My notes while watching Frontline's United States of Secrets. Fucking love Frontline.

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Essentially, it all started after 911 when Cheney sort of went around figuring out what they could do to prevent this from happening again. So he went to heads of departments to find out what they needed, including powers, and get it to them. The NSA director said they could start surveillance in a dragnet fashion on all communication, or at least where one side was aboard, and include the name of the person in the US. The president signed off on it and that order was very secret. And the NSA began that program.

NSA was created after Pearl Harbor, to prevent another surprise attack. That’s why 911 was so bad and hurt them so much.

Very interesting. So after Nixon used the NSA to spy on domestic communication, it seems Congress set up rules to prevent domestic surveillance unless a warrant was received by the FISA court (which was set up at this time). It’s literally in a bank vault in a building (because they were worried about the soviets). If you didn’t go through the court, then you were committing a felony.

Everyone doing the program was really relying on the fact that the president’s lawyers signed off on it, and the president signed it, attorney general, etc. but as new positions were filled in the justice department, questions would be raised about the legality. So there was strive about it.

This is where the Comey thing happens. Ashcroft is the attorney general, and he starts to have doubts about the program’s legality. Apparently he’s supposed to sign off on it and reauthorize it every 45 days, and so he tells Comey he’s not going to without changes (he’d done so for 2.5 years), then he collapses with pancreas issues. Comey is now acting attorney general (he was deputy). This is where the hospital scene happens where he says Comey is the acting attorney general.

When Comey and Ashcroft say it’s not legal, or at least parts of it aren’t, the White House drafts a new one without the attorney generals signature and instead has a spot for the White House council, which doesn’t have the same authority. This is all under Bush, but it seems like Cheney was a major part of this.

The White House then asked the head of the NSA if they’re willing to continue without the attorney general, he said yes. This was partly because right before the 2004 bombings in Spain that killed 190 people.

After they did that, Comey (acting attorney general), Mueller (head of FBI), and others in the justice department threatened to resign.

This works, and they say to shut down the Warrentless email collection. But then the White House manages to get the FISA court the authorize the law again. They could again start to get all internet metadata going to and from the United States, they were just using the authority from a US Supreme Court case that it was okay to get the numbers going to a certain telephone.

Then the NYT got ahold of the story via leaks from the justice department. The government had multiple meetings with the NYT trying to get them to not publish the story. Saying it was legal but not recognizing its existence. After a lot of discussion, they convinced the Times not to publish.

The reporter really wanted to publish, though. So a year later he tried to include the story in his book, which led to a big struggle between him and the NYT. The times decided to run the story. It was a big deal. And then the president comes out and admits the program it exists, but he doesn’t say the whole thing it does. He said it was just known terrorists. But it wasn’t, it was gathering everything to trawl through it, including domestic data.

More leaks happened, the standoff story, the fact that domestic data was being collected, etc. it all seemed like pretty big deals.

Obama who was about to win made it clear he supported whistleblowers and would not undermine the constitution. But he totally did not do this as president.

Bush then goes to congress to ask for approval for the what they were doing (an amendment to expand the FISA law to include anything related to terrorism, which could include domestic potentially). Obama voted for it, despite his claims he was not in support of the program.

Snowden decided in part to leak because Obama didn’t do anything.

On the flip side: as part of PRISM, the NSA was working with some companies to get their actual data, like content of emails, messages, etc. and in some cases, like with Google, they were doing it without the company’s knowledge. They had intercepted a line between data centers at Google where SSL was off, and were taking all of it. That’s insane.

In San Francisco, an AT&T technician found a fiber optic splitter in a room which was copying to the NSA all data going through this major pipeline, essentially this must have been backbone. He tried to leak it years later but nobody confirmed or denied it, well before Snowden.

NSL (national security letter), the Patriot Act allowed any FBI office to send an NSL demanding information from a company. With a gag order (they couldn’t say they got the demand). Without a judge signing off.

UPref cookie. NSA often piggy packed on what industry was doing to track people. They would associate a person with an advertiser cookie, probably sent via HTTP, and then could track this user’s activity anywhere.