mining portion of the project is code-named “Pioneer.” A former, unnamed employee of the NSA, [Bloomberg, 6/30/2006] and a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, will provide the key information about Groundbreaker (see Late 2002, July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005). Klein will say in 2006 that he saw the NSA construct a clandestine area within its switching center in San Francisco, and saw NSA technicians shunt fiber optic cable carrying Internet traffic into that area, which contains a large data bank and secret data mining hardware (see April 6, 2006). Klein will say he knew that the NSA built other such facilities in other switching locations. He will go on to say that the NSA did not work with just AT&T traffic; when AT&T’s network connected with other networks, the agency acquired access to that traffic as well. [Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006] The information about AT&T and the NSA will become public knowledge after the 2006 filing of a lawsuit against AT&T and other telecommunications firms (see May 12, 2006 and June 26, 2006).

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, Michael Hayden, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Bush administration (43), Carl Mayer, Computer Sciences Corporation, AT&T, National Security Agency, OAO Corporation

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

According to a former senior Justice Department official, a high-level former national security official working as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the White House accidentally walks into a restricted room, where he finds a computer system logged on to what he recognizes to be the Main Core database. Main Core contains a list of potential enemies of the state for use by the Continuity of Government program (see 1980s or Before). He will refuse to be interviewed about the matter, but will tell the senior Justice Department official about it. The Justice Department official will add that when she mentions the specific name of the top-secret system during a conversation, he turns “white as a sheet.” [Salon, 7/23/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Category Tags: Database Programs

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).

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA expands surveillance operations, relying on its own authorities; some sources indicate this includes a massive domestic data mining and call tracking program, and some contend that it is illegal. In a 2006 public briefing, NSA Director Michael Hayden will say, “In the days after 9/11, NSA was using its authorities and its judgment to appropriately respond to the most catastrophic attack on the homeland in the history of the nation.” Following an October 1 briefing by Hayden to the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden on October 11, saying, “[Y]ou indicated 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” (see October 11, 2001). Some evidence indicates NSA domestic surveillance began even before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
No Connection to Bush-Authorized Warrantless Domestic Call Monitoring - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will clearly distinguish between the expansion he initiates under his own authorities, and the warrantless monitoring of calls with one end outside the US authorized later by President Bush (see October 4, 2001), saying, “[E]xcept that they involved NSA, these [Hayden-authorized] programs were not related… to the authorization that the president has recently spoken about.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
'Stellar Wind' Is Name of Hayden-Authorized Program - In 2012 interviews, former NSA official William Binney will indicate that “Stellar Wind” is the name of the surveillance program initiated by Hayden. [Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012] Some sources will refer to the Bush-authorized eavesdropping as being part of the Stellar Wind program. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Differing Views on Authority for Surveillance - In his 2006 briefing, Hayden will say the Fourth Amendment only protects Americans against “unreasonable search and seizure,” and that 9/11 changed what was to be considered “reasonable.” Specifically, if communications are believed to have “[i]nherent foreign intelligence value,” interception of these communications is reasonable. In addition to referring to Hayden’s “view of [his] authorities” as “expansive,” Pelosi’s letter will give another indication that the NSA’s new standard is significantly broader than it was previously, stating, “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest.” Hayden will publicly clarify in 2006 that the authority for the NSA’s operational expansion exists under an Executive Order issued by President Reagan, saying, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” And, he will say, “I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities” (see October 1, 2001). In her October 11 letter, Pelosi will also write of having concerns about the program that haven’t been resolved due to restrictions on information-sharing with Congress imposed by Bush (see October 11, 2001). Binney, who pioneered the development of certain NSA data mining and surveillance technologies, will come to believe that what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional; he will first take his concerns to Congress (see Before October 31, 2001) and then resign on October 31 (see October 31, 2001). [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Surveillance Involves Domestic Communications - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will not say the NSA is only targeting foreign communications under his post-9/11 authorization. Rather, the context of his remarks will indicate he is referring to domestic communications. More specifically, Hayden will state: “If the US person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed. It’s a technical term we use; we call it ‘minimized.’ The individual is not even mentioned. Or if he or she is, he or she is referred to as ‘US Person Number One’ or ‘US Person Number Two.’ Now, inherent intelligence value. If the US person is actually the named terrorist, well, that could be a different matter.” Hayden will also reveal that information is being passed to the FBI, an investigative agency with a primarily domestic jurisdiction, saying, “[A]s another part of our adjustment, we also turned on the spigot of NSA reporting to FBI in, frankly, an unprecedented way.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006] One of Pelosi’s statements in her letter to Hayden may indicate an aspect of the domestic component: “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest,” she will write. [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006] In a 2011 interview with Jane Mayer published in the New Yorker, Binney will say the NSA was obtaining “billing records on US citizens” and “putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country.” [New Yorker, 5/23/2011] And in a 2012 Wired article, NSA expert James Bamford will write that Binney “explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.” Binney’s account is supported by other sources (see October 2001). [Wired News, 2/15/2012]
Surveillance Program Is Massive - Bamford, citing Binney, will write: “Stellar Wind… included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” It is unclear exactly when this level of surveillance began. According to whistleblower AT&T employee Mark Klein, construction of secret rooms splitting communications traffic does not begin until Fall 2002 (see Fall 2002). Bamford will write that Binney says, “[T]he taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct ‘deep packet inspection,’ examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.” [Wired News, 2/15/2012] Also, Binney’s remark to Jane Mayer that the NSA was “putting pen registers on everyone in the country” indicates the broad scope of the program. [New Yorker, 5/23/2011]

Entity Tags: Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Michael Hayden, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, Ronald Reagan

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

A senior NSA official, having learned of the NSA’s post-9/11 domestic surveillance program and believing it to be illegal, takes his concerns to a staff member of the House Intelligence Committee. In a 2012 interview for Democracy Now!, William Binney, a former NSA technical director who served in the NSA for 36 years, will say that some of his staff had been recruited to work on the new program and told him of some of the things that were being done, which he believed were illegal. Binney will tell co-host Juan Gonzalez: “I immediately went to the Intelligence Committee, because… the intelligence committees were formed to have oversight over the intelligence community to make sure they didn’t monitor US citizens.… And the member of the staff that I went to went to Porter Goss, who was chairman of that committee at the time, and he referred her to General Hayden for any further. When it was the job of that committee to do the oversight on all this domestic spying, they weren’t doing it.” Soon after this, Binney retires from the NSA, due to his belief the NSA is violating the Constitution (see October 31, 2001). [Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012]

Entity Tags: Jane Mayer, House Intelligence Committee, William Binney, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Concerned that NSA post-9/11 surveillance operations violated the US Constitution, a senior NSA official reports on the program to House Intelligence Committee staff (see Before October 31, 2001), then retires. William Binney, a crypto-mathematician, had served in the NSA for 36 years. In 1997 he was made technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, a 6000-employee unit that focused on signals intelligence (SIGINT) reporting and analysis. In the last part of his NSA career, Binney focused on dealing with the NSA’s problem of information overload, co-founding the Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (SARC) and leading a 20-member team to develop a data-mining and analysis program called ThinThread. This program made it possible to “correlate data from financial transactions, travel records, Web searches, GPS equipment, and any other ‘attributes’ that an analyst might find useful,” and “could chart relationships among people in real time.” Unlike the NSA’s existing centralized data processing systems, ThinThread was able to identify useful or useless data as it was collected, reducing the overload problem. However, though it targeted foreign communications, ThinThread also intercepted those of Americans, and “continued documenting signals when a trail crossed into the US.” Binney incorporated measures to protect privacy, but NSA lawyers still considered the program too invasive, according to a 2011 article by Jane Mayer based on interviews with Binney and another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. In 1999, NSA Director General Michael Hayden decided to fund a rival program, Trailblazer, which would be developed by defense contractors (see Late 1999). Trailblazer will be abandoned in 2006 as unworkable, after costing $1.2 billion (see January 2006). [New Yorker, 5/23/2011; Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012]
Post-9/11 NSA Surveillance Expansion - Binney will tell Mayer that, after the 9/11 attacks, his people began coming to him, saying things like: “They’re getting billing records on US citizens! They’re putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country!” James Bamford will interview Binney in 2012 and write, “At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, [Binney] says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” Binney has not been personally “read in” to this domestic surveillance program, but some members of his SARC team have, as their knowledge of ThinThread code was needed to set it up. Binney became convinced elements of ThinThread were being used, but without privacy protections, meaning US persons could be targeted. Soon after learning these things, Binney takes his concerns to the House Intelligence Committee (see Before October 31, 2001), and retires on October 31. He will tell Mayer, “I couldn’t be an accessory to subverting the Constitution.” Other sources support Binney’s account of this NSA data-mining and monitoring program (see After September 11, 2001, October 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Late September, 2001, and October 2001). However, the claim that NSA domestic surveillance was initiated only after, and in response to, 9/11 is contradicted by information indicating that domestic monitoring programs and activities were established and conducted prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [New Yorker, 5/23/2011; Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012]

Entity Tags: William Binney, World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, Thinthread, Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center, House Intelligence Committee, James Bamford, Jane Mayer, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency, Thomas Drake, Trailblazer

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The National Security Agency begins sending data—consisting of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and names—to the FBI that was obtained through surveillance of international communications originating within the US (see After September 11, 2001 and October 2001). The NSA sends so much data, in fact, that hundreds of agents are needed to investigate the thousands of tips per month that the data is generating. However, virtually all of this information leads to dead ends and/or innocent people. FBI officials repeatedly complain that the unfiltered information is bogging down the bureau: according to over a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, the flood of tips provide them and their colleagues with very few real leads against terrorism suspect. Instead, the NSA data diverts agents from more productive work. Some FBI officials view the NSA data as pointless and likely illegal intrusions on citizens’ privacy. Initially, FBI director Robert Mueller asks senior administration officials “whether the program had a proper legal foundation,” but eventually defers to Justice Department legal opinions. One former FBI agent will later recall, “We’d chase a number, find it’s a schoolteacher with no indication they’ve ever been involved in international terrorism—case closed. After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration.” A former senior prosecutor will add, “It affected the FBI in the sense that they had to devote so many resources to tracking every single one of these leads, and, in my experience, they were all dry leads. A trained investigator never would have devoted the resources to take those leads to the next level, but after 9/11, you had to.” Former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman says that the problem between the FBI and the NSA may stem in part from their very different approaches. Signals intelligence, the technical term for the NSA’s communications intercepts, rarely produces “the complete information you’re going to get from a document or a witness” in a traditional FBI investigation, he says. And many FBI officials are uncomfortable with the NSA’s domestic operations, since by law the NSA is precluded from operating inside US borders except under very specific circumstances. [New York Times, 1/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Bobby Ray Inman, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Database Programs

The FBI and Defense Department begin paying ChoicePoint, a private data-collection company, for access to its data-searching system. Neither agency is legally permitted to keep database records on US citizens, but they are effectively able to circumvent this law by contracting the task to ChoicePoint. Both agencies have steadily expanded their relationship with the company. Exactly what kind of data is being accessed and the legality of doing so remain murky. [Government Executive, 11/11/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, ChoicePoint, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Database Programs

Vice Admiral John Poindexter testifying before Congress in the Iran Contra hearings in 1987.Vice Admiral John Poindexter testifying before Congress in the Iran Contra hearings in 1987. [Source: Associated Press]Vice Admiral John Poindexter begins running a shadowy new government agency called the Information Awareness Office. [New York Times, 2/13/2002; Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002] Poindexter, formerly President Reagan’s National Security Adviser, is known for his five felony convictions of lying to Congress, destroying documents, and obstructing Congress in its investigation of his role in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra affair. Later his convictions were overturned on a technicality. [Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2002] Far from apologizing, Poindexter said it was his duty to lie to Congress. [Newsday, 12/1/2002] The New York Times notes that his new agency “is developing technologies to give federal officials instant access to vast new surveillance and information-analysis systems.” The new office is part of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Poindexter was also known for his controversial role in shifting control of computer security to the military in the 1980s. Says Marc Rotenberg, former counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, “It took three administrations and both political parties over a decade to correct those mistakes.” [New York Times, 2/13/2002] Surprisingly, Poindexter’s appointment is little noticed until later in 2002 when the Total Information Awareness program is revealed (see March 2002; November 9, 2002). Incidentally, several others involved in the Iran-Contra affair also find jobs in the Bush Administration, including Elliott Abrams, John Negroponte, and Otto Reich. [Observer, 12/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Total Information Awareness, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, John Poindexter

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Category Tags: Database Programs


This partial image from a Total Information Awareness slide presentation shows types of data that will be collected. Note that
even “gait” - the way one walks, will be analyzed.
This partial image from a Total Information Awareness slide presentation shows types of data that will be collected. Note that even “gait” - the way one walks, will be analyzed. [Source: DARPA]The US military internally announces the creation of a new global data collection system called Total Information Awareness. The existence of this program is not reported until August 2002 [Wired News, 8/7/2002] , and not widely known until November 2002 (see November 9, 2002). Interestingly, the early accounts of this program suggest its budget is a “significant amount” of $96 million [Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002] , and not the $10 million later reported. [Guardian, 11/23/2002] It is also reported that “parts” of the program “are already operational” whereas later it is said to be only in the conceptual stages of development. [Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Total Information Awareness, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Database Programs

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) turns down the Justice Department’s bid for sweeping new powers to monitor and wiretap US citizens. FISC judges rule that the government has misused the law and misled the court dozens of times. The court finds that Justice Department and FBI officials supplied false or misleading information to the court in over 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps, including one signed by then-FBI director Louis Freeh. While the court does not find that the misrepresentations were deliberate, it does rule that not only were erroneous statements made, but important information was omitted from some FISA applications. The judges found so many inaccuracies and errors in FBI agent Michael Resnick’s affidavits that they bar him from ever appearing before the court again. The court cites “the troubling number of inaccurate FBI affidavits in so many FISA applications,” and says, “In virtually every instance, the government’s misstatements and omissions in FISA applications and violations of the Court’s orders involved information sharing and unauthorized disseminations to criminal investigators and prosecutors.” The court is also unhappy with the Justice Department’s failure to answer for these errors and omissions, writing, “How these misrepresentations occurred remains unexplained to the court.” The court finds that in light of such impropriety, the new procedures proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft in March would give prosecutors too much control over counterintelligence investigations, and would allow the government to misuse intelligence information for criminal cases. The ruling is a severe blow to Ashcroft’s attempts since the 9/11 attacks to allow investigators working in terrorism and espionage to share more information with criminal investigators. (These limitations were put in place after the Church Commission’s findings of massive fraud and misuse of domestic surveillance programs during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. See April, 1976, January 29, 1976, and December 21, 1974). The Justice Department says of the decision, “We believe the court’s action unnecessarily narrowed the Patriot Act and limited our ability to fully utilize the authority Congress gave us.” Interestingly, the Justice Department also opposed the public release of FISC’s decision not to grant the requested powers. Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA, calls the opinion “a public rebuke. The message is you need better quality control. The judges want to ensure they have information they can rely on implicitly.” Bush officials have complained since the 9/11 attacks that FISA requirements hamper the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agents to track terrorist suspects, including alleged hijacking conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). Those requirements mandate that agents must show probable cause that the subject of a search or wiretap is an agent of a foreign government or terrorist group, and, because FISA standards for obtaining warrants is far lower than for ordinary criminal warrants, mandate strict limits on the distribution of information secured from such investigations. The FBI searched Moussaoui’s laptop computer and other belongings without a FISA warrant because some officials did not believe they could adequately show the court that Moussaoui had any connections to a foreign government or terrorist group. In its ruling, FISC suggests that if the Justice Department finds FISA too restrictive, they should ask Congress to update the law. Many senators on the Judiciary Committee say they are willing to enact such reforms, but have complained of resistance from Ashcroft and a lack of cooperation from the Bush administration. [Washington Post, 8/23/2002] In November 2002, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review will overturn the FISC decision and give the Justice Department what it asked for (see November 18, 2002).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Grassley, US Department of Justice, Stewart Baker, Zacarias Moussaoui, National Security Agency, John Ashcroft, Church Commission, USA Patriot Act, Louis J. Freeh, Michael Resnick

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, Other Surveillance

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

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind


The original logo for the Total Information Awareness program. An eye from a Masonic pyramid appears to cast a beam over the world, with Muslim regions highlighted. [<a href=“http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/11/20/MN218568.DTL” target=_new>San Francisco Chronicle, 11/20/02</a>, <a href=“http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4552953,00.html” target=_new>Guardian, 11/23/02</a>] The motto, Scientia Est Potentia, means “knowledge is power.” The logo is later removed from the department’s website. [<a href=“http://www.sunspot.net/news/nationworld/bal-spy1503,0,4325331.story?coll=bal-home-headlines” target=_new>Baltimore Sun, 1/5/03</a>]
The original logo for the Total Information Awareness program. An eye from a Masonic pyramid appears to cast a beam over the world, with Muslim regions highlighted. [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/20/02, Guardian, 11/23/02] The motto, Scientia Est Potentia, means “knowledge is power.” The logo is later removed from the department’s website. [Baltimore Sun, 1/5/03] [Source: DARPA]The New York Times exposes the existence of John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness data collection program, begun in early 2002 (see Mid-January 2002; March 2002). [New York Times, 11/9/2002] Conservative columnist William Safire writes, “If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you: Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend—all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database.’ To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you—passport application, driver’s license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the FBI, your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance—and you have the supersnoop’s dream: a ‘Total Information Awareness’ about every US citizen.” [New York Times, 11/14/2002] Poindexter says it will take years to realize his vision, but his office has already begun providing some technology to government agencies. [Washington Post, 11/12/2002] The existence of this program, and the fact that Poindexter is running it, causes concern for many on both the left and right. [USA Today, 1/16/2003] It is regularly called Orwellian, conjuring visions of 1984’s Big Brother, and even supporters admit it sounds Orwellian. [Newsweek, 11/15/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2002; Guardian, 11/23/2002; Newsday, 12/1/2002; New Yorker, 12/9/2002; BBC, 12/12/2002; Dallas Morning News, 12/16/2002; Baltimore Sun, 1/5/2003] The New York Times suggests, “Congress should shut down the program pending a thorough investigation.” [New York Times, 11/18/2002] Experts question not only its civil liberties implications, but also if it is even feasible. If it does work, would its database be swapped with errors that could not be removed? (see March 2002) [Mercury News (San Jose), 12/26/2002] However, many newspapers fail to report on the program at all, and ABC is the only network to report the story on prime time television. [ABC News, 11/16/2002; ABC News, 11/25/2002] Despite so many objections, the program is included in the Homeland Security bill (see November 25, 2002), and only later somewhat curbed by Congress (see January 23, 2003).

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, William Safire, Homeland Security Act, Total Information Awareness

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Category Tags: Database Programs, Media Involvement and Responses

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in its first-ever ruling, overturns a ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (see May 17, 2002) that stopped the Justice Department from being granted sweeping new powers to conduct domestic surveillance on US citizens. [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/18/2002; FindLaw, 11/18/2002 pdf file]
'Rubber Stamp' - The ACLU’s Ann Beeson says of the ruling, “We are deeply disappointed with the decision, which suggests that this special court exists only to rubberstamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants. “As of today, the Attorney General can suspend the ordinary requirements of the Fourth Amendment in order to listen in on phone calls, read e-mails, and conduct secret searches of Americans’ homes and offices.” The ACLU and other civil liberties organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking that the original ruling stand. The ACLU and its partners are considering appealing the decision to the Supreme Court, as well as asking Congress to legislate tighter restrictions on the Justice Department’s ability to conduct domestic surveillance. Beeson notes that appealing the FISA Review Court’s decision might be impossible: “This is a major Constitutional decision that will affect every American’s privacy rights, yet there is no way anyone but the government can automatically appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. Hearing a one-sided argument and doing so in secret goes against the traditions of fairness and open government that have been the hallmark of our democracy.” The FISC Review Court is a special three-judge panel appointed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in accordance with provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The judges include appellate court justices Laurence Silberman, Edward Leavy, and Ralph Guy, Jr. [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/18/2002]
Law Professor Slams Ruling - Law professor Raneta Lawson Mack is highly critical of the ruling. Mack writes that the court twisted its reasoning upon itself in order to give the Justice Department what it asked for. It misrepresented the facts and legal arguments of the case. It gratuitously insulted the ACLU and other “friends of the court” in its ruling. It wrote that the entire FISA law is constitutional even though its standards conflict with the Fourth Amendment. To justify its ruling from a legislative standpoint, the Review Court cherrypicked statements by legislators that supported the Justice Department’s stance while ignoring those from other viewpoints. It called the Bush administration’s efforts to challenge the “firewall” between law enforcement and foreign intelligence as “heroic,” even though the Justice Department, Congress, and FISA itself recognizes and accepts the dichotomy. It accepted without question or evidence the government’s contention that false, misleading, or inaccurate FBI affidavits in numerous FISA applications were a result of “confusion within the Justice Department over implementation” of the firewall procedures that the Justice Department itself drafted and implemented. Mack writes that the court failed entirely to grapple with one key question that, if considered, would, in her opinion, “easily have laid bare the Executive Branch’s thinly-veiled quest for unconstrained authority to invade the privacy of US citizens with minimal oversight.” The question is, “why would the government need to alter procedures for obtaining FISA warrants when the lower FISA court had never rejected an application? Indeed, according to the lower FISA court opinion the court had ‘reviewed and approved several thousand FISA applications, including many hundreds of surveillances and searches of US persons [and had] long accepted and approved minimization procedures authorizing in-depth information sharing and coordination with criminal prosecutors.’” The lower court ruling provided for coordination and sharing of information between law enforcement and government agencies, Mack notes, and writes that in light of that finding, “can the government seriously contend that the minimization procedures that it drafted in 1995, which the lower FISA court dutifully adopted, were too restrictive, warranting a still more lenient approach?” Mack considers the ruling to be “legally unsound.” She is appalled by the Review Court’s groundless implication that FISA hindered the ability of the FBI to anticipate and perhaps prevent the 9/11 attacks. “What the lower FISA court recognized and, indeed, what all Americans should legitimately fear is that the Executive branch is disingenuously using its September 11th failures in conjunction with the hastily drafted and poorly crafted Patriot Act to ‘give the government a powerful engine for the collection of foreign intelligence information targeting US persons.’ By adhering to the minimization procedures, the lower FISA court merely sought to assure that the balance between legitimate national security concerns and individual privacy was not disturbed by seemingly unconstrained executive power.… [T]here is… no question that a secret FISA appellate court structure, with judges hand selected by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, that hears only the government’s evidence, and grants only the government a right to appeal is a singularly inappropriate forum to resolve issues that threaten the fundamental rights and values of all US citizens. The only question that remains is how much further our justice system will be derailed in pursuit of the war on terrorism.” [Jurist, 11/26/2002]

An aerial view of the AT&T Easylink Service building in Bridgeton, Missouri, where the NSA allegedly has secret facilities.An aerial view of the AT&T Easylink Service building in Bridgeton, Missouri, where the NSA allegedly has secret facilities. [Source: USGS via Microsoft]On behalf of the National Security Agency (NSA), AT&T constructs a secret, highly secured room in its network operations center in Bridgeton, Missouri, used to conduct secret government wiretapping operations. This is a larger and more elaborate “data mining” center than the one AT&T has constructed in San Francisco (see January 2003). Salon’s Kim Zetter will later write that the Bridgeton facility “had the earmarks of a National Security Agency operation,” including a sophisticated “mantrap” entrance using retinal and fingerprint scanners. Sometime in early 2003, AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) discusses the Bridgeton facility with a senior AT&T manager, whom he will only identify as “Morgan.” The manager tells Klein that he considers the Bridgeton facility “creepy,” very secretive and with access restricted to only a few personnel. Morgan tells Klein that the secure room at Bridgeton features a logo on the door, which Klein will describe as “the eye-on-the-pyramid logo which is on the back of the dollar bill—and that got my attention because I knew that was for awhile the logo of the Total Awareness Program” (TIA-see Mid-January 2002, March 2002 and November 9, 2002). Klein notes that the logo “became such a laughingstock that they [the US government] withdrew it.” However, neither Klein nor Morgan find the NSA secure room at Bridgeton amusing. In June 2006, two AT&T workers will tell Zetter that the 100 or so employees who work in the room are “monitoring network traffic” for “a government agency,” later determined to be the NSA. Only government officials or AT&T employees with top-secret security clearance are admitted to the room, which is secured with a biometric “mantrap” or highly sophisticated double door, secured with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The few AT&T employees allowed into the room have undergone exhaustive security clearance procedures. “It was very hush-hush,” one of the AT&T workers will recall. “We were told there was going to be some government personnel working in that room. We were told: ‘Do not try to speak to them. Do not hamper their work. Do not impede anything that they’re doing.’” (Neither of Zetter’s sources is Klein, who by the time Zetter’s article is published in 2006, will have made his concerns about the NSA and AT&T public.) The Bridgeton facility is the central “command center” for AT&T’s management of all routers and circuits carrying domestic and international Internet traffic. Hence, it is the ideal location for conducting surveillance or collecting data. AT&T controls about a third of all bandwidth carrying Internet traffic to and from homes and businesses throughout the US. The two employees, who both will leave AT&T to work with other telecommunications firms, will say they cannot be sure what kinds of activities actually take place within the secret room. The allegations follow those made by Klein, who after his retirement (see May 2004) will submit an affidavit stating his knowledge of other, similar facilities in San Francisco and other West Coast switching centers, whose construction and operations were overseen by the NSA (see January 16, 2004 and January 2003); the two AT&T employees say that the orders for the San Francisco facility came from Bridgeton. NSA expert Matthew Aid will say of the Bridgeton facility, “I’m not a betting man, but if I had to plunk $100 down, I’d say it’s safe that it’s NSA.” Aid will say the Bridgeton facility is most likely part of “what is obviously a much larger operation, or series of interrelated operations” combining foreign intelligence gathering with domestic eavesdropping and data collection. Former high-level NSA intelligence officer Russell Tice will say bluntly: “You’re talking about a backbone for computer communications, and that’s NSA.… Whatever is happening there with the security you’re talking about is a whole lot more closely held than what’s going on with the Klein case.” The kind of vetting that the Bridgeton AT&T employees underwent points to the NSA, both Aid and Tice will say; one of the two AT&T employees who will reveal the existence of the Bridgeton facility will add, “Although they work for AT&T, they’re actually doing a job for the government.” Aid will add that, while it is possible that the Bridgeton facility is actually a center for legal FBI operations, it is unlikely due to the stringent security safeguards in place: “The FBI, which is probably the least technical agency in the US government, doesn’t use mantraps. But virtually every area of the NSA’s buildings that contain sensitive operations require you to go through a mantrap with retinal and fingerprint scanners. All of the sensitive offices in NSA buildings have them.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer will add that when the FBI wants information from a telecom such as AT&T, it would merely show up at the firm with a warrant and have a wiretap placed. And both the NSA and FBI can legally, with warrants, tap into communications data using existing technological infrastructure, without the need for such sophisticated surveillance and data-mining facilities as the ones in Bridgeton and San Francisco. Both AT&T and the NSA will refuse to comment on the facilities in Bridgeton, citing national security concerns. [Salon, 6/21/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 28-30]

Entity Tags: Terrorist Surveillance Program, National Security Agency, Russell Tice, Matthew Aid, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kim Zetter, Mark Klein, AT&T, Jameel Jaffer, “Morgan” (senior AT&T manager), American Civil Liberties Union

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Assistant Attorney General William Moschella informs the ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees of the administration’s use of potentially unconstitutional data mining and electronic surveillance programs after the 9/11 attacks. Moschella tells the lawmakers, “The president determined that it was necessary following September 11 to create an early-warning detection system” to prevent more attacks. One such program is the Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) initiative (see After September 11, 2001). Moschella echoes the claims of National Security Agency director Michael Hayden and other administration officials, saying 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.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006]
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - 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, July 2001, and Early 2002). Moschella informs the lawmakers of none of this.

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, William E. Moschella, Michael Hayden, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, House Intelligence Committee

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, Other Surveillance

The NSA’s secret room in the AT&T switching center.The NSA’s secret room in the AT&T switching center. [Source: PBS]Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) takes an informal tour of his company’s facility on San Francisco’s Folsom Street (see Late 2002), along with three other technicians from his Geary Street offices. The tour, Klein will later say, is to introduce the four technicians to the Folsom Street staff, “because they were obviously eventually planning to bring us over there.” Klein learns that the rumors of a “secret room” in the facility are true (see Fall 2002). The secret room is on the facility’s sixth floor and is being built to house some sort of equipment, but Klein is unsure exactly what that equipment might be. Klein and the others see the outer door of the secret room, and a workman working on the door “suddenly [began talking to Klein and his colleages in a] very low voice like he didn’t want to be overheard. He felt like this was something secret, you know, and he didn’t know much about it, and he was saying: ‘None of us can go in there. It’s all secret.’ This was not only an affront to the technicians; it was a violation of union rules, because they were obviously planning to install telecommunications equipment, which is supposed to be the jurisdiction of the union technicians. We had a contract. So the technicians were not only angry about this secret thing that they’re not let in on, but also the fact that there’s work there that they’re excluded from. And they were told nothing about it. So that was it.” Klein is further surprised to learn that only a single non-union technician (whom he only identifies as “Ski,” an AT&T “field support specialist” who has been granted a security clearance by the National Security Agency (NSA)), is allowed to work in the secure room. No union technicians are allowed in, even though the installation work being done is specifically contracted to the union workers. “The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room,” Klein will later state. Klein deduces that this secret room is the long-rumored NSA installation he has been hearing about. Moreover, he notes with some alarm that the room is next door to the 4ESS phone switch, “the traditional workhorse used for AT&T long-distance calls.” Klein will write, “Now my mental alarm bells were ringing, but for the moment there was nothing to do but take some mental notes, particularly since it was not clear exactly what they [the NSA and AT&T] were doing.” [Wired News, 4/7/2006; Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 26-28] Klein will explain that he chooses not to say anything about his concerns because he is “scared for several reasons, one being, well, this is obviously secret. This is obviously some federal government secret operation that they don’t want nosy people nosing around in, and if I started asking questions I could get into trouble. Furthermore, our jobs were in jeopardy anyway, because [we] were always getting wind that they were planning to close our previous office at Geary Street, and I didn’t need to give them an excuse to fire me. So I thought after thinking about it that the best thing to do is not to say anything and just watch it.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] He later learns that similar cabinets are being installed in AT&T centers in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego (see Late 2003). [Wired News, 4/7/2006] The Folsom Street facility is apparently connected to a more central surveillance facility operated out of one of AT&T’s main command centers in Missouri (see Late 2002-Early 2003).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Klein, Terrorist Surveillance Program, “Ski” (AT&T field support specialist), National Security Agency

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Chief executive officers of telecommunications companies and financial institutions express reluctance to provide data about their customers to three government agencies, the CIA, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security. The CEOs have been providing telephone, Internet and financial records to the CIA and, through it, the NSA to support “black” intelligence operations for some time (see After July 11, 1997), but after 9/11 the FBI asks for the same information that the CIA is getting. Then, after it is established in late 2002, the Department of Homeland Security also wants the same information. The CEOs begin saying, “Look, we’ll do this once but not three times,” and prefer to give the information to the FBI, which has formal subpoenas. The dispute grows so serious that White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend has to mediate and summons FBI Director Robert Mueller and acting CIA Director John McLauglin to the White House to hammer the issue out. After a series of meetings, they agree to each appoint a senior official to coordinate, ensuring companies are not bombarded with multiple requests. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 324-5]

Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Robert S. Mueller III, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Frances Townsend, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Congress imposes some limitations on the Total Information Awareness program (see March 2002; November 9, 2002). Research and development of the program would have to halt within 90 days of enactment of the bill unless the Defense Department submits a detailed report about the program. The research can also continue if Bush certifies that the report cannot be provided. Congress also okays use of the program internationally, but it cannot be used inside the US unless Congress passes new legislation specifically authorizing such use. [New York Times, 1/24/2003; Los Angeles Times, 2/19/2003] However, a bill to completely stop the program has yet to pass. [Mercury News (San Jose), 1/17/2003; Los Angeles Times, 2/19/2003] Several days earlier, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) alleged that the Justice Department and FBI are more extensively exploring the use of the Total Information Awareness program than they have previously acknowledged. [Associated Press, 1/21/2003; Washington Post, 1/22/2003] Contracts worth tens of millions of dollars have been signed with private companies to develop pieces of the program. [Associated Press, 2/12/2003] Salon also reports that the program “has now advanced to the point where it’s much more than a mere ‘research project’.” [Salon, 1/29/2003]

Entity Tags: Total Information Awareness, US Congress, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Database Programs

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says that he is not sure that Congress’s public termination of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project (see January 23, 2003) was as real and outrage-driven as it seemed at the time. “The whole congressional action looks like a shell game,” Aftergood says. “There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing.” While Congress terminated TIA with visible indignation, it also quietly funded the “National Foreign Intelligence Program,” and never identified which intelligence agency would do the work—which was also kept from the public eye. Congress did say that none of the research would be used against US citizens. No one in Congress will discuss how many of Poindexter’s programs survived, but knowledgeable sources will confirm that some 18 data-mining programs known as Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery in Poindexter’s research were preserved after TIA’s termination. These programs may well include the sprawling data mining program known as Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) (see After September 11, 2001), though this cannot be confirmed. Former TIA chief John Poindexter’s vision of the technology behind NIMD envisioned software that can quickly analyze “multiple petabytes” of data. A single petabyte would fill the Library of Congress space for 18 million books more than 50 times, or could hold 40 pages of text for each of the more than 6.2 billion humans on Earth. Poindexter and his colleagues envisioned the program as handling a petabyte or more of data a month. [Associated Press, 2/23/2004] Concerns about the privacy rights of US citizens being damaged by the program are rife. “If they were to stick to strictly military-related research and development, there is less of an issue, but these technologies have much broader social implications,” says Barbara Simons, a computer scientist who is past president of the Association of Computing Machinery, an organization that has expressed concerns about TIA. [New York Times, 5/21/2003] At least one Senator is uncomfortable with the apparent resurgence of TIA. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will write Vice President Dick Cheney in June 2003 after receiving a briefing on the various secret surveillance programs (see July 17, 2003). Rockefeller will write, “As I reflected on the meeting today, John Poindexter’s TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Steven Aftergood, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Total Information Awareness, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, John D. Rockefeller, John Poindexter, Barbara Simons, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Association of Computing Machinery

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, Other Surveillance

An unidentified US telecommunications firm refuses to turn over its phone records to the government as part of a joint program by the NSA and the Drug Enforcement Agency to combat Latin American drug-trafficking that has been going on since the 1990s (see 1990s). The firm believes the administrative subpoenas issued for its information by the Justice Department are overly broad, and that it fears the public relations and legal backlashes it might suffer if the public were to learn of its cooperation. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration

Category Tags: Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs

The White House and the Justice Department are at odds over the legality of the National Security Agency’s “data mining” program, which involves the NSA combing through enormous electronic databases containing personal information about millions of US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes and often without court warrants (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and Early 2002). Such data mining by the NSA potentially threatens citizens’ constitutional right to privacy. This clash between the White House and the Justice Department is one of the reasons that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card will try to pressure Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft is recuperating from surgery, to reauthorize the NSA program over the objections of Deputy Attorney General James Comey. That attempt to force reauthorization over Justice Department complaints will result in the protest resignations of Ashcroft, Comey, and other Justice officials (see March 10-12, 2004). In 2007, Gonzales will deny that any such attempt to pressure Ashcroft to overrule Comey ever happened (see July 24, 2007), and will deny that there was any such dispute between the White House and Justice Department over the NSA program. Those denials will lead to calls to investigate Gonzales for perjury (see May 16, 2007). In late 2005, President Bush will admit, after the New York Times reveals the existence of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), that the program indeed exists, but will not acknowledge the data mining. Several current and former administration officials, interviewed by reporters in 2007, refuse to go into detail about the dispute between the White House and Justice Department, but say that it involves other issues along with the data mining. They will also refuse to explain what modifications to the surveillance program Bush will authorize to mollify Justice Department officials. Bush and his officials, including Gonzales, who will ascend to the position of attorney general in 2005, will repeatedly insist that he has the authority, both under the Constitution and under Congress’s authorization to use military force against terrorists passed after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), to bypass the requirements for court warrants to monitor US citizens. Critics will say that such surveillance is illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - 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, July 2001, and Early 2002).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, New York Times, James B. Comey Jr., Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Chart showing NSA surveillance network.Chart showing NSA surveillance network. [Source: NSA Watch] (click image to enlarge)The National Security Agency has built a far larger database of information collected from warrantless surveillance of telephone and Internet communications to and from US citizens than the NSA or the Bush administration has acknowledged (see October 2001). On December 15, the New York Times exposed the NSA’s program (see December 15, 2005), which was authorized by President Bush in early 2002 (see Early 2002), but which actually began far earlier (see Spring 2001). The NSA built its database with the cooperation of several major American telecommunications firms (see June 26, 2006), and much of the information was mined directly into the US telecommunications system’s major connections. Many law enforcement and judicial officials question the legality of the program (see May 12, 2006 and December 18, 2005), and many say the program goes beyond the bounds of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). One question is whether the FISA Court, or FISC, can authorize monitoring of international communications that pass through US-based telephonic “switches,” which handle much of the US’s electronic communications traffic. “There was a lot of discussion about the switches” in conversations with FISC, says a Justice Department official. “You’re talking about access to such a vast amount of communications, and the question was, How do you minimize something that’s on a switch that’s carrying such large volumes of traffic? The court was very, very concerned about that.” While Bush and his officials have insisted that the warrantless wiretaps only target people with known links to al-Qaeda, they have not acknowledged that NSA technicials have not only eavesdropped on specific conversations between people with no known links to terrorism, but have combed through huge numbers of electronic communications in search of “patterns” that might point to terrorism suspects. Such “pattern analysis” usually requires court warrants before surveillance can begin, but in many cases, no such warrants have been obtained or even requested. Other, similar data-mining operations, such as the Total Information Awareness program, developed by the Defense Department to track terror suspects (see March 2002), and the Department of Homeland Security’s CAPPS program, which screened airline passengers (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001), were subjected to intense public scrutiny and outrage, and were publicly scrapped. The Bush administration has insisted that it has no intention of scrapping the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, because, as its officials have said, it is necessary to identify and track terrorism suspects and foil terrorist plots before they can be hatched. Administration officials say that FISC is not quick enough to respond to its need to respond to potential terrorist acts. A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company says that after 9/11, the leading telecom firms have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists. “All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared with them, and since 9/11, there’s been much more active involvement in that area,” says the former manager. “If they get content, that’s useful to them too, but the real plum is going to be the transaction data and the traffic analysis. Massive amounts of traffic analysis information—who is calling whom, who is in Osama Bin Laden’s circle of family and friends—is used to identify lines of communication that are then given closer scrutiny.” And, according to a government expert on communications privacy who used to work at the NSA, says that in the last few years, the government has quietly encouraged the telecom firms to rout more international traffic through its US-based switches so it can be monitored. Such traffic is not fully addressed by 1970s-era laws that were written before the onset of modern communications technology; neither does FISA adequately address the issues surrounding that technology. Computer engineer Phil Karn, who works for a major West Coast telecom firm, says access to those switches is critical: “If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you’re really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data.” [New York Times, 12/24/2005]

Suzanne Spaulding, a former counsel for the CIA, the Senate and House intelligence commission, and executive director of the National Terrorism Commission from 1999 through 2000, writes an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration for its domestic surveillance program. She writes that the three main sources of oversight and restraint on Bush’s unfettered efforts to monitor US citizens—Congress, the judiciary, and the American people—have failed to halt what she calls “this extraordinary exercise of presidential power.” Spaulding, who will testify along similar lines before the Senate over a year later (see April 11, 2007), writes, “Ironically, if it is ultimately determined that this domestic surveillance program reflects the exercise of unchecked power in contravention of law, it will wind up weakening the presidency. Once again, we will confront the challenge of restoring Americans’ faith in the rule of law and our system of checks and balances.” The pretense of oversight by the administration, in providing limited and perhaps misleading briefings on the program only to the so-called “Gang of Eight” Congressional leaders, is superficial and ineffective, she writes; the entire process “effectively eliminates the possibility of any careful oversight.” She notes that because of the severe restrictions both in the information doled out to these Congressional leaders, and their strict prohibition on discussing the information with anyone else, even other intelligence panel members, “[i]t is virtually impossible for individual members of Congress, particularly members of the minority party, to take any effective action if they have concerns about what they have heard in one of these briefings. It is not realistic to expect them, working alone, to sort through complex legal issues, conduct the kind of factual investigation required for true oversight and develop an appropriate legislative response.” Congressional oversight is key to retaining the trust of the US citizenry, she writes, and adds that that particular principle was well understood at the CIA while she was there. Oversight “is vital for a secret agency operating in a democracy. True oversight helps clarify the authority under which intelligence professionals operate. And when risky operations are revealed, it is important to have members of Congress reassure the public that they have been overseeing the operation. The briefings reportedly provided on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program reflect, instead, a ‘check the box’ mentality—allowing administration officials to claim that they had informed Congress without having really achieved the objectives of oversight.” While those few members of Congress are given little real information, the judiciary, particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), is cut out of the process entirely. “Instead of going to a judge on the secret court that was specifically established to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance inside the United States, we are told that an NSA shift supervisor was able to sign off on the warrantless surveillance of Americans,” she writes. “That’s neither a check nor a balance. The primary duty of the NSA shift supervisor, who essentially works for the president, is to collect intelligence. The task of the judge is to ensure that the legal standards set out in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have been met. Which one has stronger independence to say no, if no needs to be said? The objectives of the surveillance program, as described in news reports, seem laudable. The government should be running to ground the contacts listed in a suspected terrorist’s cell phone, for example. What is troubling is that this domestic spying is being done in apparent contravention of FISA, for reasons that still are not clear.” In her piece she takes issue with the Bush administration’s insistence that its surveillance program is legal and necessary. She makes the following case:
Specious Arguments to Duck FISA Court - The argument that the FISA Court is too slow to respond to immediate needs for domestic surveillance is specious, she says. “FISA anticipates situations in which speed is essential. It allows the government to start eavesdropping without a court order and to keep it going for a maximum of three days. And while the FISA application process is often burdensome in routine cases, it can also move with remarkable speed when necessary, with applications written and approved in just a few hours.” Instead, she says that the Bush administration must have dodged FISC because their wiretaps didn’t meet FISA standards of probable cause. Since FISC is staffed by judges hand-picked by conservative then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “who presumably felt that they had the right temperament and expertise to understand the national security imperatives as well as the need to protect civil liberties,” and since FISC has granted all but four of the more than 5,645 requests for wiretaps and surveillance made by the administration since 2001, to argue that FISC is unresponsive is simply wrong-headed. And, she notes, if the administration felt that FISA’s standards were too strict, it could have moved to amend the law to allow more leniency in obtaining such warrants. It has not done so since the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act. She writes, “The administration reportedly did not think it could get an amendment without exposing details of the program. But this is not the first time the intelligence community has needed a change in the law to allow it to undertake sensitive intelligence activities that could not be disclosed. In the past, Congress and the administration have worked together to find a way to accomplish what was needed. It was never previously considered an option to simply decide that finding a legislative solution was too hard and that the executive branch could just ignore the law rather than fix it.”
No Justification for Keeping Program Secret - In addition, the administration has consistently failed to make a case for keeping the domestic wiretapping policy secret for four years. US-designated terrorist groups already know that the government listens to their cell phone conversations whenever possible, and they are well aware of the various publicly known programs to search through millions of electronic communications, such as the NSA’s Echelon program (see April 4, 2001). “So what do the terrorists learn from a general public discussion about the legal authority being relied upon to target their conversations?” she asks. “Presumably very little. What does the American public lose by not having the public discussion? We lose the opportunity to hold our elected leaders accountable for what they do on our behalf.”
Assertions that Program Authorized by Congress Fallacious - The argument advanced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that says the program does not violate the law because Congress’s post-9/11 authorization of force against terrorists gives the administration the right to circumvent FISA is equally specious, she argues. “FISA does provide for criminal penalties if surveillance is conducted under color of law ‘except as authorized by statute.’ This is a reference to either FISA or the criminal wiretap statute. A resolution, such as the Use of Force resolution, does not provide statutory authority. Moreover, FISA specifically provides for warrantless surveillance for up to 15 days after a declaration of war. Why would Congress include that provision if a mere Use of Force resolution could render FISA inapplicable? The law clearly states that the criminal wiretap statute and FISA are ‘the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance…and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.’ If these authorities are exclusive, there is no other legal authority that can authorize warrantless surveillance. Courts generally will not view such a clear statutory statement as having been overruled by a later congressional action unless there is an equally clear indication that Congress intended to do that.” Therefore, by any legal standard, the administration’s program is, apparently, illegal.
No Inherent Presidential Authority - The ultimate argument by Bush officials, that the president has some sort of inherent authority as commander-in-chief to authorize illegal wiretaps, is the same groundless legal argument recently used to justify the use of torture by US intelligence and law enforcement agents (see December 28, 2001). That argument was withdrawn, Spaulding notes, after it became publicly known. While the courts have not specifically ruled on this particular argument, Spaulding notes that the Supreme Court refused to recognize then-President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize control of the nation’s steel mills to avert a possible strike during the Korean War. The Supreme Court ruled “that the president’s inherent authority is at its weakest in areas where Congress has already legislated. It ruled that to find inherent presidential authority when Congress has explicitly withheld that authority—as it has in FISA—‘is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between president and Congress.’” She notes that in 2004, the Supreme Court rejected the argument for unchecked presidential power in the Hamdi case (see June 28, 2004), with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writing for the court, “We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. …Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with… enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.” Spaulding concludes, “The rule of law and our system of checks and balances are not a source of weakness or a luxury of peace. As O’Connor reminded us in Hamdi, ‘It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments…that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.’” [Washington Post, 12/25/2005]

The National Security Agency’s ‘Trailblazer’ program (see Late 1999), envisioned in 1999 as an overarching state-of-the-art data-mining system capable of sorting through millions of telephone and Internet communications and pluck out items relevant to national security and counterterrorism, is an abject failure, according to multiple sources and reports. The program has soaked up six years of effort and $1.2 billion in taxpayer dollars, with nothing to show except some schematic drawings and a few isolated technological and analytical gadgets, and little hope of much future progress. Matthew Aid, who has advised three federal commissions and panels investigating the 9/11 attacks, says that Trailblazer is “the biggest boondoggle going on now in the intelligence community.” Part of the problem is that over its six years of development, Trailblazer has passed through three separate NSA divisions, each with its own priorities and design goals. Its overseers have failed to exert the proper authority to clearly define the program’s goals and keep the project on track. In 2003, the NSA’s inspector general found that the program suffered from “inadequate management and oversight” of private contractors and overpayment for the work that was done. The lead private contractor for the project, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), has not provided the technical and managerial expertise necessary to create the system. While the Bush administration has touted the NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) as vital to protecting the nation from terrorism, it allows the agency to mismanage Trailblazer, in essence allowing the agency to go increasingly “deaf” as millions of items of unimportant information overwhelm the agency’s ability to sort out key bits of information, according to a government official. A Congressional investigation of intelligence failures surrounding the 9/11 attacks found that the NSA did not sift out “potentially vital” information that could have predicted or even prevented the attacks—a lapse that Trailblazer was intended to correct. Aid says that the problem is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack that doubles in size every few months. Intelligence experts say that the problem with Trailblazer is like deciding whether to keep a piece of mail or throw it out based only on what is on the outside of the envelope. Approximately 95% of the information gathered by the NSA is discarded without ever being translated from its original binary form; the remaining 5% is turned into plain text for human analysts to survey. Trailblazer was designed to sort through this information to identify patterns, keywords, and links to other data. The program would, in theory, translate all of the information into plain text or voice data, analyze the results to identify items of interest, store the results in an easily searchable database, and forward selected items to the appropriate analysts for follow-up. But after six years of work, there will still be no consensus among agency managers and experts as how to create a system to do this. Interestingly, another, less grandiose program, code-named Thinthread, appeared promising—a 2004 Pentagon report found that Thinthread could work better and be put to use more quickly than Trailblazer—but NSA managers disagreed with the Pentagon report and canceled Thinthread. Instead, Hayden pushed the agency to get Trailblazer up and running after the 9/11 attacks, cutting into time needed for review and corrections. Internal and external warnings that the program was going off-course were ignored; because of its secrecy and technological sophistication, neither Congress nor the NSA was able to effectively monitor the progress of the program’s development. And the agency lost track of much of the $1.2 billion that was allocated by Congress for the program. NSA Inspector General Joel Brenner blames the waste and inefficiency on “inadequate management and oversight.” As of 2006, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has not investigated Trailblazer simply because no one in Congress had asked it to. Because of the impact of the 9/11 attacks, and the war in Iraq, Congress has never seriously considered cutting back or reviewing any programs such as Trailblazer that might provide information on further terrorist attacks. [Baltimore Sun, 1/29/2006]

Entity Tags: Matthew Aid, Bush administration (43), Joel Brenner, Trailblazer, US Department of Defense, Government Accountability Office, Michael Hayden, Thinthread, National Security Agency, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)

Category Tags: Database Programs

Seven telecommunications executives confirm to the press that large telecommunications companies such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint have cooperated with the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program. Those firms, along with BellSouth, previously denied they had cooperated with the NSA (see October 2001). In typical domestic investigations, telecom companies require court warrants before mounting any surveillance operations, but this has not been the case with the NSA program. Apparently, the companies decided to assist the NSA in tracking international telephone and Internet communications to and from US citizens and routed through “switches” which handle millions of communications, both domestic and international, every day. The telecom firms in question have undergone several mergers and reorganizations—BellSouth, another firm accused of cooperating with the NSA, is now part of AT&T, MCI (formerly WorldCom) was recently acquired by Verizon, and Sprint has merged with Nextel. The companies comply with the NSA requests for information once the NSA determines that there is a “reasonable basis” for believing that the communications may have a connection with militant Islamic organizations such as al-Qaeda. The firms do not require court warrants, but rather implement the monitoring on nothing more than oral requests from senior NSA officials. [USA Today, 2/5/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, MCI, WorldCom, Al-Qaeda, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint/Nextel

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Ira Winkler.Ira Winkler. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]Former NSA analyst Ira Winkler, author of the 2005 book Spies Among Us, writes of his disgust with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, saying that because it is warrantless, it is illegal. He argues the program violates both the NSA’s rules of engagement and its long-term missions.
Warrantless Surveillance is Illegal - Securing warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is easily done, Winkler says: “FISA blocks no legitimate acquisition of knowledge. It doesn’t even slow the process down.” The problem, Winkler says, is that the program is so large that securing FISA warrants for every communication the NSA monitors “would [take] an army of lawyers to get all the warrants they’d need to be in compliance with FISA.” However: “[T]he law is the law. No president has the right to pick and choose which laws they find convenient to follow.” President Bush could have asked Congress to amend the FISA laws: “After all, after 9/11 Congress passed a wide variety of laws (without, for the most part, reading them) that were supposed to prevent another attack. They could have easily slipped something modifying FISA into all of that legislation. They did not, though recent revelations about this administration’s use of signing statements may indicate that they simply didn’t want to raise the possibility of questions.” Merely ignoring FISA “is illegal,” Winkler writes.
Weakens National Security - Another issue is national security. Not obtaining warrants actually weakens natural security, he argues, “since the process of obtaining the warrants has an effect on quality control.” For example: “To date, FBI agents have been sent out to do thousands of investigations based on this warrantless wiretapping. None of those investigations turned up a legitimate lead. I have spoken to about a dozen agents, and they all roll their eyes and indicate disgust with the man-years of wasted effort being put into physically examining NSA ‘leads.’ This scattershot attempt at data mining drags FBI agents away from real investigations, while destroying the NSA’s credibility in the eyes of law enforcement and the public in general. That loss of credibility makes the NSA the agency that cried wolf—and after so many false leads, should they provide something useful, the data will be looked at skeptically and perhaps given lower priority by law enforcement than it would otherwise have been given.” Winkler says the NSA’s claim that it does not retain any personal information is ludicrous. “Frankly, you have to be a complete moron to believe that,” he writes. “It is trivial to narrow down access to a phone number to just a few members of a household, if not in fact to exactly one person.”
Extortion - And the warrantless surveillance is not the only illegal action taken by the government. If the government did threaten one telecom firm, Qwest, for not cooperating (see February 2001), “[t]hat’s extortion—another crime.” Winkler writes that both Congress and the American people must demand answers, or the White House and the NSA will continue to usurp our freedom under the cloak of protecting freedoms.
Arguments For Program are Specious - Winkler says the arguments for the program that he hears are groundless. He hears three main threads:
bullet “I have nothing to worry about so I don’t care if they investigate me.” Winkler points out that plenty of people have been investigated and incarcerated in the US and abroad without doing anything wrong: “I believe that Saddam Hussein would cheerfully agree with the tired allegation that if you did nothing wrong, you shouldn’t mind the government looking at your calls. I think Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and the Chinese government would also agree with that line of thought. Is this the company we consent to keep in the name of safety?”
bullet “[W]e need to do everything we can to protect ourselves.” Protecting ourselves, Winkler argues, means letting law enforcement work to protect US citizens against real, ongoing crimes. The government is “watching for dragons while very real snakes multiply freely in our midst.”
bullet “[T]he NSA isn’t listening to the content of the calls, so there’s no harm.” Aside from the fact that Winkler believes the NSA is lying about not listening to the calls themselves, he says: “[The NSA] doesn’t need to hear your chatter to invade your privacy. By simply tying numbers together—an intelligence discipline of traffic analysis—I assure you I can put together a portrait of your life. I’ll know your friends, your hobbies, where your children go to school, if you’re having an affair, whether you plan to take a trip and even when you’re awake or asleep. Give me a list of whom you’re calling and I can tell most of the critical things I need to know about you.” The NSA is made up of mostly “good and honest people,” but it has “more than its share of bitter, vindictive mid- and senior-level bureaucrats. I would not trust my personal information with these people, since I have personally seen them use internal information against their enemies.” Winkler reminds his readers that the Bush administration deliberately outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson because her husband dared debunk an administration claim about Iraq (see November 20, 2007), and tried to undermine the credibility of former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke when he spoke out against the administration (see March 24, 2004). The NSA could easily provide the administration with damaging information about other administration enemies.
'Against Everything I Was Taught' - “NSA domestic spying is against everything I was ever taught working at the NSA,” Winkler writes. “I might be more for it if there was any credible evidence that this somehow provides useful information that couldn’t otherwise be had. However, the domestic spying program has gotten so massive that the well-established process of getting a warrant cannot be followed—and quantity most certainly doesn’t translate to quality. Quite the opposite.” The terrorists number in the hundreds, Winkler writes, but “the NSA is collecting data on hundreds of millions of people who are clearly not the enemy. These numbers speak for themselves.” [Computerworld, 5/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Qwest, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ira Winkler, National Security Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Saddam Hussein, Richard A. Clarke, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

AT&T lawyers accidentally release sensitive information in their defense of a lawsuit accusing AT&T and two other telecommunications firms of illegally cooperating with an NSA wiretapping program (see January 31, 2006). They release a 25-page legal brief, heavily redacted with thick black lines intended to obscure portions of three pages, in PDF (Portable Data File) format. But some software programs can read the text. The redacted information offers alternative reasons why AT&T has a secret room in its downtown San Francisco switching center designed to monitor Internet and telephone traffic (see February 2001). The Electronic Frontier Foundation, who filed the lawsuit, says the room is used by the NSA surveillance program. The redacted sections argue that the room could be used for “legitimate Internet monitoring systems, such as those used to detect viruses and stop hackers.” Another argument reads, “Although the plaintiffs ominously refer to the equipment as the ‘Surveillance Configuration,’ the same physical equipment could be utilized exclusively for other surveillance in full compliance with” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The court filing is not classified, and no information relating to the actual operations of the NSA’s surveillance program is disclosed. [US District Court, Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, 5/24/2006 pdf file; US District Court, Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, 5/24/2006; CNET News, 5/26/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The Bush administration submits a legal brief arguing that the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T, alleging that firm cooperated with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see January 31, 2006), should be thrown out of court because of the government’s “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953). Justice Department lawyers want Judge Vaughn Walker to examine classified documents that they say will convince him to dismiss the lawsuit. However, the government does not want the defense lawyers to see that material. “No aspect of this case can be litigated without disclosing state secrets,” the government argues. “The United States has not lightly invoked the state secrets privilege, and the weighty reasons for asserting the privilege are apparent from the classified material submitted in support of its assertion.” [CNET News, 5/26/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Vaughn Walker, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, State Secrets

George Terwilliger, a former deputy attorney general under George H. W. Bush, argues that the current Bush administration’s controversial data mining program (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001) is not illegal. Terwilliger tells the conservative National Review, “I think it’s fair to say that the statutes contemplate the transfer of this generic type of data much more on a case-by-case rather than a wholesale basis,” meaning that the law calls for a court order only in cases when the government is making a targeted request for information. But, he adds, “I don’t see anything in the statute that forbids such a wholesale turnover.” Terwilliger’s argument echoes the arguments of the Bush Justice Department, which argues that the data mining program—part of the NSA’s “Stellar Wind” surveillance program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005)—does not technically constitute “electronic surveillance” under the law. Both the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as interpreted by the courts, define such actions as “electronic surveillance,” according to a number of legal experts, including law professor Orin Kerr. And, Ars Technica reporter Julian Sanchez notes in 2009, “the Stored Communications Act explicitly makes it a crime to ‘knowingly divulge a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber to or customer of such service… to any governmental entity.’” Sanchez will call Terwilliger’s argument “very strange,” but will note that Terwilliger is the attorney for then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and “a prominent defender of the administration’s surveillance policies.” Sanchez will conclude that while the argument “might pass for clever in a high school debate round… [i]t would be deeply unsettling if it [passes] for anything more in the halls of power.” [National Review, 6/5/2006; Ars Technica, 12/16/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales, ’Stellar Wind’, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Julian Sanchez, George Terwilliger, Orin S. Kerr

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone resigns. His resignation closely follows that of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Cambone, who had held his position since early 2003, was widely considered Rumsfeld’s closest aide and his “hatchet man” (see March 7, 2003). [US Department of Defense, 12/1/2006] He was in charge of many of the military’s most covert and controversial programs. Less than a year later, Cambone will be hired by QinetiQ North America (QNA), a British-owned military and intelligence contractor based in Virginia. Shortly after Cambone is hired, QNA wins a $30 million contract to provide unspecified “security services” to the US military’s Counter-Intelligence Field Activity office (CIFA). Cambone helped create and run CIFA. In 2003, CIFA launched an electronic database called Talon to collect domestic intelligence. The database later faced scrutiny when it was reported to be collecting data on anti-military protesters and peaceful demonstrators. [CorpWatch, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: QinetiQ North America, Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen A. Cambone, Counter-Intelligence Field Activity

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Database Programs

The FBI requests $12 million for its proposed National Security Analysis Center (NSAC), which would mine nearly 1.5 billion records created or collected by the FBI and other government agencies in an effort to expose terrorist cells. The FBI’s budget request says that the new agency would “pro-actively” mine the data to find terrorists using “predictive” analysis. Predictive analysis entails combing though personal data—such as bank transactions and travel purchases—to identify patterns of behavior that are believed to be terrorist-like. But this methodology for identifying terrorists is unproven. In 2006, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence completed a report concluding that terrorism researchers “cannot readily distinguish the absolute scale of normal behaviors” for terrorists or ordinary Americans. [ABC News, 6/12/2007] The FBI’s proposed National Security Analysis Center is very similar to another initiative called the Total Information Awareness program (see Mid-January 2002) that was started by the Pentagon in 2002, but which was curtailed by Congress after it was revealed by the New York Times (see November 9, 2002).

Entity Tags: National Security Analysis Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Database Programs

Suzanne Spaulding.Suzanne Spaulding. [Source: Bipartisan Security Group]Suzanne Spaulding, a national security expert with twenty years of experience in the CIA, on various Congressional oversight committees, and executive director of two separate commissions on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of that body’s hearings on the improper use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by the FBI (see October 25, 2005). Spaulding has spoken out before against the NSA’s wiretapping program (see December 25, 2005). She says that the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agents need “the tools they need to do their job” and “clear guidance on just what it is that we want them to do on our behalf—and how we want them to do it. Clear rules and careful oversight provide essential protections for those on the front lines of our domestic counterterrorism efforts.” However, Spaulding testifies, “it appears both were lacking in the implementation of national security letter authorities.” Spaulding says that Congress should begin a much larger examination of domestic surveillance issues, saying, “The appropriateness of using FISA electronic surveillance to eavesdrop on Americans should be considered in light of other, less intrusive techniques that might be available to establish whether a phone number belongs to a suspected terrorist or the pizza delivery shop. It’s not the ‘all or nothing’ proposition often portrayed in some of the debates.” However, according to recent findings by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Glenn A. Fine, “there is not sufficient guidance on how to apply that in the NSL context or in conjunction with other available collection techniques.” Therefore, there is a strong “need for a broader examination of domestic intelligence tools.”
Urges Congressional Review - Spaulding urges Congress “to undertake a comprehensive review of all domestic intelligence collection, not just by FBI but also by the other national security agencies engaged in domestic intelligence collection, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Agency. A Joint Inquiry or Task Force could be established by the Senate leadership, with representation from the most relevant committees (Judiciary, Intelligence, Armed Services, and Homeland Security and Government Affairs), to carefully examine the nature of the threat inside the US and the most effective strategies for countering it. Then Congress, and the American public, can consider whether we have the appropriate institutional and legal framework for implementing those strategies with adequate safeguards and oversight.”
FBI's Expanded Powers Need Review - In addition, she testifies, the FBI’s expanded ability to use NSLs under the Patriot Act must be examined. Currently, the law seems to allow the FBI to use NSLs to obtain evidence pursuant to a FISA warrant, thus allowing “the government to get information about individuals who are not themselves the subject of an investigation”—“parties two or three steps removed from their subjects without determining if these contacts reveal suspicious connections,” Fine reported. Spaulding expands on Fine’s findings: “In fact, the most tenuous of connections would seem to suffice for this NSL standard. For example, it’s not clear why an ‘investigation to protect against international terrorism’ couldn’t justify demanding information about all residents of, say, Dearborn, Michigan [home to a large Arab-American community], so that you could run them through some logarithmic profile to identify ‘suspicious’ individuals. In fact, Congress should examine the facts surrounding the nine NSLs in one investigation that were, according to the IG Report, used to obtain information regarding over 11,000 different phone numbers.”
Data Mining Efforts Should Be Examined - Also, she says, data mining efforts by other law enforcement and intelligence agencies should be carefully examined and addressed: “NSLs should not become a mechanism for gathering vast amounts of information about individuals with no known connection to international terrorism for purposes of data mining.” Spaulding also notes that the Patriot Act allows FBI special agents in charge (SACs) to issue NSLs; instead, she says, only attorneys in the Justice Department’s National Security Division should be able to issue NSLs. Yet another problem Spaulding notes is the FBI’s policy of retention of data gathered on US citizens through NSLs, even when those citizens have no connection to terrorist activities. Spaulding expressed similar concerns in a previous op-ed for the Washington Post (see December 25, 2005). [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, USA Patriot Act, Senate Judiciary Committee, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Suzanne Spaulding, National Security Letters, National Security Agency

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, National Security Letters

FBI agents raid the home of former Justice Department prosecutor Thomas Tamm, who is suspected of leaking information to the New York Times regarding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Tamm previously worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage suspects. The FBI agents seize Tamm’s computer as well as those of his three children and a store of personal files. They also take some of his books (including one on famed Watergate whistleblower “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), and even the family’s Christmas card list. Tamm is not home when the raid is staged, so the agents sit his wife and children around the kitchen table and grill them about Tamm’s activities. His oldest son, Terry, will later recall: “They asked me questions like ‘Are there any secret rooms or compartments in the house’? Or did we have a safe? They asked us if any New York Times reporters had been to the house. We had no idea why any of this was happening.” The raid is part of a leak probe ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005). James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology calls the decision to stage the raid “amazing,” and says it shows the administration’s misplaced priorities: using FBI agents to track down leakers instead of processing intel warrants to close the gaps. [Newsweek, 8/2007; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] In late 2008, Tamm will reveal to Newsweek that he is one source for the Times articles (see December 22, 2008). At the time of the raid, his family has no idea that he knows anything about the wiretapping program, or that he has spoken to reporters. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, George W. Bush, James X. Dempsey, New York Times, Thomas Tamm, US Department of Justice, Terry Tamm

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

During the Senate debate over the controversial Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) says that the threat from terrorism is so dire, and so imminent, that lawmakers should pass the law and then get out of Washington as soon as they can to save their own lives. (Congress goes into recess in a few days.) Lott says that Congress needs to pass the PAA, otherwise, “the disaster could be on our doorstep.” He continues, “I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th.” Lott provides no information about any predictions of an imminent terrorist attack on Washington or anywhere else. [Roll Call, 8/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Protect America Act, Trent Lott

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Congressional Democrats attempt to short-circuit the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) currently under debate. They introduce their own bill, the Improving Foreign Intelligence Surveillance to Defend the Nation and the Constitution Act, that would address the administration’s concerns that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act imposed unwieldy limitations on the NSA’s ability to electronically monitor foreign communications that were transmitted through communications networks inside the US. The Democrats’ bill redefines “electronic surveillance” to allow the NSA to monitor such communications without a FISA warrant if it “reasonably believes” the targets of those communications to be outside the US. This would give the NSA new surveillance powers, so the Democrats’ bill provides for oversight by the FISA Court, audits by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, and restrictions on domestic surveillance. However, the Bush administration does not want the bill to become law. President Bush announces that he opposes the bill, and threatens to hold Congress in session past its August adjournment date until he can get the Protect America Act passed. The Democrats’ bill dies before ever coming up for a full vote in Congress. [US House of Representatives, 8/3/2007 pdf file; Slate, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Protect America Act, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Mitch McConnell.Mitch McConnell. [Source: US Senate]President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007] It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. [New York Times, 8/6/2007] Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” [Slate, 8/6/2007] The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. [White House, 8/6/2006]
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mitch McConnell, Al-Qaeda, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Kate Martin, Patrick Radden Keefe, Rush Holt, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The Center for National Security Studies (CNSS) issues a warning about the Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007). The PAA lets the NSA conduct warrantless surveillance against US citizens “without any meaningful judicial oversight,” the CNSS writes, and gives the NSA almost unlimited access to almost all international communications that originate in, pass through, or terminate with a US citizen, again without oversight. According to the CNSS, the administration refused to countenance any suggestion that the NSA should be restricted to focusing on foreigners, terrorist targets, or conducting surveillance that could be construed as necessary to national security, as well as refusing to allow any meaningful judicial or Congressional oversight. [Center for National Security Studies, 8/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Center for National Security Studies, National Security Agency, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The American Civil Liberties Union registers bitter disapproval of the newly passed Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), which it disparagingly labels the “Police America Act.” It writes: “[The act] allows for massive, untargeted collection of international communications without court order or meaningful oversight by either Congress or the courts. It contains virtually no protections for the US end of the phone call or email, leaving decisions about the collection, mining and use of Americans’ private communications up to this administration.” The Attorney General can issue warrants for domestic surveillance of international communications without court review, and can order surveillance of people outside of the US for a year, all without any review by the FISA Court. The PAA “cut[s FISA] out of the process, leaving the executive branch unchecked.” Any telephone or e-mail communications from US citizens “caught up in the dragnet” can be examined at the government’s leisure, the ACLU says, without any privacy considerations or respect for Constitutional rights. The law leaves “the administration to decide how to collect, store, datamine and use Americans’ private communications.” The ACLU says that the court review provisions of the PAA are a sham. The Attorney General need not explain how US citizens’ communications are handled once they are intercepted. The FISA Court “will have no information about how extensive the breach of American privacy is, nor the authority to remedy it.” The provisions for Congressional oversight are equally meaningless, the ACLU says, because the Attorney General is not required to disclose any information about what domestic communications the government has intercepted or what is being done with those intercepts. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/7/2007]

Entity Tags: American Civil Liberties Union, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Ryan Singel.Ryan Singel. [Source: Wired]According to Ryan Singel of Wired, the new Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) gives the Bush administration “the power to order the nation’s communication service providers—which range from Gmail, AOL IM, Twitter, Skype, traditional phone companies, ISPs, internet backbone providers, Federal Express, and social networks—to create possibly permanent spying outposts for the federal government.” He adds: “These outposts need only to have a ‘significant’ purpose of spying on foreigners, would be nearly immune to challenge by lawsuit, and have no court supervision over their extent or implementation. Abuses of the outposts will be monitored only by the Justice Department, which has already been found to have underreported abuses of other surveillance powers to Congress.” In addition, Singel says the PAA redefines any monitoring of US citizens’ telephone and Internet communications “reasonably believed” to be outside the country as not surveillance, allows telecommunications firms to target both foreign and domestic parties for surveillance, and forces those firms to give assistance in secret, without informing Congress or the targeted parties. [Wired News, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Ryan Singel, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Aziz Huq.Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Aziz Huq, an author and the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, writes that the Protect America Act (PAA-see August 5, 2007) came about as a result of what he calls “the most recent example of the national security waltz, a three-step administration maneuver for taking defeat and turning it into victory.” Step one is a court defeat for the administration, for example regarding detainees at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), or the overruling of military commissions in 2006 (see June 30, 2006). The second step, which comes weeks or months later, is an announcement that the ruling has created a security crisis and must be “remedied” through immediate legislation. The third and final step is the administration pushing legislation through Congress, such as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) or the Military Commissions Act, that, Huq writes, “not only undoes the good court decision but also inflicts substantial damage to the infrastructure of accountability.”
Step One: FISC Refuses to Approve NSA's Surveillance Program - In January 2007, the administration announced that it was submitting the NSA’s domestic surveillance program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the secret court that issues FISA warrants for surveillance (see May 1, 2007). This was due to pending court cases threatening to rule the program in violation of FISA and the Fourth Amendment; the administration wanted to forestall, or at least sidestep, those upcoming rulings. In June, FISC refused to approve parts of the NSA program that involved monitoring overseas communications that passed through US telecom switches. Since a tremendous amount of overseas communications are routed through US networks, this ruling jeopardized the NSA’s previous ability to wiretap such communications virtually at will without a warrant. The administration objected to the NSA having to secure such warrants.
Step Two: The Drumbeat Begins - Months later, the drumbeat for new legislation to give the NSA untrammeled rights to monitor “overseas” communications, which not only traveled through US networks, but often began or ended with US citizens, began with appearances in the right-wing media by administration supporters, where they insisted that the FISC ruling was seriously hampering the NSA’s ability to garner much-needed intelligence on terrorist plots against the US. The White House and Congressional Republicans drafted legislation giving the NSA what it wanted, and presented it during the last week of the Congressional session, minimizing the time needed for scrutiny of the legislation as well as reducing the time available for meaningful debate.
Step Three: Passing a Law With Hidden Teeth - The legislation that would become the Protect America Act was carefully written by Bush officials, and would go much farther than giving the NSA the leeway it needed to wiretap US citizens. Instead, as Huq writes, “the Protect America Act is a dramatic, across-the-board expansion of government authority to collect information without judicial oversight.” Democrats believed they had negotiated a deal with the administration’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, to limit the law to addressing foreign surveillance wiretaps, but, Huq writes, “the White House torpedoed that deal and won a far broader law.” The law removes any real accountability over domestic surveillance by either Congress or the judiciary. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that the PAA provides “unlimited access to currently protected personal information that is already accessible through an oversight procedure.” The law is part of the administration’s continual attempts to “eviscerat[e]” the checks and balances that form the foundation of US democracy.
Ramifications - The law includes the provision that warrantless surveillance can be “directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.” Huq writes that this is a tremendously broad and vague standard that allows “freewheeling surveillance of Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” He adds: “The problem lies in the words ‘directed at.’ Under this language, the NSA could decide to ‘direct’ its surveillance at Peshawar, Pakistan—and seize all US calls going to and from there.… Simply put, the law is an open-ended invitation to collect Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” The law does not impose any restrictions on the reason for surveillance. National security concerns are no longer the standard for implementing surveillance of communications. And the phrase “reasonably believe” is uncertain. The provisions for oversight are, Huq writes, “risibly weak.” Surveillance need only be explained by presentations by the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to FISC, which has little room to invalidate any surveillance, and furthermore will not be informed of any specific cases of surveillance. As for Congress, the Attorney General only need inform that body of “incidents of noncompliance” as reported by the administration. Congress must rely on the administration to police itself; it cannot demand particulars or examine documentation for itself. The law expires in six months, but, Huq notes, that deadline comes up in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, with all the pressures that entails. And the law allows “the NSA to continue wielding its new surveillance powers for up to a year afterward.” The law, Huq writes, “does not enhance security-related surveillance powers. Rather, it allows the government to spy when there is no security justification. And it abandons all but the pretense of oversight.” [Nation, 8/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Detainee Treatment Act, Bush administration (43), Aziz Huq, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Military Commissions Act, National Security Agency, US Supreme Court, Philip Giraldi, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Detainee Treatment Act

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean considers the newly passed Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) a dire threat to American civil liberties. Dean writes that the ire of rank-and-file Democrats with their Congressional leadership is well earned, that the Democrats meekly lined up and voted it into law after some pro forma protestations. Dean notes that editorialists from around the country, and organizations as politically disparate as the ACLU (see August 6, 2007), the Cato Institute, and the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) all agree that the new law is a serious threat to civil liberties. They all agree that the law violates the Fourth Amendment while at the same time hides its operations under the rubric of national security secrecy. Dean notes, “Congress was not even certain about the full extent of what it has authorized because President Bush and Vice President Cheney refused to reveal it.”
Executive Power Grab - Dean writes that as much of a threat as the PAA is to citizens’ privacy, it is more threatening because it is another step in the Bush administration’s push for enhancing the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches, a move towards a so-called “unitary executive.” Bush and Cheney have worked relentlessly “to weaken or eliminate all checks and balances constraining the executive,” Dean writes, pointing to “countless laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Congresses during the first six years of the administration, and in countless signing statements added by the president interpreting away any constraints on the Executive.” The new law “utterly fails to maintain any real check on the president’s power to undertake electronic surveillance of literally millions of Americans. This is an invitation to abuse, especially for a president like the current incumbent.”
Repairing the Damage - Dean is guardedly optimistic about the Democrats’ stated intentions to craft a new law that will supersede the PAA, which expires in February 2008, and restore some of the protections the PAA voids. Any such legislation may be quickly challenged by the Bush administration, which wants retroactive legislative immunity from prosecution for both US telecommunications firms cooperating with the government in monitoring Americans’ communications, and for government officials who may have violated the law in implementing domestic surveillance. Dean writes: “[B]efore Congress caved and gave Bush power to conduct this surveillance, he and telecommunication companies simply opted to do so illegally. Now, Bush will claim, with some justification, that because Congress has now made legal actions that were previously illegal, it should retroactively clear up this nasty problem facing all those who broke the law at his command.” Dean writes that Democrats need only do one thing to “fix [this] dangerous law: [add] meaningful accountability.” He continues: “They must do so, or face the consequences. No one wants to deny the intelligence community all the tools it needs. But regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, no Congress should trust any president with unbridled powers of surveillance over Americans. It is not the way our system is supposed to work.” [FindLaw, 8/10/2007]

Entity Tags: John Birch Society, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Protect America Act, Cato Institute, American Civil Liberties Union, John Dean, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, tells a conference of intelligence officials that the government needs new rules about how to balance privacy rights and investigative needs. Since many people routinely post details of their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace, he says, their identity should not require the same protection as in the past. Instead, only their “essential privacy,” or “what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs,” should be veiled. Commenting on the speech, the Wall Street Journal will say that this is part of a project by intelligence agencies “to change traditional definitions of how to balance privacy rights against investigative needs.” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 10/23/2007 pdf file; Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2008] According to some accounts, the prime repository of information about US citizens that the government has is a database known as Main Core, so if the government collected more information about citizens, the information would be placed in or accessed through this database (see 1980s or Before).

Entity Tags: Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Don Kerr, Wall Street Journal

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Category Tags: Database Programs

Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, writes an op-ed for the New York Times pushing for Congressional immunity for US telecommunications firms over their cooperation with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Under August’s Protect America Act, McConnell writes, the country is “safer” from terrorist attacks while the privacy of US citizens is protected (see August 5, 2007). The government has “greater understanding of international [al-]Qaeda networks, and the law has allowed us to obtain significant insight into terrorist planning.” But the Act expires in two months, and McConnell wants it re-enacted and significantly expanded “if we are to stay ahead of terrorists who are determined to attack the United States.” Echoing the arguments of Bush administration officials, McConnell attacks the “outdated” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as significantly hindering the government’s “ability to collect timely foreign intelligence.” McConnell complains: “Our experts were diverted from tracking foreign threats to writing lengthy justifications to collect information from a person in a foreign country, simply to satisfy an outdated statute that did not reflect the ways our adversaries communicate. The judicial process intended to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans was applied instead to foreign intelligence targets in foreign countries. This made little sense, and the Protect America Act eliminated this problem.” McConnell calls for new legislation that would obviate the need for intelligence agencies such as the NSA to seek warrants to monitor US citizens’ telephone and e-mail communications: “The intelligence community should spend its time protecting our nation, not providing privacy protections to foreign terrorists and other diffuse international threats.” He also calls for retroactive immunity for “private parties”—i.e. the US telecommunications companies—that are subject to lawsuits over their cooperation with the NSA in monitoring US communications. “The intelligence community cannot go it alone,” he writes. “Those in the private sector who stand by us in times of national security emergencies deserve thanks, not lawsuits.” Two days later, new Attorney General Michael Mukasey will write a virtually identical op-ed for the Los Angeles Times (see December 12, 2007). [New York Times, 12/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Bush administration (43), Mike McConnell, New York Times, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Michael Mukasey, the new Attorney General, writes an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times pushing for Congressional immunity for US telecommunications firms over their cooperation with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Mukasey supports the NSA program, echoing the administration’s long insistence that the surveillance program is “crucial” in protecting the country against terrorist attacks. He also reiterates the administration’s criticism of the “outdated” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which he says hampers the government’s ability to collect needed intelligence and does little to protect the privacy of US citizens. Mukasey calls for Congress to pass a Senate bill that would grant the telecommunications firms retroactive immunity to civil lawsuits and criminal charges surrounding their cooperation with the NSA, and would no longer require court orders for the government to “direct surveillance at foreign targets overseas”—surveillance that would target US citizens. Mukasey says the US will “need the full-hearted help of private companies in our intelligence activities; we cannot expect such cooperation to be forthcoming if we do not support companies that have helped us in the past.” Mukasey strongly opposes another Senate bill that would grant no immunity and would continue to require the government to obtain FISA Court warrants before wiretapping domestic communications. Two days earlier, the director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, penned a virtually identical op-ed for the New York Times (see December 10, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Bush administration (43), Los Angeles Times, Michael Mukasey, National Security Agency

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The Bush administration begins a push to get Congress to pass legislation to protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits over their assistance with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. This is part of the administration’s long and sometimes uneasy partnership with the telecom industry to conduct a wide range of secret anti-terrorism surveillance operations. The firms fear further lawsuits and more public exposure, and some have refused outright to cooperate (see February 27, 2001 and 1990s).
Fiber Optics - Twenty years ago, the NSA had little difficulty in monitoring telephone communications because older technology relied on broadcast signals carried by microwave towers and satellite relays; the agency used its own satellite dishes to cull the signals. But fiber optic communications are much more difficult to tap, forcing the agency to seek the cooperation of the telecoms to monitor their signals.
Relationship - “It’s a very frayed and strained relationship right now, and that’s not a good thing for the country in terms of keeping all of us safe,” says an industry official in favor of immunity for the telecoms. “This episode has caused companies to change their conduct in a variety of ways.” Both the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, and the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, write virtually identical op-eds in recent days calling for passage of legislation to grant immunity to the telecoms and remove the need to obtain warrants to wiretap Americans’ communications (see December 10, 2007 and December 12, 2007).
Two Bills - Currently, two bills are before Congress: one largely crafted by Republicans and passed on by the Senate Intelligence Committee that would grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms, and another from the House Judiciary Committee that would not. The White House says President Bush will veto any legislation that does not grant immunity to the telecoms. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Bush administration (43), Center for National Security Studies, Michael Mukasey, National Security Agency, Senate Intelligence Committee

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

An internal FBI audit reveals that US telecommunications companies have repeatedly terminated FBI access to wiretaps of suspected terrorists and other criminal suspects because bureau officials failed to pay outstanding phone bills. The report, written by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, finds that over half of the nearly 1,000 telecommunications bills reviewed by investigators were not paid on time. One unidentified field office allowed a $66,000 invoice to go unpaid. In another instance, a wiretap conducted under a FISA warrant was terminated because of “untimely payment.” The report notes, “Late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence.” [Washington Post, 1/11/2008] Some of the problems stem from telecoms billing multiple times for single surveillance warrants, which ratchets up the bills quickly. Cox Communications, for example, billed the FBI $1,500 for a single, 30-day wiretap order. Telecoms also bill the FBI for Internet connections and phone lines connecting the carrier’s wiretap-ready switches with the FBI’s own wiretap software system, known as the Digital Collection System. Each field office’s computers are connected together with the other offices, and with FBI headquarters, through a secure fiber optic network managed by Sprint. In some cases, FBI officials were confused about whether to use confidential case funds or general funds to pay the telecom bills. Sometimes they were so confused that when the telecoms sent refunds, the officials returned the refunds to the carriers. [Wired News, 1/10/2008] The report faults the agency for poor handling of money used in undercover investigations, which it says makes the agency vulnerable to theft and mishandled invoices. [Reuters, 1/10/2008] This is the latest in a string of audits by Fine’s office that has found serious financial and management problems at the bureau. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko says that in every case the outstanding bills were eventually paid and the intercepted information was recovered. “No evidence was lost in these cases,” he says. FBI assistant director John Miller blames an “inadequate” financial management system for the failures to pay telecom bills. Previous reports have noted a persistent failure to account for hundreds of computers and weapons, and a pattern of careless bookkeeping that spans a much wider area than the wiretapping program. The audit itself, a detailed, 87-page document, is too sensitive for public release, says the Justice Department, and only a seven-page summary is released. The American Civil Liberties Union calls on the FBI to release the entire document. ACLU counsel Michael German, himself a former FBI agent, questions the motives of the telecom firms, who in many instances have allowed the government to operate wiretaps on their systems without court warrants. “It sounds as though the telecoms believe it when the FBI says the warrant is in the mail, but not when they say the check is in the mail,” he says. [Washington Post, 1/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Glenn Fine, American Civil Liberties Union, Cox Communications, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sprint/Nextel, Mike German, US Department of Justice, Digital Collection System, Richard Kolko, John Miller

Category Tags: Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, Other Surveillance

National security lawyer Suzanne Spaulding says that the constitutional question of whether the US government can examine a large array of information about citizens contained in its databases (see 1980s or Before) without violating an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy “has never really been resolved.” She adds that it is “extremely questionable” to assume Americans do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for data such as the subject-header of an e-mail or a Web address from an Internet search, because those are more like the content of a communication than a phone number. “These are questions that require discussion and debate,” she says. “This is one of the problems with doing it all [collecting data on citizens] in secret.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Suzanne Spaulding

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Category Tags: Database Programs

A new investigation modeled on the Church Committee, which investigated government spying (see April, 1976) and led to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA - see 1978) in the 1970s, is proposed. The proposal follows an amendment to wiretapping laws that immunizes telecommunications companies from prosecution for illegally co-operating with the NSA. A detailed seven-page memo is drafted outlining the proposed inquiry by a former senior member of the original Church Committee.
Congressional Investigative Body Proposed - The idea is to have Congress appoint an investigative body to discover the full extent of what the Bush White House did in the war on terror that may have been illegal and then to implement reforms aimed at preventing future abuses—and perhaps to bring accountability for wrongdoing by Bush officials. Key issues to investigate include:
bullet The NSA’s domestic surveillance activities;
bullet The CIA’s use of rendition and torture against terrorist suspects;
bullet The U.S. government’s use of military assets—including satellites, Pentagon intelligence agencies, and U2 surveillance planes—for a spying apparatus that could be used against people in the US; and
bullet The NSA’s use of databases and how its databases, such as the Main Core list of enemies, mesh with other government lists, such as the no-fly list. A deeper investigation should focus on how these lists feed on each other, as well as the government’s “inexorable trend towards treating everyone as a suspect,” says Barry Steinhardt, the director of the Program on Technology and Liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Proposers - The proposal is a product of talks between civil liberties advocates and aides to Democratic leaders in Congress. People consulted about the committee include aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI). The civil liberties organizations include the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Common Cause. However, some Democrats, such as Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and former House Intelligence chairwoman Jane Harman (D-CA), approved the Bush administration’s operations and would be made to look bad by such investigation.
Investigating Bush, Clinton Administrations - In order that the inquiry not be called partisan, it is to have a scope going back beyond the start of the Bush administration to include the administrations of Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. The memo states that “[t]he rise of the ‘surveillance state’ driven by new technologies and the demands of counter-terrorism did not begin with this administration.” However, the author later says in interviews that the scope of abuse under George W. Bush would likely be an order of magnitude greater than under preceding presidents.
'Imagine What We Don't Know' - Some of the people involved in the discussions comment on the rationale. “If we know this much about torture, rendition, secret prisons, and warrantless wiretapping despite the administration’s attempts to stonewall, then imagine what we don’t know,” says a senior Democratic congressional aide who is familiar with the proposal. Steinhardt says: “You have to go back to the McCarthy era to find this level of abuse. Because the Bush administration has been so opaque, we don’t know [the extent of] what laws have been violated.” “It’s not just the ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program,’” says Gregory Nojeim from the Center for Democracy and Technology. “We need a broad investigation on the way all the moving parts fit together. It seems like we’re always looking at little chunks and missing the big picture.”
Effect on Presidential Race Unknown - It is unknown how the 2008 presidential race may affect whether the investigation ever begins, although some think that Democratic candidate Barack Obama (D-IL), said to favor open government, might be more cooperative with Congress than his Republican opponent John McCain (R-AZ). However, a participant in the discussions casts doubt on this: “It may be the last thing a new president would want to do.” [Salon, 7/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Gregory Nojeim, Center for Democracy and Technology, American Civil Liberties Union, Barry Steinhardt, Bush administration (43), Common Cause, Jane Harman

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Category Tags: Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Barack Obama.Barack Obama. [Source: Public domain via US Senate]The State Department confirms that three of its contract employees improperly accessed the private passport files of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two of the three were fired and a third was subjected to as-yet-unstated disciplinary procedures. The Obama campaign quickly demands a “complete investigation” of who accessed the files, who they may have shared the information with, and what their possible motivations may have been. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refuses to identify the three employees, and says that there is no reason as yet to believe that the three break-ins were motivated by anything but “imprudent curiosity.” The State Department’s inspector general is conducting an internal investigation. The Justice Department is monitoring the situation, and may launch its own investigation. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008; Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Senior State Department officials claim not to have known about the violations of Obama’s passport files until very recently. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008] Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for Management and the department official responsible for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the office which oversees such records, also refuses to divulge any information about the contractors who broke into Obama’s records. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008]
Bureau Should Have Informed Senior Officials - Kennedy says that his department erred in not informing senior State Department officials about the violations. “I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line,” he says. “It was dealt with at the office level.” Kennedy also says that the political affiliations of the three contract employees are not known, but “[n]ow that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question, and that will be something for the appropriate investigation to look into.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Kennedy says he will brief Obama’s campaign staff today on the situation. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] Kennedy is new to the post; before him, the bureau chief was Maura Harty, who served as a US ambassador to Paraguay under the Clinton administration. [Huffington Post, 3/21/2008]
Breaches Immediately Detected - The files were accessed on January 9, February 21, and March 14 (see March 21, 2008). All three improper accesses were immediately detected through a computerized monitoring system, and supervisors were notified shortly after each access. But no one in the Obama campaign was notified until today, a week after the third break-in. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008]
Breaches May Constitute a Crime - The employees who broke into Obama’s files had access to his basic personal information, including his Social Security number, as well as his travel information, including information submitted by various US consulates from the nations to which Obama traveled (see March 21, 2008). Obama’s Social Security number can be used to pull a vast amount of information about Obama’s finances and other private, protected information. While the breaches themselves are not illegal (though they are violations of State Department protocols), if any information from the files were shared with anyone else, that would likely constitute a violation of US privacy laws.
Compared with 1991 Breach - In 1991, President George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign illegally broached Democratic contender Bill Clinton’s passport files for political reasons; that incident prompted an investigation led by independent counsel Joseph diGenova. DiGenova says of the Obama breach that because the two contract employees who were fired were not State Department employees, it will be more difficult for the acting inspector general of the department to force them to testify. “My guess is if he tries to talk to them now, in all likelihood they will take the Fifth,” he says, referring to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. DiGenova says it is improbable that senior State Department officials, perhaps including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, could not have known about the breaches. “Is inconceivable to me that civil servants working in a department which was part of a scandal in 1992 on this very subject would not understand that it was a management necessity to inform superiors,” he says. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] DiGenova’s investigations brought no charges against anyone in the Bush passport break-in. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Joseph diGenova, Maura Harty, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean McCormack, Condoleezza Rice, Patrick Kennedy, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

After the State Department reveals that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s passport file had been inappropriately accessed three times between January and March (see March 20, 2008), the department also reveals that the passport files of the other two major presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton (see March 21, 2008) and Republican John McCain, have also been breached. The same State Department contract employee who accessed Obama’s file also accessed McCain’s file, says department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack says that the department learned of the McCain breach “earlier this year.” He says that employee has been reprimanded but not yet fired. “We are reviewing our options with that person” and their employment status, he says. McCain says that any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation, and “corrective action should be taken.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008; BBC, 3/21/2008] It is not known what information, if any, was obtained from McCain’s file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, US Department of State, Sean McCormack, John McCain, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for information about the recently announced, unauthorized access to Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files (see March 20, 2008). Waxman also asks that the State Department make the information public. In a letter to Rice, Waxman asks for the names of the two State Department contractors who broke into Obama’s files. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008; Henry A. Waxman, 3/21/2008 pdf file] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the State Department will make results of its internal investigation available to congressional oversight committees and to Obama’s office. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Waxman, Barack Obama, US Department of State, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

The State Department confirms that Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) passport file was also inappropriately accessed, a day after the department revealed that Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport file was breached three times since January 2008 (see March 20, 2008). Obama and Clinton are battling for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has apologized to Obama for the breach, “I told him that I was sorry, and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed.” Clinton says that she was told her passport file was breached sometime in 2007. Rice says she only learned of the Obama breach on March 20, 2008, the same day the news of the violations broke in the media. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Clinton’s file was inadvertently accessed during a “training exercise.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/21/2008] Rice promises a “full investigation” into the Obama passport breach, and presumably the Clinton breach as well, though she has not spoken directly of the Clinton passport breach. “[N]one of us wants to have a circumstance in which any American’s passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way. And in this case it should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge. And we also want to take every step that we can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Rice says. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] It is unknown what information, if any, was obtained from Clinton’s passport file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Sean McCormack

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

A typical US passport.A typical US passport. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Jaikumar Vijayan explores the kind of information contained in passport files, in the wake of reports that Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama’s passport files were repeatedly breached (see March 20, 2008). All passport records are maintained in a classified records system in the State Department’s Passport Services annex in Washington, DC.
Extent of Information - Passport files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and contain all the information supplied on passport applications, including Social Security numbers, date and place of birth, family status, occupation, and physical characteristics. They do not, as has been widely reported, contain evidence of travel such as exit and entrance stamps, visas, or residence permits. The files also include investigative reports compiled as a part of the granting or denial of a passport, criminal records related to passports, court documents and administrative determinations related to passports and citizenship, copies of birth and baptismal certificates, medical, personal, and financial reports, and details of arrest warrants that may have been issued.
Origin of Information - The information comes from the applicants themselves as well as law enforcement agencies, investigative and intelligence sources, and officials of foreign governments.
Access to Information - The information is used not only by the State Department, the IRS, foreign governments, federal, state, and local authorities, attorneys representing a client in a passport case, and in some instances, members of Congress. Only State Department employees (or their contractors) who have valid identification cards and who have passed background checks may access the passport information database, and then only with passwords issued to them by their supervisors.
Access Logged - All access to the database is logged in a computer system, and potentially unauthorized or inappropriate access is flagged and brought to the attention of a supervisor. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Barack Obama, Jaikumar Vijayan

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

Stanley, Inc logo.Stanley, Inc logo. [Source: Stanley, Inc.]Two of the government contractors who improperly accessed Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport records (see March 20, 2008) are revealed to have worked for a Virginia-based firm, Stanley, Inc, before being fired. A third, who accessed both Obama’s and Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) records (see March 21, 2008), worked for the Analysis Corporation. Both Obama and McCain are presidential candidates. Their files were improperly accessed by contractors working for the State Department.
Stanley, Inc - Both of the Stanley contractors were fired the same day they performed the unauthorized search, according to a Stanley spokeswoman, who refuses to identify the contractors or explain why either of them accessed Obama’s files. In 2006, the State Department awarded Stanley a $164 million contract to print and mail millions of new US passports. Just this week, the firm was awarded a $570 million contract to “continue support of the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services Directorate.” Stanley does almost all of its business with the State Department; all of its employees are trained on the Privacy Act and must sign a Privacy Act acknowledgment before beginning work. The two contractors may have violated the Privacy Act when they broke into Obama’s files.
Analysis, Inc - The Analysis contractor who accessed Obama’s and McCain’s files has not yet been fired; that contractor is described as a veteran State Department contractor and an otherwise “terrific” employee. Analysis is staffed with an array of former intelligence-community officials. Its CEO is John Brennan, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former deputy executive director of the CIA. Stanley’s chairman and CEO, Philip Nolan, has made campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats alike, including to Obama’s Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Interestingly, Brennan advises Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues, and has donated to Obama’s campaign. [NBC News, 3/21/2008; CNN, 3/22/2008]

Entity Tags: The Analysis Corporation, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John O. Brennan, John McCain, US Department of State, Philip Nolan, Stanley, Inc

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. [Project VoteSmart, 2008; Independent, 3/21/2008] British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). [Independent, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Leonard Doyle, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

Constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, formerly an associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, says that the legality of the Main Core database, which contains a list of enemies primarily for use in national emergencies (see 1980s or Before), is murky: “In the event of a national emergency, the executive branch simply assumes these powers”—the powers to collect domestic intelligence and draw up detention lists, for example—“if Congress doesn’t explicitly prohibit it. It’s really up to Congress to put these things to rest, and Congress has not done so.” Fein adds that it is virtually impossible to contest the legality of these kinds of data collection and spy programs in court “when there are no criminal prosecutions and [there is] no notice to persons on the president’s ‘enemies list.’ That means if Congress remains invertebrate, the law will be whatever the president says it is—even in secret. He will be the judge on his own powers and invariably rule in his own favor.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Fein

Category Tags: Database Programs

Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi is interviewed by journalist Christopher Ketcham about the Main Core database, which apparently contains a list of potential enemies of the US state. Giraldi does not know any definite information about the database, but he speculates that it must be contained within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): “If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues”—the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws—“so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints.” Giraldi notes that the DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and says it has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security. “It’s clear that DHS has the mandate for controlling and owning master lists. The process is not transparent, and the criteria for getting on the list are not clear.” Giraldi continues, “I am certain that the content of such a master list [as Main Core] would not be carefully vetted, and there would be many names on it for many reasons—quite likely including the two of us.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Philip Giraldi, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Category Tags: Database Programs

What Radar magazine describes as a “knowledgeable source” claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in the Main Core database as potentially suspect. Main Core is a database of enemies of the state established several decades before as a part of the Continuity of Government (COG) program (see 1980s or Before). In the event of a national emergency, the suspects could be subject to, for example, heightened surveillance, tracking, direct questioning, or even detention. [Radar, 5/2008]

Category Tags: Database Programs

A US District Court orders the Justice Department to turn over ten documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether they should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the documents may hold information that would shed light on the legal reasoning behind the Bush administration’s “Stellar Wind” warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). EPIC and the ACLU seek the release of 30 documents from the OLC; Judge Henry Kennedy has ordered that 10 be turned over to him for further examination and 20 others remain classified because of national security considerations. Seven of those documents are about the government’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP—apparently the same program as, or an element of, Stellar Wind), 12 are FBI documents detailing how TSP had assisted the Bureau in counterterrorism investigations, and one is an OLC memo covered under an exemption for “presidential communications”—presumably a memo written either by, or for, President Bush. [Ars Technica, 11/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Henry H. Kennedy Jr., Electronic Privacy Information Center, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom of Information Act, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Terrorist Surveillance Program, ’Stellar Wind’

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Newsweek reveals that Thomas Tamm, a former high-level Justice Department official, was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the government’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, known as “Stellar Wind,” to the New York Times (see December 15, 2005). Tamm, an ex-prosecutor with a high security clearance, learned of the program in the spring of 2004 (see Spring 2004).
Intense FBI Scrutiny - As of yet, Tamm has not been arrested as one of the leakers in the criminal leak investigation ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005), though since the December 2005 publication, Tamm has remained under Justice Department suspicion—FBI agents have raided his home, hauled away his personal possessions, and relentlessly questioned his family and friends (see August 1, 2007). He no longer has a government job, and is having trouble finding steady work as a lawyer. He has resisted pressure to plead to a felony charge of divulging classified information. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes, “[H]e is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.” Perhaps his biggest regret is the impact the FBI investigation has had on his wife and children. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he says. But, “I don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”
No Decision to Prosecute Yet - The Justice Department has deferred a decision over whether to arrest and prosecute Tamm until after the Bush administration leaves office and a new attorney general takes over the department. Both President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, have denounced the warrantless wiretapping program. In one speech Holder gave in June 2008, he said that President Bush had acted “in direct defiance of federal law” by authorizing the NSA program. Former US Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is helping in Tamm’s defense, says: “When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility. It reflected a lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson has no use for the idea, promulgated by Bush officials and conservative pundits, that the Times story damaged the “war on terror” by alerting al-Qaeda terrorists to Stellar Wind and other surveillance programs. “Anybody who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude there was any harm to the United States,” he says. Hutchinson is hopeful that Holder’s Justice Department will drop its investigation of Tamm.
The Public 'Ought to Know' about NSA Eavesdropping - Recently Tamm decided to go public with his story, against the advice of his lawyers. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about,” he tells Isikoff. “So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?… If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.” Tamm also admits that he leaked information to the Times in part over his anger at other Bush administration policies for the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death penalty cases, and its use of “renditions” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects. He insists that he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He could not tell the Times reporters anything about the NSA program, he says, because he knew nothing specific about the program. As Isikoff writes, “All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it ‘didn’t smell right.’” (Times reporter Eric Lichtblau refuses to confirm if Tamm was one of his sources for the stories he wrote with fellow Times reporter James Risen.) [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Asa Hutchinson, ’Stellar Wind’, Eric Holder, Eric Lichtblau, Newsweek, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Tamm, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Media Involvement and Responses

Newsweek publishes a range of responses to its article about Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm (see December 22, 2008), who alerted the New York Times to the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping program “Stellar Wind” (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Most are extremely supportive of Tamm; Newsweek writes, “Nearly all labeled Tamm a hero.” One reader wonders why “few in the Justice Department were as troubled as Tamm about the illegality of the secret domestic wiretapping program or had the courage of his convictions.” Another notes, “Whistle-blowers like him are heroes because they are protecting ‘We the people.’” A Milwaukee reader, Harvey Jay Goldstein, suggests that President-elect Obama honor Tamm’s courage and service by “issuing him a pardon” and then “seek indictments against those involved in authorizing and carrying out the illegal program, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney.” The reader is “appalled” that Tamm “is being harassed and persecuted by the FBI (see August 1, 2007) for his part in disclosing the coverup of a program that originated in the Oval Office.” He calls Tamm “a national hero who had the guts to do what he thought was right and wasn’t intimidated by the power of the presidency.” Goldstein accuses Bush and Cheney of “undermining and circumventing the protections of the First and Fourth amendments [in what] are perhaps the most egregious attempts to consolidate absolute power within the executive branch since the dark days of Richard Nixon.” Illinois reader Leonard Kliff, a World War II veteran, writes: “It is disgusting that this man is on the run when he should be receiving a medal for his actions. I am sure the majority of Americans fully support him.” The Reverend Joseph Clark of Maryland calls Tamm “a common man doing his job—upholding the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law.… Thank God for people like Thomas Tamm who spoke when no one else was finding a voice.… This nation is made up of people like Tamm, and that is our strength.” And a former schoolmate of Tamm’s, Peter Craig, writes: “No one who attended Landon School in Bethesda, Md., in the late 1960s, as I did, will be at all surprised to learn that Tom Tamm ended up risking it all to do the right thing. In his senior year, for instance, Tom, then the president of the student council, decided to turn himself in to the rest of the council for some minor infraction unknown to anyone else (and ultimately warranting no punishment). It showed the same character and a burgeoning morality that years later would compel him to do what he did.” Only one published letter, from Bob Spickelmier, expresses the view that Tamm should go to jail for his actions. [Newsweek, 1/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Thomas Tamm, Bob Spickelmier, ’Stellar Wind’, Bush administration (43), Newsweek, Harvey Jay Goldstein, Leonard Kliff, US Department of Justice, Peter Craig, Joseph Clark

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Media Involvement and Responses

A US District Court judge awards damages in a lawsuit, finding the NSA illegally monitored the calls of the plaintiffs. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its lawyers, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, sued the US government in 2006 based on evidence that their calls had been monitored; the US Treasury Department inadvertently provided them with an NSA log in August 2004 showing their calls had been monitored in May of that year (see February 28, 2006). In defending against the suit, the Justice Department argued, first under President Bush and then under President Obama, that the case should be dismissed based on the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) concerning the NSA log, and that the plaintiffs could not otherwise demonstrate that surveillance had occurred, meaning the plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit. Judge Vaughn Walker rejected these arguments, noting that the plaintiffs had introduced into evidence a speech posted on FBI’s Web site by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole to the American Bankers Association (ABA), in which he said that surveillance had been used to develop a case by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Al-Haramain, and Congressional testimony by Bush administration officials that disclosed the manner in which electronic surveillance was conducted. In the summary of his decision, Vaughn wrote, “[The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] FISA takes precedence over the state secrets privilege in this case,” and “defendants have failed to meet their burden to [provide] evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained, that plaintiffs were not surveilled or that the surveillance was otherwise lawful.” [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010; Washington Post, 4/1/2010, pp. A04]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Asim Ghafoor, Anthony J. Coppolino, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), “Justice Department”, Barack Obama, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Suliman al-Buthe, Keith Alexander, Eric Holder, US Department of the Treasury, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency

Category Tags: State Secrets, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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