In an inadvertent admission that likely made his former bosses cringe, retired FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente, in a May 1 interview with CNN‘s Erin Burnett regarding the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings, clearly insisted that the nation’s primary law enforcement agency was clearly capable of recording all private telephone calls.
From Glenn Greenwald, of Britain’s The Guardian newspaper:
The real capabilities and behavior of the U.S. surveillance state are almost entirely unknown to the American public because, like most things of significance done by the U.S. government, it operates behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy. But a seemingly spontaneous admission this week by a former FBI counterterrorism agent provides a rather startling acknowledgment of just how vast and invasive these surveillance activities are.
‘We certainly can find that out’Greenwald writes that in recent broadcasts U.S. cable news programs like Burnett’s “Out Front” have been hyper-focused on the possible involvement of Katherine Russell, 24, wife of the deceased suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in the attack.
The reporting has especially concentrated on a “relentless stream of leaks,” writes Greenwald, in which anonymous government officials have claimed that the government is examining phone calls between Russell and her deceased husband which took place before and after the bombings, to see if she might have had prior knowledge they were set to take place, or whether she took any part in them.
During her May 1 interview, Burnett asked Clemente if the FBI would be able to discover the contents of such calls between the two, and he replied quite clearly that they could:
BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?
CLEMENTE: “No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.
BURNETT: “So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.
CLEMENTE: “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”
There you have it. All of that stuff, which means every telephone conversation between Americans on U.S. soil, and with – or, more importantly, without – a court-ordered warrant, is being captured as we speak.
Admissions don’t get much more frank, open and blatant as that.
In a follow-up interview the next night, Clemente appeared on CNN once again, but this time with host Carol Costello, who asked him about his remarks. He repeated what he had told Burnett, adding expressly that “all digital communications in the past” are recorded and stored:
‘Nothing is sacred’The significance of what Clemente was saying, as well as the confident arrogance in which he spoke, was not lost on Greenweld:
Let’s repeat that last part: “no digital communication is secure,” by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications – meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like – are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.
What Clemente was saying essentially supports what the Washington Post reported in 2010 – that the National Security Agency intercepts and stores 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications every day.
It’s not even possible for human beings to process that kind of data, but it explains one thing: The U.S. intelligence network is vast, expensive and pervasive. And nothing is sacred – not even the Constitution.