James Bamford in NSA book The Shadow Factory: Israeli contractors break into U.S. wiretapping systems (told ya so)

After my recent weird electronic intelligence/espionage rant, along comes further news of the Israeli contractors that have broken into the U.S. domestic wiretapping systems and compromised their security. James Bamford's new book about the National Security Agency, The Shadow Factory, gets into why this is all such a mess, and the Israelis are kind of annoyed about it. Way to go, Comverse Infosys!!

More about Press Release: The Shadow Factory by James Bamford | Doubleday:

THE SHADOW FACTORY is organized into two parts: first, a gripping narrative of how NSA missed a chance to thwart two of the 9/11 hijackers once they reached our shores, and second, a detailed portrait of how NSA has tried to make sure that will never happen again. With an exacting level of detail and previously unreported sources, Bamford reveals exactly how every American’s data is being mined–every phone call and email—and by whom, and what is being done with it. Any reader who thinks America’s liberties are being protected by Congress will be shocked and appalled at what is revealed in THE SHADOW FACTORY......

  • Bamford details how NSA picked up the very first clue to the 9/11 attacks by eavesdropping on a house in Yemen that served as Osama bin Laden’s operations center—and then dropped the ball. Despite intercepting communications between the Yemen ops center and the terrorists in San Diego for nearly a year, the agency never realized that they were actually in the U.S.
  • Bamford explains how the terrorists were able to set up their final base of operations almost next door to NSA Headquarters and communicate with the Middle East without NSA even having a clue. Thus, as the agency was searching the world for the terrorists, they were almost within eyesight of the director’s eighth-floor office in Laurel, Maryland, NSA’s “company town.” For nearly a month, the terrorists worked out in the same gyms, ate at the same fast-food restaurants, and shopped at the same supermarkets as the eavesdroppers at NSA. At the same time senior officials at NSA were meeting to discuss how to locate them, Mohammed Atta and many of the others were just across the Baltimore-Washington Parkway meeting to finalize their plans and sending money and messages back to the Middle East at the local Kinkos and Safeway.
  • Bamford shows how, following the attacks and the White House order to begin warrantless eavesdropping, NSA began a massive expansion and for the first time since the early 1970s, began turning its giant parabolic antennas inward in the American people. Bamford reveals a very secret listening post in Georgia, near the South Carolina border, that began eavesdropping on the communications of Americans—including journalists engaged in intimate conversations with their spouses – without a warrant and without any indication of terrorism. This was all done remotely—with hidden antennas in the Middle East controlled by the NSA “voice interceptors” at the Georgia listening post. Bamford shows how the eavesdroppers sit at their stations, often with two earphones on each ear listening to four frequencies at the same time, while hitting recorders, scanning for signals and typing out transcripts. Bamford also chillingly describes how the NSA picked up the satellite phone call of a terrorist driving with others in a remote part of Yemen. Within seconds of recognizing his voice, they notified the CIA, which had a Predator drone in the area and fired a missile killing the caller and five other occupants of the car—including an American citizen. It was the NSA’s first assassination.
  • Bamford tells how NSA, because of changing technology, must now work out secret and potentially illegal agreements with the telecom industry in order to get access to both domestic U.S. communications and much of the world’s phone calls and e-mail. The NSA and the industry—principally Verizon and AT&T—secretly work together to tap into the company’s key trunk lines. And in what will likely come as a shock to many, the companies have outsourced the actual tapping to several little known foreign companies. These companies have the capability to remotely tap into what amounts to virtually the entire U.S. telecom system from anywhere in the world. The founder and former CEO of one of these companies is now a fugitive from the U.S. hiding out in Africa, and the general counsel and other executives have been charged with theft, money laundering and other crimes. Yet despite this track record and their foreign connections, the telecom companies continue to have secret access to much of America’s most private communications.
  • Bamford illustrates the many ways in which NSA gains access to much of the world’s communications. A key way is by gaining access to the major Internet “switches,” both in the U.S. and around the world. For example, there is a fortress-like building on a downtown street in Miami that has no name and no windows, yet 90 percent of all Caribbean, Central American and South American communications pass through it. Even a call made across the same South American town will likely be routed through the Miami building. Thus, with access to the building—run by a private company—NSA would have instant access to the communications, both phone and Internet, for an entire continent. The same is true for much of Africa’s communications—it passes through a single switch overseas. Bamford also reveals how the NSA makes secret agreements with these companies for access. And for those cables where it can’t gain company cooperation, it has a specially built submarine designed to sit on the bottom of the ocean floor and tap into foreign cables.
  • Bamford discusses how, once NSA has collected it all, the agency engages in sophisticated data mining techniques as it looks for links between callers and e-mail recipients. NSA is setting up a secret new data center in Texas with over 1,200 personnel to store and mine billions of communications. Interestingly, it is just a few miles from where Microsoft is also building a very large data center of exactly the same size. Under current law, NSA could gain access to Microsoft’s stored data without even a warrant—just a short fiber optic cable. To some, data mining produces about as much intelligence as reading tea leaves but others argue it could have provided the clue that might have led investigators to 9/11. Finally, Bamford explores how useful the entire enterprise—both eavesdropping and data mining—really is. For all the money and loss of privacy, is anything worthwhile coming from it? How many terrorist incidents has the program actually stopped, if any? And where does it end—with everyone’s phone calls, e-mail and Internet searches stored forever in some windowless Texas building?

Here's the item from the awesome Israeli paper Haaretz:

Is Israel's booming high-tech industry a branch of the Mossad? By Yossi Melman (October 16th 2008)

In 2006 the Check Point Software Technologies company, which specializes in protecting computer systems from hackers and data theft, wanted to acquire an American company called Sourcefire, which works in the same field. The great advantage of Sourcefire was that its clients include the American Defense Department and the National Security Agency. The U.S. administration, however, by means of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, did not approve the acquisition.

The committee made its decision based on an opinion by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and NSA security officers. The two organizations were afraid that Check Point, which was founded by Gil Shwed and fellow graduates of Unit 8200, the Israel Defense Forces' high-tech intelligence unit, would have access to top-secret information, which it could pass on to Israel's intelligence community.

The fear and suspicion currently is directed not only toward Check Point, but also other Israeli high-tech companies like Verint, Comverse, NICE Systems and PerSay Voice Biometrics, some of which work in data mining and engage in software development for tapping telephones, fax machines, e-mail and computer communications.

The above accusations come from journalist and writer James Bamford, whose new book, "The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America" (Doubleday), came out this week in the United States.

Bamford, a former producer for the ABC television network, has spent the last 30 years writing about the NSA - one of the most important and least-known intelligence agencies in the United States, but usually in the shadow of the Central Intelligence Agency. The NSA is responsible for eavesdropping on telephones, fax machines and computers; intercepting communications and electromagnetic signals from radar equipment, aircraft, missiles, ships and submarines; and decoding transmissions and cracking codes. It has contributed immeasurably to U.S. intelligence and national security.

In this respect, the United States resembles Israel: Successes attributed to the Mossad should often be credited to other intelligence units - first and foremost Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of the NSA.

This is Bamford's third book, and it affords a look into the mazes of the NSA. In 1982 the Justice department threatened to prosecute him for revealing agency secrets in his first book, "The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization." In his second book, "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency," he described the NSA with a great deal of enthusiasm, which made him the organization's hero of the day. The NSA even organized a party in his honor at headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. His new book, which is critical of the NSA, has sent him back to his starting point.

Bamford's main thesis is that before September 11, 2001, the agency failed along with other intelligence agencies in understanding the Al-Qaida threat, even though it had intercepted members' phone calls and e-mails. This stemmed in part from excessive caution for upholding laws and respecting citizens' privacy. In April 2000, then-NSA director general Michael Hayden (currently the director of the CIA), vividly described to a Congressional committee how, if at that very moment Osama bin Laden were to step onto the Peace Bridge at Niagara Falls and cross into the United States, "my people must respect his rights."

After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the organization swung over to the other extreme. According to Bamford, since September 11 the NSA has had no compunctions about violating the Constitution and has been eavesdropping on American citizens.

One of the outstanding examples in the book, which has been well-covered in the American media, is the fact that the NSA has listened in on bedroom conversations of journalists, military officers and officials serving in Iraq. The NSA may eavesdrop on and intercept transmissions outside the United States, but cannot do so to American citizens without a court order.

Another of Bamford's important assertions, which also concerns Israel, is that the largest telephony and communications companies in the United States - in fact all of them except QWEST - have cooperated with the NSA, allowing it to tap their lines and optic fibers.

The above-mentioned Israeli companies and others are important software and technology suppliers for not only the American telephony companies, but for the NSA itself. Bamford claims that 80 percent of all American telephone transmissions are conducted by means of the Israeli companies' technology, know-how and accessibility. Thus, Bamford believes, the American intelligence community is exposing itself to the risk that the Israeli companies will access its most secret and sensitive digital information.

Bamford does not provide any backing for this thesis; he only points to a circumstantial relationship. The Israeli companies were largely established by graduates of 8200, and therefore he says they are connected by their umbilical cords to Israeli intelligence, and their CEOs and boards of directors include senior Shin Bet officials like Arik Nir or former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy (Nir is the CEO of Athlone Global Security, a hedge fund that has invested inter alia in PerSay Voice Biometrics, and Ephraim Halevy is a member of the Athlone Advisory Board).

To put it mildly, Bamford has no love lost for Israel. In his articles, he publishes claims by American Navy officials who believe Israel maliciously attacked the American spy ship Liberty during the 1967 Six-Day War. He holds that the September 11 attack did not stem from radical Islam's basic hatred of America, but rather from its anger at the United States' support for Israel. He calls the nineteen September 11 terrorists "soldiers" and describes them with a great deal of sympathy - Davids who "only" demolished four airplanes of the American Goliath.

In this context, and apparently because of his deep hostility, Bamford asserts that in light of the problematic record of Israel, which did not hesitate to spy against America on American soil, Israeli companies should not have been given the keys to the kingdom of America's secrets. His attitude toward Israel apparently pushes him over the psychological brink, as his book hardly mentions the close cooperation between the two countries' intelligence communities, mainly in the war against international jihad terror or in monitoring Iran.

And thus, the battle to fish out the foreign intelligence backdoors continues, likely with the backing of NSA staffers who have had enough of this bullshit.

I HAVE to read Bamford's book when i get some time. w000!

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