NSA domestic spying: we stopped it in 1977 and we can stop it again

After seven years or more, it’s good people are finally noticing the NSA spying program: now maybe enough people will do something about it like we did in 1977.

Don’t believe it’s just limited to who calls who: since at least 2005, AT&T (and most likely all the other telcos) has been sending all telecommunications to NSA. This stuff started after 9/11 and was legalized by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Before 9/11 NSA respected a rigorous wall between it and domestic spying. Time to put that wall back up. Bruce Schneier wrote 29 December 2005, Project Shamrock,

Decades before 9/11, and the subsequent Bush order that directed the NSA to eavesdrop on every phone call, e-mail message, and who-knows-what-else going into or out of the United States, U.S. citizens included, they did the same thing with telegrams. It was called Project Shamrock, and anyone who thinks this is new legal and technological terrain should read up on that program.

Project SHAMROCK…was an espionage exercise that involved the accumulation of all telegraphic data entering into or exiting from the United States. The Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA) and its successor NSA were given direct access to daily microfilm copies of all incoming, outgoing, and transiting telegraphs via the Western Union and its associates RCA and ITT. Operation Shamrock lasted well into the 1960s when computerized operations (HARVEST) made it possible to search for keywords rather than read through all communications.

Project SHAMROCK became so successful that in 1966 the NSA and CIA set up a front company in lower Manhattan (where the offices of the telegraph companies were located) under the codename LPMEDLEY. At the height of Project SHAMROCK, 150,000 messages a month were printed and analyzed by NSA agents. In May 1975 however, congressional critics began to investigate and expose the program. As a result, NSA director Lew Allen terminated it. The testimony of both the representatives from the cable companies and of director Allen at the hearings prompted Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Frank Church to conclude that Project SHAMROCK was “probably the largest government interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.”

If you want details, the best place is James Banford’s books about the NSA: his 1982 book, The Puzzle Palace, and his 2001 book, Body of Secrets. This quote is from the latter book, page 440:

Among the reforms to come out of the Church Committee investigation was the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which for the first time outlined what NSA was and was not permitted to do. The new statute outlawed wholesale, warrantless acquisition of raw telegrams such as had been provided under Shamrock. It also outlawed the arbitrary compilation of watch list containing the names of Americans. Under FISA, a secret federal court was set up, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In order for NSA to target an American citizen or a permanent resident alien—a “green card” holder—within the United States, a secret warrant must be obtained from the court. To get the warrant, NSA officials must show that the person they wish to target is either an agent of a foreign power or involved in espionage or terrorism.

So what changed? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) spells it out:

  • USA PATRIOT Act of 2001
    That’s what tore down the wall the Church Committee built and got the NSA back into domestic spying with its Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP),
  • Protect America Act of 2007 (PAA)
    That was a one-year stopgap leading to:
  • FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FISAA, or FAA)
    Both PAA and FISAA gave the Executive permission to intercept and surveil communications of people outside the U.S., without prior FISA court approval and without demonstrating any link to terrorism. And most of that external telecommunication is actually intercepted within the U.S. As the Washington Post pointed out back in 2007:

    Contrary to the government’s depiction of its surveillance program as aimed at overseas terrorists, Klein said, much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic. Klein said he believes that the NSA was analyzing the records for usage patterns as well as for content.

    Mark Klein is the man who blew the whistle on NSA’s AT&T dragnet.
  • FISA order to FBI 25 April 2013
    Glenn Greenwald (who has been opposed to all this stuff the whole time) uncovered (Guardian 5 June 2013, NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily) a specific FISA court order telling Verizon to hand over call records to the FBI:

    Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.

  • NSA PRISM revealed by Washington Post 6 June 2013
    Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras wrote for the Washington Post 6 June 2013, Documents: U.S. mining data from 9 leading Internet firms; companies deny knowledge,

    The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

    The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

    Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

    PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority.

It’s time instead to get rid of that authority again, like we did back in the 1970s.

Next: Senators Feinstein and Chambliss shuffle their feet about FISA.


3 thoughts on “NSA domestic spying: we stopped it in 1977 and we can stop it again

  1. Pingback: Senators Feinstein and Chambliss shuffle their feet about FISA | Peerflow

  2. Pingback: NSA PRISM, Writs of Assistance, Rattlesnakes, and the Fourth Amendment | Peerflow

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