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Published in Washington, D.C.. . . . . . . . Vol. 13, No. 35 -- Sept 15, 1997 . . . . . . . . www.insightmag.com Did Clinton Bug Conclave for Cash? ___________________________________________________________________ By Timothy W. Maier ___________________________________________________________________ A presidential conference with Asian leaders was bugged by U.S. intelligence agencies, say high-level sources, and information was passed from the White House to big Democratic corporate donors. I magine sitting in your room, shoes kicked off and your necktie loosened. It's been a long, hard day and now, sipping coffee, you're talking to a colleague who is fixing a drink at the mini-bar. At the same time, you're on the phone sharing information about the conference you've just attended. Sounds pretty typical, doesn't it? Okay, now continue to imagine that just a few floors below your hotel room there's a secret command center filled with federal law-enforcement officers, intelligence agents and military personnel watching and listening to your every move and conversation. . . . . Such a scenario might make sense if you were a mobster or a spy or a terrorist on whom the government needs to conduct such surveillance to protect the country from crime, espionage, or acts of terror. But what if this scene -- extended to hundreds of hotel suites and meeting rooms in a major coastal city -- occurred during an international conference of world leaders hosted by the president of the United States of America? . . . . Insight has been told that this is exactly what happened in 1993 in Seattle during a five-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, conference, in which leaders of about 15 nations gathered to discuss the future of trade and security issues involving the United States and our Pacific partners. "There were bugs placed in over 300 locations," says a high-level source with detailed knowledge about the extraordinary top-secret operation run by the FBI in conjunction with intelligence personnel from the National Security Agency, or NSA, and the Office of Naval Intelligence, among many others. . . . . "Just about every single room was bugged," according to the high-level source who spoke to Insight on condition of anonymity. "Vehicles were bugged," as were telephones and conference centers. Even a charter-boat trip arranged by the president to Blake Island, a 475-acre state park in the Puget Sound, was monitored by agents with electronic-listening devices. . . . . The top-secret bugging operation was massive and well-coordinated. And the only reason it has come to light is because of concerns raised by high-level sources within federal law-enforcement and intelligence circles that the operation was compromised by politicians -- including mid- and senior-level White House aides -- either on behalf of or in support of President Clinton and major donor-friends who helped him and the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, raise money. A quid pro quo? . . . . If the allegations of a massive, secret eavesdropping operation and leaks of information from that project by presidential aides prove true, then the White House will have a lot of explaining to do. So will the DNC and people involved in the reported clandestine plot who subsequently gained knowledge of suspected White House leaks but chose not to launch a national-security inquiry. . . . . The FBI was not happy with many aspects of the operation, according to the sources -- especially so when agents discovered the leaks. Complaints were brought within the bureau but, apparently, got nowhere. That is, until now. . . . . The White House and the DNC deny the charges, let alone admit that such a secret intelligence operation was conducted against the heads of government gathered for the trade conference. The NSA and the National Security Council, or NSC, won't respond to questions about such an operation or any similar operation, Insight sources in and out of government have confirmed. Neither will the FBI nor the Defense Department comment. The CIA and other intelligence agencies are mum, too. . . . . Besides the revelation of the Seattle operation, Insight's sources say that information collected by the project's "monitors" was shared with people outside of national-security circles and involved proprietary data on oil and hydroelectric deals in Asia, including Vietnam. "I was told that information was passed to attorneys working for the DNC" who were involved directly and indirectly with large business ventures overseas, says one of the sources, who adds that one of the couriers was alleged to be a mid-level White House aide. . . . . Such startling revelations about domestic intelligence-gathering and allegations of leaks for political purposes certainly will become a cause célèbre for investigators now probing campaign fund-raising abuses by the DNC and the White House. "You get me the name of a person who will talk about this to us," says one senior congressional investigator contacted by Insight, and Congress will get to the bottom of it. . . . . Insight's sources say that besides worry about the damage caused by one of the largest eavesdropping operations mounted on American soil in U.S. history -- it allegedly included video, audio and telecommunications equipment -- U.S. intelligence experts also worry about the effects potential leaks of private conversations by heads of state and top ministers may have had on business and political deals around the globe. . . . . Beyond the tawdry politicizing of this alleged operation, the very nature of such an intelligence undertaking on American soil comes as no great surprise. The surprise is in the detailed information about the clandestine operation that reached Insight. "No reputable government official would discuss it" with you, an astonished senior intelligence official said privately when asked to comment. . . . . But clandestine snooping on a grand scale is familiar stuff in the Washington area. It is a widely known secret that the NSA has a system known as ECHELON by which the government can -- and routinely does -- intercept E-mail, fax, telex and telephone communications. Designed primarily for nonmilitary targets -- including governments, businesses and individuals -- the system steals communications internationally, says John Pike, the director of cyberstrategy projects at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists. . . . . "I assume that it is all being monitored with keyword scanning," Pike says. "They throw away almost all of the stuff they collect. But they have that watch list for names and they are working on voice-recognition software and that's going to be the big thing in the future." Such technology is used jointly by NSA and its allies as a "creative" means to avoid court orders, Pike claims. . . . . In 1992, a year before the alleged bugging of the Seattle conference, a group of agents for GCHQ, the British counterpart of the NSA, blasted ECHELON. "We feel we can no longer remain silent regarding that which we regard to be gross malpractice and negligence within the establishment in which we operate," the intelligence agents told the London Observer. The British agents claimed the NSA even helped intercept communications from Amnesty International and Christian Aid. Asked about ECHELON, the NSA says, "We have no information to provide." . . . . Given all this snooping, there is little wonder that a worldwide market has developed for impenetrable encryption, which also could curb identity theft -- stealing Social Security numbers and credit cards. "It's the reason I can't make any money on my World Wide Web site," Pike says. "People, for better or worse, don't trust the Internet. What we need is strong encryption available to everybody. Yes, it's going to cramp the style of the folks at the Puzzle Palace [NSA], but a life more difficult at NSA means life is easier for the rest of the planet. The benefits of promoting global Internet commerce outweigh the harm to the NSA." . . . . But, of course, exporting sophisticated encryption technology is prohibited, and everything bureaucratically possible is being done to restrict its widespread dissemination in the United States and overseas. . . . . Mike Godwin, an attorney with the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the government is afraid. "Encryption is frightening to the government because it makes transactions hard to trace. We have the technology to shift the balance back to the 19th century, where you could be certain someone was not listening outside of your house. But you can't be certain today." . . . . Indeed you can't. Apparently not even at an international conference of world leaders hosted on American soil by the president of the United States. Worse still, under this administration it may even be that the electronic pockets of America's top security agencies are not safe from gumshoe counterspies who, for reasons of politics or money, deliver vital information gained from snooping and otherwise to political operatives eager to trade it for contributions from international corporate operators or whomever is paying the most today. . . . . It is because of such concerns that bipartisan members of Congress -- including nervous Democrats -- publicly and privately are stepping up their demands for an independent-council appointment to probe campaign abuses. It seems likely that more calls for probes soon will be heard. And questions about what the FBI knows, as well as the Secret Service, may lead to yet more astonishing answers. Click here to go back to the top of this article. HOME | FREE OFFER! | LETTERS | LINKS Copyright © 1997 News World Communications, Inc. [ISMAP]
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