The Spy Factory: Then and Now

The warrantless wiretapping controversy has taken a few twists and turns since The Spy Factory premiered last winter on NOVA. The show, which will be rebroadcast tonight on most PBS stations, reported on the National Security Agency's surveillance of vast streams of data--phone conversations, emails, faxes--from AT&T's regional switching center in San Francisco. But the biggest reversal came in March, when a federal judge ruled that domestic surveillance is illegal without court approval.

The National Security Agency (NSA) was first empowered to wiretap on American soil without a warrant just three weeks after the attacks of September 11, thanks to an executive order from then-President Bush. The Obama administration had sought to retain the NSA's surveillance privileges; the judge rejected the Justice Department's claim that pursuing the lawsuit would reveal state secrets.

What does this all mean? James Bamford, who wrote The Shadow Factory and wrote and produced The Spy Factory with producer/director C. Scott Willis, filled me in. "What it means is that the judge says what was done there--by both the NSA and AT&T--was illegal because it violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted in 1978, requires court authorization for domestic wiretaps. But, Bamford points out, that doesn't mean the telecoms which cooperated with the NSA will be on the hook: "AT&T and the other telecoms were later given immunity by Congress."

The Spy Factory will be rebroadcast tonight on most PBS stations. Please check your local listings to find out when it will be airing near you.

User Comments:


Related to human voice transposition, I used to work for a software company that understood voice and would parse conversation into catagories in real time, then show clusters of topics to a user via a UI. It was an application I sold to Citibank, CNBC and Merrill among other places.
My point - technoogy to monitor large digital data sets for content has existed years - who is minding the store on these NSA projects, and why aren't they more aggressive in evlauatoin of innovation?

"The Spy Factory" was an exceptionally good report. The information revealed practices of our intelligence agencies that should make a change in all of them. After all.... now we Know!
Thank you for that report.

I watched Spy Factory tonite and I found it
very interesting.I keep wondering if the NSA
allowed 9/11 to happen so that the government would give them a blank to spy on
all Americans.

I enjoyed your "Spy Factory" show. The major problem I see with todays intelligence agencies is their incompetence, and strict adherence to formal regulations. Foreign terrorists are free to invent and adapt at will, and use extraordinary means to accomplsh their mission. Future terrorists will no doubt use mass communications less frequently, if at all. Thereby making detection and prevention almost impossible. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 are a direct result of negligence on the part of US intelligence agencies.

exactly my sentiments, too,James.

Come on, do you really think it was a coincidence that the terrorists' motel was in the same locale as the U.S. intelligence headquarters, and that the master intelligence computer just "happened" to go offline for five critical days? Isn't that what happened at the WTC towers prior to 9/11?: The interior security system just "happened" to go offline for five days or so (while it was being wired with explosives for controlled demolition.)

There may be a lot of things the government is not telling us about their actions that day.
That they were able to wire 2 110 story buildings (and bldg 7) for controlled demolition in five days in off hours time with nobody noticing the mess that Superman was making as he did the work of 1000 men, is not ever going to be one of them. Period.
Never mind all the "wiring" or electronic detonaters were not found. Anywhere. And the wreckage is at Fresh Kills landfill if you want to dig it up and look. Don't forget they searched it with a fine tooth comb for victim remains.
The footage shows, about a minute before the collapse, the outer walls bulging at the floors where the planes hit in each building. Plain as day. I suppose that is part of the great manipulation?

Not really. The attacks of 9/11 could have been avoided had the Bush administration listened to NSA/CIA's warnings. Instead, they felt that the information that was given to them by the agencies was no different than what they had already seen. Not only did NSA/CIA warn them that an attack was imminent, they also told them that they felt the attack would be by hijacked aircrafts.

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