November 7, 2013
On Thursday, the New York Times reported that the CIA is paying AT&T more than $10 million a year to help the intelligence agency conduct “counterterrorism investigations” on voluntary contract. The arrangement is a business deal that avoids the messy business of subpoenas, court orders, the legal system and the Bill of Rights.
The CIA gives the transnational communications corporation the phone numbers of people it wants data on and AT&T searches it databases.
“The program adds a new dimension to the debate over government spying and the privacy of communications records, which has been focused on National Security Agency programs in recent months,” the Times explains. “The disclosure sheds further light on the ties between intelligence officials and communications service providers.”
NSA and CIA spying on the American people is nothing new. It has occurred uninterrupted since the establishment of the national security state in 1947.
Illegal spying on the communications of the American people began in earnest back in 1945 with Operation Shamrock, a collaborative effort between British and U.S. intelligence to collect the telegraph messages of millions of citizens. It operated in tandem with Project Minaret, a sister project that sent the pilfered communications along to the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Department of Defense, and local law enforcement.
Both programs were designed to keep tabs on “unreliable” Americans like Martin Luther King and thousands of others considered dangerous to the status quo, including antiwar protesters, untrustworthy politicians, diplomats, businessmen, trade union leaders, non-government organizations, and even Catholic Church officials. Minaret was established with the specific purpose of spying on “subversive” Americans, in other words those who disagreed with the establishment.
Although the Church Committee uncovered a lot of information about these Fourth Amendment busting operations, the full extent of the involvement of Western Union, RCA, ITT, and other telecoms was covered up by President Gerald Ford when he extended executive privilege to the corporations on the recommendations of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and presidential chief of staff Dick Cheney.
In addition, then vice president Nelson Rockefeller worked to keep Senate Democrats from discovering just how deep the constitutional violations of the intelligence community ran. He established the bogus “Rockefeller Commission” to whitewash excesses after the New York Times published a Seymour Hersh article revealing the existence of the decades-old domestic surveillance programs. Instead, Senate Democrats sidestepped Rockefeller and established the Church Committee in 1975 (this would be the last time a relatively unencumbered congressional committee would be allowed to investigate the CIA and other intelligence agencies).
Limited revelations uncovered by the Church Committee would lead to President Jimmy Carter signing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into law in 1978. This would lead to the creation of a secret FISA court outside the purview of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It routinely rubber-stamped illegal surveillance of American citizens.
In October, following a howl of public outrage over NSA surveillance, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved the dubiously titled FISA Improvement Act. Instead of reforming FISA procedures, the measure in fact legalized bulk data collection. Congress admits that it has virtually zero oversight over the NSA (and less than zero over the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community).
“I believe the NSA would answer questions if we asked them, and if we knew to ask them, but it would not routinely report these things, and in general they would not fall within the focus of the committee,” said Senate Democrat Dianne Feinstein when asked about oversight.
The latest news about CIA rolling around in bed with large telecoms is hardly surprising and in fact only underscores what we already know — we live in a sprawling surveillance panopticon and have since the end of the Second World War and the establishment of the national security state.