National Security Agency (NSA) expert and author Jim Bamford has a another explosive article in Wired Magazine:
But one of the agency’s biggest secrets is just how careless it is with that ocean of very private and very personal communications, much of it to and from Americans. Increasingly, obscure and questionable contractors — not government employees — install the taps, run the agency’s eavesdropping infrastructure, and do the listening and analysis.
Bamford's latest piece – which features NSA whistleblowers and GAP clients – describes how 6 employees of a "mom-and-pop company," Technology Development Corporation (TDC), constructed the center for Stellar Wind - the NSA's illegal domestic spying program (remember they had to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and give the telecommunications companies retroactive immunity). TDC was owned by two brothers - one of whom is described as "unstable," "weird," "robotic," a tax dodger, and "changing his name to Jimmy Carter, and later Alfred Olympus von Ronsdorf." TDC didn't just build the Stellar Wind center, the bizarre company ran the Stellar Wind operation.
For a description of Stellar Wind, check Bamford's first blockbuster Wired Magazine article of the year, which described not only a gargantuan data storage facility NSA is building on the taxpayer's dime, but that the American people are paying NSA to collect massive amounts of their private data:
[Bill] Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and 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.
Bamford's new piece features Stellar Wind in its infancy, with NSA employee known as Ben Gunn as its parent:
But in the weeks following 9/11, as the agency and the White House agreed to secretly ignore U.S. privacy laws and bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, J. Kirk Wiebe noticed something odd. A senior analyst, he was serving as chief of staff for the agency’s Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (SARC), a sort of skunkworks within the agency where bureaucratic rules were broken, red tape was cut, and innovation was expected.
“One day I notice out in the hallway, stacks and stacks of new servers in boxes just lined up,” he said.
Passing by the piles of new Dell 1750 servers, Wiebe, as he often did, headed for the Situation Room, which dealt with threat warnings. It was located within the SARC’s Lab, on the third floor of Operations Building 2B, a few floors directly below the director’s office. “I walk in and I almost get thrown out by a guy that we knew named Ben Gunn,” he said. It was the launch of Stellar Wind and only a handful of agency officials were let in on the secret.
. . . people appeared to have serious misgivings about the NSA’s program once they discovered its true nature, according to Binney. “They came and said, ‘Do you realize what these people are doing?’” he said. “‘They’re feeding us other stuff [U.S.] in there.’ I mean they knew it was unconstitutional right away.” Binney added that once the job was finished, the NSA turned to still another contractor to run the tapping operation. “They made it pretty well known, so after they got it up and running they [the NSA] brought in the SAIC people to run it after that.”
Unsurprisingly considering Stellar Wind architect Gunn is "a Scotsman and naturalized U.S. citizen who had formerly worked for GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the NSA . . ." the concept of government collecting and storing domestic communications has traveled across the Atlantic. Already becoming a full-blown surveillance society with (as reported in 2007) over 4 million surveillance cameras monitoring public spaces WaPo reports on a new proposal that threatens the already-diminished privacy of our neighbors across the pond:
a new government plan is poised to take the gaze of this nation’s security services dramatically deeper: letting them examine the text messages, phone calls, e-mails and Web browsing habits of every person in the country.
Privacy advocates are obviously concerned, as should everyone who Googles something she does not want her government to know:
“I’m afraid that if this program gets introduced, the U.K. will be leapfrogging Iran in the business of surveilling its citizens,” said Eric King, head of research at Privacy International.
NSA whistleblowers J. Kirk Wiebe, Bill Binney, and Thomas Drake have repeatedly warned us about waste, fraud, abuse and illegal domestic spying at NSA. Two Senators have repeatedly warned us that the Obama administration has a secret interpretation of Section 215 of the (un)PATRIOT Act gave the U.S. government unprecedented power to obtain transactional records on Americans. that would make even Congress "surprised and angry." We should be more than "surprised and angry." We should be completely outraged.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.