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Exposed: Massive New Spy Center Built to Track Your Emails and Phone Calls

An investigative reporter reveals that the NSA has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls.

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: One of the things that you also mention, one of the key—key functions that this new facility will undertake is—has to do with the Advanced Encryption Standard. Can you say a little about that and why it’s important?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, yeah, the other purpose, in addition to storing material, is it’s a—it plays a major role in the codebreaking aspects of NSA. NSA has several missions. One of them is intercepting communications. The other is breaking codes, because a lot of that information is encrypted. And the third function of NSA is making codes for the U.S., encrypting U.S. communications. So Bluffdale will play a major role in the breaking of codes because, for breaking codes, you really need two key ingredients. One is a very large—a place where you can store a very large amount of material, because the more material you have, when you’re going through it, using computers to go through it, what you’re looking for is patterns. And the more material that you have—the more data, the more telephone calls, the more email, the more encrypted data that you have—the more patterns that you’re likely to discover.

And the second thing you need is a very, very powerful computer, a very fast computer that can go through enormous amounts of information very fast looking for those patterns. And so, the NSA is now also building a very secret facility down in Tennessee at Oak Ridge, where during World War II the U.S., in great secrecy, developed the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. So now, instead of an atomic bomb, you have a massive computer that the NSA is working on to be the fastest computer in the world, with speeds that are just beyond most people’s comprehensions. And the reason for that is because they have to use these computers to do what they call "brute force" — in other words, take this data and just go through it as fast as possible just to look for these key patterns.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to James Bamford, investigative reporter who’s covered the National Security Agency for more than three decades. His piece inWired Magazine, that we’re going to continue with after break, is called "The NSAIs Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)." He’s speaking to us from Britain. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with Jim Bamford in a minute, and we will also be joined later by Thomas Drake. If there was a trial, Jim Bamford might have testified at the trial of Thomas Drake, an NSAwhistleblower. Stay with us.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yesterday, Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia questioned NSA director and CYBERCOM commander, General Keith Alexander, about reports that the NSA is intercepting U.S. citizens’ phone calls and emails. Johnson specifically refers to your article, Jim Bamford. Let’s go to that clip.

REP. HANK JOHNSON:* General, a article in Wired Magazine reported this month that a whistleblower, formerly employed by the NSA, has stated NSA signals intercepts include, quote, "eavesdropping on domestic phone calls" and "inspection of domestic emails," end-quote. Is that true?

GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER: No, not in that context. The question that—or, I think what he’s trying to raise is, are we gathering all the information on the United States? No, that is not correct.

REP. HANK JOHNSON:* The author of the Wired Magazine article’s name is James Bashford [sic]. He writes that NSA has software that, quote, "searches US sources for target addresses, locations, countries, and phone numbers, as well as watch-listed names, keywords, and phrases in email. Any communication that arouses suspicion, especially those to or from the million or so people on agency watch lists, are automatically copied or recorded and then transmitted to theNSA." Is this true?