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National Security Agency
January 5, 2006 1:48 PM   Subscribe

National Security Agency What is it that NSA does? What are or were its legal parameters and its history? This is a quick "NSA 101" course that might be helpful as stories continue to emerge about the agency. Oddly, as large as this organization is, it has been very much in the background, and only recently when some whistleblowers spoke up, has this agency gained a good deal of public attention. Some of you may recall the fuss raised about some spy agency named Echelon and wonder how this group is or is not connected to NSA. And soon at least one whistle blower will testify before congress, though the White House seems to have convinced some 50% of Americans that the president can do whatever he wants in time of war, ignoring legal constraints upon intel branches. And that raises the question (for me): if NSA can skirt the courts to "fight terror," then what of the FBI, also once requied to have court approval for phone taps. Are they too now free to do as they want in this "fight against terror"?
posted by Postroad (15 comments total)

 
Officially, it didn't even exist until the late 1980s.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:54 PM on January 5, 2006


For interested parties, James Bamford's The Puzzle Palace and his followup Body of Secrets are excellent surveys of the history and present day-to-day workings of some of early 1900s cryptography and of the NSA.
posted by Rothko at 1:58 PM on January 5, 2006


My personal belief is that NSA is not gathering information to do extra-judiciary actions, but rather to siphon information in order to focus FBI and other organization investigations that then proceed to follow the appropriate legal process. So I think you're slippery slope argument is slightly off. I don't think the FBI will end around the courts explicitly ... but that they would be the beneficiaries of "tainted" information.
I still think its wrong ... just in a different way.
posted by forforf at 1:58 PM on January 5, 2006


Could this not have been added to the other four active posts you made about the NSA Postroad?

and before anyone asks - yes I flagged it.
posted by longbaugh at 2:00 PM on January 5, 2006


And why stop there? What about local governments? Aren't they mandated to assure the security of the people? Why aren't they doing more outside the law to protect their constituents? I mean, don't they care enough to do whatever it takes to make us safe from terror?

This reminds me of the scene in Office Space where the manger of Chotchkie's reprimands Jennifer Aniston for wearing the bare minimum of 15 pieces of flair, while that other waiter wears 32.

Staying within the "law" to protect your citizens may be okay for some governments, but the feds are willing to go that extra mile to serve us in non-legal ways. Kind of gives you a warm feeling. Remember: people can buy a cheeseburger anywhere.
posted by squirrel at 2:02 PM on January 5, 2006


BTW, ECHELON is a project making use of espionage services around the world, not an espionage agency in its own right.
posted by Rothko at 2:02 PM on January 5, 2006


The NSA is the No Such Agency. No patriotic, red-blooded American would want to know any more than that, you traitor.

Terrorists are possibly going to strike again, and you're worried about the legality of the KGB NSA's actions? It's time for a reeducation camp, buddy.
posted by teece at 2:14 PM on January 5, 2006


Echelon previously discussed here, here, here, here, here, here and here
posted by ericb at 2:25 PM on January 5, 2006


Postroad, congrats on your 500th post!

P.S. I flagged it.
posted by brain_drain at 2:35 PM on January 5, 2006


Generally, I am scared about the invasion of privacy by the government, however I have known several people who have worked at the NSA and believe me, if you knew them, you wouldn't be too worried about the them. One guy can't tie his own tie, his wife does it for him.
posted by poppo at 2:47 PM on January 5, 2006


you wouldn't be too worried about the them. One guy can't tie his own tie, his wife does it for him

Ah, comforting. Could such a person be bribed to "break a few rules" and pass on some classified info to, let's say, John Bolton's office in exchange for a couple of sky-box tickets (courtesy, of let's say, Jack Abramoff)?
posted by ericb at 3:16 PM on January 5, 2006


“What is it that NSA does?”

I have no idea what the NSA does.
*STEVE FORBES STARE*


“you wouldn't be too worried about the them. One guy can't tie his own tie, his wife does it for him”

Sounds like a typical codebreaker actually.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:22 PM on January 5, 2006


Sounds like a typical codebreaker actually.

Middle management for what it's worth
posted by poppo at 3:28 PM on January 5, 2006


Really? Weird. Usually the poor social/mundane skills are the insular higher functioning math guys not the paper pushers. Not that they are stellar achievers.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:39 PM on January 5, 2006


What, you think that totalitarian regimes are accomplished only with intellectual and philosophical wonderkinder? Nope; everyday Joes every time.
posted by squirrel at 4:36 PM on January 5, 2006


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