Writing Wrongs

December 28, 2005

Jokingly referred to as "No Such Agency," the N.S.A. was created in absolute secrecy in 1952 by President Harry S. Truman. Today, it is the largest intelligence agency. It is also the most important, providing far more insight on foreign countries than the C.I.A. and other spy organizations.

Maybe it’s my intelligence background, but I’ve always regarded the NSA with a mix of awe and fear.

The N.S.A.'s original target had been the Communist bloc. The agency wrapped the Soviet Union and its satellite nations in an electronic cocoon. Anytime an aircraft, ship or military unit moved, the N.S.A. would know.

When I worked in the Corps’s intell section (back when being “forward deployed” in Germany meant we were waiting for the balloon to go up), we knew, too. We had what must be the equivalent of classified wire services, spitting out reports constantly. If some Soviet Army private backed a tank into a fence, we knew about it.

What do you do with all that data? Well, it’s hard to say. No, really. There’s an art to sifting through what amounts to mountains of data and seeing if there are any patterns, turning it into useful information. Doing this without undue influence from the powers that be is even harder.

Originally created to spy on foreign adversaries, the N.S.A. was never supposed to be turned inward.

When the news first broke, I was appalled. Sure, back in the day, we’d joke about Big Brother watching you, but I know it was pounded into my head: You don’t spy on Americans.

This is bigger than Watergate, I thought. Surely, it’s bigger than Watergate . . . why isn’t it bigger than Watergate?

Thirty years ago, Senator Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who was then chairman of the select committee on intelligence, investigated the agency and came away stunned.

"That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people," he said in 1975, "and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide."

I can’t believe some of the tongue-in-cheek/tossed off remarks made by people, along the lines of: Who cares if “Big Brother” is watching. We’re safe!

This is a variant of the censorship argument that says we must curtail first amendment rights for “the children’s sake.”

There is no freedom of speech if some voices are silenced.

There is no safety without freedom.

"I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge," Senator Church said. "I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."

Text pulled from The Agency That Could Be Big Brother by James Bamford, Published: December 25, 2005, NYT
Full article here

Charity Tahmaseb wrote at 10:35 a.m.