con-sara-cy theories

Episode 19: ThinThread, Spying Before 9-11, and The Shadow Factory

May 29, 2024 Episode 19
Episode 19: ThinThread, Spying Before 9-11, and The Shadow Factory
con-sara-cy theories
Show Notes Transcript

Transcription by  Please forgive the typos! 

Welcome to con-sara-cy theories. Are you ready to ask questions you shouldn't and find information you're not supposed to know? Well, you're in the right place. Here is your host, Sara Causey. 


Hello, Hello, and thanks for tuning in. In tonight's episode, I will be talking about ThinThread domestic spying before 911 and James Bamford's book, The Shadow factory.


This is the kind of episode where I definitely wish that hard liquor was allowed. I'm thinking of Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, saying that he wanted a drink of pure grain alcohol and rainwater. Talking about this kind of topic that that sort of cocktail might not be a bad one. So pick your poison, I guess. And we will saddle up and take this extremely uncomfortable ride.


I recently watched the PBS Frontline documentary United States of secrets. It's a two parter. Part one was published in 2014, I think. And it really asked the question, how did the government decide and then have the means to just spy on millions of Americans. And then part two, deals more so with the relationship between big tech and the November Sierra Alpha? I will deal with that in another episode, because we're going to be covering a lot of ground in this one. So I don't even want to go down the rabbit hole too far, of how big tech and the government collude together. And then what the hell are they actually doing with all of this data once they have it. But the PBS Frontline documentary sparked my desire to do this episode. And then in turn, my desire to read James Bamford's book, The Shadow factory, he has several others, they all look interesting. This was just my starting point. And holy shit. This is the kind of book that fuels your nightmares as the kind of book that you read, and it just stays with you. And no matter what you do to try to wring the information out, it just stays there. It was published in 2008. And that, to me is also horrifying. Because the things that he talks about in this book, you think about 2008, how many years ago now, that that's been, you know, the problems have only gotten worse. Whenever the state and these large corporations really whatever behemoth you're talking about, whenever they get power, how often do they really turn it back? How often do they say, Oh, we've become too powerful. We want to return some power to the people get real. So one assumes the nightmare fuel that James Bamford gives us in this book is probably 10 times worse now than it was then. The documentary episode one they're from PBS, it actually opens up with like the story of Glenn Greenwald and Snowden trying to get connected. And they have to go and meet in Hong Kong. And there's this idea that it's going to be some older grizzled guy. It's going to be somebody that's been with one of the alphabet agencies for a long time getting to the end of his career. He just wants to unburden himself. And so when Snowden shows up, and I think it's Greenwald, who says that Snowden is 29, but looks 19 The consensus is like, what the hell is going on here? We expected a guy who's punchy with a receding gray hairline. And this guy looks like a kid. So they open up talking about Snowden and the document leaked that really told everybody hey, you're being relentlessly spied on. Now, I have my own opinion about why that happened. I'm not going to get into that here. Because that's not the point of this episode. Just, you know, I have an unpopular opinion. And that's all it is, is just my opinion. And it could be wrong. I hope it is wrong. But you know, I'm pretty much think that the powers that be could have squashed that if they had really wanted to. And so it just makes me suspicious that, you know, maybe just maybe we were allowed to know how deep this machine goes to make people accustomed to being surveilled all the time. If you think about it, it really became something of a joke. We were all scandalized by it. Everybody was upset about it. But only for a time. Then people would make jokes with an agent wants to watch me search for the best pot roast recipe on Google he can or if they want to listen to me and my sister talk about what a jerk was my brother in law is Go ahead. We're not doing anything interesting when people just very quickly went from I'm outraged. What happened to civil liberties? What happened to decency to turning it into a joke?


I just don't think that that happened on accident. I could be wrong. It's just my thought. But we segue from the Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden drama. They're into ThinThread and 911. And what was happening at the November Sierra alpha on 911. And according to the people interviewed that were insiders, they say that the agency was getting its information from CNN just like everybody else. They were having to rely on cable news to tell them what was going on with the attacks. And I'm like, if that is true, which, who really knows if that is true. Wow. Just wow. There's also a man on the documentary who cries, and he's essentially crying. Because his position is if only we had known more, if only we had been able to spy more, maybe we could have prevented all of these deaths on 911. And I'm like, Ah, yeah, I don't know about that. It definitely made me think of Francis Richard Connelly's documentary, everything is a rich man's trick, because one of his assertions is that when we're watching a program, and we see somebody get super emotional, and we see somebody start to cry, we disengage critical thinking, because we have empathy and sympathy for people, when somebody starts shedding tears on a documentary like that we're not thinking critically anymore, we just feel sorry for the person that speaking, you be the judge. But I just thought well, that, that doesn't quite sit right with me. But I will admit, my hand is in the air on this one. I always thought that the domestic spying apparatus really kicked off with 911 that the Bush Cheney administration was going to make sure that that crisis did not go to waste. And it would be used to implement this just insane Leviathan, of spying, on everything, everything that you do, is being surveilled. And it's being done, you know, quote, unquote, in the name of safety. And a lot of people went along with that, because they were scared. Nobody wants to feel like they were a holdout. And because they were a holdout, it caused 1000s Or maybe even millions of people to die. So people went along with it. And we had the color code, you know, we're Today we're in an orange today, we're at a green tomorrow, we're at a red whatever that also got made fun of after a while. We got the Department of Homeland Security, and the having to basically stripped down if you wanted to fly somewhere, you had to go through the machines and take off your belt and your shoes. And I think I think a lot of us believed all of this happened, because of 911.


That Bush Cheney took advantage of it. Now. I'm not going to get into 911 conspiracies here. That's not the point of this episode, whether whether it was you know, completely accidental, whether the official story is true or not Bush Cheney, would take advantage of this crisis and use it to just make the domestic spying apparatus go absolutely insane. But the thing of it is, when you really start to probe, you'll learn. That's not true. I mean, yes, it's true that they kick the door wide open, but that's the thing. We're more aware of it now. But to imagine that domestic spying really originated with Bush, Cheney. That's not what the facts bear out.


Nixon's legacy, of course, is marred by Watergate. And of LBJ, were typically supposed to think Great Society did a lot for poor people did a lot for civil rights. You're not really supposed to talk about Operation chaos. Nevertheless, we will, because we're here to ask the questions that we're not supposed to and try to ferret out information that we're not supposed to look at things we're not supposed to know. We're being naughty, we're doing the things that we shouldn't. So we go to Wikipedia and we look up operation chaos we find operation chaos or operation M H chaos was a Charlie India Alpha domestic espionage project targeting American citizens operating from 1967 Tonight's in 1974, established by President Lyndon B. Johnson and expanded under President Richard Nixon, whose mission was to uncover possible foreign influence on domestic race, anti war and other protest movements. The operation was long Just under the d c i Richard Helms by Chief of counter intelligence James Jesus Angleton, and by Richard over the MH designation is to signify the program had a global area of operations and quote, wow domestic espionage. We also see several other like sub projects HT lingual which was directed at letters passing between the United States and the Soviet Union. There would be examination of correspondence to and from individuals or organizations and then they will be placed on a watch list, project two, which was directed at infiltration of foreign intelligence targets by agents posing as dissident sympathizers. Project Merrimac, designed to infiltrate domestic anti war and radical organizations thought to pose a threat to security of Charlie India alpha property and personnel. Project resistance worked with college administrators, campus security and local police to identify anti war activists and political dissidents without any infiltration taking place.


Wow, your tax dollars at work. We also read that at its finality, Operation chaos contain files on 7200 Americans and a computer index totaling 300,000 civilians and approximately 1000 groups and quote, now, you know, as I said earlier, when these behemoths get powerful, do they ever really turn over that power back to the people? Do they ever really relinquish that power? Mean long pause there so you can think about that for yourself if this was going on, in the 1960s? Like we're told it started in 67, and then ended at 74. Did it mean did it? To his credit, I will give credit where it's due to his credit our old buddy Seymour Hersh, who I disagree with when it comes to Kennedy and being entirely too worried, in my opinion about what JFK was doing with his private parts. To see more Hirsch's credit he wrote the article in 1974 Huge Charlie India Alpha operation reported in us against anti war forces and other dissidents in the Nixon years. The Charlie India Alpha directly violating its charter conducted a massive illegal domestic intelligence operation during the Nixon administration against the anti war movement and other dissident groups in the United States according to well placed government sources. An extensive investigation by the New York Times has established that intelligence files on at least 10,000 American citizens were maintained by a special unit of the agency that was reporting directly to Richard Helms, then the director of Charlie India, and now the ambassador to Iran. Hmm. In addition, the sources said a check of the agency's domestic files ordered last year by Mr. Helms, the successor, James R. Slash injure produced evidence of dozens of other illegal activities by members of the agency inside the United States, beginning in the 1950s, including break ins, wiretapping, and surreptitious inspection of mail and quote. So now we're being told that this was going on as early as the 1950s and included break ins, wiretapping and surreptitious inspection of mail. Okay, let me ask you again, when these behemoths get this kind of power, do they ever relinquish it? Didn't ever give it back? Do they ever say, maybe we shouldn't be that powerful, or do they expand upon it and simply make it worse?


When we go to the History Channel's website we find Nixon and Johnson pushed the Charlie India alpha to spy on us citizens declassified documents show. In the article we read, what prompted the US Charlie India alpha to spy on American citizens on US soil in the 1960s in violation of its own charter, because two inhabitants of the White House suspected sinister foreign influence behind the decades growing civic unrest for President Richard Nixon, the anti war demonstrations that mired his presidency never made sense during one conversation with his Treasury Secretary John Connolly.


You know what that names familiar? John Connolly. Where have we heard that before? Oh, yes. It's the same John Connolly that was sitting in front of JFK during the Pop Pop. why would why would a Democrat from Texas be in a Republican administration like Nixon's Huh? Huh? Seems kind of weird, doesn't it? For President Richard Nixon, the anti war demonstrations that mired his presidency never made sense during one conversation Even with his Treasury Secretary John Connolly, he described the unrelenting protesters as a wild orgasm of anarchist sweeping across the country like a prairie fire and quote.


If we scroll down just a little bit, we read Nixon wasn't just resentful of the anti war movement. He was also suspicious that foreign powers might be behind them. And so in June 1969, the President directed the agency to prepare a report on the anti war movement and what Foreign communist support the demonstrations might be receiving, and, quote, God, it's always the communist Boogeyman. During the Cold War, it was always the commies somewhere in the corner doing all of it, they were responsible for it all. If you remember back to the very first episode of this podcast, I talked about Dave McGowan's book, weird scenes inside the canyon. And how he has this thesis that the counterculture was an invention, that this notion we have the 1960s Hippies make love, not war drop acid, that whole movement, we tend to think that it was a reaction to buttoned up conservative 1950s America, but what if it wasn't? What if it was completely an invention? What if it was there to make money? What if it was there to give the illusion of opposition? What if it's controlled opposition? Because when you look at the players involved in the counterculture, so very many of them have ties to the military and industrial or military intelligence complexes. And it's like, doesn't seem awfully weird for a movement that's supposed to be anti war movement that's supposed to be anti the man anti establishment. Why are there so many people with connections to that very establishment within that movement?


So you'll pardon me if I call bullshit on this. To me, I think that Nixon was using this as a reason to spy. Now, he might have claimed that he thought foreigners are communists were funding the anti war movement, trying to make him look bad trying to infiltrate the US. But, I mean, if Dave McGowan's book is correct, and there was chicanery involved in the anti war, 1960s hippie movement anyway.

 You know, it's kind of seems to me that maybe Nixon was using this as an excuse to spy relentlessly on people. I could be wrong about that. Lord knows it wouldn't be the first time but it just seems to me that it's a thin veneer. It's an excuse to kick off a huge domestic spying machine. We're not even really to kick it off. Because if what Seymour Hersh is reporting on is true that this was going on all the way back in the 1950s, then really what each person is doing is taking from the last administration and amplifying it up that much more. Because there's nobody to say, wait a minute, what the hell? Why should we do this? It's not justifiable. It's not right. You're violating somebody's civil liberties, you're violating basic human rights. When nobody's left to stand up and say, and we call ourselves the human race, why are we doing this, then people just do whatever the hell they want in those halls of power.


So the November Sierra Alpha was officially formed in 1952 with the idea that it would monitor the world, it would listen for intelligence and counter intelligence, and it would try to keep America safe from possible problems that would spring up from foreign enemies. With that being said, the origins of the November Sierra Alpha can actually be traced all the way back to 1917. Going back to when the United States declared war on Germany in World War One, they set up a code and cipher decryption unit. And from there, we can kind of trace the ancestry of the Nov. Sierra alpha.


The PBS Frontline program talks about ThinThread. You know, I mentioned that according to this documentary, The people at the agency were getting their news from CNN, like John and Jane Q Public that day, which doesn't really seem to make much sense. But maybe maybe the cover story there, in my opinion, that's what it is, is cover story. Maybe it makes a bit more sense when we look at what we're told about ThinThread. I'll read now from the Wikipedia page ThinThread was an intelligence gathering project by the United States Nov Sierra Alpha conducted throughout the 1990s. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We're hearing about things going on in the 50s 60s and 70s. Now here we are in the 1990s Boom, background and here we are.


The Program involved wiretapping and sophisticated analysis of the resulting data. The program was discontinued three weeks before the September one one attacks due to changes in priorities and the consolidation of US intelligence authority. The change in Priority consisted of the decision made by the director of the agency General Michael V. Hayden, to go with a concept called Trailblazer despite the fact that thin thread was a working prototype that claim to protect the privacy of US citizens. ThinThread was dismissed and replaced by the Trailblazer project, which lacked the privacy protections. Well, what could go wrong there? A consortium led by science applications international corporation, you would know better as SAIC was awarded a $280 million contract to develop trailblazer in 2002, in quote. So we've got to let go of this idea that domestic spying really kicked off with September one one. No, it didn't. We're looking at Operation chaos we're hearing about Seymour Hersh and his discovery that wiretapping and break ins were happening all the way back in the 1950s. When these agencies get a hold of this kind of power, they don't just relinquish it, you can bet it has substantially gotten worse over the course of time, not better. In the introduction for the shadow factory, James Bamford talks about the amounts of data that I mean, it's just, it's unreal to even try to fathom it. And then you think about this book being published in 2008. How much more information do they have now? He writes, to sift through it all, the agency has the world's largest collection of data eating supercomputers, its newest codenamed Black Widow is a colossal 17 and a half million dollar Cray computer, made up of 16 tall cabinets crammed with 1000s of processors, it is able to achieve speeds of hundreds of teraflops hundreds of trillions of operations a second and the November Sierra Alpha predicts that it will soon break the petaflop barrier, plowing through phone calls, emails and other data at more than eight quadrillion operations a second and quote, this was in 2008. Imagine what they've been able to accomplish since then.


In his book, he has a chapter that is dedicated to thin thread. And about ThinThread he writes before Hayden arrived, which we're talking about Hayden, who is General Hayden, who was in charge of the November Sierra alpha, as well as rich Taylor, who was the Deputy Director for operations at the same agency. So that's what he's talking about here. Before Hayden arrived, Taylor had been tackling the issue of how best to reduce the ocean of intercepts flowing into the agency, and at the same time, have the ability to trace back the suspicious calls to the US, including those from Yemen, without violating the law. Codenamed thin thread. The project was intended to develop complex digital filters to sift through the Nile sighs rivers of phone calls, emails, faxes, and other communications signals channeled into the agency by satellites and ground stations made up of diabolically complex mathematical algorithms and protocols. These filters would isolate and trap the key conversations and messages while discarding the rest unheard and unread. This system was designed for intercepting communications within or between foreign countries. But ThinThread also had a unique component that allowed the agency to trace signals back to the United States without violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA. That law forbade monitoring communications to or from individuals in the US without a warrant. The catch 22 Was that to get a warrant, the agency needed probable cause. But without being able to intercept the message and follow it to its US destination, there was no way of knowing to whom or where it was going. And without that information, there was no way to apply for a warrant and quote, oh, don't worry, don't worry. If you watch United States of secrets, you will definitely hear about the cloak and dagger and the bending like people bending the law into a pretzel. someone's like, why even have the law anymore, if all you're going to do is look for loopholes and try to figure out ways to break that law. Why even have it anymore. It's just a charade. It's a sham. In the book, he also talks about the collusion and cooperation that occur between big tech companies and the government in being able to house this data, use this data, etc. That needs to be its own separate episode, but just know that he does get into that exact topic as well in this book, as I said, it's it's nightmare fuel because when you really read the capabilities that they had then the things that went on behind the scenes in the bush Cheney administration, and then the continuation of those things when Obama took over, and it just gives you such a headache when we get to the end of the book, which is called abyss, and rightfully so. Bamford writes more than three decades ago, when the Nov. Sierra Alpha posed a fraction of the privacy threat it poses today with the internet, digital communications and mass storage, Senator Frank Church. Now that that name should also sound familiar to us because Frank Church has tried to make a difference on exposing things that went on that shouldn't have. Senator Frank Church, the first chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, investigated the agency and issued a stark warning. That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy lift, such as the capability to monitor everything, telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter, there would be no place to hide. What's also think about Glenn Greenwald using that as the title for his book about Snowden no place to hide.


If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity in the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together and resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to no such as the capability of this technology. There is now the capacity to make tyranny total in America, only law ensures that we never fall into that abyss, the Abyss from which there is no return and quote, well, I mean, I, I don't even think you would have a resistance anymore. Not really. And anybody who even thought about it, the events that happened in the month between December and February on the number between five and seven, no way in hell, people would want to risk their freedom, risk, the possibility of being murdered, to go to a protest, I don't even think you'd have a resistance. I also think people are so integrated with the technology. My God, you have Lord Ilan, talking about putting a brain chip in your head, that people are just so accustomed to it. Now, I just don't think anybody would even resist. As long as they have bread and circus. They have tick tock and Snapchat and all of that people just go along with it. Oh, you want me to cricket burger in a hovel and have universal basic income? Okay, great. No problem. So during the times in which we live, maybe I'm wrong. I hope I am. But I didn't think you would have a resistance anymore.


Again, thinking about this book being published in 2008. How much more intrusive, how much more technology how much more power is there now? It would have to be astounding. An important point I think to make here. Before I wrap this up is we have to dispel this idea that domestic spying started post 911 And it was all the invention of Bush Cheney. Now certainly those two diabolical creeps, in my opinion, diabolical creeps did nothing for civil liberties and for privacy protection. Don't get it twisted. They were not our friends. However, it's not fair to say that domestic spying as a concept originated with them. We need to understand that this is something that's been going on for decades. Is it likely to stop? I highly, highly doubt it. Check out the PBS Frontline documentary read up about Operation chaos. also highly recommend that you check out the shadow factory by James Bamford.


Stay a little crazy, and I'll see you in the next episode.


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