Soldiers: NSA taps phones of military, aid workers abroad
If the allegations are true, they indicate violations of NSA directives.
Oct. 17, 2008
American intelligence officials routinely used President George Bush administration's wiretapping program to listen in on conversations between aid workers, journalists and American military personnel calling from abroad, two former intercept officers told ABC News last week.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a news release that he was disturbed by the allegations that the officers, who both worked at a National Security Agency intelligence facility in Fort Gordon, Ga., made in interviews with ABC News. Rockefeller said his panel would begin its own investigation into the program immediately.
"These are extremely disturbing allegations," Rockefeller said in a statement. "Any time there is an allegation regarding abuse of the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, it is a very serious matter."
Former Army linguist Adrienne Kinne said that many of the calls she transcribed while part of a special military program, dubbed Operation Highlander, were personal calls between U.S. citizens in the Middle East that were completely unrelated to terrorist activity.
The NSA awarded Kinne the Joint Service Achievement Medal in 2003, at the same time she was listening in on private calls. Kinne is now a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Kinne, who was at Fort Gordon from 2001 to 2003, said that the program specifically targeted journalists and aid workers from the U.S. and its allies and added their numbers to a priority list.
If the allegations are true, they indicate multiple violations of an NSA rule that forbids the recording of conversations involving Americans without probable cause and authorization. Under the rule, recordings are supposed to be destroyed as soon as the American is identified unless the U.S. Attorney General confirms that the speaker is an agent of a foreign government or would provide crucial intelligence.
Kinne said that Operation Highlander stopped following the rule in mid-2002 after a U.S. aid worker assured a British counterpart that their conversation was not being recorded because of the directive. Kinne said that her supervisor, Chief Warrant Officer John Berry, was livid at the notion of an American mentioning the directive to a foreign national and shortly after told his unit that Operation Highlander had been issued a "waiver" exempting it from the NSA rule.
NSA spokeswoman Marci Green said in an e-mail that the agency questioned Kinne's allegations and that the officers would have had ample opportunity to report misconduct in their unit.
"Some of these allegations have been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated. Others are in the investigation process," Green said in the e-mail. "Our activities are subject to strict scrutiny and oversight both from outside and inside NSA."
Berry now works as a courts reporter for the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. He did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
David Murfee Faulk, a former Navy linguist who worked at Fort Gordon from 2003 to 2007, said in the ABC interview that he and other operators routinely listened in as military personnel called their spouses in the U.S. Recorders would brag around the office about recording particularly erotic conversations by announcing that they had transcribed "good phone sex" and "pillow talk" and then share the recordings with others.
Missouri Student Veterans Association president Daniel Sewell declined to comment on those claims, saying that he was not familiar enough with the story to elaborate on the group's position.
Melissa Goodman, an attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project, said that more safeguards were needed to make sure the NSA focuses its efforts on terror suspects.
"The American public needs to know whether the NSA's procedures are sufficiently protective of our privacy rights," Goodman said. "Unfortunately, there is often no meaningful court oversight of the NSA's surveillance activities and the NSA is left to police itself."