Global surveillance disclosures (1970–2013)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Global surveillance refers to the practice of globalized mass surveillance on entire populations across national borders.[1] Although its existence was first revealed in the 1970s and led legislators to attempt to curb domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA), it did not receive sustained public attention until the existence of ECHELON was revealed in the 1980s and confirmed in the 1990s.[2] In 2013 it gained substantial worldwide media attention due to the global surveillance disclosure by Edward Snowden.[3]


  • 1975 (1975): The Church Committee investigated the NSA and passed legislation intended to curb domestic spying.[4][5]
  • November 3, 1999 (1999-11-03): The BBC confirmed the existence of the global spying network ECHELON[2]
The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center led to major reforms of U.S. intelligence agencies, and paved the way for the establishment of the Director of National Intelligence position
  • December 16, 2005 (2005-12-16): After withholding its publication for a year, The New York Times released an article under the following headline: "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts"[6]
On January 1, 2006, President Bush emphasized that "This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America. And I repeat, limited."[7]
  • May 11, 2006 (2006-05-11): USA Today reported that the NSA has a "massive database of Americans' phone calls"[8] Shortly afterwards, President Bush emphasized that the NSA's surveillance is limited and within the law[9]
  • June 6, 2013 (2013-06-06): Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported that the NSA is "collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily"[10]
On June 7, 2013, President Obama emphasized the importance of government surveillance to prevent terrorist attacks


In 1972 NSA analyst Perry Fellwock (under the pseudonym "Winslow Peck") introduced the readers of Ramparts magazine to the NSA and the UKUSA Agreement.[11] In 1976, a separate article in Time Out magazine revealed the existence of the GCHQ.[12]


In 1982 James Bamford's book about the NSA, The Puzzle Palace, was first published. Bamford's second book, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, was published two decades later.

In 1988 the ECHELON network was revealed by Margaret Newsham, a Lockheed employee. Newsham told a member of the U.S. Congress that telephone calls of Strom Thurmond, a Republican U.S. senator, were being collected by the NSA. Congressional investigators determined that "targeting of U.S. political figures would not occur by accident. But was designed into the system from the start."[13]

By the late 1990s ECHELON was reportedly capable of monitoring up to 90% of all internet traffic.[14] According to the BBC in May 2001, however, "The US Government still refused to admit that Echelon even exists."[14]


In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, William Binney, along with colleagues J. Kirke Wiebe and Edward Loomis and in cooperation with House staffer Diane Roark, asked the U.S. Defense Department to investigate the NSA for allegedly wasting "millions and millions of dollars" on Trailblazer, a system intended to analyze data carried on communications networks such as the Internet. Binney was also publicly critical of the NSA for spying on U.S. citizens after the September 11, 2001 attacks.[15] Binney claimed that the NSA had failed to uncover the 9/11 plot despite its massive interception of data.[16]

In 2001, after the September 11 attacks, MI5 started collecting bulk telephone communications data in the United Kingdom (i.e. what telephone numbers called each other and when) and authorized the Home Secretary under the Telecommunications Act 1984 instead of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which would have brought independent oversight and regulation. This was kept secret until announced by the then Home Secretary in 2015.[17][18][19]

On December 16, 2005, The New York Times published a report under the headline "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts," which was co-written by Eric Lichtblau and the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen. According to The Times, the article's date of publication was delayed for a year (past the next presidential election cycle) because of alleged national security concerns.[20] Russ Tice was later revealed as a major source.

In 2006, further details of the NSA's domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens was provided by USA Today. The newspaper released a report on May 11, 2006 detailing the NSA's "massive database" of phone records collected from "tens of millions" of U.S. citizens. According to USA Today, these phone records were provided by several telecom companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth.[8] AT&T technician Mark Klein was later revealed as major source, specifically of rooms at network control centers on the internet backbone intercepting and recording all traffic passing through. In 2008 the security analyst Babak Pasdar revealed the existence of the so-called "Quantico circuit" that he and his team had set up in 2003. The circuit provided the U.S. federal government with a backdoor into the network of an unnamed wireless provider, which was later independently identified as Verizon.[21]

In 2007, former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio alleged in court and provided supporting documentation that in February 2001 (nearly 7 months prior to the September 11 attacks) that the NSA proposed in a meeting to conduct blanket phone spying. He considered the spying to be illegal and refused to cooperate, and claims that the company was punished by being denied lucrative contracts.[22]


In 2011 details of the mass surveillance industry were released by WikiLeaks. According to Julian Assange, "We are in a world now where not only is it theoretically possible to record nearly all telecommunications traffic out of a country, all telephone calls, but where there is an international industry selling the devices now to do it."[23]

Disclosures since 2013[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Webb, Maureen (2007). Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post-9/11 World (1. ed.). San Francisco: City Lights Books. ISBN 978-0872864764.
  2. ^ a b Andrew Bomford (3 November 1999). "Echelon spy network revealed". BBC. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  3. ^ Barton Gellman (24 December 2013). "Edward Snowden, after months of NSA revelations, says his mission's accomplished". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 December 2013. Taken together, the revelations have brought to light a global surveillance system that cast off many of its historical restraints after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Secret legal authorities empowered the NSA to sweep in the telephone, Internet and location records of whole populations.
  4. ^ Schorr, Daniel (29 January 2006). "A Brief History of the NSA". NPR. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  5. ^ Ewen MacAskill, Julian Borger and Glenn Greenwald (6 June 2013). "The National Security Agency: surveillance giant with eyes on America". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  6. ^ Risen, James; Lichtblau, Eric (December 16, 2005). "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts". The New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2013. The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article
  7. ^ "President Visits Troops at Brooke Army Medical Center". White House. January 1, 2006. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  8. ^ a b Leslie Cauley (May 11, 2006). "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls". [USA Today. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  9. ^ JOHN O'NEIL (May 11, 2006). "Bush Says U.S. Spying Is Not Widespread". The New York Times. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  10. ^ Glenn Greenwald (June 6, 2013). "NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily". The Guardian. London. Retrieved September 16, 2013.
  11. ^ "U.S. Electronic Espionage: A Memoir". Ramparts. August 1972. pp. 35–50. The SIGINT community was defined by a TOP SECRET treaty signed in 1947. It was called the UKUSA treaty. The National Security Agency signed for the U.S. and became what's called First Party to the Treaty.
  12. ^ Norton-Taylor, Richard (2013-08-21). "Surveillance secrecy: the legacy of GCHQ's years under cover". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-30. GCHQ's cover was first blown in 1976 by an article, The Eavesdroppers, published by the London magazine, Time Out.
  13. ^ Campbell, Duncan (1988-08-12), "Somebody's Listening", New Statesman, archived from the original on 2013-04-20, The Congressional officials were first told of the Thurmond interception by a former employee of the Lockheed Space and Missiles Corporation, Margaret Newsham, who now lives in Sunnyvale, California.
  14. ^ a b "Q&A: What you need to know about Echelon". BBC. 29 May 2001. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  15. ^ Shorrock, Tim (April 15, 2013). "The Untold Story: Obama's Crackdown on Whistleblowers: The NSA Four reveal how a toxic mix of cronyism and fraud blinded the agency before 9/11". The Nation.
  16. ^ Mayer, Jane (May 23, 2011). "The Secret Sharer: Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?". The New Yorker.
  17. ^ Gordon Corera (5 November 2015). "How and why MI5 kept phone data spy programme secret". BBC. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  18. ^ Tom Whitehead (4 November 2015). "MI5 and GCHQ secretly bulk collecting British public's phone and email records for years, Theresa May reveals". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  19. ^ "Here's the little-known legal loophole that permitted mass surveillance in the UK". The Register. 9 November 2015. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  20. ^ James Risen and Eric Lichtblau (December 16, 2005). "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts". The New York Times. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  21. ^ Poulsen, Kevin (March 6, 2008). "Whistle-Blower: Feds Have a Backdoor Into Wireless Carrier—Congress Reacts". Wired. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  22. ^ D'Andrade, Hugh (October 17, 2007). "Qwest CEO: NSA Punished Qwest for Refusing to Participate in Illegal Surveillance--Pre-9/11!". Deeplinks blog. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 2015-05-21.
  23. ^ "Wikileaks disclosure shines light on Big Brother". CBS News. December 1, 2011. Retrieved April 11, 2015.