Investigative reporter James Bamford casts doubt on government claims regarding the Surveillance State
Investigative reporter James Bamford isn’t believing the official government positions regarding the Surveillance State. He discussed his reasons for his disbelief with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now:
Amy Goodman: Jim Bamford, explain the spy center that’s being built in Bluffdale, Utah.
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, it’s a mammoth—actually, the best way to think of it is NSA’s external hard drive. It’s a storage place for all that NSA gets from its surveillance, including the daily records of everybody’s telephone calls, which, again, we’ve just been hearing about in the news. But it’s not just that. It’s all this information that’s coming in from the Internet that the NSA picks out. It’s all their surveillance from all around the country, all around the world. And it all goes into this one place. It’s basically a huge data warehouse where all this information is placed. But it also serves as the cloud for NSA, the cloud being the central repository where every—where all the information is kept. And then, through these fiber-optic cables that go out from it, people at NSA headquarters, people at NSA listening posts in Georgia, Texas, all these places, are able to immediately go in. It’s just like, like I said, a hard drive. You go in, and you analyze all that information that’s in there. So if they’re collecting my telephone records today, who I’m calling, then tomorrow or tonight the NSA could go into those records in Bluffdale, Utah, and analyze them. So, that’s basically what it’s for. It’s this massive repository for all the information that NSA is collecting. And it’s a million square feet. It’s an enormous amount of space at a time when you can put a terabyte worth of data on just a blade on a Swiss Army knife, which can, like I said, hold a terabyte worth of data, and this is a million square feet, costing $2 billion.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you about—in 2012, at the annual DEF CON convention, the hacker convention, NSA director, General Keith Alexander, was asked whether the NSA keeps a file on every U.S. citizen. This was his response.
GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER: No, we don’t. Absolutely not. And anybody who would tell you that we’re keeping files or dossiers on the American people know that’s not true. And let me tell you why. First, under our agency, we have a responsibility. Our job is foreign intelligence. We get oversight by Congress, both intel committees and their congressional members and their staffs, so everything we do is auditable by them, by the FISA Court—so the judiciary branch of our government—and by the administration. And everything we do is accountable to them. And within the administration, it’s from the director of national intelligence, it’s from the Department of Justice, it’s from the Department of Defense. I feel like when I was a kid growing up—and some of you may feel like this, too. You know, you might get in a little trouble. You’re supervised a lot and maybe had to spend time in the hall. Well, that’s the way I feel today. We are overseen by everybody. And I will tell you that those who would want to weave the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is absolutely false.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: James Bamford, that was General Keith Alexander, again, at the DEF CON convention in 2012 in—as we mentioned yesterday, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, a black T-shirt. Your response, especially this whole thing that he raises about we’re just involved in foreign intelligence gathering?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, it’s funny. I was there, too. I also spoke at the DEF CON conference there. But the comments that General Alexander made, I thought, were amazingly out of place, because here it is, we just discovered he has all these dossiers that he’s listing, that he’s got all these records on American people and all these links into American Internet. What he’s talking about in terms of oversight also is—is just nonsense. He talks about the courts. Well, the court he’s talking about is a top-secret court that nobody is even allowed to know where it exists, where its address is, let alone getting any information from it. And in the last—or, the last time that they overhauled the legislation, they weakened the court a great deal. So, I’m sure—was that the answer you were looking for? What was the question again?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, basically, his emphasis on the foreign intelligence gathering, as well, the role of NSA.
JAMES BAMFORD: Right, right, right, yeah. Well, that’s always what they claim, is that, “Look, we’re not involved in the United States at all. We’re not involved in U.S. interception at all. We’re just involved in foreign communications.” Well, you know, if you look at that Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order that was released, what it talks about is getting from Verizon not just overseas calls, it talks about local calls. These are calls that aren’t even going to be on your bill. I mean, these are local calls or, you know, somebody calling their grandmother next door. We’ve come down to that, where the government is trying to get access to even your local calls. And I don’t see any connection between that and what they say. What they claim is that we’re only doing international, we’re only doing foreign communications. Well, when you’re asking for local phone calls throughout the United States, everybody in the United States, on a daily basis, you know, where’s the truth in all these claims?
Lee Camp, responding to a question by RT host Abby Martin at min. 4:05:
The problem, Abby, is that you have an “overgrown democracy disorder.” You think that we should have a say in what goes on in our country and around the world and our country’s actions. I don’t know who gave you that feeling, but it’s a real problem you have, and I think you need to realize that plutocrats will make these decisions for you. So don’t worry about it . . . It’s “restless democracy disorder.”
On this second video, Lee Camp asks two excellent questions regarding the Surveillance State:
Here is some extremely strong evidence that our political opinions are tribal more than rational.
“The reversal on the NSA’s practices is even more dramatic. In early 2006, 37 percent of Democrats found the agency’s activities acceptable; now nearly twice that number — 64 percent — say the use of telephone records is okay. By contrast, Republicans slumped from 75 percent acceptable to 52 percent today.”
I cannot help but think that if the former president were a Democrat and the current one a Republican, these trends would be reversed.
Many people, including Barack Obama, are now calling for a national discussion of the conduct of the NSA. In this intense video interview at MSNBC, Glenn Greenwald points out that such a debate could not possibly have occurred had Edward Snowden not released the information about the extent of NSA spying on Americans.
This article about Edward Snowden, by Glenn Greenwald:
The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.
The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
You’ll find Greenwald’s 12-minute video interview of Edward Snowden here.
I posted about Greenwald’s article on Facebook. I received the following comment:
I’m so glad I elected a 29 year old Booz Allen contract employee to make sensitive national security judgments for me. He’s so noble and righteous I’m sure that means he also is wise and has excellent, seasoned judgment.
Here is my response:
On July 4, we will celebrate the claim that U.S. governmental power comes from the People of the U.S. No, we didn’t elect Edward Snowden. Nor did we elect the military industrial complex. Nor do real people have much, if any, say in the national primaries–big money chooses them and then they give us the illusion of choice. Nor did anyone amend the U.S. Constitution to engraft terrorism exceptions to the First, Fourth or Fifth Amendments. Nor did I ever have a chance to vote to require the mainstream media to expand investigative journalism and diversity, so that anyone out there in a position of official authority would be forced to provide real answers to real questions, so that our national elections would be a legitimate exercise of grassroots power. What we are left with is a realpolitik, and in this massively dysfunctional system, the U.S. Surveillance State does whatever the hell it chooses to do, while the our obeisant news media villainizes other countries that do exactly what we do. The result is perpetual war, attendant with severely warped domestic governmental spending priorities. We are on an unsustainable path where war is the official excuse for hundreds of requests to fix fixable problems. Our politicians complete this circle by selling us nightmares (terrorism) and claiming that they can fix the problem with non-stop violent xenophobia, and now, spying on all of us. The question is what one should do when confronted with pervasive illegal spying by the U.S. government? If there is no perfect answer, what is a half-decent imperfect one? And more fundamentally, shouldn’t the People be giving their consent to such an ever-growing out-of-check system of the type described by Edward Snowden? Eddie, when did you vote to authorize the U.S. government to listen in on your phone calls? When did you vote to allow such widespread surveillance that investigative reporting through traditional outlets has almost come to a stop, meaning that we’re all very much in the dark? When were our representatives going to get around to telling us about these egregious NSA practices, even in the abstract? The official answers are “never” and “trust us.” There is no longer any reasonable way for law-abiding citizen to identify or address the underlying rot. The options are thus A) to do nothing to expose these abuses and B ) do something.
Congress insists that the massive, invasive, unprecedented spying that they have authorized the government to perform is legal and necessary to stop terrorists. I didn’t notice any exceptions written into the Bill of Rights that nullify the rights in cases of terrorism . . .
“My job this morning is to be so persuasive…that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Barack,” he told a crowd of about 300 Ivy Leaguers–and, by the looks of it, a handful of locals who managed to gain access to what was supposed to be a students-only event.
I’m reprinting the following, with permission, from the site of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Congress Disgracefully Approves the FISA Warrantless Spying Bill for Five More Years, Rejects All Privacy Amendments
Today, after just one day of rushed debate, the Senate shamefully voted on a five-year extension to the FISA Amendments Act, an unconsitutional law that openly allows for warrantless surveillance of Americans’ overseas communications.
Incredibly, the Senate rejected all the proposed amendments that would have brought a modicum of transparency and oversight to the government’s activities, despite previous refusals by the Executive branch to even estimate how many Americans are surveilled by this program or reveal critical secret court rulings interpreting it.
The common-sense amendments the Senate hastily rejected were modest in scope and written with the utmost deference to national security concerns. The Senate had months to consider them, but waited until four days before the law was to expire to bring them to the floor, and then used the contrived time crunch to stifle any chances of them passing.
Sen. Ron Wyden’s amendment would not have taken away any of the NSA’s powers, it just would have forced intelligence agencies to send Congress a report every year detailing how their surveillance was affecting ordinary Americans. Yet Congress voted to be purposely kept in the dark about a general estimate of how many Americans have been spied on.
Sen. Jeff Merkley’s amendment would have encouraged (not even forced!) the Attorney General to declassify portions of secret FISA court opinions—or just release summaries of them if they were too sensitive. This is something the administration itself promised to do three years ago. We know—because the government has admitted—that at least one of those opinions concluded the government had violated the Constitution. Yet Congress also voted to keep this potentially critical interpretation of a public law a secret.
Tellingly, Sen. Rand Paul’s “Fourth Amendment Protection Act,” which would have affirmed Americans’ emails are protected from unwarranted search and seizures (just like physical letters and phone calls), was voted down by the Senate in a landslide.
The final vote for re-authorizing five more years of the FISA Amendments Act and secretive domestic spying was 73-23. Our thanks goes out to the twenty-three brave Senators who stood up for Americans’ constitutional rights yesterday. If only we had more like them.
Of course, the fight against illegal and unconsitutional warrantless wiretapping is far from over. Since neither the President, who once campaigned on a return to rule of law on surveillance of Americans, nor the Congress, which has proven to be the enabler-in-chief of the Executive’s overreach, have been willing to protect the privacy of Americans in their digital papers, all eyes should now turn to the Courts.
EFF was just in federal court in San Francisco two weeks ago, challenging the NSA’s untargeted dragnet warrantless surveillance program. And the Supreme Court will soon rule whether the ACLU’s constitutional challenge to the “targeted” portions of the FISA Amendments Act can go forward.
But make no mistake: this vote was nothing less than abdication by Congress of its role as watchdog over Executive power, and a failure of its independent obligation to protect the Bill of Rights. The FISA Amendments Act and the ongoing warrantless spying on Americans has been, and will continue to be, a blight on our nation and our Constitution.
If you decide to view the speech of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), be sure to listen to the portion starting at min 38, where you can see that national intelligence authorities have been completely stifling even the reasonable requests of U.S. Senators regarding the numbers of communications of innocent American that have been intercepted.
Using the example of General Petraeus, the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains how the federal government looks at private email. What can be done about these abuses?
[The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA (1986)] is hopelessly out of date, and fails to provide the protections we need in a modern era. Your email privacy should be simple: it should receive the same protection the Fourth Amendment provides for your home. So why hasn’t Congress done anything to update the law? They’ve tried a few times but the bills haven’t gone anywhere. That’s why [Electronic Frontier Foundation] members across the country are joining with other advocacy groups in calling for reform. This week, we’re proud to launch a new campaign page to advocate for ECPA reform.