Origins of global surveillance

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The origins of global surveillance can be traced back to the late 1940s, when the UKUSA Agreement was jointly enacted by the United Kingdom and the United States, whose close cooperation eventually culminated in the creation of the global surveillance network, code-named "ECHELON", in 1971.[1][2]

In the aftermath of the 1970s Watergate affair and a subsequent congressional inquiry led by Sen. Frank Church,[3] it was revealed that the NSA, in collaboration with Britain's GCHQ, had routinely intercepted the international communications of prominent anti-Vietnam War leaders such as Jane Fonda and Dr. Benjamin Spock.[4] Decades later, a multi-year investigation by the European Parliament highlighted the NSA's role in economic espionage in a report entitled 'Development of Surveillance Technology and Risk of Abuse of Economic Information', in 1999.[5]

However, for the general public, it was a series of detailed disclosures of internal NSA documents in June 2013 that first revealed the massive extent of the NSA's spying, both foreign and domestic. Most of these were leaked by an ex-contractor, Edward Snowden. Even so, a number of these older global surveillance programs such as PRISM, XKeyscore, and Tempora were referenced in the 2013 release of thousands of documents.[6] As confirmed by the NSA's director Keith B. Alexander on September 26, 2013, the NSA collects and stores all phone records of all American citizens.[7] Much of the data is kept in large storage facilities such as the Utah Data Center, a US$1.5 billion megaproject referred to by The Wall Street Journal as a "symbol of the spy agency's surveillance prowess."[8]

Clandestine surveillance in the United States[edit]

Due to his alleged ties to communism, the German-born physicist Albert Einstein was placed under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shortly after he emigrated to America. The FBI monitored Einstein's mail, intercepted his telephone calls, and searched his trash.[9]
The American boxer Muhammad Ali, a self-declared Vietnam War conscientious objector, was targeted by the NSA's Project MINARET.[10]

Wartime censorship of communications during the World Wars was paralleled by peacetime decipherment of communications by the Black Chamber (Cipher Bureau, MI-8), operating with the approval of the U.S. State Department from 1919 to 1929.[11] In 1945 the now-defunct Project SHAMROCK was created to gather all telegraphic data entering into or exiting from the United States.[11][12] Major communication companies such as Western Union, RCA Global and ITT World Communications actively aided the U.S. government in the latter's attempt to gain access to international message traffic.[13]

In 1952, the NSA was officially established.[11] According to The New York Times, the NSA was created in "absolute secrecy" by President Truman.[14] Six weeks after President Truman took office, he ordered wiretaps on the telephones of Thomas Gardiner Corcoran, a close advisor of Franklin D. Roosevelt.[15] The recorded conversations are currently kept at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, along with other sensitive documents (~233,600 pages).

Under J. Edgar Hoover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) carried out wide-ranging surveillance of communications and political expression, targeting many well-known speakers such as Albert Einstein,[9][16][17] Frank Sinatra,[18][19] First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt,[20][21] Marilyn Monroe,[22] John Lennon,[23] Martin Luther King, Jr.,[24][25] A FBI memo recognized King to be the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.",[26] and Daniel Ellsberg,[27][28] Some of these activities were eventually uncovered in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, leading to the Resignation of Richard Nixon.[29]

INVESTIGATIONS: Nobody Asked: Is It Moral? It did not matter that much of the information had already been released —or leaked—to the public. The effect was still overwhelming: a stunning, dismaying indictment of U.S. intelligence agencies and six Presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon, for having blithely violated democratic ideals and individual rights while gathering information at home or conducting clandestine operations abroad...

— Time magazine, May 10, 1976[30]

Mass surveillance in a global context (1940–2001)[edit]

South Africa's anti-apartheid President Nelson Mandela was closely watched by British MI6 agents.[31][32]
Princess Diana's phone calls were monitored and recorded by the NSA right until she died in a 1997 Paris car crash.[33][34]

During World War II the U.K. and U.S. governments entered into a series of agreements for sharing of signals intelligence of enemy communications traffic.[35] In March 1946, a secret agreement, the "British-US Communication Intelligence Agreement", known as BRUSA, was established, based on the wartime agreements. The agreement "tied the two countries into a worldwide network of listening posts run by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the U.K.'s biggest spying organisation, and its U.S. equivalent, the National Security Agency."[36]

In 1988, an article titled "Somebody's listening" by Duncan Campbell in the New Statesman, described the signals intelligence gathering activities of a program code-named "ECHELON.[37] The program was engaged by English-speaking World War II Allied powers Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States (collectively known as AUSCANNZUKUS). Based on the UKUSA Agreement, it was created to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies during the Cold War in the early 1960s.[38] Though its existence had long been known, the UKUSA agreement only became public in 2010. It enabled the U.S. and the U.K. to exchange "knowledge from operations involving intercepting, decoding and translating foreign communications." The agreement forbade the parties to reveal its existence to any third party.[36]

By the late 1990s the ECHELON system was capable of intercepting satellite transmissions, public switched telephone network (PSTN) communications (including most Internet traffic), and transmissions carried by microwave. A detailed description of ECHELON was provided by New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager in his 1996 book "Secret Power". While the existence of ECHELON was denied by some member governments, a report by a committee of the European Parliament in 2001 confirmed the program's use and warned Europeans about its reach and effects.[39] The European Parliament stated in its report that the term "ECHELON" was used in a number of contexts, but that the evidence presented indicated it was a signals intelligence collection system capable of interception and content inspection of telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data traffic globally. The report to the European Parliament confirmed that this was a "global system for the interception of private and commercial communications."[38]

Echelon spy network revealed Imagine a global spying network that can eavesdrop on every single phone call, fax or e-mail, anywhere on the planet. It sounds like science fiction, but it's true. Two of the chief protagonists - Britain and America - officially deny its existence. But the BBC has confirmation from the Australian Government that such a network really does exist..."

— The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), November 1999[40]

9/11 and its implications on global surveillance (2001–2009)[edit]

The 7th U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was placed under surveillance by British intelligence agents, who bugged his office in the lead up to the Iraq War.[41]
The 8th U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was placed under surveillance by U.S. diplomats, who also collected iris scans, fingerprints and DNA of foreign diplomats, according to leaked documents released by WikiLeaks.[42][43]

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the scope of domestic spying in the United States increased significantly. The bid to prevent future attacks of this scale led to the passage of the Patriot Act. Later acts include the Protect America Act (which removes the warrant requirement for government surveillance of foreign targets[44]) and the FISA Amendments Act (which relaxed some of the original FISA court requirements).

In 2005, the existence of STELLARWIND was revealed by Thomas Tamm. On January 1, 2006, days after The New York Times wrote that "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,[45] the President emphasized that "This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America. And I repeat, limited."[46]

In 2006, Mark Klein revealed the existence of Room 641A that he had wired back in 2003.[47] In 2008, Babak Pasdar, a computer security expert, and CEO of Bat Blue publicly revealed the existence of the "Quantico circuit", that he and his team found in 2003. He described it as a back door to the federal government in the systems of an unnamed wireless provider; the company was later independently identified as Verizon.[48] Additional disclosures regarding a mass surveillance program involving U.S. citizens had been made in the U.S. media in 2006.[49]

You Are a Suspect Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend—all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as a virtual, centralized grand database. To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you—passport application, driver's license and toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance—and you have the supersnoop's dream: a Total Information Awareness about every U.S. citizen.

— The New York Times, November 2002[50]

Acceleration of media leaks (2010–present)[edit]

On November 28, 2010, WikiLeaks and five major news outlets in Spain (El País), France (Le Monde), Germany (Der Spiegel), the United Kingdom (The Guardian), and the United States (The New York Times) began publishing the first 220 of 251,287 leaked U.S. State department diplomatic "cables" simultaneously.[51]

On March 15, 2012, the American magazine Wired published an article with the headline "The NSA Is Building the Country's Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)",[52] which was later mentioned by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson during a congressional hearing. In response to Johnson's inquiry, NSA director Keith B. Alexander testified that these allegations made by Wired magazine were untrue.[53]

In early 2013, Edward Snowden handed over 200,000 top secret documents to various media outlets, triggering one of the biggest news leaks in the modern history of the United States.[54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Q&A: What you need to know about Echelon". BBC. 29 May 2001.
  2. ^ Nabbali, Talitha; Perry, Mark (March 2004). "Going for the throat". Computer Law & Security Review. 20 (2): 84–97. doi:10.1016/S0267-3649(04)00018-4. It wasn't until 1971 that the UKUSA allies began ECHELON
  3. ^ Pre-Emption - The Nsa And The Telecoms | Spying On The Home Front | FRONTLINE | PBS
  4. ^ Cohen, Martin (2006). No Holiday. New York: Disinformation Company Ltd. ISBN 978-1-932857-29-0.
  5. ^ Peggy Becker (October 1999). DEVELOPMENT OF SURVEILLANCE TECHNOLOGY AND RISK OF ABUSE OF ECONOMIC INFORMATION (Report). STOA, European Parliament. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
  6. ^ Snowden has ‘thousands’ of damaging NSA documents, says Greenwald
  7. ^ "Senators: Limit NSA snooping into US phone records". Associated Press. Retrieved October 15, 2013. "Is it the goal of the NSA to collect the phone records of all Americans?" Udall asked at Thursday's hearing. "Yes, I believe it is in the nation's best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we could search when the nation needs to do it. Yes," Alexander replied.
  8. ^ Siobhan Gorman. "Meltdowns Hobble NSA Data Center". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 19, 2013. The Utah facility, one of the Pentagon's biggest U.S. construction projects, has become a symbol of the spy agency's surveillance prowess, which gained broad attention in the wake of leaks from NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
  9. ^ a b Overbye, Dennis (May 7, 2002). "New Details Emerge From the Einstein Files; How the F.B.I. Tracked His Phone Calls and His Trash". The New York Times. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
  10. ^ Ryan Gallagher (2002-05-07). "Documents Show the NSA Spied on Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., and ... Art Buchwald". Slate. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  11. ^ a b c "Factbox: History of mass surveillance in the United States". Reuters. June 7, 2013. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  12. ^ The Center for Cryptologic History. "The Origins of NSA (". Archived from the original on March 18, 2004.
  13. ^ Epsley-Jones, Katelyn; Frenzel, Christina. "The Church Committee Hearings & the FISA Court". PBS. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  14. ^ Bamford, James (December 25, 2005). "The Agency That Could Be Big Brother". The New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  15. ^ DAVID BURNHAM (February 1, 1986). "TRUMAN WIRETAPS ON EX-NEW DEAL AIDE CITED". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  16. ^ "FBI campaign against Einstein revealed". BBC. June 8, 2002. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
  17. ^ "Albert Einstein: Fact or Fiction?". History (U.S. TV channel). Retrieved September 17, 2013. Because of his controversial political beliefs-his support for socialism, civil rights, and nuclear disarmament, for example-many anti-Communist crusaders believed that Einstein was a dangerous subversive. Some, like FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, even thought he was a spy. For 22 years, Hoover's agents tapped Einstein's phones, opened his mail, rifled through his trash and even bugged his secretary's nephew's house, all to prove that he was more radical (as his 1,500-page FBI dossier noted) than "even Stalin himself."
  18. ^ RONALD J. OSTROW and LISA GETTER (December 9, 1998). "FBI Files on Sinatra Detail Links to JFK, Mob Figures". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  19. ^ MOLOTSKY, IRVIN (December 9, 1998). "F.B.I. Releases Its Sinatra File, With Tidbits Old and New". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  20. ^ "Question: Why is Eleanor Roosevelt's FBI file so large?". George Washington University. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  21. ^ "Eleanor Roosevelt". History (U.S. TV channel). Retrieved September 18, 2013. J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972), the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, considered Eleanor Roosevelt’s liberal views dangerous and believed she might be involved in communist activities. He ordered his agents to monitor Roosevelt and keep what became an extensive file on her.
  22. ^ "FBI removes many redactions in Marilyn Monroe file". Associated Press. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  23. ^ Cohen, Adam (September 21, 2006). "While Nixon Campaigned, the F.B.I. Watched John Lennon". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  24. ^ "Martin Luther King, Jr. FBI File". Pickler Memorial Library (Truman State University). Retrieved September 17, 2013.
  25. ^ Church, Frank (April 23, 1976), "Church Committee Book III", Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Case Study, Church Committee
  26. ^ "FBI tracked King's every move". CNN. December 29, 2008. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
  27. ^ "'Life Lessons' From a White House Plumber". NPR. When Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in 1971, the Nixon White House tried to discredit him. Among other things, Nixon loyalists burglarized the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.
  28. ^ "The Watergate Story". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 17, 2013. The White House "plumbers" unit - named for their orders to plug leaks in the administration - burglarizes a psychiatrist's office to find files on Daniel Ellsberg, the former defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers.
  29. ^ "Watergate and the Constitution". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
  30. ^ "INVESTIGATIONS: Nobody Asked: Is It Moral?". Time. May 10, 1976.
  31. ^ Laing, Aislinn (July 9, 2013). "British intelligence 'birdwatchers spied on Nelson Mandela's hideout'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  32. ^ "Nelson Mandela 'was spied on by MI6 birdwatchers'". The Times. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  33. ^ "NSA Admits to Spying on Princess Diana". The Washington Post. December 12, 1998. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  34. ^ David Hencke and Rob Evans (August 6, 1999). "US holds secret files on Diana". The Guardian.
  35. ^ U.S. National Security Agency. Early Papers Concerning US-UK Agreement – 1940–1944 Archived September 18, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Agreement between British Government Code and Cipher School and U.S. War Department dated May 17, 1943. Retrieved: October 5, 2013.
  36. ^ a b Norton-Taylor, Richard (June 25, 2010). "Not so secret: deal at the heart of UK-US intelligence". The Guardian. London. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  37. ^ Campbell, Duncan (August 12, 1988). "Somebody's Listening". New Statesman. Archived from the original on January 3, 2007. Retrieved September 16, 2013.
  38. ^ a b Schmid, Gerhard (July 11, 2001). "On the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system), (2001/2098(INI))" (PDF). European Parliament: Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System. p. 194. Retrieved September 16, 2013.
  39. ^ Fiddler, Stephen (July 1, 2013). Echoes of Echelon in Charges of NSA Spying in Europe. The Wall Street Journal.
  40. ^ Andrew Bomford (November 3, 1999). "Echelon spy network revealed". BBC.
  41. ^ "UK 'spied on UN's Kofi Annan'". BBC. February 2004.
  42. ^ Paul Richter and Ken Dilanian (November 29, 2010). "U.S. diplomats ordered to gather data on counterparts, WikiLeaks releases show". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  43. ^ "US diplomats spied on UN leadership". The Guardian. Retrieved August 27, 2013.
  44. ^ "Warrantless Surveillance and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: The Role of Checks and Balances in Protecting Americans' Privacy Rights (Part II): Hearing Before the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 110th Cong. 13–30 (statement of J.M. McConnell, Director of National Intelligence)" (PDF). September 18, 2007.
  45. ^ 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
  46. ^ "President Visits Troops at Brooke Army Medical Center". White House. January 1, 2006. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  47. ^ "AT&T Whistle-Blower's Evidence". Wired. May 17, 2006. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  48. ^ Poulsen, Kevin (March 6, 2008). "Whistle-Blower: Feds Have a Backdoor Into Wireless Carrier — Congress Reacts". Wired. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  49. ^ Cauley, Leslie (May 11, 2006). "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls". USA Today. Archived from the original on July 13, 2013.
  50. ^ William Safire (November 14, 2002). "You Are a Suspect". The New York Times. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
  51. ^ "WikiLeaks FAQ: What Do the Diplomatic Cables Really Tell Us?". Der Spiegel. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  52. ^ Bamford, James (March 15, 2012). "The NSA Is Building the Country's Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)". Wired. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  53. ^ Greenberg, Andy. "NSA Chief Denies Wired's Domestic Spying Story (Fourteen Times) In Congressional Hearing". Forbes. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  54. ^ "Ex-CIA employee source of leak on PRISM program". France 24. Retrieved September 17, 2013. Snowden’s decision to reveal his identity and whereabouts lifts the lid on one of the biggest security leaks in US history and escalates a story that has placed a bright light on Obama’s extensive use of secret surveillance.