The vast web that is electronic snooping is world-wide and includes reciprocal agreements between countries to share information. The actual wiretappers, in many instances, are "private" companies contracted out by the NSA or other governmental agencies. In both such cases, Fourth Amendment protections are ineffective, and FISA courts inapplicable.
Take the 2006 agreement the U.S. government made with Mexico to build a huge telecom/Internet eavesdropping center. They don’t need to concentrate solely on communications originating or terminating in the United States… they are contracting it out!
What follows is from the State Department document used to procure vendors for the project with AFI (Mexico’s version of the NSA) noted above (.doc link and Google cache link):
This procurement action is undertaken to establish a lawful interception solution that will provide the Government of Mexico, Procuraduria General de la Republica de Mexico (PGR), Agencia Federal de Investigaciones (AFI) with the capability to intercept, analyze, and use intercepted information from all types of communications systems operating in Mexico…. Equipment supplied must be manufactured in the United States….As James Bamford noted in this book, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, p. 228:
The proposed system must comply with the following AFI stated requirements for interception of target calls and sessions from (1) TELMEX PSTN network, through analog lines, (2) TELCEL TDMA and GSM network, (3) NEXTEL iDEIM/GSM network, (4) TELEFONICA network, (5) UNEFON network, (6) IUSACELL CDMA network and TDMA network, (7) Existing CISCO VoIP network at customer’s premises, (8) packet data from the Mexico PRODIGY ISP network. Additionally the client desires the establishment of a central monitoring center with the capabilities of (1) real-time and off-line playback, (2) fax decoding, (3) packet data decoding, (4) storage of all calls for at least 25,000 hours, (5) storage of all session related information, (6) 30 monitoring stations and 30 printers, (7) cellular location and tracking. Capabilities must include TDMA, GSM, CDMA, iDEN, AMPS, PCS, landline, FAX, Email, chat, internet, SMS and VoIP….
1. The successful solution will fulfill the following:
a. Help deter, prevent, and mitigate acts of major federal crimes in Mexico that include narcotics trafficking and terrorism.
b. Strengthen the USG’s and Mexico’s protective posture to disseminate timely and accurate, actionable information to each country’s respective federal, state, local, private, and international partners.
Since the U.S. certainly qualifies as an “international partner,” it means Mexico is obligated to disseminate its data to a U.S. agency. But what is perhaps even more troublesome is the requirement to share its data with “private” partners — in other words private surveillance companies within the U.S.Astute commenter, William Ockham, pointed out the following at an interesting post at Emptywheel/FDL yesterday:
This type of arrangement with Mexico and other countries may in fact be among the most secret parts of the Bush administration’s entire warrantless eavesdropping program. That is because it completely bypasses the requirement for probable cause that one of the parties is connected to al-Qaeda. The intercepted data is gathered by Mexicans in Mexico… and passed in bulk to the U.S., possibly to the NSA or FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration.
... if you read (between the lines of) the documents filed in the Nacchio case, you can see that the NSA was paying the telcos to tap into all the fiber optic cable laid overseas so that the NSA could pull all that traffic into the Narus systems any time they wanted.As a famous quote from an Oliver Stone movie says, “We are through the looking glass here, people.”
U.S. democracy is proving to be a giant failure, and in its place we are seeing the worst sort of nightmare any dystopian author could imagine.
Bamford calls the system of setting up taps on all fiber-optics cables, in conjunction with the use of private companies like Verint or Narus or NICE Systems, Echelon II. (For more introduction to Project Echelon, a massive signals intelligence global interception and relay system run by the U.S. and its closest allies, see this article.)
Bush attorney Stephen Bradley testified before the House Judiciary Committee (Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security), during hearings to discuss updating FISA (9/6/06), as reported at In These Times:
As a Justice Department attorney [Bradbury] told the House Judiciary Committee after the wiretapping program was revealed, “I think the president has made it clear that there is no other program that involves domestic electronic surveillance of domestic communications,” leaving open the possibility that foreign electronic surveillance of both foreign and domestic communications is still ongoing.The NSA and other government agencies are throwing smoke and mirrors, and the ACLU and other groups are already lagging behind events. The government has been routing its eavesdropping work around U.S. prying eyes for some time. Bush’s real crime, from the standpoint of the spooks and FBI types is that he pushed hard to do in the U.S. what the government has promoted in dictatorships and authoritarian countries for some time, including reciprocal agreements, secret backdoors, etc. to such up the info. By pushing hard in the U.S., he was bound to stir up a hornets nest of civil libertarians, etc., or whistleblowers like Mark Klein, a San Francisco AT&T tech who demonstrated how the government was sucking all U.S. Internet traffic into servers at Room 641A at AT&T's Folsom Street building.
It’s not that Comey or the FBI were upset about all the wiretapping when they went to Ashcroft's hospital bed to get him to reject Bush/Gonzales's surveillance request. These cops got their dream come true when CALEA passed in 1994. They’ve spent much the subsequent years finding ways to expand access to the Internet, and one way they did that to get close to Verint, the private company that secretly taps most U.S. communications.
They just don’t want to get caught. If I’ve learned anything from my anti-torture work, it’s that these governmental crimes are concerned with cover-up from day one. If you think about it, it’s built into the covert mind-set and SOP. In fact, it’s one way to identify what is a covert op, i.e., there’s misdirection and cover-up from the very beginning.
We cannot be protected by FISA anymore. Nothing can protect us. That’s the shocking truth.
Orwellian Pessimism vs. Social Struggle
As if the reader cannot tell... I am very pessimistic these days. The release of the ICRC report on the CIA barely stirred a ripple, unless you frequent certain websites (as we do), but in Congress and the press as a whole, it’s business as usual, diverted by the circus that is the financial cataclysm. The latter itself is essentially a threatened strike by big finance capital to bring down the entire world financial system if it is not compensated for its amazing losses, once their attempt to totally game the system fell apart, mainly because they believed their own propaganda about the market.
The political parties are morally and practically dead. What they do doesn’t matter anymore. This is the legacy of lawless war, torture, and out-of-control spying. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans now staff this military-spy-surveillance world, both private and government, and they have a vested interest in its preservation. Moreover, the boards of the private companies move seamlessly in and out of the corporate world, including its financial, major energy and industrial sectors.
One asks, "Who’s in charge?" Is it really Dick Cheney from a safe house in Arlington? A very good question.
Do not look for a single individual. The rule is out there for anyone to see. It’s not a dictatorship of a single person. It’s rule by committees, and these committees are "democratically" open to anyone who has the money or has risen as a dedicated and talented servant of the system. It's rule by a class.
We’re about to have verified (oh, sometime this year, I believe), that the U.S. did conduct drug and behavioral experiments upon prisoners, and most likely Jose Padilla among them. (See also Padilla's attorneys' Motion to Dismiss for Outrageous Government Conduct.) Will anything happen as a result? Will we even see post-Church Committee laws passed to protect us? No. The demand for consensus was drawn in the sand on 9/11 (or rather in subsequent months and years), and sealed with the deaths of 100,000s of Iraqis and an unknown number of victims who suffered death by torture (likely in the hundreds, at least).
Blood pacts are seldom broken. If you didn’t speak out before, it’s very hard to do so now.
As a result, we will have both social decay, and more tumult and oppression. This is because while the populace is passive, it is disgruntled, and the oligarchy will want to snuff out any sparks of resistance or effective opposition. Obama may be humane - god, I hope so - but he totally accepts the need for the oligarchy to rule.
I’m not sure what should be done at this point. Without some kind of social struggle, the last bastions of liberty, which were set aside by having an independent judiciary, will succumb, and there will be nothing left to protect us.