AMY GOODMAN: The Bush administration’s wiretapping program
has come under new scrutiny this week. Two influential congressional
committees have opened probes into allegations US intelligence spied on
the phone calls of American military personnel, journalists and aid
workers in Iraq. Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Arlen Specter of the
Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Jay Rockefeller, chair of the
Senate Intelligence Committee, say they want Congress to look into
allegations from two former military intelligence officials.
two whistleblowers—Adrienne Kinne, an Army reservist, and David Murfee
Faulk, a Navy linguist—spoke last Thursday to ABC News. While the
network claimed that marked the first time the two whistleblowers had
come forward, they had both spoken out well before last week.
David Swanson wrote about them as early as July 2007, and in her first
broadcast interview five months ago, former Military Intelligence
Sergeant Adrienne Kinne, detailed the spying on Democracy Now! back in May.
ADRIENNE KINNE: I was stationed at Fort Gordon,
Georgia, and I was actually mobilized shortly after 9/11 with a group
of reservists who were eventually sent to Fort Gordon to work a
mission, that it was actually a brand new mission. It was something not
like anything I had done in military intelligence previously. And this
new mission involved the intercept of satellite phone communications in
Iraq and Afghanistan and basically a huge swath of the region around
those two countries. It was really brand new, and basically there were
about twenty of us who were put in charge of this new mission, to stand
In the very beginning, basically what we did was
that we would have a front end, which intercepted satellite phone
communications in that region, and then it would transmit the satellite
phone conversations back to the United States, where it would just fill
up this queue in our computer, and we would just go through. And all
the numbers were unidentified. So, at the beginning, it was just a
matter of sifting through thousands upon thousands of unidentified
satellite phone communications, as we kind of tried to sort out what
phone number belonged to who and kind of go through the process of
identifying phone numbers in the search for intelligence that might be
related to operations in Afghanistan and, later on, Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: And when were you listening to Iraq?
ADRIENNE KINNE: We
started listening to the entire region pretty much immediately. I think
this was December of 2001. And I was mobilized from October 2001
through August of 2003. So I was working that mission pretty much from
December through August of 2003.
And over the course of my
time, as we slowly began to identify phone numbers and who belonged to
what, one thing that gave me grave concern was that as we identified
phone numbers, we started to find more and more and more numbers that
belonged not to any organizations affiliated with terrorism or with
military—with militaries of Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere, but with
humanitarian aid organizations, non-governmental organizations, who
include the International Red Cross, Red Crescent, Doctors Without
Borders, a whole host of humanitarian aid organizations. And it also
AMY GOODMAN: Former Military Intelligence Sergeant Adrienne Kinne, speaking on Democracy Now!
in May. She and Navy linguist, David Murfee Faulk, were also
interviewed for a new book on the National Security Agency by James
Bamford, an investigative journalist and author of two earlier books on
the agency. Bamford is among the plaintiffs in a suit filed by the
American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of journalists, academics, aid
workers and lawyers who feared they were targeted by government spying.
A federal appeals court dismissed the case last year after ruling the
plaintiffs can’t prove they were monitored. The ACLU might reopen the
suit to include the new revelations by Kinne and Faulk.
James Bamford has been covering the National Security Agency for
the last three decades. He came close to standing trial after revealing
the NSA’s operations in his explosive 1982 book The Puzzle Palace. His latest book, which comes out today, is the third in his trilogy on the NSA. It’s called The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Today, we spend the hour with James Bamford. He joins us from Washington, D.C.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
JAMES BAMFORD: Thanks, Amy. I appreciate it.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, let’s
talk about Adrienne Kinne’s allegations, spying on Americans and
international aid workers in Iraq. What’s wrong with this?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, there’s a lot of things wrong with
it. First of all, they’re wasting their time, when they should be
spying on or trying to intercept communications to and from terrorists.
That was one of the complaints that Adrienne had and also Murfee Faulk
had, that they didn’t join the military to listen to Americans doing
pillow talk, because a lot of this was intimate conversations between
Americans and their spouses back in the United States. They’ve been
separated a long time, and you can imagine what a lot of those
conversations dealt with. They were very personal matters dealing with
finance, affection, and so forth. So they felt that they were morally
wrong by eavesdropping on these people and then just wasting government
money and wasting their time by listening to things that had nothing to
do with the war on terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting. One of the
things Adrienne Kinne told us was that she was spying on journalists at
the Palestine Hotel. She knew they were journalists. She heard what
they were saying over time. Here she was in Georgia, but spying on
those people, those journalists, in Iraq. And she said she saw a
document, she saw an email that put the Palestine Hotel on a—as a
bombing target, and she immediately went to her superiors, because she
was spying on them, she knew that they were journalists. She said, “But
there are journalists in that hotel.” She learned a lot in this spying.
Is this illegal?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, you know, it would have been illegal
under the old original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The way
they’ve sort of contorted the new amendments to the act, it’s hard to
tell what’s legal and what isn’t, because they’ve taken the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court largely out of the mix. And so, much of
what is being done is governed by secret rules known as USSID 18,
United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18, which is above
top-secret. It’s top-secret code words. So what is legal, what isn’t
legal, it’s very hard to tell.
And I think that’s why you really need a congressional committee
to really take a look at this. What really needs to happen is a very
in-depth examination of NSA post/11—actually, pre-9/11 and post-9/11,
the kind that was done in the mid-1970s by Senator Frank Church, the
Church Committee. I think that’s really the only way to get to the
bottom of whether NSA messed up before the attacks on 9/11 and whether
they’re doing things that are illegal or improper after 9/11.
AMY GOODMAN: What other allegations did the Navy linguist David Murfee Faulk make about what he was listening to in Iraq?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, he confirmed a lot of what Adrienne
was saying. And it’s interesting, because they cover such different
times there. Adrienne was there from 2001 to August of 2003. David
Faulk was there from November of 2003 until November of 2007. So you
have this time period covered from 2001 to 2007. And they were both
doing similar things. They had never met each other. So these are very
independent views of what was going on over there. And so, you have
this continuum from 2001 to 2007 of eavesdropping on Americans.
One of the things that David Murfee Faulk brought up was the
fact that not only were they eavesdropping on a lot of these
conversations, some of which were very intimate, but they would have
sort of locker room chats about what they were hearing, and they would
post—or they would notify their co-workers that you should listen to
this, what they call “cut,” their conversations. You should listen to
this conversation or that conversation. They’d laugh about it. And, you
know, I don’t really think that’s what the soldiers over there that are
fighting really appreciate, the fact that you have Americans back in
the state of Georgia laughing over their intimate conversations.
So, the other thing that David Murfee Faulk brought up that I
thought was very important and really gave a good insight into what—how
some of this activity that’s taking place in Iraq comes about, you
know, when they’re dropping bombs on houses and neighborhoods and
busting down doors and putting people into Abu Ghraib and so forth, how
does that come about? Why do they bust down this door or drop a bomb on
that house? And the insight he gave, I thought was very interesting. He
was saying how it’s these people here that are sitting in this
windowless room in the state of Georgia, near Augusta, Georgia, that
are listening to these conversations in Iraq, in Baghdad, and they’re
making instantaneous decisions on whether somebody is telling the truth
or not. So they’re writing out these—they’re doing these transcripts,
and then they’re writing these little comments saying this person here,
Ali, is saying he’s going to deliver a load of melons to his cousin
Mohammed tomorrow. And then you have somebody making a decision: is he
telling the truth, or isn’t he? Are these melons, or possibly could
they be IEDs? And if a person says, “You know, I don’t think he’s
telling the truth,” there’s a good chance that that house could be
blown up or that person could be put in Abu Ghraib, or whatever.
And the point that David Mufee Faulk was making was that the
people that are making these decisions, these sometimes life-and-death
decisions, don’t have the proper training. They’re trained for
sixty-three weeks in Monterey, California in standard Arabic. And what
they’re listening to a lot of times is dialects that they don’t really
understand, and they’re listening for nuances that they don’t really
get, and idioms and so forth. And I think it’s very dangerous, and what
the point he was making was it was very dangerous for—you know,
sometimes these are just people right out of high school to—that have
never been out of the country, and certainly never been over to the
Middle East, to make these sort of life-and-death decisions based on
just hearing one conversation out of context.
AMY GOODMAN: And they’re doing this from Fort Gordon, Georgia. Are they working for the NSA, the National Security Agency?
JAMES BAMFORD: Yes. The way this works—a lot of people
don’t really understand how this whole system works—the NSA is sort of
two organizations in one; the director of NSA wears two hats. If you
ever get a letter from NSA or whatever, it says—the letterhead says,
“National Security Agency/Central Security Service.” And the director
always signs his name “Director NSA/Chief CSS.”
The National Security Agency is largely civilians, and they’re
mostly the analysts and the people who design the sophisticated
satellites and do a lot of the technical development work and break a
lot of the codes and so forth. And the people on the front lines, the
intercept operators, are almost all military, and some civilians who
transition from the military into a private contractor, for example.
So, most of those are the military, but they all come under the same
organization. The military is technically the Central Security Service,
which reports to the director of NSA, and the civilians are largely NSA
analysts and so forth. So it’s the same organization. Adrienne Kinne,
for example, she showed me her certificate that she received when she
was there. In a big print at the top, it said “National Security
Agency,” and it was an award of achievement for the good work she did
while she was there on this NSA mission called Operation Highlander.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to James Bamford,
investigative journalist, author of three books now on the National
Security Agency, his last out today, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.
We’re spending the hour with him. When we come back from break, just
what is the NSA? And then we’ll talk about what happened in the lead-up
to 9/11 and beyond. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: James Bamford is our guest for the hour,
investigative reporter and author of three books on the National
Security Agency, his newest book just out today, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.
Jim Bamford, explain exactly what the NSA is. I don’t think most
people realize that it is many times larger than, for example, the CIA.
JAMES BAMFORD: And many times more secret. That’s why
there’s been hundreds of books on the CIA, and there’s only been three
books on NSA, and I wrote all three. So it’s an agency that’s very,
very, very secret.
And the distinction between NSA and the CIA is that the CIA
specializes in the type of espionage that most people are familiar with
from reading James Bond books and so forth, the human spy, where the
agent goes out and hides documents under a tree or tries to develop
sources in a foreign country. That’s human intelligence, known in the
trade as HUMINT. NSA specializes in SIGINT, which is signals
intelligence. And what that is is eavesdropping. And that’s actually
where the US gets most of its intelligence. It doesn’t really get most
of its intelligence from human spies, because they’re fairly unreliable
and they’re very rare to find. But it gets most of its intelligence
from eavesdropping on communications, whether it’s telephone calls or
email or faxes, computer transfers of information between computers,
any kind of information like that, instant messages. It intercepts it.
So NSA is the big ear.
And the way it works is, it picks up communications from
satellites, it taps undersea and underground fiber-optic cables, it
gets information any way it can, and then some of the information is
encrypted, and it’s responsible for breaking those codes and then
sending the information that it gets from these intercepts to other
agencies. And that’s what Adrienne and David Murfee Faulk did. They
were the actual front lines in this sort of electronic war. They were
the intercept operators.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Bamford, can you talk about how the NSA picked up the very first clues about the 9/11 attacks well before the 9/11 attacks?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, the very first clue to the 9/11
attack occurred in late December 1999, when the NSA picked up a message
from a house in Yemen. The house was being used by bin Laden as his
operations center. He didn’t have much capability to operate out of
Afghanistan, so all the phone calls, all the messages, email and all
that would go to this house in the city of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
NSA had been eavesdropping on that house for a number of years, and in
late December 1999, it picked up a particular intercept, picked up a
particular phone conversation.
And the phone conversation said that—send Khalid and Nawaf to
Kuala Lumpur for a meeting. So, NSA picked that up, and they—first of
all, they figured that Nawaf and Khalid had to be very important
potential terrorists, because they were being assigned by bin Laden out
in Afghanistan to go to a meeting in Kuala Lumpur. That seemed like a
terrorist summit meeting. NSA gave that information to the other
intelligence agencies, and the CIA set up a surveillance in Kuala
Lumpur, and then they lost them in Kuala Lumpur.
After they lost them, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi went
to California. They got in without any problem. NSA, even though they
had the last name of Nawaf al-Hazmi in their computers, they never
bothered to check, so they both got in without any problem into the
United States. They went down, and they lived in San Diego. And they
began calling back and forth to that house in Yemen, the house that NSA
was eavesdropping on. So NSA is picking up their conversations to the
house in Yemen, translating them and then sending out the conversations
to—or summaries of the conversations to the CIA without ever telling
anybody that they were in the United States. And they were in the
United States for almost two years. Al-Hazmi was there from January
2000 to September 2001. And again, they’re communicating back and
forth; NSA is picking up but not telling anybody that they’re in the
AMY GOODMAN: Explain, Jim Bamford—
JAMES BAMFORD: And it got so bad—
AMY GOODMAN: You say that they set up their final base of operations almost next door to the NSA headquarters in Laurel, Maryland?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, that’s the ultimate irony, was they
eventually travel across country from San Diego, and they set up their
final base of operations—these are the—this is the crew that was about
to attack the Pentagon—about a month before, they set up their base of
operations in Laurel, Maryland, of all places, that happens to be the
same city that NSA is headquartered. So they set up their base of
operations in this Valencia Motel, and almost across the
Baltimore-Washington Parkway is NSA headquarters. The director’s office
is on the eighth floor, and, except for some trees, he could almost see
the motel where they’re staying. So, NSA is over there trying to find
terrorists, and here is the 9/11 terrorists sitting right opposite the
NSA on the other side of the parkway making their final plans.
Mohamed Atta flew there for summit meetings. And they had to
take three hotels at one point to put all the people there. So, as NSA
is looking for them, they’re having their final summit meetings there,
and they’re walking around the Safeway, they’re exercising in Gold’s
Gym, they’re eating in the restaurants there, they’re mingling with NSA
employees. That’s NSA’s company town. It’s just the ultimate irony that
here you have the terrorists and the eavesdroppers living side by side
in the month before the final attack.
AMY GOODMAN: You then say, after the attacks, the White
House expanded massively surveillance, turning it inward on Americans
right here. Can you talk about how they did it?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, first of all, looking back on the
pre-attack, it was clear right after the attack that General Hayden,
the Director of NSA, realized the big mistake he had made, that these
guys not only were in the US, and he never told anybody they were
communicating from the other side of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway,
and he never let anybody know. So, obviously, he was very chagrined at
the fact that, you know, his actions were contributing factors to the
whole 9/11 attack by not being more aggressive in going after their
communications and telling people where they were.
So, after 9/11, to some degree to make up for it, he decided to
not protest when the Bush administration, particularly Dick Cheney,
began putting pressure on him to begin doing warrantless domestic
eavesdropping or warrantless eavesdropping of Americans. And that was a
big mistake. It would have been much better if he stood up like Jim
Comey at the Justice Department did. He stood up, as well as the
director of the FBI. And even Attorney General John Ashcroft stood up
and threatened to resign over parts of this warrantless eavesdropping.
But General Hayden decided to go along with it, and as a result, the
NSA began this very intrusive program of warrantless eavesdropping on
US citizens, both intrusive and largely useless.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about this documentary that you’re making for PBS on NOVA and the news that was reported in the Washington Post
a few days ago. FBI special agents Mark Rossini and Douglas Miller have
asked for permission to appear in an upcoming public television
documentary on pre-9/11 rivalries between the CIA, FBI, National
Security Agency. It’s your documentary. The FBI has denied them
permission, on grounds the FBI doesn’t want to stir up old conflicts.
Talk about what they have to say.
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, the documentary I’m doing is—it’s
going to be very interesting. It’s going to air January 13th. And what
it does is it sort of takes a large part of the book and translates it
into imagery, into video. So we actually go to that house in Yemen. We
actually located that house in Yemen and did video there. It was fairly
hazardous, but we got video of the house. And we traced the path of
these 9/11 hijackers from basically the moment the message came in to
the time when they were living opposite NSA in Laurel, Maryland.
As part of this program, we’re looking at what happened when
they were in Kuala Lumpur. And what happened was, in their flight from
Yemen to Kuala Lumpur, the CIA was able to get a copy of the passport,
of Khalid al-Mihdhar’s passport, and the passport had a visa in there
for the United States. It showed that they weren’t just going to Kuala
Lumpur; they were going to Kuala Lumpur and then to the United States.
Well, that was very important information for the FBI.
And at the time, the CIA had this very small unit within its
Counterterrorism Center; it was called Alex Station. And that was the
bin Laden unit. Those were the people whose sole responsibility was
trying to find Osama bin Laden. And the center was made up mostly of
CIA officials, but there were also two FBI agents there that were
assigned to that unit. When that message came in indicating that
Mihdhar had a visa to the United States, the two FBI agents protested
that they should send a message to the FBI headquarters and notify
them. Mark Rossini was one of the FBI agents, and Doug Miller was the
Doug Miller actually wrote up a memo to FBI headquarters saying,
we’ve got to notify FBI that these guys are probably headed towards the
United States; they’ve got a US visa. And Mark Rossini also said, we
should send this message to the FBI headquarters. And I interviewed
Rossini, Mark Rossini, on—for my book, and I quote him in the book as
saying that he was told by the two people in charge of Alex Station at
the CIA that he couldn’t send the message to FBI headquarters. He was
forbidden to send it to them. And at one time, when he protested, the
deputy—I think it was the deputy head of that station—I couldn’t reveal
her name in the book, because she’s still at the CIA, but she put her
hands on her hips and said, “Look, the next attack is going to take
place in Southeast Asia, not the United States. So when we want the FBI
to know about it, we’ll tell the FBI about it.” And under the rules
that existed, they weren’t allowed to notify the FBI headquarters
without CIA permission, since that was a CIA document that contained
the information on the visa, on Mihdhar’s visa. So, I interviewed Mark
Rossini, and he was very angry that he was never allowed to send that
message. Had that message been sent to FBI headquarters—
AMY GOODMAN: And the story goes beyond that.
JAMES BAMFORD: —the FBI would have put a—I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to say, the story goes beyond that. I was saying this was in the Washington Post; it was actually in the Congressional Quarterly,
that they were prepared to say publicly that under pressure from the
CIA, they kept the full truth from the Justice Department’s inspector
general, which looked into the FBI’s handling of the pre-9/11
intelligence in 2004.
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, not only that, the 9/11 Commission,
which did a pretty poor job on a lot of this, they never looked at any
of the information that I’m reporting on the National Security Agency,
and they also never interviewed either Rossini or Doug Miller, the two
FBI agents in there. I mean, it seems incredible to me that the 9/11
Commission never interviewed the two FBI agents who were assigned to
the bin Laden unit. So that’s part of the story that’s never been told,
that the American public just has no idea of some of these things that
took place leading up to 9/11.
AMY GOODMAN: James Bamford, we have to break, then we’re
going to come back to this discussion. Investigative reporter, his
third book in a trilogy on the NSA, out today, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of the telecoms’ role in
domestic spying, I want to turn to Mark Klein. He’s the former AT&T
technician who blew the whistle on the involvement of phone companies
in the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. Klein was
with AT&T for twenty-two years. In 2006, he leaked internal
documents revealing the company had set up a secret room in its San
Francisco office to give the NSA access to its fiber-optic internet
MARK KLEIN: We were told one day in late 2002 that an
NSA representative was coming to the office to speak to a certain
management technician about a special job. And this turned out to be
installing a secret room in the next office I was going to be in the
following year. And that secret room involved a lot of spying
equipment. Only this one management technician could go in there, and
the regular union technicians were not allowed to go in there.
when—in 2003 I was assigned to that office, and I got hold of the
documents which were available—they’re not classified—and the documents
showed what they were doing. They were basically copying the entire
data stream going across critical internet cables and copying the
entire data stream to this secret room, so the NSA was getting
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mark Klein, the former AT&T
technician who blew the whistle on the involvement of phone companies
in the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. Jim
Bamford, with us for the hour, author of The Shadow Factory,
out today, can you talk about how the CIA or the NSA is now working out
secret and potentially illegal agreements with the telecom industry in
order to access US telecommunications and what exactly Mark Klein is
talking about, not just potentially illegal, what they’ve done?
JAMES BAMFORD: Sure. And just before I do that, I’d just
like to thank these people for speaking out. Having been writing on
this topic for twenty-five years, I know how difficult it is for
anybody to come out and speak about what’s going on at NSA; it’s a very
difficult thing. So, Mark Klein and Adrienne Kinne and David Murfee
Faulk, Mark Rossini, these people, you know, I look at as heroes,
because they’ve come out and pointed a finger at what’s been going
wrong without—you know, there’s no compensation. They’re risking
their—the rest of their career or possibly risking the US government by
coming out and pointing these fingers. So, you know, I just have a lot
of admiration for these people.
And what Mark Klein was talking about, he was a supervisor for
twenty-two years over at AT&T, and he discovered this secret room
in this facility in San Francisco, this very tall, ten-, twelve-story
building out in San Francisco, which is basically the switch,
AT&T’s switch for their communications in that part of the country,
the sort of western part of the country.
And what happened is that during the 1990s and early in the ’80s
and the ’70s, the NSA used to collect information by putting out big
dishes and collecting satellite communications that would come down. It
was very easy. They put the dishes out; satellite transmits the
telephone calls and messages, emails and so forth down to earth; and
the satellite picks it up. And then NSA collects it. NSA didn’t have to
deal with the telecommunication companies at all, because they could
get the information independent of the telecom companies.
Then, in the late ’90s, things began to change, and fiber optics
became a big thing for telecommunications. Fiber optics are cables in
which the communications are transmitted, not electronically, but by
photons, light signals. And that made life very difficult for NSA. It
meant the communications, instead of being able to pick them up in a
big dish, they were now being transmitted under the ocean in these
cables. And the only way to get access to it would be to put a
submarine down and try to tap into those cables. But that, from the
people I’ve talked to, has not been very successful with fiber-optic
cables. So the only other way to really do this is by making some kind
of agreement with the telecom companies, so that NSA could actually
basically cohabitate some of the telecom companies’ locations. And
that’s what happened. NSA began making these agreements with AT&T
and other companies, and that in order to get access to the actual
cables, they had to build these secret rooms in these buildings.
So what would happen would be the communications on the cables
would come into the building, and then the cable would go to this thing
called a splitter box, which was a box that had something that was
similar to a prism, a glass prism. And the prism was shaped like a
prism, and the light signals would come in, and they’d be split by the
prism. And one copy of the light signal would go off to where it was
supposed to be going in the telecom system, and the other half, this
new cloned copy of the cables, would actually go one floor below to
NSA’s secret room. So you had one copy of everything coming in and
going to NSA’s secret room. And in the secret room was equipment by a
private company called Narus, the very small company hardly anybody has
ever heard of that created the hardware and the software to analyze
these cables and then pick out the targets NSA is looking for and then
forward the targeted communications onto NSA headquarters.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have these companies, AT&T and
Verizon, that are secretly working with the NSA and tapping Americans’
phone lines, and these companies actually outsource the actual tapping
to some little-known foreign companies?
JAMES BAMFORD: Yeah. There’s two major—or not major,
they’re small companies, but they service the two major telecom
companies. This company, Narus, which was founded in Israel and has
large Israel connections, does the—basically the tapping of the
communications on AT&T. And Verizon chose another company,
ironically also founded in Israel and largely controlled by and
developed by people in Israel called Verint.
So these two companies specialize in what’s known as mass
surveillance. Their literature—I read this literature from Verint, for
example—is supposed to only go to intelligence agencies and so forth,
and it says, “We specialize in mass surveillance,” and that’s what they
do. They put these mass surveillance equipment in these facilities. So
you have AT&T, for example, that, you know, considers it’s their
job to get messages from one person to another, not tapping into
messages, and you get the NSA that says, we want, you know, copies of
all this. So that’s where these companies come in. These companies act
as the intermediary basically between the telecom companies and the
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Jim Bamford, take this a step further,
because you say the founder and former CEO of one of these companies is
now a fugitive from the United States somewhere in Africa?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, you know, this is a company that the
US government is getting all its tapped information from. It’s a
company that Verizon uses as its tapping company, its eavesdropping
company. And very little is known about these companies. Congress has
never looked into any of this. I don’t know—I don’t think they even
know that there is—that these companies exist. But the company that
Verizon uses, Verint, the founder of the company, the former head of
the company, is now a fugitive in—hiding out in Africa in the country
of Namibia, because he’s wanted on a number of felony warrants for
fraud and other charges. And then, two other top executives of the
company, the general counsel and another top official of the parent
company, have also pled guilty to these charges.
So, you know, you’ve got companies—these companies have foreign
connections with potential ties to foreign intelligence agencies, and
you have problems of credibility, problems of honesty and all that. And
these companies—through these two companies pass probably 80 percent or
more of all US communications at one point or another. And it’s
even—gets even worse in the fact that these companies also supply their
equipment all around the world to other countries, to countries that
don’t have a lot of respect for individual rights—Vietnam, China,
Libya, other countries like that. And so, these countries use this
equipment to filter out dissident communications and people trying to
protest the government. It gives them the ability to eavesdrop on
communications and monitor dissident email communications. And as a
result of that, people are put in jail, and so forth. So—
AMY GOODMAN: And despite all of this—
JAMES BAMFORD: —this is a whole area—I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Despite all of this, these telecom companies
still have access to the most private communications of people all over
America and actually, it ends up, around the world. And at the
beginning of the summer, the Democrats and Republicans joined together
in granting retroactive immunity to these companies for spying on
JAMES BAMFORD: Yes. It looked like they were going to
have a fight earlier in February, when the temporary law ran out and
came time to either pass a new law or keep the old Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act the way it used to be, with all the protections. And
they did resist for a number of months. They resisted from February
until August. But in August, the Congress, seeing the election is
coming, most of them caved in and decided to just join in the
administration’s bill. And as a result, you have this fairly open-ended
bill that came out that gives a lot of permissions to the NSA to do a
lot of this eavesdropping without much accountability. I mean, it
basically neutered the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, took a
lot of powers away from them, and put the powers back at NSA. So the
ultimate problem is when you have NSA as both—as judge, jury and
executioner on the eavesdropping.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Bamford, we only have a few minutes, and I want to get to-–
JAMES BAMFORD: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —Bridgetown, Missouri, the AT&T hub there. What is the NSA’s role in spying there?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, Bridgetown, New Jersey—I’m sorry,
Bridgetown, Missouri is one of the centers for AT&T, because it’s
the—it’s sort of central in the country, and they could control much of
the network of AT&T from there. And it was there that AT&T
actually developed a system by which they could get into fiber-optic
communications. And just like they built this secret—the NSA built this
secret room in San Francisco, and Mark Klein said that he had heard
that they had built these secret rooms in other places around the
country, there was also a secret room built in Bridgetown. And the
worrisome part of that is Bridgeton controls the whole network.
So you have the problem of these secret rooms not just being in
San Francisco, they’re throughout the network, and they’re in other
parts of the country. And the American public really has no idea what’s
going on, in terms of who has access to their communications, what’s
being done with it. And is there somebody sitting there—as David Murfee
Faulk talked about, in the NSA listening post in Georgia, are there
people just sitting there listening to people’s private conversations
and laughing about them?
AMY GOODMAN: And the building in—
JAMES BAMFORD: One final thing—
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, go ahead, Jim.
JAMES BAMFORD: Yeah, I was just going to mention that it
isn’t just the picking up of these conversations and listening to them
and laughing about them. These conversations are transcribed.
They’re—and then they’re recorded, and they’re kept forever. There’s a
big building in Texas that’s being built in San Antonio that’s going to
be used to house a lot of these conversations. NSA is running out of
space at Fort Meade, their headquarters, so they had to expand, and
they’re building this very big building. It’s reportedly going to be
about the size of the Alamodome down there, to store all these—this
huge amount of data communications. And when you think how much
information two gigabytes could be put on a small thumb drive, you can
imagine how much of information could be stored in a data warehouse the
size of—almost the size of the Alamodome.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute, less than a minute, but—
JAMES BAMFORD: Oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: —the building in Miami where all
communications from Latin America are stored and then a single switch
for communications, much of Africa’s communications? And finally, where
they can’t get cooperation of companies, a specially built submarine
designed to sit on the bottom of the ocean floor to tap foreign cables?
JAMES BAMFORD: A lot of communications are consolidated.
A lot of the international communications in South America all pass
through one obscure building in Miami. And according to the landing
rights that the company had to sign, which I read, they basically have
to turn over everything that they get to the NSA if the NSA asks for
it. So, you have a problem here today. I mean, the overall big problem
is that there is a tremendous amount of eavesdropping going on. It’s
all being stored, it’s all being analyzed, either electronically or by
a human. And the public really doesn’t have much of—knowledge of all
this that’s going on right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Bamford, I want to thank you very much
for being with us, investigative journalist, author of three books, his
latest on the National Security Agency out today, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.
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