I was listening to the Rush Limbaugh program today and an unsolicited call came in that was extremely interesting. The caller was a retired NSA military expert who spent twenty of his thirty years in the military working for the NSA and actually conducting communication surveillance and called the show to explain his disgust with the media reports of the NSA foreign surveillance program and to set the record straight based on his personal and professional experience. Following is the transcript of that call. I will let it speak for itself.
RUSH: Steve in St. Louis. Steve, thanks for your patience. I have one other question but I need to reset the table. He is a -- correct me if I'm wrong but you used to work in the Department of Defense intelligence and did phone call monitoring for the NSA. Is that right?
CALLER: Yes I used to work for the military in NSA.
RUSH: What he said right before the previous hour ended, he said if he is monitoring phone calls and overheard, for example, a phone call between me and Snerdley in which we were planning to rob a bank, he could not tell anybody about it because he had not received a warrant to monitor our phone call, and so if he did mention it to anybody, he would be put in jail before we were, if we robbed a bank. So we could rob the bank even though he knew we were going to do it, and I asked him, "Now, if you are monitoring foreign phone call, known terrorists, and you hear something like that, not under the same limitation?" and you said, "Yes." My question to you: in what circumstance would you stumble across a phone call between me and Snerdley planning on robbing a bank when both of us in the country and neither of us have known ties to terrorists? How would you encounter that phone call if you are not supposed to be listening to them in the first place?
CALLER: Purely by accident. We go through a set of frequencies, and every once in a while, they bleed over. We hear conversations that we are not supposed to. But we got to determine where they are. Because what we are listening to, internationally, is close to the frequencies that are used domestically. It is possible to hear stuff. We didn't get it often but every once in a while we would get something. It'd usually be mundane, "Hi. We are going out on Friday," type thing. But if we ever did hear, even criminal activity, we go through a training session every year on what we can and cannot listen to and how long we can listen to it.
RUSH: Well, you probably can't answer this next question on the basis of it's classified, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Could you, as a human being, just as a rogue agent in there, choose a phone number or person whose calls you wanted to monitor and zero in on it?
CALLER: Uh. Yeah, you're, um, stepping on the line there.RUSH: Yeah.
CALLER: (nervous laughter) Um, well --
RUSH: I only ask you that because you would say you'd stumble across the Snerdley-and-I-robbing-a-bank phone call by accident because frequencies cross over.
CALLER: Right. But, you know, there are limitations on what we can do on anything. If we know, let's say, like we suspect you. We can go out and go ahead and get a warrant to listen to your conversations. That would be how we can get around the rogue. But, anything else, if we get anything on anybody, you know, interstate? We can't do anything with it. We are breaking a federal law, and I wouldn't even get a trial. I wouldn't even have gotten a trial. I would have gotten a military court that would have taken about 30 seconds to go, "Yeah, you heard it. You turned it over. You are going to Leavenworth for 15 years." That is a minimum sentence, because we can't spy on our own people.
RUSH: It's not surprising to hear this. You guys all have supervisors monitoring what you do? CALLER: Oh, yeah. We get monitored and we turn everything in that we get to a supervisor who has a supervisor who monitors him. There is so many levels that you got to go through to get anything anyway, that, you know, everybody says there was a failure of intelligence before 9/11. It wasn't a failure of intelligence. It was a failure to connect the dots, because we got 85 different groups doing it!
RUSH: Are we any better at it now?
CALLER: You know, I don't know. The fact that we haven't been attacked again in almost five years, probably says yes. But, like the president said early on in this: You're not going to hear about its successes. You're only going to hear about the failures. You know, in the twenty-plus years that I have done -- that I did -- this, we probably had 30 failures, and 3,000 successful stops.RUSH: Wow. So when you hear the political cat calls of opposition and mischaracterization of the data mining program, how do you react to that personally when you hear it?
CALLER: I want to... I'm driving a big rig, and I just want to find them and run them over because they're lying. They are putting out information that isn't even close to the truth. This program has been going on since the '70s, that I have been involved in, and I know it was going on before that.
RUSH: When I said earlier today in explaining this to callers, that the data mining program that we learned about in December from the New York Times that the USA Today regurgitated yesterday
, is different from the foreign surveillance going on of known Al-Qaeda terrorists -- when I pointed out, this is just collecting phone records from participating phone companies and not until somebody they already know is a terrorist or suspected terrorist calls a number on that list, is that list ever going to be used. Is that true?
CALLER: That is true. That is true. Until we have a number that we know is somebody that we have been monitoring to begin with --
RUSH: In that case you'll go get a warrant, right?
CALLER: In that case we'll go get a warrant, because we can't do anything until that point. If we already have the numbers under surveillance --
RUSH: But you don't need a warrant for the foreign phone calls.
CALLER: No, because we can get those anywhere in the world. The only difference between that is, we can't -- When we're in a foreign country, we can't monitor in the country, the home country. We can't monitor any of theirs either, but we can monitor everything else.
RUSH: Yeah. Well, it all makes perfect sense to me, and I can understand how you would be livid when you hear your work being mischaracterized because essentially, you know, the critics are trying to say that Bush is doing the spying, that Bush is the guy monitoring and eavesdropping on innocent American citizens. But actually people like you who are doing it and doing for the express purpose of national security, correct? You are a patriot. You believe in what you are doing for the cause.CALLER: I took an oath twenty -- almost 30 -- years ago to defend this country and I still believe that oath. We are trying to defend the country. We don't always succeed, but people only find out about us when we fail. If we hadn't been doing our jobs, many more attacks like we had on September 11th would have happened.
RUSH: Prior to 9/11, you mean.
CALLER: Yeah -- and after. I guarantee you we have foiled 300 since September 11th that no one will ever hear about because we stopped them, and if we tell people how we stopped them, they're gonna find out what we do, and that's what's really upsetting me about this, is now the bad guys are finding out what we do. So now they are going to change their patterns, make it tougher on us to do our job.
RUSH: Well, I know, that's the frustrating thing, and a lot of people have suspected that this is a problem and I appreciate your calling because you have been able to put the...well, a face on this and you have been able to add the personal perspective because up until the time you called we're talking nameless, faceless individuals who by intimation are being smeared as spies and perverts who just want to spy on the American people for George Bush, for who knows what nefarious reasons -- when in fact it is just the opposite of what you are doing. However, I'm sure this has been all part of the job for you all along as well. It's got to be tough. It's got to be really tough to not be able to talk about you work. Most people take their identity from their work and you can't talk about yours.
CALLER: No. I could probably go to jail for what I am telling you now.
RUSH: Well, are you still there?
CALLER: No, but I still have another ten years before I can even do some things.
RUSH: Wow. Well, we trust that you have not been compromised. We are not monitoring your call here.
RUSH: (Laughing.) And even if we were, we wouldn't turn you in to anybody.
CALLER: Thank you.
RUSH: I'm glad you called, Steve. Thanks so much for spending so much time with us.
CALLER: Thank you.
RUSH: Have a great day.