Update: June 7, 2013 – Groundbreaking follow-up articles from The Guardian and Washington Post show that the NSA's domestic spying program goes far beyond the secret collection of millions of Verizon telephone records. These articles detail the secret PRISM program that created direct access of user data between a reported nine online companies – including Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft – and the federal government. According to GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack, these disclosures represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to the depth of domestic surveillance being practiced by our country’s intelligence agencies. GAP’s NSA whistleblower clients, including Tom Drake, Bill Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe have warned about this breach of the American constitution and American privacy for years.
Yesterday, news reports revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly collecting the telephone records of millions of American customers of Verizon. British media outlet The Guardian obtained a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order requiring the company to provide the NSA with far-reaching information about customers' calls on an "ongoing, daily" basis, including phone numbers of parties, time of calls, and duration of calls. Records relayed to the government include purely domestic calls, and those between the U.S. and other countries.
The newly-revealed FISC Order confirms what Government Accountability Project (GAP) clients and NSA whistleblowers William Binney, Thomas Drake, and J. Kirk Wiebe have been warning Americans about for years. A former crypto-mathematician and 40-year NSA veteran, GAP client William Binney disclosed that the NSA's spying program had the capacity to intercept trillions of domestic electronic communications of Americans (including phone calls). Binney and his colleague, GAP client Wiebe, warned that such intrusions on Americans' privacy were never necessary to protect national security. NSA whistleblower and GAP client Drake, the first whistleblower who the Obama administration indicted under the Espionage Act, explained how after 9/11 the NSA turned its powerful spying techniques inward. For more on Binney's and Wiebe’s case, click here. For more on Drake's case, click here.
GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack, who represents Wiebe, Binney and Drake, summed up what these latest revelations mean:
The FISC Order obtained by The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald confirms what my NSA whistleblower clients have warned the American people about for years: that the Obama administration has been conducting massive, domestic surveillance on millions of innocent Americans.
This is exactly the tortured, overbroad and secret interpretation of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act that Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) wrote about when they wrote that Americans would be "shocked and angry" when they found out how the Obama administration was using the statute. There is no credible argument that a constant stream of Americans’ phone records is necessary to "protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities," the standard in Section 215, which is still a lesser standard than probable cause.
Americans should not find comfort in the fact the data is only telephone records rather than call recordings. Using metadata alone, the government can collect reams of information on millions of Americans, even with no suspicion of any wrongdoing whatsoever.
The press and the public should take this latest revelation of widespread domestic spying on Americans as an opportunity to hold the Obama administration accountable for the surveillance and Congress accountable for not providing aggressive oversight.
GAP has been receiving disclosures concerning the government's questionable surveillance actions involving Americans' telephone communications for years. In 2008, former GAP client Babak Pasdar, an experienced computer expert, was hired as a contractor to do security work for a major telecommunications company. In the process he discovered a mysterious "Quantico Circuit" at the company's facility (media sources identified the telecom as Verizon). The circuit, linked to Quantico, VA, provided the federal government unfettered access to all of that company's customer mobile phone communications – all calls, emails, text messages, Internet use, videos, billings, and even customer locations. However, the line was configured so no record of what was being tapped by the government existed. For more on Pasdar's case, click here.