Pre-9/11 NSA Thinking
This quote is from the Spring 1997 issue of CRYPTOLOG, the internal NSA newsletter. The writer is William J. Black, Jr., the Director’s Special Assistant for Information Warfare.
Specifically, the focus is on the potential abuse of the Government’s applications of this new information technology that will result in an invasion of personal privacy. For us, this is difficult to understand. We are “the government,” and we have no interest in invading the personal privacy of U.S. citizens.
This is from a Seymour Hersh New Yorker interview with NSA Director General Michael Hayden in 1999:
When I asked Hayden about the agency’s capability for unwarranted spying on private citizens — in the unlikely event, of course, that the agency could somehow get the funding, the computer scientists, and the knowledge to begin making sense out of the Internet — his response was heated. “I’m a kid from Pittsburgh with two sons and a daughter who are closet libertarians,” he said. “I am not interested in doing anything that threatens the American people, and threatens the future of this agency. I can’t emphasize enough to you how careful we are. We have to be so careful — to make sure that America is never distrustful of the power and security we can provide.”
It’s easy to assume that both Black and Hayden were lying, but I believe them. I believe that, 15 years ago, the NSA was entirely focused on intercepting communications outside the US.
What changed? What caused the NSA to abandon its non-US charter and start spying on Americans? From what I’ve read, and from a bunch of informal conversations with NSA employees, it was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s when everything changed, the gloves came off, and all the rules were thrown out the window. That the NSA’s interests coincided with the business model of the Internet is just a — lucky, in their view — coincidence.