Senior NSA Executive: NSA Started Spying On Journalists in 2002 … In Order to Make Sure They Didn’t Report On Mass Surveillance

Washington’s Blog — June 13, 2014

The Story of NSA’s “First Fruits” Program Has Never Been Told

NSA-eye. Click to enlargeYou may have heard about the government’s spying on the Associated Press. And high-level NSA whistleblower Bill Binney told Washington’s Blog that the government also spied on Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen, and chief Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen.

But Senior NSA executive Thomas Drake tells Washington’s Blog that the spying on reporters started 12 years ago – in 2002 – and has been fairly systematic.

By way of background, Drake had championed the “ThinThread” program, which automatically encrypted Americans’ data (data could only be decrypted after a court found there was probable cause that the American was a bad guy).

But after 9/11, NSA instead adopted the competing “Stellar Wind” system, which didn’t protect Americans’ privacy, and was less effective and more expensive.

THOMAS DRAKE: Part of what I discovered is that part of the surveillance system, part of the Stellar Wind system – and that’s an umbrella term in itself – there were offshoots of that.

It metastasized. It grew like a cancer on the body politic.

One of the things that was done was [along the lines of]: “You know what? We’ve got to make sure” (because they were paranoid) “we’ve got to make sure that this stuff doesn’t get out … oh yeah, the press. Let’s violate the Fourth Amendment and just monitor the press.”

The whole story of that has not come out.

There was a program called “First Fruits”. They’ve no doubt changed the name of the program [since then.]

And that First Fruits program was a cutout which was designed from all of the domestic surveillance take. “Let’s just pipe off from all” that is involving designated [reporters] … or in some cases whole groups of reporters and journalists.

So you’re targeting actual newspapers. You’re targeting media outlets.

And you’re monitoring – on a persistent basis – their communications.

WASHINGTON’S BLOG: How early did that start?

THOMAS DRAKE: The preliminary version of that – as far as an active program – was in 2002.

Postscript: Sadly, journalists are treated like the like enemy in modern America.

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