The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America

From: Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: The Bush administration’s wiretapping program has come under new scrutiny this week.


JAMES BAMFORD:when they’re dropping bombs on houses and neighborhoods and busting down doors and putting people into Abu Ghraib and so forth, how does that come about? Why do they bust down this door or drop a bomb on that house? And the insight he gave, I thought was very interesting. He was saying how it’s these people here that are sitting in this windowless room in the state of Georgia, near Augusta, Georgia, that are listening to these conversations in Iraq, in Baghdad, and they’re making instantaneous decisions on whether somebody is telling the truth or not. So they’re writing out these—they’re doing these transcripts, and then they’re writing these little comments saying this person here, Ali, is saying he’s going to deliver a load of melons to his cousin Mohammed tomorrow. And then you have somebody making a decision: is he telling the truth, or isn’t he? Are these melons, or possibly could they be IEDs? And if a person says, “You know, I don’t think he’s telling the truth,” there’s a good chance that that house could be blown up or that person could be put in Abu Ghraib, or whatever.

And the point that David Mufee Faulk was making was that the people that are making these decisions, these sometimes life-and-death decisions, don’t have the proper training. They’re trained for sixty-three weeks in Monterey, California in standard Arabic. And what they’re listening to a lot of times is dialects that they don’t really understand, and they’re listening for nuances that they don’t really get, and idioms and so forth. And I think it’s very dangerous, and what the point he was making was it was very dangerous for—you know, sometimes these are just people right out of high school to—that have never been out of the country, and certainly never been over to the Middle East, to make these sort of life-and-death decisions based on just hearing one conversation out of context.


And what happened is that during the 1990s and early in the ’80s and the ’70s, the NSA used to collect information by putting out big dishes and collecting satellite communications that would come down. …

Then, in the late ’90s, things began to change, and fiber optics became a big thing for telecommunications. Fiber optics are cables in which the communications are transmitted, not electronically, but by photons, light signals. And that made life very difficult for NSA. It meant the communications, instead of being able to pick them up in a big dish, they were now being transmitted under the ocean in these cables. And the only way to get access to it would be to put a submarine down and try to tap into those cables. But that, from the people I’ve talked to, has not been very successful with fiber-optic cables. So the only other way to really do this is by making some kind of agreement with the telecom companies, so that NSA could actually basically cohabitate some of the telecom companies’ locations.


So you have the problem of these secret rooms not just being in San Francisco, they’re throughout the network, and they’re in other parts of the country. And the American public really has no idea what’s going on, in terms of who has access to their communications, what’s being done with it. And is there somebody sitting there—as David Murfee Faulk talked about, in the NSA listening post in Georgia, are there people just sitting there listening to people’s private conversations and laughing about them?


Yeah, I was just going to mention that it isn’t just the picking up of these conversations and listening to them and laughing about them. These conversations are transcribed. They’re—and then they’re recorded, and they’re kept forever. There’s a big building in Texas that’s being built in San Antonio that’s going to be used to house a lot of these conversations. NSA is running out of space at Fort Meade, their headquarters, so they had to expand, and they’re building this very big building. It’s reportedly going to be about the size of the Alamodome down there….

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