For those inclined to be sympathetic toward the public appeal made by NSA chief Keith Alexander on Wednesday — that the NSA stops terror attacks like the one in Nairobi — there's a declassified document that outlines the agency's unsympathetic past, which includes spying on politicians, reporters, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
That spying took place more than four decades ago, years before the Church Committee reforms of the late 1970s that revised the agency's role, and before the clear delineation that the National Security Agency was prohibited from surveilling people in the United States. At that time, the NSA apparently had few qualms about keeping an eye on those the government considered "domestic terrorist and foreign radical" threats. George Washington University's National Security Archive obtained the documents and provides an overview.
During the height of the Vietnam War protest movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the National Security Agency tapped the overseas communications of selected prominent Americans, most of whom were critics of the war, according to a recently declassified NSA history. For years those names on the NSA's watch list were secret, but thanks to the decision of an interagency panel, in response to an appeal by the National Security Archive, the NSA has released them for the first time. The names of the NSA's targets are eye-popping.