We Call a Top NSA Whistleblower … And Get the REAL SCOOP on Spying

Government Tapping CONTENT, Not Just Metadata … Using Bogus “Secret Interpretation” of Patriot Act

We reported in 2008 that foreign companies have had key roles scooping up Americans’ communications for the NSA:

At least two foreign companies play key roles in processing the information.

Specifically, an Israeli company called Narus processes all of the information tapped by AT &T (AT & T taps, and gives to the NSA, copies of all phone calls it processes), and an Israeli company called Verint processes information tapped by Verizon (Verizon also taps, and gives to the NSA, all of its calls).

Business Insider notes today:

The newest information regarding the NSA domestic spying scandal raises an important question: If America’s tech giants didn’t ‘participate knowingly’ in the dragnet of electronic communication, how does the NSA get all of their data?

One theory: the NSA hired two secretive Israeli companies to wiretap the U.S. telecommunications network.

In April 2012 Wired’s James Bamford — author of the book “The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America” — reported that two companies with extensive links to Israel’s intelligence service provided hardware and software the U.S. telecommunications network for the National Security Agency (NSA).

By doing so, this would imply, companies like Facebook and Google don’t have to explicitly provide the NSA with access to their servers because major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as AT&T and Verizon already allows the U.S. signals intelligence agency to eavesdrop on all of their data anyway.

From Bamford (emphasis ours):

“According to a former Verizon employee briefed on the program, Verint, owned by Comverse Technology, taps the communication lines at Verizon

At AT&T the wiretapping rooms are powered by software and hardware from Narus, now owned by Boeing, a discovery made by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein in 2004.”

Klein, an engineer, discovered the “secret room” at AT&T central office in San Francisco, through which the NSA actively “vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the cooperation of AT&T” through the wiretapping rooms, emphasizing that “much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic.”

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake corroborated Klein’s assertions, testifying that while the NSA is using Israeli-made NARUS hardware to “seize and save all personal electronic communications.”

Both Verint and Narus were founded in Israel in the 1990s.


Anything that comes through (an internet protocol network), we can record,” Steve Bannerman, marketing vice president of Narus, a Mountain View, California company, said. “We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their (voice over internet protocol) calls.”

With a telecom wiretap the NSA only needs companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple to passively participate while the agency to intercepts, stores, and analyzes their communication data. The indirect nature of the agreement would provide tech giants with plausible deniability.

And having a foreign contractor bug the telecom grid would mean that the NSA gained access to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the U.S. without technically doing it themselves.

This would provide the NSA, whose official mission is to spy on foreign communications, with plausible deniability regarding domestic snooping.

The reason that Business Insider is speculating about the use of private Israeli companies to thwart the law is that 2 high-ranking members of the Senate Intelligence Committee – Senators Wyden and Udall – have long said that the government has adopted a secret interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act which would shock Americans, because it provides a breathtakingly wide program of spying.

Last December, top NSA whistleblower William Binney – a 32-year NSA veteran with the title of senior technical director, who headed the agency’s global digital data gathering program (featured in a New York Times documentary, and the source for much of what we know about NSA spying) – said that the government is using a secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act which allows the government to obtain:

Any data in any third party, like any commercial data that’s held about U.S. citizens ….

(relevant quote starts at 4:19).

I called Binney to find out what he meant.

I began by asking Binney if Business Insider’s speculation was correct. Specifically, I asked Binney if the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act was that a foreign company – like Narus, for example – could vacuum up information on Americans, and then the NSA would obtain that data under the excuse of spying on foreign entities … i.e. an Israeli company.

Binney replied no … it was broader than that.

Binney explained that the government is taking the position that it can gather and use any information about American citizens living on U.S. soil if it comes from:

Any service provider … any third party … any commercial company – like a telecom or internet service provider, libraries, medical companies – holding data about anyone, any U.S. citizen or anyone else.

I followed up to make sure I understood what Binney was saying, asking whether the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act was that the government could use any information as long as it came from a private company … foreign or domestic. In other words, the government is using the antiquated, bogus legal argument that it was not using its governmental powers (called “acting under color of law” by judges), but that it was private companies just doing their thing (which the government happened to order all of the private companies to collect and fork over).

Binney confirmed that this was correct. This is what the phone company spying program and the Prism program – the government spying on big Internet companies – is based upon. Since all digital communications go through private company networks, websites or other systems, the government just demands that all of the companies turn them over.

Let’s use an analogy to understand how bogus this interpretation of the Patriot Act is. This argument is analogous to a Congressman hiring a hit man to shoot someone asking too many questions, and loaning him his gun to carry out the deed … and then later saying “I didn’t do it, it was that private citizen!” That wouldn’t pass the laugh test even at an unaccredited, web-based law school offered through a porn site.

I then asked the NSA veteran if the government’s claim that it is only spying on metadata – and not content – was correct. We have extensively documented that the government is likely recording content as well. (And the government has previously admitted to “accidentally” collecting more information on Americans than was legal, and then gagged the judges so they couldn’t disclose the nature or extent of the violations.)

Binney said that was not true; the government is gathering everything, including content.

Binney explained – as he has many times before – that the government is storing everything, and creating a searchable database … to be used whenever it wants, for any purpose it wants (even just going after someone it doesn’t like).

Binney said that former FBI counter-terrorism agent Tim Clemente is correct when he says that no digital data is safe (Clemente says that all digital communications are being recorded).

Binney gave me an idea of how powerful Narus recording systems are. There are probably 18 of them around the country, and they can each record 10 gigabytes of data – the equivalent of a million and a quarter emails with 1,000 characters each – per second.

Binney next confirmed the statement of the author of the Patriot Act – Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner – that the NSA spying programs violate the Patriot Act. After all, the Patriot Act is focused on spying on external threats … not on Americans.

Binney asked rhetorically: “How can an American court [FISA or otherwise] tell telecoms to cough up all domestic data?!”

Update: Binney sent the following clarifying email about content collection:

It’s clear to me that they are collecting most e-mail in full plus other text type data on the web.

As for phone calls, I don’t think they would record/transcribe the approximately 3 billion US-to-US calls every day. It’s more likely that they are recording and transcribing calls made by the 500,000 to 1,000,000 targets in the US and the world.

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  • HS

    It’s interesting how many stories that were originally branded “conspiracy theories” by the teevee, turn out to be right on the money. The sad part about all of these recent revelations regarding technotyranny is that the only likely reason the MSM is reporting it is to desensitize the public to it. Not terribly unlike the Boston infomercial selling martial law.

  • Blackhawk

    As long as the surveillance system is manned by human beings for the benefit of humankind and every individual has access to his recordings on demand, there is no problem, is quite a necessity in complex social systems. The problem is when this whole system built by humans is for the benefit of few self selected ones which believe they can claim property on everyone else by swindle. There is the sensitive point that has to be addressed and legislation enacted by human beings and not corporate entities, but first everyone of us has to start to make the clear distinction between human being and the corporate entity and that is the inner work of every individual. The human being living in a community is bound only by the Common Law or the Natural Law, the rest is optional legalese for the human. Language has been used to program every individual to believe that is a corporate entity bound by countless legalese, and language has to be employed to work on the deprogramming.
    The work of linguists and outspoken people is to identify key words, words used to impose authority, dynamics in the meaning of words and history of language evolution. This is a tremendous task, but I think is our duty as humans to evolve unencumbered towards individual freedom.

    I would very much like to see headlines stating that individual human beings are waking up to their real humanness, but of course that will never be in the news simply because fear based authoritarian societies never like free human beings to be part of them, they only pretend they do.

    • Jack Congers

      Good points. If the goons are monitoring everything, then why aren’t banks accountable? Indeed, TBTF are massive information technology companies clearly shown to be engaging in control fraud and breaking laws with carefree abandon, and it has been repeatedly suggested this is terrorism. If we realize that corporations drive any Government entity to spy, would we come to different conclusions about the intent? Protecting us from what? Blogs are wonderful sources of information that can reveal far more information about people, easily useful as a spying program.

      • Blackhawk

        The problem is not in governments storing information because they will never have the logistics to spy on everyone. The real issue is the technological system (internet/surveillance/weaponry) getting conscious about itself and using all information to turn against humanity. We humans have no ideea how close we are, yet the system is ceaselessly marching to the point of total domination while keeping all humans distracted with political charades, sport games, casino-like markets and other meaningless business .
        It may sound like science-fiction movies, but if you take a look around with an open mind you’ll see what I’m talking about.
        Food for thought!

        • Babak Madadi

          We know how long it will take. On current trends human level General Artificial Intelligence will be developed within 15-20 years. At that point the average desktop computer will have the same Inteligence as a human being and super computers will have 10,000 times the Inteligence of a human.

          From that point on the human dominated era will be over. With access to nanotechnology machines will probably spend the next million years colonising first our galaxy the Milky way. then within a billion years the local galactic group will probably be colonised.

          In theory AI’s with access to nanotechnology could servive Trillions of years from now, long after most of the stars in the universe have run out of fuel and died.

          On the big scale of things Humans are probably just a blip in the evolutionary transition from organic to Machine Phase inorganic life.

          Babak Madadi

  • Carl_Herman

    Great work, GW!!!

    Thank you for your leadership to make this issue clear.

  • In addition to legal opinions,we might want to consider ethical analyses (e.g. http://www.thewordenreport.blogspot.com/2013/06/verizon-reporting-phone-logs-of-people.html). Is it ethical? If so, how could it be justified? The matter is not so clear cut?

    • gozounlimited

      Why a New Petition is Demanding President Obama Resign

      The full petition, which can be found here on the whitehouse.gov website, states the following:

      President Richard Nixon resigned after wiretapping a handful of journalists, sparing the nation the ordeal of impeachment. We call on Obama to do the same. His administration vetted the NSA’s surveillance of millions of Americans and seriously violated the Fourth Amendment. He confiscated the personal records of reporters, thus violating the First Amendment, and the IRS under his watch harassed political organizations opposed to his policies. Moreover, his
      administration has lied under oath to Congress. In addition to violating Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution by invading Libya, his administration engaged in torture and conducted a covert drone war. Due to the severity of these crimes, we call for the immediate resignation
      of Barack Obama. (Weather War on Americans not included)

      read more: http://www.prisonplanet.com/new-petition-we-demand-president-obama-resign.html

      • gozounlimited

        Liberal Vlogger Jumps Ship: Impeach Obama! (Activist Post)

        • gozounlimited

          We asked for 100% security related to Banksters, Corrupt Politicos, Market Fraud, Domestic Weather War Mongers, Income Inequality, etc….. etc….
          Not your made up foreign terrorist meme that justifies destroying America. No trade off Mr. President…. you FAILED…. and you obviously don’t care…. we know your done….. you want to be done…. we can oblige.

  • jo6pac

    Thanks, Great work.

  • gozounlimited

    So….. whats up with DISQUS Mr. Manager Man (Washington Blog)…. Is it just me?

    • jo6pac

      Me to I can’t sign in using google and can’t get disqus account.

  • gozounlimited

    More hilarious than the NSA, TSA, NDAA, CISPA …… (you have the whole alphabet to add your own acronyms) is the the House of Representatives’ Committee on Science and Technology (HRCST). In 2009 they met to undertake a serious review of proposals for climate engineering. The very fact of the hearing confirmed that influential people were starting to take geoengineering very seriously, though Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) stated that the meeting didn’t prove he was for geoengineering.

    Then on August 16, 2010 The Congressional Research Service released its new report on Geoengineering for members of the U.S. Congress which prompted the The U.S. House Science & Technology Committee and the UK Parliament to engage in an agreement to participate in geoengineering discussions and the possible implementation of global geoengineering governance proposed by the Royal Society and several climate scientists. Meetings were held around the world to promote the implementation of more geoengineering programs.

    Didn’t matter that many proposed chemicals or particles used in these geoengineering schemes (i.e., U.S. Navy/NASA C.A.R.E. experiment used a rocket to create an aluminum oxide dust cloud over the Eastern portion of the U.S.on September 19, 2009), are likely to be toxic to humans, marine
    mammals, oceans, fish, wildlife, food pollinators, and birds. Many of these toxic chemicals, like sulfur, have the potential to contaminate drinking water, soil, cause acid rain or air pollution, and may impair
    human health, from lack of Vitamin D, by reducing the amount of sunlightreaching the Earth. May limit Honey Bee food pollination because the bee navigates and communicates though the use of ultraviolet light.

    Then on October 29, 2010 Chair Bart Gordon issued the first congressional report on geoengineering. Upon hearing the report 93 nations approved a ban on such research under a global biodiversity treaty.

    While some scientists and environmentalists have called for geoengineering research as a precautionary measure against catastrophic global warming, activists hailed the moratorium as a way to keep individual actors from altering the climate. The prohibition does not apply to the United
    States, which has yet to ratify the convention.

    But Ken Caldeira,an environmental science professor at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology who testified before Gordon’s panel last year, said countries need to “undertake studies on what we might do” in a climate crisis, given the current trajectory of carbon concentrations
    in the atmosphere.

    “Nobody likes the idea of engineering Earth’s climate,” Caldeira wrote in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, at some point, our other options may be even more unpleasant.”

    WELL EARTH TO CALDERIA ….. CO2 Cools the earth…. and did so until YOU suggested we spray ourselves to death for weather weapon technology research that can be tested and threatened not only on America but any other continental boogy man of the moment.

    So the funny part is…… the same guys …. The HRCST held a hearing yesterday complaining about funds cut to support geoengineering mitigation. They oversee geoengineering research …like say a two mile wide 300 mph tornado in El Reno, or Hurricane Sandy….but damn their money to repauir their own damage to disappearing. EASY…… stop weaponizing the weather… no mitigation needed





    Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy – Federation of

  • Some additional info is included in here.

    I have included several of your blog posts in collating a large number of links of info for the NSA’s Mass Surveillance programs.

    The real purpose of collecting all this data is of course to blackmail anyone that might upset the government in the future.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with combating terrorism.

    As amply demonstrated by the massive intelligence failure of the Boston bombing.

    • gozounlimited

      Speaking of Blackmail….. I’m not a Birther….. but The Clitons are …..

      OBAMA Born in KENYA – Blackmailed by Clinton’s ….. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSDU_CeECy0

      • gozounlimited

        Every evil person known to man has Obama blackmailed. While Obama was in Cali the chemtrails stopped ……. allowing on shore breezes to cool the evenings and mitigate fires as well as precip to gather over the Sierras….but since Obama left Cali on the 7th the death spray has resumed. Guess Obama isn’t ready for HELL FIRE yet.

  • FranklinBeenz

    Someone knew about all this back in 2007.


    News out of the 440th contact notes of January 15th, 2007, 11:17PM

    Billy –
    Some time ago – if I may ask yet another question – you said that US secret services manipulate the Internet and the computer world – which I have also suggested in a bulletin about the CIA, whereby
    Microsoft is also embroiled in it with the Windows system. Can you tell me which US secret service is therein embroiled with Microsoft, along with the CIA, if it is also involved with that?

    Ptaah –
    The Windows-program system is manipulated through the US secret service, NSA, respectively, through the National Security Agency, as well as through other secret services.

    The manipulation enables the secret services to penetrate into any computer, unrecognized and according to their desire, in order to pull out data or, unrecognized, to carry out alterations and falsifications of the existing data.

  • jadan

    The leaker’s name is Edward Snowden, 29 years old, upper level NSA security clearance. He stuck his neck very far out in the name of liberty. Check interview with Glenn Greenwald. Breathtakingly courageous young man. He is the only antidote to totalitarian control. The task seems impossible. Our national security state makes the USSR seem crude, rudimentary, bumbling. They were good at murder. Snowden knows he could be rendered the moment he steps out of the charmed circle of media attention. The US is even better at murder than the USSR, but they won’t murder Snowden. They have the power to make his life unlivable. Any individual in any position of power or influence can be targeted and silenced through non-lethal means. “Full spectrum dominance” requires the sacrifice of individual liberty. This is our military at work. Is there anyone in congress who will challenge black budgets or criticize military spending? The Congress has the power of the purse and it can strangle the NSA in theory. But there are no Edward Snowdens in Congress, no Julian Assanges. Access to and control of private data on every individual gives the manipulators the power to create cowards of us all.

  • Idiolect

    NSA security invades our privacy and is ineffective. The Tsarnaev bros were pretty stupid, one spent months in Dagestan, the Russians warned us about them, hey conspired with each other, they may have murdered three people. If the NSA didn’t catch them who could they catch? The whole thing is a big waste of money.

  • Guy

    This will help precipitate the commoditization of cryptography and computer security. The NSA can’t fight against ubiquitous, strong, properly-implemented crypto. In-transit communication won’t ever be considered private in clear-text, and privacy will become a strong competitive advantage for Internet service companies (which currently it absolutely isn’t).

    The only ultimate way to control would be to summarily apply the death penalty to anyone owning or operating a computer not containing an active, government-approved, spy-chip. China couldn’t even enforce their weak spy-software idea. And their Great Firewall is failing.

    So the information age won’t turn into surveillance-State tyranny, it will emerge into a new era of freedom, because the Internet is emancipating human consciousness.