Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blackmailing congress

In the first podcast of Boiling Frogs, Sibel Edmonds and Peter B Collins interview investigative reporter extraordinaire, Jim Bamford. It is interesting throughout, unsurprisingly, but I wanted to focus on one particular element in this post.
Sibel Edmonds: Jim, speaking of Israel, there is this information that I came across that most people don't know about. I'm talking about two companies that happen to serve our two large telecoms, and both of them have this very interesting Israel connection. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

James Bamford: Sure. One of the things in my research for the book, looking exactly at how the NSA actually does it's eavesdropping, I was really amazed that the fact that there are private companies that sort of act as go-betweens between the NSA and the telecom companies.

The telecoms companies such as AT&T don't actually do the eavesdropping themselves. What they do is they have a facility in their switching building, such as the one is San Francisco, that is a very secret room that is put there by the NSA. In that room is equipment, software and hardware, that is put there by a private company. In San Francisco, the name of the company is Naris. The company that does similar type of work that acts as a sort of a buffer between the NSA and Verizon is, um, I can't think of the name...

Sibel Edmonds: Verint and Naris.

James Bamford: Yes, Verint is the company that works with Verizon, and Naris does the work with AT&T. One of the interesting things about those companies is they both have ties to Israel. They were both founded by Israelis, and it's very worrisome, I think, when you have companies with ties to foreign countries working in a very secret capacity to eavesdrop on lots of communication and then have that communication be transmitted to NSA.

But I was very surprised to find that virtually nobody in Congress knew that there were private companies, that originated with foreign countries, with foreign ties. [...]
One of the big dangers here, which is something I also found out by discovering an Australian document, it was actually a transcript of a very secret meeting that took place in Australia where they were discussing the whole of issue of Verint's co-operation with Australia’s eavesdropping organization - Verint is being used there, just like they are being used in the US.

What really shocked the Australian govt officials was the fact that the Australians were having a very difficult time accessing the intercepted communications in their own database, yet they discovered that Verint was able to access that same information, from outside the country, presumably from Israel. And the meeting was to decide whether they were going to get rid of Verint or not. They called Verint employees and asked them about it, and because of the protests of the Australian govt, and they didn’t want to lose the contract, they said that they were not going to do that anymore, not going to access the database from outside the country any more.

So, it's very worrying, if they can do it in Australia, they might be able to do it in the United States, and again, we're dealing with very sensitive information that should not be so easily accessible to foreign countries...
Peter B Collins: Jim Bamford, in your book you sum it up in a single sentence: "Thus, virtually the entire American telecommunications system is bugged by two Israeli-formed companies, with possible ties to Israel's eavesdropping agency, with no oversight by Congress."
It is interesting that Sibel "came across" these companies. There have been many articles exposing these companies, so maybe she came across them that way. Or maybe she came across these companies during her work at the FBI. Sibel has previously asked whether congressional acquiescence is the result of

"...possible use of blackmail by the Executive Branch against Congressional representatives, as if the days of J. Edgar Hoover were never over?"

Bamford's subsequent discussion about the Australian experience, where Verint employees in Israel had access to information that the Australian government couldn't access might provide a clue. It is possible that the use of blackmail by the Executive Branch is the least we have to worry about - blackmail by a foreign country is infinitely more dangerous. It would certainly explain why Pat Buchanan once described Congress as “Israeli-occupied territory.” It would also explain how "senior officials in the Pentagon had helped Israeli and Turkish agents" by providing lists of potential moles which

"contained all their ‘hooking points’, which could be financial or sexual pressure points, their exact job in the Pentagon and what stuff they had access to."

Very worrisome indeed.

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