While our ports went unprotected

Wiretaps said to sift all overseas contacts
Vast US effort seen on eavesdropping
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | December 23, 2005

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency, in carrying out President Bush’s order to intercept the international phone calls and e-mails of Americans suspected of links to Al Qaeda, has probably been using computers to monitor all other Americans’ international communications as well, according to specialists familiar with the workings of the NSA.

The Bush administration and the NSA have declined to provide details about the program the president authorized in 2001, but specialists said the agency serves as a vast data collection and sorting operation. It captures reams of data from satellites, fiberoptic lines, and Internet switching stations, and then uses a computer to check for names, numbers, and words that have been identified as suspicious.

”The whole idea of the NSA is intercepting huge streams of communications, taking in 2 million pieces of communications an hour,” said James Bamford, the author of two books on the NSA, who was the first to reveal the inner workings of the secret agency.

”They have a capacity to listen to every overseas phone call,” said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which has obtained documents about the NSA using Freedom of Information Act requests.

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