REUTERS/Steve MarcusFor years Americans' right to privacy, as granted by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, has come under threat as the country's surveillance systems have grown.
Over the weekend James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times — who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for this story on the NSA gaining the cooperation of U.S. telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to customer data — mentioned a detail from 2007 (emphasis ours):
In Virginia, a telecommunications consultant reported, Verizon had set up a dedicated fiber-optic line running from New Jersey to Quantico, Va., home to a large military base, allowing government officials to gain access to all communications flowing through the carrier’s operations center.
We recently wrote about a 2006 report by James Bamford of Wired — who wrote a book on the nation's premier covert intelligence gathering organization — which detailed how the NSA hired two companies with ties to Israeli intelligence to bug the communications of AT&T.
The news about the Verizon-NSA fiber optic connection came from a class action lawsuit brought by a former AT&T engineer who worked on a proposal to give the the NSA access to all the global phone and email traffic that ran through an AT&T network center in Bedminster, N.J.
The Israeli hardware, which can record data that comes through an internet protocol network, was discovered by a former AT&T engineer named Mark Klein and confirmed by former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake.
Another former NSA employee named William Binney, who, like Snowden, believes the NSA's surveillance has gone too far, says that ever since 9/11 the NSA has been hoarding electronic data — phone calls, GPS information, emails, social media, banking and travel records, entire government databases — and analyzes, in real time, "all of the attributes that any individual has" in addition to making networks of connections between individuals.
Binney, one of the best mathematicians and code breakers in NSA history, quit after 32 years in late 2001 because, in his view, he "could not stay after the NSA began purposefully violating the Constitution."
Edward Snowden, meanwhile, asserts that the vast majority of human communications — including data from Google, Apple, Facebook, Skype, and YouTube — are "automatically ingested [by the NSA] without targeting."
Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsburg described the disclosures, which included the first concrete evidence of the NSA's domestic surveillance apparatus, as the most important leak in American history.
But it's unclear what kind of changes the leaks will spur as the Obama administration has no plans to scrap the broad spying program.
Bamford, the Wired writer who wrote the 2006 article about NSA surveillance, published the following details about the new facility in Reuters today:
Designed to run at exaflop speed, executing a million trillion operations per second, it will be able to sift through enormous quantities of data - for example, all the phone numbers dialed in the United States every day.
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