Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Online Journal: NSA’s meta-data email surveillance program exposed

NSA’s meta-data email surveillance program exposed
By Wayne Madsen
Online Journal Contributing Writer

WMR has learned details of one of the most important components of the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program code named “STELLAR WIND.” The highly-classified STELLAR WIND program was initiated by the George W. Bush administration with the cooperation of major U.S. telecommunications carriers, including AT&T and Verizon.

The interception of text communications by STELLAR WIND was a major priority of the NSA program.

The major NSA system for intercepting text communications is called PINWALE. On September 15, 2008, WMR first reported on how PINWALE was used to target Russian e-mails: “Code-named PINWALE, the NSA e-mail surveillance system targets Russian government, military, diplomatic, and commercial email traffic and burrows into the text portions of the email to search for particular words and phrases of interest to NSA eavesdroppers.”

WMR has learned additional details of PINWALE. The system is linked to a number of meta-databases that contain e-mail, faxes, and text messages of hundreds of millions of people around the world and in the United States.

Informed sources have revealed to WMR that PINWALE can search these meta-databases using various parameters like date-time, group, natural language, IP address, sender and receipients, operating system, and other information embedded in the header. When an NSA analyst is looking for Persian or Arabic e-mails, the sender and recipients are normally foreign nationals, who are not covered by restrictions on eavesdropping on U.S. “persons” once imposed on NSA by United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18 (USSID 18). However, STELLAR WIND and PINWALE negated both USSID 18 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 by permitting NSA analysts to read the e-mails, faxes, and text messages of U.S. persons when PINWALE search parameters included searches of e-mails in English. When English language text communications are retrieved, analysts read the text message content to determine whether it contains anything to do with terrorism. However, rather than being deleted, the messages are returned to the meta-databases.

Text message records in PINWALE, a system developed by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, are contained in three major meta-databases code-named LION HEART, LION ROAR, and LION FUSION.

Not only are text communications between U.S. persons in the United States and recipients abroad contained in the PINWALE meta-databases but text messages between U.S. persons within the United States are also held in the databases.

WMR reported on May 10, 2005, that Booz Allen is also the major contractor for an NSA database code named “FIRSTFRUITS” that tracked not only the articles of journalists but contained intercepts of their communications, “ . . . part of the upkeep of the [FIRSTFRUITS] system has been outsourced to outside contractors such as Booz Allen.”

The involvement of the telecommunications companies in STELLAR WIND and PINWALE was revealed when former AT&T technician Mark Klein leaked AT&T documents on the program in 2006. AT&T’s interception entailed NSA snooping equipment being placed within AT&T centers in San Francisco; Bridgeton, Missouri; San Diego; San Jose; Atlanta; Seattle; and Los Angeles.

The Obama administration recently appealed a decision by U.S. Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. Court for the Northern District of California who ruled that a lawsuit brought by the Al Haramain Islamic charity (Al Haramain v. Bush), in which the charity charges that it was the subject of illegal warrantless wiretapping under STELLAR WIND, could proceed.

WMR has previously reported that STELLAR WIND may have been used to prosecute Democratic governors and other Democratic officials around the country. WMR has received confirmation that when NSA analysts monitoring e-mails and other text messages, encountered information from PINWALE meta-databases that did not involve terrorism or foreign counterintelligence issues but did involve other possible criminal matters, NSA lawyers would determine whether such information should be turned over to Department of Justice criminal prosecutors. However, with information passed to WMR that NSA directors Michael Hayden and Keith Alexander were in total lockstep with the Bush-Cheney political agenda, with Alexander once boasting to a group of NSA employees that “I am a Rumsfeld man,” there is the real possibility that PINWALE data ended up in the hands of U.S. attorneys like Patrick Fitzgerald in his vendetta against deposed Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, and Alice Martin and Leura Canary in their Bush White House-directed political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

If Fitzgerald’s legal brief against Blagojevich contains PINWALE-derived wiretap information it would explain why he has been unsuccessful in finding a grand jury in Chicago to indict Blagojevich. WMR was specifically told that e-mails between Washington and Chicago would be contained in PINWALE and that is something that could pose a problem for Fitzgerald in explaining where all his intercepts of Blagojevich originated. It may also explain why the Obama administration does not want details of STELLAR WIND to be exposed in Al Haramain v. Bush.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.