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The Big Answer


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

a book by James Bamford

(our site's book review)

James Bamford is the author of three books on the NSA, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Wired, Rolling Stone, and other outlets. He has been an investigative producer ABC News and a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He was even in the NSA briefly.


"Civil liberties were out, Fortress America was in"

"I don’t mind if you spy on terrorists. But we live in a democracy. There’s got to be a buffer here between the people who are targeting the terrorists and the American public."—James Bamford

The author says that ". . . it was Michael Vincent Hayden himself who would grab the banner and lead the charge away from liberty and toward a security state. As the smoke cleared, and the details about Mihdhar and Hazmi and the Yemen ops center began to emerge, he knew exactly what had happened. Worried about congressional concerns over privacy, unhappy about the public’s image of the NSA as an evil eavesdropper, and hoping to avoid the slippery slope that led to the Church and Pike Committee investigations of the 1970s, he had turned a deaf ear to signals heading into the U.S. from suspected terrorist locations overseas. . . . Hayden had preferred instead to play it safe and leave those communications to the FBI, which had neither the technology nor the capability to do that type of collection. . . . Civil liberties were out, Fortress America was in." On November 3, 2002 the NSA and CIA worked together to assassinate their first suspected terrorists. They've been doing it ever since. But sometimes they take out innocent civilians by accident. Oops! See The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program.

The NSA and CIA work together to assassinate suspected terrorists. They've been doing it for years, but sometimes they take out innocent civilians by accident: Oops!
The NSA and CIA work together to assassinate suspected terrorists. They've been doing it for years, but sometimes they take out innocent civilians by accident: Oops!


More innocents than terrorists have been killed by drones
More innocents than terrorists have been killed by drones


The innocent civilians that end up killed in war are a heartbreaking consequence of armed conflict
The innocent civilians that end up killed in war are a heartbreaking consequence of armed conflict

Invading Iraq for Empire Building

Neither the public nor the U.N. Security Council (February 5, 2003) was ever told how weak and ambiguous the best evidence was that was used as a pretext for invading Iraq. They would be told the opposite was true by people like Powell, who said that he told them "facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence." Truth was not only the first casualty of war, Bush couldn't even wait for the war to begin before the lies were spewed. Is there something in the air or water in the Capitol in D.C. that turns everyone into dirty liars? See American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies That the Government Tells Us.

Dubya Bush the Liar lied us into the illegal Iraq invasion
Dubya Bush the Liar lied us into the illegal Iraq invasion

Bamford tells us that on the military’s target list during shock and awe in the Iraq invasion was the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, the main residence for journalists covering the war. Apparently the investigative journalism that happened during the Vietnam War which helped turn the public against the war (because it was truth, not government propaganda) had not been "forgiven" after over 30 years, and the illegal, corrupt, murderous, attempted "accidental" assassination of the press was how the military "expressed its feelngs." Apparently, truth is the first casualty of war and journalism is the second casualty of war.

Bamford tells us that on the military’s target list during shock and awe in the Iraq invasion was the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, the main residence for journalists covering the war
Bamford tells us that on the military’s target list during shock and awe in the Iraq invasion was the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, the main residence for journalists covering the war


A U.S. Navy submarine-launched UGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile hits a North American RA-5C Vigilante target aircraft
A U.S. Navy submarine-launched UGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile hits a North American RA-5C Vigilante target aircraft

During the invasion, killing Iraqi officials with Tomahawk cruise missiles and two-thousand-pound penetrator bombs was less a matter of precision targeting and more like firing blindly into very large crowds. While the weapons landed exactly where they were supposed to, not a single senior Iraqi official was hit—a 100 percent failure rate. Instead, large numbers of Iraqi civilians were killed—a.k.a. genocide. Bamford notes that as soldiers we take an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, but he regrets having done a poor job with the domestic aspect. As did Bush, Obama, the CIA and NSA and FBI, etc.

The government is sworn to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and yet it is failing regarding the domestic aspect, as Bush, Obama, CIA, NSA and  the FBI failed it
The government is sworn to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and yet it is failing regarding the domestic aspect, as Bush, Obama, CIA, NSA and the FBI failed it

We Can Collect Info—But Can We Understand It?

The NSA worries that "our ability to collect stuff far outstrips our ability to understand what we collect." Worse, there were few workers who knew relevant Arabic languages, so they'd sit around frustrated B.S.ing, texting, or surfing the Net. There needed to be crash courses in those languages in the CIA and NSA but there were not. For intelligence services, they seemed to lack common sense! If we saw a company being run this stupidly in a TV show, we'd laugh, knowing it must be a comedy. But in a supposedly sophisticated intelligence service, it's no laughing matter.

Two firms—Verint and Narus—have wired much of the planet for sound—democracies as well as dictatorships, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. Never before in history have so few people wiretapped so many. From China to America and from Europe to Southeast Asia and Australia, countries use both Verint's and Narus's equipment to eavesdrop on their citizens and sometimes to repress them. E.g., Verint was the company that won the contract to build a secret nationwide eavesdropping system for the government of Mexico. Verint’s list of customers includes Vietnam, a place where the government constantly eavesdrops on domestic communications, and puts in jail anyone caught opposing its policies. But then they're communists and do not respect democracies.

Looking back to the 60s through the mid-70s of last century, we see a corrupt, empire building democracy engineering a coup there, and slaughtering their citizens by the thousands while they coated the country with deadly poison, wrecking the environment, infrastructure, culture, and their lives—all because they disliked the word "communist." Did it ever occur to these merciless aggressors—USA—that we sent a clear message about just how malevolent and corrupt "democracies" were, so logically they'd want no part of such a rotten system? (The democracy of our Founders used military force defensively, not aggressively, and THAT version of democracy is moral, just, and admirable. If they could see how far we've sunk, they'd turn over in their graves!)

If the Founders could see how far we've sunk, they'd turn over in their graves!
If the Founders could see how far we've sunk, they'd turn over in their graves!

Skype calls are cheap and easy to make, and they are also virtually unbuggable—and the best way to defeat bugging by Narus, Verint, and even the NSA. Skype provides free voice calls and instant messaging between users. But there is a fee to talk to nonmembers. The most unique feature is its security, which is achieved by end-to-end encryption for all calls to other members.


Score: Surveillance 100, Freedom 0

Unfortunately, both China and Vietnam Skype users are being cracked down on by the government goons who have purchased new detection software that either stops Skype or tracks down users. Chinese and American whistleblowers are suffering merciless crackdowns meant to scare these people from taking the risk of revealing corruption or unfairness.

Both China and Vietnam Skype users are being cracked down on by the government goons who have purchased new detection software that either stops Skype or tracks down users

“VANTAGE is a mass interception system that intercepts, filters and analyzes voice and data for intelligence purposes, with sophisticated probing technology for collecting maximum communications, Verint’s real-time filtering mechanisms to extract the most important information, and stored data analysis for generating intelligence from data collected over time. Access sources range from passive trunk monitoring at the operator’s facility to microwave and satellite interception,” says Verint sales brochures. Marketing mass interception systems to dictatorships and authoritarian governments to enhance their police states and to jail opponents is big business and Verint rationalizes that if they don't empower dictatorial oppression, someone else will.

U.S. is a police state and a predatory power abroad, imposing thousands of deaths on our troops and hundreds of thousands of deaths on others, and wasting trillions of dollars of American taxpayers' money
U.S. is a police state and a predatory power abroad, imposing thousands of deaths on our troops and hundreds of thousands of deaths on others, and wasting trillions of dollars of American taxpayers' money

U.S. Privacy Is a Joke—So Why Is No One Laughing?

By 2008, the idea of communications privacy in the United States had literally become a joke. But neither the ACLU nor the public is laughing. But the government if forging ahead with its conspiracy to keep us focused on "terrorists" so our fear will make us ignore our eroding rights.

By 2008, the idea of communications privacy in the United States had literally become a joke—our government watches your every move
By 2008, the idea of communications privacy in the United States had literally become a joke—our government watches your every move


Fly #353242252 reporting: Citizen #312,756,972 doesn't seem to be hiding a thing—my conclusion is that she's clean; but just to be sure I think I'll hang around a bit longer!
Fly #353242252 reporting: Citizen #312,756,972 doesn't seem to be hiding a thing—my conclusion is that she's clean; but just to be sure I think I'll hang around a bit longer!

By January 2005, the once-proud U.S. Army had been reduced to emptying jail cells and drunk tanks to fill its quota of Iraq-bound soldiers. Criminals, dropouts, and the unemployable were now sought after, given bonuses, outfitted with deadly weapons, and then set loose in a crowded land with few rules, less oversight, and a license to kill.

By January 2005, the once-proud U.S. Army had been reduced to emptying jail cells and drunk tanks to fill its quota of Iraq-bound soldiers
By January 2005, the once-proud U.S. Army had been reduced to emptying jail cells and drunk tanks to fill its quota of Iraq-bound soldiers

U.S. Is Creating the Thought Police

Well beyond word spotting, the NSA is also developing another tool that Orwell’s Thought Police might have found useful—an artificial intelligence system designed to know what people are thinking. With the entire Internet and thousands of databases for a brain, the device will be able to respond almost instantaneously to complex questions posed by intelligence analysts. As we collect more data such as phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook, GPS tracks, cell phone location, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, or even E-Z Pass toll records, one day we will almost certainly be able to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think. The system is so potentially intrusive that at least one researcher has quit his job over concerns about the dangers in placing such a powerful weapon in the hands of a top-secret agency with little accountability—always with the excuse that they're saving us from "terrorists." But it certainly brings up the question Who will watch the watchers? This system is called Aquaint, which stands for “Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence.” It is a privacy and civil liberties nightmare.

The NSA is also developing another tool that Orwell’s Thought Police might have found useful—an artificial intelligence system designed to know what people are thinking
The NSA is also developing another tool that Orwell’s Thought Police might have found useful—an artificial intelligence system designed to know what people are thinking

While the air force also runs a cyber operations center at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the Air Force Information Warfare Center, its focus is largely defensive. At the NSA, with their Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare, the emphasis is penetration, exploitation, and attack. By moving into the world of cyberwar, the NSA has crossed another dangerous threshold. Corrupting or destroying another nation’s data network is considered by most countries an act of war. Do we really need a cyberwar?

Speeding Our Way to Tyranny

In 2010, the NSA expects delivery of the Cray X-3, known as Cascade. Funded with $250 million from DARPA, it will likely be the most expensive computer ever created, and the fastest. It is designed to break the petaflop barrier with a sustained speed of more than a quadrillion calculations a second. This type of capability will keep the NSA ahead of the surveillance pack. But by 2018 it will need a computer capable of exaflop speed—one quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000) operations a second. It might need 100 megawatts of power!

Senator Frank Church
Senator Frank Church

Senator Frank Church, the first chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, investigated the NSA in the 1980s and issued a stark warning: "[the NSA's] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back . . ." Those were prescient words, Frank.

Bamford warns that "There is now the capacity to make tyranny total in America. Only law ensures that we never fall into that abyss—the abyss from which there is no return." Laws. You know, those things that the Patriot Act castrated.

James Bamford is the swinging banjo in the movie Deliverance, forewarning us of grave repercussions should we continue on the wrongheaded Might Makes Right path we're on in which privacy is being crucified on the cross of pseudo-security
James Bamford is the swinging banjo in the movie Deliverance, forewarning us of grave repercussions should we continue on the wrongheaded Might Makes Right path we're on in which privacy is being crucified on the cross of pseudo-security