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The Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency both recently announced plans for huge new electronic security centers that could monitor, sort and archive e-mails, telephone calls and other intercepted communications.
But critics wonder just who is watching the watchers.
“The director of the NSA is in charge of an organization three times the size of the CIA and empowered in 2008 by Congress to spy on Americans to an unprecedented degree,” said James Bamford, author of the recently published book about the NSA, “The Shadow Factory.”
He told WND the agency’s ability to deal with cybersecurity and other communications is enormous.
“In 2008, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court loosened its control on the NSA and allowed for warrantless eavesdropping,” he said. “Congressional oversight is very weak. A whistleblower for AT&T reported that AT&T has switch rooms in several parts of the country.
“And it wasn’t Congress that found out about the extensive warrantless eavesdropping; it was a couple reporters,” he said.
A number of sources in civil liberties groups say Americans have a right to be concerned about the absence of strict oversight and to wonder whose conversations are being monitored and recorded.
The Department of Homeland Security also recently announced, via Secretary Janet Napolitano, that a new complex planned in Arlington, Va., will mean more security coordination.
“Securing America’s cyber infrastructure requires a coordinated and flexible system to detect threats and communicate protective measures to our federal, state, local and private sector partners and the public,” Napolitano’s announcement said.
“Consolidating our cyber and communications operations centers within the NCCIC (National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center) will enhance our ability to effectively mitigate risks and respond to threats,” she said. The agency says the project will be a 24-hour watch facility that will focus on “national efforts to address threats and incidents affecting the nation’s critical information technology and cyber infrastructure.”
At virtually the same time, Deputy Director for Intelligence Collection Glenn Gaffney announced the groundbreaking of the NSA’s Camp Williams, Utah, facility that is to “provide intelligence and warnings related to cybersecurity threats, cybersecurity support to defense and civilian agency networks, and technical assistance to the Department of Homeland Security.”
“The NSA didn’t have these facilities a few years ago, but they do now,” continued Bamford. “The question is, ‘Why do they need them now when they didn’t need them a few years ago?’
“If you think how much information can go on a ‘thumb drive’ (or a flash drive), you can get two or three gigabytes of information on a little thumb drive. Think how much information can go into a facility that’s a million square feet,” he said.
“The NSA intercepts communications in any form, phone calls, e-mails, instant messaging, Twitters, all forms of communication,” Bamford said. “They’re able to store trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and data trails: Web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other digital ‘pocket litter.'”
He further said it’s important to look at the agency’s objectives.
“They could have put them [listening stations] in locations where the cables first come into the United States. If you put the secret rooms there you would be picking up just communications coming in and going out of the United States,” he said. “Instead they put them in locations such as the nine-story switch in downtown San Francisco; there’s a major switch there, which has both domestic and international communications.
“This raises the question: Are they targeting not only international communications but also domestic communications?” he wondered.
“The NSA certainly has the ability to listen in and monitor domestic communications. Their purpose is to eavesdrop on communications.”
Lawyer, former Marine Corps officer and former Constitution Party vice
presidential candidate Darrell Castle said he’s not convinced that the
Department of Homeland Security is really interested in security.
“It is difficult to take Mr. Obama and Ms. Napolitano seriously when they talk about security for the nation. When they are willing to secure our borders so that terrorists are not free to cross at will, they can be taken more seriously,” he said.
“Despite the high sounding rhetoric of the press release I’m afraid this is all an attempt to deliver control of the last means of free communication into Obama’s hands,” he said.
According to Senior Fellow for Technology James Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, part of the move is to expand the DHS possibilities.
“Part of the reason DHS is building its facility is so they don’t have to rely on
NSA. DHS has no ‘snooping’ capability. They don’t have any of the things you’d
need for this, including trained people,” Lewis aid.
“From an intelligence perspective, they are functionally illiterate,” he said.
Lewis also noted the difference between monitoring and reading.
“It’s like the guy standing at an assembly line watching widgets whizzing by – he only pulls out the ones that look funny,” he said.
It’s believed the DHS project will be used to secure the federal government’s computer networks, while the NSA work usually is linked to security of the military branches.
But Bill Smullen, director of the National Security Studies program for executives at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, said coordination is a concern.
“What we don’t need here is redundancy. What we do need is that all of the agencies who have a stake in security to coordinate with the other intelligence agencies,” he said.