When the government starts a spying operation, it’s close to impossible to kill it. This monstrosity never went away.
Stellar Wind is the open secret code name for certain information collection activities performed by the United States’ National Security Agency and revealed by Thomas M. Tamm to New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. The operation was approved by President George W. Bush shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
The program’s activities involve data mining of a large database of the communications of American citizens, including e-mail communications, phone conversations, financial transactions, and Internet activity.
There were internal disputes within the Justice Department about the legality of the program, because data is collected for large numbers of people, not just the subjects of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants.
In March 2004, the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled that the program was illegal. The day after the ruling, Ashcroft became critically ill with acute pancreatitis. President Bush sent White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. to Ashcroft’s hospital bed, where Ashcroft lay semiconscious, to request that he sign a document reversing the Justice Department’s ruling. However, Ashcroft was incapable of signing the document.
Bush then reauthorized the operation, over formal Justice Department objections. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert Mueller, Acting Attorney General James Comey, and many prominent members of the Justice Department were prepared to resign over the matter. Valerie Caproni the FBI general counsel, said, “From my perspective, there was a very real likelihood of a collapse of government.” Bush subsequently reversed the authorization.
The program never went away. It ids about to be finished. This appeared in Wired, a popular magazine on high-tech breakthroughs. It was written by James Bamford, an expert on the National Security Agency, the spying operation.
Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.
But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”