I wrote back in June about "5 Alarming Things We Should Have Already Known About the NSA, Surveillance, and Privacy Before Edward Snowden."
A 1983 New York Times story that's been making the rounds on social networking the past couple of days makes it all the more clear that shocking revelations about NSA principles and practicies have the sad quality of always sounding fresh.
Some excerpts with commentary about things we, if we were paying attention, "knew" about NSA–this isn't underground stuff, it was in the New York Times–but that often fail to really penetrate people's everyday vision of how the world works. Again, 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.
The decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit involves the Government surveillance of Abdeen Jabara, a Michigan-born lawyer who for many years has represented Arab-American citizens and alien residents, and reverses a 1979 ruling that the N.S.A.'s acquisition of Jabara's overseas messages violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free of "unreasonable searches and seizures." Even while refusing the plaintiff's request for reconsideration, the Court curiously acknowledged the far-reaching nature of the case, recognizing that the N.S.A.'s interception of overseas telecommunications and their dissemination to "other Federal agencies has great potential for abuse." The Court, however, held that the problem was "a policy matter that lies in the domain of the executive or legislative branch of our Government."
See what a responsible job they've done with it, Court?
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…..
According to the subsequent investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, a total of 1,200 Americans were targeted by the N.S.A. between 1967 and 1973 because of their political activities. The subjects—chosen by the F.B.I., the Secret Service, the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency -included members of radical groups, celebrities and ordinary citizens. When it appeared that Congress might learn about the eavesdropping, the surveillance halted.
The Senate intelligence committee also discovered a second illegal surveillance program, under which the N.S.A., and its military predecessors, examined most of the telegrams entering or leaving the country between 1945 and 1975. The program was abruptly halted in May 1975, a date coinciding with the Senate committee's first expression of interest in it.
Telegrams! Ah, the 20th century.
The records obtained by the committee indicate that from the project's earliest stages, both Government officials and corporate executives understood that the surveillance flatly violated a Federal law against intercepting or divulging telegrams. Certainly, they were aware that such interception violated the Fourth Amendment, guaranteeing against unreasonable searches and seizures, which also holds that a court warrant can be issued only when there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.
Using the information thus gathered, the N.S.A. between 1952 and 1974 developed files on approximately 75,000 Americans, some of whom undoubtedly threatened the nation's security. However, the agency also developed files on civil-rights and antiwar activists, Congressmen and other citizens who lawfully questioned Government policies. For at least 13 of the 22 years the agency was building these files, the C.I.A. had access to them and used the data in its Operation Chaos, another computerized and illegal tracking system set up during the Vietnam War. At its peak, the Chaos files had references to more than 300,000 Americans.
But back in 1983, the NSA had new horizons to explore:
The already expansive appetite of American intelligence analysts was further sharpened by technical advances that were occurring, not entirely by chance, at the same time. The technology in question was the digital computer, the wondrous tool diligently developed by American scientists working for such companies as I.B.M., the RCA Corporation and Sperry Rand, and covertly underwritten in a major way by the N.S.A. The computers' ability to acquire, organize, store and retrieve huge amounts of data was an essential factor leading to the agency's enlarged definition of intelligence…
….President Carter had decided to create a huge new category of material worthy of Government protection: information that "would be useful to an adversary."
Telephone links in the areas where Soviet spies were known to be listening were rerouted via underground cable. To further reduce the leakage of the new category of information, the President directed the N.S.A. to approach large corporations and other institutions, collect information about their communications networks and assist them in safeguarding their material. The Carter directive sanctioning the N.S.A.'s involvement in the planning, organization and development of private communications systems not handling classified secrets was only one of several ways in which the power of the agency grew…
And the conclusion, ripped from the headlines of today, in that dim yesterday:
No laws define the limits of the N.S.A.'s power. No Congressional committee subjects the agency's budget to a systematic, informed and skeptical review. With unknown billions of Federal dollars, the agency purchases the most sophisticated communications and computer equipment in the world. But truly to comprehend the growing reach of this formidable organization, it is necessary to recall once again how the computers that power the N.S.A. are also gradually changing lives of Americans—the way they bank, obtain benefits from the Government and communicate with family and friends. Every day, in almost every area of culture and commerce, systems and procedures are being adopted by private companies and organizations as well as by the nation's security leaders that make it easier for the N.S.A. to dominate American society should it ever decide such action is necessary.
Our mission now: make sure that our current wave of Snowden revelations don't get as buried in our minds as this sort of stuff about NSA from 1983 mostly did.