Did FBI Counterterrorism Agent Reveal That Feds Now Record All Phone Calls?

from the er...-what? dept

It’s long been assumed (or hinted at very strongly by a variety of evidence) that the feds have been making and collecting copies of pretty much every digital communication available. A whistleblower from AT&T more or less revealed the details on that. The NSA’s ability to collect all this data is well documented, and people are just now coming to terms with the legal loopholes used to justify this mass sweeping up of communications.

However, for the most part, it was believed that the content of phone calls was not included in this broad sweep. While it’s well known that law enforcement can get a wiretap on your phone if they suspect something, there was little indication that other calls are being recorded. Similarly, information about who you called and when you spoke to them tends to be easy for law enforcement to get. However, Glenn Greenwald is noting that a former FBI counterterrorism agent, Tim Clemente, went on TV, and in discussing the investigation of Katherine Russell (the wife of deceased accused Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev) has clearly said that the contents of historical phone calls are also available to the feds.

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.”

It’s possible this was an exaggeration, but when questioned about this particular point later, Clemente again insisted that it was the case and specifically added that “all digital communications in the past” are recorded and stored. Of course, again, he may have misspoken. Or he may be exaggerating for effect. There’s also the possibility that Tamerlan’s phone calls were actually being tapped given the earlier investigation of him for possible terrorist connections.

So there are numerous possibilities here, but it is still a case of an FBI counterterrorism agent claiming, multiple times, that the contents of all phone calls are being recorded, which, if true, would be quite a revelation (and probably not something Clemente is supposed to be revealing via an interview with the media). At the very least, it would be good for there to be some serious follow up on this to find out how true Clemente’s claims really are.

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Comments on “Did FBI Counterterrorism Agent Reveal That Feds Now Record All Phone Calls?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Suspect BUFORD ROGERS Rogers Arrested in MONTEVIDEO

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Minneapolis Division
FBI Press Release

May 06, 2013

On Friday, May 3, 2013, special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in conjunction with the Montevideo Police Department; the Chippewa County Sheriff?s Office; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Minnesota State Highway Patrol; the Bloomington Police Department; the Minnehaha County Sheriff?s Office (South Dakota); the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; and members of CEE-VI (Cooperative Enforcement Effort), executed a search warrant at 1204 Benson Avenue, Lot #8, in Montevideo, Minnesota. Several guns and explosive devices were discovered during the search of the residence.

In addition to the execution of the search warrant, law enforcement personnel arrested Buford Rogers, born December 6, 1988, in Montevideo. Mr. Rogers was taken into custody without incident. A complaint against Mr. Rogers has been filed in Federal District Court, District of Minnesota. The investigation remains ongoing.

The FBI believes that a terror attack was disrupted by law enforcement personnel and that the lives of several local residents were potentially saved. The terror plot was discovered and subsequently thwarted through the timely analysis of intelligence and through the cooperation and coordination between the aforementioned agencies. Special Agent in Charge of the Minneapolis Division of the FBI J. Christopher Warrener stated that ?cooperation between the FBI and its federal, state, and local partners enabled law enforcement to prevent a potential tragedy in Montevideo.?

Mr. Rogers is presumed innocent until/unless he is convicted in a court of law.

Anonymous Coward says:

As far as I am aware this data has been captured for more than 20 years by a part of NSA. Rumours has it that they use an automatic system to look for certain words for further investigation.

The system has been investigated by EU and found to be problematic in terms of possible industrial spionage:


That it has worked since 1960’s and has turned from military to civil uses is not an unknown phenomenon.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: NO, just confirmed been doing it for several years.

“n the 15 years you’ve been struggling to make up your mind on copyright, the gov’t has been outright stealing privacy and liberty.”

We’ve already made up our minds: copyright needs to fulfil its intention of limiting copying the works to make a profit to those who own the right to do so, i.e. the copyright. This is usually owned by the publisher, who makes a deal with the author (licence), and pays royalties to the author.

What actually happens is that copyright terms are far too long and the publishers, collections agencies, and other actors often RIP OFF the author and keep the money for themselves.

Not satisfied with their existing income and feeling threatened by new technology, they’ve been pushing for longer and longer terms to the point where works are being held back from the public domain and culture is being locked away by keyholders who cling to it even if they’re not making money for it, simply so they can charge us if we want to access it. Result: old films, images, and books, etc. are being lost forever as the media they are stored on decay.

Meanwhile, the old keyholders are setting up systems that make sure that the biggest beneficiaries from copyright revenues are themselves. They’re also holding back any technology that threatens their existing business models instead of adapting to it and using it to make money.

The freedom and privacy that are being stolen are being done in the name of copyright, among other things. All that “Think of the children!” and “But terrorists!!!11eleventyone!” is FUD. The real threat is about those eeevillll pirates!111elventy!!!11! trying to get stuff for free having to change their business models to keep up with technology. They don’t have to when their pet government can change, bend, or even flat out break the laws to keep things as they are while idiots like you cheer them on, convinced that losing our privacy and freedom is worth the sacrifice if it spites Mike at least once.


Anonymous Coward says:

“It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation”

Do they have any idea how illegal this would be? If any court knew that an investigation was carried out and evidence obtained due to this, that evidence would be thrown out.

Furthermore, all evidence must be presented to the defense. You can’t just say “we choose not to present this evidence at trial”.

“and probably not something Clemente is supposed to be revealing via an interview with the media”

Of course he’s supposed to. As an American, it’s his duty to expose such a brazen violation of the rights of everyone in the country. The Constitution trumps any regulations put out by a federal agency. If you want to talk about “not supposed to”, how about “not supposed to record phone calls of other people without some sort of warrant”?

The best I can hope for is that this is some sort of misinformation campaign designed to get bad guys to stop using phones, thereby inconveniencing them. Otherwise, some people need to convince me why they should not be put in prison for several billion counts of illegal wiretapping.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

some people need to convince me why they should not be put in prison

Why do they need to convince you?

You, by yourself, have zero power. Even if, behind that AC nym, you’re a senior administration official, or a federal judge or something like that. You, by yourself, have zero power.

And, in case anyone’s wondering why I posted that FBI press release?well, sorry, but as much as anything else, it was posted as a BIG DISTRACTION. To point out that that kind of stuff is what most folks are paying attention to. That’s what the serious folks are paying attention to. If they’re paying attention to anything at all…

Anonymous Coward says:

is there any particular reason the guy would exaggerate or lie about this? what would he gain, other than the unwanted attention of certain ‘law’ enforcement agencies? i find it strange ,Mike, how when you come out with some ‘revelation’, it is put across as being true, but when someone else says something, you tend to dance a bit. i would have thought that what he said is true. the USA has forgotten what it stands for and has adopted the attitude that everyone is a criminal. everyone, that is, except the people in positions of power, pointing the finger! look at how the government has become nothing other than a well funded mouth-piece of the entertainment industries!

Anonymous Coward says:

It’ll be interesting to see how this will be argued. I’d guess that NSA will assert that it simply captures such a tremendous amount of raw data that it doesn’t constitute an invasion of privacy. And when the need arises, the government gets a warrant to mine that ocean of captured data and gets what they need.

It’s actually pretty clever and could withstand a legal challenge. I can easily see a court ruling that the capture of such enormous quantities of data from so many sources is legal as long as it is captured and stored. As long as a warrant is issued prior to examining data related to a specific individual, it might pass muster.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I was thinking along those lines as well. If they are storing this data they can simply not obtain, listen to, or view anything until they get a warrant first. Technically they can argue they aren’t spying.

Not that I really believe this story. There are issues I have, mostly obvious ones. It would require quite a lot of data storage space so you would need data centers. Though with decreasing hard drive prices and increasing hard drive disk space that’s not so true anymore. Also the phone companies would probably have to be in on it and the phone companies don’t work in a vacuum. Phone company techs would probably have to know about this. When too many people know about a secret it’s hard to keep it a secret, especially in this day and age.

I’m not saying such things don’t exist. They could and it wouldn’t surprise me. Just the pragmatic problems involved make me a bit skeptical.

DCX2 says:

Re: Re: Re:

If they are storing this data they can simply not obtain, listen to, or view anything until they get a warrant first.

Not entirely true.

They cannot use this data in a court of law without getting a warrant first. Without otherwise providing oversight, there is nothing to stop them from fishing around in that ocean for things that they will never use in court.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

…if they want to use the data in court.

?Obama is using drone strikes to replace Gitmo detentions, says ex-Bush administration lawyer? by Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal, May 6, 2013

A former Bush administration lawyer claims President Barack Obama is relying on drone strikes to kill terrorists because he doesn?t want to capture them and send them to Guantanamo Bay.

. . . .

?This administration has decided they don’t want to do detention, because the Bush administration got into trouble with detention, so now they’re just going to kill people,” Bellinger said.


Bellinger said targeted killings are justified under international law.?.?.?.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

What does that have to do with it?

The statement that I was responding to was:

…if they want to use the data in court.

Bellinger’s contention that ?This administration has decided they don’t want to do detention?.?.?. so now they’re just going to kill people,” is an indicator as to whether or not the Obama administration desires ?to use the data in court.?

If the administration’s strategy is extra-judicial execution, then it’s pretty obvious they’re not concerning themselves about prosecuting terrorists in a court of law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The only thing the Feds don’t do is open your mail and read it.

I was going to link to the Church Committee Final Report’s section on the post office cover program, but Googled up this story instead:

?The government is reading your mail? by Mark Benjamin, Salon, Jan 5, 2007

But that’s nothing new — a Bush signing statement reminds us how little we know about hush-hush postal-monitoring programs, and how vulnerable they are to abuse.

There was understandably little fanfare when, just before Christmas, President George W. Bush signed into law the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. But attached to this mundane postal legislation was a little-noticed presidential signing statement asserting the government?s power to open first-class mail without a warrant ? technically, ?an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection.?

The belated unearthing of this Dec. 20 signing statement was enough to prompt the New York Daily News Wednesday to trumpet on its tabloid front page, ?PREZ GOES POSTAL ? Outrage as Bush Claims New Powers to Open YOUR Mail.?


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You want to know what “the law” says? Here’s the 4th Amendment. Keep in mind that no law is allowed to violate the Constitution, or the law is automatically invalid.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

So actually, targeting everyone is WORSE because it violates the part that says “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

doesn’t the law say…?

Take some time read through the Church Committee Final Report, especially Book II: Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans. Pay special attention to the history related in ?II. The Growth of Domestic Intelligence: 1936 to 1976?.

Now understand this: Dick Cheney, and others around him, honestly believed (fsvo: “honest”) ? honestly believed that the intelligence reforms enacted in the wake of the Church Committee hearings and report had wrecked U.S. intelligence capabilities. When Cheney got to be Vice-President, and in the aftermath of 9/11, they were in a position to roll back those reforms.

Anonymous Coward says:

information overload?

The problem with recording *every* phone call, is very similar to the recent situation in Boston. There are vast amounts of data, such as pictures, phone calls etc, but nowhere near enough man or computer power to effectively process all of them, probably by several orders of magnitude. Its a waste of time, and a waste of money, not to mention a violation of the fourth amendment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: information overload?

a violation of the fourth amendment.

Katz v United States (1967). MR. JUSTICE WHITE, concurring.

I agree that the official surveillance of petitioner’s telephone conversations in a public booth must be subjected to the test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment and ?.?.?.?.

In joining the Court’s opinion, I note the Court’s acknowledgment that there are circumstances in which it is reasonable to search without a warrant. In this connection, in footnote 23 the Court points out that today’s decision does not reach national security cases. Wiretapping to protect the security of the Nation has been authorized by successive Presidents.?.?.?.

Footnote 23:

Whether safeguards other than prior authorization by a magistrate would satisfy the Fourth Amendment in a situation involving the national security is a question not presented by this case.

Of course, Katz is not the last word on the Court’s understanding of the Fourth Amendment. There is United States v United States District Court. And, even by the time of the 1976 Church Committee Final Report, additional cases had also reached the 3rd, 5th, and D.C. circuits.

But there is an even larger constitutional issue that looms over this area: In Marbury, and in many cases since, the Court has proclaimed itself the final arbiter of constitutional hair-splitting. But suppose the President disputes that. The Constitution does not confide the Commander-in-Chief power to the Chief Justice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: information overload?

I’m no lawyer, but I am aware of the concept of judicial review (Marbury vs Madison), its an important concept in the functioning of the supreme court.

That said, what exactly is the point of even having a constitution if the court can do whatever it wants, or interpret the law whatever way it sees fit?

While I recognize the necessity of the government to collect reasonable amounts of intelligence, there needs to be some threshold of suspicion before wiretapping, for both legal reasons (and hopefully moral ones too) as well as practical reasons.

Its far more efficient, and more likely to glean useful information, at least I think, to deeply analyze a small, albeit limited data set. Compare this to skimming, or flat out ignoring a vast collection of data. Both may miss a great deal, but the former does not involve the expense of collecting and storing all that data, and it is less legally questionable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 20 years ahead

I highly doubt that the government had access to computers comparable to those today in 1993.

Back then the 80486 (I think around 50-100 MHZ) was top of the line, perhaps a prototype Pentium or two, but certainly nothing like today.

The old CRAY II was one of the fastest supercomputers in the world back then, it was fast (1.9 GFLOPS), however modern-day graphics cards can be an order of magnitude faster for floating point operations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 20 years ahead

Correction on that, the CRAY II was not the fastest at that time, that would be the Numerical Wind Tunnel in Japan, which started operation in 1994. It ran at 124 GFLOPS, which is comparable to a modern, middle of the road PC. In a way you could say it was 20 years ahead of its time, but it was just one computer…

Btw, a 1200 baud modem, 40 megabyte disk and 640K is shit, even for 93.

Same says:

This is utter bullshit… I work in the telecoms industry, and even though recording capability is available, it is NOT, and I will repeat that for effect, IT IS NOT turned on for each line by default. The Law in the USA requires that “the fuzz” must submit a request to the telco. The Telco is allowed to refuse until “the fuzz” presents a court order.

jsf (profile) says:


Given the number on minutes that people in the US spend on the phone it is unlikely that it is all recorded and saved for any length of time. Mobile phone use alone is something like 200 billions minutes per year. Even if you build petabyte arrays as cheap as BackBlaze does, it would take something like 20 trillions dollars worth of hardware to store a single years worth of mobile calls. That’s almost an order of magnitude greater than the US budget, just for cell phone calls.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Unlikely

something like 200 billions minutes per year.

64 kbits/s is plenty good enough for voice. That’s 8KB/s.

Using your 200 billion minutes number (Where did this number come from? Someone check, before we rely on it.)??
200e9 min * 60 s/min = 1.2e13 s

1.2e13 s * 8e3 B/s = 9.6e16 B. ?? Call it 1e17 bytes.

Let’s say $10,000 / TB ?? (This is a government contract!)
That comes to $10 million a PB.
$1e7 / 1e15 B = 1e-8 $/B

1e17 B * 1e-8 $/B = $1e9. ?? Or a cool $1 billion.

John (profile) says:


This is ridiculous: what more should be said? They’ve been doing it, & only when they get caught, for the most part, is when we hear about it – imagine ALL the NO-Nos we haven’t heard about?
Liberty is the foundation which our Constitution & all ink used was built upon. The Powdered Wigs knew this: there’s no bending, twisting, modifying or forcing your depiction of what YOU may think or wish of this highly-important document. It’s so simple it’s beautiful: do what you will, choose your god(s), enjoy the flavor of asparagus or hate it; just don’t toss your shit in other-American’s back yards. So why is it currently not happening? It’s just like the religion I was raised in (& I’m sure a lot of other folks can relate to or feel the same): they preach love, tolerance, the golden rule, etc., but how rare it is to actually find people trying to live w/in the commands of their beliefs? I don’t have any answers, that’s for sure: I’ve got plenty of ideas, you can be damn-sure of that, but crust is important when it comes to a really-well baked apple pie!

roxie (user link) says:

recording of phone calls for average citizens

Its common knowledge that feds actually get to record the phone calls they want.It is interesting to know the law regarding civilians. In 11 states it requires consent of both parties of a conversation/phone to record the call while in other states, its sufficient to have one party consent. I know of a website named Recordatorwhich allows recording of phone calls without additional hassles.

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