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[Transcribed from the youtube videos by Tara Carreon]
Interview with Russell Tice by Keith Olbermann, Countdown: NSA Domestic Spying Targeted Journalists
10 21 09
[Keith Olbermann] It's taken less than 24 hours after the Bush presidency ended for a former analyst at the National Security Agency to come forward to reveal new allegations about how this nation was spied on by its own government. Exclusively, here on Countdown.
Our third story tonight, Russell Tice, has already stood up for truth before this evening as one source for the revelation in 2005, by the New York Times, that President Bush was eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants. Tonight, the next chapter for Mr. Tice -- the chapter he feared to reveal while George Bush occupied the Oval Office -- that under the color of fighting terrorism, the Bush Administration was also targeting specific groups of Americans for surveillance, "non-terrorist" Americans if you will. Mr. Tice is prepared to name one of those groups tonight. The NSA was already estimated to have collected millions of transmissions, emails, and phone calls of average Americans, simply by patching into the networks of cooperative telecommunications companies.
You will recall the infamous room 641A at the AT&T Folsom Street facility in San Francisco, in which the whole of AT&T's portion of the Internet was duplicated inside a room accessible only to the NSA.
Mr. Tice, however, was also involved in another program, and told us that he was first directed to focus on these specific groups in order to "weed them out" from legitimate surveillance targets, but ultimately concluded that the "weeding out" was actually an internal NSA cover story for a real goal which was simply spying on those Americans.
Initially, Mr. Bush told the nation all his surveillance was legal.
[President George Bush] Anytime you hear the United States Government talking about "wire tap", a wire tap requires a court order.
[Keith Olbermann] After the New York Times revealed that to be a lie, Mr. Bush claimed his surveillance circumvented the Constitutionally required process of requiring a court ordered warrant, only in cases of clear links to terrorism.
[President George Bush] In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda, and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks.
[Keith Olbermann] Joining me now, in his first public revelation of these charges, is Russell Tice, former analyst with the National Security Agency. Thank you for your time, sir.
[Russell Tice] Thanks for having me.
[Keith Olbermann] Let's start with the overview. We heard the remarks of Mr. Bush in 2005 that the only Americans who would have been eavesdropped on without a warrant, were those who were talking to terrorists overseas. Based on what you know, what you've seen first-hand, and what you've encountered in your experience, how much of that statement was true?
[Russell Tice] Well, I don't know what our former president knew or didn't know -- I was sort of down in the weeds. But the National Security Agency had access to ALL Americans' communications, faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications. And it didn't matter whether you were in Kansas, in the middle of the country, and you never made any foreign communications at all. They monitored ALL communications.
[Keith Olbermann] To what degree is that likely to mean actual eavesdropping, and actual inspection? In other words, if not actually read or monitored by the NSA, everything was collected by the NSA, recorded, archived. Do you have any idea to what degree the information was ever looked at per se?
[Russell Tice] Well, it's actually, even for the NSA, it is impossible to literally collect ALL communications. Americans tend to be a chatty group. We have the best computers at the Agency, but certainly not that good. But what was done was sort of an ability to look at the metadata, the signaling data for communications, and ferret that information to determine what communications would ultimately be collected. And basically filtering out, sort of like sweeping everything with that metadata, and then cutting down ultimately what you're going to look at, and what's going to be collected. And in the long run, having an analyst looking at needles in the haystack for what might be of interest.
[Keith Olbermann] I mentioned that you say that specific groups were targeted. What group, or groups, can you tell us about?
[Russell Tice] Well, there's sort of two avenues to look at this. What I just mentioned was sort of the low-tech, dragnet look at this. The things that I specifically were involved with were more on the high-tech side. And try to envision the dragnets are out there collecting all the fish, and ferreting out what they may, and my technical angle was to try to harpoon fish from an airplane kind of thing. So it's two separate worlds. But in the world that I was in, so as not to harpoon the wrong people in one of the operations that I was in, we looked at organizations just supposedly so that we would NOT target them, so that we knew where they were, so as not to have a problem with them. Now, what I was finding out, though, is that the collection on those organizations was 24/7, and you know, 365 days a year. And it made no sense. And I started to investigate that. That's about the time when they came after me to fire me. But an organization that was collected on were U.S. news organizations, and reporters and journalists.
[Keith Olbermann] To what purpose? I mean, is there a file somewhere full of every email sent by all the reporters at the New York Times? Is there a recording somewhere of every conversation I had with my little nephew in upstate New York? Is it like that?
[Russell Tice] If it was involved in this specific avenue of collection, it would be EVERYTHING, YES. IT WOULD BE EVERYTHING!
[Keith Olbermann] Do you have a sense of why, as you discovered this, do you have a sense of what this was, if it was used, to what end?
[Russell Tice] I do not know. I do not know what was done with the collection. I'm sure the information, the collection, was digitized, and put on databases somewhere. I don't know what was done with it from that point.
[Keith Olbermann] And this bait-and-switch sort of idea that "this is the discard file. We're not going to look at the Media." And that it becomes apparent to you that the "discard" pile is in fact the "save" pile. How did that become apparent to you?
[Russell Tice] Well, as I was going for support for this particular organization, it sort of was dropped to me that, you know, this is 24/7. Because I was saying, you know, "I need collection at this time, at this point, for a window of time." And I would say, "Will we have the capability at this particular point?", and positioning assets. And I was ultimately told, "We don't have to worry about that because we've got it covered all the time." And that's when it clicked in my head, "This is not something that's being done on a one-sy, two-sy basis. This is something that is happening all the time.
[Keith Olbermann] In a broad sense, and I imagine this question would be asked 100 times with much more specificity, what other kinds of information are you aware of that was collected by the NSA on ordinary Americans?
[Russell Tice] On "ordinary" Americans? I don't know. The parameters that were set for how to filter -- now we're back to the low-tech side -- were things like looking for parameters like, if a terrorist normally would only make a phone call for one or two minutes, then you look for communications that are only one or two minutes long. Now, that also could be someone ordering a pizza, and asking their significant other what sort of toppings they wanted on their pizza. That's about a one to two-minute phone call.
[Keith Olbermann] We mentioned this idea of bait and switch, "This is the discard; no it's not, this is actually the target." Can you explain the maneuver, another sort of bait-and-switch, that was worked with the congressional committees that would have had to be asking questions about stuff exactly like this?
[Russell Tice] Well, the Agency would tailor some of their briefings to try to be deceptive for, whether it be a congressional committee, or someone who didn't even want to know exactly what was going on. So there would be a lot of bells and whistles in a briefing. And quite often, you know, the meat of the briefing was deceptive. One of the things that could be done was, you could take something that was part of the Department of Defense, and make it part of the Intelligence Community, and put a caveat to that; and make whatever the Intelligence Community is doing for support will ultimately be given a different caveat. So when the Defense committees on the Hill come calling, you say "You can't look at that, because that's an Intelligence program." But when the Intelligence program comes calling, you say "You can't look at that, because it's a Department of Defense program." So you basically have the little shell game that you are playing back and forth.
[Keith Olbermann] It's brilliant in its simplicity. It's wonderful in its simplicity in a different context. The last question here: What happens now? Can the Obama Administration stop this? That's the first part. And secondly, has anyone from the Obama Administration been in touch with you about this?
[Russell Tice] No. Well, I've been in touch with -- basically I volunteered for the Obama Administration to act if they needed a consultant to Intelligence. And this was last February. And they said they knew who I was, my background in the Agency, but they never really utilized me. You know, I helped out as a volunteer yesterday in the inauguration, but certainly not in that capacity. And I even said I would go on camera for them if they wanted a commercial. But they really didn't utilize that. But I did send a letter to, I think it's Mr. Brennan, a handwritten letter, because I knew all my communications were tapped: my phones, my computer, and I've had the FBI on me sort of like flies on you-know-what. So I made sure it was handwritten. And I'm assuming he gave the note to our current president, that I intended to say a little bit more than I had in the past.
[Keith Olbermann] And you have done that. I think, if that's alright with you, I think we're going to have to do another interview tomorrow, because there's only about twice as many questions left. Russell Tice, former NSA Intelligence Analyst, it sounds corny: "Thank you for doing this for the country."
[Russell Tice] Well, you know, I raised my hand, just like the president. And my oath was to support and defend the Constitution. Not a Director of an Agency; not a classification on a piece of paper; but ultimately, the Constitution. And these things were against the law that were happening. So I was just doing my job really.
[Keith Olbermann] Well, yeah, but doing your job sometimes earns you the lapel pin.