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FOIA Request Filed for National Security Agency Watch List that Included “Threats” MLK, Muhammad Ali, and Senator Church

September 25, 2013


Among the many revelations included in the recently declassified version of the National Security Agency’s classified internal history American Cryptology during the Cold War, is the official confirmation that by 1973, the NSA had a watch list  of over 1,600 Americans, whose communications the Agency monitored.  “The project, which became known officially as MINARET in 1969,employed unusual procedures.  NSA distributed reports without the usual serialization.  They were designed to look like HUMINT reports rather than SIGINT, and readers could find no originating agency.”  It almost seems like the NSA knew it was doing something wrong and tried to cover it’s tracks.

According to the history, the list “included such personages as columnist Art Buchwald, journalist Tom Wicker, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young, the boxer Muhammad Ali, and even politicians such as Frank Church and Howard Baker.”

(Paging Senators Wyden and Udall.  Please pick up the courtesy white telepho…er….)

Protected to avoid "grave damage to national security?"

Reasonably protected to prevent “exceptionally grave damage to national security?”

Of course the National Security Agency did not reveal this surveillance of Americans on its own volition.  It was forced to by a Mandatory Declassification Review request.  Initially, in 2008, the Agency claimed that redacting the names of the Americans that it spied on was necessary because disclosure “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security” of the United States.  Fortunately, ISCAP, the secrecy court of last resort, overruled the Agency’s argument and released the information to the National Security Archive’s FOIA Yoda, Bill Burr.

The disclosure of the official history of the National Security Agency’s MINARET abuses adds another bulwark to the argument that the Agency has a long history of evading oversight and supervision in order to engage in “disreputable if not outright illegal” behavior toward American citizens.  At least to me, the NSA’s activity becomes all-the-more unsavory considering that people that the list concluded were threats —presumably targeted due to their opposition to the Vietnam War–  clearly stood on the right, just side of the moral arc of history.

In addition to reminding us of the pitfalls of Total Information Awareness, ISCAP’s declassification of these names also provides an avenue for the disclosure of this entire list of 1,600 targets.

As I wrote in the FOIA request that the National Security Archive shot off to the National Security Agency this morning: “ISCAP’s recent declassification of the identities of the above targets established that the identities on this now defunct ‘watch list’ no longer remain properly classified… I look forward to receiving your response within the twenty business day time period required by law.”

We’ll see if the Agency gets back to us.

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