When news broke that the wife of Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, spoke with her husband on the phone after his pictures and video appeared across the country as the prime suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, authorities focused on telephone calls between Russell and Tsarnaev that took place both before and after the attack to determine if she had prior knowledge of the plot or participated in any way. On May 1, 2013, CNN ran a segment on the story on their Outfront show discussing how the wife could be implicated in the Boston Marathon bombings through electronic conversations. CNN Host Erin Burnett discussed with his guest, former Counterterrorism Agent for the FBI, Tim Clemente, how voice mail could certainly be used to implicate Tsarnaev’s wife in the terrorist crime, but an off-the-cuff phone conversation was lost forever.
“If it’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?”
What FBI Agent Tim Clemente revealed shocked the CNN host. Clemente admitted that every phone conversation in the United States was recorded and could be recalled and re-listened to when needed.
“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.”
The host noted with surprise, “That is incredible!” to which FBI Agent Tim Clemente closed the conversation with:
“Welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”
“All of that stuff” – meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another, with or without a search warrant – “is being captured as we speak”.
A day later, Clemente again appeared on CNN where he was asked about his previous comments. He reiterated what he said the night before but added expressly that “all digital communications in the past” are recorded and stored.
Whether this revelation shocks you or not, as Glenn Greenwald, of The Guardian noted, it is important that it is made public.
“Mass surveillance is the hallmark of a tyrannical political culture. But whatever one’s view on that, the more that is known about what the US government and its surveillance agencies are doing, the better. This admission by this former FBI agent on CNN gives a very good sense for just how limitless these activities are.”