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October 12, 2007


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Nice timeline, ew.

Does this impervious GovNet have the blessing of both political parties? Any idea whether Richard Clarke, when he stepped down from terrorism 'czar' to become internet security head honcho was acting in good faith or helping the Republicans to set up their privatized spynet?

I posted a comment on your earlier Nacchio thread. Wondering if the Fort Meade fire that destroyed NSA data sounds fishy, seeing as it was then the catalyst to privatize the NSA data storage task.

So, is there some kind of secret "black box" contract for the non-Groundbreaker aspect? Is it possible that this was connected to the exemption for reporting certain contracts to the SEC that Bush put through to allow the DCI/Negroponte to avoid reporting requirements? Are there any connections to Dusty Foggo/Brent Wilkes? And was all this driven by the worries of General Counsel at the telcoms about civil & criminal liability? It is amazing to me (well, no, actually it isn't) that the corporate and outside counsel are more concerned about violations of Sarbanes/Oxley than they are about the 4th Amendment, but there you go.

What seems to be getting described in the article is the creation of a National NOC (network operations center) that used Groundbreaker to tap into the Switches of various Telecoms and piped the info to a redundant pair of Sites (probably east coast/west coast.)

As some of the telecom aware commenters on this site have said - you can have All the data the Telecoms have, but it's useless without the management software to understand it. So, chances are the deal also required 'contractors' from the Various Telecoms to work at the National NOC, staffing their own 'mirrored' systems.

None of this, so far, would be a problem for anybody. And, to get $50-100 Million for participating in it was probably profitable business.

My guess on where the line got drawn by qwest - that made the deal non-profitable in their opportunity analysis - was on the liability for 'hooking in' their Customer databases to the NSA's searches and possible driftnets early on, but more recently probably 'mapping' the databases to API's for entity analytics/identity resolution data-mining programs.

Qwest's responsiblity for due diligence, and ianal, would seem to be at least at the level of Plato's "Do you give a friend in a reckless state of mind a weapon when they ask for it?" (In one of the relatively few 'solved' Socratic dialogues - the answer is 'no.')

In the timeline, Qwest appears to be balking at the 'reckless' construction of an element of the project from a liability perspective, while at the same time going along with the 'safe' parts. Ultimately it appears, however, Qwest remained unsatisfied with whatever, if any, legal justifications were offered by the Government to 'immunize' them from mis-use of Their Customer Data.

Connected but slight OT... I have pondered a time or two here about the reassembly of AT&T from its post anti-trust pieces.

If AT&T was handling this super double-secret program that is supposed to monitor the traffic of every telecom, how do you minimize the risk of someone spilling the beans? The answer is that you buy up all the other telecoms! That way, there are no messy agreements that have to be blessed and signed in multiple companies, which would dramatically increase the exposure to persons who may not be loyal Bush Republicans dedicated to security at all costs.

In my opinion, that is why we now have an enormous AT&T behemoth again! It is now a branch of the federal government!

now this is interesting.

and really disturbing.

as an aside:

if a lady running a private "intelligence" outfit can pick off a bin laden speech by monitoring a hidden al quaeda communications network,

why must the american government have the capacity to sift thru and then zero in and listen in on american conversations - or foreign conversations for that matter?

after all, "foreign" persons are persons, too.

british and french and indian citizens are as entitled to their privacy as we are to ours.

the bush admin's mania for govt spying using telecommunications equipment, computer software, and super computers is just more of the james bond/star wars (the missile defense system, not the movie) worship of technology that is an article of FAITH to the right-wing.

their belief seems to be that there is always a science, a technology, and a resulting machine, tool, or device which will solve national security problems.

are russian missiles a threat - design an anti-missile defense. sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

want to thwart an al-quada attack - examine every frickin' phone call in the world which sifting software suggests might offer a warning of an attack. sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

of course, there's the nagging matter of human judgment and motive, e.g., pres bush ignoring (deliberately, i believe) the president's daily briefing presented to him in august 2001 which briefing suggesting terrorists might try to fly a plane into a building.

and the recent matter of the nsa, homeland security, et al having a bureaucratic spat which slowed down the application of a fisa warrant.

does this human failure remind you of anything? how about when the fbi in d.c. would not authorize surveillance of would-be airplane pilot massoui in minnesota.

but hey, all we need to solve these "human deficiencies problems" are more clever devises, devices to elicit presidential and bureaucratic good judgment - perhaps worn on the back, under the jacket.

all this faith by right-wingers (ronald regan as well as george bush) that technology is THE answer to national security problems

is a function of right-wingers illiteracy in science, coupled with their willingness to exploit it for the benefit of their movement:

spying science and engineering - good;

global warming science - bad;

control over their women's reproductive systems - bad;

new, improved nuclear weapons - good.

and so it goes.

always in the service of the movement.

about richard clarke:

i think i recall that when clark was being grilled before the 9/11 commission, he responded to a question of why he had stayed on (as national security council counter terrorism adviser) after bush was elected.

i think his answer was that he had a computer security project he had been working on that he considered of great importance.

so the "two parts" of the communications security may have been

- protect our communications system from saba toge and infiltration, developed, pre 9/11


-use the system to detect terrorist threats, post 9/11.

the former would have been unexceptionable and prudent.

the latter may have been, and, under bush, probably was illegal, involving great criminal as well as civil liability for the telecos.

Emptywheel: "The rest of this chronology just describes how Qwest has built several fiber optics networks for our intelligence agencies--potentially global in scale--that they claim are 'impervious to attack'."

Just for the record, 'impervious to attack' might not be as secure or well-hardened as it sounds.

The Internet itself is (or was) considered 'impervious to attack' because the TCP/IP protocol will route around problems on the network. This was a problem as early as the first Gulf War, when attempts to bring down Iraq's networks failed, due to the robustness of internet protocols.

So it's hard to tell, from this description alone, whether 'impervious' means new technology that hardens the network, or if it's just the same level of robustness typical of today's hardware and protocols. Given that we're discussing a network built, and probably designed, by a commercial entity - I suspect the latter.

This has relevance to the public/private question as well. By 'impervious', do they mean impervious to security breaches, or impervious to network network failure? For the former, you'd want a private network; for the latter, you'd want gateways to the public internet to route traffic in the event of internal failures.

I know this doesn't answer any questions, but I thought it might be useful for people to know the distinctions.

Finally, here's a little pedantic glossary moment to help people interpret and discuss these issues:

Robustness: typically means the ability to keep working despite degradation or other problems. A network that couldn't be brought down would be called robust.

Hardened: typically means that it's not susceptible to security breaches. A network that's impervious to security breaches would be called a hardened network.

A minor edit. This item is misplaced, appearing between August and December 1999:

June 2000: Nacchio meets with DISA ...

JGabriel et al

Discovery channel had a report about a botnet attack on Estonia last year, which temporarily disabled most of the network operations in that country. Has something changed about internet robustness?

The problem of how to move intercepted signals to where the processing and analysis actually takes place, and disseminating the product thereof, without those signals themselves being intercepted, is as old as the hills.

I always assumed this was the real purpose of GovNet, whatever ostensible purpose was given to the public.

smoke, the internet robustness thing ("designed to withstand a nuclear war") is a bit of an urban myth. And today, when the internet is a bit bigger that the tens of ARPANET nodes of the past, the scale and volume of traffic create a different set of problems.

Basically, the backbone carriers have to be connected somewhere to efficiently route traffic between them. If you take out a major peering point, that traffic will try to go somewhere else, but the secondary routes might not be able to accommodate it. And in the Estonian case, if you have a huge amplifier (a distributed botnet) sending traffic to (or through) a central routing point, you're going to see massive delays for legit traffic. Dropped connections are often just some timeout expiring on the path of the data packet. Another often used method is to overwhelm the domain name servers, which map from human-readable names (thenexthurrah.typepad.com) to computer-readable addresses (11001100000010011011000111000011). If your computer can't resolve the name into number, it doesn't know where to send your request.

Internet robustness is also a function of the power grid and power supply; no electricity = no server function, IIRC. Sure, there are batteries to override brief power outages, but they generally are only a 'band aid' while the power is resupplied.

Question in case Friar Wm or any other knowledgeable commenter swings by and has a moment:
What are the implications of this setup for a political operative (Rove, for example) who has authorizations to create, overwrite, delete, and copy server logs, server files, server userID's, and server passwords?
And if there were such an individual, and also if that individual were interested in manipulating computerized electoral data, how would they ever be caught or apprehended?

In other words, if you have a system designed for secrecy, and this system is understood by a user (say, 'Rove'), and this user can exploit the system, then how would you ever trace vote fraud? or election fraud? or banking fraud? or false identities?

Who watches the Watchers watch the People?
And who is able to exploit the system the Watchers are supposed to be Watching?
And if someone can exploit the system, then the Watchers cannot -- by definition and system design -- spot The Silent Exploiter... and if the Watchers suspected a rogue, wouldn't they be one step behind The Exploiter at every stage?

Sounds like system with a lot of potential for anyone with nefarious intentions to exploit the system.
Creepy to the 1000th power.
Looks tailor-made for enabling fraud and malfeasance. Both financial and electoral.

A secure second backbone...

Makes you wonder why the FAA system crashed this summer, eh? Was somebody making a point?

Sorry--wildly OT--but I am jonesing for a Siegelman fix. Anybody holding?

Ack, my wholly frivolous off topic post vaporized.

readerOfTeaLeaves, was your comment "Who watches the Watchers watch the People?" inspired by Carl Sandburg?

Good background story (August) at Truthdig connecting NSA outsourcing, telecoms' easy ride to reconsolidation, with DOJ in driver's seat, selective prosecution of Nacchio, and roadblocks thrown in Qwest expansion plans.

Larry Strickling, former chief of the FCC Common Carrier Bureau, and Broadwing executive says that the outcomes of the MCI/Verizon deal and the AT&T/SBC deal “struck people as very odd and counter to standard DoJ analysis and interpretation.” After those mergers went through, the floodgates were opened.

Says Strickling: “The company that I worked for at the time of those two mergers is Broadwing, and Broadwing was quite concerned about those mergers. We, along with a lot of other companies, were trying to push both the DoJ and FCC to perform traditional antitrust analysis and require certain divestitures as part of the deal and obviously we were not successful in convincing either agency to do its job.”

When asked about the DoJ’s differing standards for requiring divestiture of lines for Qwest but not Verizon, Strickling simply says, “It was an aberration, but we’re coming to expect more and more aberrations these days.”

re: Nacchio prosecution

Bruce Afran, one of the lawyers leading the class-action suit against AT&T and Verizon for their participation in the government’s data-mining program, has followed the Nacchio case closely. When pressed during an interview, Afran chooses his words carefully: “We can’t ignore that Nacchio has been the only one to refuse to participate in the program, and that he was then indicted.” Afran explains that, because chief executives are paid in shares or options, they’re always selling shares. “Whenever you want to take revenge on an uncooperative CEO, all you need to do is charge him with insider trading,” says Afran.

The author highlights DOJ's cavalier disregard of the Tunney Act of 1974, passed in response to Nixon's deal with ITT, which requires independent judicial review of such mergers.

A former employee of the American Antitrust Institute explains, “The DoJ was so sure that the judge would rubberstamp the deals that they gave the parties license to close the transaction before Tunney review was complete.” In a November hearing, a testy federal judge named Emmet Sullivan challenged a confident Verizon lawyer, who claimed that the Verizon merger was already closed and pleasing customers. “If the merger is closed,” said Sullivan, “why are we here then?”

The DoJ learned from its mistakes in heeding even the semblance of law, and when the proposed BellSouth/AT&T merger was announced, instead of a formal consent decree that requires Tunney review, the DoJ simply released a press statement claiming that it found no competitive issues in the largest merger in American history.


EW - Thanks for excerpting this for us. The timeline is very useful because it shows that the problematic element cropped up sometime between the September and February meetings. Some bright light destined for OLC or the OVP saw the potential in Groundbreaker for an added build-out that might not have occurred to the previous management team.

A piece of history here that might explain why a secure GovNet system might have been thought essential by Clarke and others. In the mid-1990s, the head of the London al Qaeda office arranged for a piggyback on an old MCI 800 line leftover from the Gulf War running through Denver for calls from Europe to Saudi Arabia. That same central switching center served both MCI and what was then NORAD.

Of course, that made it mighty easy for NSA to tap those calls. But, as someone pointed out, a tap in can also be used as a tap out -- and that would seem to illustrate a potential vulnerability of dual-use systems. No?

Also, there should be no legal problem for any company nstalling diverters at the switching nodes. The 1994 CALEA law makes them manadatory. It's what's done with the data acquired that's a potential nightmare from a telco general counsel's due diligence perspective. Obviously, what was being suggested as part of the $100 million add-out wasn't just intercepting domestic calls - they're all intercepted and either diverted through Trusted Third Party (TTP) NSA contractors or else stored by some companies that have an alternative type of CALEA-complaint system. So, my money's on Nacchio turning down a White House-inspired offer to develop or install some sort of analytical enhancement of the existing CALEA diverter/recorders.

Thanks for the comments here folks--it is helpful.

leveymg: One of the things I've been thinking about, looking at this, is teh Telecom Act of 1996 (and I have a query into Hillary's campaign for comment on some of these issues). How much of this cooperation was payback for the Telecom Act?

EW - CALEA was a major unfunded mandate, a forced investment in law enforcement which the telcos got back in spades with the '96 Act. Groundbreaker was an enormous 10 year cashcow, but more for the defense contractors than for the telcos, as the former outnumber the latter in the contract.

Could you or someone else find out how the original Groundbreaker and follow-on NSA transformation contracts were split up among the consortium members? That would tell us a lot about qui bono, at least in terms of revenue streams.

There are other benefits to a Total Surveillance Society that may be more intangible, but very real to some parties.

I can tell you, having worked for a couple of the major DC law firms most directly involved with big telco clients during this period, that there was little dispute that the '96 Act, and Pioneer/Groundbreaker, were seens as part of the natural order of things. But, that's par for the course given the organizational culture and mission.

If there were self-perceived sinister motives, it was among the politicos, not the professionals who carried this out. That's why it's so difficult to convince people here that accountability is necessary.

Elliot - no clue about Sandburg. (I'm familiar with the poet's name, but not his work; apologies. BTW: If you want to read some *splendid* literary analysis, swing by Scott Horton's NO COMMENT blog at harpers.org and treat yourself to his two commentaries on Don Quixote).

smoke, wow, that is some article you reference. Between you and leveymg and JGabriel, this is becoming creepy to the 1,000,000th degree.

Any commenters who might be interested in 'mapping' of earlier phases of the Internet may want to click here: http://www.cheswick.com/ches/map/gallery/index.html
The maps are not current, but they're beautiful (and look remarkably similar to brain scans).

if you want info

try getting it from congressman rick boucher, democrat from sw virginia.

he's the house of reps very bright guru on telecommunications,

and, unless i'm much mistaken, had a big hand in the 1996 law.

but he's old-time, though not all that old, and very circumspect.

I checked Qwest's filings in Edgar online (www.sec.gov) thinking there might be something going on in the company during EW's timeline above.

Found this nugget, (Qwest Communications's FORM 10-Q FOR QUARTER ENDED JUNE 30, 2001). Would the WH have used such information as a bargaining chip to get Nacchio onboard?:

"At the time of the Merger [note by me: Qwest merged with US West in 2000], pre-Merger Qwest had net tangible assets with a
book value of approximately $3.0 billion. To properly record the fiber optic
network at fair value, we obtained an independent appraisal that was completed
in June 2001. The appraisal resulted in a reduction of property, plant and
equipment of approximately $1.1 billion. "

This Form-10 goes on at length about a sale of private shares (?)--sorry, I cannot follow the legalese, but makes a point to say that it does not have to name the purchasers. Looks like it was some sort of deal with parties in the United Kingdom.

reading smoke (19:28),

as well as commenters on the nacchio hanging,

it occurs to me that what happened to naccio

and oppositely, what happened to sbc/verizon and sbc/at&t,

is similar to what happened in alabama to former governor don siegelman vs what happened to current governor bob riley,

to whit,

"if you are in our way, and will not cooperate (nacchio) we will destroy you - not just ignore you, not just criticize you, destroy you!"

"if you compliantly co-operate with us, the keys of the kingdom are yours, specifically the 1970's breakup of at&t will be undone, to your company's benefit."

while i attribute the siegelman manipulations of law to karl rove,

my sense is that the only person in government who would crush an american ceo as punishment (and re-create a national monopoly as reward) is dick chaney.

there is no one else in our national government who operates with that special degree of remorseless ruthlessness that cheney does -

a living, breathing, operating american reincarnation of the russian paranoid and dictator, joseph stalin.

Another part of the business plan Qwest was boasting about was the fact that it had land rights of way along the transcontinental railroad. I wondered if anyone tried to interfere with those rights of way.
This is what I found so far.

Excerpt from the NYTimes

Supreme Court Refuses Review of Railroad Rights-of-Way Case
Published: June 21, 2005
WASHINGTON, June 20 (Dow Jones/AP) - The Supreme Court on Monday refused to review whether a lower court [my note: i.e., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago] properly overturned a $140 million class-action settlement [my note: a Federal District Court approved in July 2003 a revision of the original 2002 settlement between the telecommunications companies listed below. Guess who is on the list? Hint: Not AT&T!] involving several telecommunications companies and owners of land adjacent to railroad rights of way purchased by the companies.
The telecommunications companies bought railroad rights of way across the country beginning in the 1980's to expand their fiber optic networks. Adjacent landowners brought lawsuits to be compensated by the telecommunications companies.
In this case, the companies settling include a unit of the Sprint Corporation; a unit of Level 3 Communications; a unit of the Leucadia National Corporation; and a unit of Qwest Communications International.”

The above article was written in such a convoluted way (on purpose I believe) that I summarized it below:

Qwest et al reached a settlement in 2002 with the adjacent landowners to the Railroad rights of way that the companies bought for their fiber optic cables. Qwest et al agreed to pay the landowners a fair price. However, some affected landowners fought the 2002 settlement in court. In 2003, the Federal District Court worked out a revision to the settlement between Qwest et al and the affected landowners. However, some landowners (their identities would make a nice post) appealed this revised settlement and won their appeal in Chicago’s US Court of Appeals. Then (I assume Qwest and the other companies appealed this ruling), but the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Does this leave Qwest et al in the lurch? Did it prevent or merely delay them from continuing to build their west to east fiber optic backbone? Was any WH operative involved in the legal maneuverings?

Have you ever come across anything to do with PROMIS Software? A book about the capabilities of PROMIS that I highly recommend is Crossing the Rubicon, by Michael Ruppert. It talks extensively about the PROMIS software and its back door computer capabilities. He also has a website that covered the whole PROMIS issue (www.fromthewildnerness.com). Not trying to give a plug for the guy, but reading some of the telecom stuff, made me think about PROMIS.


I will try to. It's clear that telco is just one teeny part of Groundbreaker, with CSC taking the lead. So it's a mighty interestin question. No reason to beat up on AT&T exclusively if we can beat up on General Dynamics.

orionATL -- I'm headed that way, myself.

I posted about PROMIS software and forgot to mention that the company involved with with it is called P-Tech. Interestingly enough, do you remember a couple of years back when Neil Entwistle, the British man in Massachusetts supposedly murdered his wife and child? Here is a link from the Randi Rhodes show:


My point being that you are so good at finding the devil in the details. P-Tech, PROMIS, giant telecoms - its all about surveillance.

ahem...This article from January 2006 that Ms. Emptywheel took pains to discredit and author she then spent more than a year smearing


Bush Authorized Domestic Spying Before 9/11

By....wait for it....


Oops. My bad. This is the article I should have cited. Same premise as above. When will the so-called left give this reporter a break


NSA Spying Evolved Pre-9/11
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Investigative Report

Tuesday 17 January 2006

In the months before 9/11, thousands of American citizens were inadvertently swept up in wiretaps, had their emails monitored, and were being watched as they surfed the Internet by spies at the super-secret National Security Agency, former NSA and counterterrorism officials said.

The NSA, with full knowledge of the White House, crossed the line from routine surveillance of foreigners and suspected terrorists into illegal activity by continuing to monitor the international telephone calls and emails of Americans without a court order. The NSA unintentionally intercepts Americans' phone calls and emails if the agency's computers zero in on a specific keyword used in the communication. But once the NSA figures out that they are listening in on an American, the eavesdropping is supposed to immediately end, and the identity of the individual is supposed to be deleted. While the agency did follow protocol, there were instances when the NSA was instructed to keep tabs on certain individuals that became of interest to some officials in the White House.

What sets this type of operation apart from the unprecedented covert domestic spying activities the NSA had been conducting after 9/11 is a top secret executive order signed by President Bush in 2002 authorizing the NSA to target specific American citizens. Prior to 9/11, American citizens were the subject of non-specific surveillance by the NSA that was condoned and approved by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, according to former NSA and counterterrorism officials.

Reporters don't "get breaks," nor should "the so-called left" grant them.

Respect is earned. By presenting solid stories, grounded in demonstrably solid evidence, and defending that evidence dispassionately when it's challenged.

That's where Jason Leopold falls apart, whether his stories are borne out or not.

Some data points on Fort Meade fire. You place a Fort Meade fire in 2001; we posted on a posted on a Fort Meade fire in October 2006 -- that's way too late for a Fort Meade fire to have provided the pretext for creating a contract vehhicle for Groundrbreaker. Could there have been two fires? (Is there a "conveniently timed arson" page in the playbook?)

Datapoints on the 2006 Fort Meade fire:

1. It was in an Army counter-intelligence facility

2. The facility 902nd Military Intelligence Group (domestic dissent) and several contractors

3. The fire happened at 5:00 on a Friday

4. WaPo put (buried?) the coverage in the B section

Interesting. Is it possible we're talking about at least two separate Fort Meade fires? (2001 and 2006?)

In Nacchio's CIPA filing (above) the timeline for the fire is vague and I inferred it to be 2001. He is discussing the fact that Groundbreaker originated from a plan to privatize the data storage (and interpretation of this data?). He is involved in this activity in 2001. Not sure whether Nacchio was still at Qwest in 2006.

Cannot find any news articles about a 2001 NSA fire, but found one for an NSA fire in 2007. Who knew Fort Meade was so firey?

From the Baltimore Sun:

Fire prompts NSA evacuation
September 14, 2007

A two-alarm fire last night at a National Security Agency building at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County prompted the evacuation of an undisclosed number of employees.

No injuries were reported, said Patricia Jensen, a spokeswoman for the top-secret agency.

Jensen said the fire was reported about 7 p.m. in an operations building. She declined to specify the size or type of the building, or to describe the work carried on there.

Here's some additional information that will put the Nacchio allegations in context. When Hayden came in as Director of NSA, he completely reworked NSA's upper management structure and procurement process (1999-2000). In January 2000, the NSA suffered from a catastrophic network failure at Fort Meade that rendered them helpless for 3 days. This event was used to push the idea that became Project Groundbreaker. Groundbreaker was supposed to be the outsourcing of NSA's IT infrastructure to private companies. For a company like Qwest, this represented a potentially huge opportunity for ongoing revenues (estimates at the time for Groundbreaker went as high $10 billion dollars). Qwest's piece of the action could have been significant.

The most significant documents for understanding what happened are on GWU's National Security Archives (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB24/index.htm).

In particular, the Transition Plan that was presented to the incoming Bush Administration and a 1999 presentation on Digital Network Intelligence are instructive because they illustrate where Hayden wanted to take the Agency. Hayden inherited an Agency that was becoming increasingly irrelevant. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant the collapse of the NSA's primary mission. The advent of fiber optics and cellular technology meant that the value of NSA's massive investment in sucking up high frequency radio signals was plummeting at the same time that the spread of cheap crypto technology was raising the cost of its code-breaking efforts.

Those are the undisputed facts. I'll return later to lay out what I think we can reasonably conclude from what has happened since then.

just observing

Let me get this straight. You're arguing that Leopold's argument, that an NSA document reflecting on details that were present in 2000 proves that Bush started warrantless wiretapping before 9/11?

You see, based on the Slate article that I've linked to, I don't doubt Bush did start the program (or parts of the program) earlier. What I doubt is that a document from 2000 reflecting historical actions is proof of something that Bush did. And, once again, the timeline here shows that consortium that Nacchio believed would get Groundbreaker was formed in 1999.

Early 1999: Qwest joins a Computer Sciences Corporation team to bid for NSA business, including Groundbreaker.

Oh--and with the exception of that post on his NSA article (which Leopold subsequently rewrote), I don't think I've smeared him. Just pointedly avoided linking to him, because he had a habit of illogic like this.

I remember an NSA fire late in the Clinton administration. I don't remember the exact year.

By the way, Edwin Black's book Internal Combustion describes a highly suspicious fire at Edison's New Jersey plant in 1914 that sabotaged the plans of Edison and Ford to develop a nationwide system of electric cars. I wonder if we can be sure the fire at NSA was accidental. The privatization that followed resulted in big contracts.

The Nacchio-NSA story made the front page in this morning's Washington Post: Former CEO Says U.S. Punished Phone Firm.

Or was that a computer crash late in the Clinton administration (although, for all we know, that might have been caused by a fire)? Now that I think back, I think that is what it was, and it shut down NSA operations for days.

This Seymour Hersh article from 1999 describes NSA's problems at that time: THE INTELLIGENCE GAP.

Or was that a computer crash late in the Clinton administration (although, for all we know, that might have been caused by a fire)? Now that I think back, I think that is what it was, and it shut down NSA operations for days.

This Seymour Hersh article from 1999 describes NSA's problems at that time: THE INTELLIGENCE GAP.

I highly recommend those links from lysias.

They reinforce a couple of speculations that I have. First, I think Nacchio and Qwest objected to at least two different overtures from NSA. In early 2001, I think the NSA asked them to do what AT&T did in San Francisco, set up a tap in to their fiber optic backbone. In a sense, emptywheel is correct in saying that this activity was part of Groundbreaker. I think it would be more accurate to say that Groundbreaker was a cover for this activity. Qwest would have objected on the grounds that FISA prohibited wire communication interception inside the USA, even if the communication was "foreign to foreign". Qwest was dumped from the Eagle Alliance (Groundbreaker consortium) because it wouldn't play ball.

After 9/11, the NSA came back and asked for "metadata" about their customers and Qwest refused based on the 1996 Telecommunications Act. This may have been the trigger for Nacchio's prosecution (if one assumes it was a selective prosecution).

Both of these illegal activities were precursors to the so-called TSP. The fiber optic taps provided the means for intercepting communications world-wide and the customer activity data mining was provided the means for identifying the supposedly suspicions needles in the haystack.


Where does FISA delineate "tap," though? If Qwest was asked to set up the ability to tap the wires--particularly if it involved data that was known to be foreign--then is that illegal? The telecoms have to help law enforcement when they need a tap, and a switch room is one way of accomplishing that (and note, it's not entirely clear what the division of labor in that switch room is).

See, I think the two-phase process happened (I've been arguing that forever), but I think the time frame might be earlier. Or, to put it another way, I think both the switch (which Nacchio believed was legal) and the call data (which he did not) happened in February 2001. But they only started using it later.

my thanks

to each of the several knowledgeable commenters here

for helping those like myself who are pretty much in the dark about telecom history and practice, not to mention technology.

your comments are now in "print" and available for lots more folk like me to read and learn from.


southern bell recently got swallowed by sbc/at&t,

gov't approval for which deal seemed really odd to me, given the likely anticompetitive nature of the union.

anybody know whether that coup was yet another part of the payoff to sbc for being a good team player?

by the way, e'wheel,

don't know if it's relevant and you probably know this,


re your persistent criticism of senator rockefeller for his less than impressive leadership of senate intelligence committee (in majority or minority),

i read recently, i think at fdl, that telecos account for about 1/4 of his campaign donations.

sometimes money talk; sometimes it buys silence.

WO - I think you have used exactly the correct term with selective prosecution. I have cautioned others here several times about leaping to conclusions about Qwest and Nacchio's heroism in all this; especially in considering Nacchio to have been wrongly or falsely prosecuted. There was a basis for a criminal case. But the same activity has been rampant in corporate life for the last decade, especially in tech companies. Most all of it is either left on the table or disposed of with a consent decree. They have absolutely pounded Nacchio in terms of the number of charges, stacking of charges, ferocity with which they were pursued, and the harshness with which they sought to sentence him. These are all things that are within prosecutorial discretion normally, but when this same activity is so rarely prosecuted at all, much less in this fashion, there is no question in my mind but that it is highly selective and punitive.


The FISC says it is illegal. I will repond more fully when my normal internet connection is fixed.

WO - It is also still my understanding that, at least at some point, on some aspect (and I have no idea what that that point or aspect/project was), Nacchio/Qwest was willing to go along, but was holding out for more and/or more lucrative deals; presumably so that he could cover the financial bugs that eventually led to his downfall. I can't personally vouch for this information, but it, for whatever it is worth, came from someone close to the case.

Kagro would you mind elaborating on your comment about Leopold? I believe strongly that the issues revolving around this reporter have been personal in nature and sadly have never been about his work. That was the basis for my comment.

just observing - I've been commenting here since January, or so, but in the early days of the Plame Scandal (the HuffPo days for me) I would also read some of Jason's articles.

I found Leopold's narrative style easy to read, and his insights fresh, but by no means technically rigorous or broadly developed. That was fine with me, I took him as an edgy reporter vying for stories in the new media of blogging.

Fast forward a year, or so, and I discover TNH, while commenting at FDL, covering the Plame Affair like red paint on a Ferrari. Technical rigor here is the fundamental basis for building a massively coherent, high performance understanding of the stories and events they choose to cover.

Not that artful insight and generalized pattern-matching aren't appreciated, it's just that the readership here, in my experience, tends to be a thousand times more knowledgeable than the man on the street on stories like the CIA Leak Case, and they are tracking it in multiple dimensions - legally, journalistically, ethically, etc.

So, that's a roundabout way of saying that what looks like personal differences might be better put down to different style preferences.

As a relatively new commenter, I feel I get more leeway to speculate and interpret than an article writer - but not much, if I want to maintain credibility with this technically savvy crowd. Article writers (and commenters who've earned credibility,) otoh, are operating at a much higher standard of technical precision than I see elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Hope you don't mind my .02 worth.

... Just my opinion, but I don't think it's possible for Leopold to be dispassionate. There's an aura of instability about him --- almost manic. His former drug addiction may have been an attempt to self-medicate. I wouldn't be surprised if he's bipolar --- or that he doesn't always take his meds.

Lespool you just proved me right in saying the issues surrounding leopold are personal in nature. What a horrible thing to say. Do you honestly believe that leopold is some sort of an anomaly? Are you aware that the NYT lead media reporter has a book coming out about his own drug addiction? How about seth mnookin, former newsweek reporter now with vanity fair, who was addicted to heroin.

What does that have to do with his reporting? Why lob personal attacks? If you have never had a family member struggle with addiction I suggest you take a step back. Its an incredibly sad thing to watch. at least leopold was honest about his demons

It is the dishonesty with the facts that is troubling; not "his demons". Get a clue.

i'm not a fan, or a reader of leopold,

but i hate to see little people picked on,

when there are so many big fools and liars to tackle.

any mob of righteousness, even an incipient one, makes me very uneasy.


who would you trust for information?

please list in order of trust,

judy miller?

jason leopold?

michael gordon?

howard kurtz?

robert novak?

ari fleishcer?

george bush?

dick cheney?

fred hyatt?

george will?

elizabeth bumiller?

michael chertoff?

steno sue ----?

tony snow?

sen (R-Ky) mitch mcconnell

nsa director mike mcconnell?

sec state condeleeza rice?

former sec def donald rumsfeld?

get the picture?

there are degrees of deliberate deceit.

i doubt jason leopold deserves any but trivial reprobation, compared to the company i just pared him with.

Hey bmaz
Why don't YOU get a clue.you have no idea what you are talking about. If all you can cite are a few questionable stories on the Plame scandal, which he reported more than one year ago, then it is you who are in dire need of a clue. Leopolds work on Enron the california energy crisis and his series of reports in the past year on the us atty scandal hardly constitute someone who has a problem with facts. the body of work since Plame has been large and factual and you are perpetuating a myth.

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