NSA Collection: Show Me the $$

As part of its superb piece on NSA spying on Tuesday, Frontline included interviews with key sources. In my opinion, the most enlightening was that with former HPSCI staffer Diane Roark, so you should read that entire interview (especially her comments on NSA at 9/11).

Both she and Tom Drake mention a part of the illegal NSA program that has been largely forgotten: the financial records. Here’s Roark’s non-denial.

And from what you knew at that point, what type of information was taken, and how pervasive was the collection?

It is now quite obvious, since the Snowden revelations, that the program grew progressively over time. Initially, I knew that it involved a lot of broad domestic surveillance, bulk collection, domestically. And I knew that it involved emails, landlines, regular house phones, cell phones. I also knew that they had branched out into non-communications data.

Which is what, bank records? 

I’m not really — they have not acknowledged that. All I can tell you is that when I met the second time with Gen. Hayden in July, I said to him that it appeared the program was expanding, not only in number of servers, but also that two new data categories had recently been added, and he nodded to confirm that. I knew that one of those data programs was not communications data. …

And other commentators have made allusions to other personal data that may be collected. Of course, we all know that transportation data, airline data is connected. We know that international banking data is collected; that has been acknowledged. But there have been allusions to other items, too, by people hypothetically, such as credit, medical, banking and so on.

And here’s Drake’s more explicit mention of it.

You watched the president [George W. Bush] come out and say this is a valuable program; one side of the communications has to be outside; we’re following terrorists; this has prevented attacks on our country. The vice president [Dick Cheney] attacks the Times for publishing. You’re watching this, and you know what’s going on inside. What are you thinking?

This actually was part of the triggering event for me in which increasingly I knew I was going to have to touch the third rail, back to your earlier question. I realized that they were lying, that they were desperate to protect the domestic surveillance program. And so they could use the excuse, although it was still in violation of FISA, that as long as one link somehow was tied to a suspected terrorist, that justified collecting or targeting the link that was in the United States proper.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. The far larger program was the dragnet surveillance, the vast bulk copy of millions and millions of phone records, email records, Internet usage and financial transactional and credit card information.

Since the Snowden leaks started we’ve heard almost nothing about this. There have been the two stories about the CIA collecting Western Union records with at least one end foreign. There is the 2010 Section 215 order tied to an allegedly specific investigation, which must long post-date the CIA-related orders.

What happened to this collection? Is it the April 2, 2004 modification we have never learned about? Is it the second secret Section 215 appendix included in Glenn Fine’s 2008 report? Have they been accomplishing this via NSLs, or perhaps only recently moved it to Section 215? I have suggested in the past that for domestic records, FBI would be the likely lead … is that right?

The financial records collection has, outside of Shane Harris’ book (on TIA), completely disappeared.

But it must be under a new shell somewhere.

27 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    Caught part of the Frontline show only, it WAS good. As soon as I turned it on, I immediately felt sorry for the subject (target) of the show; you know you are in trouble when Will Lyman is the narrator.

    • bloopie2 says:

      Forgot to mention: I couldn’t help but smile at the end of the Frontline show, when they said go to our website for more info, and then they asked for my name and email address so they could keep in touch with me.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    “It must be under a new shell somewhere”. Indeed; the silence is deafening. Which calls to mind another underlying question – how big is all of this? That is, when it all comes out (to the extent that it does) — NSA, FBI, CIA, the whole spying apparatus — will one normal-length book be enough to cover it all in reasonable detail? Or will we need a new Remembrance of Things Past?

    • harpie says:

      Even if it were a thousand pages, it would be great if it really were the remembrance of things past. ;-)

  3. orionATL says:

    drake: …”i realized that they were lying, that they were desperate to protect the domestic surveillance program…”


    – because it was productive of leads to prevent terrorism?

    – because they hoped/believed it might become productive?

    – because it might influence the 2004 vote against pres bush?

    – because it allowed surreptitious federal police supervision of anti-war or anti-bush domestic political action?

    – because it allowed the surreptitous supervision of political opponents,including 2004 presidential and congressional election opponents

    millions upon tens of millions of personal records to prevent one terrorism attack? overreach!!!

    • orionATL says:

      and now our leaders in congress are preparing to serve up to us under the deceitful label of delicious “reform”,

      a kosherization bill that serves no purpose more fully than to further legitimize this vast set of redundant programs which are de facto abusive of citizens’ rights and greatly threatening to citizens’ political liberties.

    • bloopie2 says:

      I’m not convinced they have such motives. I believe that they really think this information will somehow someday find them a terrorist; that there is nothing wrong or illegal about collecting and analyzing it for that purpose; and that the policy has yet to catch up with the capability. Of course, that doesn’t make it right.

      • orionATL says:

        i really don’t know for sure what “their” motives were.

        i only am a firm believer in the hideous evil that large-scale corporate or government institutions mindlessy, effortlessly generate fro time-to-time.

  4. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    One of the more informative aspects of this outstanding Frontline presentation was watching Bill Keller, former executive editor of the NYT, squirm in his seat trying to justify and explain why his newspaper did not publish information it had acquired on NSA surveillance prior to the 2004 election. Just as Tony Blair will have to live with his decision to involve Great Britain in the Iraq War, Mr. Keller will have to live with the realization that he gave a pass to George W. Bush that made it possible for him to be reelected.

    • chronicle says:

      Speaking of squirming, at certain points in the program, they interviewed Hayden. You could tell when he was lying by the nervous twitch in his face, whereby he tried to cover it up with a look of indignation and smugness, as if he believed he had just pull the wool over the entire viewership’s heads. Hayden makes me sick to my stomach.

      • abbadabba says:

        Love the way they let the camera linger…for a micro-expressive moment. Of course we can’t hear what they might then have be asking, but I bet they chose to remain silent. I hate it when the doctor doesn’t have anything to say about my occult stooly sample.

        IS IT SAFE?

  5. lefty665 says:

    Curious we haven’t seen much of anything on financial or medical records from Snowden. Could it be because they are commercially available, no Constitutional protections, and thus a lower priority?
    Believe I remember you posting on FISA changes that explicitly overrode HIPAA, so there’s no protection there. Anecdotes, personal doc now using automated case records, wireless on a laptop in the examination room, and provided by a 3rd party hosted off site. Think there’s any controls on where those records get sold? Me neither. Also ran into a hospital registration with biometric palm print to “verify your identity”. Wonder who owns that? Catholic hospital chain so I guess it belongs to the Pope.

    • bloopie2 says:

      I wonder if they both ‘read’ and ‘save’ your palmprint, perhaps making it available for use by others at another time? But not a problem, I guess, if it’s a Catholic hospital – we can trust them, right? Just as we trust our government?

      • lefty665 says:

        Save? You betchya. That was the selling point. “When you come in again all we have to do is scan your palm, no other id necessary”. “Use by others”? It was good for all the hospitals in their chain for starters. Probably find them outside confessionals next month. I’m sure there’s a “hand of God” joke in there somewhere, but I can’t quite put my finger on it (different scanner).

  6. lefty665 says:

    AzBB – Keller didn’t squirm half enough. @!#$%^&*()
    Orion – There was a good segment with Hayden crowing that the FISA revisions gave them a lot of statutory authority in place of the President’s war powers they had been relying on.

    • orionATL says:

      lefty –

      thanks for that; i didn’t see the broadcast.

      with respect to the current “reform”bill, the past is proving prelude once again.

  7. Rayne says:

    Collection of bank records including credit card transactions always makes me think of Eliot Spitzer.

    What a coincidence, right?

  8. abbadabba says:

    I operate with my memory, which is not so sharp as it used to be, and my gut.

    Why did Palantir and SAIC get some facetime on PBS when no one yet knows those are the guys scraping out financial ties? I’m just guessing NSA put them in the news before you guys broke them. Now SAIC is advertising employment opportunities. I think Palantir operates computers much like those that Chase uses to time the micro-minutia of the market for flash trading, and NSA.

    Palantir was created around 2002 and has doubled in value each year since. Closely and privately held, like SAIC, so why’d the Nightly Business Report tell US all about it? No one was asking, but NSA is selling.

  9. abbadabba says:

    I’m sorry, Marcy, that wasn’t SAIC PBS was temporizing, it was ICANN. See, my memory fails me. That was one really obtuse excuse for showing off the papoose. Those two experts contradicted one another at every turn so Judy had no idea where they were going or where she was supposed to take them. It came off like the NSA PR project you’d expect. Clowncar. Guess NSA wants us to think if the US isn’t holding ICANN we can’t spy on everyone? Yes we CAN!


    This is some great vintage data. I love old shite.


    Here’s where I first read of SAIC, on page 13 under “Has Agency Come to the Internet?” The columnist connects the board members to DOD, CIA and NSA. This is 1996 mind you. Imagine how many times SAIC has doubled in secret value. They hold ICANN, thus my muss.

    Reminds me of the old AIC, the guys who capitalized on the wars of the world after Lenin took their bribe to build the canals from Baku to St. Petro! Oh, yes, history informs my mysteries, too.

  10. abbadabba says:

    Other than their obsession with data gathering, I’m pleased with my new ACA policy. I’ve taken their welcome wagon call so many times I ‘m a frequent sigher. But they sent me a survey I will not fill in for them. They don’t need to know my work schedule. I know they are trying to find out how many of us oldies are still goody for some earned income, or are wee just riding the new Cadillac to Platinum covered retirement? Yup.

  11. abbadabba says:

    Signal strong in UK!

    Clive Goodman is saying his employer sold him down the river with his lawyer so they could all avoid questioning on the subject of hacking in 2005. Seriously, Goodman spent 3 days in the terror units cell and no one ever asked him if he was a hack. That’s not the experience of David Miranda! No one ever asked anyone anything as long as no one asked the Terror Unit if they weren’t also violating RIPA.

    Come on, the reason the police and News International agreed to ignore the hacking score of all but Goodman and Mulcaire is because you can’t have GCHQ hacking citizens by way of telecoms and then tell the teles to help the terror unit catch some journalist hacks. The journos will rat the other two rippers out!

    Marcy, someday someone’s gonna see the government and press have gone to criminal lengths to cover for one another’s hacking in the UK. At present, the PM’s got a D order denying his email was empty of content, just like a Tempora metadata file passed its smell date! That’s a matter in the public record silenced like a criminal investigation is afoot. But it’s not. it;’s just to keep this evidence tampering out of sight.

    Cameron’s email has been FIXED most likely to avoid exposing his effort to help New International dodge the law with GCHQ, AGAIN Don’t forget, two prior PMs were in on this cover up, too. Stinks of TABU!

  12. LizinOregon says:

    In several interviews by Glenn Greenwald this week as he promotes his book he has said that the biggest story is yet to come because it is the most complex and is still being reported. He implied (I think on Charlie Rose) that it has to do with who is being surveilled and why.

  13. Rahul says:


    I owed IRS about $2500.00. I called the IRS agent and the phone got disconnected and I never thought of reconnecting the call. Went on with my business. I believe it was less than a week later my bank accout at BAC was levied for that amount. I was really not surprised. So the lesson was the IRS know who you bank with. If they know about my finances I am sure the other personal information is not as important. I am sure my name in their data base is 8pm porner–

  14. Harry Shearer says:

    Just saw the first episode, my criticism is that they let NSA completely dictate the “origins” narrative of “The Program”–i.e., that after 9/11, “we” needed more tools to prevent “another 9/11”. But it is well known by now that CIA had the names of the hijackers who were already training in the States, and failed to share that info with the FBI. NSA needed nothing to prevent another whatever, those two agencies just needed to stop their turf battles. This was nothing more than a pretext for NSA’s decade of surveillance overreaching.

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