The latest outrage over domestic espionage is nothing new. A precursor to the National Security Agency sparked controversy in its past and the current agency will likely face it again in the future.
Some of the funniest and most enlightening tidbits of information can be found on Twitter where one individual asked how NSA might monitor the Amish.
The background on how the agency formed—the NSA moniker became official under a Democrat, President Harry Truman—is recounted in a fascinating work by NSA historian George Howe, The Early History of the NSA. The majority of text in that formerly secret work was declassified in 2007.
It’s interesting to read comments on social media in the context of that often quirky history on the NSA website.
For instance, Howe delved into matters like the use of codes and ciphers dating to the Revolutionary War, noting:
[C]ryptologic activities resembling those of NSA could not originate until the advent of radio communications…
Thus technology birthed the agency whose technology has drawn such controversy today. Controversy is not new to NSA. For instance, the Cipher Bureau created in 1917 carried one seeds of what would become NSA’s mission. The Bureau was defunded by the State Dept. in 1929 and a whistleblower of sorts came forward:
“Two years later its operations were described in a published book, The American Black Chamber, written by the disgruntled ex-chief, Mr. Herbert O. Yardley. That book has been described as a 'monumental indiscretion,' damaging to national interests.”
The history details a winding path traveled by several cryptologic agencies eventually folded into one entity where all Comint resources, or communications intelligence, would be located—the NSA.
Adding to the current heated discussion about NSA, the hacktivist group Anonymous leaked more than a dozen NSA documents. Twitter took note as did bloggers.
As Americans come to realize the depth of private information made vulnerable, coupled with rogue agencies like IRS targeting taxpayers for their political beliefs, tin foil hat jokes may decline. One Tweeter, Juan Sanchez, wrote: “It would appear as though us tinfoil hat-wearing folk were vindicated today. #NSA”
A poster named Erica tweeted: “Nixon wiretapped a[n] office…Obama wiretaps a nation.”
A number of other posters deliberately wrote messages using keywords like ricin and terrorism alongside the president’s name—sort of a thumb-your-nose at NSA’s data mining.
You can follow the memes via #NSA on Twitter.
The geeks at PC Magazine promptly came up with a useful self-help piece, How to stay anonymous online.
The Guardian, the UK paper that broke the story, said the snooping began with Microsoft in 2007. Companies then began to fall like dominoes:
Yahoo followed in March 2008, Google in January 2009, Facebook in June 2009, Paltalk, a Windows- and mobile-based chat program, in December 2009, YouTube in September 2010, Skype in February 2011 (before its acquisition by Microsoft), AOL in March 2011 and finally Apple in October 2012.
The government laid the foundation for today’s expansive snooping during the administration of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
In December, 2012, a whistleblower who formerly worked at NSA said snooping increased under President Barack Obama.
The libertarians at Cato, the most vocal defenders of individual liberties and the Constitution, have weighed in on the controversy, explaining why the term ‘metadata’ is not as benign as some politicos in Congress suggest:
“Some stress that what is being collected is ‘just metadata’—a phrase I’m confident you’ll never see a computer scientist or data analyst use. Metadata—the transactional records of information about phone and Internet communications, as opposed to their content—can be incredibly revealing, as the recent story about the acquisition of Associated Press phone logs underscores. Those records, as AP head Gary Pruitt complained, provide a comprehensive map of reporters’ activities, telling those who know how to look what stories journalists are working on and who their confidential sources are. Metadata can reveal what Websites you read, who you communicate with, which political or religious groups you’re affiliated with, even your physical location.”
In light of recent developments, let us reach for our tinfoil hat for a moment and ask ourselves a question.
NSA Revelations Spark Push to Restore FISA (Washington Independent)
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