15-20 Trillion communications: the national security state
Posted by Charles II on April 20, 2012
It all depends on what you mean by “intercepted.” It all depends on what you mean by “you.”
William Binney, the NSA cryptomathematician who oversaw the design of the first (and constitutional) intercept program and more recently blew the whistle on the massive data storage facility in Bluffdale, estimates that the US government has recorded and stored 15-20 Trillion communications between US citizens.
In this Democracy Now interview, he describes how what began as a legitimate attempt to intercept foreign communications mutated into a system that monitors every phone call, e-mail, blog post, tweet, electronic business transaction, FAX, etc. that goes out within the US.
As James Bamford said, much of this is done by private telecommunications companies, which in turn subcontract to companies like Narus and Verint, which Bamford describes as “shady” and says they have ties to Israeli intelligence. They haven’t even designed an estimate of a chart for what the potential for abuse of this kind of unsupervised snooping could end up in, but the Murdoch phone hacking scandal gives one a sense of what it would look like on a very, very small scale. The former head of Verint is a fugitive from the FBI on a number of criminal charges.
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In a rare and candid admission to Forbes, Retired Brig. Gen. Hanan Gefen, a former commander of the highly secret Unit 8200, Israel’s NSA, noted his former organization’s influence on Comverse, which owns Verint, as well as other Israeli companies that dominate the U.S. eavesdropping and surveillance market. “Take NICE, Comverse and Check Point for example, three of the largest high-tech companies, which were all directly influenced by 8200 technology,” said Gefen. “Check Point was founded by Unit alumni. Comverse’s main product, the Logger, is based on the Unit’s technology.”
According to a former chief of Unit 8200, both the veterans of the group and much of the high-tech intelligence equipment they developed are now employed in high-tech firms around the world. “Cautious estimates indicate that in the past few years,” he told a reporter for the Israeli newspaper Ha’artez in 2000, “Unit 8200 veterans have set up some 30 to 40 high-tech companies, including 5 to 10 that were floated on Wall Street.”
In the interview, you can see how critical it is to have Democrats, even imperfect Democrats in the Congress. Congressman Hank Johnson asked General Keith Alexander of the NSA whether that agency “intercepted” communications between Americans. Alexander flatly denied it. Binney said that it wasn’t quite a lie. I guess it means on what the word “intercept” means, and what the word “you” means. Johnson could have been sharper in his questioning, but he exposed exactly how these people convince the American people that they aren’t being spied on with a thoroughness that the KGB or the Gestapo only dreamed about, while in fact their every word is monitored.
If Alexander were truthful, he would say that the NSA has the ability to order the telecomm companies and/or their subcontractors to provide the NSA with the complete content of any or almost any communication that occurred in the US following the mid-2000s, all without any proper judicial oversight. Binney won’t call what Alexander said “lying”, but almost any American citizen would… just another sign of how far from a government of the people, by the people, for the people we have strayed.
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