Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Spy Factory: Expert Q&A

  • Posted 02.09.09
  • NOVA

On February 9, 2009, Jim Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, answered viewer questions about the National Security Agency, its failure to pass critical information about two of the 9/11 terrorists prior to the attack to other agencies, and other matters related to 9/11 and national security.

James Bamford

James Bamford

James Bamford is an expert on the highly secretive National Security Agency. Full Bio

Photo credit: Courtesy James Bamford

James Bamford

James Bamford is an expert on the highly secretive National Security Agency. His most recent book, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, on which NOVA's "The Spy Factory" was based, became a New York Times best-seller and was named by The Washington Post as one of "The Best Books of 2008." It is the third in a trilogy by Bamford on the NSA, following The Puzzle Palace (1982) and Body of Secrets (2002), also New York Times best-sellers. Bamford has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley as a distinguished visiting professor and has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Harpers, and many other publications. In 2006, he won the National Magazine Award for Reporting for his piece "The Man Who Sold the War," published in Rolling Stone. A native of Massachusetts, Bamford served as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, and he later used the GI Bill to earn his law degree from Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

Q: First, I want to thank you and NOVA for this documentary.

My questions are: Are you or some other body of advisers working with President Obama? He has stated that he wishes to change the policy of domestic eavesdropping. Do you know if there is any plan to restructure how the NSA operates and end its policy of non-cooperation with the CIA and FBI?

Thank you very much.
Eva Marie, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Jim Bamford: I am not working with President Obama and I know of no body of advisers working with him on policies dealing with domestic eavesdropping. Nor do I know of any plan to restructure how the NSA operates although I believe that NSA has improved its cooperation with the CIA and FBI.

Q: Given the present state of warrantless eavesdropping following 9/11, what are your expectations of the new administration restoring constitutional limitations and the requirement of review by the FISA court before authorization of such eavesdropping on U.S. citizens?
Anonymous

Bamford: While running for president, Barack Obama said he would filibuster against any legislation giving immunity to the telecom companies for cooperation with NSA's warrantless eavesdropping program. But when such legislation did come up, he not only did not filibuster against it, he voted in favor of it. Thus, I don't think restoring constitutional limits on NSA is high on Obama's priority list.

Q: Do you think President Obama's presidency will make it harder for the NSA to do its job?
Anonymous

Bamford: No. I know of no plans by the Obama administration to place any new restrictions on the NSA.

Q: Did the NSA's inspector general write reports covering the NSA's failures before (a) the 1998 embassy bombings, (b) the 2000 USS Cole bombing, (3) 9/11? In each case the NSA had intercepted calls to/from al-Hada that could have been exploited to prevent the attacks, but did nothing with them. If the inspector general did draft such reports, what do they say?
Kevin Fenton, Czech Republic

Bamford: I know of no IG reports written on those incidents. In the past, most of the IG reports have dealt with employee complaints and not about failed policies.

Q: I noticed while viewing the NOVA program that Yemen seemed to have a prominent role as related to terrorism. Given that Afghanistan appears to be the central area of American focus in our efforts against Al Qaeda, what role does Yemen play as related to transnational terrorism activities? Is it still a country where terrorists congregate to plan future activities?
Anonymous

Bamford: Yemen has always played a major role in terrorist operations of Al Qaeda and related groups, from bombings in the late 1990s at a hotel housing Americans in Aden to the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Yemen's capital of Sana'a in 2008. As we note in the program, it is also where Osama bin Laden established his operations/logistics center.

Q: Is there any evidence that increased surveillance has led to the prevention of terrorism within the U.S. that would not have been prevented without the surveillance? We have many claims that torture and surveillance have been effective, but I have not seen credible evidence. Are there reliable sources to which you can refer me?
R.E. Best, San Francisco, California

Bamford: I've seen no indications that NSA's vastly expanded surveillance has prevented any terrorist activities. In fact, according to some former NSA employees, by opening the data floodgates, the agency has become less effective.

Q: 1. What do you think should be the research priorities for NSA?

2. Would you advise a graduating college student to make a career of public service at the NSA? Or is it fatally tainted, in your personal view?
Anonymous

Bamford: Re your first question, I think NSA should concentrate its research areas on what it was designed to do in the first place—focusing on nation-states such as North Korea and Iran and tracking the movement of weapons of mass destruction. It was never designed to look for individual terrorists—and wastes a great deal of valuable resources doing it. For example, in more than seven years the NSA hasn't even come close to locating bin Laden or many of the top people around him. That should be left to the FBI and CIA.

As to your second question, I would encourage a graduating college student to make a career at NSA. Depending on your job within the agency, the work could be both fascinating and rewarding.

Q: Mr. Bamford, How can I obtian a copy of the FBI Chronicle that outlines the activities of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. Is it available online? Thank you.
Clarence Gray, Jr., Midlothian, Illinois

Bamford: The Hijackers Timeline (Redacted) is available from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act, and you can probably also find it with Google.

Q: What role does the Senate Select Intelligence Committee actually play in overseeing our intelligence agencies? Alabama Senator Richard Shelby served on this committee for years. Could this group share in responsibility for the failure of information coordination of these agencies?
Jim Shaddox, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Bamford: The role of both the Senate and House intelligence committees is to provide oversight over the intelligence community. They were established originally in the mid-1970s largely to make sure the agencies did not violate the rights of Americans. By the 1990s, however, they had instead become little more than cheering galleries for the agencies they were supposed to oversee. They certainly share in the responsibility for the failure of information cooperation by the agencies.

Q: What are the laws and regulations underlying the NSA's refusal to be a cooperative intelligence agency? We all heard from the 9/11 Commission's report that there is an incredulous lack of interdepartmental and interagency cooperation, combined with a lot of turf wars. Was one of those turf wars between the NSA and the 9/11 Commission? How would you advise our new Commander in Chief to change the system(s) so that gathered intelligence becomes useful intelligence by delivering it to those who need it, and that what is clearly not useful or constitutional is not gathered in the first place? Thank you for this and your other invaluable work.
Diane King, Houston, Texas

Bamford: NSA relied principally on its secret charter, NSCID 6, which says that NSA has the exclusive responsibility to analyze its signals intelligence. Thus, the NSA refused to pass on to the CIA and FBI the raw intercepts from the house in Yemen. But the agency went much further in refusing to even notify the other agencies about the presence of al Mihdhar and al Hazmi in the U.S. The problem was not one of the NSA refusing to cooperate with the 9/11 Commission but the failure of the 9/11 Commission to look into NSA.

What NSA needs to do, and is now doing in many cases, is to post its own analysts in the other agencies to work with them and get them the data they need. The best way to insure that NSA does not violate the law in the future is to prosecute those who violated it in the past with the warrantless eavesdropping program—Bush, Cheney, and Michael Hayden, the NSA director who ordered the program implemented.

Q: You have spent a career dissecting the NSA and continuing to get documents and information out of them. Have you found it more difficult through the years, as you have exposed their flaws, to get that information? If so, how have you worked around it?
Mark Greenblatt, Houston, Texas

Bamford: Obtaining information for my first book, The Puzzle Palace, was the most difficult because I was starting from scratch. Over the years, I have developed many additional sources, which made my subsequent books less difficult to research. Nevertheless, obtaining details on what is taking place within the agency is never an easy job.

Q: What kind of cell phone do you use/who is your carrier? Have you personally avoided cellular/Internet carriers that you know have cooperated in the warrant-less eavesdropping program?

Since 9/11, how would you rate the U.S. intelligence community's response to their failures in sharing information?
Hunter Brown, Atlanta, Georgia

Bamford: Unfortunately, there are very few—possibly only Qwest—that refused to go along with NSA's warrantless program, so it is difficult to avoid doing business with carriers that cooperated with NSA.

Since 9/11, information sharing has been greatly improved, but I have focused more narrowly on NSA rather than the intelligence community as a whole.

Q: A lot of times we I read/hear that, even after NSA stepped up its collection effort and CIA stepped up its collection effort, there is no "actionable" intelligence. What are the consumers of intelligence actually looking for that they can take action on? How specific does it need to be, how timely?
Erik Likness, Rochester, New York

Bamford: Traditionally, actionable intelligence is intelligence that allows organizations such as the military to take immediate action, i.e., locate a terrorist, prevent an IED, and prevent a hostile attack. This is often the most difficult intelligence to gather.

Q: Isn't data mining an overkill process in analyzing information considering the quantity and complexity of the data and the skills and number of analysts required to interpret that data?
Anonymous

Bamford: Data mining proponents claim it can help identify terrorists, but a growing number of critics say it is highly overrated and has yet to produce anything even close to the identity of real terrorists.

Q: Can 9/11 be strictly seen as a failure of intelligence and communication? There were concrete warning signs such as the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa and the USS Cole, as mentioned in the program. How much blame should be placed on the Clinton administration for not taking more decisive action against bin Laden and Al Qaeda? Clinton did order missile strikes against Al Qaeda camps, but how effective were these strikes in impeding Al Qaeda's ability to function and plan future attacks? In short, could former president Clinton have done more during his term to prevent 9/11?
Jonathan, Brighton, Massachusetts

Bamford: I think the Clinton administration did as much as they could short of declaring all-out war with Afghanistan, which I doubt would have been acceptable to the public at the time.

Q: What do you believe are the principal reasons for the NSA's refusal to hand over the information on the two 9/11 hijackers to the FBI? Was it legal? Bureaucratic? And does that culture persist despite the improved communications between agencies?
Anonymous

Bamford: In my view, the principal reason that the NSA failed to pass key information on to the CIA and FBI was Gen. Hayden's reluctance to involve NSA in anything domestic—even though he had an obligation to pass this information on and there was no legal prohibition against it. He could have easily obtained a FISA warrant to eavesdrop on al Mihdhar's and al Hazmi's international calls, and the FBI could have gotten a FISA warrant to tap into their domestic calls. Had that been done, the agencies would almost certainly have discovered that a terrorist plot was under way.

Q: I find it impossible to believe that the NSA did not tell the FBI or CIA about what they knew. I think it is very likely that they told Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield, and after that the kabosh was put on the information.
Jeannine Barnell, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Bamford: All evidence points to the fact that NSA never passed to any other agency the fact that at least two likely terrorists, sent by bin Laden, were in the U.S. It wasn't until after 9/11 that Gen. Hayden established a close relationship with Dick Cheney.

Q: Mr. Bamford, We saw that the NSA withheld crucial information regarding the hijackers' presence in the U.S. from the CIA and the FBI. We also saw that the CIA field chief would not allow Agent Rossini to contact his superiors at FBI headquarters to alert them to the presence of these terrorists on U.S. soil. The show did not address if anything has changed in regards to the sharing of such critical information between these agencies since 9/11. Have things improved?

Also, could it not be argued that, by their negligence, both the NSA managers and that CIA field chief acted as accomplices and could be charged criminally as accessories after the fact? What about dereliction of duty?
Jack, Los Angeles, California

Bamford: Since 9/11, significant changes have been made to correct some of the problems. NSA analysts are now posted at the other intelligence agencies and instructed to share and coordinate to the best of their ability. Thus, in theory many of the problems have been corrected, but we'll never really know until the next terrorist incident takes place.

A key problem with the post-9/11 investigations is their lack of examination of NSA's failures. I do believe there should be disciplinary actions taken against those at CIA and NSA who prevented the information from being passed. Instead, most remain unnamed and were eventually given significant promotions.

Q: I'm a little unclear about the reason the NSA did not track suspects once they got into the U.S. You seem to say that they could have done so with a warrant issued by the FISA court. If that's true, have you been able to determine why NSA didn't do so? And why did General Hayden seem to imply that NSA could not track suspects in the U.S.?
James Meyer, Gurnee, Illinois

Bamford: NSA eavesdropped on the two terrorists, al Mihdhar and al Hazmi, by targeting bin Laden's ops center in Yemen. The two called the house often—al Midhar's wife and new-born daughter lived there, and the owner of the house, Ahmed al Hada, who also lived there, was al Mihdhar's father-in-law. NSA's technology would have shown that the calls were coming from and going to various U.S. area codes. Given that, NSA should have obtained a FISA warrant to target all their international calls and, had they passed the information on to the FBI, they could have obtained a FISA warrant to tap into their domestic-to-domestic calls.

NSA has never addressed why they refused to do this. It may have been because Gen. Hayden was overly concerned about being accused of illegal domestic eavesdropping, even though it would have been perfectly legal if he simply obtained a warrant from the FISA court. The court would have certainly approved the warrant. Out of more than 20,000 applications over about 30 years, the court has approved all but about three.

Q: Wasn't there a law passed in the Clinton administration that prohibited the FBI, CIA, and NSA from sharing information? And isn't that the main failure in preventing the 9/11 attack?
Anonymous

Bamford: There were certain laws, known as "The Wall," that prevented the sharing of certain intelligence with law-enforcement agents, but the NSA could have passed the information to the CIA without any problems and also to the FBI, because they were tapping a house in Yemen, not in the U.S.

Q: Hi. First, congratulations for "The Spy Factory"! My question: Is there a way cryptography software or procedure could make my conversations, e-mail, or data private? Or has the word private become utopian today?
Norman Martel, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Bamford: Strong encryption is still the best way to keep your information private. Although the NSA may eventually be able to break it, unless they consider you a terrorist they likely won't bother. Also, it will prevent others from tapping into your communications. The problem with encryption is that whoever you communicate with also has to have a compatible encryption system.

Q: What kind of very advanced NSA technology will change things the most over the next decade or two? Twenty-five to 30 years ago, the answer for the CIA might have been digital imaging (used in reconnaissance satellites).
Anonymous

Bamford: I think the increasing availability of WiFi will be a boon to NSA, providing them with greater access to communications and data; they may finally develop an effective and efficient way to machine-process voice communications; they may perfect their AQUAINT program, which is ultimately designed to answer complex questions based on oceans of data; there may be a much closer secret relationship between NSA and the telecom industry.

Q: Mr. Bamford, Including the FISA legislation and more current legislation passed after 9/11, what government agency or group is responsible for NSA oversight? And how will the public know (when it needs to) if the NSA is being held accountable for privacy violations as well as their failures to protect American citizens? Thanks.
Chris Cavanaugh, Plainfield, Indiana

Bamford: Ultimately, the Senate and House intelligence committees are the only groups that have oversight responsibility over NSA's activities. Given its past track record, I don't hold much hope for true accountability or for the protection of Americans' privacy. For at least the past 15 years, the committees have been far more interested in protecting the intelligence agencies from the public rather than vice versa.

Q: I've enjoyed your works, Body of Secrets and The Puzzle Palace. I look forward to reading your latest book.

My question is this: Have you heard or could you verify that U.S. Intelligence received warnings from Russian, Israeli, and German intelligence agencies about possible terrorist strikes on U.S. soil three months to two weeks prior to 9/11? I have heard that the intelligence was rather specific.

Also, wasn't the abnormally active put/call activity on several airline stock days prior to 9/11 a "warning bell" that we should have caught?

Keep up the good work.
Mark Buono, Jupiter, Florida

Bamford: I have seen no indication that NSA received warnings from Russian, Israeli, or German intelligence agencies prior to 9/11, and I have no knowledge of any abnormal stock activity prior to 9/11.

Q: Why did all NSA computers crash and take so long to recover? Who investigated? Who independently audits/oversees NSA?

More generally, why are no questions raised about Op Northwoods, Dr. Ivins (FBI, anthrax), and similar rogue element individuals/cadres within the NSA? Some must have existed but are never mentioned.
Maria E., Camden, New Jersey

Bamford: The NSA computers crashed because of a breakdown in a piece of software that started a chain reaction. It took about four days to recover, because much of the software and hardware were legacy systems, and employees who know how they functioned had retired from the agency. As far as I know, the agency did its own investigation. The only groups that really oversee the NSA's activities are the Senate and House intelligence committees.

I wrote about Operation Northwoods in my book Body of Secrets. I know of no connection between Dr. Ivins and NSA.

Q: With the dramatic increase of VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol], how is the NSA handling this technology? Skype, for instance, is encrypted in 128- or 256-bit form point-to-point if the call is over the Internet. Even if they did decrypt the calls, how could they pick which calls to encrypt from the shear volume of calls?
Richard H., Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Bamford: As I discuss in my book The Shadow Factory, VoIP presents a problem for NSA, but there are indications that NSA may have gotten secret cooperation from some of the VoIP companies. With cooperation, intercept and analysis becomes much easier.

Q: Do you see the scope and breadth of eavesdropping on communications in the U.S. expanding as time goes on, and if so, propelled by what circumstances?
Thomas Nelms, Kansas City, Missouri

Bamford: Unless tamed by the Obama administration, the natural tendency is for NSA to continue expanding its coverage area within the U.S. If another domestic terrorist incident takes place, the pace of that expansion will grow exponentially.

Q: Does NSA still have military intelligence agencies working under its arm, such as the former top-secret Army Security Agency in which I worked as a communications analyst and North Vietnamese translator? If so, which U.S. military agencies report to it?
Anonymous

Bamford: Yes, the various military signals intelligence agencies make up the Central Security Service, which is the NSA's military wing. The director of NSA is also the chief of the CSS.

[Editor's note: The following are two of many questions we received about the USS Liberty incident. The Liberty, an NSA signals intelligence ship operated by the U.S. Navy, was attacked by Israeli fighters and torpedo boats in 1967 during the Six-Day War. Thirty-four crew members were killed and more than 170 wounded.]

Q: Dear Jim, I and my shipmates are of the mindset that if the true story comes out on the USS Liberty that it will break our passionate attachment with the state of Israel. No more wars for Israel, no more money, no more weapons, no more spies.

Congrats on your new book. Thank you for hopefully taking my question. What are your thoughts on what we think? Also, thank you for Body of Secrets and the chapter about USS Liberty!

Respectfully,
Phillip F. Tourney
USS Liberty Survivor, and Three-time president USS Liberty Veterans

Q: I am one of the survivors of the deliberate attack on the USS Liberty. Why won't our government release the findings of the Congressional Subcommittee that supposedly investigated the USS Liberty attack? I have an e-mail from my Senator from Wyoming saying that it was investigated, but they don't know when the results will be released. Over 40 years and still covered up. How can they get away with this???
Ronald Kukal, Sheridan, Wyoming

Bamford: In my chapter on the USS Liberty in Body of Secrets, I pointed out that it was highly unlikely that Israel could have attacked the Liberty by mistake—a view also held by the director and deputy director of NSA at the time as well as the director of the CIA, Richard Helms, and many other senior officials. I also pointed out that, unlike the attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa, the attack on the USS Cole, and the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the FBI was never sent to investigate. This despite the fact that it was the most violent attack on a U.S. Navy warship in peacetime U.S. history. Thus, I called on the Clinton administration and Congress to at last conduct a similar investigation into the attack on the USS Liberty while many of those involved, on the ship and in Israel, were still alive. That is still my position.

Q: Is the NSA behind the curve in terms of technology? What is the status of Echelon? To what extent is it still being used?
Doug Olson, Santaquin, Utah

Bamford: NSA is behind the curve in some technologies, particularly voice translation and linguistics, and ahead of the curve in others, such a computer and satellite technology. Echelon is a legacy system, because most telecom providers have switched from satellites to undersea fiber-optic cables.

Q: You must be aware that private individuals with enough money can buy their own spy technology or the services of experts. They spy on other private individuals, for personal reasons. Their victims and local police departments may have a hard time catching them. Such activity is no holds barred, because it's illegal.

Do you think it could be an even more serious threat to privacy than the intrusion of government agencies? Also, the more money a person has, the more he can play the system, in order to put a cover on illegal activity.
Anonymous

Bamford: I'm not too familiar with the use of signals intelligence equipment by private individuals.

Q: Are measures now in place to prevent future attacks? And does the closing of GITMO and offshore interrogations significantly diminish our intelligence?
Dick Hurst, West Bloomfield, Michigan

Bamford: It is hard to say. Traditionally, the intelligence community spends most of its time fighting the last battle, while the terrorists find new targets to hit. I don't think the closing of GITMO and offshore interrogations will have any effect on intelligence, but they will have a positive effect America's standing around the world.

Q: So much of the success of integrating data across organizations to obtain information depends on institutional cultures that support integration and collaboration. Have the cultures of the NSA and CIA begun to change to support the integration of data?
Anonymous

Bamford: The cultures have certainly changed for the positive since 9/11, but whether they have changed enough is yet to be seen.

Q: I have known about the spying on the American public for quite some time now. In the last, say, six to seven months, I have been noticing a clicking sound on my phone when I am engaged in a conversation with friends and family. Is there a possibility that I am being spied upon?
Laurel, Danville, Illinois

Bamford: It's impossible for me to say.

Q: You have written so much on intelligence. Do you believe that there are other agencies in the Intelligence Community that the public does not know about? By this I mean do you believe that there are agencies out there that have even their names classified?
David Deno, Plattsburgh, New York

Bamford: Yes, there are almost certainly a number of organizations that are completely "black," such that even their existence is classified.

Q: Thanks to NOVA for covering this topic and especially to James Bamford for writing about it. It is a shame NOVA did not interview a constitutional scholar to discuss the implications to our liberty.

If I understood NOVA correctly, the NSA is recording and storing essentially 100% of electronic communications anywhere the U.S. can intercept them, including of Americans inside the U.S. talking to one another. They are only able to review a very tiny fraction of those communications, especially the most important ones, because few of the people they have listening are fluent in foreign languages. One infers they preferentially review communications in English, because those are easy. The remainder of conversations are reviewed by computer keyword searching. This implies that they are penetrating into the inner communications envelope, not merely looking at information on who is sending or receiving.

My question is that this seems to make it very obvious that NSA Director Hayden and President Bush systematically and repeatedly lied to the American people and to the Congress. Do you agree?
Anonymous

Bamford: Based on my research, it appears that the NSA has gained access to most of the data communications entering, leaving, and within the U.S. Those communications, such as e-mail messages, are filtered through NSA equipment that scans them for key words, names, addresses, and other criteria. With regard to phone calls, the NSA has less access, targeting specific communications channels but not all channels, because the scanning requires humans rather than just computers.

Whether or not Bush and Hayden lied is difficult to determine. However, it is clear that they violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which makes it a felony punishable by five years in prison each time they bypassed the FISA court.

Q: Why wasn't there any discussion about the de facto and regulatory prohibitions on interagency information sharing? There is some controversy about the Goerlick Memo issued under the Clinton administration, but no dispute that starting under the Carter administration there was a cultural and de facto prohibition for intelligence sharing.
Dale Jelinek, Irvine, California

Bamford: While there have been some restrictions on the movement of certain wiretap intelligence between intelligence agencies and law-enforcement organizations, there is no question that NSA could have obtained a FISA warrant to eavesdrop on the international communications of suspected terrorists in the U.S. The FBI could also have legally obtained a FISA warrant to eavesdrop on the domestic communications of suspected terrorists in the U.S. The problem was the NSA never told the FBI that there were terrorists within the U.S.

Q: It would be great if you could explain exactly what makes you an "expert on the NSA." The fact that you wrote a few books on the Agency, or the fact that you were an "intelligence analyst" in the Navy during Vietnam? Let's see, the Vietnam war ended almost 35 years ago. A lot has changed in the intelligence community since then. As to writing books: How does that make you an expert, as the information certainly does not have to be accurate?

The fact that America has not sustained an attack in the last seven-plus years is no accident. It is because of the dedicated professionals who work in the intelligence community and the fact that George W. Bush gave the intelligence community the resources to do the job.
Anonymous

Bamford: The fact that I have written the only three books on NSA I think certainly qualifies me as an expert on the agency. In addition, I have testified numerous times as an expert witness on NSA in various Federal courts and in various committees of Congress. I have also given lectures on NSA at virtually every U.S. intelligence agency, including the CIA, NSA, and DIA.

Actually, because of the Bush administration's ill-conceived and disastrous war on Iraq, there was little need for Al Qaeda to kill Americans in America when they could kill them much more easily in Iraq. Thus, more Americans have been killed in Iraq than were killed during 9/11. I hardly consider that a success. Also, the terrorists have a great deal of patience—more than eight years elapsed between the first attack on the World Trade Center and the second on 9/11.

Q: How can you be an expert on the NSA if you never worked there?
Anonymous

Bamford: If I had worked at NSA, I could not write about NSA. Besides, there are many experts on the presidency who have never been president.

Q: Recently, did the NSA intentionally create a secret backdoor in a cryptographic algorithm that is now apart of an official government standard?
Anonymous

Bamford: It is certainly possible, but I have no direct knowledge of it.

Q: James,
I live in Columbia, Maryland, about a 10-minute drive from the Valencia Motel in Laurel, Maryland. Before 9/11 we had a Middle Eastern family rent a home in our cul de sac for a year, maybe more. I seem to recall one of them drove a vehicle with diplomatic plates. They had a large family but always kept to themselves. They packed and left the country before 9/11. I realize this information is stale at this point, but is it worth relaying to anyone? I do not have any proof of a connection to the hijackers, but something about these former neighbors didn't seem right.
Anonymous

Bamford: Based on the information you present, there does not seem to be anything suspicious. The Washington area is filled with foreign diplomats from all parts of the world, including the Middle East. And if they did not speak English very well, it is likely they would tend to keep to themselves. Thus, I don't think there is anything to report, and I think there is a danger when people become overly suspicious of others simply because they happen to be from the Middle East.

Q: Hi James:
Did Al Qaeda ever really have another big attack prepared as a follow-up to 9/11? Any evidence for that? I've always thought that, just as the Japanese didn't have another attack on U.S. soil planned as a follow-up to Pearl Harbor, bin Laden didn't have a big follow-up planned either.
Tom Provenzano, Vienna, Virginia

Bamford: From my research, it appears that at one time bin Laden had planned a follow-up attack, this time targeting Israel, but later cancelled it.

Q: 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser wrote about the CIA's withholding of intelligence from the FBI (see www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-breitweiser/enabling-danger-part-one_b_5951.html): "Once, twice, maybe even three times could be considered merely careless oversights. But at least seven documented times? To me, that suggests something else." To her it was "purposeful." One such instance at a June 11th meeting in NYC was a shouting match. Mustn't we, in the search for the truth, at least consider the possibility that it was deliberate and search for an answer, or explanations, as to why?
Anonymous

Bamford: I think that both the NSA and the CIA did deliberately—or purposefully—withhold key information, and this has never been properly investigated by the 9/11 Commission or any other body.

Q: Mr. Bamford,
If you really believe all the facts stated in your book and believe Mr. Rossini is telling the truth in his statement as a true patriot and, above all, a true American, then help him get exonerated and reinstated as a field agent in the FBI. He's been dragged through mud and his patriotism questioned. Heck, he's been labeled a spy even, just to discredit his side of the story in support of your belief in the truth. Please help him get his dignity and self-respect back, for he has served his country to the best of his ability and doesn't deserve to be a scapegoat of a failed administration and its policies. Thank you.
Tony Hosri, New York, New York

Bamford: I thought it was outrageous that Mark Rossini was forbidden by the FBI from telling what actually happened in the CIA's Alec Station on 9/11, and why he was forbidden by the CIA to relay the details of al Mihdhar's U.S. visa to FBI Headquarters. The reason given by the FBI's spokesman, John Miller, was that it might hurt some feelings at the CIA—hardly a valid reason for withholding critical information from the American public about the worse terrorist incident in U.S. history. Coming forward, I believe, was both an act of courage and patriotism on the part of Mark Rossini.

Q: From my stint in the ASA, I have some understanding of the value of the NSA. During the Cold War, our adversaries were much different than now. How do you think we should approach the U.S. citizens who subscribe to the tenets of the terrorists' cause?
Bob Moyer, Medina, Ohio

Bamford: There are more than enough laws on the books to prosecute people who engage in terrorism or conspire to engage in terrorism. If someone violates the law, they should be prosecuted. If not, they should not be.

Q: I was aircrew for TWA at JFK beginning April/May of 2001. When reporting for duty, the company posted "alerts" when we clocked in for a flight. No one at United Airlines confirms they got similar alerts. They lost two planes and many lives. Why did a high-up at NY Center on Long Island destroy tapes made by Air Traffic Control? Why did ATC not react to aircraft moving rapidly toward NYC, transponders off? Why was USAF on maneuvers out over the Atlantic that moment? Will we now learn what really happened? The truth will out eventually.
Anonymous

Bamford: All good questions, but I do not have the answers.

Q: Mr. Bamford,
Why do we continually focus on what the CIA could have done to help prevent 9/11 instead of focusing on the primary motivation for it (and the earlier attack on the World Trade Center in 1993), which was U.S. support for Israel's brutal oppression of the Palestinians, as you so accurately conveyed in your book A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies and which I mentioned to 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton in the "What Motivated the 9/11 Hijackers?" YouTube video?
James Morris, Los Angeles, California

Bamford: I agree that treating only the effects of terrorism and not the causes is self-defeating. Unlike the Bush administration, the Obama administration must do both.

Related Links

  • The Spy Factory

    Examine the high-tech eavesdropping carried out by the National Security Agency.

  • The New Thought Police

    George Orwell's secret police have nothing on two new National Security Agency systems designed to read people's minds.

  • Investigating 9/11

    Eleanor Hill, who led congressional hearings on the attacks, discusses pre-9/11 intelligence failures in this interview.

  • Decoding Speech

    In your own tongue, you can easily recognize and transcribe spoken language, but for a computer it’s a formidable task.