Guest Editorial


Is the NSA recording everything?

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robert romanoDid Obama admit that the National Security Agency (NSA) is recording everything?

Here was the President's charitable explanation at a June 7 press conference of recent disclosures that the agency is collecting phone records and Internet communications on millions of Americans and non-Americans alike.

"What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls, they are not looking at people's names, and they're not looking at content," he said. "But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism."

But the content of the calls could be revealed, Obama seemingly admitted: "If the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call they've got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation."

Obama insisted, "Nobody's listening to the content of people's phone calls."

Key word there is "listen." This was the same phraseology used by the agency itself in an April press statement: "One of the biggest misconceptions about [the] National Security Agency is that we are unlawfully listening in on, or reading emails of, U.S. citizens. This is simply not the case."

Listening in on? Reading? Perhaps not. Even with tens of thousands of employees, the agency simply lacks the manpower to personally listen to and read the trillions of communications it collects and gathers on an annual basis. That's what powerful computers and data storage are for.

The real question for officials is not if it's being listened to. It's whether all this data is being recorded. Obama has seemingly admitted that it is.

Which means William Binney was right.

The government, via the NSA, really is collecting, recording, and storing digitally telephone records, emails, and other Internet communications domestically for the purposes of gathering intelligence.

A former NSA official, Binney certainly was in a position to know. He is a whistleblower who left the agency as technical director of the agency's world geopolitical and military analysis reporting group in 2001.

After nearly 40 years of service, Binney resigned over the government's use of a monitoring program that he in part says he helped to design.

"After 9/11, all of the wraps came off for NSA and they just decided to — between the White House and NSA and CIA — to eliminate the protections on U.S. citizens and collect domestically," Binney said in a 2012 interview with Democracy Now.

Binney revealed the scope of the surveillance: "I would suggest that they've assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens. The data that's being assembled is about everybody. And from that data then they can target anyone they want."

The Washington Post confirms Binney's account was accurate. The report, "U.S. mining data from 9 leading Internet firms," details the extent of the program, called PRISM: "The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets."

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