Government spying on Americans goes far beyond what Bush admits

The National Security Agency (NSA) has conducted much broader surveillance of e-mails and phone calls — all without court orders — than the Bush administration admits and intelligence experts say the spying goes far beyond just monitoring phone and email communications.

The NSA, with help from American telecommunications companies, obtained access to streams of domestic and international communications say current and former government officials.

President Bush claims his executive order allowing the eavesdropping was limited to people with known links to al-Qaida but NSA technicians routinely comb through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic searching for patterns that might lead to terrorists.

In addition, NSA employs “data mining,” a technique of comparing huge amounts of travel, financial and related information to build a pattern of behavior on American citizens.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunications data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House admits.

A former technology manager at a major telecommunications firm who, for obvious reasons, asks not to be identified, says companies have been storing information on calling patterns since the Sept. 11 attacks, and giving it to the federal government.

“We have a police state far beyond anything George Orwell imagined in his book 1984,” says privacy expert Susan Morrissey. “The everyday lives of virtually every American are under scrutiny 24-hours-a-day by the government.”

Paul Hawken, owner of the data information mining company Groxis, agrees, saying the government is spending more time watching ordinary Americans than chasing terrorists and the bad news is that they aren’t very good at it.

“It’s the Three Stooges go to data mining school,” Hawken says. “Even worse, DARPA is depending on second-rate companies to provide them with the technology, which only increases the chances for errors.”

One such company is Torch Concepts. The Department of Homeland Security provided the company with flight information on five million passengers who flew Jet Blue Airlines in 2002 and 2003. Torch then matched that information with social security numbers, credit and other personal information in government databases to build a prototype passenger profiling system for the government’s Terrorist Information Awarness (TIA) network developed by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency in cooperation with the NSA.

Jet Blue executives were livid when they learned how their passenger information, which they must provide the government under the USA Patriot Act, was used and when it was presented at a technology conference with the title: Homeland Security – Airline Passenger Risk Assessment.

Privacy Expert Bill Scannell didn’t buy Jet Blue’s anger.

“JetBlue has assaulted the privacy of 5 million of its customers,” said Scannell. “Anyone who flew should be aware and very scared that there is a dossier on them.”

But information from TIA and NSA will be used by DHS as a major part of the proposed CAPSII airline passenger monitoring system. That system, when fully in place, will determine whether or not any American is allowed to get on an airplane for a flight.

JetBlue requested the report be destroyed and the passenger data be purged from the TIA computers but TIA refuses to disclose the status of either the report or the data. 

Although exact statistics are classified, security experts say the U.S. Government has paid out millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements to Americans who have been wrongly accused, illegally detained or harassed because of mistakes made by TIA and NSA. Those who accept settlements also have to sign a non-disclosure agreement and won’t discuss their cases.

Hawken refused to do business with DARPA, saying TIA was both unethical and illegal.

“We got a lot of e-mails from companies – even conservative ones – saying, ‘Thank you. Finally someone won’t do something for money,’” he adds.

Those who refuse to work with TIA include NSA specialists in Fort Meade, MD. TIA uses NSA’s technology to listen in on wireless phone calls as well as the agency’s list of key words and phrases to identify potential terrorist activity.

“I know NSA employees who have quit rather than cooperate with DARPA,” Hawken says. “NSA’s mandate is to track the activities of foreign enemies of this nation, not Americans.”