“Thin Thread,” was a NSA program through the agency which could gather and analyze enormous amounts of Internet and telephone traffic and encrypt the identities of people in the U.S. so their privacy was protected.
National Security Agency (NSA), U.S. intelligence agency within the Department of Defense that is responsible for cryptographic and communications intelligence and security. Its headquarters are in Fort Meade, Maryland. The NSA grew out of the communications intelligence activities of U.S. military units during World War II. It was established in 1952 by a presidential directive from Harry S. Truman in which he specified its mission as
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 NSA was created in part out of the belief that the importance and distinct character of communications intelligence warranted an organization distinct from both the armed forces and the other intelligence agencies. While it operates within the Department of Defense, the NSA also belongs to the Intelligence Community (a coalition of 17 intelligence agencies) and as such acts under the supervision of the director of national intelligence.
The director of the NSA is a military officer of flag rank (i.e., a general or an admiral) with a minimum of three stars. Not being a creation of Congress, the NSA often acts outside of congressional review; it is the most secret of all U.S. intelligence agencies.
The agency’s mission includes the protection and formulation of codes, ciphers, and other cryptology for the U.S. military and other government agencies as well as the interception, analysis, and solution of coded transmissions by electronic or other means. The agency conducts research into all forms of electronic transmissions.
It also operates posts for the interception of signals around the world.
In 1972 a joint organization, the Central Security Service (CSS), was created to coordinate the intelligence efforts of the NSA with the U.S. military. The director of the NSA also heads the CSS (under the title of Chief, CSS).
The NSA was and is probably the most powerful organization in the intelligence community, However it was significantly weakened after the Watergate Scandal which began in 1972 and cover up in 1974
On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington, D.C.’s Watergate Hotel.
Over the next two years, a series of investigations and bombshell media reports uncovered a web of political espionage evidence of extensive, illegal wiretapping and surveillance of thousands of U.S. citizens (including those on Richard Nixon’s infamous “enemies list”), undertaken by America’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies. In the wake of the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s resignation, a Congressional committee tasked with investigation domestic spying abuses would lead to an overhaul of U.S. intelligence gathering practices that is still with us today.
In December 1974, just four months after Nixon’s resignation, New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh revealed the existence of a long-running CIA intelligence program targeting U.S. citizens, a direct violation of its charter. Hersh had, in part, sourced his information on the CIA’s own internal review, begun after it was revealed that two of the Watergate burglars had formerly worked for the CIA, and had been given assistance by the agency following the break-in.
The review, informally known as the “family jewels” detailed a litany of illegal and inappropriate activities undertaken by the agency from the 1950s onwards.
While the CIA would not fully declassify most of the “family jewels” report until 2007, Congress swung into action. On January 27, 1975, a special 11-member investigative body was established to look into abuses of power by the nation’s intelligence agencies. Chaired by Democratic Senator Frank Church of Idaho, the Church committee called more than 800 witnesses over the course of nine months, including several former officials from both the FBI and CIA.
Most of the hearings were held behind closed doors to protect intelligence sources, but a few, carefully selected cases of misconduct were investigated in televised sessions.
Among those were a CIA biological agents program, the FBI’s COINTELPRO (a wide-ranging counter-intelligence program targeting domestic groups as disparate as the KKK, the Communist Party and the Black Panthers) and a series of secret programs led by the National Security Agency known as Operation Shamrock and Project Minaret.
NIXON’S OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE
It later came to light that Nixon was not being truthful. A few days after the break-in, for instance, he arranged to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in “hush money” to the burglars.
Then, Nixon and his aides hatched a plan to instruct the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to impede the FBI’s investigation of the crime. This was a more serious crime than the break-in: It was an abuse of presidential power and a deliberate obstruction of justice.
Meanwhile, seven conspirators were indicted on charges related to the Watergate affair. At the urging of Nixon’s aides, five pleaded guilty to avoid trial; the other two were convicted in January 1973.
THE SATURDAY NIGHT MASSACRE
When Cox refused to stop demanding the tapes, Nixon ordered that he be fired, leading several Justice Department officials to resign in protest. (These events, which took place on October 20, 1973, are known as the Saturday Night Massacre.) Eventually, Nixon agreed to surrender some—but not all—of the tapes.
Early in 1974, the cover-up and efforts to impede the Watergate investigation began to unravel. On March 1, a grand jury appointed by a new special prosecutor indicted seven of Nixon’s former aides on various charges related to the Watergate affair. The jury, unsure if they could indict a sitting president, called Nixon an “unindicted co-conspirator.”
In July, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes. While the president dragged his feet, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up and several violations of the Constitution.
Finally, on August 5, Nixon released the tapes, which provided undeniable evidence of his complicity in the Watergate crimes. In the face of almost certain impeachment by Congress, Nixon resigned in disgrace on August 8, and left office the following day.
Six weeks later, after Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as president, he pardoned Nixon for any crimes he had committed while in office. Some of Nixon’s aides were not so lucky: They were convicted of very serious offenses and sent to federal prison. Nixon himself never admitted to any criminal wrongdoing, though he did acknowledge using poor judgment.
His abuse of presidential power had a long-lasting effect on American political life, creating an atmosphere of cynicism and distrust.
The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) restricts the NSA mandate to the interception of foreign communications and forbids the agency from targeting a U.S. citizen unless the latter is considered an “agent of a foreign power.” In exceptional cases that are considered critical to national security, the agency can obtain a warrant to intercept domestic communications.
On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which triggered major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism and defined the presidency of George W. Bush.
At 7 p.m., President George W. Bush, who was in Florida at the time of the attacks and had spent the day being shuttled around the country because of security concerns, returned to the White House.
At 9 p.m., he delivered a televised address from the Oval Office, declaring, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”
In a reference to the eventual U.S. military response he declared, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
For more information on the Patriot Act
Since then, when groundbreaking documents were released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, detailing a massive surveillance apparatus collecting the electronic communications of entire populations. The proof positive spying story sparked a global discussion reevaluating state power and a groundswell of privacy advocates.
However, years before Snowden’s damning disclosures, two former NSA insiders had also blown the whistle on the dragnet spying regime. Bill Binney was NSA Technical Director from 1965 to 2001 and Kirk Wiebe was Senior Analyst within the NSA from 1975 to 2001. They both resigned after 9/11, outraged by the unconstitutional assertions of power within the agency.