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NSA Whistleblowers Reveal Extent of Eavesdropping 222

Posted by timothy
from the revealing-the-obvious dept.
ma11achy was one of several readers to write about claims made by two former military intercept operators who worked for the NSA that "Despite pledges by President George W. Bush and American intelligence officials to the contrary, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home." Ars Technica has a brief report as well, and reader net_shaman adds a link to Glenn Greenwald's opinion piece on the eavesdropping at Salon.
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NSA Whistleblowers Reveal Extent of Eavesdropping

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  • Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gat0r30y (957941) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @05:57PM (#25321181) Homepage Journal
    Who could have possibly seen this coming? I mean the government rampantly abusing powers it took in a time of national tragedy? I for one am totally shocked. Shocked i say.
  • by philspear (1142299) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:07PM (#25321313)

    When working in the dynamic environment of an operations theater, it's difficult to make distinctions about what traffic should be monitored and when. That is not to say that US Persons [wikipedia.org] should continue to be collected on after their status is known, even under these circumstances.

    One wonders why Bush bothered to pledge that US citizens would never be spied on in the first place. It certainly sounds like something that's impossible to know until afterward. Did he intentionally lie to try to get us to forget about it, did he mean "intentionally," or did he just not realize how it worked?

  • I wouldn't call it terrible reporting. It says right on the first page of the ABC article who was being eavesdropped on, specifically American soldiers, reporters and diplomatic personnel in Baghdad's "Green Zone."

    However, I think more should be made of the fact that reporters were on the eavesdrop list. Journalists had to give up a lot of freedom of the press to be "embedded" in Iraq, the fact they were also eavesdropped on shows how tightly the government was trying to control the media message.

    It's no wonder there's been less critical, fact-based reporting (not just opinions) of the war in Iraq than Gulf War I.

  • by philspear (1142299) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:12PM (#25321363)

    FTFA:

    NSA awarded Adrienne Kinne a NSA Joint Service Achievement Medal in 2003 at the same time she says she was listening to hundreds of private conversations between Americans, including many from the International Red Cross and Doctors without Borders.

    "We knew they were working for these aid organizations," Kinne told ABC News. "They were identified in our systems as 'belongs to the International Red Cross' and all these other organizations. And yet, instead of blocking these phone numbers we continued to collect on them," she told ABC News.

    That wouldn't have helped. The NSA continued to listen in even after they realized it was the case. Common sense would dictate that while it might be impossible to never listen in on a US person's phone calls, you would not continually do it. Yet the NSA did.

  • by mpapet (761907) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:22PM (#25321489) Homepage

    I think most would agree that surveillance probably began under the conditions you describe.

    1. The crux of the problem is the relentless acquisition of power and influence that creeps into what could, in principal, be a good program. Maybe the power-mongering doesn't happen at first, but history has repeatedly shown stuff like this is turned against citizens. There is no reason to believe there would be an exception here.

    2. The Office of the President currently operates under the notion that their powers shall be unconstrained by any other branch of government, tradition and legal history be damned.

    Mix #1 and #2 together and publish it on Slashdot and the conspiracy minded come flying out to condemn it all.

    The rest of the political/legal world generally agree that the Cheney administration views executive powers as unlimited. Therefore, they would probably agree that it's likely the office of the President would willfully sodomize any survielance(sp?)law with signing statements and executive orders.

    Finally, I think it's the case that most Americans know there is "something wrong" with the way the Executive branch has been operating. Media coverage like this is a kind of indirect measurement.

  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:29PM (#25321577)

    Successful information handling is critical to the success of a military operation as much as anything else. But beyond classified information, there have not, to my knowledge, been any cases of embedded reporters being disallowed from reporting. This is the most realtime and extensive coverage the world has ever seen for a military operation, ever.

    Does the Pentagon want to shape the message? Absolutely. But this alleged monitoring with respect to reporters was passive. I.e., it did not result in reporters' stories being suppressed. (I know that some here would ask, "How to we know?" Because no reporter has claimed that to be the case.) You're assuming reporters were targeted. They weren't. They were a part of Green Zone communication monitoring along with everyone else.

  • by lupis42 (1048492) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:45PM (#25321717)
    This makes me angry. Not just 'vote for a third party' angry, not even just 'rant on a blog' angry, but shoot a congressman angry. I honestly want to shoot the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). I believe that his negligence in the matter of oversight is not merely appalling, but actively treasonous. Line him up in front of a firing squad treasonous. What's more, he's not alone. Even Senator Barack 'Change' Obama voted against the rule of law and for the FISA bill that extended immunity to the big companies that participated in, and allowed this.
    I think it's high time we did something. But by something, I don't mean voting for somebody else, that doesn't amount to much. I mean bringing officials, elected and appointed, up in front of tribunals, and making them explain why they have consistently voted to turn this country into a surveillance state to a degree comparable to Communist Russia, or the very same current China that these very same elected officials reprimanded Google and Yahoo for complying with. This is ridiculous. We don't have elected representation any more, we have elected oppression, and it's time we fought back. Really fought back, not just with votes but with riots, and criminal charges. We still, in theory, hang traitors in this country, so why the hell can't we hang the worst enemies our constitution has ever had? Our President, George W. Bush, has been making war on this country, on our constitution, and on our way of life for eight years. His appointed lackeys have been even worse. It's time it stopped.
  • by CannonballHead (842625) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:45PM (#25321723)

    As many have brought up, it is nearly impossible to say exactly what is going on minutely in a huge operation. So what should Bush have said? "We have no way of knowing whether or not we are spying on individuals."

    Isn't this sort of statement more or less a statement of non-condoning of an activity? The same as if Bill Gates or Steve Jobs said "We will not pirate software" but then some of their employees DO pirate software, and they don't know about it. So when we find out, are Gates or Jobs the ones in trouble for saying it? Because obviously, they should know about every single thing their employees are doing.

    Oh, wait, sorry, I shouldn't compare governments to people's organizations, because governments can be made perfect, as long as we give them more control...

    I'm conservative, Bush wasn't very conservative, and I disagree with a lot of what he has done, but it is interesting that it seems the upcoming election features an "agent of change" that is really no different or even worse with the whole deception thing than people easily think about the ENTIRE Bush administration... and yet Obama and possibly McCain both support larger and more controlling government than Bush did or at least said he did, so I don't understand. Many are so upset at Bush that they are doing a pendulum vote for someone that wants government to be involved in pretty much everything, including your commute to work and what car (or at least, what that car's technology can be) you drive. But of course, he won't spy on anyone. He won't HAVE to. [[[ -5 Troll for "Conservative Viewpoints" :) hehe ]]]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:50PM (#25321783)

    But those policies do not apply to Doctors without borders. Surveying them is unforgivable interference with humanitarian aid.

  • by baldass_newbie (136609) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:51PM (#25321801) Homepage Journal

    I honestly want to shoot the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

    So are you a Second Amendment proponent? Remember, they didn't put that in there about hunting. It was about killing politicians. If everybody's armed, nobody can oppress.

  • Re:Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:04PM (#25321937)

    The whole "war" thing is bullshit. Just who is the US at war with? "Terrorists" is an impossible thing to gauge. WWII it was German and Japan. Easy enough, those countries surrender and you win the war. This "war" was declared on an intangible thing. It just opened the door for abuses such as the article cover. You can rest assured the "war" will never be won as it means returning your liberties.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:07PM (#25321973)

    big.....
    huge......
    replies......
    by.......
    a.....
    NSA......
    agent.....
    defending.....
    his......
    job......

    Go look for another job, fella. I heard Putin will be hiring unethical spies like you... Better to get your resume ready because January, 20 is approaching....

  • by OneIfByLan (1341287) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:12PM (#25322035)

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the insight.

    "And surprise, surprise: individuals with the power to listen to things sometimes listen to things they're not supposed to, ... there really isn't any easy way to prevent it. ... But I guess sometimes immaturity and a cheap laugh at someone else's expense trumps common sense and the doing the right thing."

    My response and my honest question would be, what the hell ever happened to discipline and accountability? When I got an order, it was the Voice of God and woe be unto the man who dreamed of disobeying his CO.

    There isn't an easy way to prevent people screwing around? Is that a joke? All I ever got was a growl that said "Don't screw around!" and we didn't dare, not if we valued our sorry asses.

    You're literally arguing that there's no such thing as a chain of command any more, that the commanders have lost control of their men. In my day, admitting you couldn't keep your men under control was a wonderful way to lose your rank.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:15PM (#25322061)
    The organization must be free to act and not provide special aid to any one side in a conflict. Any interruption of that by any party by any means endangers their ability to aid populations controlled by the opposition.
  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:24PM (#25322169) Homepage Journal

    individuals with the power to listen to things sometimes listen to things they're not supposed to

    That's why they invented these things called "warrants". To prevent people from search or seizure without due process, which is after all, clearly spelled out in our Constitution, you force people who want the "power to listen to things" to tell a judge exactly what they're listening for, what crime they're trying to prevent, and what evidence they have that such a crime is being planned.

    I understand that this seems like a lot to expect of the courageous NRA, daveschroeder, who after all are just trying to protect innocent Americans from the billions of Americans who want to blow us up, but it is in the Constitution, though that doesn't seem to mean a motherfucking thing to you.

    I understand your fear, I just wish you'd talk to a professional about it instead of fucking with our civil liberties.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:29PM (#25322219) Homepage Journal

    You really think that the worst thing we have to worry about from the unfettered power to listen to our communications is a few agents screwing around?

    Do they just not teach history in school any more? Does nobody care about what it is that's made America a unique place? How easily frightened people will give up their liberty and privacy. It's really sad how so many of my fellow Americans will cower behind proto-fascism because they are scared.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:34PM (#25322263) Homepage Journal

    So, if we're in a foreign military operations theater, we should start our call with, "I'm an American citizen calling my girlfriend. Get the fuck off the line you pervert." ?

    You should also be doing that if you're a Quaker, a member of any anti-war group, a civil rights worker, a Democratic candidate for public office, a journalist, a member of the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, or the ACLU, and, of course, the Electronic Freedom Foundation.

    You have to understand that you're just a threat to the American Way of Life (TM) and be willing to give up your privacy (unless of course you have Something to Hide(TM)).

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:36PM (#25322291) Homepage Journal

    I call bullshit, unless you provide a damn good reason why clandestine electronic eavesdropping on DWB prevents them from doing their work.

    Are you serious? That's the new threshold for civil liberties? "Whether you can provide a damn good reason why eavesdropping prevents you from doing your work"??

    Has the whole country gone fucking nuts?

  • by dogmatixpsych (786818) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:39PM (#25322315) Homepage Journal
    Let's look at it this way. Think of this like scientific research. 15 years ago everyone believed that you were born with all the brain cells you'd ever have. Now we know that that is not true. Those earlier researchers were not lying, they were going on the best knowledge they had at the time. It just tuned out to not be true.

    It's not a lie if all the best intelligence from around the world said it was true. A lie means intentional deception. If Pres. Bush was lying then so were the leaders of Britain, France, the U.N., and many other countries. That also means that almost all of Congress were lying as well. It even means Pres. Clinton was lying back in the 90s. The question never was whether or not Hussein had WMDs, it was what should we do about it. That's where other countries (and some within the U.S.) and entities differed with Pres. Bush.

    Besides, just because WMDs were never found does not mean Iraq did not have any (I'm not saying they did, I'm just saying that having a lack of evidence does not mean you can categorically say there were no WMDs).
  • After the Election (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Danathar (267989) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @07:53PM (#25322487) Journal

    What WILL these people do once Obama is elected. I predict that all the reports of eavesdropping, etc will magically stop.

  • by cpghost (719344) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @08:27PM (#25322759) Homepage

    From day one the handling of US Persons in the context of foreign intelligence is hammered into your head. But I guess sometimes immaturity and a cheap laugh at someone else's expense trumps common sense and the doing the right thing.

    It's not the cheap laugh of some little monitoring guy (or gal) that's dangerous: let'em laugh at our expenses, if only as a little compensation for the incredibly boring work they've signed up to and are forced to do day in day out.

    The problem isn't the little guy in the system, it's the whole surveillance mind set, as dreamed up by increasingly authoritarian and corrupt governments. In most dictatorships, governments use to monitor the populace, and (and this is where it really gets nasty), they also routinely archive all kinds of misbehavior they gather, that they wouldn't have been looking for in the first place.

    E.g.: you talk with your buddy on the phone about how you managed to evade some kind of tax, or you are talking about your extra-marital affairs or whatever. All this is pretty harmless in itself, but it won't be any longer if this conversation gets monitored, recorded and archived. As long as you remain unpolitical, government wouldn't care, but suppose that, a few years down the road, you decide to politically oppose the government in some point. As soon as you gather enough followers, government officials WILL start to dig into the big archives of the surveillance apparatus for material that would shatter your credibility or to start a blackmail. Were you talking about tax-honesty? Good bye credibility. Are you still loving your wife? Good bye marriage, hello divorce.

    That's why spying on the whole population as a pro-active measure is evil.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @08:33PM (#25322783) Journal

    You're literally arguing that there's no such thing as a chain of command any more, that the commanders have lost control of their men. In my day, admitting you couldn't keep your men under control was a wonderful way to lose your rank.

    He's arguing no such thing.

    TFA: Faulk told Ross: "when one of my co-workers went to a supervisor and said: 'but sir, there are personal calls,' the supervisor said: 'my orders were to transcribe everything'."

    Him and other posters are using the "few bad apples" defense in the face of completely contrary information.

    Replace "spying" with "torturing" and we can reuse all the Abu Ghraib press releases.

  • by pugugly (152978) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @08:39PM (#25322811)

    Fundamentally the problem with your post(s), is that you are explaining that "It would never happen that way" in the face of two former NSA employees that are stating on the record that yeah, they were explicitly told to keep listening to Americans on phone calls completely outside purview that was explicitly promised by the administration.

    So, maybe you're honest, maybe your not, maybe you do this for a living and you and your boss were doing it right.

    But I am currently faced with believing two people I don't know who have only been vetted by ABC, or . . . believing an administration that has lied, threatened, and tried to be above the law on everything from weapons of mass destruction to failing to properly report a hunting accident.

    I don't care if you believe the administration is honest, competent, or the exact opposite, but the fact is that I can't come up with a verifiably true statement in the history of the Bush Administration.

    Only statements I have yet to see proven incorrect.

    If the dice keep rolling snake eyes, perhaps it's *not* random chance.

    Pug

  • by philspear (1142299) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @08:45PM (#25322855)

    I call bullshit, unless you provide a damn good reason why clandestine electronic eavesdropping on DWB prevents them from doing their work.

    I'll give you three

    1. Anyone paying attention knows that the US is not always the good guy overseas these days. Say for example they are trying to save some innocent civilians which the US is trying to kill, the NSA tapping their phone lines would compromise that.

    2. What they do is stressful work, if they can't relax with some phone sex because they know they're being listened in on, they might be too stressed to do their good work.

    3. Provide me with a damn good reason why the NSA needs to be eavesdropping on DWB or else fuck off, Nutria. ... I guess that last one wasn't really what you were asking for, in a literal sense anyway.

  • Re:Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by beav007 (746004) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @09:01PM (#25322975) Journal

    We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.

    - George Bernard Shaw

  • by internic (453511) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @11:32PM (#25323907)

    I agree with the core of your argument, that intelligence gathering in a theater of war is a totally different thing than on domestic soil. I have to disagree with a few other things, though.

    A spokesman for General Hayden said, "At NSA, the law was followed assiduously. The notion that General Hayden sanctioned or tolerated illegalities of any sort is ridiculous on its face." Those of you who laugh at this comment and think you know everything about the illegality of NSA surveillance would be well served to educate yourselves a bit.

    Some fairly educated gentlemen seem to think it was illegal [nybooks.com]. So do I, for what it's worth. In addition, I can say that I think it's wrong. Using the "extraordinary" threat of terrorism as a justification is absurd, when you rationally appraise the magnitude of that threat, and the administration did everything possible to avoid going about getting those powers the right way (they decided not to go to congress specifically because they didn't think they'd get approval). When even Ashcroft, the guy who helped push through the USA PATRIOT Act, says you've gone too far, it raises alarm bells.

    "'This story is to surveillance law what Abu Ghraib was to prison law,' Turley said."

    Indeed. And we don't condone or support that kind of activity, either.

    I'm not sure how much evidence there is for that statement. I guess, for one thing, it depends on what you mean by "that kind of activity". It also depends on who "we" is (the CIA, the military?) or what you consider condoning it. We do carry out extraordinary renditions to countries that practice various kinds of torture (I'm not sure how one can compare them to Abu Ghraib). Not to mention things like the incident in Afghanistan where, "[a] CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison just north of Kabul allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets" (after which he died of exposure).

    Now, realistically, we the public have little way to get an accurate idea of how bad things are. It's reasonable to presume we hear about some of the cases where they screw up and go further than was intended, but we probably don't hear about all of those, and we probably hear about very few of the rest, where they go just as far as intended. Rendition makes it even harder to determine what sorts of things we may, ultimately, be responsible for. So I won't claim to know that Abu Ghraib was run of the mill, but I think it's foolish to assume without evidence that it was so exceptional or "just a few bad apples".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:58AM (#25324373)

    So your reasons for not wanting monitoring is you might get caught evading taxes or cheating on your wife?

    Ok, that was an oversimplification but my point is it appears your saying that it's evil for someone to look at what you're hiding? Besides if we had a politician running for office that was lying about tax evasion wouldn't you want to know?? If he was cheating on his wife - as many have - do you really think they'd need phone records? The government/NSA/CIA/ETC simply do not have the time or the manpower to monitor and archive all the calls in the US - that's simply an astronomical amount of data.

  • by oreaq (817314) on Friday October 10, 2008 @04:31AM (#25325357)
    They were given the power to spy on innocent people's private telephone calls. They didn't put the necessary checks and balances in place to make sure theses powers don't get abused. They are either way to stupid for their jobs or they are criminals. Your cognitive dissonance is flabbergasting.
  • by timq (240600) on Friday October 10, 2008 @06:19AM (#25325823)

    You're forgetting something: just in a private enterprise, the administration by order and by example sets the rules and the climate that the various government agencies operate under. To accomplish their goals, the administration is given vast powers. In exchange for these powers, in a functioning republic they are to be held responsible for the deeds of their underlings, whether they can rightfully claim ignorance or not.

    The administration is responsible for good government, and after an eight-year presidency doubly so.

  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Friday October 10, 2008 @05:49PM (#25332977)

    You're completely wrong.

    A warrant is not required, and never has been required, for foreign intelligence collection. The same is true for Canada's Communications Security Establishment [cse-cst.gc.ca]. Sorry.

    What's different is that when traffic from protected parties are intercepted (in the US, that would be a US Person [wikipedia.org]), special action must be taken depending on the circumstances. But a warrant is NOT required for foreign SIGINT, even if some of the parties to the communication may sometimes be US (or Canadian) citizens.

    This is the way it's been since the dawn of modern foreign SIGINT six decades ago in both the US and Canada.

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