Stay tuned

To my readers: Apologies for the skimpy posting this year. I’m working on a major piece about an intelligence contractor nobody’s ever heard of and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Keep checking back, or follow my posts on Twitter. But no worries: I’ll be back! And meanwhile, WORLD BOOGIE IS COMING!

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November 22, 1963 – The View from Tokyo

I was 12 when JFK was shot. At the time, I was living in Tokyo, where I’d arrived as a kid during the U.S. Occupation. Early on the morning of November 23, 1963, my father woke me and my siblings up with his transistor radio broadcasting the news from the U.S. Army’s Far East Network: Kennedy had been shot; he was dead. “Assassinated? Assassinated?” my mother kept asking. It seemed impossible, and still does all these years later. Here’s how we read about in the Japanese newspapers.

Some of the details here are fascinating, particularly how much was known about Lee Harvey Oswald in the first 24 hours. There’s even signs of the hidden world we’d later learn so much about (see that ad on the upper left for CAT? That’s Civil Air Transport, the proprietary airline of the CIA). The assassination was a huge event in Japan in part because JFK’s cabinet was en route at the time to Tokyo, where they were to open talks with Japan’s rightist government. In fact, Kennedy was scheduled to deliver a live address to the Japanese people that night, and many had stayed up all night to hear it – only to learn the tragic news. For me it seems almost poetic justice that JFK’s daughter, Caroline, just arrived in Tokyo as the U.S. ambassador. I wish her well.

In any case, those shots in Dallas opened my eyes to a darker America and confirmed to me the trepidations I was feeling after a trip to Vietnam I’d made a few months earlier with my family. That’s when I first learned how bad that war was becoming, and after Kennedy it kept escalating and getting worse and things seemed to spin out of control. It was just the beginning of an incredible decade of strife, horror and wonder that helped shape my life. Perhaps above all, it made me love newspapers and how they could keep us all informed. Maybe I owe my interest in journalism to those dark days.

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Bill Binney on the WSJ’s NSA-telecom revelations

There was only one person I wanted to contact when I read the Wall Street Journal’s astonishing report that the NSA has built a surveillance system capable of spying on 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic: Bill Binney.

Binney is the NSA whistleblower who spent nearly 40 years at the agency developing ways to track and analyze foreign intelligence flowing over the global telecom system. That was before he left in disgust over the NSA’s unconstitutional, post-9/11 warrantless wiretapping and its corrupt relationship with contractors. “Got lots of thoughts,” Binney began, after I emailed him the Journal article this morning and asked him for his take on the story.

Here’s key point of the WSJ piece:

The NSA, in conjunction with telecommunications companies, has built a system that can reach deep into the U.S. Internet backbone and cover 75% of traffic in the country, including not only metadata but the content of online communications.

To begin with, Binney said, that underscores everything he’s been saying all along about his former agency and its alliance with the private telecommunications industry. “They copy and store everything that the ‘Upstream’ system gets for them.” he said. What we see in the report, he added, “is the San Francisco AT&T NSA room with Narus, which copies everything on the line.”

Binney was referring to the infamous “secret room” at AT&T discovered by the technician-turned-whistleblower Mark Klein. He confirmed in 2003 what many suspected at the time: that NSA had basically set up a pipe to the U.S. Internet system and was downloading – using equipment made by Narus, now owned by Boeing – everything it could get its hands on for later analysis. One Narus device on a fiber optic line, Binney once told me, could download 1.2 million one thousand-character emails every second, or over over 100 billion emails a day. Imagine how many messages and phone calls one of those could suck up when placed by NSA at one of hundreds of telecom nodes around the country run by the likes of AT&T and Verizon (see Binney’s list of potential nodes below).

In recent weeks, the Guardian and the Washington Post have been reporting on top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden that largely confirm these claims. They’ve shown that the NSA downloads and analyzes huge streams of domestic intelligence obtained through court orders to telecom companies and, through software programs such as PRISM, indiscriminately collect communications records on people in the United States, the European Union, Brazil, Latin America, South Korea, Japan, India and many other countries.

It’s a privatized global dragnet – I’ve wrote about it in detail in SPIES FOR HIRE and many articles over the past five years (for the telecom-NSA angle, see in particular this piece I wrote for The Nation in 2006, “Watching What You Say: How are AT&T, Sprint, MCI and other telecommunications giants cooperating with the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program?”)

The Journal report, written by the crack team of Siobhan Gorman and Jennifer Valentino-Devries, significantly advanced the Guardian and Post stories by getting former intelligence officials and former and current executives with key telecom companies to talk. The NSA, Gorman and her partner wrote, has “built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed.” Here’s their key points:

The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say…

The systems operate like this: The NSA asks telecom companies to send it various streams of Internet traffic it believes most likely to contain foreign intelligence. This is the first cut of the data.

These requests don’t ask for all Internet traffic. Rather, they focus on certain areas of interest, according to a person familiar with the legal process. “It’s still a large amount of data, but not everything in the world,” this person says.

The second cut is done by NSA. It briefly copies the traffic and decides which communications to keep based on what it calls “strong selectors”—say, an email address, or a large block of computer addresses that correspond to an organization it is interested in. In making these decisions, the NSA can look at content of communications as well as information about who is sending the data…

The surveillance system is built on relationships with telecommunications carriers that together cover about 75% of U.S. Internet communications. They must hand over what the NSA asks for under orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The firms search Internet traffic based on the NSA’s criteria, current and former officials say…

In our email conversation, Binney cautioned that the court restrictions on the NSA, as limited as they are, don’t necessarily affect other agencies. The NSA, he said, doesn’t consider information collected “until someone at NSA looks at it. But that doesn’t mean that that applies to the FBI or the CIA.”

He referred me, as he has done before in discussing government surveillance, to the March 2011 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee of former FBI Director Robert Mueller. In that testimony, Mueller said the following in response to a question from Senator Herb Kohl about how the FBI may have missed certain information about Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the shooter at Fort Hood:

What we found as a result of the Hasan incident was that there were gaps that we had to fill. Immediately afterwards, we looked at our procedures. We found that we could do much better — a better job in information sharing with DoD [the Department of Defense, which includes the NSA]. And consequently, today elements of the Department of Defense serve on our National Joint Terrorism Task Force…

We put into place technological improvements relating to the capabilities of a database to pull together past emails as – and future ones as they come in, so that it does not require an individualized search, so putting together a technological improvement to enhance our capabilities. Lastly, we…have not just one office that is reviewing, say, communications traffic but have a redundancy of review at headquarters as well to make certain that we don’t miss something.

“Remember Mueller’s testimony, where he said with one query he can get all past and future emails as they come in,” Binney reminded me today. “Unless an NSA person looked at a U.S. email, it would not be a violation of any rule. And here again, that doesn’t count FBI or CIA or [Britain's] GCHQ or any other of the ‘Five Eyes’ partners [which also include Australia, New Zealand and Canada] using XKeyScore to query data in the NSA storage, either for upstream collection, or data added by PRISM.”

He added that this “also applies to DHS, with their word lists for searches. And if they are using their word lists to pull data out of upstream or PRISM or any other program, it is for sure they are getting a match on just about everything.”

In other words, the NSA is downloading and storing 75 percent of all U.S. domestic Internet traffic. And analysts – many of them contractors – at the FBI, CIA, DHS and other counter-terrorism agencies get to root around in these communications for anything they deem of interest. But basically, they’re downloading it all, storing it (in Utah, for example) and then going back and analyzing it all, content included (not just metadata), and “sharing” that intelligence throughout our massive national security state.

Binney first made these arguments to me in 2012, and I was astounded. Almost afraid to know the answer, I asked him for assurance: “So you’re saying that all calls are being stored for later? We really do have a surveillance state, don’t we?” And I’ll never forget what he said in response.

My point is it’s better than anything than the KGB, the Stasi, or the Gestapo and SS ever had. Even the Chinese can’t do anything to match this, although they’re trying to get there I know. The Libyans did it. They bought some equipment from a French company to monitor all the calls in their country. Same thing: monitoring their population. The Chinese want to do it, the Syrians, all of them. This is what totalitarian states want to do. When you set up this kind of thing you are setting up the foundation for converting to a totalitarian state…People over there [at NSA] are afraid to talk about, and I don’t blame them. They have kids in college. My kids are gone. I don’t have anything to lose here. But I have a lot to stand up for. I don’t have any fear.

Today, Binney continues to speak out, without fear. His last point on the Journal report was the most intriguing.

In their Journal story, Gorman and Valentino-Devries wrote that, even before 2001, the NSA set up special Internet intercept programs “through arrangements with foreign Internet providers,” and “still has such arrangements in many countries, particularly in the Middle East and Europe.” Then, after the 9/11 attacks, “these intercept systems were expanded to include key Internet networks within the U.S. through partnerships with U.S. Internet backbone providers.” And most amazingly, “for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the FBI and NSA “arranged with Qwest Communications International Inc. to use intercept equipment for a period of less than six months around the time of the event. It monitored the content of all email and text communications in the Salt Lake City area.”

All of this is very familiar territory to Binney. Remember his last title at NSA: “Technical Director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group.” According to his bio at the Government Accountability Project, Binney “mentored some 6000 technical analysts that eavesdropped on foreign nations, collecting private phone calls and emails for NSA databases.” So he knew the technical, fiber-optic side of this territory better than anybody else at NSA. And probably still does.

In fact, Binney told me, he’d recently been studying the global fiber optic networks mentioned in the article. If he was working at the NSA, he said, he would identify “major points” in the lines “where he’d put Narus or Verint devices, or similar collection equipment to acquire most of the WWW [Internet] data. I have identified these convergent points in fiber optic lines.”

So imagine, if you will, the NSA’s global listening network, brought to you by AT&T, Verizon, BT, and Deutsche Telekom (AKA T-Mobile), as well as all those contractors (Booz Allen Hamilton, SAIC, etc.) who supply the software and analytical services. What follows, and posted on the map at the top of this story, are all the cities where your conversations – email, phone, everything – are being monitored, in Binney’s opinion. Folks, I think we have reached new levels in surveillance and privatization.

Bill Binney’s list of the most likely surveillance nodes:

AT&T — See a map of its backbone domestic network here.

Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix Kansas City, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Cleveland Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Boston, New York, Newark, Washington Toronto, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, London Bangalore, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney

Verizon

Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City St. Louis, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Orlando, Miami, Charlotte, Richmond Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston London, Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore

BT Group (British Telecom — North American network map)

Stockholm, Frankfurt, London 1, London 2. Seattle, Sunnyvale, Burbank, Los Angles, Salt Lake, Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Houston, Chicago, Kansas City, Atlanta, Tampa, Washington Newark, New York, Miami Buenos Aires, Rio De Janeiro, Santiago, Lima, Mexico City, Bogota Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Mumbai

Deutsche Telekom (which owns T-Mobilenetwork map)

Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, Paris, Marseille, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Hanover, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Zurich, Vienna New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo

UPDATE I: A federal judge has rebuked the NSA for “repeatedly misleading the court that oversees its surveillance on domestic soil, including a program that is collecting tens of thousands of domestic e-mails and other Internet communications of Americans each year.”

UPDATE II: Everything is fine: the NSA said this (and more) about the WSJ report:

The NSA does not sift through and have unfettered access to 75% of the United States’ online communications.

OK, then. But whatever you do, don’t ever believe this guy.

Former NSA Director Michael J. Hayden: Whenever he speaks, keep this image in mind.

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“CACI and Its Friends,” Revisited

Read this unbelievable story from today’s Washington Post: There’s not much lower you can go as a company, or a contractor, or a country.

Weeks after winning dismissal of a case alleging that CACI International employees directed mistreatment of Abu Ghraib detainees, the company has asked its accusers to pay a $15,580 bill for legal expenses. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, all Iraqis who served time at the prison, opposed the request in a federal court filing on Monday…

According to a recent court filing, nearly two-thirds of the $15,580 bill relates to depositions CACI took, including costs for witness per diem fees and travel allowances as well as deposition transcripts. About $3,500 of the total would cover the costs CACI said it incurred for medical examinations and to hire an interpreter for plaintiff depositions. That figure, the filing added, includes a fee the company paid when examinations were canceled without enough advance notice. The plaintiffs oppose the move, arguing that CACI is out of time and that the request is unjust.

It gets worse. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has fought for the Abu Ghraib victims since the awful story about contracted interrogation and torture was first revealed in 2004, said the effort “appears to me an attempt to intimidate the plaintiffs.” Exactly. But then Public Citizen chimes in with its typical white-privilege, amoral judgement.

However, Michael T. Kirkpatrick, an attorney in the litigation group of nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen, said a bill of costs is standard court procedure. “There’s nothing unusual at all about it,” he said, noting that a bill of costs covers only limited expenses, not the entire cost incurred.

Must be OK then, Naderites.

I’ve been writing about CACI for years, and I’ve never been more disgusted (read my profile of it here). But it was this company that drew me into writing about outsourced intelligence in the first place. And here is that first article I ever wrote about the subject – “CACI and Its Friends,” published in The Nation, on June 21, 2004 (I post it here because The Nation‘s on-line version is for subscribers and is only available behind its paywall).

Thanks to Katherine Hawkins, the former investigator for the Constitution Project Task Force on Detainee Treatment, for alerting me to this story today.

The Nation: “CACI and its friends.”

By Tim Shorrock

In his now-famous report on Abu Ghraib prison, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba identified Steve Stefanowicz, a civilian interrogator employed by CACI International, as having “allowed and/or instructed” MPs to abuse and humiliate Iraqi prisoners and as giving orders that he knew “equated to physical abuse.” Taguba charged that Stefanowicz was one of four people, including a contract interpreter employed by Titan Corporation and two military intelligence officials, who were “either directly or indirectly responsible” for the abuse. On May 21 the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into an unnamed civilian contractor in Iraq after receiving a referral from the Defense Department.

Unlike Titan, which fired a translator suspected by Taguba of sexually humiliating detainees, CACI, which has twenty-seven interrogators working under Army command in Iraq, has taken a defiant stance on Taguba’s allegations. On May 27, J.P. “Jack” London, CACI’s longtime chairman and CEO, told securities analysts that CACI is unaware of “any specific charges” against its employees but is “working diligently to get the facts.” He added, “We feel we’ve done a fine job for the United States Army,” and said that “our work and integrity will come shining through.” CACI declined comment for this article. Stefanowicz, through his attorney, has denied any wrongdoing.

CACI’s history and operating philosophy provide valuable clues to its activities at Abu Ghraib. Based in Arlington, Virginia, the company was founded in 1962 by two men affiliated with the Air Force’s RAND Corporation. For the next thirty-five years, it grew steadily by providing specialty software to the Pentagon and other government agencies, and in the late 1990s it plunged into the military-intelligence market. With the assistance of friends in high places, including Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage-a CACI director and consultant from 1999 to 2001, when he joined the Bush Administration–CACI entered the small universe of companies providing information technology and services to military units devoted to countering terrorism, a strategy once known to military planners as “asymmetric warfare.” Since 9/11, CACI has emerged as one of the most unabashed corporate backers of Bush’s foreign policy and a key supporter of the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Even as I speak, men and women from CACI are forward deployed, worldwide, where the Army finds itself fighting this new century’s most heinous war–the war on terrorism,” London declared last October upon receiving a special award from the Association of the United States Army (a nonprofit organization that describes itself as “fostering public support of the Army’s role in national security”), according to CACI’s website. “We will be successful and victorious in eliminating this fanatical horror.” In 2002 London said he had come up with a “simpler way” to define asymmetric warfare: “Not fighting fair.” Those engaged in such tactics, he said, “embrace barbarism. And their ultimate goal is not victory, but absolute devastation.” One of CACI’s specialties is “social networks” analysis, which involves mapping relationships among terrorist networks and their civilian supporters–exactly what the US Army interrogators at Abu Ghraib were after. Such techniques are also embraced by the Israeli army in its confrontations with Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza, and may explain the special award London received in January from Ariel Sharon’s defense minister, Shaul Mofaz.

CACI’s relationship with Armitage–a veteran of US covert operations who worked undercover with the CIA’s infamous Phoenix assassination squads in Vietnam–underscores its political savvy. When he was elected a CACI director in 1999, Armitage was a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board and president of Armitage Associates, a consulting firm with a long list of powerful clients that included Boeing, Unocal, Texaco, Goldman Sachs and the Brown & Root subsidiary of Halliburton. Price Floyd, Armitage’s press officer at the State Department, said Armitage played a minor role at the company and “didn’t consult with CACI on its contracts.” But the company itself indicates that Armitage’s advice was critical to CACI’s growth. After he joined the Bush Administration, CACI said Armitage had provided “valuable guidance on CACI’s strategic growth plans and the federal government and Defense Department markets.” CACI’s current directors include Barbara McNamara, former Deputy Director of the National Security Agency, and Arthur Money, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence.

Last year, CACI earned $ 507 million in IT revenues from the government, making it the country’s seventeenth-largest federal IT contractor–behind the multibillion-dollar leaders Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman but ahead of prominent contractors like Halliburton, Bechtel and AT&T. Sixty-five percent of its revenues came from the Defense Department, where CACI’s clients include the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command and V Corps, which has several units in Iraq that have been deeply involved in US counterinsurgency operations. Indeed, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been very good for the company: In late May London predicted that CACI’s revenues for the first quarter of the 2005 fiscal year will top $ 360 million, a 50 percent improvement over the same period the year before.

With its earnings, CACI has gone on an acquisition binge, buying eight companies since August 2002. One of those companies, Premier Technology Group, which CACI acquired in May 2003, is the source of its current troubles. In what appears to have been a byzantine bit of bureaucracy, the contracts CACI inherited are managed by the Interior Department’s National Business Center, which has the authority to extend those contracts under “blanket purchase agreements.” Frank Quimby, Interior’s spokesman, said the US Army in Iraq specifically requested CACI’s interrogation and intelligence support services at the prison; the purchase agreements for those services, he said, were signed on August 13 and December 3, 2003-a time when the worst abuses were taking place. As of mid-May, neither Interior nor the Army had “found any indications of faulty performance” with CACI, Quimby said. Those contracts and agreements, however, are being investigated by the Interior Department’s Inspector General and the General Services Administration and could force the government to terminate CACI’s ability to bid on future contracts.

Any investigation of CACI should also focus on the higher-ups who approved these contracts, as well as any Administration officials who may know about CACI’s relationship with military intelligence. The military’s abuse of Iraqi prisoners is bad enough, but the privatization of such practices is simply intolerable.

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Obama’s Militaristic Tilt in Korea

A Korean activist in an Obama mask at a rally and march calling for a peace treaty with North Korea, July 27, 2013

My latest, in The Nation:

[On July 27], President Obama became the first US president to attend the official armistice commemorations at the Korean War Memorial. Addressing a phalanx of US and South Korean generals and hundreds of veterans, he delivered one of the most militaristic speeches of his presidency. “Here, today, we can say with confidence that this war was no tie,” he declared. “Korea was a victory.”

Obama ended on a note of hubris, pledging that “the United States of America will maintain the strongest military the world has ever known, bar none, always. That is what we do.” Not once did he mention the fact that, for both North and South Korea, national unification has been a cherished—albeit distant—goal since 1972, when the Kim Il Sung and Park Chung Hee governments first laid out the principles for unification.

Obama’s embrace of the term “victory” marks a sharp and disturbing turn in US policy towards Korea. The Korean War, which has its roots in the tragic division imposed by the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II, was one of the most brutal conflicts of the twentieth century. It ended where it began in 1950, with the two sides bitterly divided. It also left the country a shattered ruin; North Korea was literally bombed into cinders by the US Air Force. In the end, 38,000 Americans, 180,000 Chinese and 3 million Koreans died.

Click here to read the rest.

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