Watching What You Say
Posted on May 11, 2006
Before the USA Today story, The Nation magazine had loads of details on the NSA-telecom spying program: a lawsuit against AT&T; links between telecom officials and the White House; and a history of how these insidious relationships developed.
Two months after the New York Times revealed that the Bush Administration ordered the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless surveillance of American citizens, only three corporations—AT&T, Sprint and MCI—have been identified by the media as cooperating. If the reports in the Times and other newspapers are true, these companies have allowed the NSA to intercept thousands of telephone calls, fax messages and e-mails without warrants from a special oversight court established by Congress under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Some companies, according to the same reports, have given the NSA a direct hookup to their huge databases of communications records. The NSA, using the same supercomputers that analyze foreign communications, sifts through this data for key words and phrases that could indicate communication to or from suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers and then tracks those individuals and their ever-widening circle of associates. “This is the US version of Echelon,” says Albert Gidari, a prominent telecommunications attorney in Seattle, referring to a massive eavesdropping program run by the NSA and its English-speaking counterparts that created a huge controversy in Europe in the late 1990s.