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Profile: Western Union

Western Union was a participant or observer in the following events:

The NSA, working with British intelligence, begins secretly intercepting and reading millions of telegraph messages between US citizens and international senders and recipients. The clandestine program, called Operation Shamrock and part of a larger global surveillance network collectively known as Echelon (see April 4, 2001 and Before September 11, 2001), begins shortly after the end of World War II, and continues through 1975, when it is exposed by the “Church Committee,” the Senate investigation of illegal activities by US intelligence organizations (see April, 1976). [Telepolis, 7/25/2000] The program actually predates the NSA, originating with the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA) then continuing when that turned into NSA (see 1952). [Pensito Review, 5/13/2006] The program operates in tandem with Project Minaret (see 1967-1975). Together, the two programs spy on both foreign sources and US citizens, especially those considered “unreliable,” such as civil rights leaders and antiwar protesters, and opposition figures such as politicians, diplomats, businessmen, trades union leaders, non-government organizations like Amnesty International, and senior officials of the Catholic Church. The NSA receives the cooperation of such telecommunications firms as Western Union, RCA, and ITT. [Telepolis, 7/25/2000] (Those companies are never required to reveal the extent of their involvement with Shamrock; on the recommendations of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and presidential chief of staff Dick Cheney, in 1975 President Ford extends executive privilege to those companies, precluding them from testifying before Congress.) [Pensito Review, 5/13/2006] In the 1960s, technological advances make it possible for computers to search for keywords in monitored messages instead of having human analysts read through all communications. In fact, the first global wide-area network, or WAN, is not the Internet, but the international network connecting signals intelligence stations and processing centers for US and British intelligence organizations, including the NSA, and making use of sophisticated satellite systems such as Milstar and Skynet. (The NSA also builds and maintains one of the world’s first e-mail networks, completely separate from public e-mail networks, and highly secret.) At the program’s height, it operates out of a front company in Lower Manhattan code-named LPMEDLEY, and intercepts 150,000 messages a month. In August 1975, NSA director Lieutenant General Lew Allen testifies to the House of Representatives’ investigation of US intelligence activities, the Pike Committee (see January 29, 1976), that “NSA systematically intercepts international communications, both voice and cable.” He also admits that “messages to and from American citizens have been picked up in the course of gathering foreign intelligence,” and acknowledges that the NSA uses “watch lists” of US citizens “to watch for foreign activity of reportable intelligence interest.” [Telepolis, 7/25/2000] The Church Committee’s final report will will call Shamrock “probably the largest government interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.” [Church Committee, 4/23/1976] Shortly after the committee issues its report, the NSA terminates the program. Since 1978, the NSA and other US intelligence agencies have been restrained in their wiretapping and surveillance of US citizens by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, who will become the NSA’s director in 1977, and who testifies before the Church Committee as director of Naval Intelligence, will later say that he worked actively to help pass FISA: “I became convinced that for almost anything the country needed to do, you could get legislation to put it on a solid foundation. There was the comfort of going out and saying in speeches, ‘We don’t target US citizens, and what we do is authorized by a court.’” [Pensito Review, 5/13/2006] Shamrock is considered unconstitutional by many US lawmakers, and in 1976 the Justice Department investigates potential criminal offenses by the NSA surrounding Shamrock. Part of the report will be released in 1980; that report will confirm that the Shamrock data was used to further the illegal surveillance activities of US citizens as part of Minaret. [Telepolis, 7/25/2000]
bullet After 9/11, the NSA will once again escalate its warrantless surveillance of US citizens, this time monitoring and tracking citizens’ phone calls and e-mails (see After September 11, 2001). It will also begin compiling an enormous database of citizens’ phone activities, creating a “data mine” of information on US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes (see October 2001).

Entity Tags: Western Union, Pike Committee, National Security Agency, Bobby Ray Inman, Church Committee, International Telephone and Telegraph, Radio Corporation of America

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bella Abzug.Bella Abzug. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Staffers from the Church Committee (see April, 1976), slated with investigating illegal surveillance operations conducted by the US intelligence community, approach the NSA for information about Operation Shamrock (see 1945-1975). The NSA ostensibly closes Shamrock down the very same day the committee staffers ask about the program. Though the Church Committee focuses on a relatively narrow review of international cables, the Pike Committee in the House (see January 29, 1976) is much more far-ranging. The Pike Committee tries and fails to subpoena AT&T, which along with Western Union collaborated with the government in allowing the NSA to monitor international communications to and from the US. The government protects AT&T by declaring it “an agent of the United States acting under contract with the Executive Branch.” A corollary House subcommittee investigation led by Bella Abzug (D-NY)—who believes that Operation Shamrock continues under a different name—leads to further pressure on Congress to pass a legislative remedy. The Ford administration’s counterattack is given considerable assistance by a young lawyer at the Justice Department named Antonin Scalia. The head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Scalia’s arguments in favor of continued warrantless surveillance and the unrestricted rights and powers of the executive branch—opposed by, among others, Scalia’s boss, Attorney General Edward Levi—do not win out this time; Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, ultimately signs into law the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). But Scalia’s incisive arguments win the attention of powerful Ford officials, particularly Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld’s assistant, Dick Cheney. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 36-37] Scalia will become a Supreme Court Justice in 1986 (see September 26, 1986).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Church Committee, Bella Abzug, Antonin Scalia, AT&T, Donald Rumsfeld, Ford administration, National Security Agency, Western Union, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Edward Levi, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Pike Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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