Well, This Should Make the President-Elect More Anxious to Overturn Domestic Spying

Getting snooped on by Verizon employees…

Some Verizon Wireless employees accessed billing records from a cell phone President-elect Barack Obama had used, the Obama transition and Verizon Wireless said Thursday.


Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam issued a statement apologizing to Obama. He also said that whether they were authorized or not, the employees who breached the president-elect’s account face possible disciplinary action and were immediately put on leave without pay. [my emphasis]

I’m sorry, Mr. McAdam. Are you suggesting these Verizon employees may have been authorized to access Obama’s records? By whom?

I’m preparing my Book Salon review for James Bamford’s Shadow Factory right now. (Bamford will be at FDL Sunday at 5PM ET.) And his story of Verizon’s Israeli-connected spooky side is way more troubling than the already troubling AT&T Israeli-connected spooky side.

Update: The CNN story on this makes it sound like the authorized v. unauthorized question pertains more to whether people had any business with Obama’s call records. Also note it says those involved were suspended with pay.

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, has launched an internal probe to determine whether Obama’s information was simply shared among employees or whether "the information of our customer had in any way been compromised outside our company, and this investigation continues," McAdam said in an internal company e-mail obtained by CNN.

"Employees with legitimate business needs for access will be returned to their positions, while employees who have accessed the account improperly and without legitimate business justification will face appropriate disciplinary action," McAdam said, "up to and including termination." [my emphasis]

46 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    For what it’s worth, when Time reported that Obama’s computers had been hacked earlier this year, I suspect the Israelis first and the Russians second–because they were apparently snooping to find out how policy was developed. China–who many people assumed did the spying–wouldn’t have expected to have found active policy development as Israel and Russia would have, given the debates during teh campaign.

  2. pdaly says:

    Oh, goodie.

    I was just looking at Bamford’s book ad on this or Huffingtonpost’s website.

    Looking forward to it. Hope I can get a start on the book before then.

  3. pdaly says:

    Does Obama have standing as the president elect to litigate this in court? Ask for any authorizations, etc?

  4. bmaz says:

    Are you suggesting these Verizon employees may have been authorized to access Obama’s records? By whom?

    Heh, I dunno; but might want to make sure there ain’t one of them there “Quantico circuits” or something leading out of their offices and into a undisclosed man sized safe.

    • emptywheel says:

      Or any chummy ties between these employees and the RNC.

      I’m sure they weren’t looking for phone calls between Obama and Rashid Khalidi, Bill Ayers, or Rev WRight. Really I am.

  5. MsAnnaNOLA says:

    I guess this is why he can’t have a blackberry. Some dufus in Verizon Wireless headquarters might get sensitive info.

    Remember the allegations that someone in the government has access to all of Verizon’s systems and there are no records of what they have accessed or when. The guy they asked to set it up released the fact that it was set up.

    • Palli says:

      Yes, this is the sum result of watching our laws washed away without a peep from the leaders in Congress and screaming lies of the far-right instigators… “authorized or not” is now the protection for corporate malfeasance.
      As the white supremists have been unleashed so has every young corporate Attwaterite with electronetic skills.

      We saw quick litigation against the Palin e-mail hacker working at home on his own computer though, didn’t we? And the difference is….

  6. Sara says:

    I am reading the book currently, and agree that the rather short chapter, “Wiretappers”, describing how both ATT and Verison outsourced the software for the bugging of their system to two Israeli Companies, both founded by former employees of the Israeli counterpart of NSA — did throw me for a little loop!!! Not only do these two companies apparently have the ability to key in, and listen to or copy any US transmission on these companies switches — but they can do it for a number of other countries. Apparently the Aussies had a little snit when they found out how bugged they had gotten. It’s enough to make a crazy old lady a mite paranoid.

    What struck me was how all this fits into the saga of the FISA issue, and whether by indirection Bamford has answered the question of why so many members of Congress squiggled, and then voted for the immunity deal. A Civil Court Case would have brought out the detail that the actual bugging of the switches was a not particularly well hidden outsourcing of the actual means to collect voice and data streams to Israeli Companies seemingly connected to their Intelligence Operations, and that the ‘take’ is not only archived by NSA, but also in Israel. — So that’s what accounts for that FISA vote. Now I comprehend it all.

    Bamford’s book is different, but quite parallel to Tim Shorrock’s recent one “Spies For Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing”, and both of them are part of my growing hope that as Congress gets sorted out next January, progressives can press for some in-depth research and hearings on the whole “Outsourcing” phenonema across departments and agencies. It is the more clever by half way of getting around law, regulation and oversight.

    • bmaz says:

      And this is a strong companion point to the one I have long been making about indemnification agreements/arrangements likely underlying the telcos cooperation on the illegal wiretapping. It is all a liability and embarrassment that at least the Gang of 8 (4?), if not the full intel committees are likely in on. they then tell the others “hey, it really is too secret, must pas PAA, FAA and retro immunity”. Or something. Whatever, there is a whole lot o craven going on here.

    • jdmckay says:

      (…) both ATT and Verison outsourced the software for the bugging of their system to two Israeli Companies, both founded by former employees of the Israeli counterpart of NSA

      Geezus… who awarded these contracts?

  7. Hmmm says:

    Huh. Many weird angles here, but the one that stands out for me is: Some of the employees were authorized to access the records, but Verizon is punishing them anyway? Oy.

    • bobschacht says:

      I thought this was one of those spy deals where you get told “Don’t get caught, because if you do, you’re on your own. We’ll deny everything.”

      What’s that called? Is it some variant of being left to twist slowly in the wind?

      Bob in HI

      • Mason says:

        As always, should you or any member of your MI squad be exposed or captured, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your existence. Good luck, Jim. This tape will self-destruct in 10 seconds. [cue music]

    • jdmckay says:

      who was involved with letting an Israeli company implement that cellular network for the U.S. Congress. The treason is endless…and no ‘patriots’ are interested in weeding it out. Ref:


      Thanks for that, Timbo… I didn’t know (or forgot) about this. From Politico link:

      With former Rep. Bob Ney heading to federal prison, the House has quietly canceled a cell phone licensing agreement for a former client of imprisoned ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.(…)

      The lucrative license for an Israeli firm, Foxcom Wireless, now known as Mobile Access, and the machinations surrounding the award were part of the plea deal that Ney accepted last September.


      “The license amendment for the Capitol and the Capitol Visitor Center expansion was terminated because of the questions concerning Mr. Ney’s awarding of the original license to Mobile Access,” Janice Crump, communications director for the House Administration Committee, said in an e-mail. “Mobile Access participated and cooperated fully with the review of the licensing process.”

      At the urging of Neil Volz, a former aide who worked for Abramoff, Ney pushed through the Foxcom deal in November 2002. Foxcom later paid Abramoff $280,000 in lobbying fees.

      (snip Foxcom lobbying contributions)

      The more covers peeled back on whole repub/K-Street/neocon/Likudnik operation, the worse it gets. What a mess.

      As w/so many other things (subject of this thread included) I’ve been wondering… with appropriate sense of dread, why so little has flowed out of “Abramhoff’s cooperation” w/DOJ. It’s really been a trickle at best.

      And given what’s known, sparse as info is… Abe had tentacles everywhere.

      FISA was bad enough, and I’ve learned to have no limits on capabilities & extent of these guys malfeasance. As Marcy said in this thread @ 7:

      I’m sure they weren’t looking for phone calls between Obama and Rashid Khalidi, Bill Ayers, or Rev WRight. Really I am.

      … this kind’a stuff I almost have taken for granted.

      But idea this snooping process awarded to Israeli (and presumably Likud tied) company(s) through US congress, through most corrupt repubs there… it really gives me the creeps in ways I haven’t had ‘em before.

    • emptywheel says:

      Different deal, different Israeli company. This one is parallel to Narus, in that it does the tech work on all the calls taht get spliced off of Verizon’s lines–your calls and mine and Barack Obama’s, presumably.

  8. JohnJ says:

    There is a lot of missing information here; who caught them, and why is Verizon admitting to it?

    Is this some sort of outing of what’s going on by someone with a conscience?

    I would think Verizon would just keep their mouths shut and we would never have proof of this ability.


  9. perris says:

    Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam issued a statement apologizing to Obama. He also said that whether they were authorized or not, the employees who breached the president-elect’s account face possible disciplinary action and were immediately put on leave without pay. [my emphasis]

    first of all, why would they be disciplined at all if they were “authorized”?

    that would be certain grounds for a lawsuit

    second of all, I have been saying from the very start, these companies have been stealing from us, giving them “retro-active immunity” when we don’t even know what was stolen HAS to be unconstitutional, how the HELL can congress give a person who stole property from ME “immunity”?

    I sure hope Obama acts swift dismantling those warrant less wiretaps

    and then I would LOVE it if he made public every single person who was spayed on illegally.

    if we can’t hold them responsible under the law due to Congress’s failure at least we can hold them accountable to society

    • nomolos says:

      I sure hope Obama acts swift dismantling those warrant less wiretaps

      Oh, oh perris you are falling under the “change” spell. obama voted FOR immunity if you think for one moment that he will back track and go against his corporate masters you believe in the tooth fairy.

      • perris says:

        if that were the case then they are “ordered” not “authorized”.

        ya, they could refuse the “order” but then face reprisals, otherwise they could acquiesce and then turn into watch dog and report what they were forced to do

        which is probably how this got out in the first place

        this is why the company is saying they will be “penalized”, they are upset this information became public, they are not upset about the spying on president elect, they were counting on that information and now they won’t be able to use it

  10. wavpeac says:

    Well, I think we all expressed concerns early on, about O’s naivete in regard to some of these things. My hope is that his I.Q helps him quickly understand and solve some of the problems he faces. There has to be a learning curve for all presidents.

    It does seem however that Obama is a big picture thinker. He does seem to have that “idealist” personality and attributes. The advantage of this is that “big picture” and the disadvantage of this is that he may at times be too far out in his thinking. This provides a leadership quality though because it means he is always “leading” us to that “place” out there, that is better than here.

    He seems aware of this in the way he surrounds himself with differing ideology and thinkers. If he has a better than average emotional I.Q (so far he seems quite gifted)he will adapt as he goes to reality as it develops in front of him. My guess is that he is learning at a rapid rate right now. And that some of the stuff he is learning could really change his perception of that “big picture”.

    The world in general is very hard on idealists. It will be interesting to see how he changes over the next 4 years.

  11. klynn says:

    It is my understanding that a fair amount of the Israeli information in his book actually stems from the indepth report by Brit Hume which has been posted here a number of times.

    I realize the site these videos are posted on many may question. But is one of the places where all four reports were saved and transcribed before Fox yanked it from their archives. Here it is again. The info on Amdocs is the 4th report.

    And then there is this story on corporate espionage.

    And for the record, the last time I posted this information, a poster left a very threatening comment regarding my identity. So, I hope the mods will not allow any through this time and perhaps report them.

    • bluebutterfly says:

      Your ‘again’ link did not work. When information is hacked, the Chinese, or the Russians get the blame. It is very Orwellian that there is no mention of all of the spy technology from a certain country.

      Often it is said that the Democrats must be blackmailed as the only reason to explain their votes for things such as FISA. Seems to me that there is only one country that has the capability.

  12. Phoenix Woman says:

    Our phone conversations have been snooped on for decades as part of the War on Some Drugs. But since most of the stories about it have been in Latin American newspapers, not many people know about this.

    Here’s a portion of an admittedly-primitive Google translation of an article dated December 12, 2007 from the website for Radio La Primerisima (originally from one of the many El Comercio newspapers in the US, Latin America and Spain):

    El Comercio. From San Salvador. | December 14, 2007
    Representatives of the U.S. government in El Salvador, once again recommended to the Salvadoran authorities approval of interventions such as telephone legal tool to combat gangs and organized crime.

    A representative of the FBI, assigned to the U.S. embassy, said the need for the National Civil Police (PNC) can count on this research tool that should be endorsed by judges. El Salvador is one of the few countries in Latin America that does not allow the police to intrude upon telephones against organized crime.

    The U.S. delegate, who asked not to mention his name, said that the telephone interception to help the Salvadoran police investigations can strengthen the structures full of gangs and also because this would complement the efforts being made at the Centre Antipandillas Transnational ( CAT).


    The telephone interventions undertaken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI acronym in English) have discovered a series of connections among the ringleaders of the gang when orders sent from El Salvador to the United States.

  13. Leen says:

    Beyond 1984

    That ” Israeli connected spooky side” was explored in detail by Fox News reporter Carl Cameron just months after 9/11. That four part report is worth the watch. Learn a fair amount about Amdocs, Comverse Infosys and Verints(sp?)

    There are several F.B.I. files that have to do with the alleged Israeli art students and the moving company episode after 9/11 where Amdocs was involved with these students communication systems tracking the 9/11 terrorist. Allegedly some of these students were bailed out by some Amdocs hot shots.

    Terri Gross interviewed Bamford just after the book came out and she did not go very far when this topic came up, in fact she went swiftly by when Bamford mentioned these Israeli based communication systems.

  14. WilliamOckham says:

    A few observations:

    1. Israeli firms are very good in computer security, for some obvious and some not-so-obvious reasons. One often-overlooked reason is the emigration of Russian Jews to Israel. Depending on foreign companies for key sigint technology is problematic, no matter what country they’re from.

    2. The whole story of the campaign computer hacking is suspicious. The specific leaks that Newsweek got were not intended to inform the American public. They were all about sending a message to somebody overseas. It’s not clear to me exactly what the message was or who it was intended for, but I agree with ew’s list of suspects, although it’s possible that another country (e.g. Iran) hired some Russians.

    3. Nobody else in the world has the ability to handle the NSA’s data streams. Heck, the NSA really doesn’t have that ability. Other countries would only be interested in very highly targeted use of the technology and, as scandalous as it would be to discover other folks tapping our lines, that really represents much less of a threat to us than our on government.

    4. I suspect the Verizon/Obama issue is similar to the passport snooping. People get curious about celebrities and start poking around. Very few companies have decent internal controls to prevent this sort of thing. Unfortunately, that means that a dedicated adversary can get to a lot of stuff that people think is safe.

    5. If you really want to infiltrate a company, even one with really good internal controls, here’s what you need. Get some folks placed on the night time cleaning crew (that’s easy, most places don’t even look at the id, they don’t want to know that most of their cleaning crew are undocumented aliens). Recruit 2-4 server admin types (half *nix, half Windows), a couple of database guys (or even beter, gals cuz they will get hired anywhere) with data warehouse and master data management expertise, and 2-4 programmers to cover C++, Java, C#, VB, Python, Perl, and web technologies. With a team like that, you can essentially ‘own’ a company’s systems and they’ll never know. In case anybody is wondering, the reason I know this is because my job used to involve helping companies figure out how to prevent stuff like this. The computer security guys can’t stop this kind of attack by themselves. The only way to prevent it is have top notch technical folks with good security training and constant vigilance. Outside of the military/intelligence contracting field, that effort is very difficult to sustain.

    • jdmckay says:

      WO: interesting, thoughtful response as always.

      I do think IBM would differ w/proposition Israeli tech only ones capable of this, however. Beyond that, I was involved in security end of a comprehensive HIPAA product that hit ground running w/new regs in ‘01. If you’re familiar, all that was required for that pretty similar to what this thing would take. I’m pretty sure plenty of guys on this of pond who could’a got that job done.

      Isn’t Bruce Schneier a bluebood ‘merican?

    • LabDancer says:

      Good work. A few additions going to the matter of “authorized” versus “unauthorized”:

      [1] Verizon is a private service provider, and provides that service with certain understandings, despite that most don’t read the fine print. Customer Obama would know, if he read them, that the service provider would reserve the right to review certain information about and generated by or in relation to the customer, including a range of ‘meta data’ – which according to the all the stories I’ve read on this so far appears to be what the fuss is about. That is: not the interception of the substance of private actor conversations [which might also have been going on, but that’s not what this is about], but data like – who the customer is phoning and who is phoning the customer and for how long – concerning which there are arguments, some quite rational, as to why the service provider SHOULD be allowed to review that, and in any event, that’s the deal with the customer – subject of course to PRIVACY concerns.

      [2] The relationship between the Bush Administration generally and the US government intelligence community, particular the NSA, on the one hand, and the private communications service providers on the other, as we know, seems to have grown quite intimate, that is, mostly if not entirely unstructured by law, rules, regulations and policies which in any way limit invasion of privacy.

      [Bamford knows all this as well as anyone living, certainly better than me I would think; certainly, his writings in general, and his latest book in particular, shows that to be so. We might have to nationalize him as an Official Treasure.]

      [3] Remember Watergate? I think that word comes up from time to time in the security and legal offices of Verizon. Remember Lawrence Wright’s report in the New Yorker about his rather disturbing conversation with NSA McConnell?

      [4] I suspect that Verizon has on staff, or near to staff, the sort of ‘political officers’ envisioned in the Plum book, and that Verizon AT THE VERY LEAST has reason to be concerned that whatever passed for a firewall between the function described in Item 1 and such persons may have been breached, and knows it.

      [5] In an effort to get a handle on whether it was in fact breached, and in fact by a political officer, Verizon would have vacuumed up everyone with access to the data in question, regardless whether they actually used that access, and regardless for what purpose.

      [6] Apparently Verizon has got wind of the outcome of recent federal election.

      [7] In theory, all this might turn out to be quite innocent. On the other hand, when it comes to the Bush administration, that never seems to be the case.

      [8] Those who think of Obama being a babe in the woods in relation to this or other subjects are being naive.

  15. radiofreewill says:

    Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee plus Sara’s Comment at 11


    We Already Know Lieberman is a Traitor to the Dem Party.

    So, he has Treachery in him…

    And, he hasn’t shown any interest in actually Securing Our Homeland, either…

    Plus, the Israelis can listen-in on any call in America…

    Wouldn’t a reasonable, sensible person conclude that Joe’s loyalty is Not to US?

    There’s got to be another shoe to drop on this story…the fucking weasel is in the birdcage here.

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