How a 30-year-old lawyer exposed NSA mass surveillance of Americans—in 1975 | Ars Technica "Snider's story is striking for just how modern it sounds. The NSA, drowning in 'big data?' Check, both then and now. The NSA, having great difficulty pulling tiny needles from massive haystacks? Check, both then and now. An agency which is so difficult to penetrate that even 'insiders' know only part of the story? Check, then and now. Communications companies doing their 'patriotic duty' but worried about a backlash? Check, both then and now.
As security and crypto guru Bruce Schneier put it back in 2005, 'A lot of people are trying to say that it's a different world today, and that eavesdropping on a massive scale is not covered under the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] statute, because it just wasn't possible or anticipated back then. That's a lie. Project SHAMROCK began in the 1950s and ran for about 20 years. It too had a massive program to eavesdrop on all international telegram communications, including communications to and from American citizens. It too was to counter a terrorist threat inside the United States. It too was secret and illegal. It is exactly, by name, the sort of program that the FISA process was supposed to get under control.'
One thing that is different about today's leaks is the relative lack of official outrage from top members of Congress. Consider Senator Church's amazing remarks from 1975, for instance, as noted by NSA historian and investigator James Bamford in a 2005 article. 'That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people,' Church said. 'And no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide... I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.'"