Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities
The National Security Agency and Fourth Amendment Rights
October 29, 1975
Testimony of Lt. General Lew Allen, Jr., Director, NSA (PDF)
General Allen, I would like to say for the record that the work of the NSA and the performance of your staff and yourself before the committee is perhaps the most impressive presentation that we have had. And I consider your Agency and your work to be possibly the most single important source of intelligence for this Nation. Indeed, so much so that I am not convinced that we fully perceived the revolution that has occurred in recent years in intelligence gathering as a result of technological breakthroughs, and it is your agency that basically deals with that area. But it is that most impressive capacity which works so often for the purposes of defending this country and informing it that also scares me in terms of its possible abuse.
That is why I am interested in knowing what limitations exist, in your opinion, upon its use that could be described as an abuse of the legal rights of American citizens. As I understand your testimony, you limit yourself to the interpretation of communications between—either to or from—a foreign terminal and one in the United States. You do not intercept messages to and from people within the United States.
That is correct, sir.
But I also understand that this is a matter of policy and not of law, that the basis for this limitation is a judgement on the part of our Government that that ought to be as far as you can go. There is not, in your judgement, or the judgement of the Agency, a restriction that would limit you precisely to those policy guidelines that you now have.
Well, I believe that is correct, sir, as far as the precise restriction is concerned. But there is no misunderstanding with regard to the Executive directives that exist, the restriction is to foreign intelligence purposes and foreign communications that are defined in some way.
Given another day and another President, another perceived risk and someone breathing hot down the neck of the military leader then in charge of the NSA : demanding a review based on another watch list, another wide sweep to determine whether some of the domestic dissent is really foreign based, my concern is whether that pressure could be resisted on the basis of the law or not.
Well, it is very hard for me, of course, to project into a future unknown situation. And there certainly are risks that have occurred in the past. I can certainly assure you that, at the present time, under any combination of the present players, as I understand the rules and the players themselves, there is no possibility of that.
I will accept that. But what we have to deal with is whether this incredibly powerful and impressive institution that you head could be used by President “A” in the future to spy upon the American people, to chill and interrupt political dissent. And if is my impression that the present condition of the law makes that entirely possible. And therefore we need to, in my opinion, very carefully define the law, spell it out so that it is clear what your authority is and it is also clear what your authority is not.
Do you object to that?
Overall, you have to agree with Mondale about the General’s testimony. Unlike some of the train-wrecks in the other stuff (and to be seen when CIA and DOD contradict each other over disposal of the fish toxin, etc), Allen has answers and they do, to an extent, make sense. NSA was asked to do what it did in MINARET and had to trust the requestors that the requests were legitimate—to the extent that “let’s find out if foreigners are directing actions of Americans who protest the war” can be considered so, and even seemed to keep a paper trail to cover itself by questioning some of the requests (mostly when it would drift from intelligence to law enforcement and legal action).
Previous to the excerpt above, Allen throws out what would be a hilarious euphemism, ‘analytic amplification’, had NSA added names to the watch list based on reasons other than it did (it generally did what is nearly unthinkable today, it treated corporations as the individuals who run it, added the names of officers of organizations being watched when the original requests were for the organization as a whole).
And I can understand the reasons here for hemming and hawing. Allen’s perhaps caught in a hard place. You are probably asking for trouble if you come out and say, “Yes, please pass a law that limits Executive power because we abused it and we will again in the future.” He must be aware that checks and balances form the basis for the American government. Laws limit what a president can do. Or a vice president…
He is essentially saying, “Trust us.” He is trying to limit the conversation to very specific questions about the past, ignoring what could happen in the future even when, it’s clear, it was the revelations of illegal activities in the press that made them question the validity of MINARET in the first place. Political pressure, fear of being exposed, for which a kind interpretation allows for protecting methods while a more pessimistic view finds that a cover for hiding illegalities being the motive (or both), made them want to hide the operation’s existence.
(Also, like the other organizations, it’s interesting to note that NSA started the spying activities before the Houston Plan was proposed and continued after it was rejected. Allen has a decent answer for that as well. He seems better prepared, but then he might have already seen the debacle of others trying to pin it all on that and being caught with a faulty timeline).
Interesting note about NSA and patents from Wikipedia:
NSA has the ability to file for a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under gag order. Unlike normal patents, these are not revealed to the public and do not expire. However, if the Patent Office receives an application for an identical patent from a third party, they will reveal NSA’s patent and officially grant it to NSA for the full term on that date. 
This is how a number of gadgets got into the market. Some corporation or academic figured out something the NSA had for years previously and they had to release it. (Hence part of the reason for people targeted to blame magic—see Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘third law’—or space aliens. Some of the stuff seems too advanced to be from current human tech. It’s that plus voice-to-skull). It makes one wonder if some things aren’t being held back with regards to brainhacking.
The monstrous NSA data center being built hit the news recently. There was apparently a bomb threat at the construction site. No word as far as I know on the details.
The purpose of the data center, it is known, is to store data on the communications of American citizens, defying the very directives that General Allen was assisting Walter Mondale could not occur with that set of players and rules.
Cyber-security (you know, “Digital Blackwater”) is the excuse for it and is yet another way to waste tax dollars without having the problem of the legislature complain about it (in fact it’s why they want to shut off funding for everything else, to feed this beast and turn control of it over to the highest corporate bidders).
Can there be an alternative explanation for this other than someone has decided that the American people are the enemy? Its MINARET on steroids. If the citizens that make up the country are the enemy, then who is the ally? It can only be the so-called 1%, the military industrial complex, their newer expansion into counter-terror, security and intelligence, big climate-change-denying energy, certain Wall Street entities, etc.
The rest of us are the excuse and the ATM by which these people continue to grow in power, influence and wealth while the rest lose them. The more they make life hellish, the more they force us to complain and find no relief, the more they can twist dissent into terrorism and justify the removal of civil liberties and the replacement of government with a thugocracy.
It’s where we are, folks. Completely out of balance and without the slightest bit of aid from those folks who, on TV, are always thinking about you and protecting your kids from boogeymen. Nor from either branch of government with oversight responsibilities.