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Archive’s Upcoming Document Collection the Most Comprehensive Available on Electronic Surveillance and the National Security Agency

November 6, 2014
The National Security Agency.

The National Security Agency.

At the cost of $50 billion annually, U.S. intelligence activities, both domestically and internationally, have significant implications for national security, foreign relations, and civil liberties. In an attempt to help the public better assess these implications, on November 12, 2014, the National Security Archive and our partners at ProQuest will publish Electronic Surveillance and the National Security Agency: From Shamrock to Snowden, the seminal collection of leaked and declassified records documenting U.S. and allied electronic surveillance policies, relationships, and activities.

The collection of nearly 1,000 documents, compiled by Archivist Jeffrey T. Richelson and to be made available through the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA), serves as an addition to several National Security Archive documents sets – including those on U.S. Intelligence and the National Security Agency (NSA) – and represents the most comprehensive collection of materials publicly available on the controversial subject of electronic surveillance.

NSA cover slide from a weekly briefing by the Special Source Operations team on Operation Mystic, one of the programs revealed by Edward Snowdens leaks.

Cover slide from a weekly briefing by the NSA’s Special Source Operations team on Operation Mystic, one of the programs revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks.

The vast majority of the collection focuses on records related to the classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden to a handful of journalists and that were ultimately published by, primarily, the Intercept, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel. Every effort has been made to locate and include each posted Snowden document in this collection – including those that originated with the NSA, with other U.S. organizations, or with foreign SIGINT agencies. This includes policy and strategy documents, histories, briefings on specific programs, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) orders, and assessments of NSA’s relations with foreign agencies. In addition to leaked materials, the set gathers together the full collection of records periodically declassified by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to the fallout from the Snowden revelations.

It is worth noting that the set contains only those leaked documents already posted by the media organizations mentioned above, and it seems clear from the reporting on Snowden’s disclosures that the documents posted represent only a fraction of the number he actually turned over to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. While the total amount of documents leaked by Snowden remains unclear, in August 2014 Snowden revealed to the original NSA chronicler James Bamford that he left the NSA “bread crumbs” that could have helped the agency determine which files he copied, and which he merely “touched,” further arguing that the government’s continued insistence that he copied as many as 1.7 million documents “is a sign that the agency has either purposely inflated the size of his leak or lacks the forensic skills to see the clues he left for its auditors.”

The set also features other reports, statements, and white papers released by the Obama administration. Along with these executive branch documents, a number of congressional materials are included in the set, such as testimony presented at congressional hearings, proposed legislation, and substantive statements from key congressional participants in the controversy. Rounding out this extremely valuable collection are a host of records generated by private lawsuits directed against the NSA’s surveillance programs, as well as communications from telecommunications and internet service provider firms that have become embroiled in the controversy.

NSA Targets under the MINARET program.

NSA Targets under the MINARET program.

One of the key features of the compilation that sets it apart is the fact that it begins during the Cold War – before the advent of cell phones and the Internet. Among the specific subjects covered are two historical programs that involved the early examples of the provision of cable traffic and creation of a watch list, respectively. One – SHAMROCK – dates to 1945, while the other – MINARET – began in 1967. Also, included are a set of documents concerning United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18, which covered the ability to collect and retain signals intelligence on American citizens.

Electronic Surveillance also provides valuable new information on one key, often obscured, aspect of foreign relations – the liaison relationships between U.S. intelligence organizations (in this case, the NSA) and their foreign counterparts.

The documents published in this unique collection were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and archival research, from the media publications that posted the Snowden leaks, official releases from the executive branch (including press releases and declassified documents) and Congress (including legislation, member’s press releases, and testimony).

If you don’t already have DNSA, sign up for a free trial today.

  1. November 9, 2014 4:51 pm

    Apparently one can only access the Digital National Security Archive if affiliated with an institution. How might an independent researcher or citizen get access to the documents you describe in this post? As a Navy veteran formerly connected with the NSA vis Naval Security Group status (1961-1964), I would be very interested in seeing what is available.

  2. B H permalink
    December 1, 2014 9:19 am

    Yep, does no one any good to not make this collection more widely available.

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