JB: Holy moley!
MK: Since then, they have upgraded the speed of those cables, and the number of them, so that gives you a sense of the scale of this surveillance. And don't forget, other companies were involved, like Verizon, and that they are also collecting from the transAtlantic fiber to Europe and other places. It's humongous, it covers the world, it collects everything.
And part of my job was to connect new circuits into the "splitter" cabinet which does the copying! So I realized I was wiring up the Big Brother machine (a phrase I used later for the title of my book), and I resented it. I did not sign up to help them spy on the whole population.
JB: What you've just said raises so many questions; where shall I start? How did NSA go from their illegal domestic spying in the '70s to this? I don't get it. Wasn't what was once illegal still illegal?
MK: There's two facets to the change from the '70s, one political and the other technological. Technologically, there has been a giant qualitative leap in surveillance capability because of the development of really fast computers, coupled with fiber optic cables that can carry huge amounts of data in just a few seconds, and the internet which reaches into every home. Couple that with the leap in storage technology, and you have the makings of a police state. Back in the '60s, for instance, when the FBI wanted to do surveillance on someone (e.g., Martin Luther King), it was very slow and labor intensive--you had to assign agents to tap into phone lines and record with old-fashioned tape recorders. It took a lot of time and effort, and so perhaps only a few hundred people could be spied on at once. Now, with the internet, it's all been automated with computers, which can sweep up the communications of millions of people automatically, and then the data can be searched by an agent using a keyboard.
The other change is political. By the early seventies, people were angry at the government and both parties, because of all the government lies about Vietnam, attacks on civil rights demonstrators and other grievances. Then, along came Watergate, and Nixon was exposed as a common criminal. Hundreds of thousands of people were marching in the streets, the government was up against a wall, politically. And so Congress felt compelled to investigate and institute reforms e.g., the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was supposedly designed to prevent illegal domestic spying by the executive branch.
But since then, social struggle has died down, the two parties have moved to the right, the Congressional "oversight" committees have become chummy with the "intelligence community," and they all seem to feel they no longer have to worry about the population rising up. Then along came 9/11, and the White House quickly moved to implement a massive domestic spying program which they were wanting to implement for a long time, embodied in the so-called "Patriot Act." And so here we are today, facing an even bigger menace from the government.
Mark's book with photo of secret door to NSA set up on Folsom St., SF
(Image by courtesy of Mark Klein) Details DMCA
JB: Let me make sure I understand what you're saying: that 9/11 was at least in part a pretext to do what the government wanted to do all along, spy on all of its citizens?
Please hold that thought, Mark. This is a good place to take a break. When we return, you can answer that question and more.
Please read part two which has just been posted.
BradCast interview on the BradBlog, Brad Friedman's website
Mark's website, where you can get Mark's book, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine...And Fighting It