Whistleblower: NSA even collected credit card records
David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster
Published: Thursday January 22, 2009
Ex-analyst believes program actually the remnants of 'Total Information Awareness,' shut down by Congress in 2003
On Wednesday night, when former NSA analyst Russell Tice told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann that the Bush administration's National Security Agency spied on everyone in the United States, specifically targeting journalists, the Countdown host was so flabbergasted that Tice was invited back for a second interview.
On Thursday, he returned to the airwaves with expanded allegations against the NSA, claiming the agency collected Americans' credit card records, and adding that he believes the massive, warrantless data vacuum to be the remnants of the Total Information Awareness program, shut down by Congress in 2003.
Asked for comment by Olbermann's staff, the agency responded, "NSA considers the constitutional rights of US citizens to be sacrosanct. The intelligence community faces immense challenges in protecting our nation. No matter the challenges, NSA remains dedicated to performing its mission under the rule of law."
Olbermann ran the quote under a banner which read, "Non-denial denial."
"As far as the wiretap information that made it though NSA, there was also data-mining that was involved," Tice told Olbermann during the pair's second interview. "At some point, information from credit card records and financial transactions was married in with that information."
At this point on the audio track, Olbermann can be heard taking a deep breath.
"So, lucky American citizens, tens of thousands of whom are now on digital databases at NSA, who have no idea of this, also have that information included in those digital files that have been warehoused," said Tice.
"... Do you have any idea what all this stuff was used for?" asked the stunned host.
"The obvious explanation would be, if you did have a potential terrorist, you'd want to know where they're spending money, whether they purchased an airline ticket, that sort of thing," said Tice. "But, once again, we're talking about tens of thousands of innocent US citizens that have been caught up into this trap. They have no clue.
"This thing could sit there for 10 years, then all the sudden it marries up with something else 10 years from now, and 10 years from now they get put on a no-fly list and they of course won't have a clue why."
Tice added that "in most cases," spied-upon Americans didn't have to do anything suspicious in order to trigger the surveillance.
"This is garnered from algorithms that have been put together to try to just dream up scenarios that might be information that is associated with how a terrorist could operate," he said.
Ultimately, the technical explanation boils down to this: "If someone just talked about the daily news and mentioned something about the Middle East, they could easily be brought to the forefront of having that little flag put by their name that says potential terrorist," said Tice.
"Do you know, or do you have an educated guess, as to who authorized this? Who developed this?" asked Olbermann.
"I have a guess, where it was developed," he replied. "I think it was probably developed out of the Department of Defense, and this is probably the remnants of Total Information Awareness, that came out of DARPA. That's my guess, I don't know that for sure."
Olbermann then asked if Tice knows who had access to the data.
"I started looking into this, and that's when ultimately they came after me to fire me," said Tice. "They must have realized that I'd stumbled onto something, and after that point I of course had no ability to find anything else out."
Tice concluded that he does not know if the program, as he understands it, continues to this day, and he refused to specifically state which media organizations the Bush administration's NSA had targeted for surveillance.