Last week, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina bragged about providing truckloads of HP servers to the NSA after 9/11, at the urgent request of then-NSA-chief Michael Hayden.
In an interview with Yahoo News, she boasted about receiving a call from Hayden, after which she swiftly redirected an order of HP servers to Fort Meade. "Carly, I need stuff and I need it now," he reportedly told her. The NSA needed the machines to implement its warrantless wiretapping program codenamed "STELLARWIND."
"I felt it was my duty to help, and so we did," Fiorina, who was the CEO of HP at the time, said.
Until Fiorina bragged about it, this episode of obedient collaboration between the computer giant and the spy agency had never come out—because, evidence suggests, it might have been classified.
Paul Dietrich, an activist and independent researcher, noticed that a document leaked by Edward Snowden and in 2013 contains a possible reference to Fiorina's assist. The document, a top secret working draft of an NSA Inspector General report on STELLARWIND, refers to an order of 50 "computer servers to store and process data acquired under the new authority." In a footnote, the document reveals that "a vendor diverted a shipment of servers" to the NSA "because of the heightened terrorist threat" on Oct. 13, 2001.
The document was partially declassified by the NSA earlier this year, but the page that contains the reference to the diverted servers remained entirely blacked out, hinting that the US government considers this specific part of the report still classified.
The fact that the document doesn't specify the name of the vendor is not entirely surprising. As Dietrich put it in an email, the NSA "REALLY HATES talking about corporate relationships." For example, it took a group of reporters a lot of sleuthing to reveal that AT&T was the unnamed company working with the NSA on another surveillance program called FAIRVIEW.
But the spy agency has many more partners. In fact, another leaked document from the Snowden cache, published in Glenn Greenwald's book No Place to Hide, shows that HP is among the NSA's "strategic" partners.
When asked about the episode, an HP spokesperson initially referred all questions to the NSA, declining to comment. When I followed up asking whether that meant HP is bound by an Non-Disclosure Agreement, the spokesperson replied in an email: "It means exactly that."
The NSA, however, did not respond to Motherboard's repeated requests for comment. Fiorina's spokesperson Anna Epstein also did not respond to Motherboard's emails and calls.
"The agency didn't want a record of it suddenly buying a lot of new equipment," Harris writes in the book. "So officials asked a server vendor to divert a shipment intended for another recipient to the NSA instead, and tell no one."
"Officials asked a server vendor to divert a shipment intended for another recipient to the NSA instead, and tell no one."
Hayden, who personally asked Fiorina for the servers, told me that "there'd be no record of it" because the request "was informal—it was a phone call."
"We just wanted the equipment, alright? We just wanted to get their products, and we couldn't wait for the normal purchasing agreement to go through," he said in an interview after an event in Manhattan on Tuesday. "We paid for them. We did all the paperwork, but I needed them right away."
"We asked for computers, we got them," he added. "Were some of them used for STELLARWIND? Yes."
Additional reporting by Sam Gustin