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The Boston Globe

Opinion

opinion | Walter V. Robinson

Listen in on friends, but only when necessary

Forty-four years before German Chancellor Angela Merkel discovered that the National Security Agency had been listening to her cellphone calls, President Nixon met with South Korean President Park Chung-Hee to discuss a substantial boost in American military aid to thwart a worrisome threat from North Korea.

That August 1969, summit meeting in San Francisco was as lopsided as a diplomatic mismatch could be: Well before the two men sat down, Nixon had a detailed list of what Park would ask for — and another list of what he was willing to settle for — all thanks to the cryptographers at the NSA, spying on yet another US ally. In that technologically primitive era, the agency easily intercepted scores of encrypted high-level South Korean government cables, handily broke the codes, and let the US intelligence community in on the most closely held secrets in the Seoul government.

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