Wednesday, January 18

Operation Firstfruits : NSA Spied on Whistleblowers, Journalists and Congress?

While doing research on a post discussing the recent speech by Vice-President Al Gore, I discovered a webpage/blog called MediaChannel.org which described a secret NSA program called FirstFruits whose aim is even more dark and heinous than anything previously discussed concerning the current scandal of performing warrantless surveillance of al-Qaeda communications which have one end within the U.S.

The allegation was that the NSA has been spying for some time on their own employees. People who resisted going along with the "party-line" of the administration.

Let that sink in for a second.

Just wait, it gets worse.

Apparently, they've also been spying on other members of the government who may have been potential whistleblowers, journalists and even members of Congress.
NSA spied on its own employees, other U.S. intelligence personnel, and their journalist and congressional contacts. WMR has learned that the National Security Agency (NSA), on the orders of the Bush administration, eavesdropped on the private conversations and e-mail of its own employees, employees of other U.S. intelligence agencies -- including the CIA and DIA -- and their contacts in the media, Congress, and oversight agencies and offices.

The journalist surveillance program, code named "Firstfruits," was part of a Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) program that was maintained at least until October 2004 and was authorized by then-DCI Porter Goss. Firstfruits was authorized as part of a DCI "Countering Denial and Deception" program responsible to an entity known as the Foreign Denial and Deception Committee (FDDC). Since the intelligence community's reorganization, the DCI has been replaced by the Director of National Intelligence headed by John Negroponte and his deputy, former NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden.

...

In addition, beginning in 2001 but before the 9-11 attacks, NSA began to target anyone in the U.S. intelligence community who was deemed a "disgruntled employee." According to NSA sources, this surveillance was a violation of United States Signals Intelligence Directive (USSID) 18 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The surveillance of U.S. intelligence personnel by other intelligence personnel in the United States and abroad was conducted without any warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The targeted U.S. intelligence agency personnel included those who made contact with members of the media, including the journalists targeted by Firstfruits, as well as members of Congress, Inspectors General, and other oversight agencies. Those discovered to have spoken to journalists and oversight personnel were subjected to sudden clearance revocation and termination as "security risks."

At first I didn't want to believe it, and tried to do a little more research. Every version of this report I could find seemed to come from one single source - Wayne Madsen of the self-titled Wayne Madsen Report. The site itself struck me as a left-wing Drudge Report, bad graphics with super-partisan slant, so I remained skeptical. I couldn't find any major newspaper or blogs which might have done any additional background or detail on this story, although I find a mention on conspiracyplanet.com. After that, I pretty much wrote the entire thing off as being paranoid tin-foil-hattery.

But something about it wouldn't let me go - so I took another crack and found a mention on Truthout.org from Dec 28 - two days before the Mediachannel post.

This just in from Wayne Madsen, who is formerly an NSA employee and apparently still maintains close ties with current employees. If this information is correct, and I am betting that it is, how can any NSA employee come forward to corroborate this story and not be tried for treason? How are whistleblowers going to come forward and not be arrested and shut up?

Firstfruits was a database that contained both the articles and the transcripts of telephone and other communications of particular Washington journalists known to report on sensitive U.S. intelligence activities, particularly those involving NSA. According to NSA sources, the targeted journalists included author James Bamford, the New York Times' James Risen, the Washington Post's Vernon Loeb, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the Washington Times' Bill Gertz, UPI's John C. K. Daly, and this editor [Wayne Madsen], who has written about NSA for The Village Voice, CAQ, Intelligence Online, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
Ok, so thisMadsen guy is NSA. Hmmm...

It was at this point that began to compare statements made by NSA Whistleblower Russell Tice on Jan 3rd, with claims made by Warren Madsen last Month.

AMY GOODMAN: When you come on board at these intelligence agencies, as at the National Security Agency, what are you told? I mean, were you aware of the Church hearings in the 1970s that went into the illegal spying on monitoring, of surveilling, of wiretapping of American citizens?

RUSSELL TICE: Well, that’s something that’s really not drummed in your head. That’s more of a history lesson, I think. And the reasoning, ultimately, for the FISA laws and for what's called USSID 18, which is sort of the SIGINTer’s bible of how they conduct their business, but the law itself is drilled into your head, as well as the tenets of USSID 18, of which the number one commandment is ‘Thou shalt not spy on Americans.’

The fact that both Tice and Madsen synchronize on USSID 18 as the "bible" for the NSA is helpful in identifying that he does have some legitimate NSA bona-fides and/or sources - (even if I find his site design rather unappealing - sue me). still some of the allegations made by Madsen couldn't be confirmed by Tice.

AMY GOODMAN: Russell Tice, did you know anyone within the N.S.A. who refused to spy on Americans, who refused to follow orders?

RUSSELL TICE: No. No, I do not. As far as -- of course, I'm not witting of anyone that was told they will spy on an American. So, ultimately, when this was going on, I have a feeling it was closely held at some of the upper echelon levels. And you’ve got to understand, I was a worker bee. I was a guy that wrote the reports and did the analysis work and -- you know, the detail guy. At some point, your reports have to get sent up up the line and then, you know, the management takes action at some point or another, but at my level, no, I was not involved in this.

So apparently Tice wasn't specfically aware of what individuals were being targeted for survellance and why, but that doesn't mean that Madsen doesn't have access to some persons still within NSA who do have access to this information. Overall, it's not that far-fetched.

In fact, it had already been speculated in this post from Americablog which discusses the likelyhood that journalist were targeted by the NSA.
I had an interesting discussion this morning with DC political consultant Marc Laitin. We both came to the conclusion that it sounds like Bush's super-secret illegal domestic spying program may be targeting US journalists and that may be why Bush never got it cleared by the court and is worried about it coming forward now.

Think about it.

1. Bush had the authority to go the court AFTER THE SURVEILLANCE and RETROACTIVELY get the warrant to do surveillance he'd already done. He didn't. The only reason I can come up with for why Bush would NOT go to the court after the fact is because he thought the court would slap him down. The court's greatest concern would likely be spying on US citizens, and an even greater concern would be spying on either members or Congress or the American media. If Bush were spying on American media, he might just lose this retroactive warrant.

2. Bush says that these were only Americans making phone calls to people with known Al Qaeda ties. That probably knocks out members of Congress, but it very much sounds like US journalists. Who else, other than terror cells, would be talking on a regular basis with people who might have ties to terrorism? American journalists working on stories.

It could even include US journalists talking to their bureaus abroad. Read again who Bush said the program is targeting (if you believe him):
"intercept the international communications of people with known links to Al-Qaida and related terrorist organizations."
What's a "known link"? Does a journalist who has contacts inside Al Qaeda have a "known link" to Al Qaeda? Well sure he does, he absolutely has links/contacts with Al Qaeda.
That was on Dec 19th, since then we've learned a great deal.

Look at the record now: We've already had a report of NSA targeting journalist from NBC as a result of an interview between Andrea Mitchell and New York Times Reporter Joe Risen when interviewing him about his book "State of War".
From Americablog

Mitchell: Do you have any information about reporters being swept up in this net?

Risen: No, I don't. It's not clear to me. That's one of the questions we'll have to look into the future. Were there abuses of this program or not? I don't know the answer to that

Mitchell: You don't have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?

Risen: No, no I hadn't heard that.

What is also quite interesting is that Democratic Underground reports that the CNN Transcript of this interview was altered to remove the Amanpour question. When originally posted it was mere speculation, but apparently the salient details have been confirmed by NBC (regarding the question, investigation and it's subsequent scrubbing...)
NBC confirms it's investigating whether Bush spied on CNN's Christiane Amanpour
by John in DC - 1/04/2006 10:27:00 PM

That is the only way to read NBC's just-issued statement on why they deleted key portions of Andrea Mitchell's interview after we reported on it here earlier today. (snip)
Unfortunately this transcript was released prematurely. It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting, and it was not broadcast on 'NBC Nightly News' nor on any other NBC News program. We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry.
This is quite big. Note exactly what NBC said.

- NBC did not say it pulled the references to Bush spying on Amanpour because it was inappropriate conjecture about something which Andrea Mitchell had no evidence.

- No, NBC said it pulled the references because it was still investigating the accusation and didn't want to scoop itself before it was finished investigating. And make no mistake, NBC is "continuing their inquiry."

More...

http://americablog.blogspot.com/2006/01/nbc-confirms-it...
So NBC isn't ready to go public yet on this story...but if their investigation shows that reporters such as Christine Amanpour were caught up in the NSA Wiretap... Woooboy!

It's only a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Chritiane Amanpour to spying on Risen and Hersh. Heck, spying Risen and Hersh makes sense as a way to "close up leaks". Add that to the fact the ACLU already has FOIA documents indicating the the FBI and DIA have been performing surveillance on Greenpeace and PETA.

We already know that they've spied on the UN Security Council, during the run-up to the Iraq war (which is technically legal under FISA - but still pretty slimy) from Rawstory.com
President Bush and other top officials in his administration used the National Security Agency to secretly wiretap the home and office telephones and monitor private email accounts of members of the United Nations Security Council in early 2003 to determine how foreign delegates would vote on a U.N. resolution that paved the way for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, NSA documents show.
We already know that John Bolton somehow gained access to the names of State Department Employees who had been captured on NSA intercepts, and that the Bush was willing to let his nomination rot-on-the-vine until Congress recessed rather than let them find out who they and Bolton were spying on and why

And lastly we know that a great deal of the NSA leads that the FBI have been following over the last four years have led to dead-ends with no terrorist connection at all - but then again, having an nice fat set of FBI files on your prominant and outspoken opponents that you could mine whenever you like would be an incredible political advantage. We all remember the allegations made against Clinton with Filegate, yes?

Madsen allegations that they've been using the NSA spying to stifle political opposition, not just fight the war on terror - just might have some legs afterall.

COINTELPRO 2006 - Here we are.

Vyan

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