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With FBI as the prime source of names, NSA began expanding the watch list to include domestic terrorist and foreign radical suspects. The watch list eventually contained over 1,600 names and included such personages as columnist Art Buchwald, journalist Tom Wicker, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young, the boxer Muhammed Ali, and even politicians such as Frank Church and Howard Baker.Aid and Burr argue that the "the watch list of domestic critics had its origins in the paranoia that pervaded the White House during the administrations of Johnson and Nixon, as public discontent over the Vietnam War grew." But whatever its trigger, the program was clearly "disreputable if not outright illegal," according to the NSA history. Aid and Burr note that the program was even operated in a shady manner:
[T]he NSA analysts working on the program printed all reports derived from these intercepts on plain bond paper without the NSA's logo or any classification markings except for the marking "For Background Use Only" printed on the top and bottom of the report. They then had them hand-carried by NSA couriers to the very few individuals at the White House and elsewhere in Washington who were cleared to see these highly classified documents.While the new documents are illuminating, they do not answer all questions, especially the key issue of Minaret's scope. Aid and Burr observe:
The newly declassified NSA material does not divulge how many phone calls or telegrams the agency intercepted from these seven men (King, Young, Ali, Wicker, Buchwald, Church, and Baker), but the number must have been significant over the six years that Minaret operated. The NSA now admits that at the height of the Minaret program in late 1969, almost 150,000 telephone calls, telexes, and cables were being intercepted and analyzed at the NSA every month. The NSA history also doesn't reveal what information about these targets the NSA extracted from these intercepts and sent on to the White House. According to declassified NSA documents, between 1967 and 1973 the agency issued approximately 1,900 intelligence reports pertaining to terrorism, executive protection, and foreign influence and/or support for U.S. groups deemed to be subversive, especially those groups described as "anti-war."What lessons can be drawn from the Minaret program's existence? One takeaway may be, as Aid and Burr claim, that "[i]t demonstrates just how easily the agency's vast surveillance powers have been abused in the past and can be abused even today." Others, though, may take solace in the fact that however controversial the NSA's programs may be today, they are a far cry from the abuses of the Johnson and Nixon years. Perhaps, then, this recent history suggests that the safeguards put in place after those abuses - chiefly, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - are actually working as designed.