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Inside The National Security Agency

Updated on June 14, 2013
National Security Activities Should Always Remain Classified
National Security Activities Should Always Remain Classified | Source

The fear of Government intrusion has been a hysterical possibility for decades and I am moderately prone to the hysteria myself but on the other hand, America has become a hotbed for terrorism and without the programs and institutions outlined in this article, the security of America would be greatly jeopardized.

The following is a modest description of the National Security Agency, FISA, and the infamous PRISM and BLARNEY programs. This article does not cover every opinion, debate or federal court decision about these institutions; instead it presents an overview of how each program and/or agency was created and how each works to defend the security of America. Are these programs and agencies foolproof? The answer is no because nothing in this world is perfect. Does the Government accidently or purposely view private information while protecting America? Yes but knowing these programs could prevent another 911 or Boston Bombing is far more important than my civil liberties being violated.

The National Security Agency (NSA) -America’s Top Electronic Spy Agency

The NSA was originally known as the Armed Forces Security Agency or AFSA and was established on May 20th 1949. The agency's primary function was to combat foreign military operations but the agency had modest authority and due to rising post war concerns the agency needed to be restructured to combat twentieth-century espionage.

On December 10th 1951 CIA director Walter Bedell Smith sent a memo to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council citing the agency’s need to evolve and expand to effectively do its job; Mr. Smith further proposed that a review of all communications intelligence activities was needed to strengthen the organization. The review was approved on December 28th 1951 and six months later, the review ended and verified Mr. Smith’s concerns. Immediately following the review, Harry S. Truman in a formal letter authorized the creation of the NSA; on October 24th, 1952, the organization was established through the National Security Council Intelligence Directive and officially became a new and working security agency on November 4th, 1952.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the FISA Court

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is a United States Law developed in 1978 to collect physical and electronic data being passed between foreign powers and agents of foreign powers which may include natural and naturalized citizens of the United States who are suspected of committing or participating in terrorist activities. The law produced the FISA court which reviews surveillance warrant applications by various federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI. This court is located within the Department of Justice and is overseen by eleven justices appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States. This law has been amended several times since September 11,2001.

The Bipartisan Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006

On March 16, 2006, Republicans Senators Mike Dewine, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snow introduced the Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006 (S.2455). This act granted the President additional but limited powers to conduct terrorist investigations with Congressional oversight. On the same day Senator Arlen Specter introduced Surveillance Act S2453 which basically amended the previous the act and gave amnesty to government leaders who indirectly overreached their authority while attempting to protect the American people. Following this amendment, Senator Specter and Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced Surveillance Act S.3001 which granted FISA the exclusive right to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance. All three of these bills were debated and review throughout the summer of 2006 and were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 13,2006.

On July 18, 2006, U.S. Representative Heather Wilson (R-New Mexico ) introduced the Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act (H.R. 5825). Wilson's bill granted the President the authority to authorize electronic surveillance of international phone calls and e-mail linked specifically to identify terrorist organizations immediately following or in anticipation of an armed or terrorist attack on the United States. Surveillance beyond the initial authorized period would require a FISA warrant or a presidential certification to Congress. On September 28, 2006 the House of Representatives passed Wilson's bill and it was referred to the Senate.

George W. Bush’s Protect America Act of 2007

On July 28, 2007, President George W. Bush called on Congress to pass legislation to reform the FISA in order to reduce restrictions on surveillance of terrorist suspects where one party (or both parties) to the communication are located overseas. On August 3, 2007, the Senate passed a Republican-sponsored version of FISA in a vote of 60 to 28. The House followed by passing the bill, 227–183. The Protect America Act of 2007 was signed into law by George W. Bush on August 5,2007.

This law basically allows the Attorney General and/or the Director of National Intelligence to order monitoring of communications (for one year ) between suspected terrorists without FISA oversight but these communications must begin or end in a foreign country and must meet certain criteria. Under this law, phone companies, internet providers and other electronic agencies are financially reimbursed for loss of income and are given amnesty from law suits for allowing Government access to their records.

The Criteria Provisions of the 2007 Protect America Act

1. There are reasonable procedures and information in place showing the person(s) being suspected of terrorism/espionage are located outside the United States.

2. The warrant does not involve solely domestic communications

3. The metadata collected/reviewed must come directly from the electronic service provider or the service provider must assist in the collection.

4. The purpose of the warrant and disclosure of metadata must be strictly for gathering foreign intelligence

5. Guidelines, Rules and Decisions outlined in the FISA will be used.

The National Security Agency’s Infamous PRISM and BLARNEY Programs

PRISM is a top secret NSA controlled electronic surveillance system used to monitor, review and manage incoming and outgoing foreign intelligence data collected from the internet and other electronic service providers. The function of this program is to identify possible links to terrorist groups by examining stored data; allegedly this program views e-mails, video and voice chat, videos, photos, file transfers, social media posts and other electronic activities but by law the NSA can not purposely use PRISM to spy on Americans without just cause; to keep accidental disclosure of personal information at a minimum the program is constantly monitored by Congress and the Whitehouse via extensive procedures and/or failsafe measures. Recently NSA whistleblower William Binney described this program as another tool in America’s ongoing attempt to combat terrorism.

BLARNEY- Prism’s Sidekick Program

The Blarney program is simply another tool used by the NSA and others to detect data. It works by processing and collecting electronic communications across internet choke points; in other words it is a deep mining program that gathers data where various computer networks and information intersect.

A Layman’s Interpretation of How Various NSA Programs Are Used To Identify Possible or Current Security Threats

1. The NSA connects its computer system to a particular phone company, credit card company and/or internet provider and downloads all incoming and outgoing electronic activity to its database. The collected data remains sealed and classified until certain events mandate a need to view the data.

2. During, after or before a terrorist event, the NSA, FBI or other law enforcement agency presents information to a FISA Judge who will either grant or refuse a warrant based on the presented evidence. If the warrant is refused, the law enforcement agency can appeal the decision with the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review but warrant refusal and appeals are rare; in fact since the creation of the FISA court, 18,761 warrants have been approved while only five have been rejected.

3. If FISA approves the warrant, the NSA and/or other law Enforcement Agency reviews the data specifically outlined in the warrant request and hopefully the information will help prevent a terrorist plot.

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