Did Bush’s Terrorist Surveillance Program Really Focus on American
BY Scott Horton  /  January 22, 2009

For the last several weeks, Michael Hayden, the former CIA director
who previously led the NSA, has been sweating bullets. In recent press
meetings he was a bundle of worries, regularly expressing worries
about “prosecutions.” Fear of the consequences of criminal acts has
been a steady theme for Hayden. In her book The Dark Side, Jane Mayer
reports that in 2004 Deputy Attorney General James Comey was “taken
aback” by Hayden’s comments when he was let in on the details of the
program that Hayden ran at NSA. “I’m glad you’re joining me, because I
won’t have to be lonely, sitting all by myself at the witness table,
in the administration of John Kerry.”

Last night on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” we learned
that Hayden is concerned about more than just allegations that
detainees in CIA custody were tortured. Former NSA analyst Russell
Tice, a source for the New York Times disclosure of details of the
program, appears to offer further details on the program. He reports
that under Hayden the NSA was looking at “everyone’s” communications—
telephone conversations, emails, faxes, IMs—and that in addition to
suspect terrorists, the NSA was carefully culling data from Internet
and phone lines to track the communications of U.S. journalists. This
was done under the pretense of pulling out a control group that was
not suspect. But Tice reports that when he started asking questions
about why journalists were sorted out for special scrutiny, he found
that he himself came under close scrutiny and was removed from
involvement in the program. He found that he had come under intense
FBI surveillance and his communications in all forms were being
monitored. After expressing severe doubts about the operations of the
NSA program, both Deputy Attorney General Comey and former Assistant
Attorney General Jack Goldsmith both believe they also came under
intense surveillance. Both decided to leave the Bush Administration
after these developments.

If Tice’s allegations are correct, then Hayden managed a program which
was in essence a massive felony, violating strict federal criminal
statutes that limit the NSA’s domestic surveillance operations. While
a number of media outlets reported that Hayden’s activities were
“vindicated” by a recent FISA court ruling approving the NSA
surveillance program, that view is completely incorrect. The FISA
court ruling dealt only with the implementation of a program under the
newly amended FISA following Hayden’s departure.

NSA Whistleblower: Grill the CEOs on Illegal Spying
BY Kim Zetter  /  January 26, 2009

Former National Security Agency analyst Russell Tice shed new light on
the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic spying last week when
he told MSNBC that the NSA blended credit card transaction records
with wiretap data to keep tabs on thousands of Americans.

But Tice didn’t say where the credit card information, and other
financial data, came from. Did the agency scoop it in as part of its
surveillance of U.S. communications backbones, or did financial
companies give up your records in bulk to the NSA?

The distinction is significant. Telecommunication companies, such as
AT&T and Verizon, are embroiled in lawsuits over their alleged
cooperation with the government’s warrantless surveillance. If credit
card companies and banks also provided information without a warrant,
it’s conceivable they could face a courtroom challenge as well.

I spoke with Tice extensively in the spring of 2006. With Bush still
in power, the whistleblower was considerably more taciturn than on
television last week. But looking back through the transcript of my
interviews now, in the context of his new revelations, it seems clear
that Tice was saying that credit card companies and banks gave the
same kind of cooperation to the government that phone companies did.

“To get at what’s really going on here, the CEOs of these telecom
companies, and also of the banking and credit card companies, and any
other company where you have big databases, those are the people you
have to haul in to Congress and tell them you better tell the truth,”
he said at the time. “Because anyone in the government is going to
claim executive privilege.”

The New York Times broke the story in 2006 that the NSA obtained
access to financial records in the international SWIFT database. But
that database mostly involves wire transfers of money in and out of
the U.S., not domestic transactions. Tice’s comments reveal that the
agency may have obtained bulk data on domestic credit card
transactions as well from U.S. financial institutions — all without a

I spoke with Tice for a story about a secret room at an AT&T facility
in Bridgeton, Missouri that had the earmarks of an NSA data mining

Shortly after Mark Klein, a retired AT&T employee in San Francisco,
came forward with information about a secret room in a San Francisco
building that appeared to be providing the NSA with a real-time data
feed, two sources who once worked for the company told me about a
similar room in the company’s Bridgeton facility that appeared to be
doing the same kind of data mining at a much greater level. Bridgeton
is the network operations center for AT&Ts broadband services.

I turned to Tice for more details. Tice had already publicly
identified himself as one of the sources the New York Times had used
for its 2005 story on the government’s warrantless wiretapping. Tice
warned me at the start of our conversation that he believed our phone
call was being monitored by the FBI and that there were a lot of
things he wouldn’t be able to discuss, on the advice of his lawyer.

Tice had been in the intelligence community since 1985. He entered the
Air Force after finishing college, and went to work in signals
intelligence. After leaving the military, he worked as an intelligence
contractor, then was employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency
before taking a job with the NSA.

His unclassified resume hides all of this history. “[It says] I deal
with space systems. Space communications, all kinds of space weenie
stuff. If it deals with outer space I’m your man,” he said.

Do you have any connection to outer space stuff? I asked.

“I watch Buck Rogers.”

What follows are excerpts from my interviews with Tice, beginning with
his explanation of one way the NSA’s data mining could operate.

Tice: Say you’re pretty sure you’re looking for terrorists, and you’re
pretty sure that the percentage of women terrorists as opposed to men
is pretty [small]. So you just filter out all female voices. And
there’s a way to determine whether the signature of the voice is male
or female. So, boom, you get rid of 50 percent of your information
just by filtering there. Then from your intelligence work you realize
that most terrorists never talk more than two minutes. So any
conversation more than two minutes, you immediately filter that out.
You start winnowing down what you’re looking for.

Q: Without really knowing what it is you’re looking for?

Tice: Right. And if you can develop a machine to look for the needle
in the haystack and what you come out with from having the machine
sift through the haystack is a box of straw, where maybe the needle’s
in there and maybe a few bonus needles, then that’s a whole lot better
than having humans try to sift through a haystack.

Secretroom1_f_2 Q: Presuming that the NSA is collecting data in San
Francisco or data mining, what happens to the data after it’s
collected? If they find actionable material in the data does the NSA
pass it on to the FBI?

Tice: The NSA avoids sending anything to the FBI if they can help it.
If there is a criminal element or activity in the data it has to be
determined whether it’s passed to the FBI, or Homeland Security, as it
happens to be these days. When I was in the business, we all knew that
the FBI leaked like a sieve. So we were very hesitant to take
advantage of the FBI on anything because you were liable to see it on
the news the next day. The FBI will compromise anything to get a
conviction. But in the intelligence community you don’t think that
way. We’re more than willing to let a criminal go to protect
classified information. . . .

Q: But would the info be passed to the FBI if it involved terrorists
and national security?

Tice: Yes, they would. And if it’s some big mob thing, they would also
give it to the FBI, but tell them to come up with some other way as to
how they got the information.

Q: Why would the agency need to be so secretive about the AT&T rooms?

Tice: The big reason why they would put the San Francisco operation at
such a high classification level is to hide the fact that they’re
breaking the law and to hide the fact that they’re breaking the NSA’s
own policy. It should be [the sort of project] that any NSA analyst
should be able to walk in and have access to. But to cloister it away
where only a few people know about it means that it’s something they
don’t want anyone to know about. …

Say we’re doing that same sort of deal overseas against a
foreigner. … More than likely anyone in NSA could potentially have
access to that information. It wouldn’t be compartmentalized. So if we
set up that same scenario, even covertly in some frame room in
Bucharest or something, anyone at NSA with a TS/SCI clearance could
potentially look at intelligence reports from information garnered
from that particular collection point. So all of a sudden that same
thing is being used here in the states and it’s being put into a
special SAP program — Special Access Program. … They’re extremely
closely held programs that are super-duper clearance nonsense. It’s
what I specialized for the last eleven years or whatever.

Q: So you’re saying that San Francisco and this other room [in
Bridgeton] reek of “super-duper” secrecy?

Tice: Yes, it reeks of SAP. Potentially. For NSA to do what they
did … it means that they knew that it was illegal and the reason
they put this super high clearance on it was because they were
protecting their own hides to keep anyone within NSA from finding out
that it was going on. …

Let me tell you, the biggest sweat that happened at NSA happened when
John Kerry almost got elected president [in 2004], because they were
concerned they were all going to be thrown in jail. They were all
wiping sweat off their forehead when he lost. That’s the scuttlebutt.

Q: Is it correct to say that, if the NSA is doing what Mark Klein says
they are doing, that this would be a departure from the NSAs mission?
Meaning that this would be the first time since 1978 or so when FISA
was passed that it was engaging in this kind of activity?

Tice: That’s correct. This would be an entirely new business for them,
especially since FISA.

If you look at USSID 18, the NSA’s bible on how it operates, the
number one commandment of the NSAs ten commandments is You Shall Not
Spy on Americans. So when this was brought up, I assume by [former NSA
Director Michael] Hayden, he knew that what he was proposing was a
violation of the fourth amendment and of USSID 18. And everyone at NSA
knows this, too, because it’s drilled into our heads over and over

To get at what’s really going on here, the CEOs of these telecom
companies, and also of the banking and credit card companies and any
other company where you have big databases, those are the people you
have to haul in to Congress and tell them you better tell the truth.
Because anyone in the government is going to claim executive

I just hope in the long run that … at some point that the American
people wake up and that this stuff is dealt with. Right now … do you
know the adage about the frog in the water? That’s what we’re dealing
with here. The American people are the frog in the tepid water, and
the temperature is slowly being turned up. And we’re about to become
frog soup, and the American people don’t know what’s happening.

Aristotle said that the biggest danger to democracy is not insurgency,
it’s apathy. And I think that’s what we’re seeing right now. To a
large extent it’s politicians doing CYA and doing everything they can
to make sure that people don’t know what’s going on. But to another
extent, it’s the populace who is more concerned about Janet Jackson’s
breast jumping out of her dress at the Super Bowl as opposed to what’s
really important in this world. Who cares about Britney Spears having
her baby on her lap or all that nonsense that you see on TV?

I’ve done my constitutional duty. I’ve done what I had to do. That’s
all I’ll say. Let the chips fall where they may. I’m out of the game.
I’ve fallen on my sword.




In a New History of NSA, Its Spies’ Successes Are [Redacted]
BY Siobhan Gorman  /  November 14, 2008

For much of its history, the government’s most-secretive intelligence
agency sought to conceal its very existence. So it was a surprise last
year when university researchers persuaded the National Security
Agency to hand over a top-secret, 1,000-page account of its Cold War

George Washington University plans to release the report today, giving
historians a rare look inside the agency that gathers intelligence
through eavesdropping. But one thing appears to be missing: Many of
its biggest successes.

Not wanting to reveal too much, NSA blanked out sensitive chunks of
the account that, according to intelligence experts, appear to
chronicle espionage breakthroughs. What remains makes it appear that
the world’s largest ear has been a bit deaf.

According to the declassified report, government eavesdroppers
generated half of their intelligence reports just after World War II
from listening in on the French. Code breakers missed a key tip-off in
the Cuban Missile Crisis. The report also suggests that, for the most
part, the government couldn’t crack high-grade Soviet communications
codes between World War II and the 1970s.

“This was a perfect opportunity for NSA to put its best foot forward,”
says Matthew Aid, an intelligence historian who pressed the agency to
release the report and plans to publish his own NSA history next year.
“Instead what you’re left with is a fair to middling picture of this

The report’s author, Thomas R. Johnson, declined to say how the edited
history compares with the original version. But intelligence experts
say it’s common for failures to become more public than successes
because such breakthroughs can be too good to reveal. Even making
older successes public may reveal sources, hint at continuing
intelligence efforts, or hurt diplomatic relations. When NSA
declassified the government’s World War II code-breaking activities,
it faced criticism from State Department colleagues who were upset the
U.S. had spied on allies, says Mr. Aid, a visiting fellow at the
National Security Archive at George Washington University.

NSA, once dubbed “No Such Agency,” was created in a secret executive
order in 1952 to intercept electronic communications through
eavesdropping. It wasn’t until 16 years later that its power to
eavesdrop on foreigners was established in public law.

On three separate occasions, the agency set out to write its history,
but it aborted each effort because it was too overwhelming. In 1992,
NSA tapped Mr. Johnson to take another crack at it. “Even when I came
to the agency in 1964, there was this culture that we were so secret
that no one would ever get into our affairs,” Mr. Johnson said in an
interview that NSA officials arranged and attended.

He spent more than six years writing the report, divided into four
intelligence eras, that draws on his 34 years in government
eavesdropping around the world. When friends asked him when they would
read it, the 68-year-old would say: “We’ll all be dead before this is

In 1998, he completed the report before retiring from NSA the next
year. All of its pages were stamped “TOP SECRET UMBRA,” using agency
jargon that signified it was particularly sensitive.

The most revealing portions of the history hint at U.S. failures to
crack Soviet communications after a day in 1948 the agency dubbed
“Black Friday,” when the Soviets changed their communications codes.
The following year, the NSA’s predecessor, the Armed Forces Security
Agency, inherited from the military services “a Soviet problem that
was in miserable shape,” Mr. Johnson wrote, in reference to cracking
Soviet codes.

U.S. intelligence agencies were surprised to discover the Soviets
exploded a nuclear device in September 1949, the history says. They
were again caught off guard four years later when the Soviets
detonated a hydrogen bomb. Some government officials believed the
effort to decode Soviet communications “was hopeless and should not be
funded,” Mr. Johnson wrote.

NSA also fought internecine battles with its sister agencies,
especially the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA didn’t inform NSA
Director Lt. Gen. Ralph J. Canine about its effort in the mid-1950s to
tap East German and Soviet cables, dubbed the Berlin Tunnel, the
history says.

In a photo from 2006, a workstation bears the National Security Agency
logo inside the Threat Operations Center inside the Washington suburb
of Fort Meade, Md.

In the lead-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, NSA and military spies
missed the Soviets transferring a battery of offensive missiles to
Cuba. That “marked the most significant failure” by government
eavesdroppers to warn national leaders since World War II, Mr. Johnson

Bobby Ray Inman, a retired admiral and former director of NSA during
the late 1970s, says the history doesn’t acknowledge the successful
tracking of Soviet ships that were heading toward Cuba. During the
late 1970s, “there were several access breakthroughs that provided
some extraordinary insights,” he says.

Hinting at those successes, the declassified history says that as NSA
entered that period, it made significant advances in unlikely
circumstances. “Even with decreased money, cryptology was yielding the
best information that it had produced since World War II” by that
time, Mr. Johnson wrote.

In 1979, NSA successfully warned of the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan, and White House postmortems called it an intelligence
success. In the 1980s, he wrote, the NSA used “lots of shiny new toys
to very telling effect.

“After years of struggle, it was now possible to predict with some
clarity and speed the intentions of the major antagonist. It had been
a long walk from Pearl Harbor,” the history says.

The report also offers a glimpse inside the offices of the mysterious
agency. In 1954, at its unairconditioned and overcrowded headquarters,
then in Arlington, Va., NSA had a hot-weather policy that allowed
employees to leave work “when conditions became fairly unbearable,”
Mr. Johnson wrote. The agency drew a chart listing the heat and
humidity combinations that permitted employees to leave, starting at
95 degrees. In colder months, employees’ metal badges proved “ideal
for scraping ice off windshields,” he wrote.

After Mr. Johnson turned in the report, it remained under wraps at the
NSA. He mentioned it to Mr. Aid, the historian, after meeting him at
an intelligence conference in Canada.

In 2006, Mr. Aid joined forces with George Washington University’s
National Security Archive and filed a request to get the report. The
agency handed over Mr. Johnson’s first three volumes the following
year, except for about 75 to 100 pages that it deemed too sensitive.
“I was stunned,” Mr. Aid says. “Clearly this history was meant for
internal consumption only.”

Eager to get a copy after it was handed over to the university, Mr.
Johnson called a friend at NSA. But she wouldn’t give it to him. “She
said, ‘I’m not sure we want to do that because then you’ll be talking
on the record about this, so I’m looking into it,’ ” Mr. Johnson says.
He didn’t hear back and ended up getting a copy from Mr. Aid.

Historians are working to get their hands on a fourth volume that Mr.
Johnson wrote about the NSA. Mr. Johnson says it includes “a couple of
instances” during the 1980s where “somebody really made a bad error
here and should have been fired. “I hope it will come out,” he says
about the fourth volume. “It’s still classified.”

Secret Agency Man
The new NSA is decentralized, privatized, and coming to a “data
center” near you. Author James Bamford catches up with his old nemesis
BY Lee Gardner  /  11/5/2008

Not long after U.S. Air Force Major General* Michael Hayden learned he
was going to be named the director of the National Security Agency in
1998, he and his wife went out on a date. The Haydens lived in Seoul,
South Korea, where he was stationed with the United Nations Command,
and they decided to take in a movie at the local U.S. army base. The
feature presentation that evening happened to be Enemy of the State, a
then-new Hollywood thriller that depicted the highly secret, enigmatic
NSA as a ruthless organization that used its array of electronic
surveillance devices to peer into every corner of the private lives of
Americans and murdered those who stood in its way, including a

As Hayden told journalist James Bamford during an interview in 2000,
“Other than the affront to truthfulness, it was an entertaining
movie.” Hayden went on to explain that he appreciated Enemy of the
State for its deeper message: “the evils of secrecy and power.”

Hayden’s words came back to Bamford in 2005 after the New York Times
broke the story that the NSA under Hayden had been conducting
widespread eavesdropping on the conversations of Americans
communicating overseas, a practice expressly outlawed by the 1978
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act but controversially put in
motion by the Bush Administration in the wake of the terrorist attacks
of September 11.

Bamford was, and remains, very likely the person who knows the most
about the NSA outside the NSA itself. He is the author of 1982’s best-
selling The Puzzle Palace, the first extensive investigation into the
electronic-spying agency headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland; when
he interviewed Hayden he was working on a best-selling sequel, 2001’s
Body of Secrets. As Bamford notes during a recent telephone
conversation, he had no plans to write a third book about the NSA. But
when the Times’ “warrantless eavesdropping” story broke, he got back
to work.

Bamford’s new book, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11
to the Eavesdropping on America (Doubleday), presents an account of
the drastic and ominous shift in the agency’s mission and tactics over
the past seven years. After detailing the NSA’s failure to follow up
on the clues it had about the September 11 terrorists entering the
United States, Bamford recounts Hayden’s quick capitulation to the
Bush Administration’s request for an illegal surveillance dragnet and
the fallout from the Times story, including persistent attempts to
continue the program and indemnify the participants that were only
resolved with the passage of the FISA Amendments Act this past July.
(Hayden left the NSA in 2005; he is currently the director of the
Central Intelligence Agency.)

The revelations don’t stop there. The Shadow Factory discusses the
National Business Park, a complex near Fort Meade that’s crammed with
private companies that now earn millions to do much of the NSA’s
highly classified work. Among the private companies winning contracts
with the agency are Narus and Verint, firms with ties to Israeli
intelligence that sell surveillance equipment to the NSA, and also to
countries such as Vietnam and China, which use it to crack down on
dissidents. Bamford wraps up with the agency’s growing interest in
gathering and mining communications data, which includes building a
massive new 470,000-square-foot “data warehouse” in San Antonio that,
as Bamford observes, “may eventually be able to hold all the
information in the world.”

Low-key but voluble, 62-year-old Bamford spoke with the Current’s
Times-Shamrock sister publication, Baltimore City Paper, from his home
in Washington, D.C.

Q: How did you first get interested in the NSA and start writing about
A: I was in the Navy for three years, and then [thanks to] the GI Bill
I went to college and law school. After graduating from law school, I
wasn’t that interested in practicing law. I wanted to get into
writing, and one of the areas I was kind of interested in was
intelligence. There had been lots of books written about the CIA, and
there wasn’t really much I could contribute, but no one had ever done
a book on NSA, which I’d heard about but didn’t really know too much
about. I thought that might be something I could do that no one else
had done.

Q: When you started writing your book in 1979, wasn’t the NSA’s
existence still more or less officially unacknowledged by the
A: It was officially acknowledged in the late ’50s, early ’60s as the
result of a couple of spy scandals, but for a number of years they
[used] a cover story in terms of what they did — this sort of
gobbledygook double-talk about “keeping America’s communications
secure.” They didn’t really talk about their eavesdropping or code-
breaking role. That started coming out later on in the ‘60s, but by
the time I began writing about them in the late ’70s, they were still
pretty much in the closet. There had been a couple of articles about
them, but not really very much. It was sort of like exploring a lost
continent, since very few people had gone some of the places I went in
terms of finding documents or finding people or finding information
about the agency.

Q: Did you get any pushback from the agency when you started writing
about it? After all, it’s supposed to be top secret.
A: I had a difficult time. My advance was fairly small, I was living
in Massachusetts, I didn’t really know anyone in intelligence, and I
hadn’t written anything before. And I was going up against NSA.

One of the things I was good at in law school was research, so I
thought maybe I’d try using the Freedom of Information Act. The
problem with that was, NSA is really the only agency excluded from the
act. If you sent them an FOI request, they would just send you a
letter back saying under [Section 6 of the National Security Act] we
don’t have to give you anything, even if it’s unclassified.

But I found this place, the George C. Marshall Research Library in
Lexington, Virginia, and William F. Friedman, one of the founders of
the NSA, had left all his papers there. When I got down there, I found
the NSA had gotten there just before me and gone through all of his
papers, and taken a lot his papers out and put them in a vault down
there and ordered the archivist to keep them under lock and key. And I
convinced the archivist that that wasn’t what Friedman wanted, and he
took the documents out and let me take a look at them.

Among the documents was an NSA newsletter. These are things the NSA
puts out once a month. They’re fairly chatty, but if you read them
closely enough you can pick up some pretty good information about the
agency. … When I was reading one of the newsletters, there was a
paragraph that said, “The contents of this newsletter must be kept
within the small circle of NSA employees and their families.” And I
thought about it for a little bit, and I thought, hmm, they just
waived their protections on that newsletter — if that’s on every
single newsletter then I’ve got a pretty good case against them. If
you’re going to open it up to family members, with no clearance, who
don’t work for the agency, then I have every right to it. That was a
long battle, but I won it, and they gave me over 5,000 pages worth of
NSA newsletters going back to the very beginning. That was the first
time anyone ever got a lot of information out of NSA.

We made this agreement where I could come down and spend a week at
NSA, and they gave me a little room where I could go over the
newsletters and pick the ones I wanted. So I got all that information
and spent about a week at NSA. And finally they really wanted to
delete some names and faces, and I said you can do that, but there
ought to be some kind of quid pro quo. The quid pro quo was that I get
to interview senior officials and take a tour of the agency. And that
was what really opened it up.

It wasn’t the NSA you see today — it was much different. They just
thought no one would ever try to write about NSA, and they didn’t
think I would have any luck, because who am I? I’m just some guy up in
Massachusetts with no track record.

Q: What was the agency’s reaction once the books came out?
A: They threatened me with prosecution twice when the first book came
out. And then when the sequel came out in 2001, they went to the
opposite extreme and had a book-signing there. Body of Secrets was
fairly favorable, because they had changed their ways after ’78 — they
weren’t doing domestic eavesdropping anymore. It seemed like they’d
learned their lesson and were obeying the law.

That phase of my relationship with NSA ended on December 16, 2005.
That’s when the New York Times broke the story about their domestic
eavesdropping. I had been telling people [the NSA is] obeying the law
now and they would never go back on that, and here they were the whole
time, doing that ever since 2001. And that’s when the ACLU asked me to
join their class-action lawsuit as a plaintiff against NSA. So I went
from getting dinner invitations to the director’s house and Christmas-
party invitations to being on the other side of a lawsuit. It’s a love-
hate relationship, and it’s been going on a long time.

Q: When I told people I was going to be interviewing you about the
NSA, some of them made jokes about the agency listening in on the
phone call. I think a lot of Americans, correctly or not, halfway
believe that the agency actually does such things. Do you?
A: I never claimed that NSA eavesdrops on domestic-to-domestic
communications, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this [call]. As I
point out in the book — and this comes from a number of people on the
front lines with the earphones and all that — after 9/11 and the
warrantless eavesdropping program got started, they have been
eavesdropping on Americans calling Americans [overseas, or to or from

One of the people I talked to worked four years before 9/11 in the
same place, and she was saying [before 9/11] when they came across an
American they would immediately turn off the computer and move on to
the next call. It’s called “minimization” — you don’t keep a record of
it, you don’t transcribe it, you don’t record it, unless you have a
warrant from the Foreign Intelligence court. But after 9/11 she says
they weren’t doing any minimization. They’d pick up Americans calling
Americans and they’d actually listen to those conversations, they’d
transcribe some of them, and they’d all be recorded and stored — for
eternity for all I know.

Q: So people’s paranoia about the NSA listening in on phone calls, at
least inside the United States, is unfounded?
A: Unless there’s stuff I don’t know, which is quite possible, there’s
never been domestic-to-domestic [telephone or e-mail surveillance].
Most of what they do is foreign country to foreign country or U.S  to
a foreign country or a foreign country to the U.S. But think of how
many communications there are to or from Americans [internationally]
in terms of email, telephone calls, faxes, and everything. The world
has shrunk a great deal. And that was the problem [with the
warrantless eavesdropping] — they were picking up a huge amount of
American communications but no Al-Qaeda, and certainly no Americans
talking to Al-Qaeda, which is what President Bush said this was all
about. This was Americans talking to Americans. What they were
intercepting is the Inmarsat satellite, and most of the people who had
satellite phones in the Middle East were reporters, military people,
aid workers, that kind of thing. [My source] thought they were wasting
their time. She didn’t join the Army to listen to bedroom talk between
soldiers and their wives.

Q: Another aspect of the warrantless eavesdropping program had to do
with communications between foreign nationals in other countries that
nonetheless pass through the United States that the NSA wanted access
to, right?
A: There’s so much information that flashes between ISPs in the United
States like Google, Yahoo, and AOL, and there are so many large nodes
for the transfer of internet communications that the U.S. plays a huge
role in the thing.

Say you’re in Madrid and you send an email to Tehran and it’s 10 a.m.
in Madrid. There’s a good chance that’s gonna go from Madrid to New
York to Tehran instead of, say, Paris, because at 10 in the morning
there’s a huge amount of traffic passing through those European hubs,
and at the same time its about 5 in the morning on the East Coast [of
the United States], so it’s very quiet, and it’s also cheaper. The
computer would automatically reroute that communication. This is a
foreigner talking to a foreigner, and the only U.S. nexus is that for
a millisecond this communication bounces in and out of an internet
hub. This was a problem. (Editor’s note: The FISA law prevented the
NSA from accessing such communications without a warrant but, at the
urging of the Bush Administration and with the permission and
cooperation of telecommunications companies, it tapped into fiber-
optic cables anyway.)

Q: It’s strange to think about the NSA as this agency engaged in all
this highly secret, super-technical, and, in this case, illegal
activity, but at the same time think of it as the place you’ve
described as having office Christmas parties and softball games and
all the other mundane stuff that goes along with working in a big
government agency. What’s the culture of NSA like?
A: It’s hard for me to generalize, since I know a select group of
people there, but the NSA is a very insular agency. People have
secrecy drummed into them. I’ve talked to a lot of NSA people who say
they feel very uncomfortable going to parties with a lot of non-NSA
people, because the subject will come up of Iran or Iraq, and they
have to either drift out of the conversation or say very little. A lot
of time they get nervous when they contribute something because they
may not be sure whether it’s something they read in Time magazine or
something they read in a top-secret memo or something. Or if they read
it in Time magazine and they say it, whether someone will report it
because they think they’re giving up a secret. So at least the people
I’ve talked to in the past tended to keep in their small employee-type

Q: Well, one of the first things people tend to ask someone they just
met at a party is “What do you do?”
A: Yeah, and in the area around NSA, in the past it was “Department of
Defense.” So if they say Department of Defense and you’re in Laurel,
Maryland, you know they’re working for the NSA. If it was just
neighbors, maybe people could say NSA, but if they didn’t know who was
there, I think they would try not saying anything or saying something
generic like “I work for the government” or “I work for the Department
of Defense” and hope it wouldn’t go any further than that.

Q: I’m struck by the fact that you sound genuinely surprised and
upset, still, about the warrantless eavesdropping program.
A: Well, I was very surprised. I had defended the agency in a number
of places.

Q: But, as you write in The Shadow Factory, the agency had been caught
spying on Americans before in the ’70s with Project Shamrock.
A: I agree, but I didn’t know the people back then. I knew the people
this time. I trusted that Hayden was going to follow the law. I talked
to a lot of people there, and that was the impression I got. The
mid-’70s was the worst time in NSA’s history, the first time a
director had to sit in front of an open hearing of Congress and get
blasted and humiliated, and all these horror stories came out about
eavesdropping on all the telegrams entering and leaving the country
[as part of Project Shamrock]. The FISA court got set up as a new
safeguard, the buffer between NSA and the public. Everyone I talked to
from then on said those were the horror days, we don’t want to relive
them, we’re going to keep as far from the edge as possible.

I didn’t think that was going to change after 9/11 — you still had the
[FISA] court there, you still had laws, the Constitution. That’s why
when I read the reports and talked to people who indicated that they
had decided to bypass the court … I mean, that’s illegal. There is
no other word for it. The FISA act says if you want to eavesdrop on
what they call a “U.S. person,” you get a warrant from the FISA court.
You don’t bypass it. That’s a felony. You can get five years in

I’ve written more than anyone else on the agency and, you know, it’s
no big deal, I just go on with the next day like the day before, but
when I find out that this agency that I’ve been saying would never do
these things is doing them, yeah, it’s a shock and a disappointment, a
disappointment in the people that you didn’t think were going to do

The people I did have respect for were [Deputy Attorney General] Jim
Comey, even [Attorney General John] Ashcroft, and Bob Mueller, the
head of the FBI. They, plus people under them, came within a day of
resigning over this whole thing. And that’s standing up for moral
principles, and I would have much preferred that General Hayden would
have stood up to Cheney or whomever and said that’s illegal, I can’t
do that, I can’t carry out that order so I’m going to have to resign.
It’s scary to think that someone puts a little pressure on you and you
say, OK, that’s fine, we’ll go ahead and bypass the law.

They could have gone to Congress. Congress would have given them
anything they wanted in those days. But it’s the arrogance of power
when you decide you’re not even going to do that. You’re just going to
do it because you feel like doing it, because you’re the person who’s
going to save the world. That’s how tyrannies get to be tyrannies,
because people think they’re above the law.

Q: One of the interesting, and disturbing things about the warrantless
eavesdropping as you describe it in the book is that the NSA started
getting this increased level of access and raking in more and more
communications but seemed to get little usable information out of it
A: The problem is that NSA was never designed for what it’s doing. It
was designed after World War II to prevent another surprise attack
from another nation-state, particularly the Soviet Union. And from
1945 or ’46 until 1990 or ’91, that’s what its mission was. That’s
what every piece of equipment, that’s what every person recruited to
the agency, was supposed to do, practically — find out when and where
and if the Russians were about to launch a nuclear attack. That’s what
it spent 50 years being built for. And then all of a sudden the Soviet
Union is not around anymore, and NSA’s got a new mission, and part of
that is going after terrorists. And it’s just not a good fit. They
missed the first World Trade Center bombing, they missed the attack on
the U.S.S. Cole, they missed the attack on the U.S. embassies in
Africa, they missed 9/11. There’s this string of failures because this
agency was not really designed to do this. In the movies, they’d be
catching terrorists all the time. But this isn’t the movies, this is

The big difference here is that when they were focused on the Soviet
Union, the Soviets communicated over dedicated lines. The army
communicated over army channels, the navy communicated over navy
channels, the diplomats communicated over foreign-office channels.
These were all particular channels, particular frequencies, you knew
where they were; the main problem was breaking encrypted
communications. [The NSA] had listening posts ringing the Soviet
Union, they had Russian linguists that were being pumped out from all
these schools around the U.S.

Then the Cold War ends and everything changes. Now instead of a huge
country that communicated all the time, you have individuals who hop
from Kuala Lampur to Nairobi or whatever, from continent to continent,
from day to day. They don’t communicate [electronically] all the time
— they communicate by meetings. [The NSA was] tapping Bin Laden’s
phone for three years and never picked up on any of these terrorist
incidents. And the [electronic] communications you do have are not on
dedicated channels, they’re mixed in with the world communication
network. First you’ve got to find out how to extract that from it,
then you’ve got to find people who can understand the language, and
then you’ve got to figure out the word code. You can’t use a Cray
supercomputer to figure out if somebody’s saying they’re going to have
a wedding next week whether it’s really going to be a wedding or a

So that’s the challenge facing the people there. So even though I’m
critical about them for missing these things, I also try in the book
to give an explanation as to why this is. It’s certainly not because
the people are incompetent. It’s because the world has changed.

I think the problem is more serious than people realize. I talked to
the people at Fort Gordon [in Georgia], which is the main listening
post for the Middle East and North Africa. What was shocking to me was
the people who were there were saying they didn’t have anybody [at the
time] who spoke Pashtun. We’re at war in Afghanistan and the main
language of the Taliban is Pashtun.

The answer here is to change our foreign policy so that we don’t have
to depend on agencies like NSA to try to protect the country. You try
to protect the country by having reasonable policies so that we won’t
have to worry about terrorism so much. It’s just getting harder and
harder to find them.

Q: I think most Americans know about NSA and have some general idea
what it’s about, but I was surprised to read about the National
Business Park, where there’s been this huge boom in private
contractors doing NSA work since September 11.
A: That came as a huge surprise to me. I’ve watched NSA grow since
1979, and it really came as a shock to me when I saw the National
Business Park and how huge it’s grown. What it is is all the private
contractors doing what NSA used to do. You see Booz Allen [Hamilton]
and Titan and General Dynamics, and then you look at the [local]
newspaper and see all these companies advertising for intercept
operators and network analysts. This agency, which used to be
dedicated to having employees who would work there for 30 years, now
is outsourcing so much. I have a statistic in there that in 2001 the
NSA had 55 contracts with private firms and in 2005 it had 7,197. If
you turn this into a huge [private] industry, and at the same time
you’re deregulating the industry — if you look at the financial
industry you see the problems you get into when you start
deregulating, and that’s what they’ve done here. They’ve deregulated
eavesdropping. There are no rules, and the people who are doing it
aren’t even really accountable — they’re just employees of private
companies. It gets very worrisome.

These are things that are out there to find, but it seems so few
people are out there looking. Congress seems to be paying no
attention. Even before 9/11, Congress seemed very reluctant to
criticize NSA or put restraints on NSA. It seemed like Congress was
resisting the Administration’s push last spring. In February, the
temporary [Protect America Act] ran out and the Bush administration
was pushing very hard to have this new FISA law passed, and the House
resisted it until July. They finally buckled in July when they
realized the election was about four months away, because they’re all
afraid of being accused of being weak on terrorism. But I wonder how
many of them really knew much about NSA or the things they were voting
for. The only way you’re going to know it is to go to a special room
where there was classified information, and they couldn’t take notes,
and have to sit there and read it, and how many of them are gonna do

Q: We’re talking before the presidential election, but I’m curious
what you think might change in regard to the NSA under McCain or
Obama, the latter of whom somewhat surprisingly voted for the FISA
Amendments Law.
A: What’s interesting is that Obama seemed to have a lot of
disagreements with the changes in the FISA Act early on, and he even
threatened to filibuster early on against the legislation the way it
[was] written. But then he compromised and voted for it in the end —
he said sometimes you’ve gotta compromise, we need something and this
is the best we can do. The question is whether you’re gonna stand up
for principles when the times get tough or always just compromise. I
think if he could have applied enough pressure they could have
reworked it. Right now the FISA court is pretty well neutered. I don’t
know where that goes.

I don’t think McCain would make much of a change when it comes to NSA.
It’s a question of where Obama’s gonna go. You can see his heart is in
the right place; he says the right things when these issues come up.
But the question is, down the road, is he going to give into political
pressure and compromise away some of the things people are voting for
him for, or is he gonna stand up?

Q; So where does the NSA go from here? Some of the stuff in the last
section of The Shadow Factory reads like science-fiction — data-mining
and artificial intelligence.
A: Right now they’re at a point where they’ve got enormous amounts of
money, but they don’t seem to be getting much out of it. They’re
getting hugely into this data-mining — look at that building they’re
building down in San Antonio. And this is an agency that missed all
these terrorist incidents, so what is this for? Is it good money after

The thing I worry about is when you do have so few people watching NSA
and so few restrictions on data-mining that they just get carried away
with it. That’s why they’re building that huge facility in San
Antonio. Not only to store data, which you probably only need about 75
people for — Microsoft, which is building a very similar facility only
a few miles away that’s almost exactly the same size, they only have
75. The NSA’s going to put 1,400 people in there. The only reason you
need that many people is if you’re not just going to keep the routers
humming, is if you’re actually going to dig into all the data in
there. And what’s in there could be what I’m looking at on my computer
right now, or web searches I’ve been making, or what books people are
buying from Amazon or what websites they’re visiting. Those are the
things that worry me.

Q: But, as we discussed, the NSA isn’t allowed to eavesdrop on
domestic communications.
A: The restrictions are much less on data communications. The FISA act
only really applies to phone communications or email.

When Congress was looking at the NSA back in the ’70s, when the only
thing [the agency] could do is listen to your hard-line telephone in
your house, [Senator] Frank Church said that he didn’t want the
country to go over into the abyss that was there if we ever let this
agency get out of control, and that was back then. Look at today, when
your every thought, almost, gets transmitted into electrons at one
point, either walking down the street talking on a cell phone or
sending an email or web-searching. Thirty years ago they didn’t have
access to mail, ’cause it was in envelopes, and they couldn’t watch
what books you pulled out of the library or look at what magazines you
flip through at the newsstand. Now they get to all that stuff by
watching your web searches and what sites you visit.

Q: Even with everything you know about the NSA, do you ever think to
yourself, I worry too much about this stuff?
A: I’m not a very paranoid person. I couldn’t have written all these
books if I was paranoid. But what bothers me is that there’s this huge
agency out there, and there are so few people who know how it works
and pay any attention to it. Look at the 9/11 Commission report, for
example. They spent all this time looking at the CIA, and they spent
no time looking at the NSA. That’s just par for the course.
Journalists, everybody, seem to avoid looking at it because it’s
surrounded by this wall of secrecy, and it’s highly technical.

I think the thing that bothers me most was how easy it was to take
this huge agency and turn it against the law. How easy it was, how few
people knew. If it wasn’t for two reporters from the New York Times,
we still might not know about it, if you think about it that way.





The Fed Who Blew the Whistle : Is he a hero or a criminal?
BY Michael Isikoff  /  Dec 22, 2008

Thomas M. Tamm was entrusted with some of the government’s most
important secrets. He had a Sensitive Compartmented Information
security clearance, a level above Top Secret. Government agents had
probed Tamm’s background, his friends and associates, and determined
him trustworthy.

It’s easy to see why: he comes from a family of high-ranking FBI
officials. During his childhood, he played under the desk of J. Edgar
Hoover, and as an adult, he enjoyed a long and successful career as a
prosecutor. Now gray-haired, 56 and fighting a paunch, Tamm prides
himself on his personal rectitude. He has what his 23-year-old son,
Terry, calls a “passion for justice.” For that reason, there was one
secret he says he felt duty-bound to reveal.

In the spring of 2004, Tamm had just finished a yearlong stint at a
Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and
spies—a unit so sensitive that employees are required to put their
hands through a biometric scanner to check their fingerprints upon
entering. While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly
classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be
eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that
appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal
judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm
started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the
subject. He says one volunteered that “the program” (as it was
commonly called within the office) was “probably illegal.”

Tamm agonized over what to do. He tried to raise the issue with a
former colleague working for the Senate Judiciary Committee. But the
friend, wary of discussing what sounded like government secrets, shut
down their conversation. For weeks, Tamm couldn’t sleep. The idea of
lawlessness at the Justice Department angered him. Finally, one day
during his lunch hour, Tamm ducked into a subway station near the U.S.
District Courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue. He headed for a pair of
adjoining pay phones partially concealed by large, illuminated Metro
maps. Tamm had been eyeing the phone booths on his way to work in the
morning. Now, as he slipped through the parade of midday subway
riders, his heart was pounding, his body trembling. Tamm felt like a
spy. After looking around to make sure nobody was watching, he picked
up a phone and called The New York Times.

That one call began a series of events that would engulf Washington—
and upend Tamm’s life. Eighteen months after he first disclosed what
he knew, the Times reported that President George W. Bush had secretly
authorized the NSA to intercept phone calls and e-mails of individuals
inside the United States without judicial warrants. The drama followed
a quiet, separate rebellion within the highest ranks of the Justice
Department concerning the same program. (James Comey, then the deputy
attorney general, together with FBI head Robert Mueller and several
other senior Justice officials, threatened to resign.) President Bush
condemned the leak to the Times as a “shameful act.” Federal agents
launched a criminal investigation to determine the identity of the

The story of Tamm’s phone call is an untold chapter in the history of
the secret wars inside the Bush administration. The New York Times won
a Pulitzer Prize for its story. The two reporters who worked on it
each published books. Congress, after extensive debate, last summer
passed a major new law to govern the way such surveillance is
conducted. But Tamm—who was not the Times’s only source, but played
the key role in tipping off the paper—has not fared so well. The FBI
has pursued him relentlessly for the past two and a half years. Agents
have raided his house, hauled away personal possessions and grilled
his wife, a teenage daughter and a grown son. More recently, they’ve
been questioning Tamm’s friends and associates about nearly every
aspect of his life. Tamm has resisted pressure to plead to a felony
for divulging classified information. But he is living under a pall,
never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.

Exhausted by the uncertainty clouding his life, Tamm now is telling
his story publicly for the first time. “I thought this [secret
program] was something the other branches of the government—and the
public—ought to know about. So they could decide: do they want this
massive spying program to be taking place?” Tamm told NEWSWEEK, in one
of a series of recent interviews that he granted against the advice of
his lawyers. “If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would
say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning
that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.”

Tamm concedes he was also motivated in part by his anger at other Bush-
administration policies at the Justice Department, including its
aggressive pursuit of death-penalty cases and the legal justifications
for “enhanced” interrogation techniques that many believe are
tantamount to torture. But, he insists, he divulged no “sources and
methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the
Times. He told reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen nothing about
the operational details of the NSA program because he didn’t know
them, he says. He had never been “read into,” or briefed, on the
details of the program. All he knew was that a domestic surveillance
program existed, and it “didn’t smell right.”

(Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said the department had no comment on any
aspect of this story. Lichtblau said, “I don’t discuss the identities
of confidential sources … Nearly a dozen people whom we interviewed
agreed to speak with us on the condition of anonymity because of
serious concerns about the legality and oversight of the secret
program.” Risen had no comment.)

Still, Tamm is haunted by the consequences of what he did—and what
could yet happen to him. He is no longer employed at Justice and has
been struggling to make a living practicing law. He does occasional
work for a local public defender’s office, handles a few wills and
estates—and is more than $30,000 in debt. (To cover legal costs, he
recently set up a defense fund.) He says he has suffered from
depression. He also realizes he made what he calls “stupid” mistakes
along the way, including sending out a seemingly innocuous but fateful
e-mail from his Justice Department computer that may have first put
the FBI on his scent. Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Tamm has an
impish smile and a wry sense of humor. “I guess I’m not a very good
criminal,” he jokes.

At times during his interviews with NEWSWEEK, Tamm would stare into
space for minutes, silently wrestling with how to answer questions.
One of the most difficult concerned the personal ramifications of his
choice. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he

Tamm’s story is in part a cautionary tale about the perils that can
face all whistleblowers, especially those involved in national-
security programs. Some Americans will view him as a hero who (like
Daniel Ellsberg and perhaps Mark Felt, the FBI official since
identified as Deep Throat) risked his career and livelihood to expose
wrongdoing at the highest levels of government. Others—including some
of his former colleagues—will deride Tamm as a renegade who took the
law into his own hands and violated solemn obligations to protect the
nation’s secrets. “You can’t have runoffs deciding they’re going to be
the white knight and running to the press,” says Frances Fragos
Townsend, who once headed the unit where Tamm worked and later served
as President Bush’s chief counterterrorism adviser. Townsend made
clear that she had no knowledge of Tamm’s particular case, but added:
“There are legal processes in place [for whistle-blowers’ complaints].
This is one where I’m a hawk. It offends me, and I find it incredibly

Tamm understands that some will see his conduct as “treasonous.” But
still, he says he has few regrets. If he hadn’t made his phone call to
the Times, he believes, it’s possible the public would never have
learned about the Bush administration’s secret wiretapping program. “I
don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he wrote in a recent
e-mail to NEWSWEEK. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”

If the government were drawing up a profile of a national-security
leaker, Tamm would seem one of the least likely suspects. He grew up
in the shadow of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Tamm’s uncle, Edward Tamm, was
an important figure in the bureau’s history. He was once a top aide to
Hoover and regularly briefed President Franklin Roosevelt on domestic
intelligence matters. He’s credited in some bureau histories with
inventing (in 1935) not only the bureau’s name, but its official
motto: Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity. Tamm’s father, Quinn Tamm, was
also a high-ranking bureau official. He too was an assistant FBI
director under Hoover, and at one time he headed up the bureau’s crime
lab. Tamm’s mother, Ora Belle Tamm, was a secretary at the FBI’s
identification division.

When Thomas Tamm was a toddler, he crawled around Hoover’s desk during
FBI ceremonies. (He still remembers his mother fretting that his
father might get in trouble for it.) As an 8-year-old, Tamm and his
family watched John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural parade down Pennsylvania
Avenue from the balcony of Hoover’s office, then located at the
Justice Department.

Tamm’s brother also served for years as an FBI agent and later worked
as an investigator for the 9/11 Commission. (He now works for a
private consulting firm.) Tamm himself, after graduating from Brown
University in 1974 and Georgetown Law three years later, chose a
different path in law enforcement. He joined the state’s attorney’s
office in Montgomery County, Md. (He was also, for a while, the
chairman of the county chapter of the Young Republicans.) Tamm
eventually became a senior trial attorney responsible for prosecuting
murder, kidnapping and sexual-assault cases. Andrew Sonner, the
Democratic state’s attorney at the time, says that Tamm was an
unusually gifted prosecutor who knew how to connect with juries, in
part by “telling tales” that explained his case in a way that ordinary
people could understand. “He was about as good before a jury as
anybody that ever worked for me,” says Sonner, who later served as an
appellate judge in Maryland.

In 1998, Tamm landed a job at the Justice Department’s Capital Case
Unit, a new outfit within the criminal division that handled
prosecutions that could bring the federal death penalty. A big part of
his job was to review cases forwarded by local U.S. Attorneys’ Offices
and make recommendations about whether the government should seek
execution. Tamm would regularly attend meetings with Attorney General
Janet Reno, who was known for asking tough questions about the
evidence in such cases—a rigorous approach that Tamm admired. In July
2000, at a gala Justice Department ceremony, Reno awarded Tamm and
seven colleagues in his unit the John Marshall Award, one of the
department’s highest honors.

After John Ashcroft took over as President Bush’s attorney general the
next year, Tamm became disaffected. The Justice Department began to
encourage U.S. attorneys to seek the death penalty in as many cases as
possible. Instead of Reno’s skepticism about recommendations to seek
death, the capital-case committee under Ashcroft approved them with
little, if any, challenge. “It became a rubber stamp,” Tamm says. This
bothered him, though there was nothing underhanded about it. Bush had
campaigned as a champion of the death penalty. Ashcroft and the new
Republican leadership of the Justice Department advocated its use as a
matter of policy.

Tamm’s alienation grew in 2002 when he was assigned to assist on one
especially high-profile capital case—the prosecution of Zacarias
Moussaoui, a Qaeda terrorist arrested in Minnesota who officials
initially (and wrongly) believed might have been the “20th hijacker”
in the September 11 plot. Tamm’s role was to review classified CIA
cables about the 9/11 plot to see if there was any exculpatory
information that needed to be relinquished to Moussaoui’s lawyers.
While reviewing the cables, Tamm says, he first spotted reports that
referred to the rendition of terror suspects to countries like Egypt
and Morocco, where aggressive interrogation practices banned by
American law were used. It appeared to Tamm that CIA officers knew
“what was going to happen to [the suspects]”—that the government was
indirectly participating in abusive interrogations that would be
banned under U.S. law.

But still, Tamm says he was fully committed to the prosecution of the
war on terror and wanted to play a bigger role in it. So in early
2003, he applied and was accepted for transfer to the Office of
Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), probably the most sensitive
unit within the Justice Department. It is the job of OIPR lawyers to
request permission for national-security wiretaps. These requests are
made at secret hearings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Court, a body composed of 11 rotating federal judges.

Congress created the FISA court in 1978 because of well-publicized
abuses by the intelligence community. It was designed to protect the
civil liberties of Americans who might come under suspicion. The
court’s role was to review domestic national-security wiretaps to make
sure there was “probable cause” that the targets were “agents of a
foreign power”—either spies or operatives of a foreign terrorist
organization. The law creating the court, called the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act, made it a federal crime—punishable by
up to five years in prison—for any official to engage in such
surveillance without following strict rules, including court approval.

But after arriving at OIPR, Tamm learned about an unusual arrangement
by which some wiretap requests were handled under special procedures.
These requests, which could be signed only by the attorney general,
went directly to the chief judge and none other. It was unclear to
Tamm what was being hidden from the other 10 judges on the court (as
well as the deputy attorney general, who could sign all other FISA
warrants). All that Tamm knew was that the “A.G.-only” wiretap
requests involved intelligence gleaned from something that was
obliquely referred to within OIPR as “the program.”

The program was in fact a wide range of covert surveillance activities
authorized by President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. At that time,
White House officials, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, had become
convinced that FISA court procedures were too cumbersome and time-
consuming to permit U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to
quickly identify possible Qaeda terrorists inside the country.
(Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, referred to the FISA court
in one meeting as that “obnoxious court,” according to former
assistant attorney general Jack Goldsmith.) Under a series of secret
orders, Bush authorized the NSA for the first time to eavesdrop on
phone calls and e-mails between the United States and a foreign
country without any court review. The code name for the NSA collection
activities—unknown to all but a tiny number of officials at the White
House and in the U.S. intelligence community—was “Stellar Wind.”

The NSA identified domestic targets based on leads that were often
derived from the seizure of Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas.
If, for example, a Qaeda cell phone seized in Pakistan had dialed a
phone number in the United States, the NSA would target the U.S. phone
number—which would then lead agents to look at other numbers in the
United States and abroad called by the targeted phone. Other parts of
the program were far more sweeping. The NSA, with the secret
cooperation of U.S. telecommunications companies, had begun collecting
vast amounts of information about the phone and e-mail records of
American citizens. Separately, the NSA was also able to access, for
the first time, massive volumes of personal financial records—such as
credit-card transactions, wire transfers and bank withdrawals—that
were being reported to the Treasury Department by financial
institutions. These included millions of “suspicious-activity
reports,” or SARS, according to two former Treasury officials who
declined to be identified talking about sensitive programs. (It was
one such report that tipped FBI agents to former New York governor
Eliot Spitzer’s use of prostitutes.) These records were fed into NSA
supercomputers for the purpose of “data mining”—looking for links or
patterns that might (or might not) suggest terrorist activity.

But all this created a huge legal quandary. Intelligence gathered by
the extralegal phone eavesdropping could never be used in a criminal
court. So after the NSA would identify potential targets inside the
United States, counterterrorism officials would in some instances try
to figure out ways to use that information to get legitimate FISA
warrants—giving the cases a judicial stamp of approval.

It’s unclear to what extent Tamm’s office was aware of the origins of
some of the information it was getting. But Tamm was puzzled by the
unusual procedures—which sidestepped the normal FISA process—for
requesting wiretaps on cases that involved program intelligence. He
began pushing his supervisors to explain what was going on. Tamm says
he found the whole thing especially curious since there was nothing in
the special “program” wiretap requests that seemed any different from
all the others. They looked and read the same. It seemed to Tamm there
was a reason for this: the intelligence that came from the program was
being disguised. He didn’t understand why. But whenever Tamm would ask
questions about this within OIPR, “nobody wanted to talk about it.”

At one point, Tamm says, he approached Lisa Farabee, a senior counsel
in OIPR who reviewed his work, and asked her directly, “Do you know
what the program is?” According to Tamm, she replied: “Don’t even go
there,” and then added, “I assume what they are doing is illegal.”
Tamm says his immediate thought was, “I’m a law-enforcement officer
and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” A few weeks later
Tamm bumped into Mark Bradley, the deputy OIPR counsel, who told him
the office had run into trouble with Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the chief
judge on the FISA court. Bradley seemed nervous, Tamm says. Kollar-
Kotelly had raised objections to the special program wiretaps, and
“the A.G.-only cases are being shut down,” Bradley told Tamm. He then
added, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted,”
according to Tamm. (Told of Tamm’s account, Justice spokesman Boyd
said that Farabee and Bradley “have no comment for your story.”)

One official who was aware of Kollar-Kotelly’s objections was U.S.
Judge Royce C. Lamberth, a former chief of the FISA court. Lamberth
tells NEWSWEEK that when the NSA program began in October 2001, he was
not informed. But the then chief of OIPR, James Baker, discovered
later that year that program intelligence was being used in FISA
warrants—and he raised concerns. At that point, Lamberth was called in
for a briefing by Ashcroft and Gen. Michael Hayden, the NSA chief at
the time. Lamberth made clear to Ashcroft that NSA program
intelligence should no longer be allowed in any FISA warrant
applications without his knowledge. If it did appear, Lamberth warned,
he would be forced to rule on the legality of what the administration
was doing, potentially setting off a constitutional clash about the
secret program.

Lamberth stepped down as chief FISA judge when his term ended in May
2002, but Kollar-Kotelly asked him to continue as an adviser about
matters relating to the program. In early 2004, Kollar-Kotelly thought
something was amiss. According to Lamberth, she had concerns that the
intelligence community, after collecting information on U.S. citizens
without warrants, was again attempting to launder that intelligence
through her court—without her knowledge. She “had begun to suspect
that they were back-dooring information from the program into” FISA
applications, Lamberth tells NEWSWEEK. Kollar-Kotelly drew the line
and wouldn’t permit it. “She was as tough as I was,” says Lamberth,
who had once barred a top FBI agent from his court when he concluded
the bureau hadn’t been honest about FISA applications. “She was going
to know what she was signing off on before she signed off … I was
proud of her.” (Kollar-Kotelly declined to speak with NEWSWEEK.)

Unbeknownst to Tamm, something else was going on at the Justice
Department during this period. A new assistant attorney general, a law
professor named Jack Goldsmith, had challenged secret legal opinions
justifying the NSA surveillance program. (The controversial opinions,
written by a young and very conservative legal scholar named John Yoo,
had concluded that President Bush had broad executive authority during
wartime to override laws passed by Congress and order the surveillance
of U.S. citizens.) James Comey, the deputy attorney general, had
agreed with Goldsmith and refused to sign off on a renewal of the
domestic NSA program in March 2004. Attorney General Ashcroft was in
the hospital at the time. The White House first tried to get an
extremely ill Ashcroft, drugged and woozy, to overrule Comey, and
then, after he refused, President Bush ordered the program to continue
anyway. Comey, in turn, drafted a resignation letter. He described the
situation he was confronting as “apocalyptic” and then added, “I and
the Justice Department have been asked to be part of something that is
fundamentally wrong,” according to a copy of the letter quoted in
“Angler,” a book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman.

Tamm—who had no knowledge of the separate rebellion within the ranks
of the Justice Department—decided independently to get in touch with
Sandra Wilkinson, a former colleague of his on the Capital Case Unit
who had been detailed to work on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He
met with Wilkinson for coffee in the Senate cafeteria, where he laid
out his concerns about the program and the unusual procedures within
OIPR. “Look, the government is doing something weird here,” he recalls
saying. “Can you talk to somebody on the intelligence committee and
see if they know about this?”

Some weeks passed, and Tamm didn’t hear back. So he e-mailed Wilkinson
from his OIPR computer (not a smart move, he would later concede) and
asked if they could get together again for coffee. This time, when
they got together, Wilkinson was cool, Tamm says. What had she learned
about the program? “I can’t say,” she replied and urged him to drop
the subject. “Well, you know, then,” he says he replied, “I think my
only option is to go to the press.” (Wilkinson would not respond to
phone calls from NEWSWEEK, and her lawyer says she has nothing to say
about the matter.)

The next few weeks were excruciating. Tamm says he consulted with an
old law-school friend, Gene Karpinski, then the executive director of
a public-interest lobbying group. He asked about reporters who might
be willing to pursue a story that involved wrongdoing in a national-
security program, but didn’t tell him any details. (Karpinski, who has
been questioned by the FBI and has hired a lawyer, declined to
comment.) Tamm says he initially considered contacting Seymour Hersh,
the investigative reporter for The New Yorker, but didn’t know where
to reach him. He’d also noticed some strong stories by Eric Lichtblau,
the New York Times reporter who covered the Justice Department—and
with a few Google searches tracked down his phone number.

Tamm at this point had transferred out of OIPR at his own initiative,
and moved into a new job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He says he
“hated” the desk work at OIPR and was eager to get back into the
courtroom prosecuting cases. His new offices were just above
Washington’s Judiciary Square Metro stop. When he went to make the
call to the Times, Tamm said, “My whole body was shaking.” Tamm
described himself to Lichtblau as a “former” Justice employee and
called himself “Mark,” his middle name. He said he had some
information that was best discussed in person. He and Lichtblau
arranged to meet for coffee at Olsson’s, a now shuttered bookstore
near the Justice Department. After Tamm hung up the phone, he was
struck by the consequences of what he had just done. “Oh, my God,” he
thought. “I can’t talk to anybody about this.” An even more terrifying
question ran through his mind. He thought back to his days at the
capital-case squad and wondered if disclosing information about a
classified program could earn him the death penalty.

In his book, “Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice,” Lichtblau
writes that he first got a whiff of the NSA surveillance program
during the spring of 2004 when he got a cold call from a “walk-in”
source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence
community.” Lichtblau wrote that his source was wary at first. The
source did not know precisely what was going on—he was, in fact,
maddeningly vague, the reporter wrote. But after they got together for
a few meetings (“usually at a bookstore or coffee shops in the shadows
of Washington’s power corridors”) his source’s “credibility and his
bona fides became clear and his angst appeared sincere.” The source
told him of turmoil within the Justice Department concerning
counterterrorism operations and the FISA court. “Whatever is going on,
there’s even talk Ashcroft could be indicted,” the source told
Lichtblau, according to his book.

Tamm grew frustrated when the story did not immediately appear. He was
hoping, he says, that Lichtblau and his partner Risen (with whom he
also met) would figure out on their own what the program was really
all about and break it before the 2004 election. He was, by this time,
“pissed off” at the Bush administration, he says. He contributed $300
to the Democratic National Committee in September 2004, according to
campaign finance records.

It wasn’t until more than a year later that the paper’s executive
editor, Bill Keller, rejecting a personal appeal and warning by
President Bush, gave the story a green light. (Bush had warned
“there’ll be blood on your hands” if another attack were to occur.)
BUSH LETS U.S. SPY ON CALLERS WITHOUT COURTS, read the headline in the
paper’s Dec. 16, 2005, edition. The story—which the Times said relied
on “nearly a dozen current and former officials”—had immediate
repercussions. Democrats, including the then Sen. Barack Obama,
denounced the Bush administration for violating the FISA law and
demanded hearings. James Robertson, one of the judges on the FISA
court, resigned. And on Dec. 30, the Justice Department announced that
it was launching a criminal investigation to determine who had leaked
to the Times.

Not long afterward, Tamm says, he started getting phone calls at his
office from Jason Lawless, the hard-charging FBI agent in charge of
the case. The calls at first seemed routine. Lawless was simply
calling everybody who had worked at OIPR to find out what they knew.
But Tamm ducked the calls; he knew that the surest way to get in
trouble in such situations was to lie to an FBI agent. Still, he grew
increasingly nervous. The calls continued. Finally, one day, Lawless
got him on the phone. “This will just take a few minutes,” Lawless
said, according to Tamm’s account. But Tamm told the agent that he
didn’t want to be interviewed—and he later hired a lawyer. (The FBI
said that Lawless would have no comment.)

In the months that followed, Tamm learned he was in even more trouble.
He suspected the FBI had accessed his former computer at OIPR and
recovered the e-mail he had sent to Wilkinson. The agents tracked her
down and questioned her about her conversations with Tamm. By this
time, Tamm was in the depths of depression. He says he had trouble
concentrating on his work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and ignored
some e-mails from one of his supervisors. He was accused of botching a
drug case. By mutual agreement, he resigned in late 2006. He was out
of a job and squarely in the sights of the FBI. Nevertheless, he began
blogging about the Justice Department for liberal Web sites.

Early on the morning of Aug. 1, 2007, 18 FBI agents—some of them
wearing black flak jackets and carrying guns—showed up unannounced at
Tamm’s redbrick colonial home in Potomac, Md., with a search warrant.
While his wife, wearing her pajamas, watched in horror, the agents
marched into the house, seized Tamm’s desktop computer, his children’s
laptops, his private papers, some of his books (including one about
Deep Throat) and his family Christmas-card list. Terry Tamm, the
lawyer’s college-age son, was asleep at the time and awoke to find FBI
agents entering his bedroom. He was escorted downstairs, where, he
says, the agents arranged him, his younger sister and his mother
around the kitchen table and questioned them about their father.
(Thomas Tamm had left earlier that morning to drive his younger son to
summer school and to see a doctor about a shoulder problem.) “They
asked me questions like ‘Are there any secret rooms or compartments in
the house’?” recalls Terry. “Or did we have a safe? They asked us if
any New York Times reporters had been to the house. We had no idea why
any of this was happening.” Tamm says he had never told his wife and
family about what he had done.

After the raid, Justice Department prosecutors encouraged Tamm to
plead guilty to a felony for disclosing classified information—an
offer he refused. More recently, Agent Lawless, a former prosecutor
from Tennessee, has been methodically tracking down Tamm’s friends and
former colleagues. The agent and a partner have asked questions about
Tamm’s associates and political meetings he might have attended,
apparently looking for clues about his motivations for going to the
press, according to three of those interviewed.

In the meantime, Tamm lives in a perpetual state of limbo, uncertain
whether he’s going to be arrested at any moment. He could be charged
with violating two laws, one concerning the disclosure of information
harmful to “the national defense,” the other involving “communications
intelligence.” Both carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison. “This
has been devastating to him,” says Jeffrey Taylor, an old law-school
friend of Tamm’s. “It’s just been hanging over his head for such a
long time … Sometimes Tom will just zone out. It’s like he goes off in
a special place. He’s sort of consumed with this because he doesn’t
know where it’s going.”

Taylor got a few clues into what the case was about last September
when Agent Lawless and a partner visited him. The FBI agents sat in
his office for more than an hour, asking what he knew about Tamm. The
agents even asked about Tamm’s participation in a political lunch
group headed by his former boss, Andrew Sonner, that takes place once
a month at a Rockville, Md., restaurant. “What does that have to do
with anything?” Taylor asked.

Agent Lawless explained. “This kind of activity”—leaking to the news
media—”can be motivated by somebody who is a do-gooder who thinks that
something wrong occurred,” Lawless said, according to Taylor. “Or it
could be politically motivated by somebody who wants to cause harm.”
If it was the former—if Tamm was a “do-gooder”—the government could
face a problem if it tried to bring a case to trial. The jurors might
sympathize with Tamm and “you’d face jury nullification,” said
Lawless, according to Taylor, referring to a situation in which a jury
refuses to convict a defendant regardless of the law.

Just this month, Lawless and another agent questioned Sonner, the
retired judge who had served as a mentor to Tamm. The agents wanted to
know if Tamm had ever confided in Sonner about leaking to the Times.
Sonner said he hadn’t, but he told the agents what he thought of their
probe. “I told them I thought operating outside of the FISA law was
one of the biggest injustices of the Bush administration,” says
Sonner. If Tamm helped blow the whistle, “I’d be proud of him for
doing that.”

Paul Kemp, one of Tamm’s lawyers, says he was recently told by the
Justice Department prosecutor in charge of Tamm’s case that there will
be no decision about whether to prosecute until next year—after the
Obama administration takes office. The case could present a dilemma
for the new leadership at Justice. During the presidential campaign,
Obama condemned the warrantless-wiretapping program. So did Eric
Holder, Obama’s choice to become attorney general. In a tough speech
last June, Holder said that Bush had acted “in direct defiance of
federal law” by authorizing the NSA program.

Tamm’s lawyers say his case should be judged in that light. “When I
looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on
his view of a higher responsibility,” says Asa Hutchinson, the former
U.S. attorney in Little Rock and under secretary of the Department of
Homeland Security who is assisting in Tamm’s defense. “It reflected a
lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson also
challenged the idea—argued forcefully by other Bush administration
officials at the time—that The New York Times story undermined the war
on terror by tipping off Qaeda terrorists to surveillance. “Anybody
who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude
there was any harm to the United States,” he says. After reviewing all
the circumstances, Hutchinson says he hopes the Justice Department
would use its “discretion” and drop the investigation. In judging
Tamm’s actions—his decision to reveal what little he knew about a
secret domestic spying program that still isn’t completely known—it
can be hard to decipher right from wrong. Sometimes the thinnest of
lines separates the criminal from the hero.






The New Thought Police:
The NSA Wants to Know How You Think — Maybe Even What You Think
BY James Bamford

The National Security Agency (NSA) is developing a tool that George
Orwell’s Thought Police might have found useful: an artificial
intelligence system designed to gain insight into what people are

With the entire Internet and thousands of databases for a brain, the
device will be able to respond almost instantaneously to complex
questions posed by intelligence analysts. As more and more data is
collected—through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks
like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation,
Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records—
it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what
they are doing, but what and how they think.

The system is so potentially intrusive that at least one researcher
has quit, citing concerns over the dangers in placing such a powerful
weapon in the hands of a top-secret agency with little accountability.

Getting Aquaint
Known as Aquaint, which stands for “Advanced QUestion Answering for
INTelligence,” the project was run for many years by John Prange, an
NSA scientist at the Advanced Research and Development Activity.
Headquartered in Room 12A69 in the NSA’s Research and Engineering
Building at 1 National Business Park, ARDA was set up by the agency to
serve as a sort of intelligence community DARPA, the place where
former Reagan national security advisor John Poindexter’s infamous
Total Information Awareness project was born. [Editor’s note: TIA was
a short-lived project founded in 2002 to apply information technology
to counter terrorist and other threats to national security.] Later
named the Disruptive Technology Office, ARDA has now morphed into the
Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).

A sort of national laboratory for eavesdropping and other spycraft,
IARPA will move into its new 120,000-square-foot home in 2009. The
building will be part of the new M Square Research Park in College
Park, Maryland. A mammoth two million-square-foot, 128-acre complex,
it is operated in collaboration with the University of Maryland.
“Their budget is classified, but I understand it’s very well funded,”
said Brian Darmody, the University of Maryland’s assistant vice
president of research and economic development, referring to IARPA.
“They’ll be in their own building here, and they’re going to grow.
Their mission is expanding.”

If IARPA is the spy world’s DARPA, Aquaint may be the reincarnation of
Poindexter’s TIA. After a briefing by NSA Director Michael Hayden,
Vice President Dick Cheney, and CIA Director George Tenet of some of
the NSA’s data mining programs in July 2003, Senator Jay Rockefeller
IV, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote a
concerned letter to Cheney. “As I reflected on the meeting today,” he
said, “John Poindexter’s TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my
concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with
regard to security, technology, and surveillance.”

Building “Hal”
The original goal of Aquaint, which dates back to the 1990s, was
simply to develop a sophisticated method of picking the right needles
out of a vast haystack of information and coming up with the answer to
a question. As with TIA, many universities were invited to contribute
brainpower to the project. But in the aftermath of the attacks on
9/11, with the creation of the NSA’s secret warrantless eavesdropping
program and the buildup of massive databases, the project began taking
on a more urgent tone.

In a 2004 pilot project, a mass of data was gathered from news stories
taken from the New York Times, the AP news wire, and the English
portion of the Chinese Xinhua news wire covering 1998 to 2000. Then,
13 U.S. military intelligence analysts searched the data and came up
with a number of scenarios based on the material. Finally, using those
scenarios, an NSA analyst developed 50 topics, and in each of those
topics created a series of questions for Aquaint’s computerized brain
to answer. “Will the Japanese use force to defend the Senkakus?” was
one. “What types of disputes or conflict between the PLA [People’s
Liberation Army] and Hong Kong residents have been reported?” was
another. And “Who were the participants in this spy ring, and how are
they related to each other?” was a third. Since then, the NSA has
attempted to build both on the complexity of the system—more essay-
like answers rather than yes or no—and on attacking greater volumes of

“The technology behaves like a robot, understanding and answering
complex questions,” said a former Aquaint researcher. “Think of 2001:
A Space Odyssey and the most memorable character, HAL 9000, having a
conversation with David. We are essentially building this system. We
are building HAL.” A naturalized U.S. citizen who received her Ph.D.
from Columbia, the researcher worked on the program for several years
but eventually left due to moral concerns. “The system can answer the
question, ‘What does X think about Y?'” she said. “Working for the
government is great, but I don’t like looking into other people’s
secrets. I am interested in helping people and helping physicians and
patients for the quality of people’s lives.” The researcher now
focuses on developing similar search techniques for the medical

Thought policeman
A supersmart search engine, capable of answering complex questions
such as “What were the major issues in the last 10 presidential
elections?” would be very useful for the public. But that same
capability in the hands of an agency like the NSA—absolutely secret,
often above the law, resistant to oversight, and with access to
petabytes of private information about Americans—could be a privacy
and civil liberties nightmare. “We must not forget that the ultimate
goal is to transfer research results into operational use,” said
Aquaint project leader John Prange, in charge of information
exploitation for IARPA.

Once up and running, the database of old newspapers could quickly be
expanded to include an inland sea of personal information scooped up
by the agency’s warrantless data suction hoses. Unregulated, they
could ask it to determine which Americans might likely pose a security
risk—or have sympathies toward a particular cause, such as the antiwar
movement, as was done during the 1960s and 1970s. The Aquaint robospy
might then base its decision on the type of books a person purchased
online, or chat room talk, or websites visited—or a similar
combination of data. Such a system would have an enormous chilling
effect on everyone’s everyday activities—what will the Aquaint
computer think if I buy this book, or go to that website, or make this
comment? Will I be suspected of being a terrorist or a spy or a

Controlling brain waves
Collecting information, however, has always been far less of a problem
for the NSA than understanding it, and that means knowing the
language. To expand its linguistic capabilities, the agency
established another new organization, the Center for Advanced Study of
Language (CASL), and housed it in a building near IARPA at the M
Square Research Park. But far from simply learning the meaning of
foreign words, CASL, like Aquaint, attempts to find ways to get into
someone’s mind and understand what he or she is thinking.

One area of study is to attempt to determine if people are lying
simply by watching their behavior and listening to them speak.
According to one CASL document, “Many deception cues are difficult to
identify, particularly when they are subtle, such as changes in verb
tense or extremely brief facial expressions. CASL researchers are
studying these cues in detail with advanced measurement and
statistical analysis techniques in order to recommend ways to identify
deceptive cue combinations.”

Another area of focus explores the “growing need to work with foreign
text that is incomplete,” such as partly deciphered messages or a
corrupted hard drive or the intercept of only one side of a
conversation. The center is thus attempting to find ways to prod the
agency’s cipher-brains to fill in the missing blanks. “In response,”
says the report, “CASL’s cognitive neuroscience team has been studying
the cognitive basis of working memory’s capacity for filling in
incomplete areas of text. They have made significant headway in this
research by using a powerful high-density electroencephalogram (EEG)
machine acquired in 2006.” The effort is apparently directed at
discovering what parts of the brain are used when very good
cryptanalysts are able to guess correctly the missing words and
phrases in a message.

Like something out of a B-grade sci-fi movie, CASL is even trying to
turn dull minds into creative geniuses by training employees to
control their own brain waves: “The cognitive neuroscience team has
also been researching divergent thinking: creative, innovative and
flexible thinking valuable for language work. They are exploring ways
to improve divergent thinking using the EEG and neurobiological
feedback. A change in brain-wave activity is believed to be critical
for generating creative ideas, so the team trains its subjects to
change their brain-wave activity.”

Obama’s Black Widow
BY Nat Hentoff  /  23 December 2008

Thanks to Bush and Obama, the National Security Agency now knows more
about you. Barack Obama will be in charge of the biggest domestic and
international spying operation in history. Its prime engine is the
National Security Agency (NSA)-located and guarded at Fort Meade,
Maryland, about 10 miles northeast of Washington, D.C. A brief glimpse
of its ever-expanding capacity was provided on October 26 by The
Baltimore Sun’s national security correspondent, David Wood: “The
NSA’s colossal Cray supercomputer, code-named the ‘Black Widow,’ scans
millions of domestic and international phone calls and e-mails every
hour…. The Black Widow, performing hundreds of trillions of
calculations per second, searches through and reassembles key words
and patterns, across many languages.”

In July, George W. Bush signed into law the FISA Amendments Act of
2008, which gives the NSA even more power to look for patterns that
suggest terrorism links in Americans’ telephone and Internet
communications. The ACLU immediately filed a lawsuit on free speech
and privacy grounds. The new Bush law provides farcical judicial
supervision over the NSA and other government trackers and databasers.
Although Senator Barack Obama voted for this law, dig this from the
ACLU: “The government [is now permitted] to conduct intrusive
surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on,
what phone lines and e-mail addresses it intends to monitor, where its
surveillance targets are located, why it’s conducting the surveillance
or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing.”
This gives the word “dragnet” an especially chilling new meaning.

The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, director of its National Security Project,
adds that the new statute, warming the cold hearts of the NSA,
“implicates all kinds of communications that have nothing to do with
terrorism or criminal activity of any kind.” Why did Obama vote for
this eye-that-never-blinks? He’s a bright, informed guy, but he wasn’t
yet the President-Elect. The cool pragmatist wanted to indicate he
wasn’t radically unmindful of national security-and that his previous
vow to filibuster such a bill may have been a lapse in judgment. It

What particularly outraged civil libertarians across the political
divide was that the FISA Amendments Act gave immunity to the
telecommunications corporations-which, for seven years, have been a
vital part of the Bush administration’s secret wiretapping program-
thereby dismissing the many court cases brought by citizens suing
those companies for violating their individual constitutional
liberties. This gives AT&T, Verizon, and the rest a hearty signal to
go on pimping for the government. That’s OK with the Obama
administration? Please tell us, Mr. President.

Some of us began to see how deeply and intricately the telecoms were
involved in the NSA’s spying when-as part of an Electronic Frontier
Foundation lawsuit-it was revealed by a former AT&T technician, Mark
Klein, that he had found a secret AT&T room in which the NSA was
tapping into the telecom giant’s fiber-optic cables. On National
Public Radio on November 7, 2007, he disclosed: “It’s not just AT&T’s
traffic going through these cables, because these cables connected
AT&T’s network with other networks like Sprint, Qwest [the one firm
that refused to play ball with the government], Global Crossing,
UUNet, etc.”

What you should know is that these fruitful cables go through “a
splitter” that, as Klein describes, “just copies the entire data
without any selection going on. So it’s a complete copy of the data
stream.” Under the new FISA Amendments Act, there are no limits on
where this stream of data can be disseminated. As in the past, but now
with “legal” protection under the 2008 statute, your suspicious
“patterns” can go to the FBI, Homeland Security, the CIA, and state
and local police that are also involved in “fusion centers” with the

Consider the enormous and bottomless databases that the government-and
its NSA-can have a ball with. In James Bamford’s The Shadow Factory
(Doubleday)-a new book that leads you as far as anyone has gone into
the bowels of the NSA-he notes: “For decades, AT&T and much of the
rest of the telecommunications industry have had a very secret, very
cozy relationship with the NSA.” In AT&T’s case, he points out, “its
international voice service carried more than 18 billion minutes per
year, reaching 240 countries, linking 400 carriers, and offering
remote access via 19,500 points of presence in 149 countries around
the globe.” Voilá! Also, he notes: “Much of those communications
passed through that secret AT&T room that Klein found on Folsom Street
in downtown San Francisco.”

There’s a lot more to come that we don’t know about. Yet. In The
Shadow Factory, James Bamford quotes Bush’s Director of National
Intelligence Mike McConnell as saying that this wiretapping program
was and is “only one program of many highly secret programs approved
by Bush following the attacks on 9/11” (emphasis added). McConnell
also said of the NSA’s nonstop wiretapping: “This is the only aspect
of those various activities whose existence has officially been

Come on, Mike. Bush acknowledged the NSA’s flagrant contempt of the
First and Fourth amendments only after The New York Times broke the
story in December 2005. When the Times executive editor, Bill Keller,
first decided to hold the explosive story for a year, General Michael
Hayden-the former head of the NSA who is currently running the CIA-was
relieved because he didn’t want the news to get out that “most
international communications pass through [these telecommunications]
‘switching,'” Bamford reports. It would blow the cover off those
corporate communicators. Now, AT&T, Verizon, et al., don’t have to
worry, thanks to the new law.

There are increasing calls, inside and outside of Congress, for
President Obama to urge investigations by an independently bipartisan
commission-akin to the 9/11 Commission-to get deeply into the many
American and international laws so regally broken by Bush and his
strutting team. But there is so much still to find out about the NSA’s
“many highly secret programs” that a separate commission is sorely
needed to probe exclusively into the past and ongoing actions of the
Black Widow and other NSA lawless intrusions into our privacy and

President Obama could atone for his vote that supported the FISA
Amendments Act of 2008 by appointing such a bipartisan commission
composed of technology experts who are also familiar with the
Constitution. Bamford says that the insatiable NSA is “developing an
artificial intelligence system designed to know what people are
thinking.” Here come the thought police!

BLACK WIDOW,0,7827877.story
Spying NSA’s failures : Bamford looks into the mistakes made by the
secretive agency protecting the nation
BY David Wood  /  October 26, 2008
Review of The Shadow Factory By James Bamford

The bad news in James Bamford’s fascinating new study of the National
Security Agency is that Big Brother really is watching. The worse
news, according to this veteran journalist, is that Big Brother often
listens in on the wrong people and sometimes fails to recognize
critical information, like the fact that terrorists are gathering and
plotting an attack. When it does find a critical nugget like that, it
occasionally files it away somewhere and doesn’t tell anybody.

This is a tale of bad news, told by a master whose two previous books
on the NSA, The Puzzle Palace (1982) and Body of Secrets (2001), laid
bare some of the machinations of the world’s largest and most
technologically sophisticated spy agency. In brisk and colorful
narrative, The Shadow Factory details the agency’s failure on Sept. 11
(the hijackers, on whom the NSA had been eavesdropping for 18 months
without sharing the intelligence with the FBI or CIA, were camped out
late that summer virtually on the NSA’s doorstep, in Laurel).

Bamford whisks the reader through the NSA’s embarrassing failure to
figure out that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and
through the distressing post-Sept. 11 years when the agency
demonstrated both technical gee-whizzery and brash law-breaking. The
book is certain to raise questions about whether the NSA, with
headquarters in those huge, foreboding structures just off the
Baltimore-Washington Parkway on Fort Meade Road, ever can operate
effectively and efficiently – and legally.

Bamford convincingly argues that the agency, grown from a few creative
code-breakers into a vast network of sensors, wiretaps, robo-
eavesdroppers, secret data-miners and storage bunkers, broke the law
and spied on Americans and nearly got away with it. His detailed
descriptions of secret underground fiber-optic wiretaps and
clandestine operations centers persuasively describe the NSA’s
expanding reach.

Yet Bamford might have acknowledged that reporting on a complex
organization whose effectiveness requires secrecy is an inherently
incomplete work: Its successes are unknown. Surely, the NSA has done
valuable work in identifying and tracking terrorists, achievements not
noted by Bamford.

The book is “a disservice” to the NSA employees who seek to protect
the nation while safeguarding Americans’ privacy, an agency
spokeswoman, Judith A. Emmel, said in a statement. Of course, the
agency’s eavesdroppers and analysts are motivated, hard-working
people, often forward-deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army Sgt.
Trista Leah Moretti, an NSA cryptologist killed in a mortar attack in
southern Iraq on June 25, 2007, is the most recent entry on the
agency’s Memorial Wall.

The NSA’s former director, Michael Hayden, once described the NSA’s
eavesdroppers as “people who … go shopping in Glen Burnie and their
kids play soccer in Laurel. And they know the law. They know American
privacy better than the average American, and they’re dedicated to

But as history has proved time and time again, dedicated and well-
intentioned people can be overwhelmed by the imperatives of the
institution within which they work. Can the NSA itself be trusted, in
secret, to make the fine judgment calls between protecting Americans
and spying on them?

Bamford’s history is not reassuring. It was Hayden, after all, who
authorized Operation Highlander. It siphoned all phone and e-mail
traffic off the Inmarsat satellite communications system used by
American troops, the Red Cross, the U.N. and journalists, including
those at The Baltimore Sun, to call home from Iraq. NSA analysts
listened in on and recorded “incredibly intimate personal
conversations,” one analyst told Bamford, who said she was shocked and
distressed (her story has been corroborated by some of her NSA
colleagues and disputed by others). On any given day, Bamford writes,
the NSA had been spying on as many as 500 Americans at home and 7,000

Even now, he writes, the NSA has “the capacity to make tyranny total
in America. Only law ensures that we never fall into that abyss.”
Despite Bamford’s burning distrust of the agency, he got and shares
astonishing access to No Such Agency, as the NSA is sometimes known.
Here, courtesy of the eavesdroppers, is Osama bin Laden’s phone
number: 00-873-6825-0533 (surely disconnected by this time).

Most convincingly, Bamford guides the reader through the NSA’s
greatest challenge: staying ahead of the explosive growth in volume
and types of communications. Voice traffic alone increases 20 percent
a year. Digital cell phones and fiber-optic cables vastly complicate
the eavesdroppers’ job. Today, the NSA’s colossal Cray supercomputer,
code-named the “Black Widow,” scans millions of domestic and
international phone calls and e-mails every hour. That’s harder than
it sounds: For purposes of speed and encryption, many of these
communications are transmitted in fragments. The Black Widow,
performing hundreds of trillions of calculations per second, searches
through and reassembles key words and patterns, across many languages.
Storing all this data, Bamford reports, is already an enormous
headache for the NSA.

But the larger and more disturbing issue is not so much collecting all
that data, but analyzing, digesting and using it. “Our ability to
collect stuff,” a senior NSA official acknowledged to Bamford, “far
outstrips our ability to understand what we collect.”