“What if we could build a national data warehouse containing information about every person in the United States? Thanks to secret interpretations of the PATRIOT ACT, top-secret Fourth Amendment exceptions allowed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and broad cooperation at the local, state, and federal level, we can!”
Sure, that comes from the parody NSA website because the real NSA would never be so blatantly honest, but that basically sums it up.
Former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden pops back up periodically in the news every now and again, just to remind us all (in case we’ve gotten too comfortable) that yes, indeed, our very own National Security Agency is continually sucking up our personal data (phone calls, emails, social media, etc. etc. ad nauseam) all the time directly in our faces — both while using the Constitution as toilet paper and while having the gall to try and tell us, “NSA goes to great lengths to ensure compliance with the Constitution, laws and regulations.”
Uh-huh. Suuuuure they do.
In reality, PRISM is just the latest abuse of power in a long train of abuses that goes back decades upon decades… most likely since 1947 when the agency was officially birthed and given powers under the National Security Act. It couldn’t have been long afterwards that the agency learned to crawl… collect… troll… and scour.
Take this Associated Press article run in the October 24, 1975 edition of the The Odessa American with the headline, “Panel Is Told of NSA Spying in Cable Office”:
In the mid-1960s, there was a photocopying machine in the operations room of Western Union International in New York. Whenever a foreign government sent a cable via the company’s facilities, the Western Union operator would copy it on the machine.
That machine belonged not to Western Union International, but to the National Security Agency. It gave the NSA access to cables in which embassies communicated with their countries and to messages from nations giving instructions to their legations in the United States.
Once a week, an NSA employee came to the office and serviced the machine. He removed its film roll and replaced it with a fresh one.
Nifty trick, huh?
This only stopped once Thomas Greenish, executive VP for Western Union International, found out about the curious machine in 1965 and decided to ask the NSA employee who was coming by periodically to change out the film to furnish official proof that the agency had authorization to continue copying everyone’s telegrams.
The NSA employee never came back after that.
While the testimony of Mr. Greenish gives the impression that this data collection only tracked foreign diplomatic cables, in light of what we know today about the boundless curiosity of the NSA, it is probable that the scope was much more expansive.
Did it really stop there? Or are there rooms upon rooms somewhere filled to the ceiling with America’s telegrams? Best wishes to your mother on her birthday, birth announcements, random office minutia, that sort of thing? You know, in the interest of “national security.”
Maybe it’s next to Room 641A.
Room 641A is an AT&T telecommunications interception facility in San Francisco the company runs for who else? The NSA. It was exposed in 2006, but former NSA World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group Director William Binney estimates Room 641A is only one of 10 or 20 said facilities installed throughout the country, including others in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego. Despite lawsuits attempting to reign in the practice of ‘wholesale’ collection and monitoring of Americans’ calls and communications, such as VOIP, the unholy alliance between telecom giants and government secret agencies has not stopped.
All this is pre-Snowden. Snowden was just icing on a 50-year-old unconstitutional surveillance state cake.
Also noteworthy from the 1975 article is the fact that RCA Global Communications and ITT World Communications — two of the biggest communications companies in the world at the time — refused to show up to testify before the congressional Subcommittee on Government Information and Individual Rights unless they were subpoenaed and forced to do so. Feel free to go ahead and read between those lines all you want, since they had absolutely no interest in our “individual rights” enough to willingly testify about them.
One has to wonder: had the NSA been around in the days of communication by carrier pigeon, would we have found a government fort filled to the brim with dead birds and scrawled notes somewhere or what?