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Operation Shamrock

June 16, 2013

During May 16 and 17, 1973, in a discussion with Nixon another one of NSA’s enormously secret and illegal operations, one codenamed Shamrock was brought up. It involved an agreement whereby the major U.S. telegraph companies, such as Western Union, secretly turned over to NSA, every day, copies of all messages sent to or from the United States. By the 1970s, NSA had developed a watch list consisting of the names of more than 600 North American citizens. These names had been placed in NSA’s computers and any communications containing one of those names–such as the telegrams obtained through Shamrock–would be kicked out, analyzed, and sent to whoever in the federal government wanted the information thus obtained.

Nixon did nothing about Shamrock and it wasn’t until 1975, two years after Nixon resigned, another investigation began picking up clues to the operation. This time it was a probe by Idaho’s Senator Frank Church into possible illegal actions by the U.S. intelligence community. Prior to 1975, thanks to scumbag Harry Truman, the NSA had never before had an oversight relationship with Congress.

For weeks, NSA stonewalled all questions and requests for documents until finally, the Church Committee sent formal interrogatories to NSA, but the agency claimed that the subject was so sensitive that only Church and John Tower, the ranking minority member, would be permitted to be briefed. But then a story appeared in the New York Times alleging that NSA had eavesdropped on the international communications of U.S. citizens. Gerald Ford repeatedly pleaded with Church to drop the hearings but his pleas were ignored.

With no desire to undergo another such experience, NSA adopted very stringent rules in the wake of the Church Committee to ensure that its operations were carried out in accordance with applicable law.

After such an upsetting and demoralizing investigation as the Church Committee hearings undoubtedly was, it caused NSA to institute a system which keeps it within the bounds of U.S. law and focused on its essential mission.

Among the reforms to come out of the Church Committee investigation was the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which for the first time outlined what NSA was and was not permitted to do. The new statute outlawed wholesale, warrantless acquisition of raw telegrams such as had been provided under Shamrock. It also outlawed the arbitrary compilation of watch lists containing the names of North Americans. Under FISA, a secret federal court was set up, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In order for NSA to target a North American citizen or a permanent resident alien–a “green card” holder–within the United States, a secret warrant must be obtained from the court. To get the warrant, NSA officials must show that the person they wish to target is either an agent of a foreign power or involved in espionage or terrorism.

NSA does not need a FISA Court order to spy on foreign embassies and diplomats within the United States, just an okay from the attorney general, which is good for a full year.

So what if the NSA is monitoring foreign “threats” and the information it intercepts involves U.S. citizens who are not directly or indirectly the “threat”? In 1994 a forty-seven-page document entitled “U.S. Identities in Sigint” was issued to further clarify under what circumstances the names of U.S. persons must be deleted or may be retained in Sigint reports. While in most cases U.S. names must be removed, the document said, this rule does not apply under certain circumstances–for example, in the event of an emergency such as a hijacking or a terrorist attack. In such cases the NSA uses “Implied Consent Procedures” in cases such as kidnappings or hijackings, where a U.S. person is held captive by a foreign power or a group engaged in international terrorism and consent for NSA collection could be implied.

Another exception allows for reporting the communications of U.S. persons when there is evidence of a crime. Evidence of a crime for the NSA vary and includes what Edward Snowden recently did which was to expose the NSA’s eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. He is now considered having committed a crime and any communications that he engages in is subject to NSA eavesdropping.

Analysts such as Edward Snowden, while working for the NSA, are forbidden to mention in their reports not only the actual names of U.S. citizens and green card holders but also the names of U.S. companies.

In an attempt to prevent inappropriate intercepts and dissemination, frequent training sessions are conducted for intercept operators and analysts. Analysts are offered difficult hypothetical scenarios similar to situations they might encounter, and correct responses are taught.

Despite all the hypotheticals, real-world operations frequently give rise to complex questions concerning just what names and titles to leave in or take out of finished Sigint reports.

I thought it worth mentioning that in 1995 that a Guatemalen guerrilla leader married to a North American lawyer were both killed by a Guatemalen military officer on the CIA’s payroll and that the agency may have known of the murders. Outraged, Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey wrote to President Clinton that the CIA was simply out of control and that it contains what can only be called a criminal element.

As a result of a number of calls for investigations by both the CIA and Congress, NSA was asked to check its massive database–years’ worth of stored raw traffic–for any information concerning events in Guatemala from January 1987 to the present time relating to the murders. NSA’s general counsel used this opportunity to remind the Operations Directorate that federal law prohibits the collection of communications to, from, or about U.S. persons without the approval of either the Director, NSA, the Attorney General, or the FISA Court.

On July 1, 1997, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno approved a revised guideline that stated that international and foreign communications between two North Americans can be retained and distributed at the discretion of the director of the NSA providing that he determines that the intercept contains significant foreign intelligence or possible evidence of a crime.

Despite its supposed privacy constraints, the federal government allows a number of exceptions when it comes to average everyday, non-important North Americans, however no exceptions are permitted concerning the government’s own communications. If an intercept operator inadvertently picks up a conversation one party to which is a U.S. official, the tape must be destroyed immediately–even if the official is talking to one of NSA’s key targets.

For North Americans, the greatest danger of NSA is its involvement with law enforcement. During the Nixon years, NSA was used to secretly targeting antiwar protestors and others in disfavor with the White House. Today, among NSA’s key targets areas are the “transnational” threats: narcotics trafficking, which makes me wonder if that includes the CIA, terrorism, again, does that include the CIA’s terrorist plots? International organized crime, again, it seems the CIA should be number one on the NSA’s list. Weapons proliferation, well no one proliferates more weapons than the United States government, and illicit trade practices, again that’s the CIA’s modus operandi.

So it comes down to trust. NSA is asking us to trust them, implicitly that is. Trust that they can tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. We are supposed to be supportive of this continued agenda of global policeman while our economy suffers, while we continue to be overburdened with taxes while good hearted teachers and social workers make thirty five grand a year and intercept operators for the NSA make six digit salaries of our taxed income.

Has anyone ever considered that if you are a Wall Street investor and you have inside connections into the NSA, you can make millions? How did people know to take out put options on United Airlines several days before the plane hit the World Trade Center?

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