Those defending the NSA’s surveillance activities in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks swear the program is lawful, transparent, and checked by oversight in other branches of government.
Many are even appalled at the suggestion that the NSA could ever overstep its bounds or intentionally violate the privacy of hundreds of millions of Americans. “The notion that we are trolling through everyone’s emails and voyeuristically reading them or listening to everyone’s phone calls is, on its face, absurd,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC.
At best, this is terribly ignorant; at worst, deliberately misleading. A simple glance at America’s very recent history shows we’d be naive to expect the NSA to adhere to their legal and constitutional limits. Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News:
“After World War II, the National Security Agency (NSA) established and directed three programs that deliberately targeted American citizens’ private communications,” wrote Army signals intelligence officer Major Dave Owen in a paper published late last year in an Army intelligence journal.
The three programs were Project SHAMROCK (1945 to 1975), which collected telegraph communications; Project MINARET (1960 to 1973), which functioned as a watch list for terms, names and references of interest; and Drug Watch Lists (1970 to 1973), which focused on communications of individuals and organizations believed to be associated with illegal drug traffic. Information about these programs first became public in the 1970s upon investigation by the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, known as the Church Committee.
Without the Church Committee, we might still have been unaware of the extent of the illegal domestic spying operations that occurred. These abuses were exposed only when the rampant political corruption of the 1970s prompted leaks to the press and an unprecedented Senate investigation aimed at uncovering them and reining them in.
In the latest case, we have a whistleblower, Edward Snowden, and a journalist committed to transparency, Glenn Greenwald. The material that has been leaked to the public about NSA surveillance is clear and straightforward: not only does NSA fail to get individualized warrants, it collects the call data of virtually all Americans in bulk and stores the content of our Internet activities. For officials to go on denying these programs are what the leaked documents reveal them to be is an exercise in futility. They are hoping Americans don’t read the leaked documents and only listen to their official denials (something the mainstream media has been dutifully helping them out with).
In order for Americans to believe the official denials, they either have to not read the leaked documents or be completely ignorant of the NSA’s not-too-distant history in which civil liberties were the last thing on anyone’s mind.