The NSA story they forget to tell you about

From our overstocked archives, 1993-2003


TOM CARVER, BBC – The NSA was created after World War II to stop another surprise attack like Pearl Harbor by providing early warning. But in the hour when the need was greatest, it failed the country. And it failed not because it did not have enough information, but because it had too much. According to author James Bamford, who has studied the NSA for years, each one of their dozen largest listening posts around the world picks up more than two million communications an hour – cell phones, diplomatic trffic, emails, faxes. That works out at 500 million hours every day.

Observer, UK – The United Nations has begun a top-level investigation into the bugging of its delegations by the United States, first revealed in the Observer last week. Sources in the office of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan confirmed last night that the spying operation had already been discussed at the UN’s counter-terrorism committee and will be further investigated. The news comes as British police confirmed the arrest of a 28-year-old woman working at the top secret Government Communications Headquarters on suspicion of contravening the Official Secrets Act.

. . . The revelations of the spying operation have caused deep embarrassment to the Bush administration at a key point in the sensitive diplomatic negotiations to gain support for a second UN resolution authorizing intervention in Iraq. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were both challenged about the operation last week, but said they could not comment on security matters.

The operation is thought to have been authorized by US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, but American intelligence experts told the Observer that a decision of this kind would also have involved Donald Rumsfeld, CIA director George Tenet and NSA chief General Michael Hayden. President Bush himself would have been informed at one of the daily intelligence briefings held every morning at the White House.


ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFO CENTER: Recently released National Security Agency documents obtained by EPIC indicate that the agency drafted policies for handling communications intercepted from or about former President Jimmy Carter, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and candidates who ran for national office in 1996. The memos, which contain guidance for the writing of reports regarding intercepted communications, make clear the necessity of keeping the identities of the individuals confidential. Currently, the NSA is prohibited by law from conducting surveillance on American citizens.

NICK FIELDING AND DUNCAN CAMPBELL, SUNDAY TIMES, LONDON: Spy agencies in Britain and America eavesdropped on Diana, Princess of Wales and Mark Thatcher, son of the former prime minister, as part of a global system of monitoring communications, according to former intelligence officials . . . The officials also revealed that charities such as Amnesty International, Christian Aid and Greenpeace were secretly spied on. Overseas targets have even included the Vatican: messages sent by the Pope and the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta have been intercepted, read and passed on to Whitehall intelligence officers, the sources say.

Code named Echelon, the monitoring system is part of a worldwide network of listening stations capable of processing millions of messages an hour. At least 10 Echelon stations operate around the world. Canada, Australia and New Zealand participate, as well as Britain and the United States. Former intelligence officials have spoken out after a decision by the European parliament to launch an inquiry into Echelon’s operations. Officially, the British and American governments continue to deny the network’s existence. Wayne Madsen, who worked for 20 years at America’s National Security Agency and other agencies, said last week: “Anybody who is politically active will eventually end up on the NSA’s radar screen” . . .
“I just think of Echelon as a great vacuum cleaner in the sky which sucks everything up,” said Mike Frost, a former Canadian intelligence officer. “We just get to look at the goodies.” Frost, who retired in 1992 after 20 years’ service, has also revealed that Canada’s equivalent of GCHQ was used by Margaret Thatcher to monitor two cabinet colleagues. “She wanted to find out not what they were saying,” Frost said, “but what they were thinking” . . .


Agence France Presse A French intelligence report today accused US secret agents of working with computer giant Microsoft to develop software allowing Washington to spy on communications around the world. The report, drawn up by the Strategic Affairs Delegation, the intelligence arm of the French Defence Ministry, was quoted in today’s edition of the news-letter Le Monde du Renseignement (Intelligence World). . . Written by a senior officer at the DAS, the report claims agents from the National Security Agency helped install secret programmes on Microsoft software, currently in use in 90 percent of computers. . . According to the report, ‘it would seem that the creation of Microsoft was largely supported, not least financially, by the NSA, and that IBM was made to accept the MS-DOS operating system by the same administration.’The report claimed the Pentagon was Microsoft’s biggest client in the world.

Progressives Review
– The Electronic Privacy Information Center has asked a federal court on December 3 to order the release of internal National Security Agency documents discussing the legality of the agency’s intelligence activities. NSA refused to provide the documents to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this year, resulting in an unusual public reprimand of the secretive spy agency. The surveillance activities of the NSA have recently come under increased scrutiny, with published reports indicating that the agency is coordinating a massive global interception initiative known as ECHELON. The current issue of the New Yorker magazine reports that it took NSA only 11 months to fill three years’ worth of planned storage capacity for intercepted Internet traffic.

Progressive Review – The National Security Agency is now drafting a “memoranda of understanding” to clarify ways in which it can help the FBI track terrorists and criminals in the United States, Newsweek is reporting. The FBI welcomes the help from the NSA, but some senators are reported uneasy about letting the NSA eavesdrop more in the United States. The NSA and CIA are supposed to spy on foreign threats while the FBI tends to crime at home. Both the former agencies have repeatedly violated the strictures.

Progressive Review -Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger of the Austrian Institute for Legal Policy reports that during a symposium at the Harvard Law School, representatives of the National Defense University and Science Application International Corporation said that a number of Internet anonymous remailers in the US are run by government agencies scanning traffic. SAIC’s William Marlowe said that the government runs at least a dozen remailers and that the most popular remailers in France and Germany are also run by government agencies. They also said that the NSA has successfully developed systems to break encrypted messages below 1000 bit of key length and strongly suggested to use at least 1024 bit keys. They said that they themselves use 1024 bit keys.

Although still kept under wraps by American media, the massive NSA eavesdropping operation known as ECHELON is attracting attention in Australia and Canada. Now Reps. Porter Goss and Bob Barr have demanded access to National Security Agency files concerning the legality of the surveillance system. The requirement, attached to the NSA budget authorization, calls on the CIA and the Justice Department to prepare a report discussing the legal basis for the wiretapping. It won’t be easy going, though. Rep. Goss has already been rebuffed by NSA in a request for files of the agency’s general counsel. The excuse: “attorney-client privilege.”

Progressive Review – According to a report in Insight Magazine, the Clinton administration eavesdrops on over 300 locations during the Seattle Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference. FBI videotapes of diplomatic suites “show underage boys engaging in sexcapades with men in several rooms over a period of days.” The operation involves the FBI, CIA, NSA and Office of Naval Intelligence. Bugged are hotel rooms, telephones, conference centers, cars, and even a charter boat. Some of the information obtained is apparently passed on to individuals with financial interests in Asia.

Progressive Review – The London Telegraph reports that German security experts have found evidence that the NSA Echelon communications spy system is engaged in heavy industrial espionage in Europe. “Victims have included such German firms as the wind generator manufacturer Enercon. Last year it developed what it thought was a secret invention enabling it to generate electricity from wind power at a far cheaper rate than before. However, when the company tried to market its invention in the United States, it was confronted by its American rival, Kenetech, which announced that it had already patented a near-identical development. Kenetech then brought a court order against Enercon banning the sale of its equipment in the US. In a rare public disclosure, a NSA employee, who refused to be named, agreed to appear in silhouette on German television last August to reveal how he had stolen Enercon’s secrets.”

Progressive Review – An Australian TV program has shed new light on the Australian end of the Echelon communications spying operation in which virtually all phone, fax, and email messages in the world are monitored by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. The program — probably the single greatest invasion of privacy on earth — has been ignored or downplayed by American corporate media, although it has begun to attract some attention in Europe.

A former spy with Canada’s Communications Security Establishment told Sunday’s Ross Coulthart that his agency was asked to spy on two of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet — the request coming from then British Prime Minister Thatcher — and bug the mobile phone of Margaret Trudeau, the wife of the then Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.

Australia is routinely monitoring any fax, phone or data communications passing through satellites over the Indian and Pacific Ocean. The interception of these communications is controlled by a so-called “dictionary system” that scans all communications simultaneously with the use of powerful super-computers that have been programmed with key words, key numbers and even specific voice patterns. Some of the intercepted messages are sent to Australia’s intelligence but the bulk go automatically to America.

Coulthart also reported a number of examples where the NSA had used its intercepts to provide valuable commercial intelligence which it turned over to American companies so they could gain a trade advantage.


Progressive Review – According to the Computer Fraud and Security Bulletin, the National Security Agency is already spying on the Internet by “sniffing” data at key router and gateways hosts. NSA is also said to have made deals with Microsoft, Lotus and Netscape to prevent anonymous e-mail or encryption systems on the Net.

Progressive Review – The NSA is tapping phones at an extraordinary rate on the pretext that violating constitutional rights is okay as long as you do it from a foreign monitoring station.

Progressive Review  A story in the London Daily Telegraph confirms what TPR and a few other alternative news sources have been reporting for some time: that the National Security Agency routinely eavesdrops on telephone, e-mail and fax communications around the world. A recent report of the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament notes that “within Europe all email telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency transferring all target information from the European mainland by satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill in the North York moors in the UK.” The report continues:

“Unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON is designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organizations and businesses in virtually every country. The ECHELON system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and then siphoning out what is valuable using artificial intelligence aids like MEMEX to find key words.”

The Daily Telegraph notes that:

“The NSA, the world’s biggest and most powerful signals intelligence organization, received approval to set up a network of spy stations throughout Britain. Their role was to provide military, diplomatic and economic intelligence by intercepting communications from throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The NSA is one of the shadowiest of the US intelligence agencies.”

Progressive Review – All U.S. satellites have at least two extra printed circuit boards. One provides the military with the ability to take control of the satellite in the event of war or national emergency. The other routes all public and private communication signals to NSA computers for processing. After the crash of the much discussed Loral launch rocket in China, the Beijing government was, according to sources, able to acquire at least one of these circuit boards. Recent reports, including some by WorldNetDaily’s Charles Smith, indicate that NSA changed its codes in response to this unreported breach of security. But that did not necessarily protect the data from Chinese intercepts. . . . The codes used to relay information between satellites is not very complicated. The program to decipher this information is actually hardwired into the circuit boards obtained by China in the crash. . . China and Russia have signed a formal agreement to share such information. So, if China has it, Russia has it — or will very soon. — Joseph Farah, Western Journalism Center

Progressive Review – The Washington Post has finally told its readers about NSA’s massive electronic spying, but only after the agency itself admitting having 1,056 pages of classified information on the late Princess Diana. Until now, NSA’s practice of spying on global communications has been reported largely by alternative media such as the Progressive Review.

Using the sort of sophistry honed by the CIA in its denial of involvement in the drug trade, NSA denied that Diana was ever a “target.” Wrote the Post, “The NSA system sucks up millions of electronic signals from around the world every hour, but only ‘targeted’ communications are actually analyzed and deciphered after a vast array of supercomputers sort them out on the basis of programmed search terms, such as ‘Saddam Hussein.’

Last January, the European Parliament reported that all “e-mail, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency” by a system called Echelon. The operation is carried out in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, because American law doesn’t permit it on US soil. NSA claims it does not monitor American conversations.

Said the report: “Each of the five [countries] supply ‘dictionaries’ to the other four of keywords, phrases, people and places to ‘tag,’ and the tagged intercept is forwarded straight to the requesting country,” according to the report.”

News of the Diana file came out after a Freedom of Information request was made of the agency. While admitting it had the files, NSA denied the request because “because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”


Progressive Review – An important story behind the story of Whitewater is the increasing role of intelligence agencies. It appears that the FBI, CIA and NSA are all involved with institutional agendas that greatly muddy an already complex saga.
For example, some of the information concerning Chinese efforts to buy and exercise influence over American politics seems to have come from NSA intercepts of telephone calls carried out by listening posts such as those in England and New Zealand, which the agency uses to evade US wiretap laws.

The NSA apparently also has a large file on Vincent Foster for unexplained reasons.

The CIA, already at risk because of intense interest in its 1980s activities out of Mena AR, has taken an unprecedented interest in a collection of files at the SBA related to the Clinton’s China trade. So important are these files that when a congressional investigator with a top secret clearance came to check them out, he was told he couldn’t. A congressional source told the Washington Times that “the documents are so classified that we were not allowed to look at them. They were taken from Commerce to the SBA, and there has been no explanation to date on how or why that occurred.”

The FBI also has much at stake. Reports of inadequacies and improper procedures in its labs have sullied even the department’s most routine and respected work. There are also charges of improper alteration of witness testimony in the Vince Foster case, not to mention the matter of how 900 personal FBI files ended up at the White House. Most recently, there has been a report of FBI warnings to selected members of Congress and the National Security Council concerning Chinese efforts to buy political influence in the last campaign. This story was reported by Robert Woodward, a journalist with a history of serving as a media mule for leaks from intelligence agencies. One question about this story: why has the FBI decide to tell this now? Further, in the wake of the revelation, Clinton found himself being directly contradicted by the FBI — an unusual and ominnous development of the sort not seen since the notorious era of J. Edgar Hoover.

Each of these agencies has an interest in the outcome of the Whitewater affair that may frequently diverge from either their ostensible assignments or from the interests of other parties such as those in the White House or from that of the public. Within each agency — as now seems the case with the FBI — there may disputes over how matters have been or are being handled. Any or all of these agencies may be using the media to spin their version of the story no less intensively than Michael McCurry is for the Clintonistas. And each of these agencies has immense power to pressure or embarrass American politicians and to push history in the direction they desire.

Hence, all stories about Whitewater that touch on intelligence agencies should be read with such factors in mind. These are not pleasant or simple times.


Progressive Review – The government sees ATT’s new tap-proof phone as a threat. Webster Hubbell is assigned by Janet Reno to deal with the secure phone issue. Assistant Attorney General Colgate writes Hubbell: “The FBI, NSA and NSC want to purchase the first production run of these devices to prevent their proliferation. They are difficult to decipher and are a deterrent to wiretaps.” Webster Hubbell arranges to buy the entire production run of secure AT&T phones using a slush fund filled by drug war confiscations. Part of the plan is to refit the phones with a new chip called Clipper that has been developed by NSA. This chip allows the government to tap the phone using a special key. A supply of these refitted phones is given to the Drug Enforcement Agency. Now other government agencies can tap the DEA. The plan also mandates Clipper chips for all American telephones. According to the Colgate memo to Hubbell, “FBI, NSA and NSC want to push legislation which would require all government agencies and eventually everyone in the U.S. to use a new public- key based cryptography method.” The Clipper plan will eventually put on hold because of a large public outcry.


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