As NewsBusters’ Clay Waters reported, a National Security Agency surveillance program, codenamed “Echelon,” – apparently similar to what the NSA is doing today to counter terrorist activities that has garnered tremendous media outrage in the past four days – existed some years ago. In fact, according to a February 27, 2000 Associated Press article, the ACLU had been expressing its concern regarding this program for quite some time:
“Nevertheless, the American Civil Liberties Union has been requesting congressional hearings on Echelon for nearly a year. In a letter sent to the House Government Reform Committee in April 1999, the ACLU said: ''It is important that Congress investigate to determine if the Echelon program is as sweeping and intrusive as has been reported.''
This AP article also referenced a letter that the NSA had sent to Congress concerning the upcoming “60 Minutes” story:
NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, MARYLAND 20755-6000
24 February 2000
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Recently, many allegations have surfaced about activities conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). We anticipate a continuation, if not an increase, in these allegations for the foreseeable future. In fact, a 27 February 2000 airing of a CBS "60 Minutes" newsmagazine report may feature adverse information about the National Security Agency (NSA). We are providing the attached documents on the oversight of NSA and some answers to frequently asked questions in an effort to answer some of your questions concerning the allegations.
We want to assure you that NSA's activities are conducted in accordance with the highest constitutional, legal, and ethical standards, and in compliance with statutes and regulations designed to protect the privacy rights of U.S. persons. Agency employees are trained to comply with these standards, and an extensive oversight system that includes internal and external reviews exists to ensure compliance.
As is the long-standing policy within the United States Intelligence Community, we must refrain from commenting on actual or alleged intelligence activities; therefore, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of specific operations. However, we can tell you that NSA operates in strict accordance with U.S. laws and regulations in protecting the privacy rights of U.S. persons.
We invite you to review the NSA web site (http://www.nsa.gov) for additional information and answers to other frequently asked questions.
The Intelligence Authorization Act for FY00 required the Director of NSA to submit a report to Congress on the legal standards for electronic surveillance. If you would like a copy of the report, or if you have any other questions, please contact Karen Clark, in my office, of 301-688-7246.
KENNETH A. HEATH
Chief of Staff
Legislative Affairs Office
Sounds a lot like what members of the Bush administration are stating about this current NSA program.