ILLEGAL NSA SPYING ON AMERICANS EXPOSED             by Murray Horton

Peace Researcher 32 –  March 2006

 

The US National Security Agency (NSA) is the world’s biggest Intelligence agency, much bigger than the better known Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It is the Big Daddy of all the Big Brothers. Its role is signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT). It is the spider at the centre of the web that is the super-secret UKUSA Agreement, by which it and the junior agencies in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (the NZ Government Communications Security Bureau – GCSB) divide up the world for collecting SIGINT and ELINT. The most notorious of the various projects for doing this kind of spying is the one codenamed Echelon, by which billions of key words are data mined and analysed by banks of computers, using the Dictionary programme, at the NSA’s HQ at Fort Meade, Maryland (which boasts the world’s biggest and fastest super-computer). To collect this mindboggling amount of data requires a global network of spybases – that is where little old New Zealand comes into the picture, with the secret Waihopai spybase which intercepts regional civilian communications transmitted by satellite. Basically Waihopai and its sister bases around the world simply download the stolen communications and forward them on to the NSA unprocessed (Echelon is far from the only such spying programme. For example, there is another one codenamed Tempest).

 

Unlike the CIA, which specialises in human intelligence (HUMINT) the NSA likes to stay in the shadows. But, in December 2005, it found itself thrust into the spotlight by the revelation that, since 2002, it has been clandestinely and illegally spying on Americans in the US. Because of the massive and systematic abuses of power by the NSA, CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which came to light during the 1968-74 Presidency of Richard Nixon, such no-warrant domestic spying has been expressly prohibited by law since 1978. The New York Times expose (16/12/05) revealed that President Bush issued a secret Executive Order in 2002 to allow the NSA to “eavesdrop without a warrant on phone conversations, e-mail and other electronic communications, even when at least one party to the exchange was in the US – the circumstance that would ordinarily trigger the warrant requirement” (Time, 9/1/06; “The Spying Controversy: Has Bush Gone Too Far?”; Richard Lacayo). It turns out that the New York Times had sat on the story for a year and only published it on the day of a key Congressional vote on Bush’s controversial PATRIOT Act, a cornerstone of the legislative dictatorship that the US has been rapidly turning into in the paranoid hysteria following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC. The vote was lost and Bush and his cronies in government and the media bitterly assailed those who had exposed the secret NSA spying – Bush had unsuccessfully summonsed both the Editor and publisher of the Times to the White House to urge them not to print the story. He and his mates came out swinging, saying that the US is at war and that the ends (national security) justifies the means.

 

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) created the secret, 11 member FISA court whose job it is to hear NSA requests for warrants. It is basically a rubber stamp for the spies. “According to the Justice Department, from 1979 to 2004 the court approved 18,724 wiretaps and denied only three, all in 2003” (Time, ibid). And, in cases which the NSA deems urgent, it is allowed to spy without a warrant as long as it applies for one within 72 hours (these warrants are only needed for spying on Americans; none are required for spying on foreigners). But apparently Bush and the NSA have decided that even the figleaf of the totally compliant FISA court is an unnecessary hindrance to the smooth functioning of the police State. It is, of course, all part of the same post-September 11 pattern that has seen “enemy combatants” held indefinitely and incommunicado, without legal redress, at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the systematic use of torture there and in US prisons in Iraq; kidnapping of alleged “terrorists” (many of whom turn out to be innocent) and their “rendition” by the CIA to third party countries for torture or even murder, quite often in a newly created network of secret CIA prisons in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Eastern Europe (the latter having gone from Soviet puppets in the old Cold War days to American arselickers in the Brave New World of One Superpower). And it is part of the pattern that is glorified in US propaganda such as Fox TV’s series “24” (recently on primetime on TV3) which glorifies US secret agents who use any methods, routinely including torture, to save the US from demonic, foreign terrorists (Muslims have replaced Communists as the bogeymen of popular entertainment, although the latest series of “24” combined the two by having both Muslims and Chinese as the villains).

 

Foreign Civilians Are Victims; US Peace Activists Are Targets

 

OK, but aren’t any methods acceptable in the “War On Terror”? Sadly, many of the victims of this war without end aren’t terrorists but innocent civilians, including kids. And that’s down to one thing – faulty intelligence, specifically faulty SIGINT and ELINT. As Bush and his underlings, such as Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, have proclaimed intelligence to be the key factor in this war, it is a central failing. To give only the most recent example – in January 2006 (not for the first time), Western media wet its pants at the reported killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command in al Qaeda, in a US air strike (by CIA missiles launched from an unmanned Predator drone) in a region of Pakistan near the Afghan border. But he was not among the 22 people killed, which included five women and five children. So they just became more “collateral damage”, not to mention the political fallout in Pakistan, a key US ally in its war (al Zawahiri popped up in a subsequent videotape to taunt the Americans for having missed him, again). And this is far from an isolated occurrence of such fatally faulty intelligence. There have been numerous civilian deaths in Afghanistan in such cases – in 2003, a number of kids were killed by a US airstrike triggered by one of them picking up and turning on the satellite phone of a wanted Taliban figure. The signal was intercepted and those kids’ fates were sealed. The US military, be it in Afghanistan or Iraq, or in any of its other war zones, has a history of shooting first and thinking about it later. That’s the way to win friends and influence people.

 

But these are foreigners, killed in “hot zones”, the unfortunate innocent victims in all wars, so the cynical justification goes. Well, let’s look at who else the NSA is spying on in the “War On Terror”. Funnily enough, it turns out to be the usual suspects – US peaceniks, at home in the US. Just as in the 1960s and 70s. NSA documents released as part of a US court case revealed that it closely monitored the activities of the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, a Quaker-linked peace group which has conducted peaceful, arrestable actions at the NSA HQ as part of its activities against the war in Iraq. It was extremely detailed surveillance, including recording all the licence plate numbers of all those attending a protest; reports were filed every 15 minutes on the day of one protest. The inflation of the group’s balloons and the contents of their signs were all duly noted. Among the security forces mobilised to deal with the protesters included the NSA’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Rapid Response Team. The mind boggles. Anyone familiar with the COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) of the FBI in the 1960s and 70s will recognise some of the tactics employed. One of the Baltimore Pledgers described a March 2003 demonstration in downtown Baltimore where “a provocateur (whom we had identified at our planning meeting the night before) joined us. We’d never seen him before …during the die-in at the Federal courthouse, he was taunting the police in a violent manner. We had to quiet him down, he then disappeared and we never saw him again – and, of course, he wasn’t arrested with the other 49 of us” (Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, 12/1/06; “National Security Agency mounted massive spy op on Baltimore peace group, documents show”, quoting Raw Story).

 

This illegal domestic spying is a subject of great concern to Americans from all sides of the political spectrum. Mark Levin, a former chief of staff to a senior member of the 1980s’ Reagan Republican Administration, wrote in a December 2005 blog post to the Rightwing National Review Online: "Under the Echelon program, the NSA and certain foreign intelligence agencies throw an extremely wide net over virtually all electronic communications world-wide. There are no warrants. No probable cause requirements. No FISA court. And information is intercepted that is communicated solely between US citizens within the US, which may not be the purpose of the program but, nonetheless, is a consequence of the program" (truthout/Investigative Report, 9/1/06; “The NSA Spy Engine: Echelon”, Jason Leopold”). The American people are waking up to the fact that an already existing monster has been rendered even more monstrous in the hysterical aftermath of September 11, creating a super-monster which will inflict tremendous damage on their own society.

 

Historic Lange Papers Reveal Who GCSB Was Spying On 20 Years Ago

 

A very rare insight into exactly who it was that the NZ Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB, the NSA’s junior partner agency in the UKUSA Agreement) was spying on two decades ago was inadvertently revealed when Archives New Zealand, with full Cabinet permission, agreed to release some of the papers of the 1984-89 Labour Prime Minister, the late David Lange (see my obituary of him elsewhere in this issue). This was released to the Sunday Star-Times and the intrepid Nicky Hager. Elsewhere in this issue there is an article detailing how several NZ conmen, for reasons known only to themselves, very successfully set up that paper and Nicky into writing a completely bogus series of 2004 articles purporting to be the confessions of NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS) contractors who had systematically spied on a wide range of Maori organisations and individuals. There was no such problem this time, the paper and Nicky stumbled across a goldmine in the box of Lange’s papers (which, reassuringly for us mere mortals, included stuff such as chequebook stubs and demanding letters from Inland Revenue). It also included a top secret GCSB Annual Report for 1985-86. This was one of only 16 copies and should have been returned by Lange once he’d read it. It wasn’t, and nobody noticed for the next 20 years, when it suddenly was made public.

 

The GCSB report detailed the pressure and less than subtle threats from the US towards New Zealand during the nuclear-free rupture between the two countries. More fascinatingly, it also lists precisely who it was that the GCSB was spying on 20 years. This bombshell burst in the media the week before ABC’s January 2006 protest at the Waihopai spybase (and, no, we knew nothing about it in advance either) and journalists tended to muddle the two things up, as if Waihopai had been the means of doing that spying. It is important to realise that this covers a period before Waihopai was announced, let alone built and operational – the report is detailing spying carried out by the GCSB’s other, older, spybase, namely Tangimoana, in the lower North Island. This involves a different method of spying and concentrates on intercepting things such as ships’ radio traffic. Be that as it may, the report still provided a fascinating insight into who NZ was spying on, irrespective of which spybase or method of SIGINT and or ELINT was used.

 

This was during the Cold War, which during those Reagan years, looked very likely to lurch into a very hot nuclear war. So some of the targets were entirely predictable and don’t exist any more – the Soviet Union and East Germany. But there were plenty more listed, some of them in the former Second World of that time (the Communist Bloc) such as North Korea and Vietnam. Others definitely raised eyebrows, even 20 years later – NZ’s Pacific Island neighbours, France (a major Pacific colonial presence and one which had just bombed the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour), Japan and the Philippines (this was when the looming overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship was a major concern of the US). Some targets surprised by their extreme distance from New Zealand – Egypt and Argentina (in the wake of the 1982 Falklands War, during which the Muldoon government actively backed Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, the GCSB listened in to Argentine Navy communications on behalf of British Intelligence).

 

Spying On The UN

 

And, the most embarrassing revelation of them all – that 20 years ago, the GCSB was intercepting United Nations diplomatic communications. This is the proof of what a loyal lapdog it has been for its NSA master for decades. The US has always targeted the UN, seeing it as suspect and a hindrance to US interests – in the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when the UN refused to rubberstamp this crime, the NSA was exposed by its own insiders to be systematically spying on the UN itself and key opposing or wavering member countries of the all-important Security Council. In the whistleblowing 2004 book “Axis Of Deceit” by Andrew Wilkie (see Bob Leonard’s review of it elsewhere in this issue), the former Australian Intelligence analyst turned author and Green candidate wrote: “The UN was monitored and assessed with almost as much vigour as Iraq itself….There was a deliberate and official campaign to eavesdrop on the most sensitive UN communications during the lead-up to the war”.

 

This spying on major international agencies seen as being a nuisance by the US is ongoing. In 2004 it was revealed that the NSA had been regularly spying on Mohamed El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as part of an American campaign to get rid of him and have him replaced by Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister of Australia, that most loyal of  American satellites. It didn’t work – both men remain in their present jobs and, for good measure, El Baradei and his agency were awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. These are the sorts of “enemies” that the US spies on and which it gets its junior partners, such as the GCSB, to spy on for it. In light of the revelations in the Lange papers, both the Greens and the Maori Party called for an inquiry into the GCSB. ABC says that doesn’t go far enough – the GCSB should be abolished and its two spybases closed forthwith.

 

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