NSA Spying News Articles

March 10, 2008, Wall Street Journal
NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data

Two former officials familiar with the data-sifting efforts said they work by starting with some sort of lead, like a phone number or Internet address. In partnership with the FBI, the systems then can track all domestic and foreign transactions of people associated with that item — and then the people who associated with them, and so on, casting a gradually wider net. An intelligence official described more of a rapid-response effect: If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city — for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans — the government's spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city. The information doesn't generally include the contents of conversations or emails. But it can give such transactional information as a cellphone's location, whom a person is calling, and what Web sites he or she is visiting. For an email, the data haul can include the identities of the sender and recipient and the subject line, but not the content of the message.

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NSA gets access to the flow of data from telecommunications switches through the FBI, according to current and former officials. It also has a partnership with FBI's Digital Collection system, providing access to Internet providers and other companies. The existence of a shadow hub to copy information about AT&T Corp. telecommunications in San Francisco is alleged in a lawsuit against AT&T filed by the civil-liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, based on documents provided by a former AT&T official. In that lawsuit, a former technology adviser to the Federal Communications Commission says in a sworn declaration that there could be 15 to 20 such operations around the country. Current and former intelligence officials confirmed a domestic network of hubs, but didn't know the number. "As a matter of policy and law, we can not discuss matters that are classified," said FBI spokesman John Miller.

August 31, 2007, Associated Press
Bush Seeks Legal Immunity for Telecoms

More than a dozen government officials interviewed for this story spoke on condition they not be identified because sensitive negotiations with Congress are ongoing.

One of the officials said the defendants in suits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union — Verizon and AT&T — would be the key beneficiaries of the proposed legislation.

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Conventional wisdom has long been that the bulk of the surveillance operations — groundbreaking because they lacked judicial oversight — involved primarily telephone calls. However, officials say the Bush administration's program frequently went after e-mail and other Internet traffic...

August 24, 2007, New York Times
Role of Telecom Firms in Wiretaps Is Confirmed

The Bush administration has confirmed for the first time that American telecommunications companies played a crucial role in the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program after asserting for more than a year that any role played by them was a "state secret.

August 22, 2007, El Paso Times
Transcript of Interview with Director of National Intelligence

Under the president's program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us, because if you're going to get access, you've got to have a partner and they were being sued.

August 6, 2007, New York Times
Bush Signs Law to Widen Reach for Wiretapping

... pressure from the telecommunications companies on the Bush administration has apparently played a major hidden role in the political battle over the surveillance issue over the past few months.

In January, the administration placed the N.S.A.'s warrantless wiretapping program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and subjected it for the first time to the scrutiny of the FISA court.

Democratic Congressional aides said Sunday that they believed that pressure from major telecommunications companies on the White House was a major factor in persuading the Bush administration to do that. Those companies were facing major lawsuits for having secretly cooperated with the warrantless wiretapping program, and now wanted greater legal protections before cooperating further.

May 15, 2007, PBS Frontline
Spying on the Homefront

Although the president told the nation that his NSA eavesdropping program was limited to known Al Qaeda agents or supporters abroad making calls into the U.S., comments of other administration officials and intelligence veterans indicate that the NSA cast its net far more widely. AT&T technician Mark Klein inadvertently discovered that the whole flow of Internet traffic in several AT&T operations centers was being regularly diverted to the NSA, a charge indirectly substantiated by John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who wrote the official legal memos legitimizing the president's warrantless wiretapping program. Yoo told FRONTLINE: "The government needs to have access to international communications so that it can try to find communications that are coming into the country where Al Qaeda's trying to send messages to cell members in the country. In order to do that, it does have to have access to communication networks.

June 21, 2006, Salon.com
Is the NSA spying on US Internet traffic?

In a pivotal network operations center in metropolitan St. Louis, AT&T has maintained a secret, highly secured room since 2002 where government work is being conducted, according to two former AT&T workers once employed at the center... The former workers say company supervisors told them that employees working inside the room were 'monitoring network traffic' and that the room was being used by 'a government agency.'

May 22, 2006, New Yorker
Listening In

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.'

May 17, 2006, Baltimore Sun
NSA killed system that sifted phone data legally

The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project—not because it failed to work—but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials.

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"The mass collection of relatively unsorted data, combined with system flaws that sources say erroneously flag people as suspect, has produced numerous false leads, draining analyst resources, according to two intelligence officials. FBI agents have complained in published reports in The New York Times that NSA leads have resulted in numerous dead ends.

May 11, 2006, USA Today
NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls

National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.

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"For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made—across town or across the country—to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

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"Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

"The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. 'They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them,' one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office.

Feb 14, United Press International
Whistleblower says NSA violations bigger

A former NSA employee said Tuesday there is another ongoing top-secret surveillance program that might have violated millions of Americans' Constitutional rights. Russell D. Tice told the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations he has concerns about a "special access" electronic surveillance program that he characterized as far more wide-ranging than the warrentless wiretapping recently exposed by the New York Times but he is forbidden from discussing the program with Congress.

Feb. 6, 2006, USA Today
Telecoms let NSA spy on calls
Leslie Cauley and John Diamond

The National Security Agency has secured the cooperation of large telecommunications companies, including AT&T, MCI and Sprint, in its efforts to eavesdrop without warrants on international calls by suspected terrorists, according to seven telecommunications executives.

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"Call-routing information provided by the phone companies can help intelligence officials eavesdrop on a conversation. It also helps them physically locate the parties, which is important if cellphones are being used."

Feb. 5, 2006, Washington Post
Surveillance Net Yields Few Suspects, Washington Post
Barton Gellman, Dafna Linzer and Carol D. Leonnig

Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States."

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"Participants, according to a national security lawyer who represents one of them privately, are growing "uncomfortable with the mountain of data they have now begun to accumulate.

Feb. 5, 2006, AP
Specter criticizes rationale for spying
Hope Yen

Sen. Arlen Specter said Sunday he believes that President Bush violated a 1978 law specifically calling for a secret court to consider and approve such monitoring. The Pennsylvania Republican branded [Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales' explanations to date as 'strained and unrealistic.'

January 2006
State of War: the Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (excerpt)
James Risen

NSA's technical prowess, coupled with its long-standing relationships with the nation's major telecommunications companies, has made it easy for the agency to eavesdrop on large numbers of people in the United States without their knowledge. Following President Bush's order, U.S. intelligence officials secretly arranged with top officials of major telecommunications companies to gain access to large telecommunications switches carrying the bulk of America's phone calls. The NSA also gained access to the vast majority of American e-mail traffic that flows through the U.S. telecommunications system.

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The new presidential order has given the NSA direct access to those U.S.-based telecommunications switches through "back doors." Under the authority of the presidential order, a small group of officials at NSA now monitors telecommunications activity through these domestic switches, searching for terrorism-related intelligence.

January 25, 2006, Roll Call Newspaper
NSA data mining is legal, necessary, Chertoff says
Morton Kondracke

While refusing to discuss how the highly classified program works, Chertoff made it pretty clear that it involves "data-mining" — collecting vast amounts of international communications data, running it through computers to spot key words and honing in on potential terrorists.

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"He said that getting an ordinary FISA warrant is "a voluminous, time-consuming process" and "if you're culling through literally thousands of phone numbers ... you could wind up with a huge problem managing the amount of paper you'd have to generate.

Jan. 21, 2006, Bloomberg News
Lawmaker queries Microsoft, other companies on NSA wiretapsJeff Bliss

In the past, the NSA has gotten permission from phone companies to gain access to so-called switches, high-powered computers into which phone traffic flows and is redirected, at 600 locations across the nation, said Daniel Berninger, a senior analyst at Tier 1 Research in Plymouth, Minn. From these corporate relationships, the NSA can get the content of calls and records on their date, time, length, origin and destination.

Jan. 20, 2006, National Journal
NSA spy program hinges on state-of-the-art technology
Shane Harris

One telecom executive told National Journal that NSA officials approached him shortly after the 9/11 attacks and insisted, to the point of questioning his company's patriotism, that executives hand over the company's 'call detail records.' Those documents, known as CDRs, trace the history of every call placed on a network, including a call's origin and destination, the time it started and ended, how long it lasted, and how it was routed through the network.

Jan. 17, 2005, NY Times
Spy Agency Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends
Lowell Bergman, Eric Lichtblau, Scott Shane and Don Van Natta, Jr.

In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.

But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans.

Jan. 3, 2006, Slate
Tinker, Tailor, Miner, Spy: Why the NSA's snooping is unprecedented in scale and scope
Shane Harris and Tim Naftali

A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a 'data-mining' operation, which might eventually cull 'millions' of individual calls and e-mails.

Dec. 29, 2005, Chicago Tribune
Phone giants mum on spying: In past, industry has cooperated with U.S.
Jon Van

Bob Dwyer, a spokesman for AT&T Inc., another phone giant, said, 'We don't comment on national security issues.'

Dec. 25, 2005, LA Times
U.S. Spying is Much Wider, Some Suspect
Joseph Menn and Josh Meyer

AT&T has a database code-named Daytona that keeps track of phone numbers on both ends of calls as well as the duration of all land-line calls.... After Sept. 11, intelligence agencies began to view it as a potential investigative tool, and the NSA has had a direct hookup into the database...."

Dec. 24, 2005, NY Times
Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report
James Risen and Eric Lichtblau

As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.

Dec. 16, 2005, NY Times
Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts
James Risen and Eric Lichtblau

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the [National Security Agency] intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible 'dirty numbers' linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said.

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