- 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.
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]
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.
AMY GOODMAN: James Bamford is our guest for the hour, investigative reporter and author of three books on the National Security Agency, his newest book just out today, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.
Jim Bamford, explain exactly what the NSA is. I don’t think most people realize that it is many times larger than, for example, the CIA.
JAMES BAMFORD: And many times more secret. That’s why there’s been hundreds of books on the CIA, and there’s only been three books on NSA, and I wrote all three. So it’s an agency that’s very, very, very secret.
And the distinction between NSA and the CIA is that the CIA specializes in the type of espionage that most people are familiar with from reading James Bond books and so forth, the human spy, where the agent goes out and hides documents under a tree or tries to develop sources in a foreign country. That’s human intelligence, known in the trade as HUMINT. NSA specializes in SIGINT, which is signals intelligence. And what that is is eavesdropping. And that’s actually where the US gets most of its intelligence. It doesn’t really get most of its intelligence from human spies, because they’re fairly unreliable and they’re very rare to find. But it gets most of its intelligence from eavesdropping on communications, whether it’s telephone calls or email or faxes, computer transfers of information between computers, any kind of information like that, instant messages. It intercepts it. So NSA is the big ear.
And the way it works is, it picks up communications from satellites, it taps undersea and underground fiber-optic cables, it gets information any way it can, and then some of the information is encrypted, and it’s responsible for breaking those codes and then sending the information that it gets from these intercepts to other agencies. And that’s what Adrienne and David Murfee Faulk did. They were the actual front lines in this sort of electronic war. They were the intercept operators.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Bamford, can you talk about how the NSA picked up the very first clues about the 9/11 attacks well before the 9/11 attacks?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, the very first clue to the 9/11 attack occurred in late December 1999, when the NSA picked up a message from a house in Yemen. The house was being used by bin Laden as his operations center. He didn’t have much capability to operate out of Afghanistan, so all the phone calls, all the messages, email and all that would go to this house in the city of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. NSA had been eavesdropping on that house for a number of years, and in late December 1999, it picked up a particular intercept, picked up a particular phone conversation.
And the phone conversation said that — send Khalid and Nawaf to Kuala Lumpur for a meeting. So, NSA picked that up, and they — first of all, they figured that Nawaf and Khalid had to be very important potential terrorists, because they were being assigned by bin Laden out in Afghanistan to go to a meeting in Kuala Lumpur. That seemed like a terrorist summit meeting. NSA gave that information to the other intelligence agencies, and the CIA set up a surveillance in Kuala Lumpur, and then they lost them in Kuala Lumpur.
After they lost them, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi went to California. They got in without any problem. NSA, even though they had the last name of Nawaf al-Hazmi in their computers, they never bothered to check, so they both got in without any problem into the United States. They went down, and they lived in San Diego. And they began calling back and forth to that house in Yemen, the house that NSA was eavesdropping on. So NSA is picking up their conversations to the house in Yemen, translating them and then sending out the conversations to — or summaries of the conversations to the CIA without ever telling anybody that they were in the United States. And they were in the United States for almost two years. Al-Hazmi was there from January 2000 to September 2001. And again, they’re communicating back and forth; NSA is picking up but not telling anybody that they’re in the US.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain, Jim Bamford —-
JAMES BAMFORD: And it got so bad -—
AMY GOODMAN: You say that they set up their final base of operations almost next door to the NSA headquarters in Laurel, Maryland?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, that’s the ultimate irony, was they eventually travel across country from San Diego, and they set up their final base of operations — these are the — this is the crew that was about to attack the Pentagon — about a month before, they set up their base of operations in Laurel, Maryland, of all places, that happens to be the same city that NSA is headquartered. So they set up their base of operations in this Valencia Motel, and almost across the Baltimore-Washington Parkway is NSA headquarters. The director’s office is on the eighth floor, and, except for some trees, he could almost see the motel where they’re staying. So, NSA is over there trying to find terrorists, and here is the 9/11 terrorists sitting right opposite the NSA on the other side of the parkway making their final plans.
Mohamed Atta flew there for summit meetings. And 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. That’s NSA’s company town. It’s just the ultimate irony that here you have the terrorists and the eavesdroppers living side by side in the month before the final attack.
AMY GOODMAN: You then say, after the attacks, the White House expanded massively surveillance, turning it inward on Americans right here. Can you talk about how they did it?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, first of all, looking back on the pre-attack, it was clear right after the attack that General Hayden, the Director of NSA, realized the big mistake he had made, that these guys not only were in the US, and he never told anybody they were communicating from the other side of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and he never let anybody know. So, obviously, he was very chagrined at the fact that, you know, 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 they were.
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. And 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.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about this documentary that you’re making for PBS on NOVA and the news that was reported in the Washington Post a few days ago. FBI special agents Mark Rossini and Douglas Miller have asked for permission to appear in an upcoming public television documentary on pre-9/11 rivalries between the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency. It’s your documentary. The FBI has denied them permission, on grounds the FBI doesn’t want to stir up old conflicts. Talk about what they have to say.
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, the documentary I’m doing is — it’s going to be very interesting. It’s going to air January 13th. And what it does is it sort of takes a large part of the book and translates it into imagery, into video. So we actually go to that house in Yemen. We actually located that house in Yemen and did video there. It was fairly hazardous, but we got video of the house. And we traced the path of these 9/11 hijackers from basically the moment the message came in to the time when they were living opposite NSA in Laurel, Maryland.
As part of this program, we’re looking at what happened when they were in Kuala Lumpur. And what happened was, in their flight from Yemen to Kuala Lumpur, the CIA was able to get a copy of the passport, of Khalid al-Mihdhar’s passport, and the passport had a visa in there for the United States. It showed that they weren’t just going to Kuala Lumpur; they were going to Kuala Lumpur and then to the United States. Well, that was very important information for the FBI.
And at the time, the CIA had this very small unit within its Counterterrorism Center; it was called Alex Station. And that was the bin Laden unit. Those were the people whose sole responsibility was trying to find Osama bin Laden. And the center was made up mostly of CIA officials, but there were also two FBI agents there that were assigned to that unit. When that message came in indicating that Mihdhar had a visa to the United States, the two FBI agents protested that they should send a message to the FBI headquarters and notify them. Mark Rossini was one of the FBI agents, and Doug Miller was the other.
Doug Miller actually wrote up a memo to FBI headquarters saying, we’ve got to notify FBI that these guys are probably headed towards the United States; they’ve got a US visa. And Mark Rossini also said, we should send this message to the FBI headquarters. And I interviewed Rossini, Mark Rossini, on — for my book, and I quote him in the book as saying that he was told by the two people in charge of Alex Station at the CIA that he couldn’t send the message to FBI headquarters. He was forbidden to send it to them. And at one time, when he protested, the deputy — I think it was the deputy head of that station — I couldn’t reveal her name in the book, because she’s still at the CIA, but she put her hands on her hips and said, “Look, the next attack is going to take place in Southeast Asia, not the United States. So when we want the FBI to know about it, we’ll tell the FBI about it.” And under the rules that existed, they weren’t allowed to notify the FBI headquarters without CIA permission, since that was a CIA document that contained the information on the visa, on Mihdhar’s visa. So, I interviewed Mark Rossini, and he was very angry that he was never allowed to send that message. Had that message been sent to FBI headquarters —-
AMY GOODMAN: And the story goes beyond that.
JAMES BAMFORD: —- the FBI would have put a — I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to say, the story goes beyond that. I was saying this was in the Washington Post; it was actually in the Congressional Quarterly, that they were prepared to say publicly that under pressure from the CIA, they kept the full truth from the Justice Department’s inspector general, which looked into the FBI’s handling of the pre-9/11 intelligence in 2004.
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, not only that, the 9/11 Commission, which did a pretty poor job on a lot of this, they never looked at any of the information that I’m reporting on the National Security Agency, and they also never interviewed either Rossini or Doug Miller, the two FBI agents in there. I mean, it seems incredible to me that the 9/11 Commission never interviewed the two FBI agents who were assigned to the bin Laden unit. So that’s part of the story that’s never been told, that the American public just has no idea of some of these things that took place leading up to 9/11.
AMY GOODMAN: James Bamford, we have to break, then we’re going to come back to this discussion. Investigative reporter, his third book in a trilogy on the NSA, out today, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of the telecoms’ role in domestic spying, I want to turn to Mark Klein. He’s the former AT&T technician who blew the whistle on the involvement of phone companies in the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. Klein was with AT&T for twenty-two years. In 2006, he leaked internal documents revealing the company had set up a secret room in its San Francisco office to give the NSA access to its fiber-optic internet cables.
MARK KLEIN: We were told one day in late 2002 that an NSA representative was coming to the office to speak to a certain management technician about a special job. And this turned out to be installing a secret room in the next office I was going to be in the following year. And that secret room involved a lot of spying equipment. Only this one management technician could go in there, and the regular union technicians were not allowed to go in there.
But when — in 2003 I was assigned to that office, and I got hold of the documents which were available — they’re not classified — and the documents showed what they were doing. They were basically copying the entire data stream going across critical internet cables and copying the entire data stream to this secret room, so the NSA was getting everything.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mark Klein, the former AT&T technician who blew the whistle on the involvement of phone companies in the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. Jim Bamford, with us for the hour, author of The Shadow Factory, out today, can you talk about how the CIA or the NSA is now working out secret and potentially illegal agreements with the telecom industry in order to access US telecommunications and what exactly Mark Klein is talking about, not just potentially illegal, what they’ve done?
JAMES BAMFORD: Sure. And just before I do that, I’d just like to thank these people for speaking out. Having been writing on this topic for twenty-five years, I know how difficult it is for anybody to come out and speak about what’s going on at NSA; it’s a very difficult thing. So, Mark Klein and Adrienne Kinne and David Murfee Faulk, Mark Rossini, these people, you know, I look at as heroes, because they’ve come out and pointed a finger at what’s been going wrong without — you know, there’s no compensation. They’re risking their —- the rest of their career or possibly risking the US government by coming out and pointing these fingers. So, you know, I just have a lot of admiration for these people.
And what Mark Klein was talking about, he was a supervisor for twenty-two years over at AT&T, and he discovered this secret room in this facility in San Francisco, this very tall, ten—, twelve-story building out in San Francisco, which is basically the switch, AT&T’s switch for their communications in that part of the country, the sort of western part of the country.
And what happened is that during the 1990s and early in the ’80s and the ’70s, the NSA used to collect information by putting out big dishes and collecting satellite communications that would come down. It was very easy. They put the dishes out; satellite transmits the telephone calls and messages, emails and so forth down to earth; and the satellite picks it up. And then NSA collects it. NSA didn’t have to deal with the telecommunication companies at all, because they could get the information independent of the telecom companies.
Then, in the late ’90s, things began to change, and fiber optics became a big thing for telecommunications. Fiber optics are cables in which the communications are transmitted, not electronically, but by photons, light signals. And that made life very difficult for NSA. It meant the communications, instead of being able to pick them up in a big dish, they were now being transmitted under the ocean in these cables. And the only way to get access to it would be to put a submarine down and try to tap into those cables. But that, from the people I’ve talked to, has not been very successful with fiber-optic cables. So the only other way to really do this is by making some kind of agreement with the telecom companies, so that NSA could actually basically cohabitate some of the telecom companies’ locations. And that’s what happened. NSA began making these agreements with AT&T and other companies, and that in order to get access to the actual cables, they had to build these secret rooms in these buildings.
So what would happen would be the communications on the cables would come into the building, and then the cable would go to this thing called a splitter box, which was a box that had something that was similar to a prism, a glass prism. And the prism was shaped like a prism, and the light signals would come in, and they’d be split by the prism. And one copy of the light signal would go off to where it was supposed to be going in the telecom system, and the other half, this new cloned copy of the cables, would actually go one floor below to NSA’s secret room. So you had one copy of everything coming in and going to NSA’s secret room. And in the secret room was equipment by a private company called Narus, the very small company hardly anybody has ever heard of that created the hardware and the software to analyze these cables and then pick out the targets NSA is looking for and then forward the targeted communications onto NSA headquarters.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have these companies, AT&T and Verizon, that are secretly working with the NSA and tapping Americans’ phone lines, and these companies actually outsource the actual tapping to some little-known foreign companies?
JAMES BAMFORD: Yeah. There’s two major — or not major, they’re small companies, but they service the two major telecom companies. This company, Narus, which was founded in Israel and has large Israel connections, does the — basically the tapping of the communications on AT&T. And Verizon chose another company, ironically also founded in Israel and largely controlled by and developed by people in Israel called Verint.
So these two companies specialize in what’s known as mass surveillance. Their literature — I read this literature from Verint, for example — is supposed to only go to intelligence agencies and so forth, and it says, “We specialize in mass surveillance,” and that’s what they do. They put these mass surveillance equipment in these facilities. So you have AT&T, for example, that, you know, considers it’s their job to get messages from one person to another, not tapping into messages, and you get the NSA that says, we want, you know, copies of all this. So that’s where these companies come in. These companies act as the intermediary basically between the telecom companies and the NSA.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Jim Bamford, take this a step further, because you say the founder and former CEO of one of these companies is now a fugitive from the United States somewhere in Africa?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, you know, this is a company that the US government is getting all its tapped information from. It’s a company that Verizon uses as its tapping company, its eavesdropping company. And very little is known about these companies. Congress has never looked into any of this. I don’t know — I don’t think they even know that there is — that these companies exist. But the company that Verizon uses, Verint, the founder of the company, the former head of the company, is now a fugitive in — hiding out in Africa in the country of Namibia, because he’s wanted on a number of felony warrants for fraud and other charges. And then, two other top executives of the company, the general counsel and another top official of the parent company, have also pled guilty to these charges.
So, you know, you’ve got companies — these companies have foreign connections with potential ties to foreign intelligence agencies, and you have problems of credibility, problems of honesty and all that. And these companies — through these two companies pass probably 80 percent or more of all US communications at one point or another. And it’s even — gets even worse in the fact that these companies also supply their equipment all around the world to other countries, to countries that don’t have a lot of respect for individual rights —- Vietnam, China, Libya, other countries like that. And so, these countries use this equipment to filter out dissident communications and people trying to protest the government. It gives them the ability to eavesdrop on communications and monitor dissident email communications. And as a result of that, people are put in jail, and so forth. So -—
AMY GOODMAN: And despite all of this —-
JAMES BAMFORD: —- this is a whole area — I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Despite all of this, these telecom companies still have access to the most private communications of people all over America and actually, it ends up, around the world. And at the beginning of the summer, the Democrats and Republicans joined together in granting retroactive immunity to these companies for spying on American citizens.
JAMES BAMFORD: Yes. It looked like they were going to have a fight earlier in February, when the temporary law ran out and came time to either pass a new law or keep the old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act the way it used to be, with all the protections. And they did resist for a number of months. They resisted from February until August. But in August, the Congress, seeing the election is coming, most of them caved in and decided to just join in the administration’s bill. And as a result, you have this fairly open-ended bill that came out that gives a lot of permissions to the NSA to do a lot of this eavesdropping without much accountability. I mean, it basically neutered the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, took a lot of powers away from them, and put the powers back at NSA. So the ultimate problem is when you have NSA as both —- as judge, jury and executioner on the eavesdropping.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Bamford, we only have a few minutes, and I want to get to—-
JAMES BAMFORD: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: — Bridgetown, Missouri, the AT&T hub there. What is the NSA’s role in spying there?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, Bridgetown, New Jersey — I’m sorry, Bridgetown, Missouri is one of the centers for AT&T, because it’s the — it’s sort of central in the country, and they could control much of the network of AT&T from there. And it was there that AT&T actually developed a system by which they could get into fiber-optic communications. And just like they built this secret — the NSA built this secret room in San Francisco, and Mark Klein said that he had heard that they had built these secret rooms in other places around the country, there was also a secret room built in Bridgetown. And the worrisome part of that is Bridgeton controls the whole network.
So you have the problem of these secret rooms not just being in San Francisco, they’re throughout the network, and they’re in other parts of the country. And the American public really has no idea what’s going on, in terms of who has access to their communications, what’s being done with it. And is there somebody sitting there — as David Murfee Faulk talked about, in the NSA listening post in Georgia, are there people just sitting there listening to people’s private conversations and laughing about them?
AMY GOODMAN: And the building in —-
JAMES BAMFORD: One final thing -—
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, go ahead, Jim.
JAMES BAMFORD: Yeah, I was just going to mention that it isn’t just the picking up of these conversations and listening to them and laughing about them. These conversations are transcribed. They’re — and then they’re recorded, and they’re kept forever. There’s a big building in Texas that’s being built in San Antonio that’s going to be used to house a lot of these conversations. NSA is running out of space at Fort Meade, their headquarters, so they had to expand, and they’re building this very big building. It’s reportedly going to be about the size of the Alamodome down there, to store all these — this huge amount of data communications. And when you think how much information two gigabytes could be put on a small thumb drive, you can imagine how much of information could be stored in a data warehouse the size of — almost the size of the Alamodome.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute, less than a minute, but —-
JAMES BAMFORD: Oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: —- the building in Miami where all communications from Latin America are stored and then a single switch for communications, much of Africa’s communications? And finally, where they can’t get cooperation of companies, a specially built submarine designed to sit on the bottom of the ocean floor to tap foreign cables?
JAMES BAMFORD: A lot of communications are consolidated. A lot of the international communications in South America all pass through one obscure building in Miami. And according to the landing rights that the company had to sign, which I read, they basically have to turn over everything that they get to the NSA if the NSA asks for it. So, you have a problem here today. I mean, the overall big problem is that there is a tremendous amount of eavesdropping going on. It’s all being stored, it’s all being analyzed, either electronically or by a human. And the public really doesn’t have much of — knowledge of all this that’s going on right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Bamford, I want to thank you very much for being with us, investigative journalist, author of three books, his latest on the National Security Agency out today, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.