Saturday, October 04, 2014

Illegal NSA surveillance, Ronald Reagan and after

"The Smoking man"
Source: Wikipedia
Ronnie endorsing smoking

Do dee do do, do dee do do... It would be funny - or a good X-files plotline - if it weren't true. James Bamford has been investigating - and fighting, bravely, more than I think I could do - the NSA since the 70s.

He didn't come to this as a journalist at first, but as a security-cleared part-time operative for the Naval Reserve who became a whistleblower when he found things that played on his sense of right and wrong. Especially when the NSA lied to the Church Committee in 1975 about having wound up its illegal surveillance:

"Soon after, committee staffers flew down to Sabana Seca for a surprise inspection. Surprise, indeed. They were shocked to discover the program had never been shut down, despite the NSA’s claims."

Post-Watergate, it was thinkable to consider prosecuting a Government agency - but then there was a change of Attorney General when Ronald Reagan became President:

"If the first shock to top officials at the NSA was the discovery that they were being investigated as potential criminals, the second shock was that I had a copy of the top secret file on the investigation. When the NSA discovered that the file was in my possession, director Bobby Inman wrote to the attorney general informing him that the documents contained classified information and should never have been handed over to me. But Civiletti, apparently believing that the file had been properly reviewed and declassified, ignored Inman’s protest.

"Then, on January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan was sworn into office. At the Justice Department, Civiletti was replaced by a new attorney general with a much more accommodating attitude when it came to the NSA: William French Smith..."

The NSA wanted to retrieve embarrassing evidence from Bamford, and the President was gung-ho to help them:

"Despite the threats, I refused to alter my manuscript or return the documents. Instead, we argued that according to Executive Order 12065, “classification may not be restored to documents already declassified and released to the public” under the Freedom of Information Act. That prompted the drama to move all the way up to the White House. On April 2, 1982, President Reagan signed a new executive order on secrecy that overturned the earlier one and granted him the authority to “reclassify information previously declassified and disclosed.” "

Since then, of course, and since the Internet and supercomputers, the - some say unconstitutional and illegal - spying has become much worse:

"The agency’s metadata collection program now targets everyone in the country old enough to hold a phone. The gargantuan data storage facility it has built in Utah may eventually hold zettabytes (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) of information. And the massive supercomputer that the NSA is secretly building in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, will search through it all at exaflop (1,000,000,000,000,000,000 operations per second) speeds."

For the whole of Bamford's account on NewsTrust, please see:

We need to do this to get at our, er, your enemies, says the apologists, here in the UK as in the USA. But remember the words of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's play, "A Man For All Seasons":

"What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, [...] the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's, and if you cut them down [...] do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"


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