This has been a bad week for President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program. First, a government study reported that data-mining is actually a hindrance in the fight against terrorism. And now, two new whistleblowers have come forward with firsthand accounts of how innocent Americans' communications have been swept up in the NSA's dragnet.
According to ABC News and a new book by James Bamford, David Murfee Faulk and Adrienne Kinne witnessed and participated in the interception of hundreds of personal, intimate calls from American service members and aid workers. They say NSA employees have been routinely intercepting the calls of individuals with no involvement in terrorism.
Faulk, a linguist working as an "intercept operator" at the NSA complex in Fort Gordon, Georgia, says that NSA employees often shared personal communications from Americans living oversees just for the fun of it:
"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.
Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall's "smoke pit," but ended up feeling badly about his actions.
"I feel that it was something that the people should not have done. Including me," he said.
Adrienne Kinne, another linguist and intercept operator at the Fort Gordon facility, says communications from aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross were intentionally targeted, a practice that she says hampered legitimate intelligence gathering:
"By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it's almost like they're making the haystack bigger and it's harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody," she said. "You're actually hurting our ability to effectively protect our national security."
(A few months ago, Kinne appeared on the radio show Democracy Now! with similar accusations, including her reports that the communications of journalists working out of the Palestine Hotel in Iraq were being monitored by the government.)
The whistleblowers say this is not a matter of rogue operators getting carried away. They say their supervisors responded to questions about the legality of transcribing personal calls by ordering them to proceed:
Coworkers of mine were ordered to transcribe these calls... Personal calls. Well, they were ordered to transcribe everything that came through. And when one of my coworkers went to a supervisor and said "But sir, these are personal calls," the supervisor said my orders were to transcribe everything.
The Bush Administration has repeatedly justified its warrantless wiretapping program by insisting that it is strictly limiting itself to communications from known terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. And the administration says court oversight is unnecessary because government agencies can be trusted to respect Americans' privacy.
But whistleblowers keep cropping up, confirming what EFF and other civil libertarians have been saying all along: intelligence agencies cannot be relied upon to police themselves, and the privacy rights of innocent Americans are being violated. The mounting evidence confirms that the NSA spying program is operating far outside the bounds of the law, and abuses of power within the intelligence community are rampant. All the more reason to continue the fight against warrantless wiretapping.