Court Order Reveals Unprecedented Government Surveillance of Verizon Cell Phone Customers

JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network.
I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Ratner Report
with Michael Ratner, who’s now joining us from New York. Michael is the president emeritus of the Center
for Constitutional Rights in New York, chair of the European Center for Constitutional
and Human Rights in Berlin. He’s the American attorney for Julian Assange, also a board
member for The Real News Network. Thank you for joining us, Michael. MICHAEL RATNER: It’s good to be with you today. NOOR: What are you working on this week, Michael? RATNER: Well, I had a very busy week. On Monday
I was down at the trial of Bradley Manning, which opened. Bradley Manning is the young private first
class who disclosed some 750,000 government documents by uploading them to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks is my client. And they’re putting him on trial down at Fort Meade in Maryland.
That’s one part of the week and one part of what I want to talk about. The other is a question I have for you, Jaisal,
and it’s the second part of what I talk about. Do you see what I’m holding up in front of
me? NOOR: So, Michael, I see you’re holding a
cell phone. Why are you holding a cell phone? RATNER: Well, you call it a cell phone, but,
you know, a long time ago and actually in a book a few months ago, Julian Assange said,
that’s not a cell phone; it’s a tracking device that makes calls. And I thought, okay, well,
that’s true; they can track you through these things. But I thought it was maybe a bit of
hyperbole. But in fact, today or this week we realize now that actually this is not a
cell phone. It’s a tracking device that makes calls. And that’s the second topic I’m going
to talk about, and that’s the disclosure in The Guardian, in an article by Glenn Greenwald,
with documents, actually, that the National Security Agency is getting daily the phone
records of millions and millions of Verizon customers every day, and they’re probably
doing that for every cellular and hard-line company in the United States. So that’s the
second part of this. What relates the two is not only that Julian
called a cell phone a telephone–a tracking device that makes phones, but that both Bradley
Manning was a whistleblower, and I assume that wherever the documents came to Glenn
Greenwald, however Glenn Greenwald got a hold of the actual court order from the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court, that that was probably a whistleblower as well. So I’ll
talk about both those subjects and how it really relates to this massive surveillance
state we have around us and the efforts of this government to suppress any kind of dissent. Let’s start with Bradley Manning. I went down
Sunday afternoon, went to a wonderful panel with Daniel Ellsberg, Jesselyn Radack, Peter
van Buren, Thomas Drake, all whistleblowers, to talk about what was going to happen the
next day. The next day we get to court. It’s at Fort Meade. Hundreds of people were there
for it, which made me feel very good, because until this time, which was the pretrial time,
we had only a scattering of people. This time, 350 journalists applied. Sadly, only 70 got
credentialed, which is an outrage considering this is the most important trial of a leaker
in probably history, certainly since Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. But there
were masses of people there, and that was good. The courtroom is very small. It only holds
16 spectators, maybe ten other attorney types, and some press. I happened to get into the
courtroom, so I actually saw what was going on in the courtroom. Others go into another
room where they get a feed, but they aren’t actually in the courtroom. So I go into the
courtroom. And, you know, in some way it’s incredibly
depressing what’s going on there. [incompr.] Bradley Manning has already pled guilty to
charges that can get him 20 years in jail for releasing–which he now admits and admitted
in a statement–the “Collateral Murder” video, which is the helicopter murdering and shooting
the Reuters journalists and others in Iraq; the Iraq War Logs, which disclosed 15,000
more civilians having been killed than the U.S. admitted and other torture centers; the
Afghan war logs; and the State Department cables. So he’s pleaded guilty to disclosing
that material, and he could get up to 20 years. But the government is incredibly punitive
right now and is actually going for much higher sentence and charges. They’re going for espionage
charges and this bizarre odd charge of aiding the enemy. What happened on Monday is that the government
gave its opening statement, in which it lays out the roadmap for what’s going to happen,
and the defense lays out its roadmap for how it’s going to defend. The government’s roadmap was completely fascinating.
First, if you don’t even know much about computers, the trial was completely fascinating. The
first thing that came up was what they call the most wanted list. Apparently, WikiLeaks
did–we all know this–had a most wanted list on its website of documents that they’d be
interested in getting through its–the procedures for getting it in an anonymous way. Now, interestingly, that list of documents
that it was up there, the so-called wanted list, was not generated by WikiLeaks. It was
an open wiki that anybody–NGOs, etc.–could add to. So it wasn’t really a WikiLeaks list;
it was an NGO, human rights list. But in any case, the government says at the
trial, we have a copy of the most wanted list that was up on WikiLeaks in 2009, and that’s
the list that Bradley Manning was getting his documents–is getting his ideas for what
to search for in these secure computers in the military base in Iraq. And there’s an objection: well, how do you
know that’s it? What’s the authentication? How do you know that’s the list they had up
in 2009? And they mention a thing called the Wayback Machine. I remember the Wayback Machine,
because someone once wiped out one of my blog sites, and my computer friend said, go to
the Wayback Machine; they may have taken a picture of your website in 2009 or way before.
And sure enough, there was a picture of my material, and I was able to restore my blog.
So this is the first thing that came up is the Wayback Machine being used in the trial. The second thing that came up, you realize,
is once you go on a computer, basically your privacy is utterly over. You’re finished,
whether they get their hands on the computer or not. But obviously, if they get their hands
on the computer, you’re really finished in terms of privacy, because they get everything.
There’s all kinds of memories that you can’t get rid of that are hard to get rid of. And,
of course, they came up in this case with the daily number of searches for the numbers
of times Bradley Manning searched WikiLeaks or searched for the term WikiLeaks. It also–they were also able to get all the
Tweets that were done either by someone called the Press Association, the government alleges,
which they claim is WikiLeaks, and sent to Bradley Manning or vice versa by subpoenaing
Twitter and getting a hold of those records, even the content, apparently, somehow, of
those records, or perhaps to get them off of Bradley Manning’s computer. Bradley Manning,
they claim, made efforts to wipe his computer, was at least sometimes successful, but sometimes
not. The bottom line to this is every time you use a computer, you’re really broadcasting
to the world an awful lot of information, and, of course, if they ever get your computer,
even more, even with all your efforts to wipe it out. You know, Julian Assange always says
the only thing we’re going to be able to do here is very, very heavy encryption. So we’re at the opening to this trial for
Bradley Manning. They talk all about this computer stuff. But laced throughout the opening
of the government was efforts to try and bring in Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. They first
said that Bradley Manning was taking direction from Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, but they
of course had no evidence at all. All they claim to really have is this fact that Bradley
Manning, according to the government, was searching for documents that were on the WikiLeaks’
most wanted site. In the government’s view, that’s somehow taking direction, assuming
it’s true. So on that kind of an issue, can they tie
in Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to Bradley Manning, which they would love to do? They’d
love to make him into a co-conspirator or an aider and abettor. I don’t think we can
believe what the government said, and even if you believe it, I don’t think it’s sufficient.
But that certainly was one of the goals of this opening, to send that message that it’s
not just truth tellers, it’s not just heroes, it’s not just–not heroes, but it’s not just–I
mean, he’s a hero to me, but to the government he’s a hacker or a person who committed espionage–it’s
not just whistleblowers they’re going to go after, but it’s going to be the journalists,
the journalists as well. So the opening was in its own way frightening
and horrible, because you’re sitting here and they’re trying to give this young man
life in prison. Then the defense opened, and the defense really
give a very brief defense, but basically two things, one, that we have a young man here
who idealistically saw what was wrong and tried to cure the world by doing it, or at
least tried to get the American people to discuss this material so that they might change
their views about war and remedy the situation. The lawyer for Bradley Manning, David Coombs,
laid that out. He also said Bradley was naive in thinking that actually he would be able
to change what Americans were thinking. He didn’t say it was naive in trying to disclose
this material. Interestingly enough, the lawyer for Bradley
Manning didn’t discuss the substance of the material, stuff I can mention easily, [inaud.]
the 15,000 people, civilians in addition killed in Iraq, the “Collateral Murder” video. And
there’s a reason. You know, people said, why didn’t he discuss that? Well, you know, you’re
not allowed to discuss in court anything that’s in the actual cables or the Iraq War Logs
or Afghan war logs, anything that’s in the classified or secret or confidential material.
Even though we can read it every day on the Internet, the government considers that to
be still off the books. It can’t be talked in open court. So if David Coombs was to mention
[incompr.] they would have to close the court, and it would only be mentioned in front of
Bradley Manning and the prosecutor and the judge. It’s crazy, but that’s why I assume
that none of that was mentioned. NOOR: So, Michael, do you think it’s going
to hurt Manning’s case that the content of the leaked material cannot be discussed in
court? RATNER: I do. I think it hurts him. Even if
the judge knows it–and there’s going to be 28 witnesses that are going to be closed hearing,
but they’re government witnesses that we can’t hear who are going to discuss the effect of,
you know, these cables and what was in them or whatever, something about what’s going
to be in the cables. They’re going to mention the cables. I think it hurts because think
about his defense. His defense is to me that he’s a whistleblower who disclosed war crimes.
He should be treated as a hero, and we should have accountability for the people whose war
crimes he disclosed. But in fact, how is he going to build up support, how is he going
to really get his story out in the newspapers about the good that his whistleblowing did,
if that can’t even be mentioned in open court? So we’re looking at really what you would
call, I guess, a court of ostriches. Everybody’s going to have their head buried in the ground.
We all know what really happened here, but none of us are going to be able to talk about
it. Or it’s like the emperor’s new clothes. We all know the emperor didn’t have clothes
on, but, you know, you’re not going to be able to talk about it. So the answer to your question, Jaisal, is
yes, it’s going to hurt, because the best way to gain sympathy here is to show that
what Bradley Manning did was necessary as a soldier. He saw criminality. He should be
the one that’s being honored for it, and the people they ought to be going after are the
people that committed the crimes. I want to end the Bradley Manning segment
by just saying this is going to be a long slow process. The trial scheduled is three
months. It may move faster if they stipulate to some testimony. For example, this Thursday
and Friday court was called off because they were able to make agreements on what was going
to be said. But right now it’s three months. It’s maybe not difficult for people in Baltimore
to get to, but it’s not an easy court to get to. I recommend everybody go into that court,
seeing the way in which a young heroic soldier is really being put on a show trial for, really,
the purpose of ensuring that people like Bradley Manning go extinct, that there aren’t going
to be any more whistleblowers, or people like WikiLeaks go extinct, that there aren’t going
to be journalists willing to publish what whistleblowers say. So it’s important trial. It’s the first phase.
We all have to support Bradley Manning. Now, the second topic I wanted to talk about,
which is why I pulled out that cell phone, which Julian Assange calls a tracking device
that makes calls, is because of the disclosures this week that the National Security Agency
was getting the telephone records of millions of subscribers to Verizon every single day.
And there’s some over 100 million subscribers to Verizon. And the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Court, which is a secret court, authorized the National Security Agency to take in all
of what’s called the metadata on our telephone calls. So if I make a call to you at Real
News, what happens on that call is my number is recorded, the number I call is recorded,
my location is recorded, the length of the call is recorded. [inaud.] probably some other
information as well, not the content, but all of that data. What this order did, the foreign surveillance
court order did is told Verizon, ordered Verizon to say, we want the phone records of every
single call that’s made through the Verizon network. You can assume that it was–the same
order was given to every single telephone carrier in the United States, because what
they’re doing is they’re trying to do mapping of every single phone call in the United States,
allegedly (but it seems rather foolishly to me) to see who’s calling who, so they can
figure out so-called terrorist networks. That’s the most benign I could think of. They figure
out a lot of other things, I assume, from that as well. Now, understand, they did this without any
suspicion or probable cause or reasonable basis to believe that my calling you, Jaisal,
or Real News would have any law enforcement reason to be surveilled at all. It wouldn’t,
of course. So it’s caused a huge amount of, I would think, anger, upsetness. It to me is probably one of the biggest stories
we’ve had in the last year. You know, I don’t think it’s legal. The way it was done, under
a special provision of the Patriot Act, was done without any standards. Of course, the
court meets in secret. It can’t be litigated. It seems to me akin to, like, the general
warrants when you simply hand [incompr.] police officer said, go search every house in New
York City. That’s what this is like. The claim is, of course, that the protection
against illegal searches and seizures doesn’t apply, because it’s phone records that have
already given out to a third party, the telephone company, by making a call. I think that’s
absurd. But in any case, it still is akin to what’s a general warrant. I hope there’s a huge outcry about it. We’re
just at the very beginning of this crisis. But what’s interesting as we all think about
Obama as–you know, being some people, not all of us, not me, for sure–being slightly
better on some issues than Bush, this was a Bush policy, and now it’s an Obama policy. The positive part of the story is information
is still coming out. And despite what’s happened to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, the government
trying to indict them and probably having indicted Julian Assange, or what’s happened
to Bradley Manning, who is in jail and going to serve a very long time, probably, or Jeremy
Hammond, who hacked into Stratfor, the private intelligence company, and is also going to
do some time in jail and has already done over a year, despite these whistleblowers
being punished and punished severely, there still seems to be whistleblowers out there,
when they see a major illegality like this or a major effort to spy on Americans–this
is all domestic. Yes, it’s foreign as well, but it’s even for fully–for full surveillance
of just domestic calls. You see a whistleblower doing this. We don’t know the circumstances,
we don’t know how Glenn got these or [inaud.] but it gives me great hope that there’s still
courage in the face of some of the greatest repression on dissent that I’ve seen in my
lifetime. NOOR: Now, Michael, I just saw a New York
Times op-ed from today saying that the Obama administration has now lost all credibility
after this latest news about this wiretapping of cell phones. Do you think that marks a
shift in opinion in the United States? RATNER: You know, whether The New York Times
represents the United States, Jaisal, I can’t say, but it certainly marks a shift in the
United States. If they said all credibility, that’s pretty interesting, because, you know,
they gave a speech–you know, they gave a–I’m sorry. Obama gave a speech a week or two ago
at the National Defense University about drones and Guantanamo. I did an interview on Real
News with Paul that people loved, ’cause we tore the speech to shreds. We just said, this
is just Obama talking, has no substance to it. To the extent it has substance to it,
it’s bad substance, etc. Let’s see what he does. The Times gave it three-quarters of a page
editorial praising it, I mean, more than you praise your child when he or she graduates
from first grade or high school or college. I mean, it was overwhelming, the praise. And
now they’re saying he’s lost all credibility. So it’s an incredibly important shift. I want
to read the editorial, but I hope they really hit him hard. It sounds like they are. But,
of course, they get tricked every time. It’s not a trick. They obviously want to be tricked
in terms of when they praise him. Let’s hope this time they aren’t just, you know, going
to go which way the wind blows again. But that’s great that they said he’s lost credibility
on this, because this is–in my view, this is devastating. And the fact is, if we really look at it–we’ve
been saying this for a long time that we’ve become a total surveillance state, that there’s
no privacy left. The digital age has finished it. And–you know, and Julian also, in his
book Cypherpunks talks about this. He says, look it, the internet, digitization, all this
brings us great freedom, so that I can talk to you like I am over a connection and actually
have my image on TV. So it gives, you know, progressives and others great freedom. But it also gives the government the ability
to impose tyranny. And what we’re seeing now with the use of this digital means, the way
they could get millions of phone records from Verizon is because it’s digitized, because
you can send it over the internet, you can send it over, you know, etc., emails, etc.
It also can cause great tyranny. And right now we’re in the beginning or we’re in the
middle of what I would call the tyranny stage and fighting like this. I mean, that’s why
Manning is so important, Julian is so important, Hammond is so important, because we’re in
a pitched battle over whether we’re going to have freedom to dissent or whether we’re
going to be moving into a tyranny. And I think this wiretapping story or this–really, this–it’s
not a wiretapping; it’s this subpoenaing of all these phone records of all of us. Every
citizen in the United States who makes a phone call, every person who makes a phone call,
your records are now with the government, and that’s not the way it should be. And it
is a very big step towards tyranny. NOOR: Well, we’ll certainly keep following
this story. And thank you for joining us, Michael. RATNER: Thank you very much for having me.
And it’s nice to speak to you again, Jaisal. NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The
Real News Network.

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