The warning signs were all there. Long, long ago they were all right there. Reading this article from the New York Times, published when I was just five years old, brings forth emotions of frustration, disappointment and even a sense of resentment. Resentment that many of those that came before us knew about all of this and basically did nothing. While those were my initial reactions, those negative emotions have turned into a strong sense of resolve and purpose. Many of us that are faced with the challenge of changing this messed up world we live in had very little to do with its creation, but that’s ok. This is our destiny and it is our duty.
There are several key takeaways from this article. First, and most importantly, sophisticated spy technologies with little oversight will ALWAYS be abused. This is not just the case today, but it was the case in the 1950′s, 60′s and 70′s as well. As the article points out, “the N.S.A. between 1952 and 1974 developed files on approximately 75,000 Americans” and “the agency also developed files on civil-rights and antiwar activists, Congressmen and other citizens who lawfully questioned Government policies.”
Second, no institution should ever be trusted to come clean on what they are up to. The N.S.A. has a long history of lying to everyone and anyone who questions it. It is only when leaks of their unconstitutional practices are made public that they cease any surreptitious activities (or at least pretend to).
Third, the most dangerous thing we can allow is the union of “public” and “private” intelligence security functions. These inevitably merge into one giant totalitarian nightmare such as what we suffer from today. The writing was on the wall long ago. It’s time to finally deal with this problem once and for all. Below are some choice excepts from this excellent New York Times article:
THE SILENT POWER OF THE N.S.A.
By David Burnham
Published: March 27, 1983
A Federal Court of Appeals recently ruled that the largest and most secretive intelligence agency of the United States, the National Security Agency, may lawfully intercept the overseas communications of Americans even if it has no reason to believe they are engaged in illegal activities. The ruling, which also allows summaries of these conversations to be sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, significantly broadens the already generous authority of the N.S.A. to keep track of American citizens.
Over the years, this virtually unknown Federal agency has repeatedly sought to enlarge its power without consulting the civilian officials who theoretically direct the Government, while it also has sought to influence the operation and development of all civilian communications networks. Indeed, under Vice Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, N.S.A. director from 1977 to 1981, the agency received an enlarged Presidential mandate to involve itself in communications issues, and successfully persuaded private corporations and institutions to cooperate with it.
Yet over the three decades since the N.S.A. was created by a classified executive order signed by President Truman in 1952, neither the Congress nor any President has publicly shown much interest in grappling with the far-reaching legal conflicts surrounding the operation of this extraordinarily powerful and clandestine agency. A Senate committee on intelligence, warning that the N.S.A.’s capabilities impinged on crucial issues of privacy, once urged that Congress or the courts develop a legislative or judicial framework to control the agency’s activities. In a nation whose Constitution demands an open Government operating according to precise rules of fairness, the N.S.A. remains an unexamined entity. With the increasing computerization of society, the conflicts it presents become more important. The power of the N.S.A., whose annual budget and staff are believed to exceed those of either the F.B.I. or the C.I.A., is enhanced by its unique legal status within the Federal Government. Unlike the Agriculture Department, the Postal Service or even the C.I.A., the N.S.A. has no specific Congressional law defining its responsibilities and obligations. Instead, the agency, based at Fort George Meade, about 20 miles northeast of Washington, has operated under a series of Presidential directives. Because of Congress’s failure to draft a law for the agency, because of the tremendous secrecy surrounding the N.S.A.’s work and because of the highly technical and thus thwarting character of its equipment, the N.S.A. is free to define and pursue its own goals.
According to an unpublished analysis by the House Government Operations Committee, the N.S.A. may have employed 120,000 people in 1976 when armed-services personnel were included in the official count. (According to a letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overseas listening posts numbered 2,000.) In comparison, the F.B.I. had one employee for every six working for the N.S.A. The House report also estimated that the agency’s annual expenditures were as high as $15 billion.
During the course of the investigation, its chairman, Senator Frank Church, repeatedly emphasized his belief that the N.S.A.’s intelligence-gathering activities were essential to the nation’s security. He also stressed that the equipment used to watch the Russians could just as easily ”monitor the private communications of Americans.’‘ If such forces were ever turned against the country’s communications system, Senator Church said, ”no American would have any privacy left. … There would be no place to hide.”
The N.S.A. gradually developed a ”watch list” of Americans that included those speaking out against the Vietnam War.
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