Privacy SOS

NSA analysts went on strike in 1970s Berlin after getting disciplined for smoking weed

Back in 1999, Cryptome published the text of a 1973 interview with an NSA employee based in Australia. The publication of the interview marked only the second time that an NSA official had ever spoken publicly about the agency's work. (The first was this article, written by then-NSA analyst Perry Fellwock, published in the radical magazine Ramparts in 1972.) The interview was printed in the pages of the Australian publication the Daily Review. Here are some interesting portions, including a story about how NSA analysts in Berlin went on strike, in part because they were disciplined for smoking marijuana. (h/t to Twitter user @methadonna)

Why have so few people ever heard of this remarkable organisation?

When anything goes wrong, we generally attribute it to the CIA. Then most of the installations are manned by military personnel and resemble signals bases, so they are [unintelligible].

Why does NSA want to remain secret?

The interception of telephone conversations violates the local laws of most countries and the interception of diplomatic traffic violates Geneva conventions.

[NSA employees in Berlin went on strike.] A strike over what?

The NSA personnel in Berlin were part of the Army Security Agency and came under army administrators for discipline. About 60 or 70 percent of NSA were smoking pot — a lot of them while on duty. It's very relaxing, particularly when you're bored with the Russian or East German traffic that is coming through.

The army didn't like pot?

Well, the new colonel in charge, called Hamilton, who came from Army Airborne, wanted to arrest everyone that smoked it. DIRNSA, the director of NSA, its head in Fort Meade sent out a message saying that the colonel shouldn't do anything that would endanger the security of the country, meaning he should lay off. During those days NSA Berlin brought out an alternative newspaper called Up against the wall. A congressional inquiry followed with a senator and two generals on it but it too didn't become public.

Did NSA go on strike just over pot?

No. This was the focus for a lot for complaints about personal rights and for anti-war sentiment.

What happens to people who leave the NSA?

Many like traveling round the world. They can get jobs in the electronic industry using their technical, not their intelligence, skills. There are half a dozen or so in Australia in the electronic industry.

And their intelligence skill? Is there a market for that?

Israel makes the best offers. They use US equipment, they offer double US rates in posts near the Egyptian border and they give you an Israeli passport.

Don't people want to stay with the NSA?

That was one of the things behind the Berlin strike. A lot of people got disillusioned. They get trained intensively for two years, they are sent out thinking they will do important work and within a month they find out that it's mostly bullshit.

Read the entire interview.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.