90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
The NSA’s New Secret Spy Hub

Inside the matrix. James Bamford on the vast new National Security Agency surveillance center going up in the Utah desert.

This Sept. 19, 2007, file photo, shows the National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md. The military intelligence complex an hour outside Washington  is known as a cloak-and-dagger sanctum off-limits to the rest of the world. (AP)

This Sept. 19, 2007 photo shows the National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md. The military intelligence complex an hour outside Washington is known as a cloak-and-dagger sanctum off-limits to the rest of the world. (AP)

These days you can store a terabyte of data on a flash drive the size of a pinky finger.  Right now outside Salt Lake City, Utah, the National Security Agency is building a top-secret, state-of-the-art data center of one million square feet.

It will move what they’re calling “yottabytes” of data.  Oceans.  Including, maybe, yours.  E-mails, phone calls, Google searches, parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases.  Investigative reporter James Bamford says watch out.

This hour, On Point:  Surveillance, domestic surveillance, and the super spy center going up in the desert.

-Tom Ashbrook


Steve Fidel, a reporter for The Deseret News and KSL radio and former editor of deseretnews.com. You can see photos of the new facility from the Deseret News here.

James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. His recent article in Wired magazine on the NSA’s new facility in Utah is here.

From Tom’s Reading List

Wired “Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.”

Forbes “The story adds confirmation to what the New York Times revealed in 2005: that the NSA has engaged in widespread wiretapping of Americans with the consent of firms like AT&T and Verizon. But more interestingly–and more troubling in the eyes of many who value their privacy–it details the Agency’s plans to crack AES encryption, the cryptographic standard certified by the NSA itself in 2009 for military and government use and until now considered uncrackable in any amount of time relevant to mortals.”

Computer World “Yet when Congressman Hank Johnson asked NSA chief General Keith Alexander if the NSA could hunt down every email bashing Dick Cheney for waterboarding, Alexander testified, “No.” Alexander spoke in front of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. The “NSA does not have the ability to do that in the United States.””

Video: NSA Chief Denies Bamford Report

Here is National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander answering questions about the Wired story. He said that the NSA did not have the capability to monitor, inside the United States.


Here is a satellite view of the NSA facility under construction in Utah.

View map in a larger map

NSA Facility Details

This presentation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows some schematics of the NSA facility.

[Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.]


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Sara in VT

    What has changed if anything with President Obama?

    • Rousseau

      Absolutely nothing. The current trajectory continues to compromise and hamstring our civil liberties. Considering he taught constitutional law, Obama should be ashamed of himself.  

    • Anonymous

      Things are getting worse, and the fauxgressive Obamabots still defend him.

    • Anonymous

       We should be better acquainted, Sara, with reality. Reality shows us that, if Congress wants to stand in the way of progress, it can do so, pretty easily.  We don’t — can’t! — hand a president a magic wand just by electing him, no matter the good faith of our own efforts.  We’re up again a governmental structure so dominated by the defense industry (vide Ike) that even Obama with a Congress chock full of Democrats hasn’t a snowball’s  chance in hell of trimming the NSA, of all agencies!

  • Longfellow’s Evangeline

    I jes’ wanna know how they built all this ‘new city’ and connected all the utilities and account for the ‘power drain.’  Where is power coming from?  Did they retrofit the adjacent properties for energy efficiency, and take the difference”  And didn’t A T & T have a ball and all sorts of kudos for cooperating? Whose on first with this little Cheneyville?  Just askin’, me and Heckle and Jeckle.  

  • the _centrist

    what if that communication bounces of a server outside the united states?

  • http://www.facebook.com/crowell.jon Jon Crowell

    I learned in a computer security class in grad school once that the best encryption algorithms are those that have been published.  This is because an algorithm that has been published will have been closely examined by the larger community and weaknesses will have been spotted and addressed.  Relying on a private, unpublished algorithm to encrypt your message risks relying on an algorithm with a crucial weakness that you are not aware of.  It is only when all the guts of the algorithm are open for the world to see that one can begin to approach true security.  I think a very similar lesson applies to the NSA.  If the National Security Agency is genuinely serious about security for the American people, then it will be utterly transparent in all their dealings and will voluntarily open their books, their methods, and their facilities to public inspection.

    • Adks12020

      I’m certainly no computer expert…not even close. But, my guess is that they will hire scores of the best minds they can find from the industry to analyze the algorithm you describe.  Think about how huge our defense budget is.  Transparency is not what the NSA does…and it never will. 

  • MP

    I’m not to worried about a new NSA ‘secret spy hub’,

    because when the U.S. dollar collapses and the U.S. federal govt. goes bankrupt (which it will), the NSA ‘secret spy hub’ will be occupied not by spies, but by foul-smelling squatters.

    • Still Here

      just like Boston now then

      • Anonymous

        Congatulations! You manage to say something mindlessly useless with each new post!

  • Rousseau

    While it raises concerns and suspicions, the construction of the building was a major source of local employment here in Utah. It served as a significant stimulus to Utah’s economy.  

    • Lichtenf

      Yes it seems like it does help the jobs picture. What’s amazing is all these conservative politicians running around saying the government doesn’t create jobs! :-)

      • Hidan

         much like when conservative politicians complain about the stimulus yet went back to there districts to brag about the projects(the stimulus) help create.

  • JustSayin

    Question on a future SAT?
    NSA is to Stasi, as USA is to DDR? 

  • AC

    back in the old days, they used to kill the engineers & builders when the castle was completed so none of the ‘secret’ hallways and escape routes could be sold (or tortured) out of them….did they do that too? it’d make me laugh. nothing really changes, does it?

  • Hidan

    In the name of safety the republican passes laws that chip away on our civil liberties  and the democrat comes in and makes it bipartisan and part of the status quo.

    Both sides partisans will defend the chipping way of our civil liberties when there guy is in office. The ones on the democratic side are even worst cause they actually believe that obama is more responsible as to not abuse such power and somehow a republican is not going to get in office and make things worst. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Brown/1227104716 Tim Brown

      Exactly. The most recent NDAA which allows the US military to detain indefinitely and without trial anyone, even US citizens on US soil, so long as they are a “terrorist.” HR 347, the so called “Criminalizing Protest” Bill,  makes it a felony to protest events covered by the Secret Service and events of “national significance.” Both passed with both parties support with little to no debate. The only thing both parties can agree upon is their contempt for the American people and their rights.

  • Anonymous

    One of the greatest threats to our security is our reliance upon the internet and network devices. China (and other states) threatens us commercially in a way never conceived of militarily. Everything runs on computers… aside from the IP theft and subsequent theft of entire manufacturing industries, which has been an economic coup like none ever seen before, they are capable of shutting our entire infrastructure down in seconds. Lights out! Reactors, oil, gas, solar power plants off line. Communications gone. Traffic control systems gone. Gridlock, paralysis….

    If this isn’t part of an effort to address cyber terrorism, what the heck is this for?!!!

  • Hidan

     Wikileaks: Google caught in spy games on execs and ‘regime change’


    Who wants to bet Stratfors has connections with NSA?


    It would seem from the emails that Google executives were consulting Stratfor about Cohen’s travels. Stratfor started spying on Cohen after concerns were raised regarding the executive’s previous employment with the U.S. government under both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.  The intelligence reports do not indicate coordination between Cohen and the Obama administration, as suspected

  • U.S. Vet.

    You’ve got a better chance of being struck by lightning than you do of being killed by Al Qaida terrorists.

    The Cold War is over.

    Who is the super secretive N.S.A. supposed to be protecting us from?

    • Still Here

      Rogue national economies and theocratic anarchists.

    • AC

      Mexican drug lords? I’m scared of them!!
      but seriously, that is an interesting question & i’ve wondered about this myself – how do you pick that ‘lone’ individual who is about to snap? or the ‘brainwashed pawn’ for a group of loonies?

    • Drew You Too

      “Who is the super secretive N.S.A. supposed to be protecting us from?”

      Ourselves. It’s for our own good…Right?

    • Steve

      People who are capable of thinking for themselves

  • Pingback: The NSA’s New Secret Spy Hub | theflyingcameldotorg

  • AC

    here we go again, trying to pretend this is about right/left/dems/repubs when really, this is a game ‘nations’ (or ‘organizations/religions’) have played forever. obviously nothing will come from all the finger pointing once again; i think ‘spying’ is a philosophical problem to be solved; i myself used to spy on my older sister all the time so i had leverage when i wanted to wear her clothes….fix that first. stop thinking it’s ‘politics’

    • Hidan

       It’s both sides  and it’s quite clear about this. Granted the right tends to push civil liberty violations and due to fear of being called weak on______ the left goes along with it. Than when the left is in power if keeps,maintains and expand on such civil liberty violations. The left who previously rail against the rights civil liberty violations will go to bat and defend it once it’s there guy in the WH.

      -drone attacks
      -right to target U.S. citizens
      -Global battle field
      -Militazation of the police department(esp in blue states)
      -Wire tapping laws
      -NYPD spying on it’s Muslim in NY and other states

      • Hidan


    • Cheyanne Smith

      …..sure spying on your enemy/sister/neighbor to get their clothes is one thing. Spying on people for potentially evil/harming purposes is quite another. 

      Somebody needs to grow up and know what goes on here is socio-economic-religiously and politically motivated. That’s called being an American human.

      • AC

        if only it were so simple. this is an ancient art….see my earlier post

    • Anonymous

      I think your “game of nations” is precisely correct.

  • Hidan

    Ma. has 2 bills trying to get passed.

    1 allows for the State to refuse to provide a lawyer and advocates waving certain Miranda rights for some crimes.

    2. the other is the 3 strikes law that nearly bankrupted CA.

    The first clearly violates the constitution but is trying to be sold as saving money and the second of course is being played out as keeping citizen safe and this is a blue state.

  • Julia

    Trevanian’s book, Shibumi, from 1979, was a head of it’s time. This technology is in his 1979 book. No joke; and a good read, too.

  • Anonymous

    Welcome to the USSA!
    How long will that take to get entered into my file?

    • fredericc

      It’s in.

  • S.C. Listener

    Maybe it’s time to get into he tinfoil hat business… 

    • S.C. Listener

      the, not he… sorry for the typo

    • AC

      i’ll go in on that with you…!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    While it will be used for national defence, the majority of that “defence” will likely be monitoring groups like OWS.

  • AC

    gee whiz. those guys must have no weekends!! that’s a lot of reading!!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Much of the “defense” will be taxpayer funded protection of private corporate interests, so they don’t have to pay for it.

  • Wes

    I think one’s comfort level with this type of building is related to one’s overall trust of government. Personally, I don’t think there’s an issue with this type of facility. If we continue to have reasonable due process in this country, I really don’t think the average citizen has anything to worry about.

    • Drew You Too

      “If we continue to have reasonable due process in this country”

      Ever hear of the Military Commissions Act?

    • mmg

       Contributes to divisive Parties in US. Democrats fear Republicans in charge and Republicans fear Democrats in charge

  • Anonymous

    Maybe all the genealogy traffic passing through the same area will confuse? My emails through Ancestry this morning will be about people long dead.
    They have all that non-Union coal for firing-up boilers for electricity.

  • Kopnitsk

    When the government can act in secrecy how can the voters decide?   NASA is a product of capitalism and just like criminals much prefer to act in secrecy.   Democracy if allowed to function could eliminate war.   But war is the only way the rich can get richer.    Your guest is obviously an agent for the many spy agencies of the chamber of commerce/U.S. government.

  • Anonymous

    When did Dick Cheney become President? OnPoint, you’re scaring me!

    • Adks12020

      IF Dick Cheney were to become president. The key word is IF.  And a Congressman asked the question…not OnPoint.  It helps to listen.

      • Anonymous

        You have the wrong quote there. It helps not just to listen but to listen closely. Give it a try. 

    • Anonymous

      WHEN??? When Bush got “placed” by the Supreme Court.  Just because Dubya had the title doesn’t mean he had the power.  Wake Up.

  • Catherine

    Dick Cheney was VICE president, not the sitting president

    • mmg

       Dick Cheney had more power then the President in 1st term because Bush gave it to him. Bush lost trust in everyone in his second term.

    • Adks12020

      IF Dick Cheney were to become president. The key word is IF.  And a Congressman asked the question…not OnPoint.  It helps to listen.This is called a hypothetical…many congressmen and women are attorneys.  Hypotheticals are used all the time in law to glean information about a subject.

  • Juan Kenobi

    There is a system in place to allow for data networks to exist within the electrical grid.  Computers connected to the power grid are accessible to any agency with the right technology.  This system was developed privately to deliver internet to the “last mile” users but has since been ominously silent.  The products like homeplug are examples of this technology.  Homeplug uses your house electrical system to create a LAN.  This can be done easily on a macro scale.  All devices sold in the US are regulated to “- accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation” which simply means: you cant sell it unless FCC has approved the underlying technology contained in this device.  The ns ay has more abilities to silently access electrical devices than you can even imagine.  If it has a plug you can hack into it. Period. 

  • Cliff

    It sounds like the NSA representative might have been referring to the NSA’s legal ability to spy on Americans, not their technical ability.  The question wasn’t specific enough.

  • ipsum

    This is simply an extension of the panoptic device which has been expanding got years along with the power of the executive branch. We need to take care that our fear of foreign and domestic threats does not become more extreme than is justified.

  • Juan Kenobi

    Worrying about it or paranoia is pointless and unproductive.  You were all slaves, with the illusion of choice as your chains ten generations ago.  Gotta go to work now. Best to Ashbrook, love the show. 

  • mmg/Omaha

    Funding and cost? Where did it come from?

  • Geoff Forbes

    Cheney going after political enemies is NOT a “silly” question. He was in the Nixon White House. When (not if) this power is abused, it will be for political purposes.

  • Tazmine626

    With the accumulated mass of data, and the growth of computing power comes an even more treacherous result.  Modeling and profiling such that perceived threats to power can be identified and eliminated.  A complete loss of a democratic future.

  • Modavations

    Pres.Obama has his conference of Govt.Openess ,behind closed door.Dick Cheney,Dick Cheney,no bias here.

  • Modavations

    I spend all this time writing my hit piece and the friggin General keeps saying No,No,No.How am I supposed to move up the ranks of Daily Kos???

  • Modavations

    What NSA does is collect data and then find suspicious patterns.It’s all done automatically.

  • Wally wiegert

    I believe it was Goering who identified the time honored methodolgy of rallying public support for gov’t intrusion: Declare the motherland is under attack, label those opposed as unpatriotic, and declare that no one who is engaging in threaenting or inappropriate behavior has anything to fear . 9/11 has got this nation headed down a road which threatens our freedom. Many thanks to your guest. 

  • Modavations

    Never say anything incriminating on the phone(I knew that by the time I was 16) and never put on paper, that which you can convey with a whisper

  • Mvan

    As an American, and a tax payer, I don’t want a baby sitter or a “Big Brother”.  I want infrastructure updates and improvements, I want Social Security and other social safety nets in place and vibrant, I want health care.  The NSA will benefit first and foremost those individuals who enjoy wealth and power while the rest of us “average citizens” are no safer and benefit very little for this absurd paranoid driven fetish.  

  • JustSayin

    There is no such thing as domestic data (AKA Not within the US). Data if necessary could be bounced off a server outside the US and it becomes “Foreign”.

  • mmg

    What do other US offices of the government and military  feel and say about NSA?

    • Terry Tree Tree

      NSA can tell you?

  • Drew You Too

    I’m noticing the low number of posts and wondering how big a role personal paranoia plays into that. Can’t remember where I heard it but the saying “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” comes to mind. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy and hasn’t been for quite some time. If you want privacy you have to live in complete isolation and cease use of ALL current technologies.We’ve continued to barter our civil liberties for falsely perceived convenience and security as a society for decades. It should come as no surprise that complacency and narcissism carry an extremely high cost. We don’t ever seem to learn anything from history, what we condemned in the past we embrace in the future.

  • Synrgst

    That strange definition of INTERCEPT is like defining a reception in football by saying ‘the ball hasn’t been caught unless a touchdown is made’. Ridicules  

    • N/A

       Please see my long post above, roughly number 95.

      I tried provided an simple example of “real life” inception, processing, dissemination, etc.

  • Milton Hanzel

        Helpful in this
    conversation would be some itemization of how unchecked government power has
    been used undemocratically.  I was a
    protester of imminent invasion of Nicaragua in Cambridge, MA in the mid ’80s
    when, our offices were broken into by government.  Green Party activists could not get on a plane in 2003 to work for
    their candidate.  What other examples?

        Unchecked power
    will be abused:  the killing of a black
    teen in FL, massacre in Afghanistan and so much more.  Human nature demands that we protect ourselves from the unscrupulous
    among us, who are so good at working the levers of power.

  • mmg

    We have CIA, FBI, NSA, Homeland security and State and Local Enforcement. Why do people not believe they are being spyed on in USA?

    • Terry Tree Tree

      You left off about fifty Alphabet-Soup groups, and over 85,000 ‘private contractors’?  Cleared by other ‘private contractors’?   Feel secure yet?

  • BuckB

    You have no privacy in this technological time. Everything electronic can be monitored…..

  • Anonymous

    The ineffective war on drugs still left us with a handful of liberties so we need these new intrusions to protect us. 

  • Hvacr

    What if the system was made usess by thousands of citizens using trigger words?

    • S.C. Listener

      The FEMA camps would fill up quickly… lol

  • Anonymous

    As long as the new technology works both ways and will let us monitor the government then, perhaps, we can safeguard our privacy and our rights. This was the point of a recent book.

  • okitaris

    Tom NPR and your guest is guilty of propaganda.   And not listening to what you are saying.    If you have ever said the Pledge of Allegiance to the  Flag.   Pledger says;  I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the REPUBLIC for which it stands. One nation under god indivisible with liberty and justice for all. 
        We see where this “real politics” leads it leads  to war.

  • fredericc

    Ironic? Massacre on 9/11 leads facility going up near massacre on 9/11 (1857)

  • mmg

    Lets face it Patriot Act and NSA VERY VERY Scary!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    But anyone looking to keep their data private are just going to use encrypted methods (widely used by corporations now).

    One things that has to follow is legislation outlawing personal use of encryption, or restricting it to breakable encryption that NSA holds the keys for.

    • N/A

      NSA can easily break anything private citizens (regardless of national origin) can purchase or create.  NSA is in the business of reading Foreign Governments’ secret messages.  You’re encryption doesn’t stand a chance.

  • G Havener39

    Tip of the iceberg regarding government secret activities.  Would be nice to listen to dialog on the “Military Inductrial Complex,”.  Good topics. PLEASE, PLEASE KEEP THE LIGHT ON SUCH GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES. Thank you!!!!

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/3ETFGMQ3B7VD4AAMILBBEVMCWE JasonA

      Exactly. As was pointed out in the show, our Trillion dollar a year national security state missed almost of ALL the terrorist attacks of the past. What is the Value returned for our investment? Nothing but trouble and the further erosion of our civil rights and privacy. The US government is completely corrupt and further out of control each day, and a growing threat to each and every citizen.

      • N/A

         Jason, you don’t know what was caught. 

        Don’t immediately assume the worst.

  • Steve

    If one hundred people are bright/clever enough to use technology to track the population then one million people may be bright/clever enough to use the technology to monkey wrench the system.

    This can be applied to foreign governments that wish the US harm or to people still interested in privacy/freedom/liberty.

  • Roy Mac

    Tom, you’re killing me!  Specifically, that 86-yr-old fart who called in and talked about how some things were just too important to let the public know about.

    Whenever discussions like this occur, someone will express that opinion.  But why, oh why, don’t you respond, “Well, caller–what makes YOU so friggin’ special that YOU should know?”  You let it go without asking the obvious question, Tom–shame on you.

    • N/A

      Roy, you’re flat out wrong.  The caller knew because he had, as it’s call, a “Need to Know”, in order to carry out his official duties.

      An example: FBI Agent’s identities and addresses are kept confidential, because the public doesn’t have a general “Need to Know”.  If this information is made public, the Agent and his family may be imperiled.

      The caller, for example, knew because he participated in D-Day. 

      More to the point, if this information (how communications intelligence is collected) is made available to our Nation’s enemies, they can easily change their communication methods, improve their encryption algorithms, etc., effectively shutting off that particular intelligence spigot.  These collection methods easily cost 100′s of million, or billions of dollars to develop (eg, launch satellites), so keeping our collective mouths shut is a must.

  • JustSayin

     A voice from the past… that seems irreconcilable to the philosophies of today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjkLfhRyg0w&feature=related

  • Adam Busbin

    How does one get a job at this place?

    • N/A

       Apply at NSA.gov, CIA.gov, FBI.gov, etc.

  • Jthom48

    James Bamford gave several examples of events the NSA had missed; Sept. 11 being one. What if they did not miss them, but exposing them would give too much information to the wrong people.

    • Dylan Gray

       what we can never know and should not for the same reason is what they have foiled

    • N/A

       These are the attacks NSA (and other Intelligence Agencies) missed.  A few were nation and world-changing.

      However, unless you’re “in the know”, and work these issues, you don’t know how many are foiled each month.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Nor how many had ‘government’ help, or blessings?

  • Bluejay

    At last Bennett and Hatch have snagged something really big, and I hate to admit it but having lived in Utah, and not a Mormon, I cant think of a more ominous place to locate information like this.  Out there the concept of personal privacy and rights only applies to the “elite”. 

  • Dylan Gray

    I am a brit living in America
    - there is no privacy
    - if we are not doing anything wrong we have nothing to fear
    - we need all the protection we can get

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Wrong, in WHO’S eyes? 
          MANY in Congress, use insider info, to make money on what should be illegal?

    • http://twitter.com/JuanValdezzz Juan

      “not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear” logic only applies to a SLAVE.

      I have a right to privacy from ANYONE. I have a right to have legal SECRETS. Trade SECRETS, design SECRETS (eg. pre patented ideas) without ANYONE snooping on them.

      I’m sorry, but no rational, freedom loving person would accept the argument that a loss of personal privacy for some perceived safety is a wise tradeoff. Hell no, I’d take my chances if it were in fact that bad!

  • Dylan Gray

    if we tell the people what is possible it is blinding obvious that it can be applied anywhere. no one is going to tell use

  • N/A

    I feel this guest is a uninformed/misinformed fear monger.  To a very large degree, many of the basic, fundamental facts concerning America’s SIGINT collection activities are available for scrutiny, if people are willing to look. 

    Please refer to the cache of freely available from the Geo. Washington University, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB24/index.htm .  These are declassified documents.  Most were Secret or Top Secret Codeword (tagged with “Umbra”, “Morray”, “Spoke”, SI/TK, RUFF, ZARF, etc.) when first issued and used until superseded with a more up-to-date version.  Had these documents been inappropriately leaked, the suspect would be liable to felony prosecution, heavy fines, and a long, miserable Federal, court trial.  These are the “Real McCoy”.

    The single page listed above, and there are many, many pages with many, many links, contains what NSA personnel know as USSID 18.  USSID is United States Signals Intelligence Directive.  Basically, this is the 18th volume of the laws, and the USSIDs carry the weight of law to those personnel working in signals collections activities.  Run a foul of USSID 18′s directives and you may end up in a Federal penitentiary.

    Go look at now.  It may be your first Secret CCO (Comment Control Channels Only) document.  Get your copy here: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB24/nsa11a.pdf .  The 51-page document is now unclassified, so you may safely own a copy. 

    How does USSID 18 protect your privacy?  Read this memo: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB24/nsa11b.pdf .  I believe this applies to Former President Jimmy Carter (ref: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB24/nsa11e.pdf) and his activities trying to broker a peace accord during the Bosnian war.  In short, because former President Carter was no longer in office, even though he was working in an official capacity, his activities could be reported upon (in fact, MUST be reported on … he’s an emissary for the United States), but his activities could not be attributed to him, by name.  Here is a snippet from the gwu.edu web page:

    “This NSA memo indicates that the conditions for identification
    of U.S. officials by title in NSA reporting varies depending on
    whether or not the individual is a member of the executive branch.
    Senior officials of the executive branch may be identified by
    title, without prior approval from higher authority, when the
    official’s title is necessary to understand or assess foreign
    intelligence. In contrast, officials from the legislative and
    judicial branches cannot be identified by title, even if that
    information is necessary to understand foreign intelligence, unless
    approval is obtained from higher authority. The memo implies that,
    under the assumed conditions, the use of names is not permitted.”


    The issue of when the identity or even title of a U.S. citizen
    can be included in reporting based on communications intercepts
    is a major focus of USSID 18. This NSA memo was prepared in response
    to the invitation to former President Carter to travel to Bosnia
    and Herzegovina to participate in efforts to end the war. It specifies
    that as long as Carter is acting as a private citizen he may be
    referred to only as a “U.S. person” in any reports.

    Another example of NSA protecting private, American citizens’ privacy:  http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB24/nsa11c.pdf .  This refers to Hillary Clinton when she was tasked with official duties during the 1990′s.  Here’s a snippet from gwu.edu’s web page:

    This memo followed a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that 
    Hillary Clinton was a full-time government official. It notes
    that she could be identified in reports by title (Chairperson
    of the President’s Task Force on National Health Care Reform)
    without prior approval when that title was necessary to understand
    or assess foreign intelligence and when the information related
    to her official duties. The memo also contains guidance on reports
    containing information about information concerning Mrs. Clinton
    that is not clearly foreign intelligence.

    Furthermore … http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB24/nsa11f.pdf

    The issue of identification by context is the subject of this
    memo. It notes that, in describing U.S. entities, analysts are
    required, in general, to substitute sufficiently generic terms
    for the entities–terms that do not “directly lead to the identification
    of a U.S. entity even though the identity has been obscured in
    the report.” Violation of the “contextual identification rule”
    requires that the report “must be cancelled, reworded and reissued
    to eliminate the identifying information.” The guidance clearly
    does not apply to those cases where inclusion of more specific
    information is necessary to evaluate foreign intelligence.

    Returning to USSID 18, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB24/nsa11a.pdf, in order to better understand the truly touchy issue of which information may be attributed to United States citizens, we’ll begin with meanings of words. 

    On page “1″, the document starts by reaffirming American citizens’ right to privacy, which is guaranteed by the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, and NSA’s solemn duty to uphold that right.  Quoting the first paragraph: “1.1 (U) The Fourth Ammendment to the United States Constitution protects all “US Persons” (hint: that’s an important term) anywhere in the world and all persons (another important term) in the United States from unreasonable searches and seizures by any person or agency acting on behalf of the US Government.  The Supreme Court has ruled that the interception of electronic communications is a search and seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  It is therefore mandatory that signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations be conducted pursuant to procedures which meet the reasonableness requirements of the Fourth Amendment.” 
    Paragraph “1.4 (U) Finally, [the safety procedures implemented in this document] implement the constitutional principal of “reasonableness” by giving different categories of individuals and entities different levels of protection.  … These differences … focus all foreign intelligence operations on foreign entities and persons.”

    Please refer to page “2″.  Paragraph 3.1 concerns the document’s POLICY, “3.1 (U) The policy … is to TARGET and COLLECT only FOREIGN COMMUNICATIONS.  [NSA] will not intentionally COLLECT (an important term) communications to, from, or about US PERSONS (an important term) or persons or entities (large businesses, for example) in the US except as set forth in this USSID.  If [NSA] inadvertently COLLECTS such communications, it will process, retain, and disseminate them only in accordance with this USSID.” 

    Meaning?  NSA does not actively try to collect information about US Citizens, Nationals, etc.  If NSA accidentally collects on US Citizens, Nationals, or Entities, the information must be handled according to applicable law.  Consider this scenario.  If while at work you overhear your coworker on the phone speaking to his spouse about difficulties with his teen-aged child, you are honor-bound to not pass that information to other coworkers. 

    In a similar fashion, considering America has approximately 400,000,000 (400M) citizens, NSA is bound to collect information during its routine activities.  NSA is forbidden by the Constitution and applicable USSID laws, to not act on that information.  Naturally, exceptions exist for criminal activity, terrorism, etc.  Refer to Section 4, COLLECTION for the specifics.  In short, only AGENTS for FOREIGN POWERS, INTERNATIONAL TERRORISTS (this in a 1993 document) and spys are targeted for COLLECTION.

    It’s necessary to understand a few terms: INTERCEPTION, COLLECTION, PROCESSING, and DISSEMINATION.  Think about my example concerning your coworker.  Innocently overhearing your coworker’s conversation with this wife is similar to INTERCEPTION or inadvertent COLLECTION.  While going about your routine business, this information was dropped into your lap.  You are forbidden by good manners and social mores to actively ruminate on this information (aka, PROCESSING) or to share the information with other coworkers (aka, DISSEMINATION).  You can read the proper definitions here …

    Paragraph 9.1, COLLECTION, page “13″.
    Paragraph 9.11, INTERCEPTION, page “14″
    Paragraph 9.18, UNITED STATES PERSON, page 15

    A thought.  This is all very legal.  When I worked in this area, you might be forgiven for thinking telephone “line men” or Electrical Engineers (EE) would be commonplace in the work area.  Not at all.  Lawyers, however, were everywhere. 

    Well, if you’re truly interested, you can read it at your leisure.  Otherwise, you’re free to continue talking out of your ass, much as I feel the show’s guest did today.  I took a couple hours to explain this because I feel it’s important and the information, if widely and accurately disseminated, can sooth the nerves of American citizen’s fearful of their Nation’s actions and motives.

    Websites referenced:

    P.S. If you’re curious, look for Title 10 (intelligence collection during war time) and Title 50 (intelligence collection during peace time) laws, which are also (I believe) available at gwu.edu.

  • Max

    Thank you for the history lesson, N/A, but your acceptance of the assurances that NSA abides by privacy directives is naive in given the prima facia evidence of warrantless wiretapping at telecom switching centers that the press (not just Mr. Bamford) has reported. All the signals thus acquired are archived; it would not be possible for the eavesdroppers to weed out the US nationals first and delete those communications. So they will end up in Utah, and no doubt will be mined by machine at some point. So don’t make us try to believe that our privacy is being respected. I don’t know what motivated you to spend so much time writing your response defending the intelligence community when it’s clear that NSA and FBI snooping has reached epic proportions. What’s your role in all that?

    • N/A

      Max, my views are neither naive nor uninformed.  I was on the inside, observing these events on a daily basis for a period of 20+ years.

      My goal is altruistic.  I know the personnel (analysts, lawyers, managers, military, etc.) in those positions are honorable, law-abiding citizens.  Personnel who mess up are disciplined (administrative or judicial, depending on the circumstances) and held accountable to the standards outlined below.

      Yes, information will likely be collected (remember my example below?).  It’s not the unintentional collection that’s the problem, it’s acting on information known to be associated with US citizens (and other protected classes listed in USSID 18).  Did you actually download and read the documents I linked?  Go re-read my post again.  For good measure, re-read the Top Secret documents, too.  Read the reports discussing how to adequately protect former Jimmy Carter’s privacy (that is, not identify him in intelligence reporting, even when he is the topic of conversation) while he was on official business (tho’ no longer the President) in the early 1990′s. 

      Put another way: if NSA intercepted Foreign Government communications (for example, between the Serbian President and his Army Commander) as they discussed former President Jimmy Carter (an official participant in the Dayton Peace Accords), NSA concluded they could not mention Carter by name in any intelligence reports written about the Serbian leaders’ conversation.  The Serbian President and Serbian Army Commander might have actually
      said (which the Serbian to English translators would have known), “That
      Carter guy is a real cornball!  Can you believe he’s a genuine nuclear
      physicist?”  At most, as is outlined in my post and covered ad naseum in the many linked NSA documents, the intelligence analyst could say only something like, “The Serbian President and Serbian Army Commander discussed the lead US Negotiator’s negotiating position and tactics.” 

      I came.  I saw.  I participated.  Also, I sleep with a clear conscious.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        And, if it isn’t, or wasn’t the way you say, you’d have to say that, anyway?  To protect yourself, or the Intelligence Community? 
           My clearances weren’t near what you say yours were/are?   Thank goodness that civillian applications far surpass what I was responsible for, all those years ago!

  • Terry Tree Tree

    Bamford, James Bamford, Agent Double-Ought Naught!

  • Bin

    There is nothing wrong with collecting intelligence to prevent threats to the US. However, make sure these resources are directed against the real enemies of America – bankers plotting the rapine and financial enslavement of the backbone middle class; gilded “executives” exporting jobs and technology to third-world dictatorships; insider contractors and lobbyists raiding public funds…etc.

  • Akunabay

    I haven’t read the earlier comments about this, but having just listened to the podcast I felt I should point out something that made me somewhat desolute with the way the issue was presented. Tom Ashbrook was right to point out the threat to democracy in this scenario of clandestine and illegal surveillance, but unfortunately his usually progressive and intelligent view was somehow tainted by the implication that yes, it is all OK to spy the foreigners, as long as they (NSA) do not practice the same methods in the U.S.

    I’m an OnPoint listener in Australia (I also have Finnish citizenship). Based on this podcast it seems OK to even liberal Americans that MY e-mails, twitter utterances, blog entries, phone messages, etc. are a fair-go to eavesdrop, since I’m not American. My privacy does not matter.

    Over the last decade or so I have consoled myself that at least there is a section of the U.S. population that still adheres to the democratic values of old U.S. Well, I still do, but the handling of this issue by a broadcaster I admire, worries me a bit.

  • Duh

    People like Bonnie in Iowa scare the heck out of me… Its her ignorance and naivete that has allowed our govt, the police to be grow unchecked.  I really, really hate people like her. POWER IS ALWAYS CORRUPTED.  

    Those who are willing to sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.

Aug 29, 2014
Ukrainian forces guard a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict.  (AP)

War moves over Syria, Ukraine. Burger King moves to Canada. Nine-year-olds and Uzis. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Aug 29, 2014
Beyoncé performs at the 2014 MTV Music Video Awards on Sunday, August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Getty)

Sex, power and Beyoncé’s feminism. The message to young women.

Aug 28, 2014
Some of the hundreds of earthquake damaged wine barrels cover and toppled a pair of forklifts at the Kieu Hoang Winery, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A powerful earthquake that struck the heart of California's wine country caught many people sound asleep, sending dressers, mirrors and pictures crashing down around them and toppling wine bottles in vineyards around the region. (AP)

Drought in California, earthquake in Napa. We look at broken bottles and the health of the American wine industry.

Aug 28, 2014
Photos surround the casket of Michael Brown before the start of his funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.  (AP)

The message that will last out of Ferguson with New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: August 29, 2014
Friday, Aug 29, 2014

On hypothetical questions, Beyoncé and the unending flow of social media.

More »
Drew Bledsoe Is Scoring Touchdowns (In The Vineyards)
Thursday, Aug 28, 2014

Football great — and vineyard owner — Drew Bledsoe talks wine, onions and the weird way they intersect sometimes in Walla Walla, Washington.

More »
Poutine Whoppers? Why Burger King Is Bailing Out For Canada
Tuesday, Aug 26, 2014

Why is Burger King buying a Canadian coffee and doughnut chain? (We’ll give you a hint: tax rates).

More »
1 Comment