[Note: The Timeline we published last week is proving useful (to us, at least) so we’re going to update it as circumstances dictate. If there is an update we’ll publish it as an Attachment to the newest blog rather than as a separate post. Once we figure out how to do it.]

[This is G. I’m back, armed with new ideas and more. This week I’m going to touch on an idea raised by the Guardian on July 6, i.e., that the NSA has developed a “worldwide, ubiquitous electronic surveillance apparatus.” The general idea is that NSA, operating through one or more domestic U.S. phone companies, partners with foreign telecoms, intercepts phone traffic on their networks, and directs copies, etc. of that traffic to NSA repositories.

The Guardian was a bit short on actual proof of this, but the notion is interesting; so I thought it might be useful to rummage around a bit to look for confirmation in the public record. As you know, we have no classified information here at Elemental Zoo Two.]

The NSA or its predecessors have been with us at least since World War I.[1] Back then the job of signals intelligence was to listen in on the other guy’s radio signals, break the code if there was one, and report the results. It was called traffic analysis and was highly effective between the wars and during WW II.[2] After that the U.S. consolidated its various signals intelligence activities under a joint Army-Navy Communications Intelligence Board and President Truman authorized the services to continue collaborating with the British on these matters.[3]

In 1947, of course, the old War Department was reorganized into the Department of Defense, the Air Force was added as a separate military service, and the Secretary of Defense became the only representative of the military in the President’s Cabinet.[4] The NSA, which reports directly to the Secretary of Defense, remains the sole agency for conducting signals intelligence.[5]

So how does the NSA operate? Well, first and foremost, it’s a component of DOD, which in turn is a member of the “Intelligence Community.”[6] And the Community has rules. In brief outline, the structure is:

  • The National Security Council. This is the ‘highest Executive Branch entity that provides review of, guidance for and direction to the conduct of all national foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and special activities …”[7]
  • The CIA. It has lots of duties; but the most relevant here are to  (i) “[f]ormulate policies concerning foreign intelligence and counterintelligence arrangements with foreign governments;” (ii) coordinate such relationships;[8] and to (iii) monitor the programs and as necessary, “conduct program and performance audits and evaluations.”[9]
  • The Secretary of Defense conducts signals intelligence activities as executive agent for the United States, “except as otherwise directed by the NSC.”[10] He also establishes and maintains “military intelligence relationships and military intelligence exchange programs with selected cooperative foreign defense establishments …”[11]
  • The NSA, of course, is the primary actor in this drama. It collects signals intelligence information for “national foreign intelligence purposes;”[12] conducts “foreign cryptologic liaison relationships;”[13]and provides any necessary “administrative and technical support” (including procurement) to perform these functions.[14]

So what do we really know? Well, nothing that directly proves The Guardian’s July 6 allegations, but at least we know something about the bureaucratic structure that would support a massive program to monitor communications in other countries.  That’s assuming, of course, that our Government actually follows its own rules, which isn’t always a sure thing.

The NSC is the capstone of the intelligence pyramid in this country. Presumably a program to spy on practically everybody overseas would not escape NSC’s attention. If it did, then probably its staff should be replaced with people who can see and understand what’s really going on. Also, the CIA is supposed to provide policy guidance for activities of this sort. If something’s going on, I wonder what CIA said and when they said it?

I suppose NSA is the obvious choice if our Government decides to spy on the world’s communications. After all, they and their predecessors have been in the SIGINT business since World War I, and currently are our Government’s designated experts in the field. But that doesn’t mean such a program exists. Right now it’s only a possibility, and a speculation.

And what about tomorrow? Classified documents keep popping up, and unnamed sources are blabbing to the media. Who knows where it will end? I don’t. For sure we don’t have any classified here, nor do we have confidential sources. So we’ll be the last to find out.

But on second thought, suppose there is a massive program of the sort described by The Guardian. If we’re co-opting foreign telecoms, I would think we’d do it with the cooperation of their local intelligence services. After all, NSA is supposed to liaise with them. So, what do they get in return from us? Money? Probably not, except in the most venal cases. How about, instead, access to the giant database we’re creating?

Are we in fact becoming a giant information utility available to the counterspies of the world? Are we making it easier for them to spy on their own people, and ours as well? Are we headed for a world where “every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open [?]”[15]

It’s an interesting thought, but surely our Government would never let it happen.


[1] See NSA, Howe, The Early History of NSA (no date) at http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/cryptologic_spectrum/early_history_nsa.pdf This article will be cited as Howe at ___.

[2] See, e.g., Howe at 12: “Such results from traffic analysis alone surpassed Naval intelligence gained by other means and won support in the upper echelons of the U.S. Navy.”

[3] See Howe at 12, 13.

[4] See Howe at 13, 14. The current structure of DOD is spelled out in Title 10 of the United States Code. You can find it at Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/10 Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for a history of DOD. Go to the Wikipedia website and search DOD or click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_Defense

[5] See Executive Order 12333, at §§ 1.11(e), 1,12(b). The Order was published in 1981, in the Reagan Administration, and still in effect. You can get it online from the Federal Register at http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/codification/executive-order/12333.html Henceforth it will be cited as Executive Order 12333 at ___.

[6] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.4. The “Community” is not specifically defined.

[7] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.2.

[8] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.5(e).

[9] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.5(p).

[10] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.11(e).

[11] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.11(i).

[12] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.12(b) (3).

[13] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.12(b) (12).

[14] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.12(b) (13).

[15] See Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition 2004) at Jane Austin, p. 39, no. 10. The quote is from Northanger Abbey.

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