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Report: NSA Spied on Idaho Senator During Vietnam War

National Security Archives

A U.S. Senator from Idaho who once warned about misuse of government surveillance was himself the subject Vietnam Era domestic wiretapping. That's one of the revelations in a newly de-classified NSA document. The security agency itself described the program as “disreputable ... if not outright illegal.”

In 1975, Sen. Frank Church cautioned the government's growing capability to monitor communication could be turned around on citizens.

“And no American would have privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything—telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter,” Church said on “Meet the Press.”

What Church didn't know when he spoke those words was that he had already been the subject of surveillance. An internal NSA history, now released in full, reveals that Church's overseas phone calls and cable traffic were monitored under the NSA's Minaret program.

“The notion that you would follow and surveil sitting United States senators was totally over the top,” said Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, a former staffer to Church.

Fenn says the Democrat from Idaho knew about the watchlist targeting Vietnam War critics, but Church had no idea his own opposition to the war had put him on the list, too.

The newly declassified surveillance list also included Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali and Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald.

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.