Millions of Americans are outraged to find that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been running a program to spy on the Internet.
National Security Agency
Created in 1952, the NSA is the largest signals-intercepting and code-cracking agency in the world, using specially designed high-speed computers to analyze literally mountains of data.
Headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, the NSA dwarfs the better-known Central Intelligence Agency in both its budget (which is classified) and number of employees (40,000).
NSA’s program–entitled PRISM–collects a wide range of data from nine Internet service providers, although the details vary by provider.
Here are the nine ISPs:
And here is what we know (so far) they provide to the ever-probing eyes of America’s Intelligence community:
- Stored data
- File transfers
- Video conferencing
- Notification of target activity (logins)
- Online social networking details
- VolP (Voice Over Internet Porocol)
- Special requests
“Trailblazer,” NSA’s data-mining computer system
The program has been run by the NSA since 2007. But its existence became front-page news only in early June, 2013, when a former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, leaked its capabilities to The Guardian, a British newspaper.
While millions of Americans were surprised at this massive electronic vacuuming of data, at least one man could not have been.
This was Neil Sheehan, the former New York Times reporter who, in 1971, broke the story of the Pentagon Papers. A secret Pentagon study, it documented how the United States became entangled in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.
Its existence had been leaked by Daniel Ellsburg, a former defense analyst for the RAND corporation.
Among the Pentagon Papers’ embarrassing revelations:
- Four Presidents–Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson–had misled the public about their intentions.
- At least two Presidents–Kennedy and Johnson–committed increasing numbers of ground forces to Vietnam out of fear. Not fear for the South Vietnamese but fear that they (JFK and LBJ) would be charged with being “soft on Communism” and thereby not re-elected.
- Kennedy knew the South Vietnamese government to be thoroughly corrupt and inept, and plotted to overthrow its president, Ngo Dinh Diem, to “save” the war effort.
- During the Presidential campaign of 1964, Johnson decided to expand the war but posed as a peacemaker. He claimed that his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, wanted to bomb North Vietnam and send thousands of American soldieers into an unnecessary war.
A memo from the Defense Department under the Johnson Administration summed up the duplicity behind the war. It listed the real reasons for American involvement: “To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.”
- 70% – To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.
- 20% – To keep South Vietnam and the adjacent territory from Chinese hands.
- 10% – To permit the people of South Vietnam to enjoy a better, freer way of life.
- ALSO – To emerge from the crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.
- NOT – To ‘help a friend’.
The study implicated only the administrations of Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
But then-President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, saw the release of the papers as a dangerous breach of national security.
After the New York Times began publishing the study, Nixon ordered the Justice Department to intervene.
For the first time in United States history, a federal judge legally forbade a newspaper to publish a story.
The Times frantically appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Washington Post (having gotten a second set of the documents from Ellsburg) rushed its own version of the story into print.
On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court ruled, 6–3, that the government had failed to meet the burden of proof required for prior restraint of press freedom.
For Sheehan, reading the Papers was an eye-opener, a descent into a world he had never imagined possible.
As David Halberstam wrote in The Best and the Brightest, his best-selling 1972 account of how arrogance and deceit led the United States into disaster in Vietnam:
Sheehan came away with the overwhelming impression: that the government of the United States was not what he had thought it was.
Sheehan felt that he had discovered an inner U.S. government, highly centralized, and far more powerful than anything else. And its enemy wass not simply the Communists but everything else–its own press, judiciary, Congress, foreign and friendly governments.
It had survived and perpetuated itself, often by using the issue of anti-Communism as a weapon against the other branches of government and the press. And it served its own ends, rather than the good of the Republic.
This inner government used secrecy to protect itself–not from foreign governments but to keep its own citizens ignorant of its crimes and incompetence.
Each succeeding President was careful to not expose the faults of his predecessor.
Essentially the same people were running the government, wrote Halberstam, and so each new administration faced virtually the same enemies.