Stellar Wind is the open secret code name for certain information collection activities performed by the United States' National Security Agency and revealed by Thomas M. Tamm to New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. The operation was approved by President George W. Bush shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
The program's activities involve data mining of a large database of the communications of American citizens, including e-mail communications, phone conversations, financial transactions, and Internet activity.
There were internal disputes within the Justice Department about the legality of the program, because data are collected for large numbers of people, not just the subjects of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. In March 2004, the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled that the program was illegal. The day after the ruling, Ashcroft became critically ill with acute pancreatitis. President Bush sent White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Jr. to Ashcroft's hospital bed, where Ashcroft lay semiconscious, to request that he sign a document reversing the Justice Department's ruling. However, Ashcroft was incapable of signing the document. Bush then reauthorized the operation, over formal Justice Department objections. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert Mueller, Acting Attorney General James Comey, and many prominent members of the Justice Department were prepared to resign over the matter. Valerie Caproni the FBI general counsel, said, "From my perspective, there was a very real likelihood of a collapse of government." Bush subsequently reversed the authorization.
During the Bush Administration, the Stellar Wind cases were referred to by FBI agents as "pizza cases" because many seemingly suspicious cases turned out to be food takeout orders. According to Mueller, approximately 99 percent of the cases led nowhere, but "it's that other 1% that we've got to be concerned about". One of the known uses of these data were the creation of suspicious activity reports, or "SARS", about people suspected of terrorist activities. It was one of these reports that revealed former New York governor Elliot Spitzer's use of prostitutes, even though he was not suspected of terrorist activities.
In March 2012 Wired Magazine published "The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)" talking about a new NSA facility and says "For the first time, a former NSA official has gone on the record to describe the program, codenamed Stellar Wind, in detail." Naming the official William Binney a former NSA code breaker. Binney goes on to say that the NSA has highly secured rooms that tap into major switches, and satellite communications at AT&T and Verizon both. The article suggests that the otherwise dispatched Stellar Wind is actually an active program.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Hepting v. AT&T (warrantless wiretapping case)
- Trailblazer Project (failed NSA domestic spying project)
- Jeffrey Alexander Sterling (prosecuted under Espionage Act for contacting reporter Risen)
- NSA call database
[edit | edit source]
- "The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)". Wired, April 2012.
- Poitras, Laura. The Program. Nytimes.com, Op-Docs, August 22, 2012.
References[edit | edit source]
- Isikoff, Michael (2008-12-13). "The Fed Who Blew the Whistle: Is he a hero or a criminal?". Newsweek. http://www.newsweek.com/id/174601. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- Is the FBI Up to the Job 10 Years After 9/11? April 28, 2011
- Klaidman, Daniel (2008-12-13). "Now We Know What the Battle Was About". Newsweek. http://www.newsweek.com/id/174602. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
- Bamford, James (2012-03-15). "The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)". Wired. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1. Retrieved 2012-03-15.