By David Swanson |
The Bush administration’s wiretapping program has come under new scrutiny this week. Two influential congressional committees have opened probes into allegations US intelligence spied on the phone calls of American military personnel, journalists and aid workers in Iraq. We speak to James Bamford about the NSA’s spying on Americans, the agency’s failings pre-9/11 and the ties between NSA and the nation’s telecommunications companies. [includes rush transcript–partial]
James Bamford, investigative reporter who has been covering the National Security Agency for the last three decades. He came close to standing trial after revealing the NSA’s operations in his explosive 1982 book The Puzzle Palace. His latest book, which comes out today, is the third in his trilogy on the NSA. It’s called The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.
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AMY GOODMAN: The Bush administration’s wiretapping program has come under new scrutiny this week. Two influential congressional committees have opened probes into allegations US intelligence spied on the phone calls of American military personnel, journalists and aid workers in Iraq. Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Arlen Specter of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Jay Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, say they want Congress to look into allegations from two former military intelligence officials.
The two whistleblowers—Adrienne Kinne, an Army reservist, and David Murfee Faulk, a Navy linguist—spoke last Thursday to ABC News. While the network claimed that marked the first time the two whistleblowers had come forward, they had both spoken out well before last week.
Blogger David Swanson wrote about them as early as July 2007, and in her first broadcast interview five months ago, former Military Intelligence Sergeant Adrienne Kinne, detailed the spying on Democracy Now! back in May.
ADRIENNE KINNE: I was stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and I was actually mobilized shortly after 9/11 with a group of reservists who were eventually sent to Fort Gordon to work a mission, that it was actually a brand new mission. It was something not like anything I had done in military intelligence previously. And this new mission involved the intercept of satellite phone communications in Iraq and Afghanistan and basically a huge swath of the region around those two countries. It was really brand new, and basically there were about twenty of us who were put in charge of this new mission, to stand it up.
In the very beginning, basically what we did was that we would have a front end, which intercepted satellite phone communications in that region, and then it would transmit the satellite phone conversations back to the United States, where it would just fill up this queue in our computer, and we would just go through. And all the numbers were unidentified. So, at the beginning, it was just a matter of sifting through thousands upon thousands of unidentified satellite phone communications, as we kind of tried to sort out what phone number belonged to who and kind of go through the process of identifying phone numbers in the search for intelligence that might be related to operations in Afghanistan and, later on, Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: And when were you listening to Iraq?
ADRIENNE KINNE: We started listening to the entire region pretty much immediately. I think this was December of 2001. And I was mobilized from October 2001 through August of 2003. So I was working that mission pretty much from December through August of 2003.
And over the course of my time, as we slowly began to identify phone numbers and who belonged to what, one thing that gave me grave concern was that as we identified phone numbers, we started to find more and more and more numbers that belonged not to any organizations affiliated with terrorism or with military—with militaries of Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere, but with humanitarian aid organizations, non-governmental organizations, who include the International Red Cross, Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, a whole host of humanitarian aid organizations. And it also included journalists.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Military Intelligence Sergeant Adrienne Kinne, speaking on Democracy Now! in May. She and Navy linguist, David Murfee Faulk, were also interviewed for a new book on the National Security Agency by James Bamford, an investigative journalist and author of two earlier books on the agency. Bamford is among the plaintiffs in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of journalists, academics, aid workers and lawyers who feared they were targeted by government spying. A federal appeals court dismissed the case last year after ruling the plaintiffs can’t prove they were monitored. The ACLU might reopen the suit to include the new revelations by Kinne and Faulk.
James Bamford has been covering the National Security Agency for the last three decades. He came close to standing trial after revealing the NSA’s operations in his explosive 1982 book The Puzzle Palace. His latest book, which comes out today, is the third in his trilogy on the NSA. It’s called The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Today, we spend the hour with James Bamford. He joins us from Washington, D.C.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
JAMES BAMFORD: Thanks, Amy. I appreciate it.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, let’s talk about Adrienne Kinne’s allegations, spying on Americans and international aid workers in Iraq. What’s wrong with this?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, there’s a lot of things wrong with it. First of all, they’re wasting their time, when they should be spying on or trying to intercept communications to and from terrorists. That was one of the complaints that Adrienne had and also Murfee Faulk had, that they didn’t join the military to listen to Americans doing pillow talk, because a lot of this was intimate conversations between Americans and their spouses back in the United States. They’ve been separated a long time, and you can imagine what a lot of those conversations dealt with. They were very personal matters dealing with finance, affection, and so forth. So they felt that they were morally wrong by eavesdropping on these people and then just wasting government money and wasting their time by listening to things that had nothing to do with the war on terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting. One of the things Adrienne Kinne told us was that she was spying on journalists at the Palestine Hotel. She knew they were journalists. She heard what they were saying over time. Here she was in Georgia, but spying on those people, those journalists, in Iraq. And she said she saw a document, she saw an email that put the Palestine Hotel on a—as a bombing target, and she immediately went to her superiors, because she was spying on them, she knew that they were journalists. She said, “But there are journalists in that hotel.” She learned a lot in this spying. Is this illegal?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, you know, it 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.
And I think 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.
AMY GOODMAN: What other allegations did the Navy linguist David Murfee Faulk make about what he was listening to in Iraq?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, he confirmed a lot of what Adrienne was saying. And it’s interesting, because they cover such different times there. Adrienne was there from 2001 to August of 2003. David Faulk was there from November of 2003 until November of 2007. So you have this time period covered from 2001 to 2007. And they were both doing similar things. They had never met each other. So these are very independent views of what was going on over there. And so, you have this continuum from 2001 to 2007 of eavesdropping on Americans.
One of the things that David Murfee Faulk brought up was the fact that not only were they eavesdropping on a lot of these conversations, some of which were very intimate, but they would have sort of locker room chats about what they were hearing, and they would post—or they would notify their co-workers that you should listen to this, what they call “cut,” their conversations. You should listen to this conversation or that conversation. They’d laugh about it. And, you know, I don’t really think that’s what the soldiers over there that are fighting really appreciate, the fact that you have Americans back in the state of Georgia laughing over their intimate conversations.
So, the other thing that David Murfee Faulk brought up that I thought was very important and really gave a good insight into what—how some of this activity that’s taking place in Iraq comes about, you know, when they’re dropping bombs on houses and neighborhoods and busting down doors and putting people into Abu Ghraib and so forth, how does that come about? Why do they bust down this door or drop a bomb on that house? And the insight he gave, I thought was very interesting. He was saying how it’s these people here that are sitting in this windowless room in the state of Georgia, near Augusta, Georgia, that are listening to these conversations in Iraq, in Baghdad, and they’re making instantaneous decisions on whether somebody is telling the truth or not. So they’re writing out these—they’re doing these transcripts, and then they’re writing these little comments saying this person here, Ali, is saying he’s going to deliver a load of melons to his cousin Mohammed tomorrow. And then you have somebody making a decision: is he telling the truth, or isn’t he? Are these melons, or possibly could they be IEDs? And if a person says, “You know, I don’t think he’s telling the truth,” there’s a good chance that that house could be blown up or that person could be put in Abu Ghraib, or whatever.
And the point that David Mufee Faulk was making was that the people that are making these decisions, these sometimes life-and-death decisions, don’t have the proper training. They’re trained for sixty-three weeks in Monterey, California in standard Arabic. And what they’re listening to a lot of times is dialects that they don’t really understand, and they’re listening for nuances that they don’t really get, and idioms and so forth. And I think it’s very dangerous, and what the point he was making was it was very dangerous for—you know, sometimes these are just people right out of high school to—that have never been out of the country, and certainly never been over to the Middle East, to make these sort of life-and-death decisions based on just hearing one conversation out of context.
AMY GOODMAN: And they’re doing this from Fort Gordon, Georgia. Are they working for the NSA, the National Security Agency?
JAMES BAMFORD: Yes. The way this works—a lot of people don’t really understand how this whole system works—the NSA is sort of two organizations in one; the director of NSA wears two hats. If you ever get a letter from NSA or whatever, it says—the letterhead says, “National Security Agency/Central Security Service.” And the director always signs his name “Director NSA/Chief CSS.”
The National Security Agency is largely civilians, and they’re mostly the analysts and the people who design the sophisticated satellites and do a lot of the technical development work and break a lot of the codes and so forth. And the people on the front lines, the intercept operators, are almost all military, and some civilians who transition from the military into a private contractor, for example. So, most of those are the military, but they all come under the same organization. The military is technically the Central Security Service, which reports to the director of NSA, and the civilians are largely NSA analysts and so forth. So it’s the same organization. Adrienne Kinne, for example, she showed me her certificate that she received when she was there. In a big print at the top, it said “National Security Agency,” and it was an award of achievement for the good work she did while she was there on this NSA mission called Operation Highlander.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to James Bamford, investigative journalist, author of three books now on the National Security Agency, his last out today, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. We’re spending the hour with him. When we come back from break, just what is the NSA? And then we’ll talk about what happened in the lead-up to 9/11 and beyond. Stay with us.