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Context of 'May 2008 or Shortly Before: Constitutional Lawyer Questions Legality of Main Core Database'

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Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North uses a sophisticated brand of software known as PROMIS to track potential security threats in the United States. Intelligence officials will later tell Wired magazine that North has a command center connected to a larger Justice Department facility utilizing the software. “According to both a contractor who helped design the center and information disclosed during the Iran-Contra hearings,” North maintains a “similar, but smaller, White House operations room… connected by computer link to the [Justice Department]‘s command center.” According to Wired, North uses computers in his operations center to track “dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States as part of a domestic emergency preparedness program.” North is assigned to work with FEMA on the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program from 1982 to 1984 (see 1982-1984). Wired will later report, “Using PROMIS, sources point out, North could have drawn up lists of anyone ever arrested for a political protest, for example, or anyone who had ever refused to pay their taxes.” Compared to PROMIS, Wired notes, “Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Sen. Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude.” [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

As a part of the plan to ensure Continuity of Government (COG) in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike or other emergency, the US government begins to maintain a database of people it considers unfriendly. A senior government official who has served with high-level security clearances in five administrations will say it is “a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources say that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core, and one says it was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Alleged Link to PROMIS - The database will be said to be linked to a system known as PROMIS, the Prosecutor’s Management Information System, over which the US government conducts a long-lasting series of disputes with the private company Inslaw. The exact connection between Main Core and PROMIS is uncertain, but one option is that code from PROMIS is used to create Main Core. PROMIS is most noted for its ability to combine data from different databases, and an intelligence expert briefed by high-level contacts in the Department of Homeland Security will say that Main Core “is less a mega-database than a way to search numerous other agency databases at the same time.”
Definition of National Emergency - It is unclear what kind of national emergency could trigger such detention. Executive orders issued over the next three decades define it as a “natural disaster, military attack, [or] technological or other emergency,” while Defense Department documents include eventualities like “riots, acts of violence, insurrections, unlawful obstructions or assemblages, [and] disorder prejudicial to public law and order.” According to one news report, even “national opposition to US military invasion abroad” could be a trigger.
How Does It Work? - A former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community will be told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations using “social network analysis” and artificial intelligence modeling tools. “The more data you have on a particular target, the better [the software] can predict what the target will do, where the target will go, who it will turn to for help,” he will say. “Main Core is the table of contents for all the illegal information that the US government has [compiled] on specific targets.”
Origin of Data - In 2008, sources will reportedly tell Radar magazine that a “host of publicly disclosed programs… now supply data to Main Core,” in particular the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs initiated after 9/11. [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency, Inslaw, Inc.

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

President Reagan announces the creation of the Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board (EMPB) “to improve mobilization capabilities and interagency cooperation within the federal government to respond to major peacetime or war-related emergencies.” The board will study emergency preparedness responsibilities and make policy suggestions to the president, the National Security Council (NSC), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to the White House, the new board consists of “representatives from 22 federal agencies at the deputy secretary or under secretary level, and is chaired by the assistant to the president for national security affairs.” A full-time secretariat, chaired by a senior official from FEMA, is to oversee the EMPB and the implementation of its recommendations. The board will consist of 11 separate working groups: industrial mobilization, military mobilization, food and agriculture, government operations, emergency communications, civil defense, social services, human resources, health, law enforcement and public safety, and economic stabilization and public finance. The EMPB will later be criticized for becoming overly powerful and militarizing the nation’s emergency management programs. National security affairs expert Diana Reynolds will later comment: “By forming the EMPB, Ronald Reagan made it possible for a small group of people, under the authority of the NSC, to wield enormous power. They, in turn, used this executive authority to change civil defense planning into a military/police version of civil security.” [White House, 12/29/1981; Reynolds, 1990]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board, Ronald Reagan, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop plans for implementing martial law in the event of a national emergency. The plans are developed under the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of disaster. As a member of the National Security Council (NSC), North is assigned to the Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board (EMPB), formed by President Reagan to coordinate civil defense planning among the NSC, FEMA, and White House (see December 29. 1981). According to the Miami Herald, the martial law plans would “suspend the Constitution in the event of a national crisis, such as nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent, or national opposition to a US military invasion abroad.” Sources will claim North is involved in a major domestic surveillance operation as part of the COG program (see 1980s and 1980s or Before). During investigations into the Iran-Contra affair, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) will be barred from asking North about his involvement with the plans and the secret program (see 1987). [Miami Herald, 7/5/1987; Reynolds, 1990; Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board, National Security Council, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Oliver North, Jack Brooks

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

Edwin Meese.Edwin Meese. [Source: GQ (.com)]Attorney General Edwin Meese receives a report, “Separation of Powers: Legislative-Executive Relations.” Meese had commissioned the report from the Justice Department’s Domestic Policy Committee, an internal “think tank” staffed with hardline conservative scholars and policy advisers.
Recommendations for Restoring, Expanding Executive Power - The Meese report approvingly notes that “the strong leadership of President Reagan seems clearly to have ended the congressional resurgence of the 1970s.” It lays out recommendations for restoring the power taken from the executive branch after Watergate and Vietnam, and adding new powers besides. It recommends that the White House refuse to enforce laws and statutes that “unconstitutionally encroach upon the executive branch,” and for Reagan to veto more legislation and to use “signing statements” to state the White House’s position on newly passed laws. It also assails the 1972 War Powers Resolution and other laws that limit presidential power.
Reinterpreting the Separation of Powers and the Concept of 'Checks and Balances' - Perhaps most importantly, the Meese report claims that for 200 years, courts and scholars alike have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Founders’ intentions in positing the “separation of powers” system (see 1787 and 1793). The belief that the Constitution mandates three separate, co-equal branches of government—executive, judicial, and legislative—who wield overlapping areas of authority and work to keep each of the other branches from usurping too much power—a concept taught in school as “checks and balances”—is wrong, the report asserts. Instead, each branch has separate and independent sets of powers, and none of the three branches may tread or encroach on the others’ area of responsibility and authority. “The only ‘sharing of power’ is the sharing of the sum of all national government power,” the report claims. “But that is not joint shared, it is explicitly divided among the three branches.” According to the report, the White House should exercise total and unchallenged control of the executive branch, which, as reporter and author Charlie Savage will later explain, “could be conceived of as a unitary being with the president as its brain.” The concept of “checks and balances” is nothing more than an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to encroach on the rightful power of the executive. This theory of presidential function will soon be dubbed the “unitary executive theory,” a title adapted from a passage by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. [Savage, 2007, pp. 47-48] Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general during the second term, will later write that though the unitary executive theory displays “perfect logic” and a “beautiful symmetry,” it is difficult to defend, because it “is not literally compelled by the words of the Constitution. Nor did the framers’ intent compel this view.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 50]

Entity Tags: Charles Fried, Reagan administration, Domestic Policy Committee, US Department of Justice, Ronald Reagan, Edwin Meese, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

During the hearings on the Iran-Contra affair, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) puts a question to National Security Council officer Colonel Oliver North about a secret plan he has developed to suspend the constitution and intern people in the event of an emergency (see 1982-1984). Referring to a recent article in the Miami Herald, he asks: “Colonel North, in your work at the NSC, were you not assigned at one time to work on plans for the continuity of government in the event of a major disaster.” However, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-H), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Iran-Contra, immediately cuts Brooks off, saying, “I believe that question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area, so may I request that you not touch upon that, sir.” Brooks pushes for an answer, saying: “I read in Miami papers and several others that there had been a plan by that same agency [FEMA]… that would suspend the American Constitution. I was deeply concerned about that and wondered if that was the area in which he [North] had worked.” Nevertheless, no answer is allowed to be given. [US Congress, 1987; Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Jack Brooks, Daniel Inouye

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Janet Reno announces that all 93 US Attorneys must resign promptly, allowing the Clinton administration to appoint its own prosecutors for the positions. All 93 US Attorneys are Republicans appointed during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and US Attorneys are routinely replaced after a change in administrations, particularly when the incoming president is of a different party than the outgoing president. Jay B. Stephens, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, suggests that the Clinton administration wants to derail his ongoing investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), a key Clinton ally thought to be involved in political corruption. While stopping short of directly accusing Reno or President Clinton of desiring to interfere in the case, he says, “This case has been conducted with integrity, and I trust the decisions in this case will not be made based on political considerations.” If Stephens or his successor indicts Rostenkowski, the congressman would have to relinquish his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, costing Clinton a key political ally in that powerful body. Reno denies any connection between the Rostenkowski investigation and the firings. Stephens is being treated like the rest of the US Attorneys, she says, and she would consider allowing some to stay on if they were critically involved in ongoing investigations. All 93 US Attorneys knew they would be asked to leave office if Clinton won the election, and 16 have already resigned. Reno says she wants the resignations “so that the US Attorneys presently in position will know where they stand and that we can begin to build a team.” Some Clinton administration officials call Stephens’s veiled allegations “absurd,” and say that it is surprising it has taken this long to ask for the US Attorney resignations. [New York Times, 3/24/1993; Providence Journal, 3/24/1993] The Rostenkowski investigation will be pursued by Stephens’s successor, Eric Holder, and Rostenkowski will be found guilty of mail fraud and sentenced to jail. [Washington Post, 4/10/1996]

Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Bush administration (41), Dan Rostenkowski, Reagan administration, Clinton administration, Jay B. Stephens, Janet Reno

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bruce Fein, an associate attorney general under the Reagan administration, accuses the Clinton administration of “politicizing” the Justice Department by asking for all 93 sitting US Attorneys to resign (see March 24, 1993). All 93 US Attorneys are Republican political appointees, and many expected to be asked to leave when President Clinton won the election in November 1992. But Fein accuses Clinton of “accommodat[ing] Democratic spoils” by asking the Reagan and Bush appointees to leave, and says the resignations will stop the investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and one of Clinton’s close allies in Congress. Fein accuses that the resignations are being carried out for “partisan political reasons,” though he cites no evidence to back this claim. “That genuflection to the Democratic Party undermines public confidence in the administration of justice, a consequence [Attorney General Janet] Reno was purported to deplore.… [M]aking allegiance to the Democratic Party the chief concern in selecting federal prosecutors creates, at a minimum, an appearance that justice will be skewed, not evenhanded.” Removing US Attorney Jay Stephens while his office is investigating Rostenkowski constitutes an “obvious political conflict of interest,” as, Fein says, a Democratic US Attorney can be expected to exonerate Rostenkowski. Moreover, Fein writes, “partisan Democrat” Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Congressional delegate from Washington, DC, will help select Stephens’s successor, and Norton, Fein says, “is thus likely to lobby for a US Attorney benignly disposed toward Rostenkowski.” [New York Times, 3/24/1993; San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/4/1993] The Rostenkowski investigation will be pursued by Stephens’s successor, Eric Holder, and Rostenkowski will be found guilty of mail fraud and sentenced to jail. [Washington Post, 4/10/1996]

Entity Tags: Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bruce Fein, Dan Rostenkowski, Jay B. Stephens, Janet Reno, Clinton administration, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Eric Holder

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

NSA servers used to collect and sift data.NSA servers used to collect and sift data. [Source: FrancesFarmersRevenge.com]The National Security Agency (see 1952) begins building a massive data-mining system, code-named “Trailblazer,” that is intended to sift through reams of digital communications intercepts and find nuggets of information relevant to national security. The program’s task is huge—to sort through the 2 million bits of data the NSA collects every hour—and one made even more complex by the relatively new types of wireless, Internet, cell phone, and instant messaging communications now becoming ever more commonplace. Trailblazer is strongly embraced by General Michael Hayden, who became the NSA’s director in March 1999. Hayden recognizes from the outset that the NSA is years behind the technological curve, and casts Trailblazer as the future of the agency’s intelligence gathering and sorting. In November 1999, Hayden makes Trailblazer the centerpiece of his “100 Days of Change,” his plan to transform the agency into a leaner, more efficient organization, fast-tracking the program to vault it ahead of other initiatives. “It was going to structure us to handle the digital revolution,” a former intelligence official will recall. But from the outset the program has problems: a meeting between NSA and other government officials in December 1999 is unpromising, and, according to one government oversight official, the program “kicked off with not a real great definition of what it was trying to achieve.” Program managers fail to define standard data formats to allow for the proper sorting of information. After six years, $1.2 billion in expenditures, and endless man-hours of work, the utterly failed program will be recognized as the “biggest boondoggle… in the intelligence community” (see January 2006). [Baltimore Sun, 1/29/2006]

Entity Tags: Trailblazer, National Security Agency, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Mike Frost.Mike Frost. [Source: NineMSN]One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 [CBS News, 2/27/2000] which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. [Washington Post, 12/22/1988] “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don’t think it can’t happen in Australia. Don’t think it can’t happen in Canada, because it does.” [NineMSN, 5/23/1999]
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” [CBS News, 2/27/2000]

Entity Tags: Greenpeace, Wayne Madsen, Glyn Ford, Echelon, Communications Security Establishment, Central Intelligence Agency, Amnesty International, Strom Thurmond, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Steve Kroft, Princess Diana, Mike Frost, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Newsham, National Security Agency, Robert “Bob” Barr, House Intelligence Committee, Porter J. Goss, Ilich Ramírez Sanchez

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The NSA completes a report for the incoming Bush administration entitled “Transition 2000” that tells how the NSA is planning to improve its intelligence gathering. More importantly, it tells incoming White House officials that in the process of improving its intelligence gathering, some US citizens will inevitably be targeted for surveillance, though, according to a former NSA official, analysts were supposed to “delete the name of the” citizen being surveilled. Such inadvertent surveillance of US citizens took place even during the Clinton administration, says that former official, but the citizens’ names were always deleted from the transcripts of the communications intercepts. The law expressly prohibits the NSA from spying on US citizens, US corporations, or even permanent US residents. (With the permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the NSA can spy on diplomats and foreigners inside US borders.) An NSA official will tell the Boston Globe in October 2001, “If, in the course of surveillance, NSA analysts learn that it involves a US citizen or company, they are dumping that information right then and there.” However, once President Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice will undergo a radical change (see Spring 2001). [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006] In the same transition report, agency officials say that the NSA must become a “powerful, permanent presence” on the commercial communications networks, a goal they admit will raise legal and privacy issues. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The NSA asks Qwest, a major US telecommunications firm and a cutting-edge provider of high-tech wireless and Internet connectivity, to reveal information about its customers and their phone calls. Qwest’s CEO, Joe Nacchio, refuses after meeting with NSA officials and deciding that the program is illegal without court orders (see February 27, 2001). The NSA refuses to seek court authorization for its wiretaps and electronic surveillance. The NSA will renew its request from Qwest after the 9/11 attacks, and will also ask the firm to help it track suspected terrorists. Other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, will comply with the NSA’s requests (see February 2001 and Beyond).
Fears of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor' - According to a former White House official, the NSA’s primary purpose before 9/11 is to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government agents trying to hack into the government’s computer information systems, particularly those within the Defense Department. Government officials fear a “digital Pearl Harbor” if hackers were ever to seize control of those systems or other key US infrastructures. The former official will say in 2007 that the NSA’s proposal to Qwest is, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon is the NSA’s enormous signals intelligence (SIGINT) network used by the agency and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain. Qwest is constructing a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic, and the NSA wants Qwest to keep records of its customers’ transactions for it. The NSA, another source will say, wants to analyze call, e-mail, and other transmissions’ traffic patters for signs of suspicious activity. The White House official will say that telecom firms such as Qwest “have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering” capability. They don’t have to target individual customers to “look for wacky behavior,” or “groups communicating with each other in strange patterns.” Such information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, and enable the NSA to collect the information it wants without violating laws prohibiting it and other intelligence agencies from directly gathering data on US citizens.
Ill Will from NSA - Nacchio’s refusal to go along with the NSA’s request garners it some ill will among the US intelligence community, the former White House official will say. Nacchio will contend that because of his refusal, the NSA denied Qwest a lucrative government contract. A former high-level intelligence official will add that other telecom companies had little problem agreeing to the NSA’s requests. Nacchio believes that the NSA’s request is illegal under the Telecommunications Act without court orders; the former White House official will acknowledge that it might violate the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. After 9/11, that law will be amended by the USA Patriot Act to give the government more room to monitor US citizens.
Qwest, Other Telecom Firms Cooperative with Other Agencies - Qwest is apparently less reluctant to share other information with the Pentagon. Qwest began sharing its technology and information as far back as 1997 (see 1997). In May 2001, Commerce Secretary Don Evans will tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that his department helped persuade Qwest to “share proprietory information with the Defense Department to evaluate the vulnerability of its network.” Qwest, which serves the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions of the country, covers the areas that house some of the military’s most important command-and-control facilities, including the US Strategic Command. In the 1990s, Qwest began actively pursuing contracts with the Defense Department to build more modern, private, secure networks for defense and intelligence agencies. [National Journal, 11/2/2007]
Meetings with Bush Officials - In court documents filed in 2006 to challenge his prosecution for insider trading and, in heavily redacted form, released to the public in 2007, Nacchio will indicate that telecom executives met frequently with Bush administration officials before 9/11, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Many telecom firms are working closely with the government to develop highly classified operations, including joint networks to which the government will have unfettered access. The future director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, works with telecom firms to expand the cooperation between the telecom industry and the federal government. [Salon, 10/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Verizon Communications, AT&T, US Department of Commerce, Senate Appropriations Committee, US Strategic Command, BellSouth, Donald L. Evans, Echelon, Richard A. Clarke, Qwest, Mike McConnell, National Security Agency, Joe Nacchio, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The National Security Agency (NSA) engages in apparently illegal surveillance of US citizens beginning shortly after the inauguration of George W. Bush as president. This will not be revealed to the public until media reports in January 2006, a month after the press revealed that the NSA had engaged in similar illegal wiretaps and surveillance of American citizens after the 9/11 attacks, using those attacks as justification for the surveillance (see December 15, 2005). The former NSA and counterterrorism officials who reveal the pre-9/11 spying will claim that the wiretaps, e-mail monitoring, and Internet surveillance were all “inadvertent,” as NSA computers “unintentionally” intercepted US citizens’ international phone calls and e-mails when the computers flagged keywords. NSA protocol demands that such “inadvertent” surveillance end as soon as NSA analysts realize they are spying on those citizens, and the names of the monitored citizens are supposed to be deleted from the NSA databases. Instead, the NSA is instructed to continue monitoring some citizens that are characterized as “of interest” to White House officials. Those officials include President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, say the former NSA and counterterrorism officials. In December 2000, the NSA told the incoming Bush administration that some US citizens are being inadvertently targeted for surveillance, but the names of the citizens are deleted because the law expressly prohibits the NSA from spying on US citizens, US corporations, or even permanent US residents (see December 2000). However, once Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice undergoes a radical change. In the first few months of the administration, President Bush assigns Vice President Cheney to make himself more of a presence at the various US intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, NSA, and DIA. Cheney, along with other officials at the State and Defense Departments, begins making repeated requests to the NSA to reveal the identities of those Americans which had previously been deleted, so that administration officials can more fully understand the context and scope of the intelligence. Such requests are technically legal. But Cheney goes well beyond the law when he requests, as he frequently does, that the NSA continue monitoring specific Americans already caught up in the NSA’s wiretaps and electronic surveillance. A former White House counterterrorism official will later claim that Cheney advised Bush of what he was learning from the NSA. “What’s really disturbing is that some of those people the vice president was curious about were people who worked at the White House or the State Department,” says another former counterterrorism official. “There was a real feeling of paranoia that permeated from the vice president’s office and I don’t think it had anything to do with the threat of terrorism. I can’t say what was contained in those taps that piqued his interest. I just don’t know.” [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, National Security Agency, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In July 2001, NSA director Michael Hayden tells a reporter that the NSA does not monitor any US citizens without court warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). “We don’t do anything willy-nilly,” Hayden says. “We’re a foreign intelligence agency. We try to collect information that is of value to American decision-makers, to protect American values, America—and American lives. To suggest that we’re out there, on our own, renegade, pulling in random communications, is—is simply wrong. So everything we do is for a targeted foreign intelligence purpose. With regard to the—the question of industrial espionage, no. Period. Dot. We don’t do that.” When asked how Americans could verify that, Hayden says that they should simply trust the NSA to police and monitor itself, along with oversight from the White House and from Congress. However, it will later come to light that the NSA began illegally monitoring US citizens from the start of the Bush administration (see Spring 2001). A former NSA official will later dispute Hayden’s account. “What do you expect him to say?” the official says. “He’s got to deny it. I agree. We weren’t targeting specific people, which is what the President’s executive order does. However, we did keep tabs on some Americans we caught if there was an interest [by the White House.] That’s not legal. And I am very upset that I played a part in it.” [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006] Hayden also denies persistent allegations from European government officials that the agency has engaged in economic espionage to help American companies against European competitors (see April 4, 2001). In March 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Barry Steinhardt says that “since there is no real check on [the NSA], there is no way to know” if they are following the law. Steinhardt says that Congress is the only real check on possible NSA abuses, but it has consistently failed to exercise any sort of aggressive oversight on the agency. [CNN, 3/31/2001]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Barry Steinhardt, Michael Hayden, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

According to a former senior Justice Department official, a high-level former national security official working as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the White House accidentally walks into a restricted room, where he finds a computer system logged on to what he recognizes to be the Main Core database. Main Core contains a list of potential enemies of the state for use by the Continuity of Government program (see 1980s or Before). He will refuse to be interviewed about the matter, but will tell the senior Justice Department official about it. The Justice Department official will add that when she mentions the specific name of the top-secret system during a conversation, he turns “white as a sheet.” [Salon, 7/23/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

According to author Ronald Kessler’s November 2007 book The Terrorist Watch, the NSA’s domestic surveillance program begins around two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, when President Bush meets with NSA director Michael Hayden and other NSA officials in the Oval Office. According to chief of staff Andrew Card, in attendance, Bush asks, “What tools do we need to fight the war on terror?” Hayden suggests revamping NSA guidelines to allow the agency to wiretap domestic phone calls and intercept e-mails to and from terror suspects if one end of the communication is overseas. Kessler gives the following rather lurid example: “Thus, if [Osama] bin Laden were calling the US to order the detonation of a nuclear device, and the person he called began making overseas calls, NSA could listen in to those calls as well as to bin Laden’s original call.” Kessler is a chief correspondent for the extremist conservative Web site NewsMax; his assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [Kessler, 2007, pp. 130]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Andrew Card, Michael Hayden, Ronald Kessler, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

NSA Director Michael Hayden briefs the House Intelligence Committee on the NSA’s efforts to combat terrorism. Though the NSA is already working on a domestic wiretapping program to spy, without warrants, on US citizens (see Early 2002), Hayden does not mention the program to the committee members, but merely discusses the ramifications of President Reagan’s Executive Order 12333 (see December 4, 1981 and September 13, 2001) on NSA functions. He does not mention that Reagan’s executive order forbids warrantless surveillance of US citizens “unless the Attorney General has determined in each case that there is probable cause to believe that the technique is directed against a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.” On October 11, committee member Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden expressing her concerns about the warrantless nature of the NSA wiretaps (see October 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/4/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, House Intelligence Committee, Michael Hayden, Nancy Pelosi, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush issues a directive authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to operate a warrantless domestic surveillance program. Author/journalist Jane Mayer will report in 2011, “[O]n October 4, 2001, Bush authorized the policy, and it became operational by October 6th,” and, “[t]he new policy, which lawyers in the Justice Department justified by citing President Bush’s executive authority as commander in chief, contravened a century of constitutional case law.” Mayer will interview NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake for her article and quote him as saying that, following the October 4 directive, “strange things were happening. Equipment was being moved. People were coming to me and saying, ‘We’re now targeting our own country!’” Bush’s directive is based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel Deputy Attorney General John Yoo (see September 25, 2001). [New Yorker, 5/23/2011]
Conflicting Information regarding Date of First Authorization - The existence of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program will first be made public in December 2005, following reporting by the New York Times that will cite “[n]early a dozen current and former officials” (see December 15, 2005). The Times article will state that in 2002, “[m]onths after the Sept. 11 attacks,” Bush signed an executive order authorizing the NSA to monitor domestic phone calls, including those of US citizens and permanent residents, if one end of the call was outside the country. The Times article also mentions an NSA “‘special collection program’ [that] began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, as it looked for new tools to attack terrorism.” The difference between the October 4, 2001 directive and the 2002 executive order referred to by the Times is unclear. [New York Times, 12/16/2005]
Other Sources for October Directive - Other sources, including Bush, NSA Director General Michael Hayden, and the inspectors general of five separate agencies, will later refer to a presidential order having been given in “October,” or “weeks” after the 9/11 attacks, and say that, subsequent to this order, international calls of US persons are targeted for content-monitoring. Following the publication of the Times article, Bush will say in a December 17, 2005 radio address: “In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with US law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks” (see December 17, 2005). This presidential authorization was based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo (see October 18, 2001). [WhiteHouse(.gov), 12/17/2005] Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001,” which is when he “gathered key members of the NSA workforce… [and] introduced [the NSA’s] new operational authority to them.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general,” and that “the three most senior and experienced lawyers in NSA… supported the lawfulness of this program.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006] In a July 10, 2009 jointly-issued report, the inspectors general of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, CIA, NSA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence will refer to the “President’s Surveillance Program” (PSP) and “the program’s inception in October 2001.” The report will say: “One of the activities authorized as part of the PSP was the interception of the content of communications into and out of the United States where there was a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication was a member of al-Qaeda or related terrorist organizations.… The attorney general subsequently publicly acknowledged the fact that other intelligence activities were also authorized under the same presidential authorization, but the details of those activities remain classified.” [Inspectors General, 7/10/2009] Citing “a senior administration official,” the Washington Post will report on January 4, 2006: “The secret NSA program… was authorized in October 2001.… The president and senior aides have publicly discussed various aspects of the program, but neither the White House, the NSA, nor the office of the director of national intelligence would say what day the president authorized it.” [Washington Post, 1/4/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Thomas Drake, US Department of Defense, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, John C. Yoo, Jane Mayer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Nancy Pelosi.Nancy Pelosi. [Source: US Congress]House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) writes to NSA Director Michael Hayden questioning the nature and extent of the apparently illegal warrantless wiretapping of US citizens by the agency. Pelosi and other members of the House Intelligence Committee were briefed on October 1, 2001, by Hayden, whose agency began conducting surveillance against US citizens after the 9/11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). Pelosi will release the letter on January 6, 2006, three weeks after the New York Times revealed that the NSA had been conducting electronic surveillance of US citizens without warrants since at least 2002 (see December 15, 2005.) Pelosi’s office will also release Hayden’s response, but almost the entire letter from Hayden is redacted.
Letter to Hayden - Pelosi writes in part, “[Y]ou indicated [in the briefing] that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related statutes, orders, regulations, and guidelines.… For several reasons, including what I consider to be an overly broad interpretation of President Bush’s directive of October 5 on sharing with Congress ‘classified or sensitive law enforcement information’ it has not been possible to get answers to my questions. Without those answers, the concerns I have about what you said on the First can not be resolved, and I wanted to bring them to your attention directly. You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted ] being of foreign intelligence interest. As a result, you were forwarding the intercepts, and any information [redacted ] without first receiving a request for that identifying information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although I may be persuaded by the strength of your analysis [redacted ] I believe you have a much more difficult case to make [redacted ] Therefore, I am concerned whether, and to what extent, the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting. Until I understand better the legal analysis regarding the sufficiency of the authority which underlies your decision on the appropriate way to proceed on this matter, I will continue to be concerned.” The only portion of Hayden’s October 18 reply regarding Pelosi’s concerns that has not been redacted reads, “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” In January 2006, an NSA official will say that Pelosi’s concerns were adequately addressed in Hayden’s reply, and in a private briefing shortly thereafter. [Washington Post, 1/4/2006; Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006]
Pelosi Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). Pelosi is apparently unaware of any of this.

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

NSA Director Michael Hayden responds to an October 11 letter from Representative Nancy Pelosi (see October 11, 2001), expressing concerns about the NSA’s post-9/11 surveillance expansion (see After September 11, 2001) that Hayden outlined for the House Intelligence Committee on October 1 (see October 1, 2001), and asking whether the president authorized it. The substance of Hayden’s October 18 reply will be redacted, except for this statement: “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006] A January 4, 2006 report in the Washington Post will cite “intelligence official close to Hayden” as saying that “[Hayden’s] appearance on Oct. 1, 2001, before the House committee had been to discuss Executive Order 12333, and not the new NSA program,” and that “Pelosi’s concerns had been answered in writing and again several weeks later during a private briefing.” [Washington Post, 1/4/2006] In a January 23, 2006 public briefing, Hayden will say, “September 2001, I asked to update the Congress on what NSA had been doing, and I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities,” and, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Nature of Hayden's EO 12333 Surveillance Program - The full scope of Hayden’s surveillance program is unclear, but some sources indicate it includes the wholesale collection and data-mining of phone records provided by telecom companies and placement of pen registers (call trackers) on domestic phone numbers (see After September 11, 2001, October 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Late September, 2001, October 2001), and October 31, 2001). Some sources indicate the NSA began large-scale domestic surveillance activities prior to the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty issue a joint memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo claims that President Bush has sweeping extraconstitutional powers to order military strikes inside the US if he says the strikes are against suspected terrorist targets. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Gonzales asked if Bush could legally order the military to combat potential terrorist activity within the US. The memo is first revealed to exist seven years later (see April 2, 2008) after future OLC head Steven Bradbury acknowledges its existence to the American Civil Liberties Union; it will be released two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009). [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Granting Extraordinary, Extraconstitutional Authority to Order Military Actions inside US - Yoo and Delahunty’s memo goes far past the stationing of troops to keep watch at airports and around sensitive locations. Instead, the memo says that Bush can order the military to conduct “raids on terrorist cells” inside the US, and even to seize property. “The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” they write. In 2009, Reuters will write, “The US military could have kicked in doors to raid a suspected terrorist cell in the United States without a warrant” under the findings of the OLC memo. “We do not think that a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant,” Yoo and Delahunty write. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009] The memo reasons that since 9/11, US soil can be legally construed as being a battlefield, and Congress has no power to restrict the president’s authority to confront enemy tactics on a battlefield. [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
No Constitutional or Other Legal Protections - “[H]owever well suited the warrant and probable cause requirements may be as applied to criminal investigations or to other law enforcement activities, they are unsuited to the demands of wartime and the military necessity to successfully prosecute a war against an enemy. [Rather,] the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures would be invalid since whatever possible infringement on privacy would be trumped by the need to protect the nation from injury by deadly force. The president is “free from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment.” The Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from operating inside the US for law enforcement purposes, is also moot, the memo says, because the troops would be acting in a national security function, not as law enforcement. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009; Ars Technica, 3/2/2009] There are virtually no restrictions on the president’s ability to use the military because, Yoo and Delahunty write, the nation is in a “state of armed conflict.” The scale of violence, they argue, is unprecedented and “legal and constitutional rules” governing law enforcement, even Constitutional restrictions, no longer apply. The US military can be used for “targeting and destroying” hijacked airplanes, they write, or “attacking civilian targets, such as apartment buildings, offices, or ships where suspected terrorists were thought to be.” The memo says, “Military action might encompass making arrests, seizing documents or other property, searching persons or places or keeping them under surveillance, intercepting electronic or wireless communications, setting up roadblocks, interviewing witnesses, or searching for suspects.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009] Yoo writes that the Justice Department’s criminal division “concurs in our conclusion” that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The criminal division is headed by Michael Chertoff, who will become head of the Department of Homeland Security. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]
Sweeping Away Constitutional Rights - Civil litigator Glenn Greenwald will later note that the memo gives legal authorization for President Bush to deploy the US military within US borders, to turn it against foreign nationals and US citizens alike, and to render the Constitution’s limits on power irrelevant and non-functional. Greenwald will write, “It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on US soil and as applied to US citizens.”
Justifying Military Surveillance - Greenwald will note that the memo also justifies the administration’s program of military surveillance against US citizens: “[I]t wasn’t only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls ‘domestic military operations’ was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the US military, to turn inwards and begin spying—in secret and with no oversight—on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of US citizens on US soil” (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004). “If this isn’t the unadorned face of warped authoritarian extremism,” Greenwald will ask, “what is?” [Salon, 3/3/2009] If the president decides to use the military’s spy agency to collect “battlefield intelligence” on US soil, no law enacted by Congress can regulate how he goes about collecting that information, including requiring him to get judicial warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In 2007, Yoo will say in an interview: “I think there’s a law greater than FISA, which is the Constitution, and part of the Constitution is the president’s commander in chief power. Congress can’t take away the president’s powers in running war.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 131; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] Cheney and Addington will push the NSA to monitor all calls and e-mails, including those beginning and ending on US soil, but the NSA will balk. Domestic eavesdropping without warrants “could be done and should be done,” Cheney and Addington argue, but the NSA’s lawyers are fearful of the legal repercussions that might follow once their illegal eavesdropping is exposed, with or without the Justice Department’s authorization. The NSA and the White House eventually reach a compromise where the agency will monitor communications going in and out of the US, but will continue to seek warrants for purely domestic communications (see Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, and October 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
Military Use Considered - In 2009, a former Bush administration lawyer will tell a reporter that the memo “gave rise to the Justice Department discussing with the Defense Department whether the military could be used to arrest people and detain people inside the United States. That was considered but rejected on at least one occasion.” The lawyer will not give any indication of when this will happen, or to whom. Under the proposal, the suspects would be held by the military as “enemy combatants.” The proposal will be opposed by the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government lawyers and will ultimately be rejected; instead, the suspects will be arrested under criminal statutes. [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Defense, Robert J. Delahunty, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Michael Chertoff, Alberto R. Gonzales, National Security Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, Glenn Greenwald, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Concerned that NSA post-9/11 surveillance operations violated the US Constitution, a senior NSA official reports on the program to House Intelligence Committee staff (see Before October 31, 2001), then retires. William Binney, a crypto-mathematician, had served in the NSA for 36 years. In 1997 he was made technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, a 6000-employee unit that focused on signals intelligence (SIGINT) reporting and analysis. In the last part of his NSA career, Binney focused on dealing with the NSA’s problem of information overload, co-founding the Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (SARC) and leading a 20-member team to develop a data-mining and analysis program called ThinThread. This program made it possible to “correlate data from financial transactions, travel records, Web searches, GPS equipment, and any other ‘attributes’ that an analyst might find useful,” and “could chart relationships among people in real time.” Unlike the NSA’s existing centralized data processing systems, ThinThread was able to identify useful or useless data as it was collected, reducing the overload problem. However, though it targeted foreign communications, ThinThread also intercepted those of Americans, and “continued documenting signals when a trail crossed into the US.” Binney incorporated measures to protect privacy, but NSA lawyers still considered the program too invasive, according to a 2011 article by Jane Mayer based on interviews with Binney and another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. In 1999, NSA Director General Michael Hayden decided to fund a rival program, Trailblazer, which would be developed by defense contractors (see Late 1999). Trailblazer will be abandoned in 2006 as unworkable, after costing $1.2 billion (see January 2006). [New Yorker, 5/23/2011; Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012] In 2002, three NSA whistleblowers—Edward Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe, and Binney—will ask the Pentagon to investigate the NSA for wasting “millions and millions of dollars” on Trailblazer. [Nation, 3/26/2013]
Post-9/11 NSA Surveillance Expansion - Binney will tell Mayer that, after the 9/11 attacks, his people began coming to him, saying things like: “They’re getting billing records on US citizens! They’re putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country!” James Bamford will interview Binney in 2012 and write, “At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, [Binney] says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” Binney has not been personally “read in” to this domestic surveillance program, but some members of his SARC team have, as their knowledge of ThinThread code was needed to set it up. Binney became convinced elements of ThinThread were being used, but without privacy protections, meaning US persons could be targeted. Soon after learning these things, Binney takes his concerns to the House Intelligence Committee (see Before October 31, 2001), and retires on October 31. He will tell Mayer, “I couldn’t be an accessory to subverting the Constitution.” Other sources support Binney’s account of this NSA data-mining and monitoring program (see After September 11, 2001, October 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Late September, 2001, and October 2001). However, the claim that NSA domestic surveillance was initiated only after, and in response to, 9/11 is contradicted by information indicating that domestic monitoring programs and activities were established and conducted prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [New Yorker, 5/23/2011; Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012]
ThinThread 'Would Likely Have Prevented 9/11' - Despite ThinThread’s capacity to collect actionable intelligence, Hayden vetoed the idea of deploying the system three weeks before 9/11, in August 2001. According to the Loomis, Wiebe, and Binney, this decision “left the NSA without a system to analyze the trillions of bits of foreign SIGINT flowing over the Internet at warp speed, as ThinThread could do.” During the summer of 2001, when “the system was blinking red,” according to CIA Director George Tenet, the NSA “failed to detect critical phone and e-mail communications that could have tipped US intelligence to al-Qaeda’s plans to attack.” [Nation, 3/26/2013]

Entity Tags: Edward Loomis, World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, J. Kirk Wiebe, William Binney, Thomas Drake, House Intelligence Committee, James Bamford, Trailblazer, Jane Mayer, National Security Agency, Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center, Michael Hayden, Thinthread

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance.New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Iyman Faris, National Security Agency, New York Times, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bruce Fein, a former deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject of the president’s wartime authority and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens (see December 15, 2005). “This is a defining moment in the constitutional history of the United States,” Fein tells the committee. “The theory invoked by the president to justify eavesdropping by the NSA in contradiction to FISA (see April 30, 1986 and October 23, 2001) would equally justify mail openings, burglaries, torture, or internment camps, all in the name of gathering foreign intelligence. Unless rebuked it will lie around like a loaded weapon, ready to be used by any incumbent who claims an urgent need.” In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write concerning Fein’s statement: “[A] president had secretly claimed the power to ignore a law, and then he had acted on that power. In so doing, the Bush-Cheney administration unleashed imperial power. Even if they had not personally abused their power, there was no guarantee that future presidents would show the same restraint. Moreover, there was no difference in principle between the warrant law [FISA] and any other law that regulates how the president can carry out his national security responsibilities. By demonstrating that a president can set aside a statute or treaty at will, the administration had set a precedent that future presidents, liberal and conservative alike, would be able to cite when they, too, wanted to violate a legal restriction on their power.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 133-134]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Bruce Fein, Charlie Savage, National Security Agency, Bush administration (43), Reagan administration, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, tells a conference of intelligence officials that the government needs new rules about how to balance privacy rights and investigative needs. Since many people routinely post details of their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace, he says, their identity should not require the same protection as in the past. Instead, only their “essential privacy,” or “what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs,” should be veiled. Commenting on the speech, the Wall Street Journal will say that this is part of a project by intelligence agencies “to change traditional definitions of how to balance privacy rights against investigative needs.” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 10/23/2007 pdf file; Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2008] According to some accounts, the prime repository of information about US citizens that the government has is a database known as Main Core, so if the government collected more information about citizens, the information would be placed in or accessed through this database (see 1980s or Before).

Entity Tags: Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Don Kerr, Wall Street Journal

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

National security lawyer Suzanne Spaulding says that the constitutional question of whether the US government can examine a large array of information about citizens contained in its databases (see 1980s or Before) without violating an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy “has never really been resolved.” She adds that it is “extremely questionable” to assume Americans do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for data such as the subject-header of an e-mail or a Web address from an Internet search, because those are more like the content of a communication than a phone number. “These are questions that require discussion and debate,” she says. “This is one of the problems with doing it all [collecting data on citizens] in secret.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Suzanne Spaulding

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

Constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, formerly an associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, says that the legality of the Main Core database, which contains a list of enemies primarily for use in national emergencies (see 1980s or Before), is murky: “In the event of a national emergency, the executive branch simply assumes these powers”—the powers to collect domestic intelligence and draw up detention lists, for example—“if Congress doesn’t explicitly prohibit it. It’s really up to Congress to put these things to rest, and Congress has not done so.” Fein adds that it is virtually impossible to contest the legality of these kinds of data collection and spy programs in court “when there are no criminal prosecutions and [there is] no notice to persons on the president’s ‘enemies list.’ That means if Congress remains invertebrate, the law will be whatever the president says it is—even in secret. He will be the judge on his own powers and invariably rule in his own favor.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Fein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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