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.
Three of my whistleblower clients (Tom Drake, Bill Binney, and J. Kirk Wiebe) warned us a year ago that the NSA was already doing this: collecting and storing massive amounts of private data on innocent Americans with no connection whatsoever to terrorism, or any crime.
Now Attorney General Eric Holder is just making it official, with new guidelines that permit the federal counterterrorism investigators to collect, search and store data about Americans who are not suspected of terrorism, or anything. This is beyond even the "pre-crime" world of the then-fictional movie Minority Report. Now the government is admittedly collecting and storing information on Americans who are not even thinking about committing a crime, and is resorting to the usual fear-mongering to justify it.
The Obama administration is moving to relax restrictions on how counterterrorism analysts may retrieve, store and search information about Americans gathered by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats.
According to the Justice Department, law enforcement and other national security agencies can copy entire databases and sift through the data for suspicious patterns to stop potential terrorist threats. But the Justice Department is operating under one major logical fallacy: investigating innocent people tells you nothing about the guilty.
Meanwhile, the relaxed guidelines – which privacy advocates compare to the Bush-era now-defunct "Total Information Awareness" program – come on the heels of a blockbuster WIRED Magazine cover story by National Security Agency (NSA) expert Jim Bamford, featuring two GAP clients, NSA whistleblowers Bill Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe. Bamford's article sheds light on construction of a massive NSA facility in Utah designed to store a yottabyte of data, or in Bamford's words:
. . . it would be equal to about 500 quintillion (500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.
I appeared on Democracy Now! this morning with National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, fellow Kossack, and my client Thomas Drake discussing the NSA's spying on American citizens, Drake's experience as the fourth person in history prosecuted under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information, and Justice Department's using the Espionage Act as back-door of creating an Official Secrets Act to silence media sources and discourage potential whistleblowers.
GAP has been conducting an investigation into the cover up of medical problems associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill since last fall. We are working with over 25 whistleblowers involving public health and safety threats that sharply contrast with BP and government denials and reassurances.
On March 2, GAP and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), our partner in the Gulf, sent a joint letter to the BP America Ombudsman Program, seeking an explanation for a resource manual (provided to GAP by an anonymous source) that details health risks for Deepwater Horizon spill cleanup workers from both the five million gallons of oil, and the two million gallons of toxic dispersant.
The letter asked the BP Ombudsman to help resolve an apparent, complete contradiction between BP’s safety reassurances to and restrictions on its employees, compared to the conclusions, warnings and mandatory precautions required by its own internal manual. A confidential whistleblower informed GAP that the safety manuals were pulled from worksites early in the cleanup, as workers began to develop listed health symptoms.
At a hearing last month, prosecutors in the case against Pfc. Bradley Manning noted that they didn't receive the messages but could not explain why. Chief prosecutor Capt. Ashden Fein said at a hearing Thursday that the messages had been "blocked by a spam filter for security." However, it fell to defense attorney David Coombs to explain precisely why the e-mails about evidence issues in the Manning case never made it.
"Apparently, they were blocked because the word 'WikiLeaks' was somewhere in the e-mail," Coombs said.
The government's own WikiLeaks policies are now hampering the prosecution's work in the case against Manning. Yesterday's Manning hearing also revealed that the U.S. claims that Manning aided al-Qaeda by allegedly giving documents to WikiLeaks. What about the New York Times, which also posted the WikiLeaks documents? Neo-con Gabe Schoenfeld, who suggested using the Espionage Act to target news sources, which the Obama administration had done in record numbers, also believes that news organizations should be held criminally liable for alleged leaks of classified information.
Speaking of absurd WikiLeaks policies, I blogged yesterdayabout the State Department's attempt to fire whistleblower and author Peter Van Buren based on his linking – NOT leaking – to a Wikileaks document on his personal blog. Van Buren was on Democracy Now! this morning:
MacLean with NYPD whistleblower Frank SerpicoIt’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s… Robert MacLean?
That’s right. GAP client and TSA whistleblower Robert MacLean was being celebrated as a hero yesterday in local Nashville news. While it would, at first glance, make sense for MacLean to be celebrated for his important disclosures, this story actually involves a feat of more physical derring-do.
A roofing contractor, MacLean was analyzing houses for hail damage when he noticed a suspicious character lurking in the neighborhood this past Tuesday. He had another contractor call the police, who arrived shortly thereafter. After the police asked the suspect to produce an ID, the suspect shoved an officer and attempted to run away.
Except that MacLean got in his way.
MacLean tackled the suspect from behind and held him down until the police arrested him. The suspect has since been charged with disorderly conduct.
MacLean is not new to taking down bad guys. He is a former Federal Air Marshal who revealed that the TSA was planning to cut down costs by removing Air Marshals from flights. After this disclosure, a number of Senators called on the agency to rectify the situation (and they did).
Van Buren wrote a book (We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People) that exposed massive fraud, waste, and abuse associated with the State Department-led Iraq reconstruction program, including wasted money on the sheep for widows program, pastry classes for underprivileged Iraqi women to open French bakery shops on the bombed out streets of Baghdad, and the money wasted trying to make grass grow in the desert at the multi-million dollar Baghdad embassy.
Van Buren sent his book through the State Department's pre-clearance policy and the State Department cleared it by default. Now, the State Department seeks to fire Van Buren for telling the unflattering truth about what he saw in Iraq.
The proposed removal is based on a Report of Investigation dated December 2011, but the State Department did not propose removal until after Van Buren filed a retaliation complaint with the revamped Office of Special Counsel.
Van Buren's supervisors admittedly singled him out, and are monitoring all of his online activities taken on his personal time using his personal computer. They have insisted that he "preclear" all of his blog posts, tweets, and other social media activities as well as live radio and TV appearance - all First Amendment-protected activities Van Buren conducts on his personal time. How is anyone supposed to pre-clear a live radio interview?