Sari Horwitz, a writer from the Washington Post reporting on the investigation of Katherine Russell, the wife of the deceased Boston bomber, inadvertently mentioned in an article that federal officials had access to the content of phone calls Russell tried to make to her husband when she learned of his involvement in the incident. Buried inside the fifth paragraph of the Post's report was this: "Officials said that Russell called her husband when she saw his photograph on television — following the FBI’s release of the pictures of the suspects…."
Almost immediately Erin Burnett, the host of CNN’s Outfront, wanted to know how the government knew. Aren't phone calls supposed to be private? She interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent on May 1, asking:
Is there any way … they [the federal investigators] can try to get the phone companies to give that up … It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they can actually find out what [was said on the call], right, unless she tells them?
Clemente: 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 … we certainly can find that out.
Burnett: So they can actually get that? … that is incredible.
Clemente: Welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak, whether we know it or like it, or not.
Glenn Greenwald, writing in the Guardian, explained just what kind of “stuff” the FBI is able to track: “All digital communications — meaning phone calls, emails, online chats and the like — are automatically recorded and stored and [are] accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.”
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