New Revelations on Scope of NSA Spy Program

Keith Olbermann interviewed Russell Tice on Countdown last night. Tice is the whistleblower who revealed the existence of the NSA illegal surveillance program to the New York Times in 2006. Last night, Tice went further, telling Olbermann that the domestic spy program collected the electronic communications of all Americans,  and then used that data to target specific groups of Americans — who, needless to say, had no connection to terrorism (emphasis in original):

Whistleblower Russell Tice, who back in 2006 had exposed the NSA program illegalities is back with Keith Olbermann to go even further than his earlier allegations, things he was perhaps afraid to say while Bush was still in office considering the smear job they did on him the first time around: The NSA, under the direction of George Bush, was monitoring ALL Americans’ communications, specifically targeting journalists and news organizations.

TICE: [W]hat 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.

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.

I saw the entire interview when it aired last night, and one particular detail effectively frames how truly abusive the surveillance was:

The parameters that were set for how to filter that […] were things like looking for parameters like if a terrorist normally would only make a phone call for one or two minutes, then you look for communications that are only one or two minutes long. Now, that also could be someone ordering a pizza and asking their significant other what sort of toppings that they wanted on their pizza. That is about a one- to two-minute phone call.

So, if the data collection was targeting journalists and news organizations, then literally every email and every phone conversation for Andrea Mitchell, or Chris Wallace, or Morley Safer, or Amy Goodman, or Ernie Anastos at the local ABC affiliate in New York City — every single reporter, researcher, and editor on the Los Angeles Times or Washington Post or any of dozens of other media outlets in the United States — would have been read, recorded, and filed.

If that’s not unconstitutional, nothing is. But by all means, let’s argue about whether Barack Obama needs to retake the oath of office, or whether all the presidential actions he took between taking the first oath of office and the second are invalid, or how huge of a shocker and a scandal it is that he did not use a bible for the second time he took the oath.

Cross-posted at Liberty Street.

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