Monday, November 12, 2007

'Secret Rooms' and the Ongoing Surveillance of the American Public

"We know that information we have been able to acquire about foreign threats will help us detect and prevent attacks on our homeland. Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, has assured me that this bill gives him the most immediate tools he needs to defeat the intentions of our enemies. And so in signing this legislation today I am heartened to know that his critical work will be strengthened and we will be better armed to prevent attacks in the future."
--President George W. Bush, 08.05.2007.

--I have a source--we'll call them 'Z'--who has seen one of these secret communications rooms that we're now hearing about. Specifically, there's a story that has been making the rounds this last week over the assertions of Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician. Like my source, he's seen one of these rooms, and he even claims to have worked in one them, transferring literally every single call, internet transmission--everything that goes out on AT&T's station through a conduit in San Francisco. Klein's story and assertions are credible, according to my source, and these programs stretch-back into his experiences working at a switching station:

The central witness in a California lawsuit against AT&T says the government is vacuuming up billions of e-mails and phone calls as they pass through an AT&T switching station in San Francisco. Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, helped connect a device in 2003 that he says diverted and copied onto a government supercomputer every call, e-mail, and Internet site access on AT&T lines. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the class-action suit, claims there are as many as 20 such sites in the U.S. The White House has promised to veto any bill that does not grant immunity from suits such as this one. (AP, 11.12.2007)
The veto threat is an acknowledgment by the Bush administration that they have violated the Constitution of the United States of America (the source of all our law), as well as the FISA of 1978. Predictably, their allies in Congress want to make a retroactive immunity for the White House and all the companies like AT&T who allowed them free reign over such switching stations. But back to 'Z'...

The reality of all of this is that these programs have a genesis that goes back into the 1960s, back when it was 'Ma Bell,' instead of the new monopoly called AT& T. 'Z' worked in a switching station, and didn't have a security clearance, but the door to the secret room was frequently open. Imagine the irresponsibility behind this, and consider that this particular anecdote happened during 1986. Yes, these programs having been going-on for at least 21-years minimum, even predating widespread access to the internet.

'Z' also tells me that they were able to view sensitive NSA, FBI, and CIA teletypes as they were printing-out, and had ample time to copy and/or photograph the information. 'Z' did not, but it was immediately obvious that the room itself was not secure. Today's comments by Donald Kerr, the main deputy director of national intelligence should be viewed with not only suspicion, but contempt by all Americans who value their liberties. When the government--with a specific agenda--starts tracking the political opinions of private citizens, we're all in jeopardy. Even those expediting these violations of the Fourth amendment for their bosses in the White House are in danger.

Kerr's reasoning that it's OK to spy on Americans is that many young people post extremely personal information on the internet, therefore, surveillance of everyone is valid. Right, kids don't do stupid things, not ever. His examples are poor ones, and he consciously avoids the fact that these individuals willingly post the information about themselves, while the programs he's advocating are not voluntary in any respect. Kerr's attempts at arguing for these programs with an expansion of FISA spying powers is beyond wrong-headed--it's cowardly and un-American. It's just more circular reasoning meant to sway the public towards giving-up even more of their rights by scaring them, when the polls reflect a genuine concern over losing them. They're trying to mould opinion.

This is what the functionaries and the intelligentsia believe: what the public wants, needs, and thinks should be the country's direction doesn't matter, we do the thinking. The anti-democratic sentiment of this should be obvious. Congress majorally holds the same convictions. There's a gulf between what they say and what they do. Leading-the-charge is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and they had some interesting points to make in an article by their civil liberties director, Jennifer Granick back in late-October:

The New York Times revealed the existence of this warrantless surveillance program in December 2005. After this revelation, the Bush Administration admitted it was listening without warrants to known al-Qaida members who called, or were called by, people in the United States. However, the warrantless wiretapping went much further than that. A former AT&T engineer by the name of Mark Klein revealed that all internet traffic flowing through AT&T's backbone was regularly diverted to the NSA. (Wired, 10.22.2007)
This corresponds exactly with 'Z's' assertions that the same thing was occurring at the Midwestern switching station he worked at in 1986-88. These agencies don't even have to be in the rooms physically, and this was the case to some extent back in the late-1980s. The activities encompassed more than just the teletypes, and as previously mentioned in this piece, the room was not secure. Anyone could have walked into it at various times when it was unattended, which was frequent, not periodic. At one point, there was an actual breach found of the room. What happened after that is beyond 'Z's' knowledge.

My source states that anyone could have gotten on the janitorial staff of the switching station (or any low-level job in the building at some point) and obtained direct access to the secret room with just a very small amount of persistence and an average intelligence. It's a small wonder that the attacks of September 11th, 2001 were possible when such situations exist, and it should be obvious to all that the people working to gain these wider surveillance powers are the same kinds of people who allowed these aforementioned breaches to exist in the first place. 'Z' states that 'it wasn't a situation isolated to the switching station I worked in, which I was told of from [communications] technicians.' This is what the White House has to say about the recently passed 'Protect America Act':

Our Work Is Not Done — This Act Is A Temporary, Narrowly Focused Statute To Deal With The Most Immediate Needs Of The Intelligence Community To Protect The Country. [Ed.-original emphasis.] When Congress returns in September, the Intelligence Committees and leaders in both parties will need to complete work on the comprehensive reforms requested by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, including the important issues of providing meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001. (, 08.06.2007)
The wording is pretty Orwellian--give-up your rights so we can protect them. Use of the term 'meaningful liability protection' betrays a knowledge that the surveillance methods used secretly after 9/11 were illegal at the time of their commission--and collusion--by the government and the telecom giants. The truth is that it has been occurring for decades across both Democratic and Republican administrations and majorities in Congress. Only Qwest refused to grant access to their communications stations without a warrant. It should be noted here that many of the same politicians who are going to vote on whether to expand such powers in the future--or not--are receiving major contributions from a number of telecommunication corporations who are currently living in fear of losing against a mass of pending lawsuits.

In a contravention of American legal tradition whose original authorship can only have begun within the White House and the ranks of the GOP, many members of Congress want to give them retroactive immunity. Having friends helps. Only the American public can put-the-brakes to such idiocy, a stampede of desperation to save the privileges and power of a dying order. That's why the game we're seeing is being played-out at all. Only Congress, the mainstream media, the White House, and the Supreme Court seemed 'confused' over the constitutional issues, the public has historically known best on such matters.

Precisely sixteen Democratic members of the Senate voted for the PAA--it's time they started explaining themselves more fully. They are: Evan Bayh (Ind.), Ken Salazar (Col.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Mary Landrieu (Lo.), Amy Kolbuchar (Minn.), Dianne Feinstein (Ca.), Dan Inouye (Haw.), Tom Carper (Del.), Kent Conrad (ND), Robert P. Casey (Pa.), Jim Webb (Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), and Barbara Mikulski (Md.). Sens. John Kerry, John McCain, Barbara Boxer, the recovering Tim Johnson from South Dakota, and Dick Lugar (R-In.) all declined to vote, and to their eternal shame. Feel free to contact all of them and to continue reminding them you're watching, and will be voting accordingly in the next elections. Better yet, start raising-up some new candidates while you're at it. All of these incumbents have to go unless they're willing to change and to act as if they're actually Americans, rather than some Soviet sect. 'Z' expresses a warning in our conversations: 'This has been going-on for a long-time, people just don't know about it.'


'What's at Stake in the Surveillance Debate in Congress':

The Senate Roll Call vote on S.1927 (The Protect America Act), August 3rd, 2007: