Posted by: johnhourihan | June 13, 2013

The NSA, the politicians and the collected data

I hope I’m not telling stuff I’m not supposed to, but I think the following is important.
As to the NSA collecting telephone data, politicians are asking the wrong question if they really want to find out what happened. They shouldn’t be asking “If” but “how.”
I watched the Director of the National Security Agency Wednesday June 12, being “grilled” by a politician. DIRNSA said that the NSA collected a lot of data and set it aside but didn’t look at it unless someone who might be within the collected data was doing something wrong. Then agents would go into the data and check it for information.
The politician said he didn’t understand why NSA didn’t just collect data on people who were doing something wrong, and others nodded their heads in agreement while the director sat dumbfounded at the stupidity of the request.
I understood the director.
I want you all to understand why, so I am reprinting part of a post I published months ago.
Suffice it to say that I worked with the NSA when I was in Vietnam with the Army Security Agency in 1968.

“I was a voice intercept operator. That means I listened to the radio, found where the enemy was broadcasting, and taped the transmission. If it was a conversation of immediate importance I would translate it and send it to my superiors. If not, we would translate the tapes on the next shift. Either way it was some of the most reliable intelligence we had during the Vietnam War.
One evening I walked the quarter mile from my tent to the operations area where rows of large trucks were  backed up to a ramp. I walked up the few stairs that took me up to the wooden ramp and  then down the length of the walkway to my operations site, the last truck on the right.
On the back of each truck was a sort of room, and inside were back to back rows of four radio positions – radios hooked to reel-to-reel tape recorders so we could do our electrical eavesdropping.
This was, I believed, the state of the art.

“On this night, as I tuned my R-390 to a frequency I felt would be busy, I was surprised.
A transmission from  a North Vietnamese base camp had already become busy and the information I was listening to told me that something extremely important had just been sent from the base camp to several other outlying sites.
Since there had been a lull between the day shift leaving and my arrival, the important information had gone unrecorded.
I took off the head set and went for a coffee. There was nothing I could do about this.

“Our Warrant Officer, Mr. Thomas, was on duty so I told him about the unlucky timing of the broadcast.
He smiled and motioned for me to follow him.
I had never been to the truck in the center of the compound before. It was called the wideband truck, and it was air conditioned.

“In front of me was a floor-to-ceiling machine. The first and last quarter panels were filled with blinking lights green and red and amber, then there were what appeared to be very large reel-to-reel recording device, but the tapes were huge.
They were something I had never seen before. The tapes, rather than being about a quarter inch wide, were about four inches wide and the reels were about two and a half feet in diameter. The tape wound around the reels from one to the next to the next like the fan belt on a very sophisticated automobile.
In the center was a radio that looked like my own R-390, but in addition to the frequency knobs and the volume knobs and the squelch button there was a knob of the month the day and the time a.m. or p.m.
“I don’t understand this,” I said to Mr. Thomas.
“Sit down,” he said smiling.
“Now turn the day and month to today’s date.”
I did that
“Now the time you think that transmission started today.”
I did that.
“Put on the headset and tune in to the frequency.”
I couldn’t believe it. I heard the beginning of the transmission.
“Can I do this for any day this month?”
“Any day, any month, any time any frequency.”
“Astonishing,” he said. “isn’t it?”
I thought for a second and realized, here in the Central Highlands of southeast Asia in 1968, we had made time irrelevant.
This is when it first occurred to me that if a 20-year-old low ranking enlisted man  was allowed to know this there were things I didn’t know that were totally astonishing – things that if we knew the secrets of what existed we would be very troubled. And if others didn’t know these same things, we could control so much of the world.”

But I doubt if even the almighty NSA can go back in time and collect only the data of people who are doing bad things in the present, neither can they collect only data on people who will turn out to be bad guys in the future. Even the NSA has to collect it all in the present and then wait to see which of it is important to protecting the country.
This information, by the way I know for a fact was instrumental in rescuing a pilot downed in Laos, and retrieving information on a captured spy ship named the Pueblo, and that is not to mention the “dozens” of times it currently thwarted terror events according to the man who runs the NSA.



  1. Naivite is bliss… for the moment I am blissfully naive… but power corrupts and can you come back (to our sense of being free) from a corrupted system?

    • I’m afraid our sense of freedom was based on ignorance of what was actually happening, while we blissfully believed what we were being told was happening.


  2. That question has been repeated by parrot people around town since it was first asked. I think only one person heard the question when first asked. Now I’ve heard it 1/2dz. times from the parrots. Thanks for giving me the ans. at least they’ll move on now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: