NSA Refuses To Confirm That It Has Not Spied On Congress While Secret Court Renews Massive Surveillance Program

NSA logo smallBernieSandersSen. Bernie Sanders asked the National Security Agency (NSA) a question that one would have thought would be easy to answer: has the NSA spied on Congress with its massive surveillance programs? The answer that came back was chilling in what it did not say. The NSA would only assure Sanders that it has “the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons.” That must be a bit unnerving for Congress since it has allowed the NSA to strip citizens of the most basic privacy protections.

Sanders did not leave much room for wiggling by defining “spying” as “gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or e-mails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”

The agency responded to Sanders with the assurance of “NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons.”

Attorney General Eric Holder also deflected answering the same question at a congressional hearing last summer.

We could ask again how we came to this moment. There was a time when the failure to answer this question in the negative would have led to furious hearings and bipartisan investigations. However, once again, liberals and Democrats are largely silent — choosing personality over principle. It is yet another example of how Obama has divided the civil liberties movement in the United States.

In the meantime, the highly controversial secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (that is widely viewed as a rubber stamp for the intelligence community) renewed its approval of the National Security Agency’s telephone-records program on Friday — giving the government a new three-month window to collect data on all Americans’ phone calls. That is the 36th time the program has been approved by the FISA, which allows for no opposing counsel or public access to the court. Under the FISA law, the standard guarantees surveillance orders with virtually no articulated suspicion in comparison to the standards under the Fourth Amendment.

Source: CNN

75 thoughts on “NSA Refuses To Confirm That It Has Not Spied On Congress While Secret Court Renews Massive Surveillance Program”

  1. “House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers and his Democractic counterpart Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger published a press release today touting a classified Defense Department report alleging that Edward Snowden’s leaks—and by proxy, stories published by news organizations—threaten national security and “are likely to have lethal consequences for our troops in the field.”

    Before going any further, let’s remember what the Washington Post reported just two weeks ago about the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), James Clapper:

    Clapper has said repeatedly in public that the leaks did great damage, but in private he has taken a more nuanced stance. A review of early damage assessments in previous espionage cases, he said in one closed-door briefing this fall, found that dire forecasts of harm were seldom borne out.

    Now go back and read the press release closely. No specific examples are given, and you will notice virtually every sentence includes the word “could”—meaning real damage hasn’t actually occurred, and they are just saying it potentially could happen. And of course, the actual report is secret, so the two Congressmen are able to say whatever they wish about it, and it can’t be independently verified. (Rep. Mike Rogers also has a long history of not telling the truth.)

    We’ve seen this same scene over and over again in the past decade, and the results are always the same: the government serially exaggerates damage to national security in an attempt to make sure newsworthy stories are not published or to villify whistleblowers.

    When WikiLeaks started publishing State Department cables in 2010, the administration was claiming in the media that WikiLeaks would have “blood on its hands.” But then it turned out, as Reuters reported, in private the government believed only “that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage” and that “the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.”

    The Bush White House said the same thing—“you will have blood on your hands”—to New York Times editors before they published their original NSA warrantless wiretapping stories in 2005 and 2006. Bush Attorney General later threatened to prosecute the New York Times under the Espionage Act. Similar statements were made about Dana Priest’s investigation of CIA secret prisons for the Washington Post. The damage of course never materialized, and both Priest and the New York Times reporters went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

    This is a tried and true tactic used by the US government made famous by Richard Nixon. Back in 1971, the Nixon administration told the US Supreme Court that if the New York Times continued to publish the Pentagon Papers it would result in “grave and immediate damage to the United States.” The man who made those arguments, Solicitor General Erwin Griswold, later wrote in the Washington Post, “I have never seen any trace of a threat to the national security from the publication” of the Pentagon Papers. He called on the public to be skeptical of “national security” claims made using secrecy.

    New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson probably said it best when she flatly stated last year, “No story about details of government secrets has come near to demonstrably hurting the national security in decades and decades.”

    Virtually any time newspapers print something the government doesn’t like, they will claim it hurts national security without providing any details or proof. This is standard operating procedure for them, and news organizations should not be scared to push back on such claims, without direct evidence to the contrary.” -pressfreedomfoundation link, above, by Trevor Timm

  2. if…the FBI is bugging the Supreme Court…And the NSA is bugging the Congress…is…the FBI bugging the Congress also and in turn the NSA buggin the Supreme Court…the CIA was checking the mail of the Supreme Court…

    who contols these bureau…crats that is doing all of this bugging and why do they have the executive, legislative, and judicial branch intimidated…there whas a scandal in ohio in the mid 80s that the FBI had 1500 phones wiretapped including the phones of federal judges and had the voting machines tapped and could alter the outcome of elections…

  3. There is a post that WP won’t allow to go through. Go to George Washington’s blog. It shows an example of NSA reading a Congress member’s info. No wonder that post can’t get through!

    If someone finds it, please post it. Thanks.

  4. “The NSA pretty much admitted to spying on Congress this week.

    It’s not the first time. David Sirota notes:

    When I asked U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) if the NSA was keeping files on his colleagues, he recounted a meeting between NSA officials and lawmakers in the lead-up to a closely contested House vote to better regulate the agency:

    “One of my colleagues asked the NSA point blank will you give me a copy of my own record and the NSA said no, we won’t. They didn’t say no we don’t have one. They said no we won’t. So that’s possible.”

    Grayson is right: presumably, if the NSA wasn’t tracking lawmakers, it would have flatly denied it. Instead, those officials merely denied lawmakers access to whatever files the agency might have. That suggests one of two realities: 1) the NSA is keeping files on lawmakers 2) the NSA isn’t keeping files on lawmakers, but answered vaguely in order to stoke fear among legislators that it is.

    Sirota notes the danger of even the threat of spying on the legislature:

    Regardless of which of these realities happens to be the case, the mere existence of legitimate fears of congressional surveillance by an executive-branch agency is a serious legal and separation-of-powers problem. Why? Because whether or not the surveillance is actually happening, the very real possibility that it even could be happening or has happened can unduly intimidate the legislative branch into abrogating its constitutional oversight responsibilities. In this particular case, it can scare congressional lawmakers away from voting to better regulate the NSA.

    And the Atlantic points out:

    Access to that telephone metadata would be extremely useful for manipulating the legislature.


    Should anyone doubt how much mischief could come from spying on even one member of Congress, let’s look back at the story of former Democratic Representative Jane Harman and what happened when the NSA intercepted and transcribed one of her telephone calls. That’s right: There’s a known instance in which a legislator’s private communications were captured by the NSA, though it’s a complicated story….”


  5. From a PBS interview with James Bamford: “Q: 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser wrote about the CIA’s withholding of intelligence from the FBI (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-breitweiser/enabling-danger-part-one_b_5951.html): “Once, twice, maybe even three times could be considered merely careless oversights. But at least seven documented times? To me, that suggests something else.” To her it was “purposeful.” One such instance at a June 11th meeting in NYC was a shouting match. Mustn’t we, in the search for the truth, at least consider the possibility that it was deliberate and search for an answer, or explanations, as to why?

    Bamford: I think that both the NSA and the CIA did deliberately—or purposefully—withhold key information, and this has never been properly investigated by the 9/11 Commission or any other body.”

  6. “NSA Insiders Reveal What Went Wrong”

    January 7, 2014

    “In a memo to President Obama, former National Security Agency insiders explain how NSA leaders botched intelligence collection and analysis before 9/11, covered up the mistakes, and violated the constitutional rights of the American people, all while wasting billions of dollars and misleading the public.”


  7. just as big a scandal as the NSA spying on congress is the subject of the FBIs bugging of the conference room and phones of the Justices…(a subject of one of Geraldos Program) which was an expose of the work done by Alexander Charns in his book…Cloak and Gavel….(google charns)…this writer filed suit on this same subject… w.voinche v. FBI, 940 F.Supp. 323(DDC 1996)….forcing the fBI to release about 200 pages on this subject and finally filing a
    writ of certiori on this subject with the Supreme Court…the court was afraid to hear the case…this subject is bigger than watergate and we wonder why establishment and punditory journalist are not even interested in this subject…we are supposed to have an executive, legislative, and judicial form of government that gives us a balance of power between the various branches, But this seems to have been pre-empted by an unelected group of orwellian bureaucrats at the FBI that is intimidating the

    other branches of government….(the tail wagging the dog)and acting as the invisible government…as a side bar in another suit this plaintiff served robert mueller with interrogatories about investigation and harrassment of this writer and he lied in the interrogatories about this investigation when the fbi had admitted this in another lawsuit….this has been going on since the bush administration
    but pundits dont want to apply the same standard to the bush administration as to the obama administration…i sent mr. Turley a copy of the writ of certiorari but the fbi has been manipulating my mail and he may not have received it

  8. “I thought I would read The Burglary for a few minutes while I waited for my plane to take off. Six hours later my eyes had not left the pages…It is astonishingly good, marvelously written…It’s a masterpiece.”

    – Dan Ellsberg, military analyst who made the Pentagon Papers public


  9. anon,
    As far as Rand Paul goes…
    … Maybe the Senator Paul should ask his pappy in the House of Representatives on HOW members of Congress enforce the Law.

    I’m not giving either Mr. Paul’s a dime until THEY act from within, first.
    ‘Come on, who is he fooling with this lawsuit?

  10. anon,
    He and a whole host are.

    What exactly is he “supporting and defending” by suggesting even he and other members should have their Fourth Amendment Rights violated?

    Most certainly NOT his Oath of Office.

  11. the master plan after WW2, finally with globalization and new technology has arrive without fear, in a country where the average is ignorant, and willingly in denial, submits to it,
    so sad that when ask anyone who Nicola Tesla was, they never heard of him, however, everyone knows Rockefeller and JP Morgan, so the plan must go way back
    terror, terror, terror; words out of the president’s mouth that stole his election, with help from his brother, governor of my State, where my vote was not counted, his vice-president former minister of defense during Daddy’s two term president, and grandson of former government elite oil rich family,
    the only President ever thought different for men kind, shot dead, his killer never found, cleaning the way for this plan.
    I really appreciate all awesome comments here, obviously there are still lots of people out there, even if we can’t do nothing about it, at least we are fully aware of it.
    Privacy taken away, is a sign of reality, they got the power, they wanted for a long time to control the world, without WW3; let’s the very rich and elite together, rule together, why fight each other, when in the process they can destroy them self and the world they are trying to own and control.
    Losing our privacy is only the beginning.

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