"Eavesdropping on the World" - Mark Gaffney takes a look at Bamford's 'Shadow Factory'
(When Mark Gaffney first published his article on "The 9/11 Mystery Plane" at the Journal of 9/11 Studies (PDF), representatives from CNN contacted him and asked Gaffney to "pull it", supposedly due to his use of some CNN screen captures. The article did eventually go back up, and a couple of months later, Anderson Cooper covered the E-4B's appearance on his CNN show. Can you say, "Damage Control"? Cooper covered the 9/11 blogospheric links mentioning Gaffney's article, [including some free advertising for 911blogger], while somehow studiously avoiding any mention of Gaffney's article or the Journal. Ultimately, this only inspired Gaffney to write one of the best books on 9/11 to be published in the last six months, "The 9/11 Mystery Plane: And the Vanishing of America". If you can afford to in this troubled economy, please purchase a copy to show some support for Mr. Gaffney and his publisher, TrineDay. In the piece below, Gaffney provides his observations on Bamford's latest NSA book, which like Kevin Fenton's, are very critical of Bamford's support of the official 9/11 story. -rep.)
Eavesdropping on the World
James Bamford’s new book comes up short on 9/11
by Mark H. Gaffney - March 11, 2009
In January 2009, during Israel’s ferocious attacks on Gaza, there were numerous reports on the Internet that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had boasted about “wagging the US dog.” Supposedly Olmert bragged that he had pulled Bush off a stage while the president was making a speech and demanded that Bush block a UN Security Council cease-fire resolution. The US had already vetoed an earlier cease-fire resolution in late December, but by the eighth of January, with the death toll rapidly mounting in Gaza, Israel’s war against Hamas was wearing thin. For days US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had been working with Arab and European governments to craft a cease-fire resolution that every member of the Security Council would support, including the US.
Israel, however, strongly opposed a cease-fire. The IDF had not yet finished its military operations in Gaza. But there was also another concern. The US was in danger of deviating from its standard policy of uncritically supporting whatever Israel does. Therefore, Rice had to be taught a lesson and the US government brought back into the fold.
At the time, I didn’t take any of this too seriously, attributing it to the Internet rumor mill. That is, until I read a report about it in The Forward, a leading Jewish web journal, whereupon, I realized that the story was true.  After the call from PM Olmert, President Bush rang up his secretary of state and dutifully passed on the instruction to back off. Bush apparently reached Rice just minutes before the UN vote. In the end, as we know, Rice only abstained. The UN resolution passed by a vote of 14-0 and, later, Rice was sharply criticized because she did not exercise the US veto to kill it outright. Even so, Olmert could not resist bragging about his great achievement in neutralizing US support for a cease-fire.
Israel’s punishing assault on the Palestinians continued for another ten days. Nonetheless, according to the Forward, Jewish leaders were not amused by Olmert’s little stunt. The fact he had reined in the US was not the issue. That was perfectly OK. No, they were displeased because Olmert had blabbed about it in public when he should have kept his mouth shut.
The Shadow Factory
Weeks after all of this went down, a nagging question remained. How did Olmert know that a Security Council vote on the cease-fire resolution was imminent? Indeed, how did he know Rice was wavering? Author James Bamford may have given us the answer in his new book about the National Security Agency (NSA), The Shadow Factory, released this past January. Although initially I was wary of Bamford’s research, I was largely won over and now regard his book as a tour de force of investigative reporting. The NSA is the single largest US spy agency, much larger than the better-known CIA. The NSA’s 30,000 employees work in a city-sized complex of buildings at Fort Meade, Maryland (about half-way between Washington and Baltimore).
The NSA’s global mission is signals intelligence (SIGINT), which it pursues in such a secretive manner that only three books about the agency have ever been published, all of them by James Bamford. This was the source of my wariness. By contrast, there are hundreds of books in print about the CIA. Given the author’s unique status as the sole reporter on the NSA beat, obvious questions arise. How did Bamford come to have exclusive access? Was he a vehicle chosen by the powers-that-be for the planned release of information, for purposes we can only guess? On the one hand, The Shadow Factory is so full of shocking revelations, some of them deeply embarrassing to the US government, that even if parts of the story were intentionally leaked (and I have no doubt they were) one finds it hard to quarrel with the result. The American people need to hear this story. Even so, it is possible to admire Bamford’s investigative work about the NSA while taking issue with his endorsement of the official 9/11 narrative, as I do, for reasons to be discussed later in this review.
The Shadow Factory tells the fascinating story of warrantless wiretapping, a story so important that I regard Bamford’s book as a must-read. However, be forewarned: The account is so detailed and the story so convoluted that a second reading is almost obligatory. Some will be surprised to learn that US government surveillance of the telecommunications industry is nothing new. It long antedated the NSA (which came into existence in 1952) and, in fact, dates back to the period following World War I when the forerunners of the NSA struck secret and highly illegal deals with the telecoms to monitor communications in and out of the US.
Bamford’s discussion of how the industry evolved is especially helpful. I was unaware that advances in fiber optics in the 1990s rendered telecom satellites largely obsolete. Nor was I aware of the legal ramifications stemming from the language of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) passed by Congress in 1978 to prevent government abuses of privacy. FISA was the reform-minded legislation born of the Church and Pike committee hearings in the post-Watergate era: hearings that shocked the nation with revelations that the NSA and other US spy agencies had for years violated the Constitution by carrying out indiscriminate surveillance on US citizens. Although the subsequent FISA law permitted the NSA to intercept satellite communications, it required a special warrant (hence, probable cause) for each and every case involving landlines, i.e., wires.
FISA also created a court to review and approve such requests from the intelligence community. However, according to Gen. Michael Hayden, NSA chief at the time of 9/11, due to the industry’s increasing reliance on underground and undersea fiber-optic cables, by the late 1990s the letter of the FISA law had become a bureaucratic nightmare. Bamford interviewed Hayden for his book (p. 32) and I was a bit surprised that he accepts Hayden’s explanation without more skepticism. Although it is certainly true that when FISA was created no one foresaw the introduction of fiber-optic cables, nonetheless, as Bamford himself points out (p. 122), Hayden’s NSA could easily have complied with the FISA law, despite this, while fulfilling its intelligence mission, simply by tracing the overseas calls from the known terrorist phone hub in Yemen, which it had been monitoring for years, back to the al Qaeda operatives (Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar) who were hiding out in San Diego, under the very noses of the US authorities. NSA certainly had the capability, and because neither al-Hazmi nor al-Mihdhar were US citizens the NSA would have had no trouble obtaining a FISA warrant for their phone numbers, information the agency could then have legally passed on to the FBI. In fact, given that bin Laden was public enemy number one at the time (and by extension, so was al Qaeda) it is hard to believe this was not done as a matter of course.
According to the author, Hayden’s policy in the period before 9/11 was “to keep its [the NSA’s] operations as far away from US territory as possible.” The reason? If we can believe Hayden, because the NSA chief was sensitive to public perceptions and controversy surrounding the NSA’s widespread use of Echelon in past years to monitor cell phone calls. I must say I was surprised that Bamford did not grill Hayden on this, since as the author himself points out (p. 38), “there is….little question….that all it would take for life to imitate art [i.e., Orwell’s 1984] was a few secret decisions…”
Whatever his professed scruples before the 9/11 attack, Gen. Hayden showed none after it. When G.W. Bush declared his “war on terrorism” Hayden set aside any concerns about the Constitution and dutifully expanded the NSA’s surveillance mission. Soon the NSA was snooping on everyone, including officials at the United Nations. As reported by the author (p. 140), a former member of Tony Blair’s cabinet, Claire Short, set off a storm in the UK when she later admitted that before the Iraq war she had read secret transcripts of UN Secretary General Kofi Anon’s private conversations. Evidently, the NSA provided the transcripts to British intelligence, which then made them available to Prime Minister Blair, who in turn shared them with his cabinet.
During the run-up to war the Bush White House was particularly keen, for obvious reasons, to spy on the undecided members of the Security Council. With the help of Hayden’s NSA, the neocons were able to learn which of the member states could be brought around with an appropriately tailored package of inducements. As Bamford put it, “Having already won over the US Congress and the American public, the Bush administration was not about to let a half dozen third world countries get between them and their war.”
Tapping the Information Superhighway
In 2003 NSA surveillance took a major leap forward when the agency overcame the challenges posed by fiber-optic cables. The NSA accomplished this by secretly arranging with AT&T and other telecoms to set up spy rooms in the companies’ giant switch facilities where they installed cable-splitters, thus gaining direct access to the information superhighway.
This brings us back full circle to my initial question about how Israeli PM Olmert wagged the US dog. Bamford saves the most stunning revelations for the second half of his book, in which he describes how AT&T, Verizon, and the NSA outsourced the eavesdropping chores to two Israeli companies, Verint and Narus, both founded by former members of Israel’s intelligence community. Shocking, indeed. But there is more. It turns out that the former CEO and founder of Verint, Jacob “Kobi” Alexander, is presently a fugitive from justice. As I write Alexander is hiding out in the African nation of Namibia, where he fled to escape prosecution by the FBI for thirty-two counts of fraud. The Verint CEO was not satisfied with the hundreds of millions in profits his company was raking in by marketing its patented spyware to the repressive governments of Egypt, China, Viet Nam and many others, governments more interested in crushing dissent than fighting terrorism. No, the CEO and his Verint accomplices cooked up a scam to rake in even more loot by backdating stock options, a sleight of hand worth some $138 million. Bamford is plainly appalled, and rightly so, that while the US government was supposedly fighting terrorism the top executives of one of its chief allies in the cause, Verint, were, in Bamford’s words, “engaging in an orgy of theft, bribery, money laundering, and other crimes.”
Verint’s Back Door
As if this were not enough, Bamford goes on to explain that in 2004 Verint acknowledged in a closed-door hearing in Australia that its proprietary eavesdropping system gives it the capability to “automatically access the mega-terabytes of stored and real-time data from anywhere, including Israel.” Which, of course, means that Verint’s bugging technology includes a back door giving the company remote access 24/7 to a large percentage of America’s, and the world’s, voice and data communications.
Talk about super intrusive. What is more, given the revolving door between Israel’s intelligence community and its high-tech firms, I think we must assume that Verint’s back door leads ultimately to Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of the NSA. Bamford does not state this but he did not need to, such a conclusion is inescapable. So, it is not too surprising that the Israeli government was privy, last January, to confidential discussions at the UN Security Council about the Gaza cease-fire resolution. No doubt, the Israelis were (and are) listening to every word of every private conversation or email within the US that is of interest to them. One wonders how this shocking state of affairs has remained under the radar. One would think, at very least, that Verint’s involvement in warrantless wiretapping would merit prime time coverage by the major networks, especially after its founder and former CEO, “Kobi” Alexander, was indicted for criminal activity. But insofar as I am aware there has been not a peep about it on television, at least, not yet. The public broadcasting NOVA special about Bamford’s research that aired on February 3, 2009 failed to mention it,  and the only article about Kobi’s flight from prosecution in the New York Times (2006) gave no hint.  The US corporate media appears curiously blasé about the strong likelihood that the state of Israel engages in wholesale spying on its principal ally. As for the exiled “Kobi” Alexander, despite his legal travails the former spook still has defenders. One source told The New York Post that "[in Israel] He's seen as a genius and a wunderkind of Wall Street. Israel is very proud of him." 
Problems with Bamford’s 9/11 Account
Unfortunately, Bamford’s discussion of 9/11 in the early chapters of his book is less impressive than his research on warrantless wiretapping. I found some issues. The author’s description of Hani Hanjour, the alleged hijacker pilot of AA Flight 77, as a capable and determined terrorist is sharply at odds with a multitude of open-sourced press accounts, which consistently portray Hanjour as a rather inept and borderline personality who was anything but ambitious. According to one account, as a young man Hanjour did not even aspire to fly planes but was satisfied merely to become a flight attendant; that is, until his older brother pushed him to aim higher.  Even then, Hanjour’s flight training was spasmodic and ineffectual. His pattern of behavior was on-again off-again, and this played out everywhere he went. Rather than persist in one flight-training program through to the end Hanjour would quit after a few weeks, then move on to a different school. One instructor, Duncan Hastie, who trained Hanjour at Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) in Scottsdale, Arizona, refused to readmit him a second time when Hanjour sought to return. Hastie described him as “a weak student” who was “wasting our resources.” 
Bamford’s willingness to believe that Hanjour was skilled enough to fly a Boeing 757 was apparently based on a set of documents submitted as evidence in the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui.  The documents include the written evaluation of Hanjour’s flight skills prepared by the Jet Tech instructor who tested him. The evaluation does mention that Hanjour was intelligent, but it also states–––and Bamford ignored this–––that Hanjour “made numerous errors during his performance and displayed a lack of understanding of some basic concepts. The same was true during review of systems knowledge….I doubt his ability to pass an FAA [Boeing 737] oral at this time or in the near future.” Later, the instructor made a final entry, concluding his evaluation: “He will need much more experience flying smaller A/C [aircraft] before he is ready to master large jets.” 
Another Jet Tech employee who knew Hanjour later expressed amazement “that he [Hanjour] could have flown into the Pentagon. [Since] He could not fly at all.”  As reported by FOX News, Hanjour’s atrocious English and general ineptitude prompted an administrator at Jet Tech, Peggy Chevrette, to question the authenticity of his pilot’s license. Chevrette told FOX “I couldn’t believe that he had a license of any kind, with the skills that he had.”  Hanjour’s English was so bad it took him five hours to complete the exam mentioned above that normally should have taken only about two. Fluency in English is required by law to hold a US pilot’s license. We now understand that Hanjour acquired his license to fly small planes by exploiting a legal loophole. He hired a private contractor.  It is important to realize that even if Hani Hanjour had some training in a Boeing 737 simulator this would not have prepared him to accomplish a series of top-gun maneuvers in a Boeing 757, which is a significantly larger and less maneuverable aircraft.
Apparently Bamford is also unaware that Hanjour flunked a flight test just three weeks before 9/11 while attempting to rent–––not a jet aircraft–––but a single engine Cessna! This happened at Freeway Airport near Bowie, Maryland, about twenty miles from Washington.  Although Hanjour presented his FAA license the airport manager insisted for safety reasons that an instructor first accompany him on a test flight to confirm his flying skills. When Hanjour had trouble controlling and landing the aircraft Marcel Bernard, the chief instructor at Freeway, flatly refused to rent him the plane. Yet, just three weeks later, this flunky supposedly performed like an ace. After completing a remarkable 330 degree downward spiraling turn and some other daredevil maneuvers that would have challenged a commercial pilot, Hanjour plowed Flight 77 into the west wing of the Pentagon at more than 500 mph. What is even more incredible, he accomplished all of this on the first attempt. Sure, and turtles have wings and elephants can fly.
The Cell Phone Calls
Bamford mentions (p. 90) the two calls that Barbara Olson supposedly made from AA Flight 77 to her husband Ted, who served as the Bush administration’s solicitor general. Apparently the author is unaware that these calls have since been discredited. Initially Ted Olson described them as cell phone calls. Later, however, he modified his story and stated that his wife had reached him using a passenger phone (or an air phone, as they are called). The problem is that American Airlines did not equip its Boeing 757s with passenger phones at the time of the 9/11 attack. Nor is it possible that Barbara was able to connect using a cell phone, since in 2001 cell phone technology was not yet capable of supporting calls from high-flying commercial jets. The FBI tacitly conceded these points at the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui, at which the FBI submitted a report about the calls allegedly made from the four flights on 9/11. The report mentions only one call from Barbara Olson and describes it as an “unconnected call,” indicating that there was no conversation. The FBI admitted, in other words, that the call never took place! Their disavowal is astonishing, especially given the media attention that the alleged calls from Barbara Olson to her husband received in the first days after the September 11 attack. The calls were extremely important in establishing the official story in the public mind. Yet, to the best of my knowledge the press has completely ignored the FBI’s subsequent admission that it was all a hoax. Here, I must credit David Ray Griffin for his research on this important issue, which I have just summarized. 
Were it possible to speak with James Bamford I would congratulate him for the excellent work he has done on the NSA. In the next breath I would encourage him to probe 9/11 more deeply.
Mark H. Gaffney’s book The 9/11 Mystery Plane and the Vanishing of America was released by Trineday Press in September 2008. For more information please visit Mark’s blog at www.the911mysteryplane.com Mark can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Nathan Guttman, “Olmert’s Boast of ‘Shaming’ Rice Provokes Diplomatic Furor,” The Forward, January 15, 2009.
2 For those who missed it the NOVA special (“The Spy Factory”) was archived and can be watched in its entirety at http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article21902.htm
3 Julie Creswell, “At Comverse: Many Smart Business Moves, and Maybe a Bad One,” New York Times, August 31, 2006.
4 Janet Whitman and Tom Liddy, “Sly as a Fox: Kobi Giving Feds a Fit,” New York Post, October 8, 2006.
5 Amy Goldstein, Lena H. Sun and George Lardner, Jr., “Hanjour an Unlikely Terrorist,” The Cape Cod Times, October 21, 2001.
7 James Bamford, The Shadow Factory, New York, Doubleday, 2009. See the first note under ‘Totowa,” p. 353. The set of documents is posted at: http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov/notablecases/moussaoui/exhibits/prosecution/PX00021.pdf
9 “Report: 9/11 Hijacker Bypassed FAA,” AP story, June 13, 2002.
10 “FAA Probed, Cleared Sept. 11 Hijacker in Early 2001,” FOX News, May 10, 2002; also see Jim Yardley, “A Trainee Noted for Incompetence,” New York Times, May 4, 2002.
11 Kellie Lunney, “FAA contractors approved flight licenses for Sept. 11 suspect,” GovernmentExecutive.com, June 13, 2002.
12 Thomas Frank, “Tracing Trail of Hijackers,” Newsday, September 23, 2001.
13 David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor Revisited, Olive Branch Press, Northampton, 2008, pp. 60-62.