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Profile: National Security Agency (NSA)
National Security Agency (NSA) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Associates of the 9/11 hijackers call a number in Yemen also called by the radicals who bombed two US embassies in East Africa in 1998. The calls, which MSNBC says are made “in the weeks before the attacks,” are presumably to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, an associate of Nairobi embassy bomber Mohamed al-Owhali (see August 4-25, 1998). The number is monitored by US intelligence at this time and is also called by the hijackers themselves (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), at least one of the calls being around this time (see (August 2001)). But it is not clear what intelligence the NSA and CIA gleaned from these calls or which associates of the hijackers make the calls. [MSNBC, 10/3/2001] However, it is thought that one of the hijackers’ associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, met with an associate of al-Hada’s in Yemen the year before (see Before October 12, 2000) and traveled to Yemen before the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 10-21, 2000).
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]
Retired Admiral Dan Murphy, a former deputy director of the CIA, indicates to businessman William Hamilton that there is a connection between the PROMIS database and search program and the Main Core database. Hamilton is a former NSA official who helped develop PROMIS, but is now involved in a series of disputes with the government over money he says it owes his company, Inslaw. Main Core is a database that is said to collect sensitive information, including about US persons. The specific type of connection is not certain and Murphy does not specifically mention Main Core, but says that the NSA’s use of PROMIS involves something “so seriously wrong that money alone cannot cure the problem.” Hamilton will later say, “I believe in retrospect that Murphy was alluding to Main Core.” This is one of three times officials will tell Hamilton about the link (see Spring 1992 and 1995). [Salon, 7/23/2008]
The NSA monitors calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and one or more operatives involved in a plot to attack the US embassy in Paris. The communications hub in Yemen is run by Ahmed al-Hada, father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is also involved in the US embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998), the USS Cole bombing (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The Paris plot is apparently foiled based on this information, although the details are sketchy. [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] The name of the operative or operatives who talk to the communications hub in Yemen is unknown. One candidate is Djamel Beghal, who will be arrested on July 28 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) based on a tip-off issued by the CIA to partner agencies on July 3 (see July 3, 2001). Another is Nizar Trabelsi, who will be arrested on September 13, although Trabelsi may be arrested based on information gleaned from Beghal. Both Beghal (see Spring 1998) and Trabelsi (see September 13, 2001) are connected to a plot to destroy an airliner with a shoe bomb, but this is not stopped (see December 22, 2001).
Glyn Ford. [Source: British Labour Party]The European Parliament releases its final report on its findings about the secretive US surveillance program known as Echelon. The report, two years in the making, exhaustively details many of Echelon’s surveillance capabilities, and lists many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world. One of the more interesting sections of the report concerns its apparent use on behalf of US corporations. According to the report, Echelon—operated by the NSA as a highly classified surveillance program ostensibly for tracking terrorist threats and activities by nations hostile to the West—is also being used for corporate and industrial espionage, with information from the program being turned over to US corporations for their financial advantage. The report gives several instances of Echelon’s use by corporations. One is the use of Echelon to “lift… all the faxes and phone calls” between the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Saudi Arabian Airlines; that information was used by two American companies, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, to outflank Airbus and win a $6 billion contract. The report also alleges that the French company Thomson-CSF lost a $1.3 billion satellite deal to Raytheon the same way. Glyn Ford, the MP who commissioned the report, says he doesn’t have a problem with Echelon itself, but in the way it is being used. “Now, you know, if we’re catching the bad guys, we’re completely in favor of that… What we’re concerned about is that some of the good guys in my constituency don’t have jobs because US corporations got an inside track on—on some global deal.” [Washington Post, 11/14/1999; CBS News, 2/27/2000; BBC, 7/6/2000; European Parliament, 7/11/2001] In 1977, the US government began providing Echelon-based intelligence to US corporations (see 1977). In April 2001, New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager testified about Echelon’s use by US allies for corporate and economic purposes (see April 2001), and former CIA director James Woolsey confirmed that US surveillance programs were used to benefit US corporations (see March 2000).
Entity Tags: US Department of Commerce, Thomson-CSF, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Glyn Ford, McDonnell Douglas, Central Intelligence Agency, Boeing Company, Echelon, Airbus, European Parliament, National Security Agency
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
British intelligence agencies send a report to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top officials warning that al-Qaeda is in “the final stages” of preparing an attack in the West. The prediction is “based on intelligence gleaned not just from [British intelligence] but also from US agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency,” which cooperate with the British. “The contents of the July 16 warning would have been passed to the Americans, Whitehall sources confirmed.” The report states there is “an acute awareness” that the attack is “a very serious threat.” [London Times, 6/14/2002] This appears to be similar, but not identical, to a warning to British leaders from MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, 10 days earlier (see July 6, 2001).
At least six 9/11 hijackers, including all of those who boarded Flight 77, live in Laurel, Maryland, from about this time. They reportedly include Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi. Laurel, Maryland, is home to a Muslim imam named Moataz Al-Hallak who teaches at a local Islamic school and has been linked to bin Laden. He has testified three times before a grand jury investigating bin Laden. NSA expert James Bamford later states, “The terrorist cell that eventually took over the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon ended up living, working, planning and developing all their activities in Laurel, Maryland, which happens to be the home of the NSA. So they were actually living alongside NSA employees as they were plotting all these things.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2001; Radio 4 'Today', 6/21/2002]
Entity Tags: Pentagon, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Osama bin Laden, Moataz Al-Hallak, Hani Hanjour, National Security Agency, Majed Moqed, James Bamford, Khalid Almihdhar
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The NSA has been intercepting calls between at least two 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by al-Qaeda operative Ahmed al-Hada over an approximately 18-month period before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). According to MSNBC, the final intercepted call comes “only weeks” before 9/11. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Around the same time there is great alarm in the US intelligence community over a communications intercept in Yemen indicating there was going to be a major al-Qaeda attack against US interests (see June 30-July 1, 2001). Further, the investigation of the USS Cole bombing has reignited interest in Almihdhar and Alhazmi on the part of the US intelligence community since at least June 2001 (see June 11, 2001 and July 13, 2001). The two of them are placed on an international no-fly list in late August (see August 23, 2001).
The NSA’s representative to the FBI asks the NSA for permission to pass intelligence information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to FBI criminal agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole and permission is granted the same day, but FBI headquarters does not forward this information to the Cole investigators. The request is made on behalf of FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, but Corsi does not want the agents to launch a criminal investigation to find Almihdhar in the US—she believes the information will be useful to them because of Almihdhar’s connection to the Cole bombing. The information identifies Almihdhar as an “Islamic extremist” and says that he traveled to Kuala Lumpur, where he met an associate named Nawaf (see January 5-8, 2000). This links Almihdhar to the Cole bombing because the FBI thinks one of the bombers, Fahad al-Quso, may have traveled to Kuala Lumpur at the same time as Almihdhar. Although the 9/11 Commission will say that Corsi “had permission to share the information” with the Cole investigators, she apparently does not do so, even though it is clear from conversations they have around this time that they want it (see August 28, 2001, and August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and August 29, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 276-7, 283, 286, 294, 304 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
I-49, a squad of FBI agents and Justice Department prosecutors that began focusing on bin Laden in 1996 (see January 1996), is upset that the NSA is not sharing its monitoring of the phone calls of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The squad builds their own antenna in Madagascar specifically to intercept KSM’s calls. [Wright, 2006, pp. 344] It has not been revealed when this antenna was built or what was learned from this surveillance. However, there have been media reports that the NSA monitored some phone calls between KSM and Mohamed Atta in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). Further, US intelligence monitored a call between KSM and Atta a day before 9/11 that was the final go-ahead for the attacks (see September 10, 2001). So presumably the I-49 squad should have known about these calls as well if this antenna did what it was designed to do.
The NSA intercepts “multiple phone calls from Abu Zubaida, bin Laden’s chief of operations, to the United States.” The timing and information contained in these intercepted phone calls has not been disclosed. [ABC News, 2/18/2002] In 2007, author and former CIA officer Robert Baer will comment that “apparently, when Abu Zubaida was captured, telephone records, including calls to the United States, were found in the house he was living in. The calls stopped on September 10, and resumed on September 16 (see September 16, 2001 and After). There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007] US intelligence had just been warned about a week earlier that Zubaida may be planning an attack on the US (see August 24, 2001). Zubaida’s exact position within al-Qaeda is disputed; he will be captured in 2002 (see March 28, 2002). It appears that a number of Western intelligence agencies were monitoring Zubaida’s calls since at least late 1998 (see October 1998 and After), and continue monitoring his calls in the weeks after 9/11 (see October 8, 2001).
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) practices for dealing with the simulated hijackings of two commercial aircraft by terrorists, as part of its annual training exercise called Vigilant Guardian. Whether the simulated hijackings take place simultaneously or at different times of the day is unclear. [9/11 Commission, 2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 3]
Terrorists Threaten to 'Rain Terror from the Skies' - One of the two exercise scenarios involves the hijacking of a Boeing 747 bound from Tokyo, Japan, to Anchorage, Alaska. According to a document later produced by the 9/11 Commission, the scenario involves the “[t]hreat of harm to [the plane’s] passengers and possibly [a] large population within [the] US or Canada.” It includes what is apparently a fictitious Asian terrorist group called “Mum Hykro,” which is threatening to “rain terror from the skies onto a major US city unless the US declares withdrawal from Asian conflict.” During the hijacking scenario, some of the plane’s passengers are killed. The plane’s course is changed to take it to Vancouver, Canada, and then to San Francisco, California. In response to the hijacking, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and FAA headquarters direct military assistance, in the form of “covert shadowing” of the hijacked aircraft. NORAD has to liaise with the appropriate air traffic control centers. Its Alaskan region (ANR) and its Canadian region (CANR) participate in the scenario.
Group Threatens to Blow up Plane - In the other hijacking scenario, 10 members of another fictitious terrorist group, “Lin Po,” seize control of a Boeing 747 bound from Seoul, South Korea, to Anchorage. The hijackers have weapons on board that were smuggled onto the plane in small tote bags by ground crew members prior to takeoff. Gas containers were also smuggled onto the aircraft by baggage handlers before takeoff. Arming devices are attached to these containers, which can be remotely detonated. The terrorist group issues demands and threatens to blow up the plane if these are not met. The CIA and NSA caution that the group has the means and motivation to carry out a chemical and biological attack. The group kills two of the plane’s passengers and threatens to use the gas it has on board in some manner. In response to the simulated hijacking, NORAD directs fighter jets to get in a position to shoot down the hijacked airliner, and orders ANR to intercept and shadow it. In the scenario, the 747 eventually lands in Seattle, Washington. [9/11 Commission, 2004]
Most NORAD Exercises Include Hijack Scenario - Vigilant Guardian is one of four major exercises that NORAD conducts each year. Most of these exercises include a hijack scenario. [USA Today, 4/18/2004] Ken Merchant, NORAD’s joint exercise design manager, will tell the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he cannot “remember a time in the last 33 years when NORAD has not run a hijack exercise.” [9/11 Commission, 11/14/2003 ] This year’s Vigilant Guardian will include additional aircraft hijacking scenarios on September 9 and September 10 (see September 9, 2001 and September 10, 2001), and a further simulated plane hijacking is scheduled for the morning of September 11 (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Osama bin Laden calls his stepmother and says, “In two days, you’re going to hear big news and you’re not going to hear from me for a while.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/2/2001] US officials will later tell CNN that “in recent years they’ve been able to monitor some of bin Laden’s telephone communications with his [step]mother. Bin Laden at the time was using a satellite telephone, and the signals were intercepted and sometimes recorded.” [New York Times, 10/2/2001] Stepmother Al-Khalifa bin Laden, who raised Osama bin Laden after his natural mother died, is apparently waiting in Damascus, Syria, to meet Osama there, so he calls to cancel the meeting. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 10/7/2001] They had met periodically in recent years. Before 9/11, to impress important visitors, NSA analysts would occasionally play audio tapes of bin Laden talking to his stepmother. The next day government officials say about the call, “I would view those reports with skepticism.” [CNN, 10/2/2001] Bin Laden gave his natural mother a similar warning some months ago that was also overheard by the NSA (see Spring-Summer 2001).
At least two messages in Arabic are intercepted by the NSA. One states, “The match is about to begin” and the other states, “Tomorrow is zero hour.” Later reports translate the first message as, “The match begins tomorrow.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] The messages were sent between someone in Saudi Arabia and someone in Afghanistan. The NSA will claim that they are not translated until September 12, and that even if they had been translated in time, “they gave no clues that authorities could have acted on.” [ABC News, 6/7/2002; Reuters, 6/19/2002] Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Bob Graham will later confirm that the messages were from al-Qaeda sources—a location or phone number—that made them a high priority, but that they were not from bin Laden or one of his top commanders. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 139] On the morning of September 12, 2001, the CIA will tell President Bush that a recently intercepted message from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida referred to the 9/11 attacks as “zero hour,” but it is not clear if this is the same message or a different message (see September 12, 2001). These messages turn out to be only two of about 30 pre-9/11 communications from suspected al-Qaeda operatives or other militants referring to an imminent event. An anonymous official will say of these messages, including the “Tomorrow is zero hour” message: “You can’t dismiss any of them, but it does not tell you tomorrow is the day.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] There will be a later attempt to explain the messages away by suggesting they referred to the killing of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud the day before (see September 9, 2001). [Reuters, 10/17/2002]
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, misses a chance to capture an unnamed high-ranking al-Qaeda leader in the Netherlands. The US intelligence community learned of the chance through intercepts of al-Qaeda communications, but there is a battle over access to such intelligence. The NSA, which acquires the information, insists that it will not provide the CIA will full transcripts of calls between al-Qaeda members that it intercepts, but only with summaries of them, which the CIA finds less useful. In this case, there is a delay by the NSA in preparing the summary, and by the time it is passed to Alec Station, the al-Qaeda leader is no longer within reach. [Newsweek, 8/21/2007]
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta calls 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in Afghanistan. KSM gives final approval to Atta to launch the attacks. The specifics of the conversation haven’t been released. [Independent, 9/15/2002] Unnamed intelligence officials later tell Knight Ridder Newspapers that the call is monitored by the NSA, but only translated after the 9/11 attacks. KSM, “using coded language, [gives] Atta final approval” for the attacks. [Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002] NSA monitored other calls between KSM and Atta in the summer of 2001 but did not share the information about this with other agencies (see Summer 2001). Additionally, it will later be revealed that an FBI squad built an antenna in the Indian Ocean some time before 9/11 with the specific purpose of listening in on KSM’s phone calls, so they may have learned about this call to Atta on their own (see Before September 11, 2001).
Though the NSA specializes in intercepting communications, the CIA and FBI intercept as well. After 9/11, CIA and FBI officials will discover messages with phrases like, “There is a big thing coming,”
“they’re going to pay the price,” and “We’re ready to go.” Supposedly, most or all of these intercepted messages will not be analyzed until after 9/11. [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]
The conference room on Air Force One. [Source: George Bush Library]Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, the president’s plane, receives no contact from any US government agency, such as the CIA or the FBI, about the first plane crash at the World Trade Center, although numerous agencies call the plane immediately after the second crash. Air Force One is currently at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida, where it has been since the previous evening (see September 10, 2001). Tillman boarded the plane at around 8:15 a.m. this morning, and he has been preparing to take off at 10:45 a.m. and take President Bush back to Washington, DC.
Pilot Sees the Coverage of the First Crash but Thinks It Is an Accident - While he is walking around the plane and checking all the rooms, Tillman is called upstairs by the plane’s radio operator. Upstairs, the radio operator shows him the coverage of the first crash at the WTC on television and says: “I don’t know what’s going on; neither does the media. But it doesn’t look like it’s anything important; it looks like it’s an aircraft accident.” Air Force One, according to Tillman, has 42 phone lines that specifically connect to government agencies such as the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency. But, Tillman will later recall: “None of those phones were going off. Everybody thought this was just an aircraft accident.” He will say that the plane’s crew receives “no information from any command and control authority” at this time. Tillman believes that, in light of what has happened, Bush will want to visit New York. Everyone on the plane is therefore told to be ready to go. He tells the radio operator simply to keep monitoring what is happening in New York and then heads downstairs to continue checking the rooms on Air Force One.
All the Phones Start Ringing after the Second Attack - After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Tillman is again called upstairs. The radio operator alerts him to the television coverage of what has happened. “We now have an understanding that it’s a deliberate attack on the [Twin] Towers,” Tillman will say. “All the information we had was from the news media at this point,” he will comment. But whereas no government agencies previously called Air Force One, suddenly, Tillman will recall: “All the phone lines are coming alive. Every agency in the world wants to know what our status is [and] if we’re ready to go.” “We were hooked into the PEOC [the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, a bunker below the White House] and the JOC [Joint Operations Center] for the Secret Service,” he will say, adding, “They’re all in the link now.” In response to the second attack, security around Air Force One will be increased (see (9:04 a.m.-9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [United Services Automobile Association, 9/11/2011; US Air Force, 2/29/2012 ; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] The plane will take off from the Sarasota airport with Bush on board at 9:54 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39]
Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), is in his office at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, meeting with his senior staff. His executive assistant, Cindy Farkus, comes in and informs him of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. He later says, “The immediate image I had was a light plane, off course, bad flying.” He is able to see the initial CNN reports showing the WTC on a muted television in his office. Nevertheless, he continues with his meeting. Immediately after the second attack occurs, Farkus again comes into Hayden’s office to inform him of it. Saying that “One plane’s an accident, two planes is an attack,” Hayden immediately adjourns his meeting and requests that the agency’s top security officials be summoned to his office. Author James Bamford, who is an expert on the NSA, later comments that this is “not the way it was supposed to be. NSA was not supposed to find out about an airborne attack on America from CNN, after millions of other Americans had already witnessed it. It was supposed to find out first, from its own ultrasecret warning center, and then pass the information on to the White House and the strategic military forces” (see (8:48 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 18, 20 and 33]
Within the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland is a little-known unit called the Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center (DEFSMAC). According to author James Bamford, who is an expert on the NSA, the center’s purpose is “to serve as the nation’s chief warning bell for a planned attack on America. It serves as the focal point for ‘all-source’ intelligence—listening posts, early-warning satellites, human agents, and seismic detectors.” According to one former NSA official, DEFSMAC “has all the inputs from all the assets, and is a warning activity. They probably have a better feel for any worldwide threat to this country from missiles, aircraft, or overt military activities, better and more timely, at instant fingertip availability, than any group in the United States.” If they received indications that an attack was imminent, DEFSMAC officials could “immediately send out near-real-time and in-depth, all-source intelligence alerts to almost 200 ‘customers,’ including the White House Situation Room, the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, the [Defense Intelligence Agency] Alert Center, and listening posts around the world.” Its analysts could be “closely monitoring all intercepts flooding in; examining the latest overhead photography; and analyzing data from early-warning satellites 22,300 miles above the equator. DEFSMAC would then flash the intelligence to the US Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, and other emergency command centers.” But on this morning, as Bamford will conclude, “DEFSMAC learned of the massive airborne attacks after the fact—not from America’s multibillion-dollar spy satellites or its worldwide network of advanced listening posts, or its army of human spies, but from a dusty, off-the-shelf TV set.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 33-35] The NSA had in fact intercepted numerous calls between some of the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, beginning in early 2000 and ending just weeks before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It also intercepted two messages in Arabic on September 10, stating, “The match is about to begin,” and “Tomorrow is zero hour,” but these are supposedly not translated until September 12 (see September 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 6/20/2002] The NSA even intercepted a series of communications between 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta beginning in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), continuing to a message where KSM gives Atta the final go-ahead for the attacks on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). Michael Hayden, the director of the NSA, will later claim that the “NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington… or even that it was planning an attack on US soil” (see October 17, 2002). [National Journal, 6/19/2006]
Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, activates the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, from where the bureau will coordinate its response to the terrorist attacks. Watson learned about the first hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center during a briefing in the SIOC attended by the FBI’s assistant directors and Robert Mueller, the bureau’s director (see Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Mueller and some of the other officials at the briefing, presumably including Watson, subsequently headed to the office of FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard. There, Mueller, Pickard, and the other officials saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). It then became clear to them that this was a terrorist attack.
Deputy Director Says the FBI Needs to Open Its Operations Center - Mueller asks Pickard what they should do in response to the incident and Pickard says they need to open the SIOC. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/21/2004 ] According to the US government’s Interagency Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan, “Upon determination of a credible threat,” FBI headquarters is required to activate the SIOC, “to coordinate and manage the national level support to a terrorism incident.” [US Government, 1/2001] Following this protocol, Watson goes to his office and activates the SIOC for crisis mode. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001]
Director Goes to the Operations Center to Manage the Crisis - Mueller and Pickard go to the SIOC to manage the FBI’s response to the attacks. Pickard isolates Mueller in a conference room, restricting access to him so he is better able to stay focused on the decisions ahead. Mueller only took over as FBI director a week ago (see September 4, 2001) and Pickard will later comment, “I was worried that there was going to be this string of people running into the room with news or questions and [Mueller] would be standing there asking them who they were.” [Kessler, 2002, pp. 420; Graff, 2011, pp. 314-316] Meanwhile, a live communications link is established that allows them to listen in as Pentagon and FAA air traffic controllers track suspicious aircraft. [Wall Street Journal, 10/5/2001]
Many Other Officials Go to the Operations Center - Other senior officials and FBI agents also begin pouring into the center, along with representatives from numerous other government agencies, including the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FAA, the NSA, and the Secret Service. Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff will head to the center, as will Attorney General John Ashcroft, who arrives there early in the afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The SIOC will become “the place to be to get information and so everyone wanted to be there,” Ashcroft will comment. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 5, 421; 9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ]
Center Is Designed for Dealing with Crises - The SIOC, which opened in 1998 and cost $20 million to build, covers 40,000 square feet on the fifth floor of the FBI headquarters building. [CNN, 11/20/1998] It is “a heavily fortified cluster of offices surrounded by video screens and banks of computer terminals,” according to the New York Times. [New York Times, 11/2/2001] It can function as a 24-hour watch post, a crisis management center, and an information processing center. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] It operates around the clock, with at least eight staffers on duty at any one time. It is capable of managing up to five crises at a time and is designed to accommodate up to 450 members of staff during major emergencies. [CNN, 11/20/1998; New Yorker, 9/24/2001]
Center Is Built to Survive Attacks - The center is fortified so those in it can survive a bombing or other kind of attack. [New York Times, 11/2/2001] It has no windows to the street outside and is shielded to prevent electronic signals from entering or leaving it. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Kessler, 2002, pp. 421] Its 225 computer terminals have access to three types of local area networks: the regular FBI network that can connect to the networks of outside agencies; a classified network that operates at the top-secret level; and an even more highly classified Special Compartmented Information network. [Washington Post, 10/14/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The many computers and video screens in the center can display broadcasts from US television channels and also TV channels from other countries. [CNN, 11/20/1998]
Center Will Become the 'Nerve Center' of the FBI's Investigation - By the end of the week, the SIOC will be “the headquarters of the government’s response” to today’s attacks, according to journalist and author Garrett Graff. As many as 500 people from 56 different agencies will be working in it. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 421; Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, 7/1/2002; Graff, 2011, pp. 317] It will become “the nerve center” of the FBI’s investigation of the attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal. [Wall Street Journal, 10/5/2001]
Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, US Secret Service, Dale Watson, Strategic Information Operations Center, National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Pickard, Robert S. Mueller III
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
David McNulty. [Source: Air National Guard]An intelligence officer with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles outside Washington, is unable to obtain further information about the attacks from other agencies, and instead has to make do with what he can learn from television reports. [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155-156] Having learned of the two attacks in New York, Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the 113th Wing of the DCANG, checks the SIPRNET—the Department of Defense’s classified version of the Internet—for pertinent information, but apparently without success. He phones anyone he can think of who might be able to provide information, including the Air Combat Command Intelligence Squadron at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the 609th Air Intelligence Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, the FBI field office in Washington, and the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center. Yet, as he will later recall, the agencies have “nothing to report.” Even his call to the FBI is “a fruitless effort.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155-156] McNulty will say, “I even called the National Security Agency 24-hour information desk and they knew nothing more than I did.” He adds, “We were all getting our information from CNN.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] According to Knight Ridder, “Air defense around Washington, DC, is provided mainly by fighter planes from Andrews Air Force Base.” [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2001] However, author Lynn Spencer will claim that because the DCANG “is a general purpose F-16 unit, no one is specifically tasked with keeping the squadron informed.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156]
At the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, Michael Hayden, the agency’s director, orders the evacuation of all nonessential personnel from the NSA complex. His two reasons for this, he later says, are “just pure safety,” and to protect the people who work at the agency by sending “them home on the dispersal plan.” In a 2007 speech, he will state that he gave this order at 9:30 a.m. But in the account of author James Bamford, around the time Hayden gives the order he hears “some early reports about the explosion at the Pentagon.” Yet the attack on the Pentagon does not occur until 9:37 (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). The reason for this discrepancy is unclear. Hayden’s evacuation order is announced over loudspeakers throughout the NSA, and many of the 16,000 employees there leave. After hearing for sure that the Pentagon has been struck and that one or more hijacked aircraft is heading toward Washington, Hayden orders the three to four thousand remaining essential personnel to immediately evacuate the agency’s three tall towers and relocate to the low-rise Ops 1 Building. However, as Hayden later says, “[W]e really couldn’t afford to move the counterterrorism shop” where experts and linguists who track terrorists’ foreign communications work, even though it is located near the top of one of the NSA’s high-rise buildings. Maureen Baginski, the NSA’s director of signals intelligence, goes up there shortly after the time of the Pentagon attack to calm down the workers who, according to Hayden, are “emotionally shattered.” [US Congress, 10/17/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 52-54; National Journal, 6/19/2006; Central Intelligence Agency, 5/4/2007] At 9:53, analysts in the counterterrorism office will pick up and quickly translate a phone call from a bin Laden operative in Afghanistan, apparently referring to the attacks (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001).
The National Security Agency (NSA) reportedly intercepts a phone call from one of bin Laden’s operatives in Afghanistan to a phone number in the Republic of Georgia. The caller says he has “heard good news” and that another target is still to come (presumably, the target Flight 93 is intended to hit). [CBS News, 9/4/2002] The caller is also supposed to say that the attackers are following through on “the doctor’s program.” This is said to be a reference to al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has a doctorate in medicine. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] Since the 9/11 crisis began, NSA translators have been told to focus on Middle Eastern intercepts and translate them as they are received instead of oldest first, as is the usual practice. This call is translated in the next hour or two, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld hears about it just after noon. [CBS News, 9/4/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 54]
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) tells the Associated Press that the US government has been monitoring Osama bin Laden’s communications electronically, and overheard two bin Laden aides celebrating the successful terrorist attack: “They have an intercept of some information that included people associated with bin Laden who acknowledged a couple of targets were hit.” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 9/12/2001] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly denounces the report, not as untrue, but as an unauthorized release of classified information. [Department of Defense, 9/12/2001]
Congress explicitly refuses to grant the Bush administration the authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps and surveillance operations against US citizens in its resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, will write in December 2005 (after his ouster from Congress in November 2004) that the White House and the Justice Department will claim, falsely, that the AUMF grants the right for the NSA to conduct such a program (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Instead, Daschle will write, the NSA merely usurps the authority, with the president’s approval, to conduct such an extralegal surveillance program (see December 21-22, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Administration Efforts to Rewrite AUMF - In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Daschle will observe that the AUMF authorizes Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, Daschle will write, “Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas—where we all understood he wanted authority to act—but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.”
No Vote for Domestic Surveillance - Daschle will also write that the White House attempted to add draft language to the AUMF resolution that would give the administration new and sweeping authority to use force to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,” even against nations and organizations not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney will claim that the AUMF “granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that’s what we’ve done.” But Daschle will write that Cheney is mistaken. “As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.” On September 12, six days before the September 18 AUMF vote, Bush officials demand that Congress authorize the use of military force to, in their words, “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” But Congress refuses, feeling that the request is “too broad and ill defined.” Instead, on September 14, Congress choses to use language that authorizes Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. Daschle later writes, “With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.… The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration’s request for an unprecedented grant of authority.” Instead, Daschle will write, the administration simply takes the authority anyway, and will argue in hindsight that the AUMF actually gives the administration the right to wiretap US citizens. However, Daschle will write, “at the time, the administration clearly felt they [didn’t have the authority] or it wouldn’t have tried to insert the additional language.”
Breeding 'Fear and Suspicion' - He concludes, “[T]here are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans’ freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion. If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate [detailing the breadth and apparent illegality of the NSA program], the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president’s justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation. In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day. That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat terrorism.” [Washington Post, 12/23/2005]
An illustration of the NIMD dataflow. [Source: LibertyThink.com] (click image to enlarge)Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA awards $64 million in research contracts for a program called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD). [New York Times, 5/21/2003; National Journal, 1/20/2006] NIMD is one of several cutting-edge data mining technologies that not only has the capability of finding keywords among millions of electronically monitored communications, but can find hidden relationships among data points, and even critique the thinking and biases of a particular analyst and suggest alternative hypotheses differing from the human analysts’ conclusion. Like other data-mining technologies, the NSA will steadfastly refuse to discuss whether NIMD is used to analyze data from domestic surveillance operations. NIMD is designed as an preliminary sort program, to keep human analysts from becoming overwhelmed by raw data. In essence, NIMD is an early-warning system. “NIMD funds research to…help analysts deal with information-overload, detect early indicators of strategic surprise, and avoid analytic errors,” according to the “Call for 2005 Challenge Workshop Proposals” released by the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA). ARDA was founded in 1998 to create, design, and field new technologies for US intelligence agencies, particularly the NSA. A selected few Congressional lawmakers (see January 18, 2006) were informed that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by President George W. Bush (see Early 2002) was designed to be an early-warning system for possible terrorist attacks or plans. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella will inform the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence committees in December 2002 that the “president determined that it was necessary following September 11 to create an early-warning detection system” to prevent more attacks. He will justify the use of programs such as NIMD by claiming, as NSA director Michael Hayden and other administration officials have repeatedly claimed, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to obtain warrants to conduct domestic eavesdropping or wiretapping, “could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early-warning detection system.” Many experts outside of the Bush administration feel that NIMD and other programs do not have to operate outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because of limitations in the law, but because of the fact that the programs cannot meet the law’s minimum requirements for surveillance. FISA requires that any such surveillance must have a probable cause that the target is a terrorist. NIMD has no such threshold. Steven Aftergood, an expert on intelligence and government secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists, will say in 2006, “Logistically speaking, the early-warning approach may involve a significant increase in the number of surveillance actions. It may be that neither the Justice Department nor the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves wiretapping warrants] is prepared to prepare and process several thousand additional FISA applications per year, beyond the 1,700 or so approved in 2004.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006] Some experts will later express the opinion that NIMD is the controversial Total Information Awareness program in a slightly different form (see February 2003 and September 2002).
Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, Total Information Awareness, William E. Moschella, Tom Armour, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, Steven Aftergood, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency, Advanced Capabilities for Intelligence Analysis, Advanced Research and Development Activity, John Poindexter, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA expands surveillance operations, relying on its own authorities; some sources indicate this includes a massive domestic data mining and call tracking program, and some contend that it is illegal. In a 2006 public briefing, NSA Director Michael Hayden will say, “In the days after 9/11, NSA was using its authorities and its judgment to appropriately respond to the most catastrophic attack on the homeland in the history of the nation.” Following an October 1 briefing by Hayden to the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden on October 11, saying, “[Y]ou indicated 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” (see October 11, 2001). Some evidence indicates NSA domestic surveillance began even before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
No Connection to Bush-Authorized Warrantless Domestic Call Monitoring - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will clearly distinguish between the expansion he initiates under his own authorities, and the warrantless monitoring of calls with one end outside the US authorized later by President Bush (see October 4, 2001), saying, “[E]xcept that they involved NSA, these [Hayden-authorized] programs were not related… to the authorization that the president has recently spoken about.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
'Stellar Wind' Is Name of Hayden-Authorized Program - In 2012 interviews, former NSA official William Binney will indicate that “Stellar Wind” is the name of the surveillance program initiated by Hayden. [Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012] Some sources will refer to the Bush-authorized eavesdropping as being part of the Stellar Wind program. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Differing Views on Authority for Surveillance - In his 2006 briefing, Hayden will say the Fourth Amendment only protects Americans against “unreasonable search and seizure,” and that 9/11 changed what was to be considered “reasonable.” Specifically, if communications are believed to have “[i]nherent foreign intelligence value,” interception of these communications is reasonable. In addition to referring to Hayden’s “view of [his] authorities” as “expansive,” Pelosi’s letter will give another indication that the NSA’s new standard is significantly broader than it was previously, stating, “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest.” Hayden will publicly clarify in 2006 that the authority for the NSA’s operational expansion exists under an Executive Order issued by President Reagan, saying, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” And, he will say, “I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities” (see October 1, 2001). In her October 11 letter, Pelosi will also write of having concerns about the program that haven’t been resolved due to restrictions on information-sharing with Congress imposed by Bush (see October 11, 2001). Binney, who pioneered the development of certain NSA data mining and surveillance technologies, will come to believe that what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional; he will first take his concerns to Congress (see Before October 31, 2001) and then resign on October 31 (see October 31, 2001). [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Surveillance Involves Domestic Communications - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will not say the NSA is only targeting foreign communications under his post-9/11 authorization. Rather, the context of his remarks will indicate he is referring to domestic communications. More specifically, Hayden will state: “If the US person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed. It’s a technical term we use; we call it ‘minimized.’ The individual is not even mentioned. Or if he or she is, he or she is referred to as ‘US Person Number One’ or ‘US Person Number Two.’ Now, inherent intelligence value. If the US person is actually the named terrorist, well, that could be a different matter.” Hayden will also reveal that information is being passed to the FBI, an investigative agency with a primarily domestic jurisdiction, saying, “[A]s another part of our adjustment, we also turned on the spigot of NSA reporting to FBI in, frankly, an unprecedented way.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006] One of Pelosi’s statements in her letter to Hayden may indicate an aspect of the domestic component: “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest,” she will write. [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006] In a 2011 interview with Jane Mayer published in the New Yorker, Binney will say the NSA was obtaining “billing records on US citizens” and “putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country.” [New Yorker, 5/23/2011] And in a 2012 Wired article, NSA expert James Bamford will write that Binney “explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.” Binney’s account is supported by other sources (see October 2001). [Wired News, 2/15/2012]
Surveillance Program Is Massive - Bamford, citing Binney, will write: “Stellar Wind… included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” It is unclear exactly when this level of surveillance began. According to whistleblower AT&T employee Mark Klein, construction of secret rooms splitting communications traffic does not begin until Fall 2002 (see Fall 2002). Bamford will write that Binney says, “[T]he taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct ‘deep packet inspection,’ examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.” [Wired News, 2/15/2012] Also, Binney’s remark to Jane Mayer that the NSA was “putting pen registers on everyone in the country” indicates the broad scope of the program. [New Yorker, 5/23/2011]
NSA director Michael Hayden addresses the NSA in a global videoconference, saying that the NSA, like other government agencies, will have to do more to protect the country from further terrorist attacks. The challenge, he says, is to balance Americans’ security with civil liberties, “to keep America free by making Americans feel safe again.” Hayden will say in a 2006 speech reflecting on that videoconference (see January 23, 2006) that US citizens operate under misconceptions about the NSA’s capabilities—that while citizens believe the NSA has a global electronic surveillance network that can, and does, spy on citizens willy-nilly, in reality the NSA is understaffed and unprepared to handle the technological advances of the last decade. Hayden will say that with more extensive domestic surveillance of US citizens and foreign visitors, the NSA could have caught some of the 9/11 hijackers before they were able to put their plan into motion. The standards by which US citizens and foreign visitors are monitored must change, Hayden believes.
Expansion of NSA Surveillance Powers - Using Ronald Reagan’s 1981 executive order 12333 (see December 4, 1981), Hayden expands the NSA’s domestic surveillance practices to eavesdrop, sometimes without court approval, on selected international calls made by US citizens. Though Hayden’s expansion of NSA surveillance is not directly authorized by President Bush, and is not the same program as authorized by Bush’s secret executive order of 2002 (see Early 2002), Hayden will later say that this expansion is based on the intelligence community’s assessment “of a serious and continuing threat to the homeland.” Hayden’s program is reviewed and approved by lawyers at the NSA, the Justice Department, and the White House, as well as Attorney General John Ashcroft. [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - Though Bush officials admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, some evidence indicates that the domestic surveillance program began some time before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion that says the US can conduct electronic surveillance against its citizens without probable cause or warrants. According to the memo, the opinion was drafted in response to questions about whether it would be constitutional to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to state that searches may be approved when foreign intelligence collection is “a purpose” of the search, rather than “the purpose.” Yoo finds this would be constitutional, but goes further. He asserts that FISA is potentially in conflict with the Constitution, stating, “FISA itself is not required by the Constitution, nor is it necessarily the case that its current standards match exactly to Fourth Amendment standards.” Citing Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, in which the Supreme Court found that warrantless searches of students were permissible, Yoo argues that “reasonableness” and “special needs” are also the standards according to which warrantless monitoring of the private communications of US persons is permissible. According to Yoo, the Fourth Amendment requirement for probable cause and warrants prior to conducting a search pertain primarily to criminal investigations, and in any case cannot be construed to restrict presidential responsibility and authority concerning national security. Yoo further argues that in the context of the post-9/11 world, with the threat posed by terrorism and the military nature of the fight against terrorism, warrantless monitoring of communications is reasonable. Some information indicates the NSA began a broad program involving domestic surveillance prior to the 9/11 attacks, which contradicts the claim that the program began after, and in response to, the attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [US Department of Justice, 9/25/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Inspectors General, 7/10/2009]
Yoo Memo Used to Support Legality of Warrantless Surveillance - Yoo’s memo will be cited to justify the legality of the warrantless domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush in October 2001 (see October 4, 2001). NSA Director General Michael 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.” 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.” The various post-9/11 NSA surveillance activities authorized by Bush will come to be referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP), and the first memo directly supporting the program’s legality will be issued by Yoo on November 2, 2001, after the program has been initiated (see November 2, 2001). Many constitutional authorities will reject Yoo’s legal rationale. [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Yoo Memo Kept Secret from Bush Officials Who Might Object - According to a report by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post, the memo’s “authors kept it secret from officials who were likely to object,” including ranking White House national security counsel John Bellinger, who reports to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Bellinger’s deputy, Bryan Cunningham, will tell the Post that Bellinger would have recommended having the program vetted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees surveillance under FISA. Gellman and Becker quote a “senior government lawyer” as saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s attorney, David Addington, had “open contempt” for Bellinger, and write that “more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good ‘public relations’ or bureaucratic consensus.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John Bellinger, National Security Agency, Bryan Cunningham, Condoleezza Rice, David S. Addington, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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]
Former AT&T employee Mark Klein. [Source: PBS]The National Security Agency, as part of its huge, covert, and possibly illegal wiretapping program directed at US citizens (see Spring 2001 and After September 11, 2001), begins collecting telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by telecommunications firms such as AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth (see February 5, 2006). The media will not report on this database until May 2006 (see May 11, 2006). The program collects information on US citizens not suspected of any crime or any terrorist connections. Although informed sources say the NSA is not listening to or recording actual conversations, the agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity. “It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” says one anonymous source. The NSA intends “to create a database of every call ever made.” As a result, the NSA has detailed records of the phone activities of tens of millions of US citizens, from local calls to family and friends to international calls. The three telecommunications companies are working with the NSA in part under the Communications Assistance Act for Law Enforcement (CALEA) (see January 1, 1995 and June 13, 2006) and in part under contract to the agency.
Surveillance Much More Extensive Than Acknowledged - The wiretapping program, which features electronic surveillance of US citizens without court warrants or judicial oversight, is far more extensive than anything the White House or the NSA has ever publicly acknowledged. President Bush will repeatedly insist that the NSA focuses exclusively on monitoring international calls where one of the call participants is a known terrorist suspect or has a connection to terrorist groups (see December 17, 2005 and May 11, 2006), and he and other officials always insist that domestic calls are not monitored. This will be proven false. The NSA has become expert at “data mining,” sifting through reams of information in search of patterns. The warrantless wiretapping database is one source of information for the NSA’s data mining. As long as the NSA does not collect “personal identifiers”—names, Social Security numbers, street addresses, and the like—such data mining is legal. But the actual efficacy of the wiretapping program in learning about terrorists and possibly preventing terrorist attacks is unclear at best. And many wonder if the NSA is not repeating its activities from the 1950s and 1960s, when it conducted “Operation Shamrock” (see 1945-1975), a 20-year program of warrantless wiretaps of international phone calls at the behest of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Operation Shamrock, among other things, led to the 1978 passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). [USA Today, 5/11/2006] In May 2006, former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman will say, “[T]his activity is not authorized” (see May 12, 2006). [Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006]
Secret Data Mining Center - In May 2006, retired AT&T technician Mark Klein, a 22-year veteran of the firm, will file a court affidavit saying that he saw the firm construct a secret data-mining center in its San Francisco switching center that would let the NSA monitor domestic and international communications (see January 2003). And former AT&T workers say that, as early as 2002, AT&T has maintained a secret area in its Bridgeton, Missouri, facility that is likely being used for NSA surveillance (see Late 2002-Early 2003).
Domestic Surveillance Possibly Began Before 9/11 - Though Bush officials admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, some evidence indicates that the domestic surveillance program began some time before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
Entity Tags: Terrorist Surveillance Program, Verizon Communications, Mark Klein, George W. Bush, AT&T, BellSouth, Central Intelligence Agency, Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Qwest, National Security Agency
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A suicide truck-bomb attack on the provincial parliamentary assembly in Indian-controlled Kashmir leaves 36 dead. It appears that Saeed Sheikh and Aftab Ansari, working with the ISI, are behind the attacks. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Indian intelligence claims that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is later given a recording of a phone call between Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Maulana Masood Azhar and ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed in which Azhar allegedly reports the bombing is a “success.”
[United Press International, 10/10/2001]
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]
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
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).
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 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; 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 ; 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 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; 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
Vice President Dick Cheney summons the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to the White House for a classified briefing on the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Cheney makes it clear to the lawmakers that he is merely informing them about the program, and not seeking their approval. [Washington Post, 12/18/2005] Officials later say that under any of the previous presidents, such a meeting of this import would involve the president. But the four lawmakers are hustled away from the Oval Office. Instead, “[w]e met in the vice president’s office,” Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later recalls. President Bush has already told Graham that “the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House.” Cheney, according to the president, “has the portfolio for intelligence activities.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007] The leaders are briefed by Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. The Congressional leaders will later mostly refuse to comment publicly about what they do and do not learn about the program, even after it is revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). In 2003, when Senator John D. Rockefeller ascends to the Democratic leadership of the Senate committee, and is himself briefed on the program, he will write to Cheney expressing his concerns over it (see July 17, 2003). [New York Times, 12/15/2005]
'No Discussion about Expanding' NSA Wiretapping - In December 2005, after the program is revealed to the public, one of the Congressmen present at the briefings, Graham, the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will discuss his knowledge of the program. In contradiction to the characterizations of Bush and other White House officials, Graham will say that he recalls “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of US citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States,” and knew nothing of Bush’s intention to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA court). “I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy,” Graham will recall, using new methodologies to intercept overseas calls that passed through US switches. He thought that NSA eavesdropping would continue to be limited to “calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a US-based communications system.” Instead, Graham will say, it now seems that Bush decided to go “beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to US citizens’ communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney.” A senior intelligence official, who refuses to reveal his identity but says he is speaking with the permission of the White House, will accuse Graham of “misremembering the briefings,” which he will call “very, very comprehensive.” The official will refuse to discuss the briefings in any but the most general terms, but will say they were intended “to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, ‘I was briefed on this but I had no idea that—’ and you can fill in the rest.” Graham will characterize the official’s description as saying: “[W]e held a briefing to say that nothing is different.… Why would we have a meeting in the vice president’s office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was also present at the meeting as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, will say the briefing described “President Bush’s decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” She will note that she “expressed my strong concerns” but did not go into detail. [Washington Post, 12/18/2005]
Lawmakers 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). In the briefing, Cheney informs the lawmakers of none of this.
Furious government intelligence officials accuse the NSA of destroying data pertinent to the 9/11 investigation. The details of the data involved remain unknown. They claim that possible leads are not being followed because of the NSA’s lack of cooperation. [Boston Globe, 10/27/2001]
A senior NSA official, having learned of the NSA’s post-9/11 domestic surveillance program and believing it to be illegal, takes his concerns to a staff member of the House Intelligence Committee. In a 2012 interview for Democracy Now!, William Binney, a former NSA technical director who served in the NSA for 36 years, will say that some of his staff had been recruited to work on the new program and told him of some of the things that were being done, which he believed were illegal. Binney will tell co-host Juan Gonzalez: “I immediately went to the Intelligence Committee, because… the intelligence committees were formed to have oversight over the intelligence community to make sure they didn’t monitor US citizens.… And the member of the staff that I went to went to Porter Goss, who was chairman of that committee at the time, and he referred her to General Hayden for any further. When it was the job of that committee to do the oversight on all this domestic spying, they weren’t doing it.” Soon after this, Binney retires from the NSA, due to his belief the NSA is violating the Constitution (see October 31, 2001). [Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012]
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
The National Security Agency begins sending data—consisting of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and names—to the FBI that was obtained through surveillance of international communications originating within the US (see After September 11, 2001 and October 2001). The NSA sends so much data, in fact, that hundreds of agents are needed to investigate the thousands of tips per month that the data is generating. However, virtually all of this information leads to dead ends and/or innocent people. FBI officials repeatedly complain that the unfiltered information is bogging down the bureau: according to over a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, the flood of tips provide them and their colleagues with very few real leads against terrorism suspect. Instead, the NSA data diverts agents from more productive work. Some FBI officials view the NSA data as pointless and likely illegal intrusions on citizens’ privacy. Initially, FBI director Robert Mueller asks senior administration officials “whether the program had a proper legal foundation,” but eventually defers to Justice Department legal opinions. One former FBI agent will later recall, “We’d chase a number, find it’s a schoolteacher with no indication they’ve ever been involved in international terrorism—case closed. After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration.” A former senior prosecutor will add, “It affected the FBI in the sense that they had to devote so many resources to tracking every single one of these leads, and, in my experience, they were all dry leads. A trained investigator never would have devoted the resources to take those leads to the next level, but after 9/11, you had to.” Former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman says that the problem between the FBI and the NSA may stem in part from their very different approaches. Signals intelligence, the technical term for the NSA’s communications intercepts, rarely produces “the complete information you’re going to get from a document or a witness” in a traditional FBI investigation, he says. And many FBI officials are uncomfortable with the NSA’s domestic operations, since by law the NSA is precluded from operating inside US borders except under very specific circumstances. [New York Times, 1/17/2006]
Members of the US Fifth Special Forces Group pose with future Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whom they are protecting.
[Source: US Military]The Atlantic Monthly will later report, “By the beginning of 2002, US and Northern Alliance forces had beaten the Taliban but lost bin Laden. At that point the United States faced a consequential choice: to bear down even harder in Afghanistan, or to shift the emphasis in the global war on terror somewhere else.… Implicitly at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal policy by the end, it placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] In February, 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq” (see February 19, 2002). [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] This shift from Afghanistan to Iraq involves a change of focus and attention (see Early 2002). Additionally, while the total number of US troops (less than 10,000) in Afghanistan does not go down, there is a considerable shift of specialized personnel and equipment many months before the war in Iraq will begin:
On February 15, 2002, President Bush directs the CIA to conduct operations in Iraq (see Early 2002). In mid-March, the CIA tells the White House that it is cutting back operations in Afghanistan (see Spring 2002).
Most of Task Force 5, a top-secret elite CIA and military special forces group, is called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq (see Early 2002).
In March 2002, Fifth Group Special Forces, an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari, that is apparently different from Task Force 5, is sent from Afghanistan to Iraq (see March 2002).
The US Air Force’s only two specially-equipped spy planes that had successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cell phone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. NSA satellites are “boreholed,” (or redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq as well
(see May 2002).
Almost all Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq (see April 2002).
More personnel will shift to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003). In 2007, retired US Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme commander, will say that Iraq caused the US to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency, Thomas Franks, George W. Bush, Flynt Leverett, Al-Qaeda, James L. Jones, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Central Intelligence Agency, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Sometime in early 2002, President Bush signs a secret executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap phone conversations and read e-mails to and from US citizens. The order extends an operation set into motion at least as early as October 2001 to begin wiretapping US citizens’ phones in a response to the 9/11 attacks. When the program is revealed by the US media in late 2005 (see December 15, 2005), Bush and his officials will say the program is completely legal, though it ignores the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that requires the government to obtain court-issued warrants to mount surveillance against US citizens. They will insist that only those suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda are monitored, and only when those individuals make or receive international communications. [New York Times, 12/15/2005; Washington Post, 12/22/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] Bush’s order authorizes the NSA to monitor international telephone conversations and international e-mails of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of US citizens without court warrants, in an effort to track what officials call “dirty numbers” linked to al-Qaeda. When the program is finally revealed by the New York Times over three years later (see December 15, 2005), officials will say that the NSA still seeks warrants to monitor domestic communications. But there is little evidence of this (see, for example, Spring 2001). The presidential order is a radical shift in US surveillance and intelligence-gathering policies, and a major realignment for the NSA, which is mandated to only conduct surveillance abroad. Some officials believe that the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping crosses constitutional limits on legal searches. “This is really a sea change,” a former senior official who specializes in national security law will say in December 2005. “It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches.” [New York Times, 12/15/2005] Some sources indicate that NSA domestic surveillance activities, such as data-mining, the use of information concerning US persons intercepted in foreign call monitoring, and possibly direct surveillance of US persons, took place prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
A safe house in Sana’a, Yemen, where Samir al-Hada was hiding. [Source: CNN]Samir al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative who helped run a vital al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Late 1998-Early 2002), dies while being pursued by Yemeni police. The Yemeni police were tipped off by Samir’s landlord that he was planning to flee the country when he failed to produce identity documents to renew his lease. The police stake out his hideout for a week but he escapes and, during the chase, a grenade explodes in his hand and kills him. He was the brother-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [BBC, 2/13/2002; Guardian, 2/14/2002; CNN, 2/14/2002; Al Ahram, 2/21/2002] After the attack, the police search the house where al-Hada had been staying and seize weapons, documents, books, a mobile phone, and a piece of paper containing phone numbers. [CBS News, 2/13/2002; BBC, 2/15/2002] The al-Hada hub was used in planning the embassy bombings in 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and October 4, 2001), the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). It had been monitored by the NSA since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998 and Early 1999). Ahmed al-Hada is in Yemeni custody by 2006; it has not been stated when or how he was captured. [Wright, 2006, pp. 378] It appears that the communications hub is no longer functional after al-Hada’s death, as there are no more references to it operating, several of the al-Hada clan are rounded up, the hub is again discussed by the media (see February 2001 and After), and the clan’s patriarch, Ahmed al-Hada, is again named in the media. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2/14/2002; CNN, 2/14/2002; Al Ahram, 2/21/2002]
The house in Faisalabad where Abu Zubaida will be arrested. [Source: PBS]At some time around February 2002, intelligence leads to the location of Abu Zubaida. He will be captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002). However, accounts on what intelligence leads to Zubaida’s location differ greatly:
Call to Yemen? - According to the Associated Press, “Pakistani intelligence officials have said quietly that a mobile phone call Abu Zubaida made to al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen led to his arrest.” [Associated Press, 4/20/2002] This could be a reference to the “Yemen hub,” an important al-Qaeda communication node in Yemen that has long been monitored by US intelligence. The hub is used until the middle of February 2002, when it is raided and shut down (see February 13, 2002).
Bribes Play Key Role? - According to books by Jane Mayer and Ron Suskind, Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan’s tribal region notice a caravan of vehicles carrying tall women wearing burqas who turn out to be male Islamist militants in disguise. According to Suskind’s version, the militants are arrested, but refuse to talk. According to Mayer’s version, the caravan is allowed to proceed. However, both authors agree that a bribe to the driver of one of the cars reveals that their destination is Faisalabad, Pakistan. Suskind adds that the driver gives up the name of a contact in Faisalabad, and that contact is found and reveals that Zubaida has arrived in town. US intelligence begins intensively monitoring Faisalabad. Afterwards, Mayer claims that the CIA buys the ISI’s help. A CIA source involved in the situation will later tell Mayer, “We paid $10 million for Abu Zubaida.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 84; Mayer, 2008] In 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will write in a memoir, “Those who habitually accuse us of not doing enough in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the Government of Pakistan.” [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 190]
CIA Tracks Zubaida's Calls? - According to a 2008 New York Times article, in February 2002, the CIA learns that Zubaida is in Lahore or Faisalabad, Pakistani cities about 80 miles apart and with a combined population of over 10 million. The Times does not say how the CIA learns this. The CIA knows Zubaida’s cell phone number, although it is not explained how this was discovered either. (However, it had been reported elsewhere that Zubaida’s number had been monitored since at least 1998 (see October 1998 and After) and was still being monitored after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001 and After) and October 8, 2001).) Specialists use an electronic scanner that can track any operating cell phone and give its approximate location. However, Zubaida only turns his phone on briefly to collect messages, so his location cannot be pinpointed. A talented CIA official named Deuce Martinez gets involved. He posts a large, blank piece of paper on a wall, and writes Zubaida’s phone number in the middle of it. Then he and others add linked phone numbers, using the monitoring capabilities of the NSA and Pakistani intelligence. A map of Zubaida’s contacts grows. Eventually, Martinez and others are able to narrow Zubaida’s location down to 14 addresses in Lahore and Faisalabad, and these places are put under surveillance. Rather than wait any longer for more intelligence, all 14 locations are raided at once in a joint Pakistani-CIA operation on March 28, 2002, and Zubaida is found in one of the Faisalabad addresses. [New York Times, 6/22/2008]
Key Call to Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri? - Suskind’s book will also give the story of the CIA narrowing down the locations by monitoring local phone calls. He says that teams of CIA and FBI arrive in Faisalabad on March 17 for more intensive monitoring. Then, the key break comes near the end of the month, when two calls from a certain house in Faisalabad are made to phone numbers in Afghanistan that might be linked to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. By this account, US intelligence already has a good idea which of the 14 locations Zubaida is in, because of those calls. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 87-89]
Explanations May Not Conflict - Note that these explanations do not necessarily conflict. For instance, bribes could have provided the lead that Zubaida was in Faisalabad, and then further CIA monitoring could have narrowed down his location there. Bribes also could have helped insure that Pakistani intelligence did not tip off Zubaida prior to the raid. The calls to Yemen and/or Afghanistan may have played a role along with other intelligence.
Retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft leads a presidential panel which proposes that control of the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency be transferred from the Department of Defense to the head of the CIA, the director of central intelligence (DCI). The plan is favored by the Congressional 9/11 joint inquiry but opposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. For years experts have argued that the US intelligence community’s 13 disparate agencies—“85 percent of whose assets reside in the Defense Department”—should be consolidated under the head of the CIA. [US News and World Report, 8/12/2002; Washington Post, 8/19/2004]
Intelligence Community Still Focused on Cold War Needs, Scowcroft Finds - Scowcroft, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a close friend and confidant of former President George H. W. Bush, actually revises a report he began before the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes that the US intelligence apparatus had been designed to meet the needs of the Cold War era and should now be overhauled. The 9/11 attacks are evidence of this, Scowcroft believes. The attacks came from rogue Islamist terrorists, not a superpower like China or the old USSR.
Opposition from Rumsfeld, Cheney - But, as Ron Suskind will write in his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, Rumsfeld is “strongly opposed” to Scowcroft’s idea, presumably because, by transferring control of the NSA from the Pentagon to the CIA, it would take power away from him. Scowcroft approaches Cheney with the dilemma. Scowcroft is well aware of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s long political partnership, and gives Cheney an easy out. If his proposals are overly “disruptive,” Scowcroft says, “I’ll just fold my tent and go away. I don’t want to… but I’ll be guided by you.” Cheney now has a choice. Knowing this is a battle Scowcroft will not win, he can either call Scowcroft off now and defuse a potential political conflict within the administration, or, in author Craig Unger’s words, he can “send Scowcroft off on a fool’s errand, pitting Bush 41’s close friend, as Suskind noted, against Bush 43’s cabinet secretary [Rumsfeld], who just happened to be Bush 41’s lifelong nemesis (see September 21, 1974 and After). Cheney chose the latter.” Cheney tells Scowcroft to “go ahead, submit the report to the president.” He knows President Bush will listen to Cheney and Rumsfeld’s advice and ignore the report. Unger later notes, “Scowcroft had once been Cheney’s mentor, his patron. Now the vice president was just humoring him.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 225-226]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Ron Suskind, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Issuetsdeah, Central Intelligence Agency, Brent Scowcroft, Craig Unger, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush
Timeline Tags: US Military
An RC-135 “Rivet Joint” spy plane. [Source: Defense Department]In May 2002, the US Air Force’s only specially-equipped RC-135 “Rivet Joint” U spy planes—credited with having successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cellphone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders—are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. In June 2003, some RC-135s will finally return to support operations in Afghanistan. Retired Air Force colonel Rick Francona will later comment, “It’s not just the platform itself, it’s the linguists that man the platform. They were being really overworked.” He also says, “I don’t think there is any question that the effort against al-Qaeda was degraded.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2003; Guardian, 3/26/2004] NSA satellites are also “boreholed,” (redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) turns down the Justice Department’s bid for sweeping new powers to monitor and wiretap US citizens. FISC judges rule that the government has misused the law and misled the court dozens of times. The court finds that Justice Department and FBI officials supplied false or misleading information to the court in over 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps, including one signed by then-FBI director Louis Freeh. While the court does not find that the misrepresentations were deliberate, it does rule that not only were erroneous statements made, but important information was omitted from some FISA applications. The judges found so many inaccuracies and errors in FBI agent Michael Resnick’s affidavits that they bar him from ever appearing before the court again. The court cites “the troubling number of inaccurate FBI affidavits in so many FISA applications,” and says, “In virtually every instance, the government’s misstatements and omissions in FISA applications and violations of the Court’s orders involved information sharing and unauthorized disseminations to criminal investigators and prosecutors.” The court is also unhappy with the Justice Department’s failure to answer for these errors and omissions, writing, “How these misrepresentations occurred remains unexplained to the court.” The court finds that in light of such impropriety, the new procedures proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft in March would give prosecutors too much control over counterintelligence investigations, and would allow the government to misuse intelligence information for criminal cases. The ruling is a severe blow to Ashcroft’s attempts since the 9/11 attacks to allow investigators working in terrorism and espionage to share more information with criminal investigators. (These limitations were put in place after the Church Commission’s findings of massive fraud and misuse of domestic surveillance programs during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. See April, 1976, January 29, 1976, and December 21, 1974). The Justice Department says of the decision, “We believe the court’s action unnecessarily narrowed the Patriot Act and limited our ability to fully utilize the authority Congress gave us.” Interestingly, the Justice Department also opposed the public release of FISC’s decision not to grant the requested powers. Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA, calls the opinion “a public rebuke. The message is you need better quality control. The judges want to ensure they have information they can rely on implicitly.” Bush officials have complained since the 9/11 attacks that FISA requirements hamper the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agents to track terrorist suspects, including alleged hijacking conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). Those requirements mandate that agents must show probable cause that the subject of a search or wiretap is an agent of a foreign government or terrorist group, and, because FISA standards for obtaining warrants is far lower than for ordinary criminal warrants, mandate strict limits on the distribution of information secured from such investigations. The FBI searched Moussaoui’s laptop computer and other belongings without a FISA warrant because some officials did not believe they could adequately show the court that Moussaoui had any connections to a foreign government or terrorist group. In its ruling, FISC suggests that if the Justice Department finds FISA too restrictive, they should ask Congress to update the law. Many senators on the Judiciary Committee say they are willing to enact such reforms, but have complained of resistance from Ashcroft and a lack of cooperation from the Bush administration. [Washington Post, 8/23/2002] In November 2002, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review will overturn the FISC decision and give the Justice Department what it asked for (see November 18, 2002).
Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Grassley, US Department of Justice, Stewart Baker, Zacarias Moussaoui, National Security Agency, John Ashcroft, Church Commission, USA Patriot Act, Louis J. Freeh, Michael Resnick
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) is startled when he receives an email informing him and his colleagues that a representative from the National Security Agency (NSA) will soon arrive to conduct “some kind of business.” Klein works at the Geary Street facility in San Francisco, helping provide Internet, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), and data transport between the US and the Far East. Klein and his supervisor, Don Henry, soon learn that one of their colleagues, one of AT&T’s senior “field support specialists” whom Klein will only identify as “Ski,” is to be interviewed by the NSA for a security clearance. Ski is slated to begin working in an NSA-operated “secure facility” at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco. [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 22-25] Klein later says of the NSA visit: “That struck me as a little odd to begin with, because I remember from back in the ‘70s, the NSA is not supposed to be doing domestic spying, so what were they doing in an AT&T company office? It struck me as odd, but I didn’t know anything more about it, so I just let it lie and waited for the guy to come.” Klein will later describe the NSA representative as “closemouthed and unsmiling, and he did his business.” Klein decides that the NSA visit was a one-time affair, and he thinks no more of it for the time being. [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]
Both the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and the 9/11 Commission examine the NSA’s intercepts of various calls made by the hijackers to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry refers to several of the calls and gives an idea of the content of some of them. But it does not mention those made by Nawaf Alhazmi and possibly other hijackers from the US after the USS Cole bombing, which are only disclosed later in the media (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001 and March 15, 2004 and After). However, this section of the Inquiry report is heavily redacted so most details remain unknown. It states that, although the NSA intercepted the calls and disseminated dispatches about some of them, the NSA did not realize the hijackers were in the US at the time the calls were made. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 ] The 9/11 Commission Report contains a briefer section on the intercepts and deals with those which led to the surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In addition, it mentions that Almihdhar called his wife from San Diego in the spring of 2000, but fails to mention that his wife lived at an al-Qaeda communications hub and that the calls were intercepted by the NSA (see Spring-Summer 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 222] The Los Angeles Times comments: “The [9/11 Congressional Inquiry] and the Sept. 11 commission that came after it referred indirectly to the calls from Yemen to San Diego. But neither report discloses what the NSA gleaned from the calls, or why they were never disclosed to the FBI.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The publication of the 9/11 Commission report and revelations about domestic surveillance by the NSA will lead to increased media interest in and revelations about the intercepts starting from 2004 (see March 15, 2004 and After).
Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaks highly classified information to Fox News political correspondent Carl Cameron just minutes after his committee learns it in a closed-door hearing with NSA Director Michael Hayden, according to later testimony. Shelby learns that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack, but the agency failed to translate the intercepts until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cameron does not report the story, but instead gives the material to CNN reporter Dana Bash. A half-hour after Cameron’s meeting with Bash, CNN broadcasts the story, citing “two Congressional sources” in its report. CNN does not identify Shelby as a source. Moments after the broadcast, a CIA official upbraids committee members who have by then reconvened to continue the hearing. USA Today and the Washington Post publish more detailed stories on the NSA intercepts the next day. White House and intelligence community officials will quickly claim that the leak proves Congress cannot be trusted with classified information, but experts in electronic surveillance will later say the information about the NSA’s intercepts contains nothing harmful because it does not reveal the source of the information or the methods used to gather it. [Washington Post, 8/5/2004; National Journal, 2/15/2007] The next day, a furious Vice President Dick Cheney will threaten Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) with termination of the White House’s cooperation with the 9/11 Congressional inquiry unless Graham and his House Intelligence Committee counterpart, Porter Goss (R-FL), push for an investigation (see June 20, 2002). Shelby will deny any involvement in the leak (see August 5, 2004).
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Carl Cameron, CNN, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Al-Qaeda, Dana Bash, Michael Hayden, Richard Shelby, Senate Intelligence Committee, USA Today, Washington Post, Porter J. Goss, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Fox News
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Vice President Dick Cheney phones Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL). Cheney’s call comes early in the morning, and Graham takes it while still shaving. Cheney is agitated; he has just read in the newspaper that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack. But, the story continues, the intercepts were not translated until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cheney is enraged that someone leaked the classified information from the NSA intercepts to the press. As a result, Cheney says, the Bush administration is considering terminating all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on the government’s failure to predict and prevent the attacks (see September 18, 2002). (Graham co-chairs the inquiry.) Classified records would no longer be made available to the committees, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony. Furthermore, Cheney says, unless the committee leaders take action to find out who leaked the information, and more importantly, take steps to ensure that such leaks never happen again, President Bush will tell the citizenry that Congress cannot be trusted with vital national security secrets. “Take control of the situation,” Cheney tells Graham. The senator responds that he, too, is frustrated with the leaks, but Cheney is unwilling to be mollified.
Quick Capitulation - At 7:30 a.m., Graham meets with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL), and the ranking members of the committees, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL, who will later be accused of leaking the information) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). They decide to request that the Justice Department conduct a criminal inquiry into whether anyone on either committee, member or staffer, leaked the information to the press. One participant in the meeting later says, “It was a hastily made decision, made out of a sense of panic… and by people with bleary eyes.” Another person involved in the decision later recalls: “There was a real concern that any meaningful oversight by Congress was very much at stake. The political dynamic back then—not that long after September 11—was completely different. They took Cheney’s threats very seriously.” In 2007, reporter Murray Waas will observe that Cheney and other administration officials saw the leak “as an opportunity to undercut Congressional oversight and possibly restrict the flow of classified information to Capitol Hill.”
Graham: Congress Victimized by White House 'Set Up' - In 2007, after his retirement from politics, Graham will say: “Looking back at it, I think we were clearly set up by Dick Cheney and the White House. They wanted to shut us down. And they wanted to shut down a legitimate Congressional inquiry that might raise questions in part about whether their own people had aggressively pursued al-Qaeda in the days prior to the September 11 attacks. The vice president attempted to manipulate the situation, and he attempted to manipulate us.… But if his goal was to get us to back off, he was unsuccessful.” Graham will add that Goss shared his concerns, and say that in 2003, he speculates to Goss that the White House had set them up in order to sabotage the joint inquiry; according to Graham, Goss will respond, “I often wondered that myself.” Graham will go on to say that he believes the NSA leak was not only promulgated by a member of Congress, but by White House officials as well; he will base his belief on the fact that Washington Post and USA Today reports contain information not disclosed during the joint committee hearing. “That would lead a reasonable person to infer the administration leaked as well,” he will say, “or what they were doing was trying to set us up… to make this an issue which they could come after us with.”
White House Goes Public - The same day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “The president [has] very deep concerns about anything that would be inappropriately leaked that could… harm our ability to maintain sources and methods and anything else that could interfere with America’s ability to fight the war on terrorism.”
Investigation Will Point to Senate Republican - An investigation by the Justice Department will determine that the leak most likely came from Shelby, but Shelby will deny leaking the intercepts, and the Senate Ethics Committee will decline to pursue the matter (see August 5, 2004). [National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Ari Fleischer, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, Senate Ethics Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Porter J. Goss, US Department of Justice, Murray Waas
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
According to the later recollections of senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), rumors are swirling throughout AT&T regarding a “secret room” being built at the company’s facility at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco (see Summer 2002). (At this time, Klein works at another AT&T facility located on San Francisco’s Geary Street; he will later begin working at the Folsom Street facility.) In January 2003, Klein will learn that the rumors are true, and that the room is to be used by the National Security Agency (NSA) (see January 2003). [Klein, 2009, pp. 26-28]
The NSA’s enormous data mining program, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD—see After September 11, 2001), closely resembles another data mining program, the Defense Department’s Total Information Awareness program (see March 2002). TIA, which will be suspended in 2003 after outcries from citizens and legal experts concerned over that program’s refusal to comply with fundamental Constitutional guarantees of privacy, was also designed as an early-warning system that not only compiled intelligence data, but mined through private financial databases for credit-card and other financial transactions. Six of the corporations and research institutions who win NIMD contracts also held contracts for the earlier TIA project. Much of their work with TIA duplicated the same aspects and protocols to be used by NIMD, including challenging analytic assumptions and building prototype data-mining devices. Both TIA and NIMD attempt to second-guess human analysts’ conclusions over a particular data schema by creating a database of what TIA creator John Poindexter once called “plausible futures,” or likely terrorism scenarios. NIMD is a creation of the Advanced Research and Development Activity agency (ARDA); another ARDA project, the Advanced Capabilities for Intelligence Analysis (ACIA) also envisions a similar database (see 2005). Though TIA focused more on counterterrorism than the more sweeping NIMD, the two projects coordinated closely with one another, according to former program manager Tom Armour, who worked in Poindexter’s office.
NIMD Survives In Other Agencies - Congress will eliminate funding for TIA and other Poindexter projects, but many of those projects, and related projects such as NIMD, do not disappear. Many are instead transferred to intelligence agencies such as the NSA. Although information about these projects is strictly classified, a former Army intelligence analyst familiar with the programs will confirm in 2006 that large elements of TIA were transferred to other agencies, where they will continue to be researched and implemented. It is highly likely that NIMD is an offshoot and outgrowth of TIA. Armour will say the two programs are specifically designed to analyze large amounts of phone and e-mail traffic: “That’s, in fact, what the interest is.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006]
Government 'Shell Game' - Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says in 2004, “The whole congressional action looks like a shell game. There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing.” [Associated Press, 2/23/2004] Aftergood will note that NIMD has thrived in the shadows where TIA died of exposure: “Pursued with a minimal public profile and lacking a polarizing figure like Admiral Poindexter to galvanize opposition, NIMD has proceeded quietly even as TIA imploded.” [Defense Tech, 9/26/2003]
In the first half of September 2002, a secret report compiled by the CIA, State Department, FBI, NSA, and other US agencies lists six likely bomb targets in Indonesia, including two Bali nightclubs (the Sahid Bali Seaside Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel) that are just a short distance away from the two nightclubs that will ultimately be attacked one month later (see October 12, 2002). The CIA passes the report to its stations in Southeast Asia, alerting them to an imminent attack. The information is at least partially based on the interrogation of al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, who revealed that al-Qaeda is planning an attack on nightclubs and restaurants in Southeast Asia, particularly in Bali (see August 21, 2002). [Guardian, 10/17/2002; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 6/26/2003] On September 26, 2002, the US embassy in Indonesia issues a public warning that states, “Americans and Westerners should avoid large gatherings, and locations known to cater primarily to a Western clientele such as certain bars, restaurants and tourist areas.” However, the US State Department does not issue any travel warning for Indonesia, and other governments such as Australia do not issue any warnings. There also is no evidence that the owners of Bali nightclubs are given any warnings. [Sydney Morning Herald, 10/10/2003] A US intelligence source will later tell the Guardian, “The State Department didn’t act on [the early September warning] and it’s become a bubbling scandal.” The Guardian will say shortly after the October 2002 Bali bombings that the warning has “fueled a growing row” in the US, Britain, and Australia “over whether Indonesia could have acted sooner against Islamist militants or whether tourists could have been given more warning of the dangers of traveling to resorts like Bali.” [Guardian, 10/17/2002] The Sydney Morning Herald will conclude in 2003 that it is now “impossible for anyone to believe that Mohammed Mansour Jabarah’s interrogation did not result in the US learning of JI’s plan for a terrorist attack in Bali.” Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will later call Jabarah’s warning “stunningly explicit and specific.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 10/10/2003]
The US search for al-Qaeda figures Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh focuses on the city of Karachi, Pakistan, culminating in the capture of bin al-Shibh there on September 11, 2002. Accounts differ, but at some point in mid-2002 Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda allegedly interviews bin al-Shibh and KSM in Karachi (see April, June, or August 2002). In 2003, Fouda will write a book about 9/11 with London Times reporter Nick Fielding. In the book, they will speculate why bin al-Shibh was arrested in Karachi on September 11, 2002, only a few months after the interview (see September 11, 2002), and within two days of when Fouda’s report (with audio from bin al-Shibh but not KSM) is first broadcast (see September 8-11, 2002): “Al Jazeera’s broadcasts probably confirmed what intelligence agencies already suspected, namely that bin al-Shibh and [KSM] were hiding in the Karachi area. That information would have been enough to justify the deployment of massive electronic resources in the area.” The authors further claim that, according to unnamed intelligence sources, while the NSA’s Echelon satellite network intercepts communications all over the world, the network’s “real strength” is that it “can concentrate huge resources into one specified area.” A source close to US intelligence will tell the authors: “Bin al-Shibh was apparently caught because he was a geek who was too willing to get onto his [satellite phone] and his e-mail. He thought he was too clever and had been getting away with things for too long.” Declassified Russian intelligence reports say that US intelligence satellites oscillate in their orbit in a way that allows the satellites to pick up the same satellite phone signals from slightly different angles and thus take bearings to identify the precise locations of the calls. The authors will further say that sources close to the NSA have dismissed the idea that bin al-Shibh was located by an electronic voice print based on his voice in the Al Jazeera interview, as such a technique is very hard to do, especially since his voice was electronically altered. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 184] Three years after the book by Fouda and Fielding is published, a book by Ron Suskind will claim that this intensive US surveillance of Karachi begins not because of bin al-Shibh’s voice in the interview, but because shortly after the interview takes place, Fouda tells his superiors at Al Jazeera that the interview had been in Karachi, and this information gets passed on to US intelligence (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After). This would have given US intelligence several months to home in on bin al-Shibh’s location instead of just two days (see September 9, 2002). KSM apparently makes it out of Karachi without being captured, and he will be captured elsewhere in Pakistan in early 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). However, just one day after the interview with Fouda is aired, there are reports that KSM was captured in Karachi in June 2002, close to the time the interview is said to have taken place (see June 16, 2002).
The US embassy in Rome faxes the Niger documents to the State Department’s Bureau of Nonproliferation, which then passes a copy of the documents to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the State Department’s intelligence bureau. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58] Simon Dodge, an INR nuclear analyst, receives a copy, and after a brief review of the documents immediately suspects that they are bogus. One particularly strange document that is included in the Niger papers describes a secret meeting that allegedly took place on June 14, 2002 at the home of the Iraqi ambassador in Rome. According to the document, the meeting was attended by military officials from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan. The purpose of the meeting was to form a coalition of Islamic nations against the West. They would seek “Global Support,” which would include backing from the “Islamic patriots accused of belonging to criminal organizations.” Dodge finds the scenario depicted in the document “completely implausible.” He notices that the document bears the same official seal that is stamped on the Niger documents. He concludes that the documents are probably all fakes, and he sends an email to other analysts in the intelligence community explaining this conclusion. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 162; CBS News, 4/23/2006] According to one unnamed CIA official, “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false—until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Copies also go to nuclear experts at the DIA, the Department of Energy, and the NSA. Wayne White, the deputy director of the INR and the INR’s principal Iraq analyst, reviews the documents himself. Within 15 minutes he too begins doubting their authenticity (see Mid-October 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 261]
NSA Director Michael Hayden.
[Source: NSA]NSA Director Michael Hayden testifies before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that the “NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington… or even that it was planning an attack on US soil.” Before 9/11, the “NSA had no knowledge… that any of the attackers were in the United States.” Supposedly, a post-9/11 NSA review found no intercepts of calls involving any of the 19 hijackers. [Reuters, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002; USA Today, 10/18/2002] Yet, in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), the NSA intercepted communications between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and hijacker Mohamed Atta, when he was in charge of operations in the US. [Independent, 6/6/2002; Independent, 9/15/2002] What was said between the two has not been revealed. The NSA also intercepted multiple phone calls from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida to the US in the days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001). But who was called or what was said has not been revealed. [ABC News, 2/18/2002] In addition, Hayden testified three times in secret on June 18, June 19, and July 18, but little is known about what he said, as not much information is disclosed in the media and many sections of the Inquiry’s final report about the NSA are heavily redacted. The main revelations at the time of the summer hearings are that the NSA intercepted two messages apparently pertaining to the forthcoming attack one day before 9/11, and this sparks a controversial leak inquiry by the FBI (see August 2, 2002). [CNN, 6/18/2002; CBS News, 6/19/2002; CNN, 6/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
The directors of three US intelligence agencies, the CIA, FBI and NSA, testify before a Congressional inquiry on 9/11. [US Congress, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002] All three say no individual at their agencies has been punished or fired for any of missteps connected to 9/11. This does not satisfy several on the inquiry, including Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), who says, “People have to be held accountable.” [Washington Post, 10/18/2002]
Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) becomes convinced that the “secure facility” being constructed at an AT&T facility in San Francisco (see Summer 2002 and Fall 2002) has some connection to the Bush administration’s “Total Information Awareness” program (see Mid-January 2002 and March 2002). The press has recently begun reporting on the program (see November 9, 2002). In 2007, Klein will tell a reporter: “You might recall there [around this time] was a big blowup in the news about the Total Information Awareness [TIA] program, led by Admiral [John] Poindexter, which caused the big upsetness in Congress, because what Poindexter was proposing to do was draw in databases from everywhere… draw in Internet data, bank records, travel records, everything into one big conglomeration which could be searchable by the government so they could find out everything about what anybody’s doing at any time of day. And all this would be done without any warrants.” Klein and other AT&T employees begin speculating that the “secure facility” might have some connection to Poindexter’s TIA program. “[T]he Total Information Awareness program is involved with the NSA [National Security Agency] and with DARPA, which is the Defense [Advanced Research] Projects Agency,” he will tell the reporter. “So I began to connect the two, because it seemed quite logical at least that if they are looking for large amounts of Internet data to sift through and vacuum up, what would be a perfect place? It would be in the Internet room at a place like AT&T. And lo and behold, the NSA guy shows up. Then I started learning that it’s not only a new room; it’s a room that all the technicians cannot go into. Only the one guy—a management guy, no union people—a management field specialist with security clearance obviously given to him by the NSA, only he could go into this room, which was being built on the sixth floor, right next door to the phone switch room. So I got very worried about that. What does this mean? What are they doing there?” In 2009, Klein will write, “Gradually I started to connect the TIA program with the curiously simultaneous appearance of the NSA at our office, and the more I learned about what they were installing, and where, the more I was convinced the two were connected.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 25-26]
The 9/11 Commission initially pays very little attention to material from the NSA about al-Qaeda, as it is focusing on the CIA, FBI, and other agencies. Colonel Lorry Fenner, a former air force intelligence officer assigned to the commission’s team reviewing the structure of the intelligence community, finds this surprising. Fenner, who had previously worked closely with the NSA, is “dumfounded” when she learns nobody from the commission is making the short trip to the NSA to review its material on 9/11. The NSA tracked al-Qaeda communications for a long time before 9/11, including numerous calls between the hijackers and other al-Qaeda operatives (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), but the 9/11 Commission apparently does not realize or seem to care how important the material is. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “[F]or the Commission’s staff, [the NSA’s Maryland headquarters at] Fort Meade might as well have been Kabul, it seemed so distant.” One reason is that some people at the commission do not really understand what the NSA does, and also, according to Shenon, “[For executive director Philip] Zelikow and other staff on the commission, it was just more interesting—sexier—to concentrate on the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-88, 155-6]
An aerial view of the AT&T Easylink Service building in Bridgeton, Missouri, where the NSA allegedly has secret facilities. [Source: USGS via Microsoft]On behalf of the National Security Agency (NSA), AT&T constructs a secret, highly secured room in its network operations center in Bridgeton, Missouri, used to conduct secret government wiretapping operations. This is a larger and more elaborate “data mining” center than the one AT&T has constructed in San Francisco (see January 2003). Salon’s Kim Zetter will later write that the Bridgeton facility “had the earmarks of a National Security Agency operation,” including a sophisticated “mantrap” entrance using retinal and fingerprint scanners. Sometime in early 2003, AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) discusses the Bridgeton facility with a senior AT&T manager, whom he will only identify as “Morgan.” The manager tells Klein that he considers the Bridgeton facility “creepy,” very secretive and with access restricted to only a few personnel. Morgan tells Klein that the secure room at Bridgeton features a logo on the door, which Klein will describe as “the eye-on-the-pyramid logo which is on the back of the dollar bill—and that got my attention because I knew that was for awhile the logo of the Total Awareness Program” (TIA-see Mid-January 2002, March 2002 and November 9, 2002). Klein notes that the logo “became such a laughingstock that they [the US government] withdrew it.” However, neither Klein nor Morgan find the NSA secure room at Bridgeton amusing. In June 2006, two AT&T workers will tell Zetter that the 100 or so employees who work in the room are “monitoring network traffic” for “a government agency,” later determined to be the NSA. Only government officials or AT&T employees with top-secret security clearance are admitted to the room, which is secured with a biometric “mantrap” or highly sophisticated double door, secured with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The few AT&T employees allowed into the room have undergone exhaustive security clearance procedures. “It was very hush-hush,” one of the AT&T workers will recall. “We were told there was going to be some government personnel working in that room. We were told: ‘Do not try to speak to them. Do not hamper their work. Do not impede anything that they’re doing.’” (Neither of Zetter’s sources is Klein, who by the time Zetter’s article is published in 2006, will have made his concerns about the NSA and AT&T public.) The Bridgeton facility is the central “command center” for AT&T’s management of all routers and circuits carrying domestic and international Internet traffic. Hence, it is the ideal location for conducting surveillance or collecting data. AT&T controls about a third of all bandwidth carrying Internet traffic to and from homes and businesses throughout the US. The two employees, who both will leave AT&T to work with other telecommunications firms, will say they cannot be sure what kinds of activities actually take place within the secret room. The allegations follow those made by Klein, who after his retirement (see May 2004) will submit an affidavit stating his knowledge of other, similar facilities in San Francisco and other West Coast switching centers, whose construction and operations were overseen by the NSA (see January 16, 2004 and January 2003); the two AT&T employees say that the orders for the San Francisco facility came from Bridgeton. NSA expert Matthew Aid will say of the Bridgeton facility, “I’m not a betting man, but if I had to plunk $100 down, I’d say it’s safe that it’s NSA.” Aid will say the Bridgeton facility is most likely part of “what is obviously a much larger operation, or series of interrelated operations” combining foreign intelligence gathering with domestic eavesdropping and data collection. Former high-level NSA intelligence officer Russell Tice will say bluntly: “You’re talking about a backbone for computer communications, and that’s NSA.… Whatever is happening there with the security you’re talking about is a whole lot more closely held than what’s going on with the Klein case.” The kind of vetting that the Bridgeton AT&T employees underwent points to the NSA, both Aid and Tice will say; one of the two AT&T employees who will reveal the existence of the Bridgeton facility will add, “Although they work for AT&T, they’re actually doing a job for the government.” Aid will add that, while it is possible that the Bridgeton facility is actually a center for legal FBI operations, it is unlikely due to the stringent security safeguards in place: “The FBI, which is probably the least technical agency in the US government, doesn’t use mantraps. But virtually every area of the NSA’s buildings that contain sensitive operations require you to go through a mantrap with retinal and fingerprint scanners. All of the sensitive offices in NSA buildings have them.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer will add that when the FBI wants information from a telecom such as AT&T, it would merely show up at the firm with a warrant and have a wiretap placed. And both the NSA and FBI can legally, with warrants, tap into communications data using existing technological infrastructure, without the need for such sophisticated surveillance and data-mining facilities as the ones in Bridgeton and San Francisco. Both AT&T and the NSA will refuse to comment on the facilities in Bridgeton, citing national security concerns. [Salon, 6/21/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 28-30]
Entity Tags: Terrorist Surveillance Program, National Security Agency, Russell Tice, Matthew Aid, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kim Zetter, Mark Klein, AT&T, Jameel Jaffer, “Morgan” (senior AT&T manager), American Civil Liberties Union
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The NSA’s secret room in the AT&T switching center. [Source: PBS]Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) takes an informal tour of his company’s facility on San Francisco’s Folsom Street (see Late 2002), along with three other technicians from his Geary Street offices. The tour, Klein will later say, is to introduce the four technicians to the Folsom Street staff, “because they were obviously eventually planning to bring us over there.” Klein learns that the rumors of a “secret room” in the facility are true (see Fall 2002). The secret room is on the facility’s sixth floor and is being built to house some sort of equipment, but Klein is unsure exactly what that equipment might be. Klein and the others see the outer door of the secret room, and a workman working on the door “suddenly [began talking to Klein and his colleages in a] very low voice like he didn’t want to be overheard. He felt like this was something secret, you know, and he didn’t know much about it, and he was saying: ‘None of us can go in there. It’s all secret.’ This was not only an affront to the technicians; it was a violation of union rules, because they were obviously planning to install telecommunications equipment, which is supposed to be the jurisdiction of the union technicians. We had a contract. So the technicians were not only angry about this secret thing that they’re not let in on, but also the fact that there’s work there that they’re excluded from. And they were told nothing about it. So that was it.” Klein is further surprised to learn that only a single non-union technician (whom he only identifies as “Ski,” an AT&T “field support specialist” who has been granted a security clearance by the National Security Agency (NSA)), is allowed to work in the secure room. No union technicians are allowed in, even though the installation work being done is specifically contracted to the union workers. “The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room,” Klein will later state. Klein deduces that this secret room is the long-rumored NSA installation he has been hearing about. Moreover, he notes with some alarm that the room is next door to the 4ESS phone switch, “the traditional workhorse used for AT&T long-distance calls.” Klein will write, “Now my mental alarm bells were ringing, but for the moment there was nothing to do but take some mental notes, particularly since it was not clear exactly what they [the NSA and AT&T] were doing.” [Wired News, 4/7/2006; Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 26-28] Klein will explain that he chooses not to say anything about his concerns because he is “scared for several reasons, one being, well, this is obviously secret. This is obviously some federal government secret operation that they don’t want nosy people nosing around in, and if I started asking questions I could get into trouble. Furthermore, our jobs were in jeopardy anyway, because [we] were always getting wind that they were planning to close our previous office at Geary Street, and I didn’t need to give them an excuse to fire me. So I thought after thinking about it that the best thing to do is not to say anything and just watch it.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] He later learns that similar cabinets are being installed in AT&T centers in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego (see Late 2003). [Wired News, 4/7/2006] The Folsom Street facility is apparently connected to a more central surveillance facility operated out of one of AT&T’s main command centers in Missouri (see Late 2002-Early 2003).
Vice President Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and dozens of senior White House officials receive a highly classified intelligence assessment, a Senior Executive Memorandum titled “Questions on Why Iraq Is Procuring Aluminum Tubes and What the IAEA Has Found to Date,” on the issue of the disputed use of the Iraqi aluminum tubes. The report concludes that the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency all believe that the aluminum tubes were most likely intended for centrifuges. The memo says that only the intelligence units at the Departments of Energy and State, along with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), disagree with that assessment and believe the tubes were purchased to be used in Iraq’s conventional rocket program, and includes discussion of the dissenting opinions. [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005; National Journal, 3/2/2006]
Frank Koza, chief of staff in the “Regional Targets” section of the National Security Agency, issues a secret memo to senior NSA officials that orders staff to conduct aggressive, covert surveillance against several United Nations Security Council members. This surveillance, which has the potential to wreak havoc on US relations with its fellow nations, is reportedly ordered by George W. Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Koza, whose section spies on countries considered strategically important to US interests, is trying to compile information on certain Security Council members in order to help the United States to win an upcoming UN resolution vote on whether to support military action against Iraq (see February 24, 2003.
Targeted Nations Include 'Middle Six' - The targeted members are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea, and Pakistan, who together make up the so-called “Middle Six.” These six nations are officially “on the fence,” and their votes are being aggressively courted by both the pro-war faction, led by the US and Britain, and the anti-war faction, led by France, Russia and China (see Mid-February 2003-March 2003. [Observer, 3/2/2003] Bulgaria is another nation targeted, and that operation will apparently be successful, because within days Bulgaria joined the US in supporting the Iraq war resolution. Mexico, another fence-straddler, is not targeted, but that may be because, in journalist Martin Bright’s words, “the Americans had other means of twisting the arms of the Mexicans.” (Bright is one of the authors of the original news report.) The surveillance program will backfire with at least one country, Chile, who has its own history of being victimized by US “dirty tricks” and CIA-led coups. Chile is almost certain to oppose the US resolution. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/6/2003] It is also likely, some experts believe, that China is an ultimate target of the spy operation, since the junior translater who will leak the Koza memo in February, Katharine Gun, is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and is unlikely to have seen the memo unless she would have been involved in translating it into that language. [AlterNet, 2/18/2004]
Operation Ruined US Chances of Winning Vote - Later assessment shows that many experts believe the spying operation scuttled any chance the US had of winning the UN vote, as well as the last-ditch attempt by the UN to find a compromise that would avert a US-British invasion of Iraq. [Observer, 2/15/2004]
Chile 'Surprised' to be Targeted - Chile’s ambassador to Britain, Mariano Fernandez, will say after learning of the NSA surveillance, “We cannot understand why the United States was spying on Chile. We were very surprised. Relations have been good with America since the time of George Bush, Sr.” [Observer, 3/9/2003]
Mexico Suspected Spying - Mexico’s UN representative, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, will tell the Observer a year later that he and other UN delegates believed at the time that they were being spied upon by the US during their meetings. “The surprising thing was the very rapid flow of information to the US quarters,” he will recall. “It was very obvious to the countries involved in the discussion on Iraq that we were being observed and that our communications were probably being tapped. The information was being gathered to benefit the United States.” [Observer, 2/15/2004]
Memo Comes Before Powell's UN Presentation - The memo comes just five days before Colin Powell’s extraordinary presentation to the UN to build a case for war against Iraq (see [complete_timeline_of_the_2003_invasion_of_iraq_442]]), and is evidence of the US’s plans to do everything possible to influence the UN to vote to authorize war with that nation. The memo says the eavesdropping push “will probably peak” after Powell’s speech. [Baltimore Sun, 3/4/2003]
NSA Wants Details of Voting Plans, More - The NSA wants information about how these countries’ delegations “will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also ‘policies’, ‘negotiating positions’, ‘alliances’ and ‘dependencies’—the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.” [Observer, 3/2/2003] Bright will tell other reporters on March 9, “It’s quite clear what they were going for was not only the voting patterns and the voting plans and the negotiations with other interested parties such as the French or the Chinese, it wasn’t just the bare bones, it was also the office telephone communications and email communications and also what are described as ‘domestic coms’, which is the home telephones of people working within the UN. This can only mean that they were looking for personal information. That is, information which could be used against those delagates. It’s even clear from the memo that this was an aggressive operation. It wasn’t simply a neutral surveillance operation.” According to Bright’s sources, the orders for the program came “from a level at least as high as Condoleezza Rice, who is the President’s National Security Adviser.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/6/2003]
'Surge' of Covert Intelligence Gathering - Koza advises his fellow NSA officials that the agency is “mounting a surge” aimed at gaining covert information that will help the US in its negotiations. This information will be used for the US’s so-called Quick Response Capability (QRC), “against” the six delegations. In the memo, Koza writes that the staff should also monitor “existing non-UN Security Council Member UN-related and domestic comms [office and home telephones] for anything useful related to Security Council deliberations,” suggesting that not only are the delegates to be monitored in their UN offices, but at their homes as well. Koza’s memo is copied to senior officials at an unnamed foreign intelligence agency (later revealed to be Britain). Koza addresses those officials: “We’d appreciate your support in getting the word to your analysts who might have similar more indirect access to valuable information from accesses in your product lines [intelligence sources].…I suspect that you’ll be hearing more along these lines in formal channels.” The surveillance is part of a comprehensive attempt by the US to influence other nations to vote to authorize a war against Iraq; these US attempts include proffers of economic and military aid, and threats that existing aid packages will be withdrawn. A European intelligence source says, The Americans are being very purposeful about this.” [National Security Agency, 1/31/2003; Observer, 3/2/2003; Observer, 2/8/2004]
US Media Ignores Operation - While the European and other regional media have produced intensive coverage of the news of the NSA’s wiretapping of the UN, the American media virtually ignores the story until 2004, when Gun’s court case is scheduled to commence (see February 26, 2004). Bright, in an interview with an Australian news outlet, says on March 6 that “[i]t’s as well not to get too paranoid about these things and too conspiratorial,” he was scheduled for interviews by three major US television news outlets, NBC, Fox News, and CNN, who all “appeared very excited about the story to the extent of sending cars to my house to get me into the studio, and at the last minute, were told by their American desks to drop the story. I think they’ve got some questions to answer too.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/6/2003] Most US print media outlets fail to cover the story, either. The New York Times, the self-described newspaper of record for the US, do not cover the story whatsoever. The Times’s deputy foreign editor, Alison Smale, says on March 5, “Well, it’s not that we haven’t been interested, [but] we could get no confirmation or comment” on the memo from US officials. “We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting.” The Washington Post publishes a single story about the operation, focusing on the idea that surveillance at the UN is business as usual. The Los Angeles Times fixes on claims by unnamed “former top intelligence officials” believe Koza’s memo is a forgery. (When the memo is proven to be authentic, both the Post and the Los Angeles Times refuse to print anything further on the story.) Author Norman Solomon writes, “In contrast to the courage of the lone woman who leaked the NSA memo—and in contrast to the journalistic vigor of the Observer team that exposed it—the most powerful US news outlets gave the revelation the media equivalent of a yawn. Top officials of the Bush administration, no doubt relieved at the lack of US media concern about the NSA’s illicit spying, must have been very encouraged.” [ZNet, 12/28/2005]
UN to Launch Inquiry - The United Nations will launch its own inquiry into the NSA surveillance operation (see March 9, 2003).
Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Washington Post, NBC, New York Times, Martin Bright, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Alison Smale, Britain Mariano FernÃ¡ndez, Los Angeles Times, CNN, Fox News, Colin Powell, National Security Agency, Frank Koza
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Katharine Gun. [Source: BBC]Katharine Gun, a 29-year old translator for British intelligence’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), leaks the National Security Agency memo documenting the NSA’s electronic and physical surveillance of numerous UN delegates to the Security Council (see January 31, 2003). Gun will be arrested on March 8 and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act (see March 9, 2003). Gun leaks the memo, [BBC, 9/15/2004] written by the NSA’s Frank Koza and sent to several US allies via its ECHELON global surveillance system, to Britain’s Observer, which spends weeks verifying the document’s veracity before running the story on March 2. Former NSA intelligence officer Wayne Madsen, now of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the leak illustrates the deep unhappiness among several US allies’ intelligence agencies over US and British attempts to allege ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. “My feeling is that this was an authorized leak,” Madsen says. “I’ve been hearing for months of people in the US and British intelligence community who are deeply concerned about their governments ‘cooking’ intelligence to link Iraq to al-Qaeda.’ While surveillance of delegates and other officials at the UN is a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, [Observer, 3/9/2003] intelligence experts acknowledge that the US and other nations routinely conduct at least some sort of surveillance on UN members. “One would have to have the innocence of an unborn child to believe that espionage doesn’t go on every day at the United Nations,” says one such expert, Loch Johnson. “From a purist point of view, it’s unfortunate in a way, because after all, we’re the host nation for the United Nations. But the reality is, Europeans and everyone else engages in espionage in New York City, much of it focused on the United Nations.” Experts say what is unprecedented is the leak itself, especially in its timeliness and detail. [Baltimore Sun, 3/4/2003]
Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the so-called “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times, writes in January 2004, “I can only admire the more timely, courageous action of Katherine Gun…who risked her career and freedom to expose an illegal plan to win official and public support for an illegal war, before that war had started. Her revelation of a classified document urging British intelligence to help the US bug the phones of all the members of the UN security council to manipulate their votes on the war may have been critical in denying the invasion a false cloak of legitimacy.…She did what she could, in time for it to make a difference, as indeed others should have done, and still can. I have no doubt that there are thousands of pages of documents in safes in London and Washington right now—the Pentagon Papers of Iraq—whose unauthorized revelation would drastically alter the public discourse on whether we should continue sending our children to die in Iraq.…Exposing governmental lies carries a heavy personal risk, even in our democracies. But that risk can be worthwhile when a war’s-worth of lives is at stake.” [Guardian, 1/27/2004]
Entity Tags: United Nations, Observer, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Wayne Madsen, Loch Johnson, United Nations Security Council, Government Communications Headquarters, Daniel Ellsberg, Katherine Gun, Al-Qaeda, Echelon, National Security Agency, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Frank Koza
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
AT&T completes installing “splitter” equipment in its Folsom Street, San Francisco, facility (see January 2003), enabling the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor a vast amount of domestic and international electronic communications over telephone and Internet connections. [Klein, 2009, pp. 34-35] Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) later helps connect Internet circuitry to a splitting cabinet that leads into the secret room (see October 2003). In an affidavit, Klein will later state, “While doing my job, I learned that fiber optic cables from the secret room were tapping into the Worldnet (AT&T’s Internet service) circuits by splitting off a portion of the light signal.” The circuitry allows AT&T to divert traffic to and from its network from other domestic and international providers to the NSA monitoring equipment, meaning that even citizens who do not use AT&T as their provider can be monitored. [Wired News, 4/7/2006]
In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind will claim that Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, was monitored as he attempted to fly to the US. According to Suskind, NSA surveillance discovers that Khan is coming to the US soon and has been in contact with suspect US citizens, including Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, an Islamist radical living in Virginia. E-mails between Khan, Ali, and others discuss plans for various violent activities, including a desire to “blow up synagogues on the East Coast.” FBI agent Dan Coleman, an expert on al-Qaeda, reads the intercepts and advocates either a very intensive surveillance of Khan when he is in the US, or not letting him in at all. Officials, including Joe Billy, head of the FBI’s New York office, worry about being held responsible if Khan is allowed into the country and then manages to commit some violent act. With Khan scheduled to come to the US in one day, “top bosses in Washington” quickly decide to put him on a no-fly list. Khan does fly to the US, and is stopped and sent back to Britain. As a result, he realizes the US is onto him and presumably takes greater precautions. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 200-203]
Confusion - However, when Suskind’s book is published in June 2006, a number of articles will dispute Suskind’s claim. For instance, Newsweek will report that “several US and [British] law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials” anonymously claim that Suskind is mistaken, and is confusing Sidique Khan with another British suspect named Mohammed Ajmal Khan. [Newsweek, 6/21/2006] The Telegraph reaches the same conclusion, and points out that Ajmal Khan pleaded guilty in a British trial in March on charges of providing weapons and funds to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba. During that trial, it was revealed that he made several trips to the US and met with a group of suspected militants in Virginia, including one named Ahmed Omar Abu Ali.
Stands by Story - However, Suskind will resolutely stand by his story, saying, “In my investigation and in my book and in my conversations with people in the US government, there was no mistake or doubt that we are talking about Mohammad Sidique Khan, not Mohammed Ajmal Khan.” He says he was aware of the difference between the two and suggests British officials may have been trying to push Ajmal Khan instead to cover up their failures to stop the 7/7 bombings. The two officials mentioned by name in Suskind’s account, Coleman and Billy, apparently say nothing to the press to confirm or deny the story. [Daily Telegraph, 6/22/2006]
Visit to Israel - Curiously, it will be reported shortly after the 7/7 bombings that Khan visits Israel around this time, February 19-20, 2003, and the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv will claim he is suspected of helping two Pakistani-Britons plot a suicide bombing that kills three Israelis several months later (see February 19-20, 2003). [Guardian, 7/19/2005]
Popular Science magazine carries a rare interview with Tom Owen, a voice analyst who has worked on identifying Osama bin Laden in recordings allegedly released by the al-Qaeda leader. Owen worked for US media on the identification of bin Laden’s voice in a November 2002 recording (see November 12, 2002), assisted by a captain of the Saudi Interior Ministry’s forensics department he had apparently been teaching at the time. Owen, one of only eight forensic voice analysts certified by the American Board of Recorded Evidence, and other US experts identified the voice as bin Laden’s, although a Swiss facility disagreed (see November 29, 2002). The interview describes Owen’s lab and how he works, pivoting off the November recording. Owen criticizes the Swiss analysis, saying that the advanced biometrics software the Swiss used cannot work with the noise on the tape, as it is “designed to work with perfect samples.” Cleaning up the tape would not help, as this would remove the high and low frequencies a biometric system needs to make its identification.
Voice Identification Methodology - To identify voices, Owen uses a spectrograph, which produces spectrograms—“a kind of graphic speech rendering that has changed little since the 1940s”—that are then compared. His favorite tool for analyses is a “piece of vintage equipment—a reel-to-reel Voice Identification 700 spectrograph built in 1973,” which “differs little from the analog machines US Army intelligence officers built to identify and track German radio operators during World War II.” When analyzing a new recording thought to be from bin Laden, Owen compares the spectrograms it produces with spectrograms from a known bin Laden interview, such as one he granted to ABC in 1998 (see May 28, 1998). According to the magazine, there are “only a half-dozen words in common between the November tape and the ABC interview,” although the standards of the American Board of Recorded Evidence demand 20 identical words, preferably spoken in the same order.
Listening for 'Quirky Mannerisms' - However, Owen also listens for “the multitude of quirky mannerisms and pronunciation foibles peculiar to each voice,” because a trained ear can detect “the subtle whistle caused by a missing tooth, a person’s tendency to swallow in the middle of a sentence, even the way someone sets his or her jaw when speaking.” Owen plays the reporter what he calls a short-term memory tape, apparently a crucial tool in aural voice identifications. The spliced tape toggles between 2.5-second segments of bin Laden’s ABC interview and the November tape; Owen uses the tape to listen for peculiarities in a voice, especially when vowels are spoken. According to Owen, who says bin Laden’s voice is what the magazine calls “plenty peculiar,” the tape proves it is the “same guy” on the November tape and in the 1998 interview. However, the reporter comments: “To my untrained ear, it could be Darth Vader behind the static.… This is the sort of gray area that tends to make legal observers worry about the state of forensic science.”
Comments on NSA - According to the magazine, Owen’s technology is similar to that which the NSA probably uses to analyze voices, although Owen thinks the NSA has samples of bin Laden’s voice he does not. However, he does not think it has made biometric breakthroughs in analysis despite its advanced technology, which is “mostly devoted to listening.” [Popular Science, 2/24/2003]
The United Nations launches an investigation into the electronic and physical surveillance of a number of its Security Council delegates by the National Security Agency (see January 31, 2003). The NSA operation, revealed the week before, was apparently leaked to Britain’s Observer by Katharine Gun, who works at Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and has been arrested on suspicion of breaking Britain’s Official Secrets Act (see February 2003). The NSA also solicited the assistance of an intelligence agency of an unnamed “friendly foreign government”; it is believed to be Britain. The leak is touted as “more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers” by celebrated whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. The leak of the NSA surveillance program has caused deep embarrassment for the Bush administration, which is working to recruit supporters for a second UN resolution authorizing military force against Iraq (see February 24, 2003). The authorization for the NSA operation is believed to have come from National Security Adviser Rice, but US intelligence experts say that such a decision would have had to involve Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. President Bush, by necessity, would have been informed of the proposed operation at one of his daily intelligence briefings. While such surveillance of foreign diplomats at the UN is legal under the US’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), it violates the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. According to international law expert Dr. John Quigley, the Vienna Convention stipulates: “The receiving state shall permit and protect free communication on the part of the mission for all official purposes…. The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable.” [Observer, 3/9/2003]
Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, United Nations, National Security Agency, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Michael Hayden, John Quigley, Condoleezza Rice, Katherine Gun, Donald Rumsfeld, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Government Communications Headquarters, George J. Tenet, Daniel Ellsberg
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Senator John D. Rockefeller. [Source: ViewImages.com]John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, learns of the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program against US citizens (see Early 2002) in a secret briefing for himself, the chairman of the committee, and the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Hours later, Rockefeller sends a handwritten letter to Vice President Cheney expressing his concerns about the potential illegality of the program, concerns he apparently expressed in the briefing as well. Rockefeller will not release the letter publicly until December 19, 2005, four days after the New York Times publishes an article revealing the program’s existence (see December 15, 2005). Disturbed both by the information he was given and the information that was obviously being withheld, Rockefeller writes in part: “Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues.… Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own [Cheney had prohibited Rockefeller and the three other lawmakers in the briefing from consulting with their staff experts], I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities. As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA [Total Information Awareness (see March 2002)] project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance. Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.” [Democratic Party, 12/19/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 115] Rockefeller also notes that he is not at liberty to do anything about his concerns, since he is legally bound to obey the secrecy rules the White House has invoked, but he wants his concerns noted. [Savage, 2007, pp. 116] It is unclear whether Rockefeller ever receives a reply. Rockefeller is apparently unaware of evidence showing that domestic surveillance may have begun well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Representative Porter Goss and Senator Bob Graham co-chair the Congressional Inquiry. [Source: Ken Lambert/ Associated Press]The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report comes out. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003] Officially, the report was written by the 37 members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, but in practice, co-chairmen Bob Graham (D-FL) and Porter Goss (R-FL) exercised “near total control over the panel, forbidding the inquiry’s staff to speak to other lawmakers.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/29/2002] Both Republican and Democrats in the panel complained how the two co-chairmen withheld information and controlled the process. [Palm Beach Post, 9/21/2002] The report was finished in December 2002 and some findings were released then, but the next seven months were spent in negotiation with the Bush administration over what material had to remain censored. The Inquiry had a very limited mandate, focusing just on the handling of intelligence before 9/11. It also completely ignores or censors out all mentions of intelligence from foreign governments. Thomas Kean, the chairman of 9/11 Commission says the Inquiry’s mandate covered only “one-seventh or one-eighth” of what his newer investigation will hopefully cover. [Washington Post, 7/27/2003] The report blames virtually every government agency for failures:
Newsweek’s main conclusion is: “The investigation turned up no damning single piece of evidence that would have led agents directly to the impending attacks. Still, the report makes it chillingly clear that law-enforcement and intelligence agencies might very well have uncovered the plot had it not been for blown signals, sheer bungling—and a general failure to understand the nature of the threat.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
According to the New York Times, the report also concludes, “the FBI and CIA had known for years that al-Qaeda sought to strike inside the United States, but focused their attention on the possibility of attacks overseas.” [New York Times, 7/26/2003]
CIA Director George Tenet was “either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of Intelligence Community resources necessary to combat the growing threat.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
US military leaders were “reluctant to use… assets to conduct offensive counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan” or to “support or participate in CIA operations directed against al-Qaeda.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
“There was no coordinated… strategy to track terrorist funding and close down their financial support networks” and the Treasury Department even showed “reluctance” to do so. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
According to the Washington Post, the NSA took “an overly cautious approach to collecting intelligence in the United States and offered ‘insufficient collaboration’ with the FBI’s efforts.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Many sections remain censored, especially an entire chapter detailing possible Saudi support for the 9/11 attackers. The Bush administration insisted on censoring even information that was already in the public domain. [Newsweek, 5/25/2003] The Inquiry attempted to determine “to what extent the president received threat-specific warnings” but received very little information. There was a focus on learning what was in Bush’s briefing on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), but the White House refused to release this information, citing “executive privilege.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003; Newsday, 8/7/2003]
Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Saudi Arabia, National Security Agency, Porter J. Goss, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Thomas Kean, US Department of the Treasury
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), working near the National Security Agency (NSA)‘s “secret room” in the firm’s Folsom Street, San Francisco facility (see October 2003), receives two documents pertaining to the equipment in that secret room. (In a 2007 interview with PBS, Klein will cite a third document as well, that he found lying on top of a router.) The two documents are entitled “SIMS Splitter Cut-In and Test Procedure Issue 2, 01/12/03” and “SIMS Splitter Cut-In and Test Procedure OSWF Training Issue 2 January 24, 2002.” “OSWF” stands for “On-Site Work Force.” As for “SIMS,” all Klein knows is that it is an acronym associated with the secret room. Reading over the documents, Klein realizes that they indicate the secret room contains a “splitter cabinet,” installed in February 2003 (see February 2003), containing “optical splitters” that “cut in” to signals sent through 16 “Peering Links” between AT&T and 16 other major carriers and Internet exchange points. He later recalls: “I brought them back to my desk, and when I started looking at it, I looked at it more, and I looked at it more, and finally it dawned on me sort of all at once, and I almost fell out of my chair, because this showed, first of all, what they had done, that they had taken working circuits, which had nothing to do with a splitter cabinet, and they had taken in particular what are called peering links which connect AT&T’s network with the other networks. It’s how you get the Internet, right? One network connects with another. So they took 16 high-speed peering links which go to places like Qwest [Communications] and Palo Alto Internet Exchange and places like that.… These circuits were working at one point, and the documents indicated in February 2003 they had cut into these circuits so that they could insert the splitter so that they can get the data flow from these circuits to go to the secret room. So this data flow meant that they were getting not only AT&T customers’ data flow; they were getting everybody else’s data flow, whoever else might happen to be communicating into the AT&T network from other networks. So it was turning out to be like a large chunk of the network, of the Internet.” The documents, he later says, name “the circuit IDs… the companies they belong to… [and] the cut date. And they were all in February , when they were cut into the splitter” (see February 2003). The 16 carriers include ConXion, Verio, XO, Genuity, Qwest, PAIX (Palo Alto Internet Exchange), Allegiance, Abovenet, Global Crossing, C&W, UUNET, Level 3, Sprint, Telia, PSINet, and MAE West (the Metropolitan Area Exchange for AT&T’s Western region). In plain English, the splitter in the NSA room is duplicating the electronic data being sent through AT&T’s equipment, and sending the duplicated signals somewhere else, presumably to NSA computers for later processing. Klein is given the documents by a veteran AT&T technician who is preparing to retire. Klein, in a casual conversation with the colleague who gave him the documents, remarks, “It seems obvious to me, given that the secret room is next to the 4ESS (see January 2003), that they’re listening to phone calls.” Klein’s colleague shakes his head and says: “No, Internet.… I’ll show you.” (In 2007 Klein will learn from a telecommunications expert that since AT&T was transferring its long-distance telephone traffic onto Internet fiber cables, the splitter was most likely picking up both telephone and Internet traffic.) Klein’s colleague shows him the cabinet containing the splitters. Klein later tells a reporter: “[T]here were optical splitters, which basically were connected by fiber-optic cable down to the secret room on the sixth floor.… The analogy I can give you, which most people are familiar with is, say you get cable TV in your living room and then want to watch all the channels you get in the living room, you want to get all those same channels in your bedroom. So they install on the cable what they call a splitter, which splits off all the signals, duplicates of the same signals which go to the bedroom.… What the splitter does is make a duplicate copy of all the signals going across the fiber-optic cables.… We’re talking about billions and billions of bits of data going across every second, right? And it’s going into the router, and it’s coming back from the routers in that office. So what they do with the splitter is they intercept that data stream and make copies of all the data, and those copies go down on the cable to the secret room.” Klein confirms from his colleague and from the documents that show the splitters are connected directly to the equipment in the secret room. [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 34-35]
Entity Tags: Genuity, UUNET, XO, Allegiance, Abovenet, AT&T, ConXion, Sprint/Nextel, Telia, Palo Alto Internet Exchange, MAE West, Level 3, Global Crossing, Mark Klein, National Security Agency, C&W, PSINet, Qwest
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A portion of the outer door of AT&T’s Folsom Street facility. [Source: Wired News]Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), newly assigned to the company’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco, is tasked to work at the seventh floor “Internet room,” where AT&T manages much of its domestic Internet traffic. Klein is intensely curious about the National Security Agency’s “secret room” on the sixth floor (see January 2003). The NSA room has two doors, both labeled “641A,” and is in reality what Klein will later term “a room within a room,” with the outer room filled with ordinary “computer equipment for mundane corporate uses.” He does not know what is in the inner “secret” room. Klein will later write, “While working in the outer room, you could walk around three sides of the secret room, which I measured to be about 24 by 48 feet.” An outer door leads from Room 641A to the 4ESS switchroom, which AT&T uses to manage its long-distance telephone communications. The rooms are connected by “row after row of equipment and a tangle of cabling going up and across the ceiling.” Klein learns that the NSA room is sometimes called “the SIMS room,” an acronym of which no one seems to know the meaning. [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 32-34] Klein will later describe his job at the Folsom Street facility as working with the phone switch equipment on the sixth floor, “which handled the public’s telephone calls and was the workhorse of the phone system.… My main assignment was to oversee the Internet room, and that meant keeping it going. If there were any trouble calls, I had to answer them. If there’s any upgrading work to do, I had to either do it or arrange for others to do it in off hours. Just oversee the flow of work in the Internet room and watch things.” He also spends a tremendous amount of time on the seventh floor, “where the Internet room was.… That’s where there are a lot of Cisco routers, a lot of fiber-optic lines coming in and going out.” The Folsom Street facility serves the Bay Area as well as much of Western America. According to Klein: “There’s lots of Internet traffic, as you can imagine, that goes in and out of this office, probably hundreds of fiber-optic lines that go out, carrying billions—that’s billions with a ‘B’—billions of bits of data going in and out every second every day. So all the Web surfing you’re doing, whatever you’re doing on the Internet—the pictures, the video, the Voice over Internet—all that stuff’s going in and out of there. And then of course there’s also the traditional phone switch, which is doing what it’s been doing since before the Internet.… Handling millions and millions of phone calls, right. That’s its job.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]
Jack Goldsmith succeeds Jay Bybee as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC essentially performs two functions: advising the executive branch on the legal limits of presidential power, and crafts legal justifications for the actions of the president and the executive branch. Goldsmith, who along with fellow Justice Department counsel and law professor John Yoo, is seen as one of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars. But instead of aiding the Bush administration in expanding the power of the executive branch, Goldsmith will spend nine tumultuous months battling the White House on issues such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, the administration’s advocacy of torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects, and the extralegal detention and military tribunals of “enemy combatants.” Goldsmith will find himself at odds with Yoo, the author of two controversial OLC memos that grant the US government wide latitude in torturing terror suspects (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002), with White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, and with the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington, who along with Cheney is one of the strongest advocates of the so-called “unitary executive” theory of governance, which says the president has virtually unlimited powers, especially in the areas of national security and foreign policy, and is not always subject to Congressional or judicial oversight. Within hours of Goldsmith’s swearing-in, Goldsmith receives a phone call from Gonzales asking if the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in war zones such as Iraq, covers terrorists and insurgents as well. Goldsmith, after intensive review with other lawyers in and out of the Justice Department, concludes that the conventions do indeed apply. Ashcroft concurs. The White House does not. Goldsmith’s deputy, Patrick Philbin, says to Goldsmith as they drive to the White House to meet with Gonzales and Addington, “They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told no.” Philbin’s prediction is accurate; Addington is, Goldsmith recalls, “livid.” The physically and intellectually imposing Addington thunders, “The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision.” Addington refuses to accept Goldsmith’s explanations. Months later, an unmollified Addington will tell Goldsmith in an argument about another presidential decision, “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.” These initial encounters set the tone for Goldsmith’s stormy tenure as head of the OLC. Goldsmith will lead a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith will resign in June of 2004 (see June 17, 2004). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Jack Goldsmith, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, National Security Agency, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, Jeffrey Rosen
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Narus logo. [Source: Endace (.com)]Narus, a firm which manufactures telecommunications hardware, co-sponsors a technical conference in McLean, Virginia, titled “Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception and Internet Surveillance.” As AT&T engineer Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) will later write: “Police officials, FBI and DEA agents, and major telecommunications companies eager to cash in on the ‘war on terror’ had gathered in the hometown of the CIA to discuss their special problems. Among the attendees were AT&T, BellSouth, MCI, Sprint, and Verizon. Narus founder Dr. Ori Cohen gave a keynote speech.” Also speaking at the conference is William Crowley, the former deputy director of the National Security Agency (NSA). Narus is providing some of the key hardware components used in the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see January 16, 2004). [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 39]
Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), who is considering “blowing the whistle” on the National Security Agency’s secret data-mining operation being conducted with the complicity and participation of AT&T (see January 16, 2004), is troubleshooting a problem of “signal loss” caused by AT&T’s signals being routed through the NSA’s “splitter cabinet,” which “splits” part of the optical data flow from its normal route into the NSA’s computers, enabling the agency to monitor all of the Internet traffic going through Klein’s Folsom Street, San Francisco, facility (see October 2003). Klein learns from a fellow technician that AT&T is “getting the same problem in the other offices where splitters are going in.” Klein is stunned to learn that other AT&T facilities have NSA splitters. He learns from the other technician that the “other offices” are in, among other places, Atlanta, San Diego, San Jose, and Seattle. (Apparently neither Klein nor the other technician are aware of the NSA splitter at the central AT&T facility in Bridgeton, Missouri—see Late 2002-Early 2003). Klein will later write, “This thing was getting bigger and bigger.” Klein determines that the NSA splitter is causing the signal loss: “The company was degrading the signal quality of its network for the sake of the NSA.”
Visiting the Secret Room - Klein accompanies an AT&T field support specialist named Rick into the NSA’s “secret room” at the Folsom Street building, with the intention of repairing the splitter problem. Rick is one of the few AT&T technicians authorized to work in the room; he invites Klein to join him and Klein agrees. Klein watches Rick punch the entry code into the lock of Room 641A and follows him inside. Klein observes a large amount of hardware, most installed in what he will later call “standard cabinets used by the telecommunications industry,” along with a computer workstation and a set of storage lockers. Klein later says he spends no more than two minutes inside the secret room. He will recall: “[I]f I didn’t know that the NSA was involved, it would look like any other work space where telecom people work, with rows of cabinets with equipment inside them, humming.… [T]he odd thing about the whole room, of course, was that I couldn’t normally get in there, nor could any of the other union technicians. Only this one guy who had clearance from the NSA could get in there, so that changed the whole context of what this is about.” Shortly thereafter, Rick tells Klein and a group of employees that he has keys allowing him access to the other NSA secret rooms in AT&T’s offices in San Diego, San Jose, and Seattle. [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 42-44]
Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), working at the company’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco one floor above the National Security Agency’s “secret room” monitoring the company’s Internet communications (see October 2003 and Fall 2003), is given a technical document to pass on to the secret room’s AT&T supervisor, a man Klein will identify only as “Ski” (see Summer 2002 and January 2003). Klein flips through the non-classified document, titled “Study Group 3 LGX/Splitter Wiring San Francisco Issue 1 12/10/02.” (LGX, Klein will later explain, refers to “Lucent LightGuide patch panels.”) He finds the document astonishing. It confirms, he will later write, “that the splitter cabinet in the 7th floor Internet room [his workstation] was directly connected to panels in the 6th floor secret room, which was referred to as the ‘SG3 Secure Room.’” Documents he has previously read (see Fall 2003) “made repeated references to the ‘Splitter,’ ‘Splitter Cabinet,’ or other descriptions which made it clear that the three documents were linked together.” Klein deduces that “SG3” stands for “Study Group 3,” an appellation he will write was chosen in “an apparent attempt to make a sinister operation look innocent.” And, since San Francisco is the site of the third study group, he deduces there must be at least two other study groups, presumably in different cities, “a fact,” he will write, “which was soon confirmed to me. I had a hand on only one small part of a giant octopus.” Klein pores more closely over the documents to try to learn exactly what AT&T and the NSA are doing, and soon finds a reference to a “Narus STA 6400.” He has no idea what this piece of equipment is, but he quickly learns that it is, as he will write, “a very sophisticated and specialized product that not only was perfectly suited for sorting through the data stream in real time looking for things, but… was already being marketed specifically to telecommunications and other companies for intelligence and police spying.” [AT&T, 12/10/2002; AT&T, 1/13/2003; AT&T, 1/24/2003; Klein, 2009, pp. 35-37] Later, Klein will describe the Narus STA 6400 as “not only designed for high-speed sifting through high-speed volumes of data, looking for something according to various program algorithms, something you’d think would be perfect for a spy agency.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]
The new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, begins an internal review of the legality of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). The program is kept so secret that only four Justice officials even have access to information about its inner workings, a pattern of poor consultation he will call “the biggest legal mess I have ever encountered” when he testifies to the Senate about the program four years later (see October 2, 2007). Neither Attorney General John Ashcroft nor Justice’s top legal counsel know much about the program. When Goldsmith begins his legal review, the White House initially refuses to brief Deputy Attorney General James Comey about it. Goldsmith later testifies that he cannot find “a legal basis for some aspects of the program.” Upon completing the review, Goldsmith declares the program illegal, with the support of Ashcroft and Comey. However, White House officials are irate at Goldsmith’s findings. [Washington Post, 10/20/2007]
The NSA allows the 9/11 Commission to access its archives on al-Qaeda, but the commission does not appear interested. The commission had previously shown little interest in the NSA’s material (see Late 2002-July 2004), and is having trouble getting access to information from other agencies, but this offer does not stimulate any additional interest. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “[P]erversely, the more eager [NSA director] General Hayden was to cooperate, the less interested [9/11 Commission executive director Philip] Zelikow and others at the commission seemed to be in what was buried in the NSA files.” Lorry Fenner, a commission staffer who previously worked with the NSA, arranges for a set of relevant NSA files to be transferred to a special reading room in Washington not far from the commission’s offices, so the relevant staff members can have easy access to the material. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 156] However, this does not stimulate any interest, and Fenner begins to read through the material herself (see January 2004).
For the first time, 9/11 Commissioner Thomas Kean says that the 9/11 attacks could and should have been prevented. Kean, a Bush appointee and former Republican governor of New Jersey, states that “This was not something that had to happen… There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed.” In 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks” (see May 8, 2002) and other Bush administration officials have also said the attacks were all but unstoppable. Kean promises major revelations from the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, NSA, and possibly former President Clinton and President Bush. [CBS News, 12/17/2003] But within days, Kean amends his comments. He says that he wants to make it “clear” that he meant that officials at the operational level two years ago deserved to be singled out for blame and that no judgments had been reached about senior officials. This coincides with continued attempts from the White House to paint the intelligence prior to the attacks as non-specific “chatter,” and the attacks themselves as “literally bolts from the blue.” [Boston Globe, 12/21/2003]
FISC Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. [Source: Washington Post]James Baker, counsel for intelligence policy in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (no relation to the former Secretary of State James A. Baker), informs the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that the government has, at least twice, improperly used excluded evidence from NSA domestic wiretaps to obtain warrants from FISC. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the senior FISC judge, is angered by this as both she and her predecessor, Royce Lambeth, have insisted that no evidence obtained from warrantless wiretaps can be used to obtain warrants for further surveillance from FISC. The Justice Department assured them that the administration would never attempt to secure warrants in such a manner. By using the excluded information, the Justice Department rendered useless the federal screening system put in place to keep such evidence from reaching FISC, which did not want to receive it due to the questionable legality of the domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Kollar-Kotelly’s complaint about the use of tainted evidence results in a brief suspension of the NSA wiretapping program. But the practice will continue (see 2005). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
An unidentified US telecommunications firm refuses to turn over its phone records to the government as part of a joint program by the NSA and the Drug Enforcement Agency to combat Latin American drug-trafficking that has been going on since the 1990s (see 1990s). The firm believes the administrative subpoenas issued for its information by the Justice Department are overly broad, and that it fears the public relations and legal backlashes it might suffer if the public were to learn of its cooperation. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]
The White House and the Justice Department are at odds over the legality of the National Security Agency’s “data mining” program, which involves the NSA combing through enormous electronic databases containing personal information about millions of US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes and often without court warrants (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and Early 2002). Such data mining by the NSA potentially threatens citizens’ constitutional right to privacy. This clash between the White House and the Justice Department is one of the reasons that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card will try to pressure Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft is recuperating from surgery, to reauthorize the NSA program over the objections of Deputy Attorney General James Comey. That attempt to force reauthorization over Justice Department complaints will result in the protest resignations of Ashcroft, Comey, and other Justice officials (see March 10-12, 2004). In 2007, Gonzales will deny that any such attempt to pressure Ashcroft to overrule Comey ever happened (see July 24, 2007), and will deny that there was any such dispute between the White House and Justice Department over the NSA program. Those denials will lead to calls to investigate Gonzales for perjury (see May 16, 2007). In late 2005, President Bush will admit, after the New York Times reveals the existence of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), that the program indeed exists, but will not acknowledge the data mining. Several current and former administration officials, interviewed by reporters in 2007, refuse to go into detail about the dispute between the White House and Justice Department, but say that it involves other issues along with the data mining. They will also refuse to explain what modifications to the surveillance program Bush will authorize to mollify Justice Department officials. Bush and his officials, including Gonzales, who will ascend to the position of attorney general in 2005, will repeatedly insist that he has the authority, both under the Constitution and under Congress’s authorization to use military force against terrorists passed after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), to bypass the requirements for court warrants to monitor US citizens. Critics will say that such surveillance is illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - 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, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Kevin Scheid. [Source: Abledangerblog(.com)]After finding that nobody else on the 9/11 Commission is interested in what the NSA knew about al-Qaeda in general and the 9/11 plot in particular (see Late 2002-July 2004 and Late 2003), commission staffer Lorry Fenner decides to try to read through a portion of the material herself. Fenner is “astonished” that nobody from the commission’s team investigating the 9/11 plot is reading the material, and thinks about asking her boss, Kevin Scheid, to tell the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow that somebody should read the material. However, Scheid resists a confrontation with Zelikow, and Fenner does not want to go over her boss’s head and talk to Zelikow herself. Therefore, although she has other duties on the commission, she starts to read through the material herself. There are tens of thousands of pages of NSA documents about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and, according to author Philip Shenon, “It would take several days of reading to get through even a small portion of it.” Fenner spends “two or three hours” on “several days” between January and June in the reading room, and some colleagues help her towards the end (see June 2004 and Between July 1 and July 17, 2004), but most of the information will go unread by the 9/11 Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 156-7, 370]
9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner. [Source: Public domain]9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner, who is reading through NSA material related to al-Qaeda on her own initiative (see January 2004), finds material possibly linking Iran and Hezbollah to al-Qaeda. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 157, 370-1] The material indicates that between eight and ten of the future hijackers traveled between Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and other destinations via Iran. For example, in November 2000, one of the hijackers, Ahmed Alghamdi, took the same flight as a senior Hezbollah official (see November 2000), although the 9/11 Commission report will say this may be a “coincidence.” An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative took the same flight as another three of the hijackers in November 2000, and Hezbollah officials were expecting an undefined group to arrive at the same time. However, the hijackers’ families will say they were in Saudi Arabia at this time (see Mid-November, 2000). Based on information such as this, the commission will conclude that Iran helped al-Qaeda operatives transit Iran by not stamping their passports, but that neither it nor Hezbollah had any knowledge of the 9/11 plot. Under interrogation, detainees Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh say that some of the hijackers did transit Iran, but that they had no assistance from the Iranian authorities. However, such statements were apparently made after they were tortured, bringing their reliability into question (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1] The NSA intelligence reports the information about Iranian and Hezbollah is based on were mostly drafted between October and December 2001, so it is possible that the NSA was monitoring Hezbollah in 2000 and then matched up travel by that organization’s operatives with the 9/11 hijackers’ travel, ascertained from airlines, for example, after 9/11. One of the reports, entitled “operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers,” is dated August 9, 2002. It is unclear who the operative is or how he allegedly came into contact with the alleged 9/11 hijackers. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529]
A sample page from Mark Klein’s AT&T documentation. [Source: Mark Klein / Seattle Times]Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), gravely concerned by the National Security Agency (NSA) spying operation going on in AT&T’s San Francisco facility (see October 2003) and now in possession of documents which prove the nature and scope of the telecommunications surveillance activities (see Fall 2003 and Late 2003), writes a memo summarizing his findings and conclusions. He appends eight pages of the unclassified documents he has in his possession, along with two photographs and some material from the Internet which documents the sophisticated surveillance equipment being used to gather data from AT&T’s electronic transmissions. The NSA and AT&T were, he later says, “basically sweeping up, vacuum-cleaning the Internet through all the data, sweeping it all into this secret room.… It’s the sort of thing that very intrusive, repressive governments would do, finding out about everybody’s personal data without a warrant. I knew right away that this was illegal and unconstitutional, and yet they were doing it.… I think I’m looking at something Orwellian. It’s a government, many-tentacled operation to gather daily information on what everybody in the country is doing. Your daily transactions on the Internet can be monitored with this kind of system, not just your Web surfing. All kinds of business that people do on the Internet these days—your bank transactions, your email, everything—it sort of opens a window into your entire private life, and that’s why I thought of the term ‘Orwellian.’ As you know, in [George] Orwell’s story , they have cameras in your house, watching you. Well, this is the next best thing.… So I was not only angry about it; I was also scared, because I knew this authorization came from very high up—not only high up in AT&T, but high up in the government. So I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to do about it, but I thought this should be halted.”
Gathering 'the Entire Data Stream' - In his memo, Klein concludes that the NSA is using “splitter” equipment to copy “the entire data stream [emphasis in the original] and sent it to the [NSA’s] secret room for further analysis.” Klein writes that the splitters actually “split off a percentage of the light signal [from the fiber optic circuits] so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet… circuits are connected into it, the light signal is split into two signals, one of which is diverted to the ‘secret room.’ The cabinet is totally unnecessary for the circuit to perform—in fact, it introduces problems since the signal level is reduced by the splitter—its only purpose is to enable a third party [the NSA] to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the Internet.” (Emphasis in the original.) In his book, Klein will explain that “each separate signal,” after being split, “contains all the information, nothing is lost, so in effect the entire data stream has been copied.” He will continue: “What screams out at you when examining this physical arrangement is that the NSA was vacuuming up everything flowing in the Internet stream: email, Web browsing, voice-over-Internet phone calls, pictures, streaming video, you name it. The splitter has no intelligence at all, it just makes a blind copy.” Klein later explains to a reporter: “The signals that go across fiber optics are laser light signals. It’s light basically that runs through a fiber optic, which is a clear glass fiber, and it has to be at a certain level for the routers to see the light and interpret the data correctly. If the light gets too low, just as if you get a weak flashlight with bad batteries, at a certain point it doesn’t work. If the light level drops too low, the router starts dropping bits and getting errors, and eventually you get loss of signal, and it just doesn’t work at all.… The effect of the splitter is to reduce the strength of the signal, and that may or may not cause a problem, depending on how much the signal is reduced.” A telecommunications company would not, as a rule, use such a splitter on its backbone Internet traffic because of the risk of degraded signal quality. “You want to have as few connections on your main data lines as possible,” Klein will say, “because each connection reduces the signal strength, and a splitter is a connection, and if you can avoid that, all the better.”
Inherently Illegal - Klein will explain that there is no way these activities are legal: “There could not possibly be a legal warrant for this, since according to the Fourth Amendment, warrants have to be specific, ‘particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.’ It was also a blatant violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA—see 1978], which calls for specific warrants as required by the Fourth Amendment. This was a massive blind copying of the communications of millions of people, foreign and domestic, randomly mixed together. From a legal standpoint, it does not matter what they claim to throw away later in their secret rooms, the violation has already occurred at the splitter.” [AT&T, 12/10/2002; AT&T, 1/13/2003; AT&T, 1/24/2003; Wired News, 5/22/2006; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 37, 119-133]
The Narus STA 6400 - Klein discusses one key piece of equipment in the NSA’s secret room, the Narus STA 6400 (see Late 2003). Narus is a firm that routinely sells its equipment not only to telecom firms such as AT&T, “but also to police, military, and intelligence officials” (see November 13-14, 2003). Quoting an April 2000 article in Telecommunications magazine, Klein writes that the STA 6400 is a group of signal “traffic analyzers that collect network and customer usage information in real time directly from the message.… These analyzers sit on the message pipe into the ISP [Internet Service Provider] cloud rather than tap into each router or ISP device.” Klein quotes a 1999 Narus press release that says its Semantic Traffic Analysis (STA) technology “captures comprehensive customer usage data… and transforms it into actionable information… [it] is the only technology that provides complete visibility for all Internet applications.” The Narus hardware allows the NSA “to look at the content of every data packet going by, not just the addressing information,” Klein will later write.
A 'Dream Machine for a Police State' - Klein later writes of the Narus STA 6400: “It is the dream machine of a police state, one that even George Orwell could not imagine. Not only does it enable the government to see what millions of people are saying and doing every day, but it can build up a database which reveals the connections among social groups—who’s calling and emailing whom. Such a device can easily be turned against all dissident protest groups, and even the Democratic and Republican parties, with devastating effect. And it’s in the hands of the executive power, in total secrecy.” [AT&T, 12/10/2002; AT&T, 1/13/2003; AT&T, 1/24/2003; Wired News, 5/22/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 37-40] In support of the memo and an ensuing lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006), Klein will later write: “Despite what we are hearing, and considering the public track record of this administration, I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA’s spying program is really limited to foreign communications or is otherwise consistent with the NSA’s charter or with FISA. And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals’ phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of Internet communications of countless citizens.” [Wired News, 4/7/2006]
The 9/11 Commission’s cursory review of NSA material related to the attacks and al-Qaeda in general does not find any reports about NSA intercepts of communications between the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Neither does it find any reports about calls intercepted by the NSA between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and lead hijacker Mohamed Atta (see Summer 2001 and September 10, 2001). Author Philip Shenon will write about the commission’s review of the NSA files in a 2008 book and will discuss what Commission staffers found there, but will not mention these intercepts, some of which were mentioned in declassified portions of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004). The review is only conducted by a few staffers (see January 2004, June 2004, and Between July 1 and July 17, 2004) and is not comprehensive, so it is unclear whether the NSA does not provide the reports to the 9/11 Commission, or the commission simply fails to find them in the large number of files the NSA made available to it. However, the staffers do find material possibly linking some of the hijackers to Iran and Hezbollah (see January-June 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-8, 155-7, 370-3] In its final report, the commission will make passing references to some of the calls the NSA intercepted without pointing out that the NSA actually intercepted them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 87-88, 222] However, the endnotes that indicate the sources of these sections will not contain any references to NSA reports, but instead refer to an interview with NSA Director Michael Hayden and an FBI timeline of the hijackers’ activities. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 477, 518]
Katharine Gun, who leaked an NSA memo to the British press in February 2003 that revealed the existence of an elaborate US plan to “bug” UN delegates (see January 31, 2003), is arrested and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act for giving a copy of the memo to the press. Gun was a translator for British intelligence, who worked at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) before losing her job over the leak in June. Gun does not dispute leaking the memo, instead calling it “justified.” Any leaks she made exposed “serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the US Government,” she says, and were made to prevent “wide-scale death and casualties among ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces.” [BBC, 11/13/2003] Gun has had the support of a wide array of antiwar and civil rights activists, led in the US by actor Sean Penn and activist Jesse Jackson, who signed a statement shortly before her court appearance praising her as a whistleblower. [Observer, 1/18/2004] The British government decides to drop the charges against her. No official explanation for this is forthcoming, though it may have been precipitated by the defense’s intent to argue that Gun leaked to the media in order to save lives from being lost in a war, an argument that would cause political damage to the government. Liberty spokeswoman Shami Chakrabarti says the decision to charge Gun may itself have been politically motivated, perhaps to cow future whistleblowers, and observes, “One wonders whether disclosure in this criminal trial might have been a little too embarrassing.” Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman, says the reason for dropping the charges might be to keep the Attorney General’s legal advice for war with Iraq a secret. Prosecutor Mark Ellison merely tells the court, “There is no longer sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. It would not be appropriate to go into the reasons for this decision.” The only thing needed for a successful prosecution under the Official Secrets Act is for the prosecution to show that Gun is covered by the act, which she is, and that she revealed information covered by the Act, which she has admitted. Gun’s lawyer, James Webb, calls the prosecution’s excuse “rather lame.” [BBC, 11/13/2003; Evening Standard, 2/25/2004] Gun says that leaking the NSA memo was “necessary to prevent an illegal war in which thousands of Iraqi civilians and British soldiers would be killed or maimed.… I have only ever followed my conscience.” [ZNet, 12/28/2005] A month before the court proceedings, the New York Times’s Bob Herbert writes in defense of Gun, “We are not talking about a big-time criminal here. We are not talking about someone who would undermine the democratic principles that George W. Bush and Tony Blair babble about so incessantly, and self-righteously, even as they are trampling on them. Ms. Gun is someone who believes deeply in those principles and was willing to take a courageous step in support of her beliefs. She hoped that her actions would help save lives. She thought at the time that if the Security Council did not vote in favor of an invasion, the United States and Britain might not launch the war.” [New York Times, 1/19/2004] And just days before the court proceedings begin, liberal columnist Molly Ivins wrote, “…Gun may be sentenced to prison for doing precisely what we all hope every government employee will try to do: Prevent the government from committing an illegal and immoral act. Some dare call it patriotism.” [AlterNet, 2/18/2004]
Entity Tags: Katherine Gun, Jesse Jackson, Government Communications Headquarters, George W. Bush, Bob Herbert, James Webb, Tony Blair, United Nations, Sean Penn, Molly Ivins, National Security Agency, Walter Menzies Campbell, New York Times, Mark Ellison, Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
In an apparent act of political retaliation, Vice President Dick Cheney blocks the promotion of a Justice Department official who raised concerns about the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Patrick Philbin, a senior Justice Department counsel, provided much of the research used by Deputy Attorney General James Comey in Comey’s own refusal to approve the wiretapping program (see March 9, 2004 and March 10-12, 2004). Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales had replaced Ashcroft as attorney general when Philbin’s name came up for promotion. After Cheney warns Gonzales that he will oppose Philbin’s promotion, Gonzales decides not to promote Philbin to the position of deputy solicitor general. In May 2007, Comey will testify before Congress, “I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter. The attorney general chose not to pursue it.…It was my understanding that the vice president’s office blocked that appointment” (see May 15, 2007). Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) says in 2007 of Cheney’s opposition to Philbin’s promotion, and Cheney’s attempts to pressure Justice Department officials to back the wiretapping program, “…White House hands guided Justice Department business. The vice president’s fingerprints are all over the effort to strong-arm Justice on the NSA program.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Comey will resign in 2005 and give a farewell speech in which he will say that some Justice Department officials paid a price for their commitment to doing what’s right. When asked in his 2007 testimony what he referred to, Comey will answer, “I had in mind one particular senior staffer of mine who had been in the hospital room with me and had been blocked from promotion, I believed as a result of this particular matter.” Comey is speaking of Philbin, who would have likely been promoted to solicitor general in Bush’s second term. Instead, Philbin resigns from the Justice Department and enters private practice. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney gives the Congressional leaders known as the “Gang of Eight”—the House speaker and House minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees—their first briefing on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). The Democratic leaders at the meeting are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Daschle (D-SD) later recalls the meeting as superficial. Cheney “talked like it was something routine,” Daschle will say. “We really had no idea what it was about.” Unbeknownst to many of the Congressional leaders, White House and Justice Department leaders are locked in a sharp dispute over whether or not the program is legal and should be continued; Cheney is preparing to send White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to persuade the gravely ill, heavily sedated Ashcroft to overrule acting Attorney General James Comey and reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). The briefing is designed to give the appearance of Congressional approval for the program. While most Republicans in the briefing give at least tacit approval of the program, some Democrats, as Daschle will recall, expressed “a lot of concerns” over the program’s apparent violation of fundamental Congressional rights. Pelosi later recalls that she “made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking.” But administration officials such as Gonzales will later say (see July 24, 2007) that the eight Congressional leaders are in “consensus” in supporting the program, a characterization that is patently false (see July 25, 2007). Gonzales will also later testify that today’s briefing does not cover the NSA wiretapping program, later dubbed the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP), another apparent falsehood contradicted by Democratic senators such as Rockefeller and Russ Feingold, as well as testimony and notes on the hospital room visit made by FBI Director Robert Mueller and a memo from John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. Many feel that Gonzales is using the moniker “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” not in use until December 2005, to play what reporter Michael Isikoff calls “verbal parsing” and “a semantic game”—since the NSA wiretapping program is not known by this name at the time of the Congressional briefing, Gonzales will imply that the briefing wasn’t about that program. [Newsweek, 8/6/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 88]
Cheney, Gonzales: Democrats on Board with Illegal Program - In Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, a 2008 book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, Gonzales will claim there is a “consensus in the room” among Democrats and Republicans alike, and according to Gellman’s reporting on Gonzales, “four Democrats and four Republicans, duly informed that the Justice Department had ruled something unlawful, said the White House should do it anyway.” Cheney will confirm this allegation during a December 2008 appearance on Fox News. [Klein, 2009, pp. 88]
Domestic Surveillance Began before 9/11? - Cheney fails to inform the lawmakers that the wiretapping program may have begun well before the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Robert S. Mueller III, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Tom Daschle, US Department of Justice, Russell D. Feingold, Nancy Pelosi, John Negroponte, John D. Rockefeller, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Jane Harman, James B. Comey Jr., “Gang of Eight”, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007]
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007] “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007] Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007] “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. [PBS, 5/16/2007] Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. [US Department of Justice, 8/14/2007]
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, [National Journal, 7/7/2007; National Journal, 8/16/2007] though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” [Newsweek, 1/9/2006; National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; New York Times, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” [Time, 5/17/2007]
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. [Time, 5/17/2007]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Elizabeth Parker, Janet Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Martin, David Ayres, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, US Department of Justice, Charles Schumer, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Tony Snow, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick F. Philbin, Neal Katyal
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
After senior Justice Department officials object to the possible illegality of the National Security Agency’s secret domestic surveillance program, and refuse to sign off on its continued use, the program is suspended for several months while Justice Department officials conduct a secret audit of the program. Attorney General John Ashcroft will recertify the program at the end of the month (see Late March, 2004). The suspension is prompted by acting Attorney General James Comey’s refusal to approve the program when it comes up for its regular 45-day review, and a subsequent late-night hospital visit by White House officials Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales to the hospital room of Attorney General John Ashcroft, where they unsuccessfully attempt to pressure Ashcroft, recuperating from surgery, to overrule Comey and approve the program (see March 10-12, 2004). Bush himself has personally reauthorized the program over 30 times since its inception after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002), and reauthorizes it himself after Comey and Ashcroft refuse to give it their approval. This reauthorization prompts a threat of mass resignations by Justice Department officials unless the program is brought under increased oversight. Bush will allow the Justice Department to recommend changes to the program, though those changes have never been made public. The Justice Department audits a selection of cases to see how the NSA is running the program, scrutinizing how NSA officials determine that they have probable cause to wiretap US citizens’ phones and e-mail accounts. The results of that audit have not been made public. When the program was first authorized by Bush’s executive order in early 2002, it was so secret that then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who was active in most of the government’s most highly classified counterterrorism operations, was not given access to the program. That decision, among other elements of the program, led many Justice Department officials to worry that the program was operating outside of the Constitution and without proper oversight. Comey, Thompson’s successor, was eventually given authorization to take part in the program and to review intelligence data produced by it. Justice Department officials say that Comey takes part in overseeing the reforms that are put into place during the current audit. However, those reforms do not restrict the NSA’s authority to independently choose its eavesdropping targets, and NSA shift supervisors have the authority to decide for themselves whether there is enough evidence against a US citizen to warrant a secret wiretap. No one at the Justice Department or in the White House needs to be consulted before a wiretap is put into place. [New York Times, 12/31/2005]
It was disclosed in 2003 that the NSA had intercepted several calls between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001 and Summer 2002-Summer 2004). But in 2004, after revelations that the NSA has been wiretapping inside the US, some media begin to re-examine the circumstances of the hijackers’ calls from the US, as the Bush administration uses the example of these calls as a justification for the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program. [New York Times, 12/16/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 ] The calls are thought to be a key aspect of the alleged intelligence failures before 9/11. In late 1998, the FBI had started plotting intercepts of al-Qaeda calls to and from the communications hub on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). According to author Lawrence Wright, “[h]ad a line been drawn from the [communications hub] in Yemen to Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s San Diego apartment, al-Qaeda’s presence in America would have been glaringly obvious.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 343-344] In 2006, former NSA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Senate that if the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program had been active before 9/11, the NSA would have raised the alarm over the presence of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in San Diego. [CNN, 5/19/2006] However, reports in the press suggest otherwise. For example, in one newspaper a senior intelligence official will say that it was not technically possible for the NSA, which had a budget of around $3.6 billion in 2000, to trace the calls. “Neither the contents of the calls nor the physics of the intercepts allowed us to determine that one end of the calls was in the United States,” says the official. [Bamford, 2002, pp. 482; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] But another report flatly contradicts this. “NSA had the technical ability to pick up the actual phone number in the US that the switchboard was calling but didn’t deploy that equipment, fearing they would be accused of domestic spying.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It is unclear why concerns about domestic spying allegations would prevent the NSA from passing the information on to the FBI. Almihdhar and Alhazmi were not US citizens, but foreign nationals who had entered the US illegally claiming to be tourists. In addition, there was a wealth of evidence connecting them to al-Qaeda (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). In any event, the NSA did reportedly disseminate dispatches about some of these US calls (see Spring-Summer 2000). Some FBI officials will later profess not to know what went wrong and why they were not notified of the hijackers’ presence in the US by other agencies. A senior counterterrorism official will say: “I don’t know if they got half the conversation or none of it or hung up or whatever. All I can tell you is we didn’t get anything from it—we being the people at the FBI who could have done something about it. So were they sitting on it? I don’t know.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The US intelligence community, through the CIA, also had access to the phone company’s records for the Yemeni communications hub, which would have shown what numbers were being called in the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, Bush administration (43), US intelligence, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Attorney General John Ashcroft recertifies the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program as being within the law, three weeks after he and his deputy, James Comey, refused to certify it. The program had come under question in early 2004, when Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote to Ashcroft and Comey expressing his doubts about the program’s legality (see September 9, 2007). For those three weeks, the program operated without Justice Department approval; President Bush personally recertified it himself, though it was suspended and subjected to an internal review (see March 12-Mid-2004). Ashcroft had previously refused to recertify the program while recuperating from surgery, despite pressure from White House officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and other Justice Department officials had even threatened to resign en masse if Bush recertified the program without their department’s support; Bush promised to revamp the program to address Ashcroft and Comey’s objections to the program, though what those changes are remains unclear. [Boston Globe, 5/16/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007]
At a speech in Hershey, Pennsylvania, supporting the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), President Bush tells listeners that all US surveillance efforts are done with warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court: “For years, law enforcement used so-called roving wire taps to investigate organized crime. You see, what that meant is if you got a wire tap by court order—and, by the way, everything you hear about requires court order, requires there to be permission from a FISA court, for example.… See, with court approval, we have long used roving wire taps to lock up monsters—mobsters. Now [with the Patriot Act in effect] we have a chance to lock up monsters, terrorist monsters.” [White House, 4/19/2004] The next day, Bush makes a similar claim during another pro-Patriot Act speech in Buffalo. He tells listeners: “[T]here are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution. But a roving wiretap means—it was primarily used for drug lords. A guy, a pretty intelligence drug lord would have a phone, and in old days they could just get a tap on that phone. So guess what he’d do? He’d get him another phone, particularly with the advent of the cell phones. And so he’d start changing cell phones, which made it hard for our DEA types to listen, to run down these guys polluting our streets. And that changed, the law changed on—roving wiretaps were available for chasing down drug lords. They weren’t available for chasing down terrorists, see? And that didn’t make any sense in the post-9/11 era. If we couldn’t use a tool that we’re using against mobsters on terrorists, something needed to happen. The Patriot Act changed that. So with court order, law enforcement officials can now use what’s called roving wiretaps, which will prevent a terrorist from switching cell phones in order to get a message out to one of his buddies.” [White House, 4/20/2004] Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. [Klein, 2009, pp. 47-48] Klein will call Bush’s description of the surveillance program “disingenuous,” and continue: “They present it as about phone calls. They’re just watching a few bad people who make phone calls to al-Qaeda and the Middle East, and you notice they don’t talk about the Internet hardly at all. That part of it hasn’t been revealed, because if they did, Americans would realize it’s not just a few people; it’s everybody, because the data they’re handing over is not selected out. When you run fiber optics through a splitter and you send all that data to a secret room, there’s no selecting going on there at all.… They have no way of sifting it out unless they look through it later. Now they can claim, ‘Oh, we are right as rain; we’re only doing the legal thing and selecting out a few people that we’re legally entitled to,’ but that’s only after they get all the data. The analogy I use: If the government claims: ‘Well, when you do your taxes, why don’t you just write me a blank check and we’ll fill in the amount? Don’t worry. We’ll do it legal. We’ll fill in the right amount,’ would you do that? Nobody would trust the government by writing a blank check to them. It’s the same thing with the data we’re giving them.… [T]he Fourth Amendment specifically bans general warrants. It calls for specific warrants in which the things to be seized and the persons to be seized are specifically named. There’s a reason for that. It’s to protect against arbitrary government power. And what they’ve done is to trample over the Fourth Amendment by basically instituting a general warrant on the Internet.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]
David Ottaway. [Source: AAAS.org]According to the Oregon branch of the Islamic charitable organization the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Washington Post reporter David Ottaway receives a classified document that is evidence of illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency. The document shows that the NSA illegally intercepted telephone conversations and e-mails between Al Haramain officials in Oregon and Washington, DC. The document, dated May 24, 2004 and marked “Top Secret,” is accidentally provided to Al Haramain by Treasury Department officials that same month; Al Haramain quickly turns the document over to Ottoway, who is researching Islamic groups and individuals labeled as terrorists by the US government and are attempting to prove their innocence. Instead of reporting on the document, Ottaway will return it to the FBI when that organization demands it back in November 2004. In February 2006, Al Haramain will sue the Bush administration for illegally spying on it (see February 28, 2006) as part of its warrantless wiretapping program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005). The Treasury Department has been investigating the charitable organization for possible ties to terrorism, and designated the group as a terrorist organization. The FBI will approach the organization and then Ottaway himself, demanding that all copies of the document be returned and threatening them with prosecution if the contents are revealed. Ottaway will consult with Post editors and lawyers, who will conclude, according to Ottaway, “that it was not relevant to what I was working on at the time.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., will defend the decision, saying, “At the time we had this document, it was before we had any knowledge of the eavesdropping program. Without that knowledge, the document provided no useful information. At the time, all we knew was that this document was not relevant to David’s reporting.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2006]
Lloyd Salvetti. [Source: CIA]9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner, who has been reviewing material the NSA provided to the 9/11 Commission on her own (see January 2004), asks two colleagues to examine information she found in the files indicating some of the 9/11 hijackers traveled through Iran (see January-June 2004). The first is Lloyd Salvetti, the aging head of the CIA’s museum who is on loan to the commission. Fenner asks for his opinion because the review of the NSA information is not her official job at the commission and she is uncomfortable about approaching the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, over the issue, which she feels is important. Salvetti soon finds that Fenner’s fears are “well-founded” and the NSA files are a “gold mine, full of information about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups dating back to the early 1990s—material that the commission should have read through months earlier.” He also forms the opinion that there may have been some co-operation between al-Qaeda and elements of Hezbollah and Iran on travel issues. Salvetti then asks another commission staffer, former CIA analyst Doug MacEachin, to look over the material. MacEachin is just as alarmed as Fenner and Salvetti and they realize that, even though the commission must issue its final report very soon, something needs to be done. The three inform both Zelikow and NSA director Michael Hayden, and a group of commission staffers soon spend a day at the NSA (see Between July 1 and July 17, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3]
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