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A series of internal documents from the U.S. Secret Service obtained by the McCutain Daily Gazette provide details of a project involving the transfer of thousands of telephone and bank records to a government database with the help of U.S. telephone and financial company executives.
The detailed field notes were prepared by a special agent who once headed the Electronic Crimes Branch of the Secret Service, where the agent was responsible for case coordination of all telecommunications and computer network investigations conducted by Secret Service field offices.
During her tenure as a Secret Service agent, Mary Riley coordinated the forensic analysis of computer and telecommunications equipment seized as evidence in all investigations through a team of 150 special agents trained as experts in computer forensics. Riley also served as a technical adviser to the G-8 countries’ high-tech subcommittee responsible for addressing international high-tech crime issues.
The documents, legally obtained by the newspaper, reveal the transfer of thousands of individual telephone records into a special database the Secret Service created during the first frantic days after the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing.
At the time the massive transfer of phone records took place, Riley was coordinating the project from the Miami, Fla., field office.
Notes created to explain the project were shared with top FBI and Department of Justice personnel.
Under wraps for a decade now, these Secret Service memos reveal an important behind-the-scenes role the Secret Service played in unraveling some 688 phone calls made using a debit card purchased by Terry L. Nichols and Timothy J. McVeigh, using a fake name, Daryl Bridges.
Federal prosecutors would, over a year later, use the roadmap created by the so-called Daryl Bridges calling card to obtain convictions in the Denver federal trials of McVeigh and Nichols. However, during each trial there was scant mention of any role played by Riley or the Secret Service in obtaining the phone records.
Instead, a series of FBI agents and phone company executives would take the stand to tell jurors a much more “sanitized” version of how the records were obtained.
At no time did the government admit that federal agents were able to obtain thousands of unsuspecting Americans’ phone and bank records without their knowledge, nor did the government show a court any evidence that these citizens had done anything illegal.
In a step-by-step fashion, details contained in these Secret Service documents provide insight into a project that over a few days’ time enabled the FBI and other federal agencies access to a database containing several thousand U.S. citizens’ telephone records swept up and then stored in computer mainframes operated by the Secret Service in Washington, D.C.
Whether or not this data still exists in a government database is not known. The Secret Service declined to comment on the project and refused to say what the agency may have done with phone and banking records they obtained without legally sufficient subpoenas or other court orders.
The documents show that within 24 hours of the Oklahoma City bombing, Special Agent Riley began contacting telephone company executives in Oklahoma, and eventually across the nation, searching for telephone records.
Headed, “Telephone Research,” Riley’s April 20, 1995, notes reveal that one of Oklahoma’s largest cell-phone service providers immediately agreed to turn over all the company’s phone records.
Referring to a phone conversation with the head of security for Cellular One in Oklahoma City, Riley noted: “I requested the AMA tapes which show all cellular traffic in Oklahoma on their switch. These tapes will include all origination numbers, dialed number, date/time run/duration, and cell site information. Their system is run on an AT&T switch, they sent me the magnetic tape containing the data in high-density, 6250 BPI format. In addition they sent me the manual for the AT&T switch, which will explain the field layout for each record. We’ve got 30 days worth of information.”
The following day, April 21, Riley received a tip from the FBI that led her to a master access phone number attached to several thousand debit card holders serviced by a company called West Coast Telecommunications (WCT). The company’s senior vice president was John Kane, an industry innovator in the fledgling debit card business.
After a discussion with the OKBOMB task force in Oklahoma City, Riley noted: “The president of West Coast Telephone is working on the information himself. The 800 number is a pre-paid debit card purchased in a block of numbers by the Spotlight Company. This company is described as a ‘right-wing organization located in D.C.’
“They have 50-70,000 subscribers to their mail-order catalog. One of the products offered in their catalog is the pre-paid long distance 800 number.”
According to the agent’s field notes, Kane called back with more information.
“Per West Coast Telephone, the subscriber to the 800-793-3377 is Daryl Bridges, 3616 N. Vandyke Road, Decker, Michigan, made nine other payments at various times, paid by check/money order for the debit card. (Send subpoena for records).”
The Secret Service quickly learned the address belonged to James Nichols and they soon discovered additional calls to James’ brother, Terry Nichols, in Herington, Kan.
Not realizing at first that the name Daryl Bridges was an alias McVeigh and Terry Nichols used to purchase the debit card, the Secret Service did, however, understand the calling card was extremely important. Riley focused on running down any calls made with the card.
On April 21, Riley advised an attorney with the Department of Justice to apply for a subpoena for the so-called Daryl Bridges phone records. However, the number set forth in the notes is: 800-793-3377. There was no mention of the Bridge’s individual PIN to identify the account.
Absent the PIN, any subpoena referring to this 800 number was not legally sufficient, because that number represented a platform of 5,000 debit card customers who also purchased a calling card from Spotlight.
Covert research expands
In 1995, WCT was one of only two companies in the nation that offered debit card services. Realizing that the company maintains a vast database of debit card customers, the Secret Service urged Kane to personally conduct extensive research for them.
In a report, Riley wrote: “Contacted by John Kane, West Coast Long Distance, he sent me the rest of the originating call information for all users of 800-793-3377. I requested the exact account number on Daryl Bridges, he provided the account #00563946 (PIN). In addition, we discussed other sources of any information on the account. Kane stated Spotlight receives the initial order for the debit cards and then immediately forwards the order to State Street Bank in Boston to process the order and send out the debit cards. All of the payment information and account holder information should be with State Street Bank (Boston Financial Data Services).”
Asked to intervene for the Secret Service and get this additional information, Riley noted: “John Kane, West Coast Telephone called to tell us that the debit card purchased by Daryl Bridges was bought by sending funds to Spotlight’s bank, State Street Bank, Boston Financial. Funding was added to the account on the following dates: 3/7, 2/17, and 2/8.”
Kane was asked to next search WCT’s database for any Spotlight Card holders that may have called Nichols in Herrington. Riley’s notes show the following exchange:
“(S)ince Bridges stopped using his debit card on 4/17, I asked West Coast to search their system for any other debit card accounts that have called Terry Nichols in the last week. That seemed to be the hottest number to search for at this time.”
26 million numbers
Soon this database search was expanded to all WCT debit card users in Kansas.
“Talked to John Kane,” Riley noted, “a check was made for any debit cards being used in Junction City, Kansas.”
Then there is this stunning entry in the field notes addressed to a high-ranking DOJ lawyer:
“Talked with John Kane, (he) ran 26 million numbers against the five we have given him so far, looking for debit cards that may have called.”
When Kane discovered a new debit card user had indeed called a number that the Bridges account had called days earlier, Riley’s notes show the expanding use of the database.
“Kane is working on the rest of the calls placed by this new subscriber. We’ll have to work in the name of the subscriber through State Street Bank, unless they sent a payment direct to West Coast Telephone.”
On April 24, 1995, only five days after the bombing, WCT next arranged for the Secret Service to establish a wiretap.
Riley recorded the agreement: “(Kane) established a port for me to tie into their system and monitor the switch activity as it pertains only to Bridges data. … This is now being monitored by field office personnel 24 hours until further notified.”
Complete download of all Spotlight cardholders
That same day that the Secret Service tap was made into WCT, a larger project was nearing completion – the complete downloading of every debit card customer who purchased a Spotlight calling card from Liberty Lobby since November 1993 – an estimated 5,000 persons.
To avoid tipping off Liberty Lobby, the publisher of the Spotlight newspaper, Riley made contact directly with the company that handled Liberty Lobby’s bank transactions. Soon arrangements were made for all payment records of Spotlight’s debit cardholders to be turned over to the Secret Service by a financial services company in Boston, along with customer names and addresses associated with each cardholder that ordered a debit card from the right-wing newspaper.
To cover the agency’s tracks, Riley recorded the event this way:
“I requested the information on every customer currently using the Spotlight Debit Card System to include account number, account name, address, method of payment/payment history. These accounts will be voluminous, however the program was created in November of 1993, and probably has less than 5,000 total customers (estimate). In addition, I have advised Godfrey (manager of Customer Services for Boston Financial Data Services) he would be receiving a notice requiring non-disclosure of this information which would prevent him from advising anyone of this request to include Spotlight/Liberty Lobby. Godfrey agreed to begin pulling the records immediately and will pull records pertaining to account #00563946 (Bridges PIN) first and fax by tomorrow.
“Once all the Spotlight information is forwarded, we will enter all of it into a database system for further research.”
Secret Service gets entire phone number database
Later, this entry appeared in Riley’s field notes: “Jack Moffat, IRMD, did the file transfer of the call records for the entire West Coast Telephone Debit system via mainframe.”
While no one from the now-defunct Liberty Lobby would agree to an on-the- record interview, Secret Service records reveal that 10 years ago executives at the far-right organization grew suspicious that their customers’ records were somehow being siphoned off by the government.
Regarding a phone call with Bill Sweet at the Spotlight newspaper, a WCT employee advised Kane in a memo obtained by the Gazette:
“He (Sweet) stated several times that he expected the FBI to arrive at his office some time this morning. He was upset that WCT had not been up front with him regarding recent activity with his clients’ cards. I mentioned that it was possible that our employees and top officers might not be able to discuss what was going on.
“Bill was clearly concerned about the privacy of his membership, and wanted assurances that we were not divulging call records (or any other records) that might implicate his employer.”
Reflecting the secret nature of the downloading of Liberty Lobby’s customer database, Riley’s field notes reflect this: “Called Don Stephenson at the FBI command post who confirmed we should have no contact with Spotlight (Liberty Lobby) at this time.”
Separately, Secret Service notes indicate SA Stephenson also advised Riley that the FBI told him they had not made contact with Spotlight/Liberty Lobby, either.
Financial records matched up
Presumably with a non-disclosure agreement in hand from Boston Financial, Riley recorded this: “I contacted Dan Godfrey, Boston Financial Card Services, to check on the status of the transfer of the Spotlight Calling Card customer base-information. Godfrey advised the information was available and could be forwarded via ASCII file in any format I needed.”
On April 25, Riley noted her progress in developing a huge database of debit card users, nationwide: “Did the file transfer of the call records for the entire West Coast Telephone debit system via mainframe.
“Jeff Bufumo, IRMD, called to discuss the most effective way to deal with the databases being created regarding this telephone research. Bufumo suggested all of the databases, (Spotlight customers, calling patterns, and Bridges/Nichols data) be loaded into a common index so that anyone who runs any phone numbers will get a positive response and any time we need to query a suspect number, we can search all databases with one query. Bufumo is working closely with Jack Moffat to load the different databases into the system as Moffat gets the files from West Coast Telephone.”
Several attempts were made to contact Riley at her current job. She did not respond to e-mails requesting comment on her role in the OKBOMB case.
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