The national security state is not a recent innovation, and its history in America is not one to be proud of, ranging from the FBI’s COINTELPRO activities against figures as varied as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ernest Hemmingway to the CIA’s long history of attacks on countries from Guatemala to Iran. The NSA – an organization once so secret that its existence was not disclosed for years after its founding – has received relatively little press compared to its older siblings, but it has a long history of its own.
During the Bush administration, the NSA came under fire for the practice of warrantless wiretapping, eavesdropping on phone conversations without the permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The practice was ruled unconstitutional and illegal by a district court judge, but this ruling was later overturned by the U.S Court of Appeals.
The agency maintained a large database of American phone calls, working with companies like AT&T and Verizon to produce “the largest database ever assembled in the world.” This information was cross-referenced with other databases, including Americans’ credit histories. In addition to telephone companies, corporations like Google also maintained cozy relationships with the NSA.
As in other matters, the Obama administration has largely maintained the policy of its predecessor when it comes to the surveillance activities of the NSA. Whether he is re-elected this November or replaced by one of the current Republican candidates, major change seems doubtful.