EAVESDROPPING BACK THEN….
During the Cold War, the Soviets stationed fishing trawlers in international waters on both American coasts. Some of the personnel on those trawlers may have actually caught a fish or two, but they were not fishermen; they were signal intelligence (SIGINT) specialists, also called voice intercept specialists. Those SIGINT personnel were listening to telephone calls generated on American soil, as well as those generated outside the United States, entering our country.
Of course, they were intercepting U.S. communications on behalf of their own government — the USSR. They focused on a selection of U.S. installations, naval ships, certain people in U.S. Government and contractor agencies, and even the home numbers of key government personnel.
The SIGINT operators had sophisticated signal intercept equipment aboard their ships, including special purpose computers. Those computers contained databases with U.S. telephone numbers, names, places, etc. In other words, a veritable plethora of keywords.
Thousands of pieces of sensitive American political information, military planning, economic issues, and classified information were compromised over the telephone by people who, while loyal Americans, could not keep their mouths shut about sensitive and classified information over unsecure phone systems.
…. AND EAVESDROPPING MORE RECENTLY
Years later, the National Security Agency http://www.nsa.gov began spying on Americans, using electronic surveillance (i.e., intercepting) phone calls made or received by Americans on U.S. soil. The methodology was (is) similar to what the Soviets used, except much more sophisticated. The NSA has had the best minds, money, and talent bring wiretapping technology to an all-time high level. These intercepts were perpetrated without a warrant, because President Bush and Mike Hayden, then director of NSA, determined that the end justified the means. The events of 9/11/2001 gave General Hayden and his boss license to listen, essentially from 2002 to 2005, when Hayden left the agency. Both acted in violation of Federal law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fisa .
WHY BOTHER ABOUT FEDERAL LAW?
Under the FISA, there are strict guidelines for voice intercept, the main requirement being that it must be done under a warrant issued by a Federal judge sitting on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court http://www.fjc.gov/history/home.nsf. Over the years, without adequate oversight, the situation became so intense that the court was reportedly rubber-stamping every request that came before it. [As I was editing this, Yahoo published an article, which you can view by clicking on oversight, or on surveillance, above.] At some point, however, Hayden no longer bothered submitting requests. Reportedly, he just pressured, cajoled, and twisted arms in American business into complicity.
Some big names were involved, either directly or indirectly, in this travesty: AT&T, Booz Allen, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SAIC all reportedly made a fortune on this illicit business of spying on Americans without a warrant.
WE PAID THEN, AND WE ARE STILL PAYING
Some of the folks who engaged in these activities — listening to American phone conversations concerning intimate personal matters, or business secrets not in any way related to terrorism — got fed up and left NSA early on. Most remained silent with outsiders. Some intelligence collection specialists, who had retired, talked a wee bit but sounded as if they were tripping over their cloak and dagger.
For example, I worked with a gentleman who had retired from the Naval Security Group. NAVSECGRU, as it is called, is a service arm of the NSA; it has classified missions not to be discussed here. This specialist insisted there was nothing wrong with what the agency had been doing. And besides, he asserted, “We only intercepted incoming calls from overseas, from known or strongly suspected terrorist sources.”
We the people paid a lot of money to both the Government and to contractors so they could violate Federal law under the guidance of President Bush. Since terrorism is not going away anytime soon, is it not reasonable to expect that we will continue to pay for these activities?
Had any overseas phone calls lately?