If you didn’t see the interview with former NSA analyst Russell Tice the other day on Olbermann’s show, you need to read the transcript. It’s quite disturbing. Tice confirms what we already long suspected, that the NSA has access to any form of electronic communication – email, fax, phone call, text message, etc. – and that they explicitly targeted the communications of journalists. Here he is talking about the total access they had:
OLBERMANN: Let’s start with the review. We heard the remarks from Mr. Bush in 2005, that only Americans who would have been eavesdropped on without a warrant were those who were talking to terrorists overseas. Based on what you know, what you have seen firsthand and what you have encountered in your experience, how much of that statement was true?
TICE: Well, I don’t know what our former president knew or didn’t know. I’m sort of down in the weeds. But the National Security Agency had access to all Americans’ communications, faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications. And that doesn’t — it didn’t matter whether you were in Kansas, you know, in the middle of the country, and you never made a communication — foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications.
OLBERMANN: To what degree is that likely to mean actual eavesdropping and actual inspection? In other words, if not actually read or monitored by the NSA, everything was collected by the NSA, recorded, archived? Do you have any idea to what degree the information was ever looked at, per se?
TICE: Well, it’s actually, even for the NSA, it’s impossible to literally collect all communications. Americans tend to be a chatty group. We have the best computers at the agency, but certainly not that good.
But what was done was a sort of an ability to look at the meta data, the signaling data for communications, and ferret that information to determine what communications would ultimately be collected. Basically, filtering out sort of like sweeping everything with that meta data, and then cutting down ultimately what you are going to look at and what is going to be collected, and in the long run have an analyst look at, you know, needles in a haystack for what might be of interest.
And about the specific targeting of journalists:
OLBERMANN: I mention that you say specific groups were targeted. What group or groups can you tell us about?
TICE: Well, there’s sort of two avenues to look at this. What I just mentioned was sort of the low-tech dragnet look at this. The things that I specifically were involved with were more on the high-tech side. And try to envision, you know, the dragnets are out there, collecting all the fish and then ferreting out what they may. And my technical angle was to try to harpoon fish from an airplane kind of thing. So it’s two separate worlds.
But in the world that I was in, as to not harpoon the wrong people in some — in one of the operations that I was in, we looked at organizations just supposedly so that we would not target them. So that we knew where they were, so as not to have a problem with them.
Now, what I was finding out, though, is that the collection on those organizations was 24/7, and you know, 365 days a year, and it made no sense. And that’s — I started to investigate that. That’s about the time when they came after me, to fire me. But an organization that was collected on were U.S. news organizations and reporters and journalists.
OLBERMANN: To what purpose? I mean, is there a file somewhere full of every e-mail sent by all the reporters at the “New York Times?” Is there a recording somewhere of every conversation I had with my little nephew in upstate New York? Is it like that?
TICE: If it was involved in this specific avenue of collection, it would be everything. Yes. It would be everything.
Here’s the enormous danger in all of this. Imagine that an investigative reporter is working on a very important story revealing something evil that the government is doing. The government learns of it and blackmails him, using dirt they found by accessing all his private communications. This is not a fanciful bit of imagination – our government has done it before.
The FBI under Hoover did precisely this to Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders, illegally taping their conversations and using the material they found to blackmail them. And for all you folks who think the Democrats would never do such a thing, he did it with the full permission of Saint Robert Kennedy. No government should be trusted with such power, no matter which party is in charge.