Originally published April 7 2015
Conspiracy theorists vindicated once again: Federal government began monitoring citizens' phone calls long before 9/11
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) U.S. intelligence agencies have kept secret records of international phone calls made by Americans for nearly a decade prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, new information shows, proving once again that so-called "conspiracy theorists" who warned of such surveillance were correct.
According to USA Today, billions of calls were monitored and tracked under a secret program that eventually became much broader under the auspices of the National Security Agency.
The paper reported further:
For more than two decades, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed logs of virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking, current and former officials involved with the operation said. The targeted countries changed over time but included Canada, Mexico and most of Central and South America.
Program was conducted with little congressional oversight
The paper said that federal investigators would utilize the call records to track the distribution networks of drug cartels in the United States, giving agents a capability to detect trafficking rings and handlers of money that were previously unknown to them.
In addition, the government's spy agencies are said to have used the phone records to rule out any foreign ties to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City -- the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil until the 9/11 attacks -- and to assist in identifying suspects in a host of other investigations.
In January, the Department of Justice revealed that the DEA had gathered data from calls to "designated foreign countries." However, the history behind the collection and the vastness of that operation had not previously been divulged.
The operation, which has since been discontinued, was carried out by the drug agency's intelligence division. It was the first known effort by the government to gather massive amounts of data on Americans in bulk form, soaking up records of telephone calls by millions of U.S. citizens even if they were never suspected of committing a crime. The program became the model upon which the NSA, post-9/11, would launch a similar effort to identify terrorist activity, which came under intense scrutiny after it was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Other highlights from the report include:
-- The massive surveillance program was begun during the waning days of President George H. W. Bush's administration, in 1992, but was continued through the three subsequent administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
-- The program was only halted in 2013 by then-Attorney General Eric Holder following Snowden's revelations. Holder, under Clinton's AG, Janet Reno, jointly approved the program with his boss. A 1998 letter to Sprint said the program was "one of the most important and effective Federal drug law enforcement initiatives." That letter was signed by head of the department's Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section, Mary Lee Warren, who noted that the program was approved at the highest levels (including Reno and Holder).
-- The DEA program intercepted which numbers Americans dialed and when, not the content of the calls.
-- Select members of Congress were occasionally briefed on the program but, otherwise, there was little oversight.
An earlier electronic surveillance program
At the end of the Clinton Administration, details emerged that the FBI had been employing an electronic eavesdropping and data collection program known as "Carnivore." The program, according to a detailed analysis by Ohio State law student Peter J. Georgiton,[PDF] focused on email and Internet surveillance in general. In his paper, Georgiton concluded that, based on statutory law at the time, the FBI's use of the program was legal and did not (according to various court rulings) violate the spirit of the Fourth Amendment (Carnivore was employed in conjunction with search warrants; various federal courts held that mass collection of email data unrelated to the search warrant was permissible given the impossibility of sorting out targeted email/Internet data).
"This was aimed squarely at Americans," Mark Rumold, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told USA Today "That's very significant from a constitutional perspective."
Some have suggested that the FBI's Carnivore program may have been a precursor to the NSA's "Prism" program, which was revealed by Snowden.
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