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Massive dragnet sweeps up communications metadata, and financial records, while targets have all of their communications recorded

In a scenario that sounds like the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist, former NSA analyst and now-whistleblower Russell Tice unveiled a massive NSA spying and wiretap program, which he claims vacuumed up an astonishing amount of communications and financial data on journalists and innocent Americans.

The program, which he claims is a remnant of the defunded 2003 “Total Information Awareness” initiative, swept up metadata (call length, envelope information, and so on) on nearly all forms of communications in the United States, as well as full communications logs for targets selected through analysis and other methods.

Tice, who previously helped shed light on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping facilities at AT&T switching offices, said in a Wednesday interview with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that the NSA “had access to all Americans' communications -- faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications.”

“It didn't matter whether you were in Kansas, in the middle of the country, and you never made foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications.”

While working for the NSA, Tice says he was tasked with looking at U.S. news, reporting, and journalist organizations, specifically for the purpose of excluding them from NSA analysis. According to Tice, however, that order was just a cover story for something completely opposite. The news organizations he targeted were instead monitored by the NSA “24/7 and 365 days a year.”

“I started to investigate that. That's about the time when they came after me to fire me,” he said.

“This bait and switch idea, the ‘this is the discard pile, we’re not going to look at the media’ [where] it becomes apparent to you that the ‘discard’ pile is in fact the ‘save’ pile… how did that become apparent to you?” asked Olbermann.

“Well, as I was going for support for [a] particular organization, and it sort of was dropped to me that, you know, ‘this is done 24/7’,” replied Tice. “I would say, ‘I need collection at this time, at this point, for a window of time,’ and I would say, ‘will we have the capability at this particular point?’ in positioning assets.”

“I was ultimately told, ‘we don’t have to worry about that, because we’ve got it covered all the time.’ That’s when it clicked in my head that this was not being on a one-sy basis … this is something that’s happening all the time,” he said.

In a follow-up interview aired Thursday, Tice revealed that the communications data was then “married in” with financial records and credit card transactions.

“Throwing that information in too… your credit card records, where you spent your money … do you have any idea what this stuff was used for?” asked Olbermann.

“The obvious explanation would be, if you did have a potential terrorist, you'd want to know where they're spending money, whether they purchased an airline ticket, that sort of thing,” Tice replied.

Using criteria designed for catching terrorist-like activity – at one point, Tice speculated that if terrorists make short, 1- to 2- minute calls, then this might be a red flag applied to all such calls, such as “ordering pizza” – tens of thousands of innocent Americans were snagged into the system.

“This is garnered from algorithms that have been put together to try to just dream up scenarios that might be … associated with how a terrorist could operate,” said Tice on Thursday. “If someone just talked about the daily news and mentioned something about the Middle East, they could easily be brought to the forefront of having that little flag put by their name that says potential terrorist.”

Drawn up from anyone with a red flag, the combined communications and financial data could sit with a person for years, digitized and warehoused away. “Then all the sudden it marries up with something else 10 years from now, and they get put on a no-fly list [without having] a clue why,” explained Tice.

In most cases, spied-upon Americans didn’t do anything overtly suspicious to trigger surveillance.

Tice also elaborated on how the program was passed through Congressional oversight committees:

“The Agency would tailor some of their briefings to try to be deceptive for … someone who they really didn’t want to know exactly what was going on. There’d be a lot of bells and whistles in the briefing and, quite often, the meat of the briefing was deceptive.

“One of the things that could be done, was that you could take something that was part of the Department of Defense, make it part of the intelligence community, and put a caveat to that. [Then you could] make whatever the intelligence community is doing for support will ultimately be given a different caveat. When the defense committees on the hill come calling, you say ‘You can’t look at that because that’s an intelligence program,’ but when the intelligence program comes calling you say, ‘You can’t look at that because it’s a DoD program.’

“You’d basically have a little shell game that you’re playing back and forth.”

The NSA, when confronted with Tice’s allegations, replied it “considers the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens to be sacrosanct,” noting that it faces “immense challenges in protecting our nation,” but, “remains dedicated to performing its mission under the rule of law.”

Tice could not say whether the program was still in operation, as his access to all such information was shut off after being fired in 2005. Shortly after voicing his initial allegations, as well as serving as a source for the New York Times article that launched the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s warrantless wiretapping investigation, Tice was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in what The Raw Story called “an apparent attempt at intimidation.”

Ars Technica notes that while communications metadata is exempt from fourth-amendment protections, a variety of U.S. laws protect this data by requiring a court order before it can be recorded.

This is not the first time the NSA has used underhanded tactics to track reporters. In April 2008, the U.S. government subpoenaed James Risen, co-author of the original New York Times article and a follow-up book called “State of War,” for phone records in order to track down his sources.

It is unclear how Tice’s allegations relate to AT&T’s infamous secure room 641A, which whistleblower Mark Klein alleged was used by the NSA to mirror all web traffic flowing through AT&T’s San Francisco switching center. Klein, who also appeared on Olbermann’s show, said he was ordered to install splitters on AT&T’s backbone that copied everything that passed through.

Klein’s allegations kicked off a massive investigation, as well as a series of lawsuits, from privacy groups such as the EFF and American Civil Liberties Unions.  While the Bush Administration successfully granted telecommunications companies amnesty for their assistance – essentially shutting down many of these lawsuits – a number of lawsuits born of these original complaints are working their way through U.S. courts today.

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By chick0n on 1/25/2009 10:28:03 AM , Rating: 5
Its just funny that it seems to be ok for most americans to let our government to wiretap/monitor our information BUT if a government like China monitor their citizen's data, it turns into some sort of evil and they shall be punish under god's wrath or something.

So much for double standard.

yea yea, kiss my ass about freedom. I dont see any differences between the two.

By Octoberblue on 1/25/2009 1:25:12 PM , Rating: 1
If the information is used to drag you out of bed in the middle of the night, shoot you in the head, and dump your body in a trench for daring to criticize the state, then you might have a point. But if it's used to try and prevent someone from flying a large plane through your office window on a beautiful Tuesday morning then well, you might be all wet.

Like I said, nobody at NSA has ever seen, nor do they care, about your "information". Unless you're planning to bomb something the computers don't pick up on you at all. That's the truth, that's the reality, it always has been.

BTW, if you want to take freedom so lightly then maybe you should think about the fact that if you were Chinese, living in China, and posted this same type of message in criticism of their government, you probably would have already been arrested by now. Punk.

By chick0n on 1/25/09, Rating: 0
By Octoberblue on 1/25/09, Rating: -1
By William Gaatjes on 1/25/2009 6:14:56 PM , Rating: 3
It is wise to take a step back and watch news from other countries as well. This way you can compare the native news with foreign news. If you already did not do this, you would be surprised. I have to warn you, it can leave you dissapointed and you may loose your trust in your native news stations. But on the other hand you will feel more relieved too.

By Shining Arcanine on 1/26/2009 12:14:19 AM , Rating: 2
Just mention Planned Parenthood and all notion of rights, freedom and liberty go to the wayside.

By chick0n on 1/26/09, Rating: -1
By derwin on 1/26/2009 7:34:19 AM , Rating: 3
Our media is under control? Stop dropping acid. Our media is retarded, perhaps, but it is not under control.

Wanna talk about human rights ? Guantanamo bay anyone? sooooo much human rights. yea yea they're terrorist? my ass, like they're not human? suck it bitxh.

Terrorist your ass?
Do you really believe we just rounded up a bunch of civilians, put signs around their neck reading "terrorist" and dragged them half way across the world?
Yes - innocent untill proven guilty. Even them! They are awaiting trial. Many are currently in the middle if their trials. Sorry its not perfect, but it is what we got, and if you want to pay some extra money to the government to fix it, by all means, I don't think they would turn you down.

Jewish controlled media


Antisemetic much?

some REAL facts

I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Please present to me, with proper citation, some "real facts."

By TheSpaniard on 1/26/2009 8:36:16 AM , Rating: 3
the problem with quantanamo is they were not innocent until proven guilty...

torture and such BEFORE even given a trial... military tribunals are NOT due process.

but that is neither here nor there-I doubt the NSA really foiled any attempts at anything other than tax evasion with this program

By JS on 1/26/2009 8:45:28 AM , Rating: 5
Many of the detainees have quietly been released, since they in fact were innocent to the charge of being terrorists. I think several of them were more or less innocent civilians, fingered by rival tribesmen for cash rewards.

But they still were locked up and many of them treated horribly for several years, without access to lawyers or due process.

Guantanamo is a shame for a country that proclaims itself to be the beacon of freedom, democracy and justice in the world.

By mal1 on 1/27/2009 10:49:54 AM , Rating: 2
The media is most definitely controlled, but not by Jews (btw, most people in positions of power realize that religion is a great way to control and manipulate the masses and generally do not practice the doctrines they claim to subscribe to). The media and the majority of politicians are controlled by a few multinational corporations whose only agendas are profit and control. If you don't think the media (and yourself through the media) are being controlled then they've succeeded marvelously.

Who really controls the media? Take a look:

By derwin on 1/29/2009 1:20:04 PM , Rating: 2
Do you know who owns those companys? Share holders.

By Ammohunt on 1/26/2009 3:55:56 PM , Rating: 2
Since a huge portion of data trasmitted on the internet to including most email is not encrypted.. whats the differnce between the NSA capturing this info vs any 3rd part marketing firm? I just don't subscribe to the conspiracy in ever corner theory.

By wired00 on 1/28/2009 10:16:32 PM , Rating: 2
Its because thats what the US govt WANTS news sites and papers to report... they're happy when people are reading how bad china... or russia or korea or this or anyone else is... lets them carry on doing their thing.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner
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