Funding the illegal warrantless wiretapping OR can the NSA get retention bonuses too?

As Emptywheel has been mucho busy with her typical sterling work liveblogging the AIG Congressional Hearing, she probably hasn’t had time today to check out the Senate’s "Report on Intelligence Oversight in the 110th Congress" via Secrecy News.

While there are oodles of goodies in here, I’m going to focus on one of the new (to me) puzzle-pieces regarding the Bush/Cheney Administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program (aka the Terrorist Surveillance Program – TSP).

From page 31 of the report:

2. Electronic surveillance

a. President’s surveillance program

As described in Section II of this report, consideration of measures to modernize the FISA and to address lawsuits brought against private carriers for alleged participation in the presidential electronic surveillance program that came to be known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program was a major focus of the Committee during the 110th Congress. Prior to the disclosures of December 2005, and the President’s subsequent acknowledgment that he had authorized a program outside of the FISA, information concerning the program had been limited by the Executive branch to very few members of Congress – the leadership of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the congressional intelligence committees plus senior members of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and a few other members of the congressional leadership…

(My Bold)

So prior to the December 2005 disclosures of the TSP, senior members of the Senate Defense Appropriation Subcommittee were briefed. This was still during the time that the Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress (as well as the Executive branch), so the chair of this Senate subcommittee was Republican Ted Stevens (R-AK) and the ranking (minority) member was Democrat Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and I would tend to believe that at a minimum, these were the "senior members" briefed on the TSP.

Per Wiki:

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is one of twelve subcommittees of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. Military defense spending is the largest individual component of federal discretionary spending, making the Defense Subcommittee one of the more powerful Appropriations subcommittees…

…The subcommittee oversees overall funding for the Department of Defense, including the Army, Navy, Air Force. The subcommittee is also responsible for funding for the Central Intelligence Agency…

Why, you ask, did the Bush/Cheney Administration brief senior members of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on the Bush/Cheney Administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program?

And the answer is mightily simple: To fund it!

The National Security Agency, responsible for operating the Bush/Cheney Administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program, is part of the Department of Defense and gets funded through the auspices of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

As background, when the Executive branch obtains a FISA warrant (hah!) to wiretap, it then presents this warrant to the appropriate Telco/communications provider for implementation. This is not done for "free" by the Telco/communications provider, so they charge the government a fee for this service.

In the case of the Bush/Cheney Administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program, I believe that it was so enormous that the NSA needed specific and ongoing funding for it from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in order to pay the accomodating Telco/communications providers.

We are not talking about a simple 5 minute job by some lone communications technician at the Telco/communications providers.

We are talking about a massive technical Telco/communications providers infrastructure project investment over the course of 8 (and counting) years.

In the Hepting v. AT&T lawsuit, EFF has a one-page summary showing both pictorially and in writing, just how this massive illegal warrantless wiretapping was technically accomplished. Other documents in the Hepting v. AT&T lawsuit describe not just the AT&T facilities at Folsom Street in San Francisco, but more than a dozen AT&T (and other Telco/communications providers) facilities located throughout the United States.

My SWAG on how this all works:

Via Narus STA 6400 "Semantic Traffic Analyzer" systems (as described by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein here), the NSA would hook up to the communications pipes at Telco/communications providers’ facilities throughout the United States and grab voice, data, email and other Internet traffic based on "trigger" keywords programmed into the Narus system. After capturing the "triggered" real-time information on the Narus systems, the captured traffic would then be routed over a dedicated secret network to NSA processing facilities.

The Narus system itself is not the "processor" of the captured information. Think of the Narus system as a "high-end" PC with a supercharged communications card capable of capturing and routing intercepted communications via certain "triggered" keywords, in real-time, on communications pipes that are handling 100s of millions of "conversations" per second.

The processing of this intercepted illegal warrantless wiretapping information would have to occur at the NSA. It is the biggest US government consumer of computing power, and it is this capability that would be required to process the masses of terabytes of information in order to "sniff out" suspects to pursue.

Additionally, only the NSA has the computing horsepower in order to both scan through hundreds of millions of communications per second to flag something in "real-time" for immediate action, as well as longer-term processing of "connectedness" or "community of interest" relationships (3 or more degrees of separation; i.e. the person who communicated to the person who communicated with you, and so on).

The spiderweb-like communications network across the United States to forward this information to the NSA processing facilities must, of necessity, be routed across a secret government network. No chance would have been taken to route this illegal warrantless wiretapped information across the public Internet simply because the strong and stark likelihood of "civilians" (including every kiddie hacker worth his/her Cheetos) hacking around and stumbling across the illegally intercepted information.

Hence, it is a foregone conclusion that one or more of the Telco/communications providers constructed this spiderweb-like communications network across the United States for the specific needs of the NSA, and were (and still are) funded to provide these facilities via that Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

It is likely that these Telco/communications providers made use of some of their "dark fiber" (as the saying goes in the networking world, dark fiber is fiber that has been laid, but is still a virgin *g*) and ensured that all connections were totally segregated from any part of the public Internet network and whose only endpoint destination was the NSA. Something like the "Quantico Circuit" as an earlier Emptywheel post described here.

So in closing, I have to ask:

Which is more important to you? The $165 million in retention bonuses paid to AIG fraudsters or the likely hundreds of millions of dollars already paid, and more ongoing such payments by your government to the Telco/communications providers for the past, present and future illegal warrantless wiretapping?

All major credit cards are welcome!