US Agencies that Spied before the NSA

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The NSA is the worst threat to internet security and online freedom ever since the invention of electricity! But the domestic spying has been going on since World War One.


World War One: The Creation of a Monster

The allies decided to cut up German transatlantic cables on the first day of the war, leading Germany stranded to use wireless technology for transatlantic communication. The US Congress was quick to realize that there is an opportunity (and need) to intercept messages that are sent via wireless technology.

It was the British who began to bring intercepted German communication to the table, leading the US to realize that a formal department had to be setup in order to take full advantage of this opportunity. At that time, an honorary colonel was running a code breaking lab in Geneva, Illinois.

This lab was called the ‘Riverbank Lab’ and a very small part of the team was engaged in code breaking. Furthermore, the code breaking was actually meant to detect and break codes in Shakespeare’s plays.

When the war broke out, the Riverbank Lab became home to the country’s first war time code breaking team. The lab was owned and operated by millionaire businessman George Fabyan who dedicated his lab to the war effort.

Afterwards, the US Congress decided to formalize surveillance and code encryption/decryption by setting up MI-8. MI-8 was the code and cipher decryption section of the Cipher Bureau and Military Intelligence Branch. This was in 1917 and the war was raging.


After the War: Failing to Tame the Beast

By 1918, the Army and navy had pooled their resources into MI-8 to expand surveillance and code encryption/decryption capacity. The addition of the Navy was a major step into the direction of encrypting/decrypting wireless technology because the Navy was (and is) a regular user of wireless; unlike the Army which still had the margin to rely on land lines.

When the war ended in 1918, MI-8 had evolved into the Code Compilation Company and was under the supervision of master American cryptologist Herbert Osborne Yardley.

It was at this time that US resources were directed towards what many believe was the first time US surveillance was directed towards allies. In order to do so, the MI-8 was replaced with the Code Compilation Company. The New York based Code Compilation Company was meant to serve as a front for the Black Chamber.


The First Assault on Privacy

Today, the NSA is using legal jurisdiction to setup monitoring and data forwarding centers within the server architectures of all major internet service providers. Nearly a hundred years ago, the Black Chamber was the first to engage in fully directed and structured data theft.

Even though the war was over, the Black Chamber was able to convince Western Union and bring it on board. From the creation of the Black Chamber (around 1920) to 1929, the Black Chamber monitored all the data going through telecommunication lines owned by Western Union.

No consent was needed from the people using Western Union under this arrangement, and all spying was kept under the radar. It is estimated that the Black Chamber was able to spy on data sent to-and-from around 20 countries including allies.

In 1929, Henry Lewis Stimson became the Secretary of State. He had previously held a number of political offices in the US including Secretary of War and Governor-General of the Philippines. He had a very concrete set of perspectives towards war, and dissolved the Black Chamber.


Henry Lewis Stimson


The Success of the Black Chamber and the Beginning of the End

The First World War had led the US to violate its principles of integrity. The Black Chamber had conducted surveillance operations without warrants, under the excuse that the war justified the actions. In his book, The American Black Chamber, Herbert Osborne Yardley confirmed the unjustified nature of the Black Chamber’s actions.

The formation and apparent success of the Black Chamber led other countries to adopt the American philosophy of abandoning morals and integrity for the sake of any rationale that could justify the act. The US had not only created a monster, but also given birth to what can be considered to be a shameless rationalization that infects modern society till today; and is now threatening our privacy.


The Secret Creation of the NSA

The creation of the NSA was visualized in the winter of 1951 when President Harry S. Truman decided that the Army Security Agency should be converted into a more formal and well-structured intelligence gathering organization.

The world did not know about it at the time because President’s Truman’s orders were classified and nobody knew about the creation of the NSA when the President signed his approval on to the official classified memo decreeing the formation of the NSA in the autumn of 1952.

At that time, the US had already been engaged in Communications Intelligence (COMINT) activities and according to the official document:

“The COMINT mission of the National Security Agency (NSA) shall be to provide an effective, unified organization and control of the communications intelligence activities of the United States conducted against foreign governments, to provide for integrated operational policies and procedures pertaining thereto”

The document also states that:

“The special nature of COMINT activities requires that they be treated in all respects as being outside the framework of other or general intelligence activities”

The NSA was setup for surveillance, but it was during the Vietnam War that it made its first move.


The Vietnam War: All Hell Breaks Loose

During the Vietnam War, Project MINARET and Project SHAMROCK were setup under the flag of the NSA.

Both projects functioned without mercy and without warrants. Leading personalities in the US were targeted through Project MINARET while all communication flowing in and out of the US was monitored by Project SHAMROCK. No differentiation between US and non-US sources/destinations were made during this entire time.


The Modern NSA’s Grand Father: Project SHAMROCK

Before the NSA made the headlines, Project SHAMROCK was reading your mail. Many consider the success of Project SHAMROCK to have motivated the NSA into becoming the data-guzzling monster that it is today. It was formed as an espionage exercise, and it thrived as a merciless surveillance tool targeting Americans.

Project SHAMROCK began in the 1950s and continued to thrive for nearly two decades. During this time, the project was so well funded and well oiled that the NSA had to join hands with the CIA to create a front company.

The company was called LPMEDLEY, and was the favorite word in the CIA’s inner ranks when they wanted to talk about “surveillance of telegraphic information exiting or entering the United States”.

Project SHAMROCK was designed to function at a time when it was impossible to tag specific key words and search through conversations to red-flag potentially threatening data. Every bit of data had to be printed and analyzed – may it be mail, telegram or any other form. As a result, an average of 150,000 messages were printed and analyzed each month.

It’s pretty simple. If your grandfather wrote a love letter to your grandmother in or from the US, there is a good chance that more people other than your grandma read it.

You must have heard about the FISA Act. It was because of Project SHAMROCK that the FISA was able to make any attempts at clamping down on domestic surveillance. After two decades of functioning, Project SHAMROCK was officially closed down, but all of its responsibilities passed down to the NSA. This chain of events gave birth to the NSA as we know it.


The Race for Domestic Surveillance: Project MINARET

Project MINARET began operations in 1967 and continued functioning for the next 6 years, during which time thousands of US citizens were targeted. Unlike Project SHAMROCK, Project MINARET focused solely on domestic surveillance. These included Black Power groups and Peace groups of the time.

Prominent figures (American or not) who criticized the Vietnam War were put on the Project MINARET watch list and subjected to surveillance without warrant or notice. It is estimated that Project MINARET produced over 3000 reports on US citizens during this time.

Chairman Senator Frank Church was on the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Project SHAMROCK and was known for stating that:

“[Project SHAMROCK] was probably the largest government interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.”



Project SHAMROCK and Project MINARET functioned without any limits or boundaries until the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 was introduced. After the FISA Act, the both programs were closed down, but the NSA was now fully groomed and ready for launch.


The NSA now simply chooses to violate the FISA’s outlined boundaries and continues to function as if nothing has ever happened. President Obama’s second term in office was riddled with accusations about the NSA’s surveillance, and his speech from a few months ago made it clear that the NSA was unstoppable.


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Danish Pervez

Danish Pervez


Danish Pervez's Biography :

When the world sleeps, Danish Pervez is online researching consumer preferences and identifying next-gen trend waves. Experience in IT, combined with his diverse expertise in marketing and research - both traditional and digital - gives him an insight well worth reading and sharing.

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