Is the CIA bribing AT&T to spy on foreign citizens?

The Central Intelligence Agency has been bribing AT&T to help them spy on international communications. According to a new report in the New York Times, the CIA has been paying that company $10 million dollars a year for access to their overseas metadata. By accessing that data, the CIA is spying on private communications, including the date and length of calls, and the phone numbers involved, all without a warrant.

Although the CIA claims that only foreign-to-foreign call data is being collected, they admit that calls made to and from the US to another country are also included. AT&T claims that they've imposed strict privacy safeguards to protect Americans, like masking several digits of a phone number and withholding the identity of any numbers from the United States. However, if the CIA wants that information, they simply ask the FBI to issue a subpoena and force AT&T to hand over the details.

Essentially, our tax dollars are being used to bribe a private, for-profit company to help the government spy on foreign citizens. And in the process, Americans' private communication data can be collected. After all the NSA spying scandals, it's hard to believe that this isn't simply another program that the government uses to violate our Fourth Amendment rights. To add insult to injury, we're the ones paying yet another for-profit company to hand our private information over to the government.


tulsadem 10 years 33 weeks ago

Are you aware that in March, 1917, according to a comment made by Adolfe A Berle on an episode of Firing Line in the 1960's or 1970's, that Lenin visited the US Embasy in Switzerland and was refused access to the US ambassador since Berle had no idea who Lenin was? As Berle described it, this may have been the biggest diplocatic mistake in US history. According to Berle, no one at the embassy had any record of Lenin or his given name Ulyanov. To this day, aparently, no one knows what Lenin was doing in the US embassy the night before he was put on board the train across Germany to the Finland Sation in St Petersburg where he called for Peace Land and Bread.

The above US intelligence failure is the reason I support a vigorous intelligence service. We need to know with whom we are now and may in the future be dealing.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 10 years 33 weeks ago

If AT&T already has our private data, what difference does it make if the CIA gets it too? According to television and movie plots, CIA doesn't have to pay bribes when they could plant undercover agents in AT&T to do anything for government reasons.

How do we know the difference between a bribe and a paid invoice?

If CIA can use subpoenas, why pay? This could be a way to spin-off 10 million to CIA officials who are mingled in a big trust of AT&T stock.

Perhaps AT&T is part of the CIA-

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 10 years 33 weeks ago
Quote tulsadem:Are you aware that in March, 1917, according to a comment made by Adolfe A Berle on an episode of Firing Line in the 1960's or 1970's, that Lenin visited the US Embasy in Switzerland and was refused access to the US ambassador since Berle had no idea who Lenin was? As Berle described it, this may have been the biggest diplocatic mistake in US history.
Quote tulsadem:To this day, aparently, no one knows what Lenin was doing in the US embassy the night before he was put on board the train across Germany to the Finland Sation in St Petersburg where he called for Peace Land and Bread.

The above US intelligence failure is the reason I support a vigorous intelligence service. We need to know with whom we are now and may in the future be dealing.

tulsadem ~ Am I correct in assuming that you are blaming the Communist Revolution in Russia on United States Constitutional protections and lack of a giant unconstitutional spy net?

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 10 years 33 weeks ago

The term "Intelligence Service" is a non sequitur. It should be called what it really is... a information gathering service. How that information is used is what determines how "Intelligent" the "Service" really is. From what I have seen our "Intelligence Service" is anything but intelligent and has shown profound indifference to using it's services for the public good; or, any other "Intelligent" reason. Case in point, the Boston Marathon Bombing. Here our "Intelligence Service" had been given a complete dossier and urgent written warnings full of life saving information by the Soviet Intelligence Service. What did they do? Ignore it and allow a preventable disaster to happen right under their nose. Case in point, 9/11. A document called, "Osama Bin Laden Determined To Strike In The United States" sits on the desks of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. What did they do? They went way out of their way to pretend they didn't see it and 3000 Americans lost their lives in another preventable tragedy. Case in point, Julia Davis and the DHS. (Department of Homeland Security) Ms. Davis was an Agent of the DHS assigned to security on the Mexican Border on July 4th 2004 during a "high alert" for potentially dangerous terrorist activities. 22 high profile immigrants were passing through from suspect countries which was much more than a typical day and she did her best to report that information to the authorities. What did they do? For her troubles she was targeted, harassed, and her career destroyed. More importantly, we never learned what was done about the threat she reported. For all we know Julia Davis, an American Hero, is living a tormented life while 22 potential killers are running free in our streets.

Any "Intelligence Service" is only as "Intelligent" as the people who run it. The information it collects is useless if the agency's are run by a bunch of self-absorbed, corrupt, bumbling imbeciles. Our Democracy, freedom, and liberty are forsaken if the general guiding principles of the Constitution are lost. Any Domestic Service whose existence is at odds with The Constitution Of The United States is the number one threat to the security of our Nation. There is no other potential threat that is greater.

February 17, 1775

Quote Benjamin Franklin:They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 10 years 33 weeks ago

At the risk of getting off topic, please allow me to get off topic...

To all my good friends in Washington State. Just in case I-522 GMO labelling somehow is defeated, you might want to bookmark this site:

Mark Saulys's picture
Mark Saulys 10 years 33 weeks ago

I'da rather had peace, land and bread. Things mighta worked out better if we'da left the new U.S.S.R alone insteada attacking them on 26 fronts in the 1920's. Stalin might notta risen and it wouldna mattered if we knew who Lenin was.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 10 years 32 weeks ago

More perceptive analysis from our friends at Der Spiegel! This article is titled: "Paradise Lost: Paranoia Has Undermined U.S. Democracy":

Agent Carrie Mathison is a topical figure. The main character in the American TV series "Homeland," played by the wonderful Claire Danes, shows her true relevance in the first few episodes, in which Mathison is nervously sitting at home, observing and listening in on the life of a terror suspect on a large screen. His apartment is bugged and Mathison is determined to find out as much as she can about him. She is hysterical, bipolar, paranoid and sick -- all advantageous traits for her job.

The real-life intelligence services of the United States take things much further than agent Carrie Mathison. They spy on just about anyone, even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, so far, has not been suspected of maintaining ties to Islamist terrorism, and yet whose cellphone was tapped.

It is often assumed that intelligence agencies are worlds of their own, and that they sometimes act on their own authority. However, they are also an expression of the societies in which they exist, especially of their fears. In other words, it is quite possible that there are not just paranoid agents, but also paranoid democracies that act in hysterical ways out of fear. They are characterized by a strong freedom myth, which leads to paranoia. It, in turn, poses a threat to freedom. The United States is currently in a late phase of this cycle.

"Freedom" means that there is an endless range of possibilities, and that anything can happen, including both good and bad things. That's why freedom engenders fear. The greater the freedom, the greater the fear. Where does America's fear come from? To answer this question, it's worth taking a look at scenes from a typical Hollywood Western, in which covered wagons pass through a harsh, unwelcoming landscape, and where the silence feels ominous and the settlers are constantly casting anxious looks at the hills to the left and right. Is anyone there? Of course there is. A group of Indians has congregated and will soon attack the wagon train. There will be deaths, and a few crosses will be left behind in the wilderness.

Paradise of Freedom?

The United States is a relatively young country that began as a society of settlers. They came to America to escape oppression at the hands of European monarchies, and they developed a strong desire for freedom in the process -- a freedom they could find in the continent's vast expanses. As political individuals, they refused to accept that even though they lived on the other side of the Atlantic, they were still controlled by the British colonial power, and they fought for their independence and democracy.

Because the settlers made such great sacrifices to seize their magnificent country -- from British troops, from the Indians and from the wilderness -- their achievements became imbued with a religious exaggeration. The country was essentially declared a paradise, or, in the words of the national anthem, "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

But the nation's genetic code has also retained the fear that many settlers had to endure, both on their treks and in wars. A covered wagon with a man, a woman and a horde of children -- it's the perfect symbol of the land of unlimited opportunity, a land where total freedom and maximum vulnerability go hand-in-hand.

To understand the United States, it's worth taking a look at other paranoid democracies. In southern Africa, Boer settlers battled the local population for land. To this day, the Boers still have a glorified view of their history, as suggested by Boer expressions like "Eie land, vrye volk," or "One land, free people." A strict apartheid system was implemented in South Africa starting in 1948. The system enabled the Boers to isolate themselves from the black majority and create a democracy, but only for whites, making it entirely undemocratic. Fear was the basis of that state. It built nuclear bombs, even though it had no enemies.

Politics Shaped by Fear

Israel is the promised land of the Jews. It was created primarily to give Holocaust survivors a place where they could feel free and safe. That freedom and safety was fought for and preserved in wars against the Palestinians and neighboring powers, wars that claimed many casualties. To this day, Israel retains elements of a settler society, as the country continues to expand into the West Bank.

In Israel, too, politics are shaped by fear -- and a justified one. The country is surrounded by enemies, some of which have made the renewed extermination of the Jews their objective. But does that mean that the Israelis have to have their presumed enemies murdered abroad? One of today's symbols of political paranoia is the giant wall that seals off Palestinian areas from Israeli territory. "Homeland" is actually based on an Israeli TV series.

The United States differs in many respects from South Africa during apartheid and Israel today. But the three countries are similar in terms of the triad of freedom myth, paradise and fear. This has led to the development of a tremendous ability to put up a fight, but also a heightened sensitivity.

Political paranoia requires an enemy, or at least the concept of an enemy. For a long time after the society of white settlers had destroyed or banished the Indian tribes, there was no enemy to threaten the Americans in their paradise. It was only the Soviet Union's bombers armed with nuclear missiles that made the United States vulnerable again and fanned new fears. At the same time, the rival in the East served as the alternative model to the freedom myth, because it was a society of compulsion and limited opportunity. It also offered an austere alternative model to the American paradise, which by then had become primarily a paradise of consumerism.

America felt threatened to its very core. A defeat against the Soviet Union would have turned the United States into either a nuclear desert or a Socialist satellite with cheap goods and no more than two available car models -- two nightmares for Americans that generated considerable fear. Soon a paranoia developed that was reflected in one of its early excesses, the McCarthyism of the 1950s. Those suspected of harboring sympathy for communism were persecuted. Throughout the Cold War, anti-communism remained a hysterical and fundamental element of American policy.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States experienced a relatively relaxed decade, until hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center and destroyed parts of the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The men at the controls were belligerent Islamists, whose ideas also formed an antithesis to American society. They were foes of a liberal and individualistic way of life, and they yearned for a paradise where credit cards would be worthless. They were also the first to severely wound the United States in its own "homeland." They were the ideal enemy for the next wave of paranoia. The hour of the Carrie Mathisons of the intelligence world had arrived.

While far from all democracies are paranoid, virtually all dictatorships are. For dictators, paranoia helps shape and preserve their autocratic systems. Autocrats need an enemy -- always an internal enemy and sometimes an external one, too -- to legitimize violence and coercion, and to generate allegiance.

The Nazis are unparalleled in this art of hysterical governance. Their declared internal enemies were Jews, Communists, Social Democrats, the Sinti and the Roma, homosexuals and anyone who told jokes about Adolf Hitler. The external enemies were all the countries that Germany attacked, which was a large number, as well as the overseas democracies, especially the United States. For the Chinese party dictatorship, dissidents are the internal enemies, often people who express their criticism with a paintbrush, pen or laptop. Although China lacks an external enemy, it does have an aversion to Japan.

The United States cannot be compared with Nazi Germany or with China. Unfortunately, however, a paranoid democracy tends to use tools that are beneath a democracy, the tools of a dictatorship, and they include as much surveillance as possible.

US No Longer a Model of Democracy

Information is the most valuable thing in a paranoid world. Those who feel threatened want to know as much as possible about potential threats, so as to be able to control their fears and prepare preventive attacks. Even in the days of covered wagons, alertness was an important protection against attack. Before Sept. 11, the intelligence agencies were asleep at the wheel and overlooked many of the clues the attackers left behind during their preparations. One of the reasons agent Carrie Mathison is traumatized is that she let her guard down once, and she is determined not to let it happen again, even if it means breaking the law.

Now the intelligence services have developed a giant information procurement machine, which is also useful in industrial espionage. To ensure that nothing escapes their notice, they violate the privacy of millions and millions of people and alienate allied nations and their politicians.

Another form of paranoid information procurement is torture, used by American intelligence agencies to gain information about terrorists. Torture is the negation of democracy, freedom and human rights. If a democratic country allows itself to sink to the level of torture, it must already be extremely hysterical and anxious.

It isn't as if nuclear bombs were at issue. The aim of some of today's intelligence methods is to prevent attacks that could be very painful for America, but in truth do not threaten the American founding myths and are not capable of extinguishing the American paradise. Only the Americans themselves can do that. The fear aspect of freedom is destructive to freedom, because it allows the need for security to get out of hand.

While paranoia legitimizes a dictatorship, it can achieve the opposite effect in a democracy. The United States is no longer a model of liberal democracy. That much has been made clear in light of mass surveillance, torture, the extralegal detention camp at Guantanamo and an isolationist ideology that leads to author Ilija Trojanow being denied entry to the country, presumably because of his criticism of American policy.

Other nations also have their fears, but they lack the power to turn the world upside down. Power and paranoia are a dangerous mix.

Far as I can tell, I'm the first to submit a comment on their accompanying blog. Here's what I've posted: "Excellent article!" (subject line) "And what do all these countries have in common? They are all built on stolen land, a product of colonialism! When you are the bully on the block, accustomed to pushing your weight around and screwing everyone else out of what is rightfully theirs, you tend to project your own negative traits onto those you have victimized. This happens one-one-one between individuals as well as among nations. The way you've described the wall Israel erected to isolate the Palistinians reminds me of a wall certain "leaders" here in the USA would like to build, for the express purpose of shutting out the Mexicans. Because even in the 21st Century, humanity has yet to mature beyond this predatory mind-set, which keeps us stuck in the same old pattern of conquer-and-plunder. Because underneath all the art and science and so on, we're still a bunch of savages."

And on that cheerful note my friends, I bid you good night. - Aliceinwonderland

Thom's Blog Is On the Move

Hello All

Thom's blog in this space and moving to a new home.

Please follow us across to - this will be the only place going forward to read Thom's blog posts and articles.

From Screwed:
"I think many of us recognize that for all but the wealthiest, life in America is getting increasingly hard. Screwed explores why, showing how this is no accidental process, but rather the product of conscious political choices, choices we can change with enough courage and commitment. Like all of Thom’s great work, it helps show us the way forward."
Paul Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen and The Impossible Will Take a Little While
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Thom Hartmann seeks out interesting subjects from such disparate outposts of curiosity that you have to wonder whether or not he uncovered them or they selected him."
Leonardo DiCaprio, actor, producer, and environmental activist
From Cracking the Code:
"In Cracking the Code, Thom Hartmann, America’s most popular, informed, and articulate progressive talk show host and political analyst, tells us what makes humans vulnerable to unscrupulous propagandists and what we can do about it. It is essential reading for all Americans who are fed up with right-wing extremists manipulating our minds and politics to promote agendas contrary to our core values and interests."
David C. Korten, author of The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community and When Corporations Rule the World and board chair of YES! magazine