S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Quantico Circuit -- a Second Peek

The "Quantico circuit" is a second peek, given to us this week from whistle blower Baback Pasdar. It's a look at the government's warrantless wiretapping program - east coast base. We know that the NSA and the FBI have and use the capacity to scoop up all of our electronic phone, cell phone, e-mails or other communications. The OIG and DNI Mike McConnell admitted as much. From my earlier post, "DNI McConnell's Primer on Intelligence - Jan. 17, 2008, I quote:

Intelligence information cannot be made public because it might compromise the intelligence sources - where we got the information, and methods – how we came by the information. What information should be collected? There are billions of bits of potential communication intelligence data every day on phones and the Internet. It is a huge challenge to prioritize what is most important to our customers the decision makers.

Feds have a backdoor into wireless carrier from Wired Threat Level 3/6/08. To quote:

A U.S. government office in Quantico, Virginia, has direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier's systems, exposing customers' voice calls, data packets and physical movements to uncontrolled surveillance, according to a computer security consultant who says he worked for the carrier in late 2003.

"What I thought was alarming is how this carrier ended up essentially allowing a third party outside their organization to have unfettered access to their environment," Babak Pasdar, now CEO of New York-based Bat Blue told THREAT LEVEL. "I wanted to put some access controls around it; they vehemently denied it. And when I wanted to put some logging around it, they denied that."

Pasdar's Allegations were well summarized by Brian Beutler at The Media Consortium of 3/7/08. Buetler includes valuable document links to [1]-GAP "talking points to Congressional staff" and [2]-Pasdar's affidavit (pdf). To quote:

The good people at the whistleblower protection outfit Government Accountability Project have released some documents about Babak Pasdar’s FISA allegations. They can be accessed [1]-here and [2]-here.

[2] . . . significant information about any mobile phone subscribers, including –
  • listening in and recording all conversations en-mass;

  • collecting and recording mobile phone data use en-mass;

  • obtaining the data they accessed from their mobile phone (Internet access, e-mail, web);

  • trending their calling patterns and other call behavior;

  • identifying inbound and outbound callers;

  • tracking all in and outbound calls

  • tracing the user’s physical location

The U.S. House of Representatives is not yet done with this. Blogger "emptywheel" referred to a letter by Rep. Jon Dingle urging his colleagues to get more answers on this matter before finalizing actions of the new FISA law. The Outlook series delinates more of what Congress may be considering on the matter:

Three powerful House Commerce Committee Chairmen strongly urged their colleagues Thursday to defer acting on requests for retroactive immunity and to demand more information from the White House and the telecommunications companies in the wake of disclosures by another whistleblower that the government apparently has been granted an open gateway to customer information and calls by a major telecommunications company.

The first peek came from Mark Klein two years ago. The story, "Whistle blower outs NSA Spy Room" came from Wired on 4/7/06. To quote:

AT&T provided National Security Agency eavesdroppers with full access to its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the company.

Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician, submitted an affidavit in support of the EFF's lawsuit this week. That class action lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco last January, alleges that AT&T violated federal and state laws by surreptitiously allowing the government to monitor phone and internet communications of AT&T customers without warrants.

Earlier hints about the Quantico circuit -- Seymour M. Hersh wrote, "Listening In" for The New Yorker on 5/29/06. To quote:

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was clear that the intelligence community needed to get more aggressive and improve its performance. The Administration, deciding on a quick fix, returned to the tactic that got intelligence agencies in trouble thirty years ago: intercepting large numbers of electronic communications made by Americans. The N.S.A.’s carefully constructed rules were set aside.

Last December, the Times reported that the N.S.A. was listening in on calls between people in the United States and people in other countries, and a few weeks ago USA Today reported that the agency was collecting information on millions of private domestic calls. A security consultant working with a major telecommunications carrier told me that his client set up a top-secret high-speed circuit between its main computer complex and Quantico, Virginia, the site of a government-intelligence computer center. This link provided direct access to the carrier’s network core—the critical area of its system, where all its data are stored. “What the companies are doing is worse than turning over records,” the consultant said. “They’re providing total access to all the data.”

Good Roundups on this story --

Is there anything that can be done at this stage of the game? Let's recap where we are. Glenn Greenwald's most recent post is updated with this info:

. . . Time will tell, and shortly. Virtually everyone expects the House leadership's approach to be unveiled this upcoming week. We'll see whether this report is inaccurate, and if so, whether it's inaccurate in small details or if the gist is wrong. One fact that doesn't seem in dispute: Jay Rockefeller has been the principal impediment, refusing to concede any meaningful point. . .

UPDATE III: I want to underscore that some of the surveillance safeguards which TPM suggests the House may include in its draft bill are substantial and important. Those shouldn't be minimized. That includes many of the protections which made the RESTORE ACT such a superior bill to Rockefeller's Senate bill -- such as prohibitions on reversing targeting of U.S. citizens. So, there is that.

But it remains to be seen if the House bill really ends up including those protections and, far more importantly, if they really stand firm behind them (it's impossible to envision the White House or Rockefeller agreeing to them). Moreover, nobody with whom I've spoken -- including those most emphatically denying some part of the report here -- denies that the House is overwhelmingly likely ultimately to bestow amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms.

At best, then, it's possible (though highly unlikely, in my view) that the House will end up marginally improving some of the surveillance provisions in the Senate bill, but still give telecom amnesty and needlessly gut many of the key protections of FISA. And that's the best-case scenario. There are far worse ones.

Bookmark this for Monday action -- Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake says, "Let's hit the phones and faxes." Glenn Greenwald agrees, "At the very least, it can't hurt to contact them and share your views on what they're doing." From an earlier "FISA showdown" post, here is a list of free "800" numbers at the capitol, through which you can call Senate offices (courtesy of Firedoglake). I can verify that they work. . . . I reached 14 different Senator's staff members directly. To quote:

  • 1-800-828-0498
  • 1-800-459-1887
  • 1-800-614-2803
  • 1-866-340-9281
  • 1-866-338-1015
  • 1-877-851-6437

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

View my current slide show about the Bush years, "Millennium," at the bottom of this column.

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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The Future Was Yesterday said...

As I've said before, your blog is a chronicle of events, a log of history like no other I've ever seen. Today's post is no exception.

Sadly, until somehow, we can force those in power to listen to and believe these whistleblowers, and to us as well, all is in vain.

Carol Gee said...

Future, thanks much.
For whatever reason I obsess about this issue. It has been a hard learning curve. But I do remember being convinced of the breadth and depth of the spying from early on. Thus, I am never surprised by any new revelation.
Wouldn't the members of the House and Senate be surprised at the depth of the loss of their own civil liberties and privacy if they knew how they were being spied upon?
That might galvanize them into action, huh?