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“Harpooning fish from an airplane”: NSA surveillance of US citizens

January 22, 2009

Boingboing has a link to a ten-miunte long MSNBC inerview with Russell Tice, an ex-National Security Agency (NSA) employee who is the latest in the long line of NSA whistleblowers after the likes of Wayne Madsen and Magaret Newsham. Tice’s revelations concern the NSA’s monitoring of internal communications in the USA after 9/11. According to Tice, the NSA both swept all US communications and also targeted specific groups, including journalists, for more comprehensive collection.

I have no idea how genuine Tice is and in many ways, despite the occasional choice phrase to describe SIGINT operations like the one with which I titled this post, he is a lot less interesting than Madsen or Newsham in that he’s not really telling us anything we didn’t know already. There is also a rather naive attitude from mainstream organisations like MSNBC that this is all down to the evil President Bush. This seems to suggest a lack of knowledge of history – do they really not remember the massive scandal over the very same use of watchlists by the NSA on behalf of the FBI in the 1960s? The huge inquiry led by Senator Frank Church in the 1970s? Can they continue to pretend that this is all totally new and that we can forget about ECHELON and the fact that this kind of surveillance is pervasive and systematic and becomes more so as technologies of collection, archiving and analysis improve? That is and always has been, what the NSA does in conjunction with its UKUSA network of largely subordinate allies and helpers (see this nice summary from Le Monde).

Of course this could be another explanation of Tice’s role, and the reason why he is being allowed to do the rounds of the newspapers and TV stations. Far from being simply a disaffected employee, he might be either a knowing or unknowing part of a media strategy by the NSA. If the NSA can put this down to a period of bad leadership and bad policy, it might be allowed to get on with what it does relatively unhindered in the Obama era. We shall see… or rather, we probably won’t!

NB: I wrote my PhD thesis on the networks of NSA-related bases around the world, including Menwith Hill, not far from where I live. It is worth checking out Cryptome’s Eyeball series of aerial views of NSA and other secret sites.

Fort George C. Meade, Maryland, Headquarters of the NSA

Fort George C. Meade, Maryland, Headquarters of the NSA

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