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Secret White House phone recordings

Posted By Paul Sperry On 05/11/2000 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled

WASHINGTON — In what sounds like something from one of Ian Fleming’s
or George Orwell’s books, President Clinton signed off on the
installation of eavesdropping devices on the phones of White House
staffers, WorldNetDaily has learned.

The secret bug means there’s a strong likelihood that audio-tape
recordings of personal White House phone conversations, as well as White
House staff meetings, exist — unbeknown to investigators who have
subpoenaed all media containing information relevant to their probes of
several White House scandals. Clinton has denied the existence of tape
recordings.

But that’s not all.

At the same time, the president had “a special box” installed on his
and his top aides’ phones so that their phone conversations and meetings
could not be recorded using the same technology, says the technician who
ran the White House phone operations for several years.

Despite the high-level safeguards, the Secret Service objected to the
phone eavesdropping devices, arguing they posed a serious national
security risk.

Indeed, the FBI has been investigating allegations that Israeli spies
penetrated the White House phone system, as first reported by Insight
magazine last week.

The changes were made after Clinton, in a surprise move, hired AT&T
to replace a five-year-old phone switch in the White House, along with
the software and all the desk phone hardware, soon after he took office.

All the changes, which included

turning off software features that
record the dialer of overseas calls,
were completed by 1996. The switch was brought on line in 1994.

“White House officials went to AT&T and Bell Labs and had them develop a special box to put on these phones for some of the very top people, so this (eavesdropping) couldn’t be done,” said former White House phone manager Sheryl Hall in an exclusive interview with WorldNetDaily.

“It’s only some of the phones that have this special box on them,” which blocks the remote recording feature, she added. “They (Clinton and top aides) can look down, but no one can look up.”

The rest of White House staffers are vulnerable to having their phone conversations recorded from remote locations elsewhere in the White House. Meetings in conference rooms can also be recorded via the new phone system, Hall says.

So, although the recording feature has been blocked on Clinton’s Oval Office phones, there could be a record of his conversations with staffers in conference-room meetings.

“With the switch they have now at the White House, you can turn those phones on from another area, and it becomes a microphone in that room,” Hall said.

“It’s a big security risk, and the Secret Service will attest to that. They didn’t want this switch because of that,” she added. “So it’s possible to turn on the phone (and) record what’s being said in the room.”

During a year-long probe of possible White House espionage, FBI counterspies have “uncovered what appears to be sophisticated means to listen in on conversations from remote telephone sites with capabilities of providing real-time audio feeds directly to Tel Aviv,” said Insight, citing a U.S. official familiar with the FBI probe.

The suspected spying included foreign eavesdropping on phone calls to and from the White House and National Security Council.

“Details of how this could have been pulled off are highly guarded,” the report went on. But according to a U.S. intelligence source, “the access had to be done in such a way as to evade our countermeasures. … That’s what’s most disconcerting.”

Hall says the new phone system, which cost more than $25 million, can record conversations for instant review from remote sites.

“Because it’s more computerized, and has a lot more capabilities, the microphone can be turned on (and) you can record in most of the OEOB (Old Executive Office Building, where Vice President Al Gore’s offices are located), and the new building (New Executive Office Building). Wherever there are conference rooms, you can record what’s in there,” Hall told WorldNetDaily.

“It technically has the capability to go from that room to the disk, on the (phone) switch, and send it somewhere, and print it off and look and see who said what and at what time of day,” said Hall, a career civil servant who worked in the White House from 1992 to 1999.

Clinton has maintained all along that, unlike President Nixon, he installed no listening devices in the White House. Nixon resigned after the high court forced him to hand over Oval Office tapes on which he could be heard approving a cover-up of the Watergate break-in.

In fact, Clinton first denied the existence of any recordings the same year AT&T’s new PBX switch went on-line in the White House.

In a March 8, 1994, news conference regarding the Whitewater investigation, Clinton was asked if he knew of any recordings.

Reporter: “Are there any tape recordings of conversations made in the Oval Office?”

Clinton: “To the best of my knowledge, there are not. If there are, someone else made them, not the president.”

The president did acknowledge, however, that “we keep very detailed records, obviously, of people I meet with, telephone calls I make.”

He added: “Sometimes I make extra notes on meetings and extra notes on phone conversations, and when I do, I put those in a file.”

In their subpoenas to the White House, congressional committees investigating several Clinton scandals asked the White House to turn over any audio recordings, in addition to papers, e-mails and videos.

But the only known recordings the White House has turned over are the audiotape versions of the same White House fund-raising coffees that the White House communications office videotaped.

“All our subpoenas also called for audio tapes,” said a lawyer for the House Government Reform Committee. “We received some audio tapes of the same things that were videotaped.”

He says the panel has not received any recordings of phone conversations or conference room meetings.

A Senate Governmental Affairs Committee spokeswoman says lawyers for the panel also asked for audio tapes during its 1997 Chinagate probe.

“There were some audio tapes provided to the committee during the special investigation related to various events, such as White House fund raisers or coffees,” Pam Lambo said.

“But as far as (recordings of) private conversations, no, we didn’t have those,” she said.

The independent counsel’s office had no comment.

“We’re not allowed to discuss if we subpoena, and if we do, what we subpoena,” said spokeswoman Neille Russell.

Hall says Patsy Thomasson, Clinton friend and former deputy White House director of management and administration, spearheaded the project to replace the White House phone system.

“Because they had these kinds of phones on the (1992 Clinton-Gore) campaign, they wanted the switch,” Hall said. “And they threw out what was in the White House.”

Thomasson, now a senior State Department official, is in charge of building security for the U.S. embassies around the world.

The White House and AT&T declined to comment.

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