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Whistleblower: Part I – NSA spied on everyone, targeted journalists

February 5, 2009

by David Edwards and Muriel Kane

Headquarters of the NSA (National Security Agency) at Fort Meade, Maryland
Headquarters of the NSA (National Security Agency) at Fort Meade, Maryland
Former National Security Agency analyst Russell Tice, who helped expose the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping in December 2005, has now come forward with even more startling allegations. Tice told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann on Wednesday, Jan. 21, that the programs that spied on Americans were not only much broader than previously acknowledged but specifically targeted journalists.

“The National Security Agency had access to all Americans’ communications – faxes, phone calls and their computer communications,” Tice claimed. “It didn’t matter whether you were in Kansas, in the middle of the country, and you never made foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications.”

Tice further explained that “even for the NSA it’s impossible to literally collect all communications. … What was done was sort of an ability to look at the metadata … and ferret that information to determine what communications would ultimately be collected.”

According to Tice, in addition to this “low-tech, dragnet” approach, the NSA also had the ability to hone in on specific groups, and that was the aspect he himself was involved with. However, even within the NSA there was a cover story meant to prevent people like Tice from realizing what they were doing.

“In one of the operations that I was in, we looked at organizations, just supposedly so that we would not target them,” Tice told Olbermann. “What I was finding out, though, is that the collection on those organizations was 24/7 and 365 days a year – and it made no sense. … I started to investigate that. That’s about the time when they came after me to fire me.”

When Olbermann pressed him for specifics, Tice offered, “An organization that was collected on were U.S. news organizations and reporters and journalists.”

“To what purpose?” Olbermann asked. “I mean, is there a file somewhere full of every email sent by all the reporters at the New York Times? Is there a recording somewhere of every conversation I had with my little nephew in upstate New York?”

Tice did not answer directly, but simply stated, “If it was involved in this specific avenue of collection, it would be everything.” He added, however, that he had no idea what was ultimately done with the information, except that he was sure it “was digitized and put on databases somewhere.”

Tice first began alleging that there were illegal activities going on at both the NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency in December 2005, several months after being fired by the NSA. He also served at that time as a source for the New York Times story which revealed the existence of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Over the next several months, however, Tice was frustrated in his attempts to testify before Congress, had his credibility attacked by Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in an apparent attempt at intimidation.

Tice is coming forward again now because George Bush is finally out of office. He told Olbermann that the Obama administration has not been in touch with him about his latest revelations, but “I did send a letter to, I think it’s [Obama intelligence adviser John] Brennan – a handwritten letter, because I knew all my communications were tapped, my phones, my computer, and I’ve had the FBI on me like flies on you-know-what … and I’m assuming that he gave the note to our current president – that I intended to say a little bit more than I had in the past.”

Whistleblower: Part II – NSA even collected credit card records

Ex-analyst believes program actually the remnants of ‘Total Information Awareness,’ shut down by Congress in 2003

by David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster

On Wednesday night, Jan. 21, when former NSA analyst Russell Tice told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that the Bush administration’s National Security Agency spied on everyone in the United States, specifically targeting journalists, the Countdown host was so flabbergasted that Tice was invited back for a second interview.

On Thursday, he returned to the airwaves with expanded allegations against the NSA, claiming the agency collected Americans’ credit card records, and adding that he believes the massive, warrantless data vacuum to be the remnants of the Total Information Awareness program, shut down by Congress.

Asked for comment by Olbermann’s staff, the agency responded, “NSA considers the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens to be sacrosanct. The intelligence community faces immense challenges in protecting our nation. No matter the challenges, NSA remains dedicated to performing its mission under the rule of law.”

Olbermann ran the quote under a banner which read, “Non-denial denial.”

“As far as the wiretap information that made it though NSA, there was also data-mining that was involved,” Tice told Olbermann during the pair’s second interview. “At some point, information from credit card records and financial transactions was married in with that information.”

At this point on the audio track, Olbermann can be heard taking a deep breath.

“So, lucky American citizens, tens of thousands of whom are now on digital databases at NSA, who have no idea of this, also have that information included in those digital files that have been warehoused,” said Tice.

“Do you have any idea what all this stuff was used for?” asked the stunned host.

“The obvious explanation would be, if you did have a potential terrorist, you’d want to know where they’re spending money, whether they purchased an airline ticket, that sort of thing,” said Tice. “But, once again, we’re talking about tens of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens that have been caught up into this trap. They have no clue.

“This thing could sit there for 10 years, then all of a sudden it marries up with something else 10 years from now and they get put on a no-fly list and they of course won’t have a clue why.”

Tice added that “in most cases,” spied-upon Americans didn’t have to do anything suspicious in order to trigger the surveillance.

“This is garnered from algorithms that have been put together to try to just dream up scenarios that might be information that is associated with how a terrorist could operate,” he said.

Ultimately, the technical explanation boils down to this: “If someone just talked about the daily news and mentioned something about the Middle East, they could easily be brought to the forefront of having that little flag put by their name that says potential terrorist,” said Tice.

“Do you know, or do you have an educated guess, as to who authorized this? Who developed this?” asked Olbermann.

“I have a guess, where it was developed,” he replied. “I think it was probably developed out of the Department of Defense, and this is probably the remnants of Total Information Awareness, that came out of DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Defense Department]. That’s my guess. I don’t know that for sure.”

Olbermann then asked if Tice knows who had access to the data.

“I started looking into this, and that’s when ultimately they came after me to fire me,” said Tice. “They must have realized that I’d stumbled onto something, and after that point I of course had no ability to find anything else out.”

Tice concluded that he does not know if the program, as he understands it, continues to this day, and he refused to specifically state which media organizations the Bush administration’s NSA had targeted for surveillance.

These stories first appeared on The Raw StoryPart I on Jan. 21 and Part II on Jan. 22.

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