US Domestic Surveillance By NSA
A Senate Select Committee, generally called the Church Committee, began some of the first public hearings on US intelligence. These hearings revealed information that was questionably legal, and led to the termination of some programs, such as Project SHAMROCK and Project MINARET, as well as enacting, in 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA established guidelines for COMINT involving US citizens, and established a special FISA Court to approve warrants. The FISA judges were cleared for all intelligence information relevant to warrant requests.
During these hearings, the Director of NSA, LTG Lew Allen, discussed targeting of information, including the names of American citizens, in watch lists: "The use of lists of words, including individual names, subjects, locations, et cetera, has long been one of the methods used to sort out information of foreign intelligence value from that which is not of interest. In the past such lists have been referred to occasionally as watch lists, because the lists were used as an aid to watch for foreign activity of reportable intelligence interest. However, these lists generally did not contain names of U.S. citizens or organizations. The activity in question is one in which U.S. names were used systematically as a basis for selecting messages, including some between U.S. citizens, when one of the communicants was at a foreign location."
Richard M. Nixon ordered the CIA to gather information on foreign sources of controlled substances and how they entered the US. As part of this initiative, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) requested NSA COMINT related to foreign drug traffic, including watch lists with some U.S. names. International drug trafficking became a formal US Intelligence Board (USIB) requirement in 1971. Other target names for watch lists, concerned with North Vietnam, came from the Defense Intelligence Agency.
During the hearings, LTG Allen said he had received a letter, on October 1, 1973, from Attorney General Elliot Richardson "indicating that he was concerned with respect to the propriety of requests for information concerning U.S. citizens which NSA had received from the FBI and Secret Service. He wrote the following:
"Until I am able more carefully to assess the effect of Keith and other Supreme Court decisions concerning electronic surveillance upon your current practice of disseminating to the FBI and Secret Service information acquired by you through electronic devices pursuant to requests from the FBI and Secret Service, it is requested that you immediately curtail the further dissemination of such information to these agencies."
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