NSA's Tapping History Proves PRISM is Nothing New


Turns out that recent history is actually old history when it comes to NSA surveillance of Americans. While, the program for tapping foreign-influenced opponents of the Vietnam War, MINARET, was declassified and discontinued in the 1970s, the National Security Archive at Georgetown helped release documents that finally revealed both the extent of the surveillance program and who had been targeted by it.

Big anti-war names like MLK Jr. and Muhammad Ali are on the list to the shock of many. This isn't what should primarily concern Americans though. It's the presence of people on the list who weren't prominent in the opposition to Vietnam that show the real overreach of the NSA. Considering that the same problem is plaguing NSA overreach with email surveillance today, MINARET is increasingly looking like the precedent for current NSA problems.

The declassification by the National Security Archive summarized MINARET as "disreputable if not outright illegal." The program was initiated by the Johnson administration in 1967 in the face of increased protests that would boil over in 1968. The program continued under the Nixon administration until 1973, when the administration was under extreme scrutiny over the Watergate scandal. During the tenure, 1,600 people had their phones tapped by the NSA.

The legal precedent for tapping and surveillance is certainly an issue today. Even with legal defenses from Eric Holder and President Obama himself, the temperature of the American people has prompted a Senate hearing on the limits of the NSA. Politico reported that the White House "might accept legislation that would rein in how broadly NSA analysts can mine the telephone data."

The bigger problem is that the program Edward Snowden revealed, PRISM, was monitoring Americans that weren't necessarily associated with any sort of terror probe or threat. The same can be said of MINARET.

Former Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker were not extreme in their political opposition to the Vietnam War, and were tapped by MINARET. Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald was also tapped. Not only were these not extremist anti-war activists, they also didn't prove a threat to anyone but the respective administrations.

The more common thread amongst the names of MINARET is the perceived threat they pose to the White House. Nixon's administration is already judged for it's paranoia, but seeing paranoia in actual policy is problematic as well. Minaret was supposed to be investigating foreign influence in anti-war extremism and protests. Yet, it monitored far beyond that. The same can be said of PRISM and threats to national security.

PRISM is notable for its capitalization on technology. The ability to tap Blackberry, iOS, and Android smart phone systems is a testament to the times. What's been around far longer is the general policy of NSA overreach.

While the declassification of the names is just part of history, it's a part of history that paved the way for future abuses. It's difficult to emphasize this without the cliché of repeating history, but perhaps there should be a new cliché. Today's problems are yesterday's secrets.