If it wasn’t for last minute US government intervention, occurring last night just before the clock hit midnight, we would know the names American’s being spied on by the National Security Agency.

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Last night at midnight journalist Glenn Greenwald was scheduled to release his biggest story yet, which is a significant claim in its own right as he has published some benchmark work in revealing the domestic spying capabilities of the US government.

Greenwald’s release of the names of NSA targets

Greenwald’s release of the names of US citizens – including controversial political activists – who the NSA was targeting was halted for reasons still not fully explained. The announcement came on Greenwald’s Twitter feed hours before the scheduled release when he said “After 3 months working on our story, USG (US Government) today suddenly began making new last-minute claims which we intend to investigate before publishing.”

Critics have charged that the NSA has built a mass surveillance state to rival the Nazis, Soviets or Stasis. The publication of the names of US citizens who might be targeted in the US for political rather than national security reasons would market a new low benchmark for the spy agency whose leaders are documented to have lied to the US public and Congress without any accountability.

Reasons for Greenwald halting publication

The halting of Greenwald’s release of information comes one day after the Washington Post revealed that the NSA was given approval to spy on US corporations sending e-mail overseas and the government spy agency was permitted to collect information about governments in 193 countries and foreign institutions including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court documents shows the NSA has the authority to “intercept through U.S. companies not just the communications of its overseas targets, but any communications about its targets as well,” according to the Post’s report. Four countries in the world are exempt — Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — due to existing no-spying agreements.  These countries are known as “Five Eyes” with the U.S.

The secret certification from the FISA court in 2010 was part of a trove of documents that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked to reporters at The Washington Post and The Guardian last year. In addition to permitting the NSA to collect information about most countries, it also authorizes the NSA to target institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It is believed the FISA court did not authorize spying on US citizens for political reasons, however, which is what Greenwald’s latest disclosure of names was said to reveal.