Monday, June 24, 2013

NSA Spying: So They Are Listening In, After All

Despite a stream of mendacious twaddle from President Obama, congressional grifters and spook agency mouthpieces like Office of the Director of National Intelligence head James Clapper, FBI Director Robert Mueller and NSA chief General Keith Alexander, it turns out our guardians are listening in to America's, and most of the world's, telephone conversations after all.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente was asked by CNN whether there's a way that investigators "can get the phone companies" to cough up audio of a particular conversation.

Clemente responded: "No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her [the alleged bomber's wife]. We certainly can find that out."

CNN's incredulous reply: "So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible."

Clemente: "No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not."

When questioned the next day whether he would confirm his previous statements, Clemente told CNN, "I'm talking about all digital communications are--there's a way to look at digital communications in the past. I can't go into detail of how that's done or what's done. But I can tell you that no digital communication is secure. So these communications will be found out. The conversation will be known."

While there was scant media follow-up to Clemente's assertions, recent revelations of NSA dragnet spying have confirmed what analysts, researchers and whistleblowers have been saying for years: the secret state has the technological wherewithal to digitally record the content of all electronic communications, including telephone calls, and store them in massive cloud computing server farms in the event they're needed for future "reference."

And as it turns out, according to Internet Archive founder, computer engineer Brewster Kahle, who has wide experience storing large amounts of data, the cost of doing so is incredibly cheap.

A spreadsheet created by Kahle estimates it would cost the government a mere $27 million to "store all phonecalls made in a year in the 'cloud'." To do so would require less than 5,000 square feet of space and $2 million in electricity costs to store the estimated 272 petabytes of data generated annually in the United States!

A Giant Blackmail Machine

Recent disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have done much to dispel remaining myths (government spying is "focused," "legal," etc.) surrounding the secret state's privacy-killing surveillance programs.

It now seems likely that NSA is hoovering up far more than the "telephony metadata" revealed by The Guardian's publication of the secret FISA Court Order to Verizon Business Services.

Following-up on PRISM program reporting, The Washington Post disclosed June 15 that the Bush administration's "warrantless wiretapping" program STELLAR WIND "was succeeded by four major lines of intelligence collection in the territorial United States, together capable of spanning the full range of modern telecommunications, according to the interviews and documents."

"Two of the four collection programs, one each for telephony and the Internet," Barton Gellman reported, "process trillions of 'metadata' records for storage and analysis in systems called MAINWAY and MARINA, respectively."

According to the Post, "Metadata includes highly revealing information about the times, places, devices and participants in electronic communication, but not its contents. The bulk collection of telephone call records from Verizon Business Services, disclosed this month by the British newspaper the Guardian, is one source of raw intelligence for MAINWAY."

Dropping a bombshell, although withholding supporting documents, Gellman reports that the "other two types of collection, which operate on a much smaller scale, are aimed at content. One of them intercepts telephone calls and routes the spoken words to a system called ­NUCLEON."

"MARINA and the collection tools that feed it are probably the least known of the NSA's domestic operations," the Post averred. "Yet they probably capture information about more American citizens than any other, because the volume of e-mail, chats and other Internet communications far exceeds the volume of standard telephone calls."

"The NSA calls Internet metadata 'digital network information.' Sophisticated analysis of those records can reveal unknown associates of known terrorism suspects. Depending on the methods applied, it can also expose medical conditions, political or religious affiliations, confidential business negotiations and extramarital affairs."

In other words, it seems likely that harvested data gleaned from phone calls, emails, video chats and credit card records are being used in ways that are as old as the spy game itself: political and economic blackmail.

Indeed, NSA whistleblower Russ Tice, the principal source for The New York Times exposé of illegal Bush administration spy programs, told Sibel Edmonds' Boiling Frogs Post podcast that the secret state has ordered surveillance on a wide range of groups and individuals, including antiwar activists, high-ranking military officials, lawmakers and diplomats.

According to Tice: "Okay. They went after--and I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things--they went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the--and judicial. But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of--heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials. They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House--their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after US international--US companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after US banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that--like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few antiwar and civil rights groups. So, you know, don't tell me that there's no abuse, because I've had this stuff in my hand and looked at it."

"Here's the big one," Tice told hosts Sibel Edmonds and Peter B. Collins, "this was in summer of 2004, one of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator for Illinois. You wouldn't happen to know where that guy lives right now would you? It's a big white house in Washington, D.C. That's who they went after, and that's the president of the United States now."

Other political targets revealed by Tice included all nine Supreme Court justices, Senate Intelligence Committee head Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and ousted CIA director General David Petraeus, who allegedly resigned over a sex scandal.

Is it any wonder then, that House and Senate leaders driving the "oversight" clown car are the ones now braying loudest for Ed Snowden's head!

Like ECHELON, Only on Steroids

A new series of disclosures published by The Guardian, based on the Snowden files but, like the Post, without public disclosure of the actual documents, we learned that Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) "has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA)."

"The sheer scale of the agency's ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible," The Guardian reported.

Britain's "Mastering the Internet" scheme was first reported by The Register and The Sunday Times back in 2009; Antifascist Calling published an analysis of NSA's key role in the GCHQ program; a few months later, citing documents posted by WikiLeaks, AFC commented on the cozy relations amongst private intelligence contractors, the European Union and the secret state.

The architecture of these highly intrusive, illegal programs was created decades ago however, in intelligence-sharing arrangements in the English speaking world under the rubric of NSA's global surveillance network known as ECHELON.

As one of the "Five Eyes" partner agencies of the Cold War-era UKUSA Security Agreement (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) exposed by journalists Duncan Campbell and Nicky Hager in their ECHELON investigations, GCHQ, through a contemporary operation code named TEMPORA, has tapped into and stored vast quantities of data gleaned from fiber optic cables passing through the UK.

"This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user's access to websites--all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets," The Guardian reported.

But as we know from Campbell and Hager's reporting, while intelligence and law enforcement officials in Britain and the United States are required to obtain an individualized warrant to target a suspect's communications in their own nation, no such restrictions apply should one of the five "partner agencies" spy on another country's citizens. One must assume this arrangement continues today.

"The documents reveal that by last year GCHQ was handling 600m 'telephone events' each day," The Guardian disclosed, and "had tapped more than 200 fibre-optic cables and was able to process data from at least 46 of them at a time."

That GCHQ did so on the basis of "secret agreements with commercial companies, described in one document as 'intercept partners'," should come as now surprise to readers of this blog.

According to Snowden documents "seen" but not published by The Guardian, "some companies have been paid for the cost of their co-operation and GCHQ went to great lengths to keep their names secret. They were assigned 'sensitive relationship teams' and staff were urged in one internal guidance paper to disguise the origin of 'special source' material in their reports for fear that the role of the companies as intercept partners would cause 'high-level political fallout'."

"It's not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight," Snowden told The Guardian. "They [GCHQ] are worse than the US."

The latest revelations have certainly raised eyebrows in Hong Kong and China, long accused by US political hacks of waging "aggressive cyberwarfare" against US defense and financial networks.

On Sunday, the South China Morning Post disclosed that "US spies are hacking into Chinese mobile phone companies to steal text messages and attacking the servers at Tsinghua University," according to documents provided to the Post by Edward Snowden.

The Post revealed that the US is "hacking" computers "at the Hong Kong headquarters of Pacnet, which owns one of the most extensive submarine cable networks in the region."

"Pacnet," the Hong Kong newspaper explained, "recently signed major deals with the mainland's top mobile phone companies, owns more than 46,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cables. The cables connect its regional data centres across the Asia-Pacific region, including Hong Kong, the mainland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. It also has offices in the US."

Talk about the (US) pot calling the (Chinese) kettle black!

NSA Data Fed to Main Core Security Index?

As sinister as these programs are, is there another component which taps "into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called 'black programs' whose existence is undisclosed," as alluded to by The Wall Street Journal five years ago?

In a recent interview with the conservative web site, The Daily Caller, former NSA technical director and whistleblower William Binney said while he doesn't think "they're recording all of it," what they do however, "is take their target list, which is somewhere on the order of 500,000 to a million people. They look through these phone numbers and they target those and that's what they record."

"500,000 to a million people"? Who are they? Foreign citizens, Americans? If the latter, is Binney's statement confirmation of reporting by journalists Christopher Ketchum and Tim Shorrock about the existence of a secret "Continuity of Government" database of "suspect" Americans known as Main Core?

"One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect," Ketchum reported. "In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention."

As we now know, US government intelligence agencies including the CIA, DHS, the FBI, military outfits such as US Northern Command and the 70-odd "public-private" fusion centers scattered across the country have spied on antiwar activists, Ron Paul supporters, anarchists, socialists, gun rights' proponents and, as revealed by journalist Beau Hodai in his troubling report, Dissent or Terror, Occupy Wall Street.

Did all the data secretly scooped up on law-abiding Americans exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech wind up in the government's ultra-secret Main Core security index?

"Another well-informed source--a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community" told Ketchum: "'The more data you have on a particular target, the better [the software] can predict what the target will do, where the target will go, who it will turn to for help,' he says. 'Main Core is the table of contents for all the illegal information that the U.S. government has [compiled] on specific targets.' An intelligence expert who has been briefed by high-level contacts in the Department of Homeland Security confirms that a database of this sort exists, but adds that 'it is less a mega-database than a way to search numerous other agency databases at the same time'."

A few months after Ketchum's report appeared, Shorrock informed us that during an interview with financial consultant Norman Bailey, who headed "a special unit within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on financial intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela--the NSA has been using its vast powers with signals intelligence to track financial transactions around the world since the early 1980s."

"After 9/11," Bailey told Shorrock, NSA signals intelligence intercept capabilities were "instantly seen within the US government as a critical tool in the war on terror--and apparently was deployed by the Bush administration inside the United States."

"In September 2001," Shorrock disclosed, "a contemporary version of the [Reagan era] Continuity of Government program was put into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Vice President Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to 'undisclosed locations' to maintain government functions."

"It was during this emergency period," Shorrock wrote, "that President Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance."

"If Main Core does exist, says Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and an outspoken critic of the agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its likely home," Ketchum averred.

"'If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues'--the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws--'so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints'."

"Giraldi notes that DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security. 'It's clear that DHS has the mandate for controlling and owning master lists. The process is not transparent, and the criteria for getting on the list are not clear.' Giraldi continues, 'I am certain that the content of such a master list [as Main Core] would not be carefully vetted, and there would be many names on it for many reasons--quite likely, including the two of us'."

While we don't know whether Binney is referring to the NSA component of Main Core, or some other highly illegal, hitherto unknown program, his statements seem to confirm Gellman's reporting in The Washington Post that "spoken words" are routed "to a system called ­NUCLEON." Again, without publishing supporting documentation supplied by Edward Snowden, the picture is far from clear.

Recent revelations however, building on scandals surrounding the interception of the sensitive communications of Associated Press and Fox News reporters, along with President Obama's Nixonian obsession with stopping "leaks" as part of the administration's war on whistleblowers, it should be clear by now that the police state Rubicon has already been crossed.

In 1976, during Senate hearings into earlier government lawbreaking, Senator Frank Church warned: "The National Security Agency's capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the NSA could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back."

"I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge," Senator Church cautioned. "I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."

What should also be clear, is that the bipartisan consensus that seeks to criminalize the leak and not the illegality of the programs exposed, reflects the profound fear in elite Washington circles of the American people. As opposition to endless war and austerity continues to percolate below the surface, it is only a matter of time before the breaking point is reached.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What the NSA Revelations Tell Us about America's Police State

Ongoing revelations by The Guardian and The Washington Post of massive, illegal secret state surveillance of the American people along with advanced plans for waging offensive cyberwarfare on a global scale, including inside the US, underscores what Antifascist Calling has reported throughout the five years of our existence: that democracy and democratic institutions in the United States are dead letters.

Last week, Guardian investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald revealed that NSA "is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April."

That order from the FISA court "requires Verizon on an 'ongoing, daily basis' to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries."

"The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk--regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."

The latest revelations track directly back to what USA Today reported in 2006: "The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth," and that secretive NSA program "reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans--most of whom aren't suspected of any crime."

"'It's the largest database ever assembled in the world,' said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is 'to create a database of every call ever made' within the nation's borders," USA Today disclosed.

Mission accomplished!

The publication of the FISA order confirms what whistleblowers such as former AT&T technician Mark Klein, Babak Pasdar, as well as NSA insiders William Binney, Russell Tice and Thomas Drake have been warning for years: the architecture of an American police state is not only in place but fully functioning.

According to Binney, just one Narus STA 6400 "traffic analyzer" installed in one of AT&T's "secret rooms" exposed by Klein (there are upwards of 20 scattered across the United States) can can analyze 1,250,000 1,000-character emails every second, or some 100 billion emails a day.

While the Obama administration and their coterie of media flacks argue that these programs are "legal," we would do well to recall that in 2009, The New York Times reported that NSA "intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year."

Although Justice Department and intelligence officials described NSA's massive communications' dragnet as simple "overcollection" that was "unintentional," documents published so far expose such statements for what they are: lies.

Babak Pasdar's Verizon Disclosure

More than five years ago I wrote that "a new FISA whistleblower has stepped forward with information about a major wireless provider apparently granting the state unrestricted access to all of their customers' voice communications and electronic data via a so-called 'Quantico Circuit'."

That whistleblower, Babak Pasdar, the CEO of Bat Blue, revealed in a 2008 affidavit filed with the Government Accountability Project (GAP) that Verizon maintained a high-speed DS-3 digital line that allowed the FBI, the agency which oversees the "Quantico Circuit," virtually "unfettered" access to Verizon's wireless network, including billing records and customer data "transmitted wirelessly."

A year prior to Pasdar's disclosure, Wired Magazine revealed that the FBI was deploying malware which it described as a "computer and internet protocol address verifier," or CIPAV, to spy on selected targets.

Wired disclosed, citing a court affidavit filed in US District Court in the Western District of Washington, that "the spyware program gathers a wide range of information, including the computer's IP address; MAC address; open ports; a list of running programs; the operating system type, version and serial number; preferred internet browser and version; the computer's registered owner and registered company name; the current logged-in user name and the last-visited URL."

Compare Wired's description of CIPAV with what we have learned about the NSA's black program, PRISM, from The Guardian and The Washington Post.

According to Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill's reporting in The Guardian: "The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information." Additionally, one "chart prepared by the NSA, contained within the top-secret document obtained by the Guardian, underscores the breadth of the data it is able to obtain: email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more."

"Once that data is gathered," Wired reported in 2007, "the CIPAV begins secretly monitoring the computer's internet use, logging every IP address to which the machine connects," and sends that data "to a central FBI server located somewhere in eastern Virginia."

"The server's precise location wasn't specified, but previous FBI internet surveillance technology--notably its Carnivore packet-sniffing hardware--was developed and run out of the bureau's technology laboratory at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia."

According to Pasdar, with such access the FBI and the NSA are allowed to listen in and record all conversations en-masse; collect and record mobile phone data en-masse; obtain the data that a subscriber accessed from their mobile phone, including internet access, email and web queries; trend individual call patterns and call behavior; identify inbound and outbound callers; track all inbound and outbound calls and trace the user's physical location.

And as we learned last week from The Guardian and The Washington Post, the secret state's technical capabilities have evolved by whole orders of magnitude since initial stories of secret government surveillance were first reported nearly eight years ago by The New York Times.

For example, under NSA's internet-tapping PRISM program the Guardian and Post revealed that "nine leading US Internet companies," have given over access to their central servers to the FBI and NSA, thereby enabling high-tech spooks to extract "audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs."

So pervasive, and intrusive, are these programs, that the whistleblower who revealed their existence, who we now know is former CIA technical specialist Edward Snowden, who had "firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities," are what led him "to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. 'They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type'," the officer said."

Hints of the frightening capabilities of these, and other as yet unknown programs, had been revealed years earlier.

When Pasdar was in the process of migrating Verizon servers and installing a newer and more secure set of firewalls, the security specialist discovered an unnamed "third party" had installed the above-mentioned DS-3 line, a "45 megabit per second circuit that supports data and voice communications."

Stunned when he learned that Verizon officials insisted the circuit should "not have any access control" and "should not be firewalled," Pasdar was told in no uncertain terms that the "owners" of the DS-3 line specified that no record of its existence should ever be made.

"'Everything at the least SHOULD be logged,' I emphasized."

"I don't think that is what they want."

A top project manager who drove out to the site warned Pasdar to "forget about the circuit" and "move on" with the migration. He was further warned that if he "couldn't do that then he would get someone who could."

When the manager left, Pasdar asked one of his Verizon colleagues, "Is that what I think it is?"

"What do you think?", he replied.

"I shifted the focus. 'Forgetting about who it is, don't you think it is unusual for some third party to have completely open access to your systems like this? You guys are even firewalling your internal offices, and they are part of your own company!'"

His colleague replied, "Dude, that's what they want."

"I didn't bother asking who 'they' were this time. 'They' now had a surrogate face,'" top manager dubbed "DS" by Pasdar. "They told me that 'they' went all the way to the top [of Verizon], which is why the once uncertain DS could now be so sure and emphatic."

Disturbed that Verizon was turning over access of their communications infrastructure to secret government agencies, Pasdar wrote: "For the balance of the evening and for some time to come I thought about all the systems to which this circuit had complete and possibly unfettered access. The circuit was tied to the organization's core network. It had access to the billing system, text messaging, fraud detection, web site, and pretty much all the systems in the data center without apparent restrictions."

"What really struck me," Pasdar noted, "was that it seemed no one was logging any of the activity across this circuit. And if they were, the logging system was so abysmal that they wouldn't capture enough information to build any type of a picture of what had transpired. Who knew what was being sent across the circuit and who was sending it? To my knowledge no historical logs of the communications traversing the 'Quantico Circuit' exists."

The security consultant affirmed that government snoops "may be able to access the billing system to find information on a particular person. This information may include their billing address, phone number(s), as well as the numbers and information of other people on the plan. Other information could also include any previous numbers that the person or others on their plan called, and the outside numbers who have called the people on the plan."

And once the Electronic Security Number (ESN) of any plan member's phone has been identified, well, the sky's the limit!

"With the ESN information and access to the fraud detection systems, a third party can locate or track any particular mobile device. The person's call patterns and location can be trended and analyzed."

"With the ESN," Pasdar averred, "the third party could tap into any and all data being transmitted from any particular mobile device. This would include Internet usage, e-mails, web, file transfers, text messages and access to any remote applications."

"It would also be possible in real-time to tap into any conversation on any mobile phone supported by the carrier at any point."

While the major firms identified by Guardian and Post reporters in the PRISM disclosures deny that NSA has built backdoors into their systems, The New York Times revealed although Twitter declined to make it easier for the government to spy on their users, "other companies were more compliant, according to people briefed on the negotiations. They opened discussions with national security officials about developing technical methods to more efficiently and securely share the personal data of foreign users in response to lawful government requests. And in some cases, they changed their computer systems to do so."

According to the Times, the "companies that negotiated with the government include Google, which owns YouTube; Microsoft, which owns Hotmail and Skype; Yahoo; Facebook; AOL; Apple; and Paltalk, according to one of the people briefed on the discussions," the same tech giants called out by the PRISM revelations.

"In at least two cases, at Google and Facebook," reporter Claire Cain Miller disclosed, "one of the plans discussed was to build separate, secure portals, like a digital version of the secure physical rooms that have long existed for classified information, in some instances on company servers. Through these online rooms, the government would request data, companies would deposit it and the government would retrieve it, people briefed on the discussions said."

So much for their non-denial denials!

More pertinently however, the "digital version of the secure physical rooms" described by the Times track directly back to what whistleblower Mark Klein told Wired, along with supporting documents in 2006, about AT&T's secret Room 641A housed in San Francisco.

Klein revealed: "In 2003 AT&T built 'secret rooms' hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company's popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing. Documents showing the hardwire installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities."

And as with the "separate, secure portals" described by the Times, AT&T's "secret rooms" are staffed with NSA-cleared corporate employees of the tech giants.

Klein informed us: "The normal work force of unionized technicians in the office are forbidden to enter the 'secret room,' which has a special combination lock on the main door. The telltale sign of an illicit government spy operation is the fact that only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter this room." (emphasis in original)

How Extensive Is the Surveillance? Well, Boundless!

Back in 2008, The Wall Street Journal reported that NSA "now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called 'transactional' data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns."

With the Verizon and PRISM disclosures, we now know who those "private companies" are: major US high tech and telecommunications giants.

Journalist Siobhan Gorman revealed that the NSA's "enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world's main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements."

"The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called 'black programs' whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say."

Amongst the "black programs" disclosed by The Guardian, we learned last week that through the NSA's top secret Boundless Informant program the agency "has developed a powerful tool for recording and analysing where its intelligence comes from, raising questions about its repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications."

As Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill disclosed, the "Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, 'What type of coverage do we have on country X' in 'near real-time by asking the SIGINT [signals intelligence] infrastructure'."

Like their Bushist predecessors, the Obama regime claims the security apparatus is "not listening in" to the phone calls of Americans, asserting instead they are "merely" harvesting metadata, the digital footprints and signatures of electronic devices.

But as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) points out: "Metadata provides enough context to know some of the most intimate details of your lives. And the government has given no assurances that this data will never be correlated with other easily obtained data. They may start out with just a phone number, but a reverse telephone directory is not hard to find. Given the public positions the government has taken on location information, it would be no surprise if they include location information demands in Section 215 orders for metadata."

Conservative estimates since the 9/11 provocation have revealed that the NSA phone database now contains upwards of 1.9 trillion call-detail records under a program code name MARINA and that a similar database for email and web queries also exists, PINWALE.

The FISA court order signed in April by Judge Roger Vinson directs Verizon to hand over to the NSA "on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order, unless otherwise directed by the Court, an electronic copy of the following tangible things: all call detail records or 'telephony metadata' created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls."

One can only assume that other carriers such as AT&T and Sprint have been issued similar orders by the FISA court.

According to the Order, "Telephony metadata includes comprehensive communications routing information, including but not limited to session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (ISMI) number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call."

While the order specifies that "telephony metadata" does not include the "substantive content of any communication" or "the name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer," that information, should an individual come in for "special handling" by the secret state, call and internet content is fully-retrievable, courtesy of US high-tech firms, under the MARINA, PINWALE and PRISM programs.

As the heroic whistleblower Edward Snowden told The Guardian last Sunday: "The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards."

"What they're doing,” Snowden said, poses "an existential threat to democracy."

If what the Bush and now, Obama regimes are doing is not Orwellian blanket surveillance of the American people, then words fail.