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"All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not" -- former FBI agent

Are the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal agencies secretly working with telecommunication firms to record your every call for later use, if necessary?  That's the alarming possibility that's being raised by supposed leaks from government officials claiming that the investigation of last month's Boston bombing has refocused on phone calls the suspects placed to friends and family prior to the attack.

I. All Digital Communications Belong to Us

Concern intensified when on a segment of CNN's Out Front with Erin Burnett, former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente suggested that the FBI has access to every U.S. citizen's phone conversations past and present.  

The exchange went as follows:

Erin Burnett:
Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It's not a voice mail. It's just a conversation. There's no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

Tim Clemente:
No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

EB:
So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.


TC:
No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.


In other words, according to this former FBI agent and well respected expert, every single conversation made by an American via wired or wireless phone signals is being recorded, in most cases without a warrant.  

Further, some are extrapolating his phrasing "no digital communication is secure" -- to suggest that the government and its corporate partners are also intercepting all other forms of communication, such as instant messages, emails, and private forum posts.  If accurate, again this interception would be in most cases without warrant.

II. Veterans Charged, Harassed by FBI for Blowing the Whistle

The program in question may trace back to the Pentagon and Nation Security Agencies' "Total Information Awareness" program (TIA), which launched in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks.  Officially that project -- whose goal was ostensibly comprehensive warrantless surveillance 24/7 of every American -- was scrapped amid public outcry.  But critics say the sweeping, Orwellian, and likely unconstitutional surveillance program was slowly and iteratively installed under more innocent sounding names in years to come.

Total Information Awareness

U.S. National Security Agency official William (Bill) Binney in late 2001 resigned over the government spending "millions and millions of dollars" on TIA's predecessor "TrailBlazer".  He commented on the system, "It's better than anything that the KGB, the Stasi, or the Gestapo and SS ever had."

Mr. Binney was just one of several NSA officials to resign when they realized the scope of what the Bush administration's intelligence agencies were planning.  J. Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis also left in protest and joined the complaint.

A fellow Trailblazer protester, former NSA agent and U.S. Air Force and Navy Thomas Andrews Drake spent a half-decade between 2000 and 2004 working his way up the command chain filing protests and complaints against Trailblazer.  He would eventually leak allegedly non-classified information to reporters after his complaints internally fell on deaf ears.

FBI Agents
The FBI have been busy raiding the houses of whistleblowers over the last decade and charging them with ambiguous "crimes". [Image Source: Global Elite]

After decades of honorably serving their country Binney, Drake, and others found themselves under the microscope, having their homes raided by the FBI.  In 2010, the government threw virtually every ambiguous charge it could against Mr. Drake, including counts of obstructing justice, making a false state, and computer fraud for "exceeding authorized use" of a computer.  Most charges were eventually dropped, but Mr. Drake pled down, pleading guilty to the exceeding authorized use charge.

President Obama
President Obama has had no tolerance for "snitches" in the intelligence community.
[Image Source: AP]

President Obama's crackdown on whistleblowers has been called unprecedented.

III. Surveillance Continues at Room 641a and Other Secret Locations

Meanwhile, in a 2007-era whistleblower-report supporting a lawsuit filed against the federal government by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an expert witness suggested that the surveillance efforts were alive and well.  The witness in a court deposition wrote that the NSA had worked with AT&T, Inc. (T), the second largest wireless carrier in the country on a program to "vacuum up" phone traffic, internet traffic, emails, and more without warrant.

In that report, a retired 22-year AT&T technician, Mark Klein, recalls "that the NSA set up a system that vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the cooperation of AT&T" and that "contrary to the government's depiction of its surveillance program as aimed at overseas terrorists . . . much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic."


The alleged interception took place at a shadowy site dubbed "Room 641a" at an AT&T facility in San Francisco, Calif.  The room allegedly used splitters to duplicate and record every single communication for the region over fiber optic lines.  The facility was reportedly just one of multiple such facilities across the country.  Mr. Klein said he believed that virtually every major telecom/internet service provider was involved in the scheme and that virtually every form of digital communication was being recorded, based on his own first-hand experience.

IV. Many Americans Happy to Live in "1984 State" in Exchange for Safety 

Many naïvely hoped that under the President Barack Obama who campaigned under the slogan "Hope" that the domestic surveillance would be scaled back.  They pointed to a noisy "liberal" minority in Congress, which included Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) who had often warned that Americans would be "shocked" to know the extent of surveillance (members of Congress cannot share information on such programs, as that would be a crime).

But much like President Bush bucked members of a vocal minority in his party like Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), President Obama's policies seemed to reject these dissenting voices and embrace his party's majority view (that all human communications must be captured in the name of fighting terrorism).  While President Obama often spoke of the need to "preserve civil liberties', he aggressively pushed to continue and expand Bush-era programs.

Bush and Obama
President Obama and his predecessor President Bush agree on many things, including that the federal government should be granted unregulated spying on its citizens.
[Image Source: WhiteHouse.gov]

The majority in both parties has embraced the perspective that the need for security trumps civil liberties.

Rep. Paul famously exclaimed on a late night television program, "Democracy isn't all that healthy in this country because if you're in a third party... you don't get in the debates... And if you ever come to the conclusion -- heaven forbid -- that the two parties aren't all that different, then what is left really?"

In 2010 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates briefly banned the use of Blackberries over Blackberry Ltd.'s (TSE:BB) refusal to give government regulators access to its encryption codes to customer communications, President Obama condemned the move.  But just weeks later his cabinet demanded access to all digital communications "including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct 'peer to peer' messaging like Skype."

RIM eventually caved to the Arab nations' demands, installing similar surveillance systems as it allows in the U.S. and India.

In other words the consistent theme of the Obama administration's message to foreign governments has seemingly been: Do as I say, not as I DO.

Burning Constitution
4 out of 10 Americans would give up their Constitutional freedoms for safety from terrorism.  
[Source: Conservative Action Alerts]
 
But that may not hurt the administration as much politically as it would have in the past.  A poll [PDF] by CNN/TIME/ORC found out that approximately 4 out of 10 Americans would support giving up "some civil liberties" in the name of fighting an ambiguous "terrorism" threat.  That number is down just slightly since 9/11/2001, when 6 out of 10 Americans said they would gladly surrender their civil rights for safety.

While many might see merit in such arguments of safety and convenience, it's perhaps best to close with the words of Ben Franklin, who in his notes to the Pennsylvania Assembly famously wrote, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Source: CNN on YouTube



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RE: Priorities
By Argon18 on 5/6/2013 2:02:58 PM , Rating: 3
Agreed. Lots of dopes who think taking away your freedoms are the only way to achieve safety. Look at the gun control nuts, for example. They want to take away everyone's 2nd amendment rights in the name of "safety". One only needs to look at DC or LA or Chicago or Detroit to see how "safe" cities are when you prevent law abiding citizens from being able to protect themselves. Criminals thrive in "gun free zones".


RE: Priorities
By Garrettino on 5/6/2013 4:28:57 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Criminals thrive in "gun free zones"


That's not true. Britain is a gun free zone and it only had 638 murders in 2011 (3,095 when you adjust for the U.S. population difference) compared to 12,996 murders in the U.S.

In 2011 Britain only had 58 murders by firearms (equivalent to 290 U.S. murders), but the U.S. had 8,775 murders by firearms. 290 versus 8,775. Sorry, but you're wrong.

http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/335-1...


RE: Priorities
By Solandri on 5/6/2013 5:19:37 PM , Rating: 2
You're both right. Yes you're more likely to be killed by a gun (or any other weapon for that matter) in the U.S. But you're more than twice as likely to be assaulted, robbed, or raped in the UK.

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_ass_vic-crim...
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_rob_vic-crim...
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_rap_vic-crim...

Yes, being killed is much more serious than being attacked/raped or robbed. But the firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is about 3.6 per 100,000 per year. Over an 80 year lifetime that's a 0.3% chance of being killed by a firearm.

So it's a trade-off. A 0.3% higher lifetime chance of being murdered by a firearm, in exchange for your lifetime chance of being assaulted being reduced from 2.8% to 1.2%, chance of being robbed reduced from 1.2% to 0.6%, and (for women) your chance of being raped reduced from 0.9% to 0.4%.


RE: Priorities
By boeush on 5/7/2013 3:48:13 AM , Rating: 2
On the other hand, countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are positively drowning in guns. And bombs. And RPGs and mines and grenades and... One could hardly imagine any places more peaceful and free, in the whole wide world... But damn, if they aren't good customers, at least if you're peddling the right kind of product, know what I mean, wink-wink nudge-nudge :)


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