Project MINARET and Project SHAMROCK


Project MINARET and Project SHAMROCK are sister espionages exercises undertaken by the NSA from the 1940s to the 1970s. Project MINARET was a domestic project which intercepted electronic communications that contained the names of predesignated US citizens on a “watch list,” then passed this data on to other government law enforcement and intelligence organizations either not capable or not legally allowed to conduct such surveillance on their own. Project SHAMROCK was an international project that accumulated all data entering into or exiting the United States. The Western Union and its associates gave the NSA direct access to all incoming, outgoing, and transiting telegrams. The NSA performed operational interception and selected relevant messages to disseminate to other government agencies. Both projects fed information to the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and the Department of Defense. There was no judicial oversight of the MINARET and SHAMROCK programs, and there were no warrants for surveillance. The criteria for the watch lists and for operational interception were classified and generated entirely by law enforcement and intelligence agencies within the Executive Branch. In 1972, Supreme Court ruled that even though the government had the authority to protect the nation from subversive activity, this did not extend to the use of warrantless electronic surveillance for domestic espionage purposes. At that point in its career, the NSA was keeping tabs on 5,925 foreigners and 1,690 organizations and US citizens. At this point, its powers were limited and the NSA remained relatively impotent until the Bush era.

Friedman, B. (2017). Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Bamford, James. The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008.