Times, August 18, 2008
BAMFORD’S LATEST BOOK EXPOSES
DARK SIDE OF NSA SURVEILLANCE
A new blockbuster book raises new questions about the competency of intelligence agencies and their use of surveillance data prior to the 9/11 attacks, and casts serious doubts about the legality of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program in the years immediately following the attacks.
The book also reveals that military personnel at the Fort Gordon, Georgia listening outpost regularly eavesdropped on the private conversations between soldiers stationed in Iraq and their
wives, girlfriends and other family members. That revelations prompted Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to announce they would investigate.
The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America,
by James Bamford, an investigative journalist and leading expert on the NSA. His first book, The Puzzle Palace (1982), was credited with unveiling the NSA’s existence. His second book, Body of Secrets (2001), pulled the curtain back on a wide range of U.S. government surveillance activities.
The book shows that the NSA had intercepted compelling evidence that Al-Qaeda’s operatives were getting closer to an attack in the United States, but failed to effectively alert other parts of the government.
Then NSA Director Michael Hayden “was very chagrined at the fact that his actions were contributing factors to the whole 9/11 attack by not being more aggressive in going after their communications and telling people where [the attackers] were,” Bamford explained on DemocracyNow!, the syndicated news show. “So, after 9/11, to some degree to make up for it, he decided to not protest when the Bush Administration, particularly Dick Cheney, began putting pressure on him to begin doing warrantless domestic eavesdropping or warrantless eavesdropping of Americans. And that was a big mistake. It would have been much better if he stood up like Jim Comey at the Justice Department did. He stood up, as well as the director of the FBI. Even Attorney General John Ashcroft stood up and threatened to resign over parts of this warrantless eavesdropping. But General Hayden decided to go along with it, and as a result, the NSA began this very intrusive program of warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens, both intrusive and largely useless,” he said.
The first clue of the 9/11 attacks came in December 1999 when NSA picked up a phone conversation from Osama bin Laden’s house and operations center in Yemen. Two leading Al-Qaeda operatives – Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi – were directed to go to Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia for a “terrorist summit” meeting. NSA told the CIA, which set up a surveillance in Kuala Lumpur, but lost track of them.
Shortly after Khalid and Nawaf entered the U.S. without any problem. The NSA had their last names in their computers, but never bothered to check. While living in San Diego, they regularly called back and forth to the same house in Yemen. “So NSA is picking up their conversations to the house in Yemen, translating them and then sending out the summaries of the conversations to the CIA without ever telling anybody that they were in the United States … from January 2000 to September 2001,” Bamford said. The ultimate irony was that Khalid, Nawaf, and other 9/11 attackers later set up their base of operations in Laurel, Maryland at the Valencia Motel, across the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from NSA headquarters.
“Mohamed Atta flew there for summit meetings. They had to take three hotels at one point to put all the people there. So, as NSA is looking for them, they’re having their final summit meetings there, and they’re walking around the Safeway, they’re exercising in Gold’s Gym, they’re eating in the restaurants there, they’re mingling with NSA employees,” Bamford said.
Two of the sources for the book’s revelations about improper eavesdropping were stationed at the NSA’s Back Hall at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist, was assigned there from November 2001 to 2003. David Murfee Faulk, 39, an intercept operator and former Navy Arab linguist, was there from late 2003 to November 2007. Faulk said he and his fellow intercept operators listened to phone conversations of hundreds of Americans stationed in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
Bamford’s book said the personal communications of other Americans – aid workers, soldiers, journalists, businesspeople, and their families and coworkers – were also eavesdropped on, even though they had no intelligence value.
They said they did this because they were told do it. One reason is probably because there was no oversight or FISA Court to go through, the decision was made to just eavesdrop on everything. That’s the problem when controls are removed.
“One of the most serious problems is the fact that, according to the intercept operators I interviewed, everything is recorded and kept permanently by NSA – even the innocent, sometime intimate – conversations of two Americans talking to each other. They could be retrieved years later and used for political purposes, blackmail or other illegal purposes. The intercept operators said they used to pass around interesting or amusing sexual calls,” Bamford said.
Bamford said much of the NSA’s surveillance would have been illegal under the old original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “The way they’ve sort of contorted the new amendments to the act, it’s hard to tell what’s legal and what isn’t, because they’ve taken the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court largely out of the mix. And so, much of what is being done is governed by secret rules known as USSID 18, United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18, which is above top-secret. It’s top-secret code words. So what is legal, what isn’t legal, it’s very hard to tell,” he said.
That’s why you really need a congressional committee to really take a look at this. What really needs to happen is a very in-depth examination of NSA post/11—actually, pre-9/11 and post-9/11, the kind that was done in the mid-1970s by Senator Frank Church, the Church Committee. I think that’s really the only way to get to the bottom of whether NSA messed up before the attacks on 9/11 and whether they’re doing things that are illegal or improper after 9/11.