WHAT? The NSA monitors all electronic communications?!

June 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

C’MON, PEOPLE. “BRILL” told you that 14 years ago — and it was decades-old news even back then.

I recall that in the ’90s, before Enemy of the State, the NSA’s massive electronic eavesdropping capability was discussed regularly in “fringe” and Bible prophecy literature, Internet nooks and crannies, and citizen meetings at American Legion halls — sources most people back then would’ve dismissed as kooks and extremists, talking about stuff that “everybody knows couldn’t possibly be true.”

A fundamentalist ministry gospel tract warning about the NSA was reprinted in Walter Bowart’s mind-bending Operation Mind Control (Researchers Edition, 1994).


Full text of that tract, including the obligatory altar call.

Investigative reporter James Bamford published The Puzzle Palace, his first book on the NSA which covered the secret warrantless surveillance program, in 1982.

Yet it goes back years before that. The United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, aka Church Committee, was convened in 1975  to investigate various crimes and unaccountable secret programs of the cryptocracy. While the committee barely scraped the surface (as Bowart’s book and others reveal), among its hair-raising revelations was the story of Project SHAMROCK. Exactly as Brill explained to an incredulous Dean in the electromagnetically shielded warehouse, “The government’s been in bed with the entire telecommunications industry since the ’40s.”

In 1945, to be exact, Western Union, RCA and ITT began to let the Armed Forces Security Agency (later National Security Agency) intercept and read all telegraphic traffic those companies handled, whether domestic or foreign.

Later, other transmissions were included: phone, fax, satellite, and eventually, of course, traffic on the Defense Department–created Internet.

By the 1960s, in the name of fighting the Cold War, the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand forged a secret shared-eavesdropping agreement, creating what has come to be known as the ECHELON network. (Over the years, people have come to apply “ECHELON” loosely to cover the entire electronic surveillance dragnet of the NSA, foreign or domestic.)

“But how on earth could they listen to everybody?” says the scoffer. Obviously they cannot have live humans listening to and reading every call, email, website or Tweet, as they had people reading international and domestic telegraphic traffic back in the ’40s. However, they could, did, and do, have a vast array of computers with speech-recognition and recording capabilities. The computers to do the heavy lifting, sifting through vast amounts of noise to find the specific keywords the human programmers want, then record the conversation and kick it over to human analysts if certain red flags are raised. Increasing artificial intelligence allows even more automatic sorting, pattern recognition, social-network mapping – it practically does all the work for them. And yes, according to various accounts, this massive universal surveillance capability that can suck up literally everything from the ether has existed since the ’70s.

“What? I didn’t have access to speech-recognition software until a few years ago. How’d they have it back in the ’70s?” Are you kidding? The theory of digital communication was worked out by Bell Labs in the late 1920s, though the necessary hardware was lacking. Fast-forward to the early ’60s — then we begin to see the earliest (public) experiments with actual digital audio encoding, storage and decoding via computers. Of course, these were room-sized computers with refrigerator-sized hard drives, and of course, the average consumer could not afford them. But if you know anything about the cryptocracy, you know that it has never lacked either space or money — whether the funds come from the long-suffering taxpayers or from various “off-the-books” fundraising activities (by which, we’re not talking about bake sales). The NSA, in fact, was one of the biggest developers of computers, period, since it was the main customer. By the late ’70s, as the public was just beginning to hear about microcomputers for the consumer market, as either a business tool or an exotic toy for nerds, best believe the NSA had had the best technology on the planet for years.

All this is not to say that the NSA is giving, or could give, every American citizen the loving attention it gave to Will Smith and Gene Hackman’s characters in the 1999 action thriller. Nevertheless, if the agency, or some rogue group within, felt a need to single you out — for reasons “legitimate,” illegitimate, or mistaken — it certainly could. Visited any “subversive” websites lately? Have you associated with any “antigovernment” persons in the last few years? There’s a “War on Terror” going on, you know.

What with all the loose talk in some circles equating Tea Party and other opposition groups with “terrorists” or … enemies of the state, how do we know NSA surveillance capabilities haven’t been unleashed on such groups, with the data then turned over to the politicized IRS for punishment? That prospect, in itself, is enough to chill critical speech by any citizen — completely apart from the Obama administration’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers.

Also, chew on this: What if the shadowy NSA itself serves as a front for even shadowier private interests — interests wholly unregulated, even by the nominal, easily circumvented legal apparatus that allegedly restrains the “official” NSA?

Consider whether the private business interests who’ve for so long been in bed with the government — the telecoms like AT & T and Verizon, the contractors like Snowden’s employer Booz Allen Hamilton — aren’t in fact running the show, or at least, running an important part of  it. Think of the potential for private corporate espionage and high-level, above-the-law insider trading. What if you could have instant access to information about what any corporate entity was going to do? What if you knew which direction the markets were going to go? How would you use that information? How rich would such information make you and your cronies? If you have to spend more than half a second concluding that that does in fact happen, you need to get up to speed. For as long as the craft of intelligence has existed it has worked mainly on behalf of private privilege. International banking houses, such as the house of Rothschild, had efficient spy networks long before the Washington empire officially formed its peacetime intelligence agencies.

The NSA’s older and less geeky sister, CIA, was in fact literally born on Wall Street, the birth attended by international bankers and their lawyers, such as the Dulles brothers; CIA officers today openly moonlight as corporate spies.

For these reasons, more than one observer or whistleblower has suspected or charged that the CIA, in so many words, a Corporate Intelligence Agency owned by the super-elite — one the government just gets to borrow sometimes. (The classic work on the CIA’s real work is L. Fletcher Prouty’s The Secret Team.) With electronic communication so much more prevalent today, the sensible assumption is that NSA serves much the same purpose. The so-called congressional oversight is a joke, as Congressman Loretta Sanchez reveals.

By the way, don’t give me the jive about all the patriotic hard-working honorable men and women, blah blah — I don’t think people who work inside totally secret and unaccountable black boxes are entitled to any such benefit of the doubt even if 95 percent of them happen to be good 95 percent of the time; that still leaves plenty of space to get away with mischief, mayhem or murder — as well as space for honorable yet fallible people to make big mistakes with dangerous consequences.

So this has been going on since at least the 1940s, and you’re just finding out about this — at least in a major way —  now, in 2013. How’s that make you feel about your “democracy” and the vigilance of the media?

No, history isn’t what it used to be. Yes, most of what you think you know about America — especially in the last century, and especially especially since 1933 —  is wrong, or is a cover for deeper and blacker truth.

So what exactly do we do about the big elephant of the national security state, now that it’s standing right on our living room coffee table, trumpeting its presence so loud we can’t possibly miss it? That’ll come in subsequent posts.

  • When you read the Wikipedia articles on SHAMROCK, be sure to see the several other sister or successor programs linked to the SHAMROCK page.

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