Surveillance

Report: DEA Has Been Secretly Snooping on More Americans' Phone Calls Than Even the NSA

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Remember kids! "We don't have a domestic spying program"!|||

The New York Times last night published an article that should put to rest the debate over whether we live in a free country. We don't:

For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans' phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency's hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.

The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.

The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.

Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the N.S.A. data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.

Swell idea, gents. |||

How is this even remotely legal in a country whose Constitution secures "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," meaning a search or seizure without a warrant based "upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"? Through the pernicious PATRIOT Act innovation in unchecked police power known as "administrative subpoeanas," so called because the administration can just issue them at will. (Read Jacob Sullum's prescient piece from Sept. 11, 2003 titled "Greasing the Slippery Slope.")

It also helps that the federal government has granted telecommunications companies immunity from their own violated customers, which has allowed Big Data to be co-opted fully by the Surveillance State. And as always, the program was also enabled through its intentional concealment from the public: 

"All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document," one slide says. A search of the Nexis database found no reference to the program in news reports or Congressional hearings.

Well, at least one government body screwed up the "never refer to Hemisphere" order: Harris County, Texas, home to Houston and 4.1 million residents. A Google search on "Operation Hemisphere" and "AT&T" at .gov sites turns up six records, all from Harris County. They include:

Mistakes were made. |||

* An October 7, 2008 "Request by the Sheriff for authorization to….Accept additional 2008 High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Grant funds from the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the amount of $950,000 to support the Houston Intelligence Support Center's Operation Hemisphere to interdict illegal drug trafficking." 

* A January 8, 2010 "Request for approval of sole source, personal services, and other exemptions from the competitive bid process for….AT&T in the amount of $391,172 for Operation Hemisphere investigative services for the Sheriff's Department."

* A February 8, 2010 audit listing "Operation Hemisphere 2008" as a "direct program" from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, totaling $910,705.

* A July 23, 2010 "Request for approval of sole source, personal and professional services, and other exemptions from the competitive bid process for…. AT&T in the amount of $469,407 for Operation Hemisphere investigative services for the Sheriff's Department."

* A February 4, 2011 "Request for approval of sole source, Community and Economic Development, and other exemptions from the competitive bid process for…. AT&T sole source for Operation Hemisphere, formerly Hudson Hawk, investigative services for the Sheriff's Department in the amount of $924,500."

I think they did it on purpose. |||

* A May 7, 2012 "Request for approval of sole source exemptions from the competitive bid process with…. AT&T in the amount of $762,111 for Operation Hemisphere investigative services for the Sheriff's Department for the period ending June 30, 2012."

So we're talking around $900,000 a year to gobble up the phone records of 1.3% of United States. And if it was up to your government, we wouldn't know anything about this at all.

The October issue of Reason, which is dropping now in subscribers' mailboxes (subscribe now!), has the cover line "BE PARANOID: They're reading your email, tracking your phone, and sending in drones." As happens all too often these days, unfolding events have turned out to be even worse than we thought. Was it really only a month ago when President Obama told Jay Leno that "There is no spying on Americans"?

NEXT: Steve Chapman on Obama and Syria

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  1. Don’t knock Bum. We may have to hurt you. Houston city ordinance.

    1. I was a HUGE Oilers fan in the Pastorini/Campbell/White Shoes era. Purely homage here. Especially to his glasses.

      1. I thought there was something I liked about you. Ever read Pastorini’s “Taking Flack”?

        1. No, but it’s GOTTA be awesome! I presume without knowledge that those teams were just drowning in recreational drugs….

          1. Well, Bum DID say once, ” “Last year we knocked on the door. This year we beat on it. Next year we’re going to kick the son of a bitch in.”. So DEA and Bum together makes sense.

          2. Jars of pills on top of the lockers like candy – just grab a handful. Ah…..the 70s….

            FYI Pastorini insisted on the trade to Oakland because he considered himself a failure to take the Oilers to the SB. Bum called that his biggest mistake. If nothing else, IMHO, it removed the one man in a position to say “no, we’re not running Earl 35 times out of 38 offensive plays”.

            1. Back to the subject – oddly enough those jars of pills didn’t seem to destroy the country to the point where something like ‘Hemisphere’ would be a justified govt reaction.

              Why the Hell do Americans joke about drug use, read about others’ past drug use for entertainment value, don’t allow candidates’ past drug use to stop them from supporting them, but we’ll keep this program around even after it’s public because we’re ascared of drugs?

              1. No principles and moral cowardice.

                1. The DEA or the Oiler’s offense?

              2. why? Did you ask why? You know why, citizen.

                1. Shit, I’ll just say it, somebody has to say it. Why? Because Fuck You, That’s Why!

              3. Effective indoctrination in “public schools”.

      2. Went to a Browns-Oilers game in Cleveland back in theBum Phillips and Earl Cambell era. Earl put on a show.

  2. Whatever the DEA is smoking, it greatly increases their megalomania, lol

    yeahtheydtapthat.com

  3. “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you should have no trouble proving your innocence to our satisfaction, Prole.”

  4. It also helps that the federal government has granted telecommunications companies immunity from their own violated customers, which has allowed Big Data to be co-opted fully by the Surveillance State. And as always, the program was also enabled through its intentional concealment from the public

    When Congress finds out about this, they’re gonna be pissed.

    1. i assume you are being facetious because at this rate…..they don’t give a shit about anything.

  5. Was it really only a month ago when President Obam told Jay Leno that “There is no spying on Americans?”

    Obam lied, people complied.

    1. quote italics!

      1. Go BLOCKQUOTE or go home.

  6. Was it really only a month ago when President Obam told Jay Leno that “There is no spying on Americans?”

    When the President does it, it’s not spying.
    Think of it as, “tending his flock.”

  7. Do you want to be protected from terrorists and drugs or not? I think the safety of our children pretty much trumps your freedom to do what you please without scrutiny. The Bill of Rights? What about my right to not be blown up by drug-using Islamists?

    1. What about my freedom to not be blown up by drug addled, obscentity-shouting, gun-shooting Quakers?

      1. What about my freedom to not be blown up by drug addled, obscentity-shouting, gun-shooting Quakers cops?

        FIFY

      2. You have the freedom to endure mass blunt trauma from your local constable. Now, stop resisting!

  8. It also helps that the federal government has granted telecommunications companies immunity from their own violated customers, which has allowed Big Data to be co-opted fully by the Surveillance State.
    Sorry, but I can’t agree with this. In practice, how much freedom do the companies really have to tell the feds to go pound sand? It seems kind of perverse to me to argue that the telecoms should be liable for damages when they’re effectively operating under duress.

    1. In practice, how much freedom do the companies really have to tell the feds to go pound sand?

      I’d ask Joseph Nacchio that question.

      1. But that just makes my point, doesn’t it? If you’re going to tell me that having your company ruined and being set up on insider trading charges doesn’t amount to duress, I’d like to know what you consider duress to be.

        1. But that just makes my point, doesn’t it?

          Yes, that was my intention.

      2. In practice, how much freedom do the companies really have to tell the feds to go pound sand?

        I wonder what would really happen if the head of AT&T called a press conference and spilled the beans on everything, including orders not to discuss it, in the most public way possible?

        1. I want to say that the people would rise up and demand that the government end it, but I don’t think it would happen at this point.

          Other than that, I would expect David Brooks and all of his kind to defend it in earnest, because bad things.

          1. I wasn’t expecting the population to rise up – more that it would be the Glenn Greenwald defense – be too public to just get offed.

            1. Well, they wouldn’t much need to “off” him. He’d just run into an array of regulatory “misfortunes” that, of course, had nothing to do with his lack of cooperation. That acquisition they’d been planning would all of a sudden run into anti-trust and FCC issues. Oh, and those last three years filings? There’s a bit of an issue around the projected useful life you’ve been using for certain assets. And did we forget to mention, those contracts that were up for renewal? Don’t bother bidding on them. And while we’re at it, some of your transmitters seem to be interfering with certain frequencies, we’re going to need to do an inspection and you’re going to have to shut them down until we’re finished….
              There’d be plausible deniability. And AT&T is an “evil corporation”. No one would give a damn.

          2. As a Packer fan, it was awful to see how many other Packer fans wanted to send Johnny Jolly to jail because he wanted to alter his brain chemistry in a way the State didn’t approve of.

            1. It’s immoral, I tell ya! The chemicals will sex your brain. There’s an orgy of methylamphetamines and diethylamides, a whole family of inbreds, and your head in the middle of a gangbang.

  9. If there were any justice in the U.S. at all, this news would utterly destroy AT&T leaving behind a smoking crater (speaking figuratively, of course).

    I can’t wait to see the panel of “experts” CNN uses to excuse this revelation. Think I’m being paranoid? Hey, if AT&T is on the government’s payroll, there’s certainly no reason why CNN isn’t.

    1. There’s a reason this was revealed over a holiday weekend.

    2. I think CNN is more likely just an easy slut who puts out for free.

  10. Only One Big Telecom CEO Refused To Cave To The NSA … And He’s Been In Jail For 4 Years
    …Back in 2006 Leslie Cauley of USA Today, citing multiple people with direct knowledge of the arrangement, reported that shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks America’s three largest telecoms signed contracts to provide the NSA with detailed call records from hundreds of millions of people across the country.

    Cauley noted that Qwest’s refusal to participate “left the NSA with a hole in its database” since the company served local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states….

    1. Mr. Longtorso, I think you just answered your question above. And aside from a few “whacky libertarians”, who’s even heard of Joseph Nacchio, let alone cares about what was done to him?

  11. Well, maybe this explains why my company provided AT&T cell phone is always running out of battery in 3-4 hours.

    1. You have probably just damaged your battery by constantly using unsuitable chargers like 90% of people complaining of poor life between charges. Just because it has a USB port does not mean it has 1A or better of clean power output. Poor signal and excessive use of data may also be contributing to your problems. Moving to a metro area I gained hours in battery life because of the improved reception.

  12. Was it really only a month ago when President Obam told Jay Leno that “There is no spying on Americans?”

    And yet some wankers still insist that it’s weird and paranoid to not believe every word that spills from Obama’s mouth. But after all this how can I be expected to believe anything he says?

    1. See also: “Yeah, sure, I support a total ban on private firearms ownership, but you’re a wingnut idiot if you actually take me at my word.”

  13. I’m done with AT&T. Done.

    1. Do you really think this is limited to AT&T?

      1. Representatives from Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all declined to comment on Sunday in response to questions about whether their companies were aware of Hemisphere or participated in that program or similar ones. A federal law enforcement official said that the Hemisphere Project was “singular” and that he knew of no comparable program involving other phone companies.

        That’s all but confirmation the others are infested by DEA agents as well.

        1. “Cingular” was the wireless company that eventually became the new AT&T, and it would have been operating under that name when this crap started several years ago.

    1. This shoul go nicely with those photos. Kenji, by Fort Minor.

      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6ms1GcbGODo

  14. I would expect David Brooks and all of his kind to defend it in earnest, because bad things.

    Brooks would undoubtedly consider the disclosure of widespread secret wiretaps to be treasonous.

  15. “How is this even remotely legal in a country whose Constitution secures “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,””

    Oyez! Oyez! Oyes!
    We have a new Royal Decree!

  16. This is an obvious collusion between government and law enforcement which clearly violates the US Constitution and completely controls the population. This example is why the whole Patriot Act should be nullified as it clearly allows this violation of the constitution.

    We need to reign in the broad powers, political influence and militarization of law enforcement in the US before it is too late.

    1. It’s already too late.

  17. Article attempts to explain how Romney lost Ohio, ignores the elephant in the room.

    How Ohio slipped through Romney’s fingers

    …after Republicans swept Ohio’s statewide offices in 2010 and the Tea Party piled up victories across the country, Obama’s battleground state director Mitch Stewart admitted to being “very, very worried” about Ohio.

    “The Ohio electorate is older and less well-educated than some of the other battleground states,” Balz said, in a telephone interview. “The working-class vote has always been a tough vote for Obama. And there’s a significant portion of that in Ohio.”

    The Senate Bill 5 campaign in the fall of 2011 was a godsend for the Obama campaign, which used it as an organizing tool, hoping it would energize the president’s base.

    It did.

    And when it became clear Romney would be the Republican nominee, the Obama campaign carpet bombed Ohio with attack ads. From May through August of last year, the Obama campaign spent $30 million in Ohio on effective television ads accusing Romney of outsourcing jobs, having a Swiss bank account and investing in the Cayman Islands. During that same period, Romney countered with $10 million of his own ads.

    So what could have marginalized the tea party and other conservative groups after 2010?

    1. “The Ohio electorate is older and less well-educated than some of the other battleground states,”

      Wow! It’s amazing how shamelessly smug they are-THOSE PEOPLE ARE JUST TOO STUPID TO VOTE FOR THE ONE!

  18. Makes you wonder what other industries they have co-opted.

      1. Doesn’t the Guardian support Press Censorship, Oh wait only against Murdoch…

  19. But, but, but don’t you want to protect teh childrenz from teh drugz?

    Why do you want teh childrenz to do drugz?

  20. Obama did the astute thing and continued this program and ramped up the War On Medical Marijuana. SO ASTUTE!!1

    /Shreeeek

  21. Tech Companies and Government May Soon Go to War Over Surveillance
    Everyone assumes that technology companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google don’t care that their customers are being spied on. I don’t believe that’s true…..

    1. They fear the government more than they fear their customers. They take a look at Microsoft and Google and see how anti-trust suits can appear than vanish based on their level of cooperation.

      1. Yeah, wasn’t the microsoft anti trust suit over a free web browser that came with windows or something?

        “Shame on you for trying to maximize customer satisfaction”

      2. Yeah, wasn’t the microsoft anti trust suit over a free web browser that came with windows or something?

        “Shame on you for trying to maximize customer satisfaction”

    2. Hell, Big Tech has bet its future on Big Data (that is, the creation and mining of huge databases about their own customers).

      Their business model is spying on their customers. Why would they give a shit if the Big Gov asks to come along for the ride?

  22. Just don’t call him an ideologue.

    We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. That was a march for civil rights and labor rights. People wanted the end of school segregation, marchers wanted access to public accommodations, and marchers also wanted economic justice ? including the need for a federal minimum wage that enabled people to earn a decent living. So these challenges are inextricably intertwined, and the Department of Labor is really the “department of opportunity.” Through the laws we enforce, we expand opportunity ? the opportunity to earn a decent living, the opportunity to climb up the ladder of success and the opportunity to work in a safe environment and that you get paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work.

    Remember, boys and girls, if it weren’t for the Department of labor, there would be no jobs. And if there were (and there wouldn’t) they would be worse than SLAVERY!

    NONE!

  23. They fear the government more than they fear their customers.

    The customers are nothing more than zombie slaves, addicted to their precious, precious iphones. What are they going to do, go back to communicating by telegraph?

  24. Krugabe weeps for America’s forgotten working man.

    It’s all hard to imagine now. Not the bit about financial crisis and wage cuts ? that’s going on all around us. Not the bit about the state serving the interests of the wealthy ? look at who got bailed out, and who didn’t, after our latter-day version of the Panic of 1893. No, what’s unimaginable now is that Congress would unanimously offer even an empty gesture of support for workers’ dignity. For the fact is that many of today’s politicians can’t even bring themselves to fake respect for ordinary working Americans.

    Consider, for example, how Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, marked Labor Day last year: with a Twitter post declaring “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Yep, he saw Labor Day as an occasion to honor business owners.

    It’s a bleak, depressing world, inside Krugabe’s head. It’s a wonder he can manage to carry on.

  25. Well, this program targets drug dealers. Drug dealers are people who are so universally reviled that no one gives a shit if their rights are violated. If no one cares, then no one is going to raise a shit storm over it, which is the only authorization government needs to do it.

    And, of course, no one else’s records are ever checked. Just drug dealers. If they subpoena your records, then you must be involved with illegal drugs (just like in Vietnam, where all dead Vietnamese were, by definition, the enemy).

    Like it or not, most people don’t give a shit about your rights, either, so enjoy them while you can (whatever’s left of them, that is).

    1. “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” – H.L. Mencken

  26. How is this even remotely legal in a country whose Constitution …

    Simple. The living Constitution makes the written Constitution a dead letter.

    1. Honestly, this is one that does have the possibility of the armed forces defying the executive. Much of our military is composed of guys who enlisted post-9/11. Especially if the administration tries to go in over Congressional objections, I could see a lot of servicemen simply refusing to go along with orders to basically provide air support to Al Qaeda in Syria.

  27. Let the purges begin!

    “It’s mutiny, I tells ya!”

  28. and I always thought my ex-drug dealing friend was paranoid when he said never mention drugs or any association to them on the phone – even if in jest.

    He was right!

  29. Couple more thoughts:

    Sounds like all this snooping is a nice little earner for Big Tech. You gotta wonder where it showed up on their financials.

    Also sounds like lots and lots of cops were lying in their budgets when they neglected to disclose what the money they were paying for Hemisphere was really for. Why do I suspect that this is illegal? Why do I firmly believe that Nothing Else Will Happen?

    A lot of Big Tech executives were vociferously and publicly denying their involvement with spying. Turns out they lied; they weren’t just cooperating, they were getting paid for it. These are publicly traded companies. For an exec to publicly lie about a material issue is illegal. Wonder where the SEC is on this?

    1. It benefits them greatly to lube up and bend over. Not was it revealed that they are paid/reimbursed for their compliance, but there is also proprietary data sharing going on that they benefit from.

      Whatever legal ramifications other people face in normal circumstances can be rectified, since after all, the entity enforcing the laws is ultimately the same as the one writing them. See the telcom immunity bill

      Almost no one is willing to sacrifice themselves in the same way Lavabit or Silent Circle did, or has the guts to go further and disobey NSLs and spill the beans (maybe unless you leave first and renounce your citizenship)

    2. Also sounds like lots and lots of cops were lying in their budgets when they neglected to disclose what the money they were paying for Hemisphere was really for. Why do I suspect that this is illegal?

      You don’t actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?

  30. This is why we need more government regulation in order to keep the corporations from co-operating with the Government…

    1. There oughtta be a law!

  31. lol, Welceom to the New Regime lol.

    http://www.Maximum-Anon.tk

    1. Surprisingly on-topic, anon-bot, if a bit oddly stated.

      1. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  32. The article blames the Patriot Act but also says it’s been going on for 26 years which makes it far older than the patriot act and this also shows every president has been complicant(SP) in spying on Americans. I guess all those conspiracy nuts really weren’t nuts after all.

  33. my classmate’s step-sister makes $81/h hourly on the internet. She has been out of a job for 6 months but last month her pay was $20391 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site…

    http://www.Rush60.com

  34. So when are they rededicating the rotundra with its new namesake ” Circle Of the Tyrants”

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