Domestic Spying Program Could Aid Terrorists, Experts Say

Domestic wiretapping could pose "an awesome risk" to national security.

ByABC News
January 31, 2008, 5:21 PM

Feb. 1, 2008— -- Although the Bush administration calls it a vital weapon against terrorism, its domestic wiretapping effort could become a devastating tool for terrorists if hacked or penetrated from inside, according to a new article by a group of America's top computer security experts.

The administration has said little about the program except to defend it against charges it amounts to illegal spying on U.S. citizens. When news of the program broke in 2006, then-White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the program a "limited" effort "targeted at al Qaeda communications coming into or going out of the United States."

But documents submitted in an ongoing court case indicate the program involves data centers at major telecommunications hubs that siphon off and analyze billions of bytes of Americans' emails, phone calls and other data.

By diverting the flow of so much domestic data into a few massive pools, the administration may have "[built] for its opponents something that would be too expensive for them to build for themselves," say the authors: "a system that lets them see the U.S.'s intelligence interests...[and] that might be turned" to exploit conversations and information useful for plotting an attack on the United States.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred a request for comment on the article to the interagency National Counterterrorism Center, which directed calls to the National Security Agency, which reportedly runs the program. The NSA declined to comment for this story.The White House referred calls to the NSA.

The article, slated to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal IEEE Security & Privacy, was written by six experts from Sun Microsystems, Columbia University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and California-based research giant SRI International.