Revealed: DEA’s massive phone tapping scheme that preceded NSA’s

Drug Enforcement AdministrationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
For nearly a decade before 9/11 and the controversial phone tapping program enacted by the National Security Agency, another American intelligence organization, the Drug Enforcement Administration, operated a mass phone surveillance scheme. The scheme, which is no longer in effect, collected data on billions of phone exchanges involving Americans and became a blueprint for NSA’s post-9/11 monitoring efforts. The DEA surveillance program was first disclosed in a report by the Department of Justice in January of this year. But its history, as well as its full extent, were fully revealed on Tuesday by USA Today.

The paper said the DEA program was initiated in 1992, during the presidency of George Bush, Sr., and was aimed at monitoring call data to and from “designated foreign countries” that were “linked to drug trafficking”. But the program grew to monitor data on every call made to and from the US to as many as 116 nations, said the paper, including every country in the Americas. In all, billions of calls were monitored in the over two decades that the program lasted. Citing interviews with “more than a dozen current and former intelligence officials”, USA Today said the DEA surveillance program did not access the content of intercepted phone calls, but rather the pen-register data, namely which numbers were dialed and when.

The intercepted information enabled the DEA to trace transnational networks of traffickers and money handlers used by large drug cartels. Information acquired through the program was also used for non-narcotics-related investigations, said the paper. However, the two-decade-long program did not utilize court warrants, and was thus very similar to the NSA’s controversial wiretapping scheme revealed by a series of whistleblowers in the years following 9/11. USA Today said the DEA stopped the surveillance program in September of 2013. Shortly after that, said the paper, the database containing the information collected through the program was deliberately purged.

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Analysis: Israel Lobby Ousts US Intelligence Nominee

Chas Freeman

Chas Freeman

The near-hysterical reaction by Washington’s pro-Israel lobby against Charles “Chas” Freeman’s candidacy for National Intelligence Commission (NIC) Director has paid off. On Monday, Freeman, a State Department official with 44 years’ experience in the US diplomatic service, decided to withdraw his nomination to head the NIC –the government agency that works with the US intelligence community to compile national intelligence estimates. On February 26, Freeman, who was US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, was nominated for the job by Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair. Blair had said the veteran diplomat would bring with him to the post “a wealth of knowledge and expertise in defense, diplomacy and intelligence”. But Freeman’s nomination was met almost immediately with vehement opposition from pro-Israeli lobby groups in Washington. Republican members of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, as well as at least ten House Representatives, began a vocal campaign to stop Freeman’s NIC candidacy. Chief among the pro-Israel lawmakers were two Jewish Democrats from New York, Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Steve Israel. Along with another usual suspect, “independent” Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, they described Freeman as a “controversial” diplomat with “strong political opinions”, who “appear[s] inclined to lean against Israel” with “statements against Israel [that] were way over the top”. Read article →

Comment: Declassified documents shed light on closing Cold War stages

The National Security Archive has posted a brief analysis of declassified documents relating to the last official meeting between Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan. The meeting, which took place at Governor’s Island, New York, in December 1988, was also attended by then US President-Elect George Bush, Sr. The released documents consist of three separate batches, namely previously secret high-level Soviet memoranda, CIA reports and estimates, as well as detailed transcripts of the meeting. According to the report’s editors, Soviet memoranda reveal that at the time of the meeting “Gorbachev was prepared for rapid arms control progress leading towards nuclear abolition”. The extent of the Soviet leader’s commitment stunned even the CIA, whose estimates had not anticipated such massive unilateral offer to disarm. The Archive’s press release blames the then President-Elect George Bush, Sr., for failing “to meet Gorbachev even half-way”, thus essentially preventing “dramatic reductions in nuclear weapons, fissile materials, and conventional armaments, to the detriment of international security today”. Read more of this post

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