Skip to comments.NSA monitors millions of American e-mails
Posted on 06/20/2009 7:25:08 AM PDT by FromLori
(WSWS) -- Several current and former agents within the National Security Agency (NSA), speaking on condition of anonymity, have told the New York Times that the spy agency likely monitors millions of e-mail communications and telephone calls made by Americans. The new revelations follow the disclosure in April that the NSAs monitoring of domestic e-mail traffic broke the law in 2008 and 2009.
Last year, Congress passed legislation providing the NSA greater latitude to spy on the communications of Americans, so long as it resulted inadvertently from the agencys efforts to spy on foreigners or those it reasonably believed to be outside US borders. This authorized the NSA to intercept tens of millions of e-mail and phone communications that pass through American telecommunication gateways. The measure was attached to a congressional law granting immunity to telecommunications companies that turned over private phone records to federal authorities.
Among those voting for the bill was then-Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. In all, 293 members of the House and 69 senators voted to pass the bill.
To launch investigations specifically targeting American terror suspects, the legislation requires that the NSA first gain a warrant from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). In fact, this is a mere formality. The FISC almost never turns down a government request for a warrant.
Yet the NSAs activities have gone beyond even this pseudo-legal system specifically constructed in order to allow domestic spying. It is not known how many Americans have been spied upon, but the Timess sources report that in 8 of 10 warrants issued by the FISC, the NSA is believed to have gone beyond legal boundaries. Further, Because each order could single out hundreds or even thousands of phone numbers or e-mail addresses, the number of individual communications that were improperly collected could number in the millions, the Times reported.
A former agent said the NSAs illegal domestic spying operations have been underway for years. In 2005, the agent said he was trained to use a secret database called Pinwale, which allows agents to read large volumes of e-mail messages to and from Americans. The agent said he believes that American e-mail messages culled by the program could amount to as much as 30 percent of the total. Two current NSA agents confirmed that the program continues today.
Sources confirmed to the Times that spying on the domestic e-mail of Americans was at the heart of a bitter feud within the Bush administration in 2004 involving former Attorney General John Ashcroft and top Justice Department officials who staged a near revolt over what they viewed as possibly illegal aspects of the NSAs surveillance operations. The crisis unfolded at the hospital bedside of Ashcroft, who was recovering from pancreatitis. Ashcroft and acting Attorney General James Comey refused to sign an order reauthorizing a domestic electronic surveillance program they believed to be in violation of 1978s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
The controversy was mostly about that issue, a former Bush administration official with knowledge of the dispute told the Times. At the time, Comey expressed concern over the collection of meta-data on Americans communications, which could be used to build a database that identifies both broad communication patterns as well as to map out communication links among individuals and groups. The Bush administration went ahead with the program without Justice Department authorization. (see Former Justice Department official describes illegal actions by Bush administration in defense of domestic spying)
The NSA has evidently told lawmakers that the known instances in which it broke legally established domestic spying guidelines were inadvertent cases of overcollection. While the NSA refused comment for the Times story, a spokeswoman for National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair claimed that due to legal and logistical complications, technical and inadvertent errors can occur, and that when such errors are identified, they are reported to the appropriate officials, and corrective measures are taken
The chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, Rush Holt (Democrat, New Jersey), cast doubt upon this vague explanation. Some actions are so flagrant that they cant be accidental, he told the Times.
This is an extraordinary declaration. The leading member of the House committee tasked with overseeing US spy agencies is saying, in effect, that the NSA is deliberately breaking the law in order to spy on large number of Americans without warrants or any other form of legal justification. Taken together with the revelations from the Timess anonymous sources, it paints a portrait of an intelligence apparatus that operates with impunity, unaccountable to the legislative and judicial branches of governmentmuch less to the American people, who in the last three national elections have repudiated the anti-democratic policies of the Bush administration.
The Times followed its investigative article with an editorial that correctly points out that the NSA abuses underway were prepared by last years congressional revisions of FISA. The editorial notes that President George W. Bush started violating that law shortly after 9/11 when he authorized the NSA to conduct domestic wiretapping without first getting the required warrant. When that program was exposed by The Times in late 2004, the Bush team began pressuring Congress to give retroactive legal cover to the eavesdropping operation and to the telecommunications companies that participated in it.
The reference to the Times exposing the article in late 2004 is rather self-serving. In fact, the Times shielded the evidence of NSA domestic spying from the American public until after the 2004 election, at the behest of the Bush administration. (See, A damning admission: New York Times concealed NSA spying until after 2004 election)
Congressmen have not revealed to the American public details of their concerns over the NSA domestic spying program, and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Wednesday rushed to deny the implications of the Times story. Everything that I know so far indicates that the thrust of the storythat there are flagrant actions essentially to collect content of [American e-mails]is just simply not true, to the best of my knowledge, she claimed.
In fact, the Obama administration and leading Democrats are fully committed to advancing the power of the police state built up during the Bush years.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to state that warrantless wiretapping of Americans phone conversations is illegal, a position both he and President Barack Obama advocated before Obamas inauguration. He also refused to say whether or not the Justice Department would rescind a 2006 Bush administration White Paper that attempted to provide a legal rationale for the warrantless wiretapping program.
The revelations also serve as another indication of the powerful domestic role of the military-intelligence apparatusa power increasingly independent of the nations political institutions and laws.
In April, after voices within or close to the national security community launched high-decibel criticism of President Barack Obamas decision to comply with a court order and release Bush administration legal memorandum that sought to create a pseudo-legal basis for torture, Obama responded by promising that there would be no investigation of those who ordered or carried out torture.
This only emboldened the military-intelligence apparatus and the Republican right. Top generals supported Obama when he reversed his earlier acceptance of a court order to release dozens of photos depicting US soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. Then, buckling under pressure from the military-intelligence apparatus, Obama also backtracked on campaign promises to end the military tribunal system for trying alleged terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Indeed, the congressmen ostensibly tasked with overseeing the nations spy agencies are themselves the subjects of its espionage. It is openly acknowledged that the NSA carries out spying operations on members of the US Congress and prominent political figures. In April, it came to light that the NSA had been wiretapping the conversations of Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat and then the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, as she promised to intervene on behalf of two indicted pro-Israeli lobbyists in return for political favors. Harman had herself been an outspoken advocate of the NSAs warrantless spying operations.
The former agent interviewed by the Times also confirmed that Pinwale had been used by an agent to access the e-mail account of former President Bill Clinton. He indicated that the agent who had done so was investigated, but not whether or not he was dismissed.
In a related development, within days the military is expected to release details of a new Cyber Command that would oversee and develop the militarys espionage and war-making capabilities on computer systems. The NSA, which controls most of the functions that would be associated with cyberwarfare, will figure prominently in the new command.
All I can see is that they are monitoring a lot of spam.
Good question I wonder bet they do.
Of course, now that the DemocRATs are in charge, it’s okey-dokey...
First time I’ve posted this statement - but isn’t this Bush’s fault??
I thought with BO at the helm, this invasive intrusion into our privacy would be unthinkable, with only a passing memory of the evil days of Bush remaining.
Hmmm... perhaps it was just campaign rhetoric...
The last 3 national elections? Was the Bush administration "repudiated" in 2004?
NSA -Read This ! FU!!
NOT just “millions”
ALL . . .
Such has been deliberate in terms of all electronic/electric communications for AT LEAST 39 years.
I think all BO’s regime has done is add a few new “hate words” to the filter used to catch posters of interest
like “conservative” “tea party” “Christian” “free republic”
Wasn’t this originally a Clinton program in response to the “Vast Right Wing Conspiracy” ? Anyhow, that would be my guess.
I’ll bet they get bored reading us...
And irritated that we don’t use spell check
when we talk about hugh and series issues and the maroons running the White House and congress
I am more concerned about “former agents within the National Security Agency (NSA), speaking on condition of anonymity, (to) the New York Times” than I am about the NSA monitoring the US side of international communications.
The 0bama administration; islamism is no longer the enemy. The American people are.
No facts, just conjecture?
Seriously, I have to think that this is targeted surveillance of people they know are up to no good. They simply don't have enough people/staff to monitor everyone, and any kind of automated monitoring would still have to be reviewed by a human in order for them to learn anything interesting.
Only millions? If they’re monitoring 5k individuals who generate a thousand emails apiece, that’s 5M emails.
Maybe I’ll get on their list. Here’s some keywords: Allah akbar, bomb, nuclear, centrifuge, bioweapon, package delivered, jihad, down with America, Israel off the map, kill jews, whatever dude.
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