Inside The NSA: How Do They Spy?
TIME CODE :00:00_05:00
So we’re here at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, there are more spies here in DC than anywhere else in the world, so it’s appropriate that we have this institution that really tells the complete story of espionage internationally.
When you go to America’s Capital, Washington DC, if you can afford the ticket, you can visit this International Spy Museum to relive the glories of the cold war complete with an exhibit on James Bond’s evil adversaries. What you won’t find is any reference to the current surveillance spying scandal.
The key aspect of espionage--that deception, that art of hiding information, and disclosing information really has remained the same.
Danny Schechter :
And this is the capital of it--Washington DC…
Jason Werden :
Absolutely. Washington DC is certainly the capital of espionage across….
Danny Schechter :
And the capital of deception in many ways!
Jason Werden :
Outside of Washington in the Maryland suburbs is the capital of that capital: the National Security Agency. This super secret spy agency is not hospitable to tourists or most reporters who want to know what’s happening now.
We found that out when we were told we were not welcome at this heavily guarded “federal facility.” It has more than 30,000 employees, 32 miles of roads across 325 acres. We were threatened with a $500 fine for even asking about entering--although later, the NSA gave us some footage.
These students at the nearby local university were threatened with arrest for photographing an NSA building on their campus where whistleblower Ed Snowden once worked.
“You can’t take pictures.”
“You can’t take pictures?”
“Of this building, you can’t take pictures.”
“Not at all?”
“Not at all.”
NSA used to stand for “Never Say Anything.” That has changed because the surveillance state is in the news everyday. Americans know it exists, but few really understand what it does and how.
To find out, also, don’t bother visiting The NSA website.
Former Deputy Director, John C. Inglis:
“I’m often asked the question, what’s more important? Civil liberties or national security? It’s a false question, it’s a false choice. At the end of the day we must do both.”
You will only find out what they want you to know—that they are here to defend and protect you. They claim to be accountable in legal and moral terms.
Former NSA Deputy Director, John C. Inglis:
“We have to find a way to insure that we support the entirety of constitution. That was the intention of the framers of the constitution, that’s what we do on a daily basis at the National Security Agency.”
How true is that? We will investigate the claims and the realities in this episode of America’s Surveillance State.
What does the NSA do? It’s a simple question, but because it is a top secret agency, a clear understanding has been hard to grasp. The agency is not required to release even non-classified information.
On November 6, 1998, NSA, for the first time, declassified this organization chart of its operations directorate.
You will note: some of this document is blacked out. It also only shows part of NSA’s mission, including:
Intelligence Oversight and Policy
Global Issues and Military Production
And, here, what they call COLLECTION OPERATIONS--That’s another word for electronic eavesdropping--it has become well known and controversial because of all the data that is collected and stored.
you have this incredible advances in technology that enable much more collection than ever was possible, and an increase of secrecy around the program so it’s very unclear, still, not just what the government is doing but what legal authorities it thinks allows it to do what it’s doing.”
Mike German a veteran undercover FBI agent knows surveillance techniques because he’s used them.
Mike German :
It’s an enormous problem for the government to know more about the people than the people know about what the government’s doing and what we’ve seen since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 is that a lot of the legal restraints that kept the government in check after a previous era of abuse were relaxed or removed completely in many cases.
TIME CODE : 05:00_10:00
The NSA was created secretly 60 years ago—not by Congress, but by the President--as a tool of the cold war, but it always got less attention than the spooks, spies, and assassins who built the CIA’s mystique as the invulnerable and omnipotent overthrower of governments and silencer of America’s enemies.
CIA scandals—including a recently leaked document detailing its role in torture and abuse---became well known, even as the NSA’s better-funded operations were downplayed because they were considered the province of super nerds, boys with toys—like satellites, cables and supercomputers. NSA hires more mathematicians than any other federal agency.
Ray McGovern was in the CIA and rose to become a briefer of Presidents---he worked for 7 presidents, and 9 directors of Central Intelligence. He says he joined because he believed in the Mission:
Ray McGovern :
The ethos of intelligence work that attracted me was symbolized by the scriptural quote on the foyer of the CIA’s new building. It was new--1963, when I came on under John Kennedy, and it said: “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Okay? I looked at that and remembered the constant dictum of my Irish grandmother: (irish accent) “be truthful and honest, and then you won’t give a damn what anyone says about you!” And so I looked at her and said “grandmother, if that’s true…(no pun intended) this is going to be a good place to work.”
Eventually, like many professionals he became disillusioned, retiring early. As a member of the intelligence community, he came to know the NSA’s work well:
Ray McGovern :
NSA did play a role; we learned things about Soviet Union we never would have learned before. It was done with judiciousness, and above all, it was done with respect to what they call ‘the first commandment’ out there at Ft. Meade, NSA…”thou shalt not collect information, eavesdrop on Americans without a court warrant!” That was the rule, that was the 1st commandment. When Cheney came in, he said--he called General Hayden who was head of NSA at the time, he said “I know about that 1st commandment at NSA, I know about that...forget about it! Forget about it!” And that was before 9/11.
So, the decision for the NSA to begin collecting information on everyone and everything started with an order from above…
Oh, sure...it was Dick Cheney and George Bush. The other thing of course that needs to be said, is that the technology allowed that for the first time. And so, when you have the sort of rubric here: “collect everything” (laughs) which clearly is their motto now “collect everything” then they say “well, you know--people say what about the problem with the haystack? finding a needle in a haystack?” Oh, the answer to that they say is “you gotta make sure you have the whole haystack!” (laughs)
In this NSA document leaked by Snowden, they describe their collection program this way: “Collect it all, sniff it all, know it all, process it all, exploit it all.”
NSA whistleblower Russ Tice says the Agency is still downplaying its collecting process to make it sound harmless.
Russ Tice :
...they’re lying about what they have, and their capabilities, and what they’re doing. They’re archiving everything. There are ideas… we’re archiving everything,… we’re going to have to take everything. And then they way “we don’t collect”, then, they’re lying, of course. But their definition of “collect” is to have some human analyst look at this email or listen to this phone call or whatever. Of course, that’s nonsense. They’ve collected it, and they have it for, Lord… indefinite period of time. But they’re not going to call it “collected” until someone looks at it. Of course, there’s no way we have enough humans in this planet to listen to every communication.
They are also not talking about how collecting everything makes it harder to produce relevant intelligence.
-Is there a danger? You know, valuable information getting lost ‘cause so much is collected? I mean, this is why they said after 9/11, you know, they had information about these hijackers but nothing was done because there was so much information they couldn’t figure out who to go after!
Russ Tice :
And the Boston bombers, and the underwear bombers, and the shoe bombers. All these things, you know, because… they say you’ve got to look for a needle in the haystack. Well, you know, part of my job in that world was to make sure I limit the size of the haystack, that way, you don’t have that much hay to go through before to look for the needle. And what they’re doing is just dumping more and more hay. They’re, you don’t have a haystack anymore, you have a mountain of hay to go through.
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
Munk Lecture, Edward Snowden :
“State surveillance today is now cheap, it’s undetectable, it’s pervasive, and it’s available at the click of a mouse. As a result, entire populations, rather than individuals, now live under constant surveillance…”
Whistleblower Ed Snowden went through that hay and saw a lot of disturbing images, wars and abuses. As a network administrator, he had access to all the databases and soon realized that he had the power to spy on anyone. In a video prepared for a televised debate, he explained:
Munk Debate, Edward Snowden:
“Despite policy, I as an NSA analyst, sitting at my desk, had the technical authority to wiretap anyone from a federal judge to the president of the United States without getting out of my chair, as long as I had a private e-mail address, and that’s not a boast. In fact, some of these cases have already happened. In 2009 the New York Times reported that an NSA analyst used our state surveillance infrastructure to improperly access Bill Clinton’s e-mail. And other NSA workers have used state surveillance to spy on their lovers, ex-girlfriends, and other individuals who are obviously not suspected of any crime at all or any kind of wrongdoing. It’s important to note that none of those individuals were ever charged with crimes, and we have to ask ourselves, why is that?”
Journalist Glenn Greenwald has now released some of Snowden’s documents in his new book that confronts The NSA...head on:
“The same rhetoric is constantly invoked. Which is, if you shine a light on what we in political power are doing in way we haven’t authorized you to do, you’re going to have blood on your hands. I mean, there is an obvious irony to being accused by a US General who served in Iraq out of all places, of having blood on your hands or resulting/causing the death of innocent people. Nobody could ever surpass Keith Alexander and his fellow generals and their ability to do that.”
what we’ve seen is an expansion of what we call “secret law” where they’re either working under authorities that the American public doesn’t know about or even worse, there is a law in the books but they’re interpreting it in a way -- in objective reading of that law that wouldn’t ordinarily allow.
“The NSA in the hot seat--documents leaked by Edward Snowden show that the NSA may have been spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel. An old mobile phone number she used is listed in those documents--Germany not happy.”
Soon, thanks to the Snowden disclosures and media investigations, we found out that the NSA was COLLECTING intel on 122 foreign leaders, even US allies like the Chancellor of Germany and the President of Brazil. Thirty five leaders had calls monitored.
German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle:
“For Germany it is unacceptable that the mobile phone of our federal chancellor may have been subject to surveillance activities by our American partners. For us, spying on close friends and partners is totally unacceptable.”
The NSA speaks of its work in neutral and non-threatening language, using terms like “Collection”...“Telephony Meta data.” What does that mean? We asked former FBI undercover agent Mike German.
You would normally think in the terms of the 4th amendment that anytime the government is gathering information about you -- gathering it, putting it in a government database, that that would be collection. But often the way the authorities that govern government are interpreted, sometimes, the acquisition of information versus the collection of information are two different things -- they’re only considering it collected once a human being has actually put eyes on it and processed the information.
In May 2014, former NSA Director Michael Hayden shocked a Washington audience when he said the NSA uses Metadata to kill people—a reference to NSA providing intelligence to military units using drones to assassinate people the Pentagon and White House consider enemies. Hayden quickly backtracked saying we don’t do that in the US.
General Michael Hayden:
“We kill people based on metadata, but that’s not what we do with this metadata.”
Thankfully. Wow, I was working up a sweat there for a second!”
Hayden now working with a former Homeland Security Chief was also embarrassed in October 2013 when he was overheard by a fellow train passenger who began tweeting the content of his confidential phone conversation:
TIME CODE :15:00 _20:00
Using a secret FISA court to do its bidding, the NSA pressed the government to order phone companies like, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and Nextel to turn over a massive number of records. Later we learned about a program called PRISM—here’s the secret NSA document that shows what it does to collect internet data—virtually everything we do and say online -- from all the big companies.
Ray McGovern :
Well, they’re collecting everything they can collect...and that is, everything. They’ve been doing that without any adult supervision--the White House, the committees in congress who are supposed to be exercising oversight, right? They’re the overlook committees, not the oversight committees, and they’re complicit in that. Not only that you have these 15 “pho” judges from the FISA court--the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court…
“Pho” means phony, right?
Ray McGovern :
F-A-U-X...yeah, yeah. So, what you have Danny, and this is important, the first time in my life...you have the executive, you have important people in the legislative branch, the heads of the intelligence committees, and you have 15 judges in the FISA court...all sort of enmeshed, all complicit in this gross violation of the 4th amendment. And you start asking about NSA and what it stands for? Now it stands for No Such Amendment! (laugh)...No Such Amendment!
Just To Summarize, What is NSA?:
NSA is the largest, most costly and most technologically sophisticated spy organization the world has ever known.
It filters MILLIONS of phone calls and emails an hour
It has computers programmed to watch for hundreds of thousands of names
It’s computers cost ten’s of millions and carry strange names like BLACK WIDOW.
They run at special speeds most of us have never heard of: hundreds of TERAFLOPS that can lead to hundreds of TRILLIONS of operations per second.
NSA headquarters is four times bigger than the US Capitol.
Russ Tice :
I loved the place. I went into the military and the air force when Ronald Reagan was president. I was full throttled. We were fighting the cold war against the evil Soviet Union and I was a full believer. I mean, I was gung ho, and you know, I’d be the guy to get in early and stay late. (laugh) You know, I wanted to do my job and I loved the place.
Russ Tice typified the NSA mentality. A Space Engineer, he believed in their clandestine mission and was totally dedicated. He worked in super secret so-called “BLACK WORLD“ programs until he discovered that the satellites were not just spying on America’s enemies:
Russ Tice :
...in one of these programs, I found out that we were using satellite technology to spy on American citizens.
Spy on American citizens.
Russ Tice: Yes.
You’re not supposed to do that, right?
Russ Tice :
Russ Tice :
In NSA, every six months you go through a program where they drill it in your head - we call it USSID 18 - that you will not spy on Americans, and for one incident on spying on Americans you can go to jail for five years, for one incident. And they drill that into your head, and we all believed that we will never do this to our fellow citizens.
William Binney was a 40 year veteran of NSA who also went “off the reservation”, because he saw the agency straying from its job. He was interviewed by Democracy Now:
...the Congress and the administration have been—have been fed by the intelligence community what I call technobabble. In other words, they’re being bamboozled into thinking a certain way, that they have to do this in order to get terrorists. And that’s simply false.
Speaking of terrorists, the most dramatic NSA story we heard came from Thomas Drake who became an executive at the NSA on the day of a terrorist attack: September 11th 2001.
Thomas Drake :
…almost 3000 people were murdered...the workforce knew that this was not just a passing crisis, the workforce knew that we had utterly failed the nation. We--under the Constitution--the framers of the Constitution--the government has two primary responsibilities: one is to provide for the common defense, the other is to provide for the general welfare. We had utterly failed. We had not kept them out of harm's way, we had not protected the nation.
TIME CODE : 20:00 _25:00
There was a feeling of guilt there because the NSA had information on some of the men who skyjacked those planes that were flown into buildings, but did not share it with other agencies.
Thomas Drake became an eyewitness to how the agency changed.
Thomas Drake :
So, I became eyewitness to NSA unchained itself with the approval and mandate of the white house. Unchaining itself from the 4th amendment, literally. And entering itself into a mass surveillance regime, the likes that history had never seen before.
As he became critical of the agencies failures, he became a whistleblower and faced years in prison for going public with NSA failures. Unlike Edward Snowden, he did not leak masses of documents.
“That was one of the fundamental rules. Whether it was oral communication, whether it was written, whether it was electronic or later on, even on Hard Copy--it was all unclassified, period.”
What’s not appreciated is that Snowden has been as careful in assembling information as he has in disseminating information.
“If I had just wanted to harm the US, you know, you could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon. Um, but that’s not my intention. I think for anyone making that argument, they need to think if they were in my position, and you know, you live a privileged life--you’re living in Hawaii, in paradise, and making a ton of money. What would it take to make you leave everything behind?”
Thanks to what we’ve learned from Snowden’s disclosures, it seems like all of us have been reduced to the data we convey.
when you engage in electronic transaction whether it’s with your cell phone, with a regular traditional landline phone, with your credit card, with your computer -- the transaction itself, the content of the communications is called content. You know, if you buy something at the store with your credit card, what you bought is considered content. But, there are all sorts of electronic trails left like crumbs, that often have a tremendous amount of very detailed information about you particularly when it’s gathered in mass. For example, who you called, when you called them, how long you were on the call with them, where you made the call from -- that type of data collected in mass can reveal an awful amount of information about you…
In May 2014, Washington finally took legal action against cyber spying—by China, not the United States—even as some of the Snowden documents revealed that economic espionage is also in NSA’s portfolio. The Chinese and US critics laughed at what they called hypocrisy:
China Denounces US Espionage :
“(chinese translator): the United States deliberately made up facts using the excuses of so-called stealing secrets online to indite 5 Chinese military officials. This has seriously violated the basic principles of international relations and damaged Chinese-US corporations and mutual trust.
Danny Schechter :
…somehow Americans think it’s okay if we spy on foreigners but it’s not okay if we spy on Americans! As if the rest of the world has no right to privacy at all!
Andy Greenberg :
We are more worried about Al-Qaeda than I think any nation state as a threat to American lives. But nonetheless, I think we have to rain in an agency that has the ability to spy on any innocent citizen with impunity of any country in the world. I mean, when the world becomes the NSA’s “panopticon” even with a fig leaf of privacy around Americans...that to me does seem unacceptable and it turns the whole world against us.
Coming Up Next: The NSA and the Press: How Spying and Intimidation Has led America’s Mainstream Media to PUSH Back and publish leaks and disclosures that would have once been unthinkable. The Press Versus The NSA: coming up next in this documentary series on America’s Surveillance State.