Domestic spying more widespread than thought

Government surveillance of private individuals is more pervasive and detailed than previously thought. Investigative reporter Wayne Madsen tells us that the National Security Agency (NSA), at the center of the wiretap scandal, has expanded its surveillance of journalists that the administration claims have received classified information.

The NSA has built a database, part of the intelligence community’s “Denial and Deception” operations that now holds transcripts of phone calls and e-mails among journalists and their sources and associates. The database formerly was known as “Firstfruit” until Madsen exposed it last May.

Sources within the NSA told Madsen the database contains signals intelligence intercepts in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), U.S. Signals Intelligence Directive 18 and the Fourth Amendment. These intercepts involve communications between certain individuals and journalists like James Bamford, James Risen, Seymour Hersh, Bill Gertz, Madsen and several others.

In addition to the NSA wiretap program, it was recently revealed that the Pentagon is running its own eavesdropping operation, and there also is a top-secret wiretap program about which no information is available except a reference to it by a government employee.

Along with these developments, top administration officials have pointed to the need to challenge any news they believe undercuts Bush’s actions in attempting to defeat terrorists. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to “news informers.”

Add to that the announcement in January that the Army Corps of Engineers gave Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root a contract for $385 million to build detention centers (read concentration camps) at locations in the U.S. These centers supposedly are to deal with “an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs.”

The New York Times later reported “KBR would build the centers for the Homeland Security Department for an unexpected influx of immigrants, to house people in the event of a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space.”

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., commented: “It’s hard to believe that the administration has decided to entrust Halliburton with even more taxpayer dollars.”

But what might the “new programs” be? What kind of programs would call for a major expansion of detention centers, each able to hold 5,000 people? A spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not elaborate.

Independent journalist Peter Dale Scott speculated that the “detention centers could be used to detain American citizens if the Bush administration were to declare martial law.” That could include journalists and dissidents.

Scott recalled that in the Reagan administration, Oliver North, then an aide to the National Security Council, organized a plan that envisioned FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, rounding up and corralling 400,000 “refugees” in the event of what he called “uncontrolled population movements” over the Mexican border into the U.S.

Journalist Maureen Farrell noted that because “another terror attack is all but certain, it seems far more likely that the centers would be used for post-9/11-type detentions of immigrants rather than a sudden deluge” of immigrants flooding across the border.

Daniel Ellsberg, who made public the “Pentagon Papers” in the Vietnam War era, said: “Almost certainly, this is preparation for a roundup after the next 9/11 for Mideasterners, Muslims and possibly dissenters. They’ve already done this on a smaller scale, with the ‘special registration detentions’ of immigrant men from Muslim countries, and with Guantanamo.”

The U.S. Army also posted a related item on its Web site. The Army posted a notice regarding the Pentagon’s Civilian Inmate Labor Program. It furnishes “Army policy and guidance for setting up civilian inmate labor programs and civilian prison camps on Army installations.”

The timing of the posting—in the last few weeks—could be just coincidence, but the posting’s reference to a “rapid action revision” and the KBR contract’s expectation of “rapid development of new programs” has caused questions about the sudden need for such urgency.

More attention is being focused on these developments because of earlier policies of the Bush administration to use the Pentagon in “counter-terrorism” operations inside the U.S. Even though such actions are banned by the Posse Comitatus Act, prohibiting military involvement in domestic law enforcement, the Pentagon has expanded its activities beyond previous limits, such as its part in domestic surveillance operations.

Since 9/11, The Washington Post says, the Defense Department has been setting up new agencies to gather and analyze intelligence inside this country. A 2001 Defense Department memo became public in 2005. In it, the Army’s top intelligence officer wrote: “Contrary to popular belief, there is no absolute ban on [military] intelligence components collecting U.S. person information.”

The memo made a distinction between “collecting” and “receiving” information and declared: “Military intelligence may receive information from anyone, anytime.”

The Pentagon also is pushing for legislation that would make an exception to the Privacy Act, which would allow the FBI and others to share citizen information with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies.

On Feb. 15, The Post reported the National Counterterrorism Center’s central database contains the names of 325,000 people, said to be terrorist suspects. That’s four times as many names as were in the database in the fall of 2003, and includes input from the NSA’s wiretap program.

From the March 1-7, 2006, issue

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