Video: Spying on Americans

msnbc.com
updated 10/13/2008 1:54:32 PM ET 2008-10-13T17:54:32

Contrary to assurances by the George W. Bush, wiretapping laws intended strictly for use in hunting terrorists have been abused to enable spying on innocent Americans abroad. On October 10, 2008, investigative journalist and author James Bamford talked with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow about U.S. military intelligence agents spying on Americans stationed in the Middle East as detailed in his new book, "The Shadow Factor."

Prior to talking with Maddown, Bamford spoke with a show producer about the general themes in his book.

REBEKAH DRYDEN,MADDOW SHOW PRODUCER: Why would they be spying on Americans? How does that even happen?

JAMES BAMFORD, AUTHOR: Journalists, aid workers, business people, soldiers. The way it works is when you communicate over there it goes up to a satellite and anything that goes up to a satellite can be intercepted. Calls are pulled in at random, so if you're pulling communication just because it falls into your dish, you start listening to it and you realize that it's a soldier or a journalist you can hit a button and it eliminates that number from the computer and that number will never be picked up again.

And if it's just some soldier calling home to Kansas why would you ever want to hear it again. But they weren't allowed to delete numbers. And once a number falls into the system once, it'll keep coming back. Adrienne was trying to get permission to delete numbers and getting frustrated that they wouldn't let her. She was there 4 years before 9/11 and four years after 9/11. These are educated people with master's degrees who know what they're doing. These people weren't pre-disposed to be angry at the government. They did this for patriotic reasons.

DRYDEN: What's the significance of getting these two NSA whistleblowers to go on the record?

BAMFORD: None had ever come forward before. For them it's a big deal because they're going against NSA rules. It's never happened before where you have two people from NSA coming out and talking about things they thought were illegal-I've talked to people before who said I couldn't use their names. I had to convince these two to use their names in the book-much harder to get them sit in front of a TV camera and tell the story for Nightline.

But they felt very strongly about the issue—they didn't think it was right to eavesdrop on fellow Americans talking about bedroom issues. The problem isn't just listening to it. The problem is those conversations are recorded. They're not erased. Who knows how many conversations there are when you're talking about thousands of intercept operators. Who wants those to be in a database somewhere at NSA so anyone can go back and look them up later. 

DRYDEN: What were they doing with these private phone calls and what are the implications for these Americans' privacy?

BAMFORD: On the screen it looked like iTunes—there's a list of intercepts and you can click on the icons to listen. That's how phone sex convos were passed around. They can make notes, make copies, do whatever they want to. There was very little supervision to that end. They were allowed to do whatever they wanted but when they told a supervisor that they didn't think they should be listening to this they'd be told get back to work listening and transcribing.

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