How Israel spied on American citizens through our own laws: Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA)
U.S. Police and Intelligence Hit by Spy Network Charles R. Smith Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2001 Spies Tap Police and Government Phones
In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, the FBI has stumbled on the largest espionage ring ever discovered inside the United States. The U.S. Justice Department is now holding nearly 100 Israeli citizens with direct ties to foreign military, criminal and intelligence services.
The spy ring reportedly includes employees of two Israeli-owned companies that currently perform almost all the official wiretaps for U.S. local, state and federal law enforcement.
The U.S. law enforcement wiretaps, authorized by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), appear to have been breached by organized crime units working inside Israel and the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.
Both Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller were warned on Oct. 18 in a hand-delivered letter from local, state and federal law enforcement officials. The warning stated, "Law enforcement's current electronic surveillance capabilities are less effective today than they were at the time CALEA was enacted."
The spy ring enabled criminals to use reverse wiretaps against U.S. intelligence and law enforcement operations. The illegal monitoring may have resulted in the deaths of several informants and reportedly spoiled planned anti-drug raids on crime syndicates.
Global Spy and Crime Network
The penetration of the U.S. wiretap system has led to a giant spy hunt across the globe by American intelligence agencies. U.S. intelligence officials now suspect the spy ring shared and sold information to other nations.
"Why do you think Putin so nonchalantly and with such great fanfare announced the shutdown of the Lourdes listening post in Cuba?" noted Douglas Brown, president of Multilingual Data Solutions Inc. and program director at the Nathan Hale Institute.
"Besides the PR benefit right before his visit here, the Russians don't need it anymore. They've scraped together a cheaper, ore effective monitoring system. Is the Israeli company an element of that system? I don't know," stated Brown.
"With all the whining and crying about Echelon and Carnivore, critics, domestic and foreign, of U.S. electronic eavesdropping vastly overestimate our abilities to process and disseminate the stuff," noted Brown.
"The critics also underestimated the incompetence and total ineptness of the people running our intelligence and law enforcement services during the Clinton-Gore years. One guy uses his home computer for storing top secret documents; another high-tech guru guy can't figure out how to save and retrieve his e-mail, and the guy in charge of everything is having phone sex over an open line with one of his employees," said Brown.
"On the other hand, the Europeans, including the Russians, have been much more focused on the nuts and bolts of practical systems to process the information they scoop up. The stories linking German intelligence and the L&H scandal got very little play here but were widely noted in the European software community," said Brown.
"Except for a few Germans and an occasional Pole, nobody can match the Russians in designing and developing algorithms. We may have some of the world's greatest programmers, but the Russians and Europeans do a better job of matching up linguists and area experts with their programmers," noted Brown.
The discovery of a major spy ring inside the United States is straining the already tense relations with Israel. Although, Israel denied any involvement with the penetration of the U.S. wiretap system, the CIA and FBI are investigating the direct government ties to the former Israeli military and intelligence officials now being held by the Justice Department.
Israeli Company Provides U.S. Wiretaps
One company reported to be under investigation is Comverse Infosys, a subsidiary of an Israeli-run private telecommunications firm. Comverse provides almost all the wiretapping equipment and software for U.S. law enforcement.
Custom computers and software made by Comverse are tied into the U.S. phone network in order to intercept, record and store wiretapped calls, and at the same time transmit them to investigators.
The penetration of Comverse reportedly allowed criminals to wiretap law enforcement communications in reverse and foil authorized wiretaps with advance warning. One major drug bust operation planned by the Los Angeles police was foiled by what now appear to be reverse wiretaps placed on law enforcement phones by the criminal spy ring.
Flawed laws Led to Compromise
Several U.S. privacy and security advocates contend the fault actually lies in the CALEA legislation passed by Congress that allowed the spy ring to operate so effectively. Lisa Dean, vice president for technology policy at Free Congress Foundation, delivered a scathing critique of the breach of the U.S. law enforcement wiretap system.
"We are exercising our 'I told you so' rights on this," said Dean.
"From the beginning, both the political right and left warned Congress and the FBI that they were making a huge mistake by implementing CALEA. That it would jeopardize the security of private communications, whether it's between a mother and her son or between government officials. The statement just issued by law enforcement agencies has confirmed our worst fears," concluded Dean.
"How many more 9/11s do we have to suffer?" asked Brad Jansen, deputy director for technology policy at the Free Congress Foundation.
"The CALEA form of massive surveillance is a poor substitute for real law enforcement and intelligence work. It is an after-the-fact method of crime fighting. It is not designed to prevent crime. Massive wiretapping does not equal security. Instead, we have elected to jeopardize our national security in exchange for poor law enforcement," said Jansen.
"For example, FINCEN monitoring of all money transactions did not detect al-Qaeda, nor did it find Mohamed Atta before he boarded his last flight. It was an ATM receipt left in his rental car that led the FBI to the bin Laden bank accounts," noted Jansen.
U.S. National Security Compromised
"The CALEA approach is the same approach law enforcement has been pushing for a number of years. It's the same approach that was used to push Carnivore, Magic Lantern, FINCEN and even the failed Clipper project. This approach leads to a compromise in national security and in personal security for the American public," said Jansen.
"In addition, there is always government abuse of these kinds of systems," stated Jansen. "Law enforcement on all levels does a very poor job in policing itself. We need to hold our police and government officials to the highest standards."
"This also hurts the U.S. economy when the whole world knows that our communication systems are not secure. We cannot compete with inferior products when other countries are exporting secure software and hardware. New Zealand, India and Chili already offer security products that actually provide real security," stated Jansen.
"The current mentality of law enforcement is what failed to protect us from 9/11. CALEA wiretaps will not protect us from terror attacks in the future. The system does not provide better intelligence information. It actually leads to less security and more crime. We get the worst of both worlds," concluded Jansen.