NSA Abuses Never End


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw) Weekend Contributor

The instances of reported abuse of our country’s laws by our Intelligence services seems never-ending.  The National Security Agency, or NSA is at the top of the list when it comes to violations of our laws and even its own rules and procedures that are allegedly designed to protect our privacy.

Pursuant to a court order in a case brought by the ACLU, the NSA is required to provide a list of its abuses on a quarterly basis.  Of course, the NSA redacts most of what it puts in its own disclosures.

“Every quarter, the National Security Agency generates a report on its own lawbreaking and policy violations. The reports are classified and sent to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board. It’s unclear what happens once they get there.

Those reports are now online dating back to late 2001.

The NSA has posted redacted versions of the documents to its website. “These materials show, over a sustained period of time, the depth and rigor of NSA’s commitment to compliance,” the agency’s self-congratulatory introduction declares. “By emphasizing accountability across all levels of the enterprise, and transparently reporting errors and violations to outside oversight authorities, NSA protects privacy and civil liberties while safeguarding the nation and our allies.”

These NSA characterizations are not credible.

Even the uninformed observer will be suspicious of the spy agency’s account upon learning that far from voluntarily releasing redacted versions of these documents, it was forced to do so by Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the ACLU. The NSA fought to continue suppressing these documents from the public, even though the redacted versions in no way harm U.S. national security.  A court ordered the documents released.” Reader Supported News

Only in Washington, D.C., would anyone, let alone a government agency, claim it is being transparent in reporting its mistakes, when it refused to release a listing of those “errors” until a court ordered them to do so! This is the same agency that the New York Times disclosed in February of 2014 was caught spying on American attorneys working on behalf of a foreign government.

Professor Turley discussed this case here.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this willful violation of the law was only learned through the Snowden document disclosures.  So much for willing transparency.

The NSA has been caught violating a client’s right to discuss their legal case with their attorneys in private and numerous instances of spying on individual citizens and what repercussions have resulted?  It is hard to find any substantial penalties or sanctions due to exposed or disclosed illegal activities by the NSA.

To further the point that the NSA seems immune to prosecution or sanctions for its illegal activities is one case that was uncovered in the quarterly reports discussed earlier.

“For the most part, the reports don’t appear to contain anything especially new, but I was struck by this particular violation:

The OIG’s Office of Investigation initiated an investigation of an allegation than an NSA analyst had conducted an unauthorized intelligence activity. In an interview conducted by the NSA/CSS Office of Security and Counterintelligence, the analyst reported that, during the past two or three years, she had searched her spouse’s personal telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting….Although the investigation is ongoing, the analyst has been advised to cease her activities.

Wait a second. She was caught using NSA surveillance facilities to spy on her husband and was merely told to cease her activities? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to, say, fire her instantly and bar her from possessing any kind of security clearance ever again in her life? What am I missing here?” Mother Jones

While the idea of spying on a spouse or maybe a significant other might not be a danger to National Security, it is still an obvious violation of the law, or at the least, a violation of the NSA’s rules that this analyst was supposed to be working under.  As the Mother Jones link above suggests, shouldn’t this analyst be fired or maybe, God forbid, be prosecuted for illegally spying?

Who can forget the case Professor Turley discussed in 2009 when it was discovered that the NSA was illegally attempting to wiretap members of Congress?  Of course, Congress was outraged, just like Sen. Diane Feinstein was outraged when it was discovered that the CIA has been spying on the Senate’s computers.

Of course heads rolled when the CIA admitted hacking into Senate computers, right?  Uh, no, just a few apologies and the Senate moved on. The same immunity to the law and to common sense can be found at the NSA.

What do we have to do to bring the NSA into legal bounds and prevent illegal and unauthorized spying on ordinary citizens and other agencies and branches of the government while at the same time acknowledging our need to spy on legitimate enemies?

It seems obvious to this observer that the internal controls that are in place at the NSA are ineffective at best and likely useless at worst. Can The NSA or any intelligence agency investigate itself?  Are internal agency watchdogs a waste of time?

Would a civilian agency or board set up to oversee these rogue intelligence agencies be useful in bringing these agencies into compliance, and is that even possible in our current political climate?

A quick review before the pop quiz; the NSA admits to spying illegally and not doing anything about it and there are no repercussions.  How stupid are we to allow this to happen?

Additional Source: Bloomberg

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101 thoughts on “NSA Abuses Never End”

  1. The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.
    The answer is peeing in the wind.

    We jon Remulak can intercept all the NSA material and information. What do you want to know? Did you know that the Superbowl is fixed. Do you want to know the winner? Bill Clinton had more women than Monica. Jeb Bush is in league with the Koch Brothers.

  2. The meat in this sandwich is the history of the intel community’s lying to everyone from POTUS to the hospital orderly and their cavalier dismissal of legal limits on their actions. Recall the torture issue: Can’t tell SecDef because Colin “Powell will blow his stack.” What we have is a picture of a power ostensibly within the government that sees itself as a superior governing entity, free to do what it damn well wants.

    Maybe the answer here can be found in either of the following:

    — He or she who holds the weapon, has the power.
    — Follow the money.
    — Take away the keys to the car when it is no longer safe for grandpa to drive.

    Good post by Rafferty.

    1. FogdogSF – if you want a fight on your hands just try taking the keys away from grandpa.

  3. Wracking my brains for a reason for all of this trashing of the Constitution I conclude blackmail…either that or Mr. O is not who he’d like to appear to be.

  4. Olly:

    A deterrent that may work is prosecuting NSA leaders (pre-1970’s) that spied on Martin Luther King, Jr or participated in the assassination of Fred Hampton.

    This would defeat the excessive secrecy and over-classification obstruction of justice tactics while providing a deterent for current felonies. For example a young NSA employee would know the law will eventually catch up to them even during retirement decades later.

  5. It’s all about the consequences and my guess is it would need to be connected to money. What would work?

  6. Good article Raff but you’re just peeing into the wind. How many far less secretive (and capable) agencies have ceased their abuse of power by adding layers of oversight and accountability? We haven’t yet found an effective deterrent to the negative side of human nature and we have a massive administrative state to show for it. Until the electorate demonstrates the enlightenment and energy necessary to remove bad actors from public service then we should expect more corruption and less accountability; transparency be damned.

  7. Nick

    Us Ilking Anarchists often come with common sense. Just our detractors sometimes lack it. It’s that common sense, where we meet, that is the place to nurture. Most of the things that we oppose can be whittled and shaved enough to make some sense.

  8. The NSA has some great employees, the problem is the leadership have adopted their business model from the Cold War era “East German Stasi”. The NSA has publicly stated it’s mission is “to know everything” which is contrary to James Madison’s midel of government. Blacklisting by the East German Stasi (and the NSA) is the most dangerous result of this totalitarian model of government.

    Federal judges and even U.S. Supreme Court justices (constitutional watchdogs) don’t even possess a basic knowledge (or interest) of how blacklisting really works or how it can harm innocent Americans. The above abuses are merely a symptom of this totalitarian model.

  9. That Chuck Todd dork who is a news reporter and on-air guy on one of those network (dying) Sunday morning talk shows, called Snowden a traitor. Snowden and Greenwald were reporting the news. Therefore, Chuck Todd, in reporting about revelations made by Snowden and Greenwald is a traitor too. Went in dumb come out dumb too. Chuck Todd is hustling round NYC in his alligator shoes.

  10. Ari, I believe the NSA is used by politicians to spy on opponents. The information is just so tempting to steal. I have tapped too many govt. resources that were supposed to be classified to think otherwise. But, I would like your opinion.

  11. Isaac. Very good comment. Just when I think you are of the Anarchist ilk, you write a piece w/ common sense and perspective.

  12. rafflaw … Yep, the NSA lacks transparency. Very similar to the IRS it seems. As for Snowden, his “disclosures” changed nothing, but merely re-arranged the deck chairs. His type of effort usually ends up that way. Same goes for Manning. An effort to effect real change (actually stop something) means more, to me at least, than revelations that garner mostly publicity. I acknowledge I am biased in the matter, however.

    Paul C. Schulte said …

    Generally using the computer to check out your partner is not a firing offense. Usually it is a spank on the hand or stand in the corner offense.

    Not always, I had to fire a subordinate (civil service, so don’t anyone even try to tell me they cannot be fired) for doing so, however he was given 2 tries to stop it. Those were his stand in the corner moments I’d guess. My cause for firing was insubordination, not the use of military websites, which were adjunct to the cause….so there’s that. His ex-wife received no punishment for doing the same things…however, in her case, she was carrying on a horizontal relationship with the CG at the time (who was eventually sacked for his dalliances among other indiscretions).

  13. The spouse still retains their full rights under the U.S. Constitution. In many instances the non-governmental spouse may not even be aware of their spouse’s real profession.

    The Bill of Rights are “individual” rights, your spouse’s occupation doesn’t limit your rights in any way – especially when they are unaware of the situation.

  14. Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. If tragedies like the 9/11 one can be thwarted through torture, subterfuge, and lying, then it will be done, regardless of which country you live in. The spark or light shining through all this is that in this country we can complain, discuss, take whatever action possible, and stand contrary to the government’s actions, if we so please. Most Western nations are the same in this respect.

    We harken back to the words of our founding fathers who designed goals and did not simply illustrate realities. At the time, they themselves were the furthest America has been from these goals. In this world with a seemingly unlimited supply of fanatics willing to slaughter us in the name of religious mumbo jumbo and with examples of what is possible in recent history, there will be no shortage of actions by agencies of the US and its allies, not to mention any and every country, to stop terrorism regardless of whether or not it involves spying, torture, or whatever.

    Our freedoms will act to curtail the extreme and/or force these agencies to be better at keeping it secret. But, hopefully our freedom to dissent will take us closer to the goals set out. To protect the law, sometimes you have to break the law.

    1. “To protect the law, sometimes you have to break the law” – said every dictator in the history of mankind.

      Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry. The fact that we are still allowed to whine about it is in no way an indication that we are “free”, when you define liberty as being free from molestation by government.

  15. If the NSA is a “security” administration, then I would think they wouldn’t have to be transparent to anyone except the president, congress, FBI, and CIA. However, it seems to me that a bi-partisan board/commission should be set up to oversee the NSA, who in turn, would keep the NSA from overstepping the constitutional rights of private citizens. I know that the FCC has, or should have, a leadership role in protecting the privacy and rights of Joe Public, but the FCC has been mum on this subject and has had questionable behaviors also.

  16. ” acknowledging our need to spy on legitimate enemies?”

    How exactly are “legitimate enemies” identified?

    1. doglover – we should be checking on our ‘legitimate friends’ as well. Never forget that Pearl Harbor was a surprise to Hitler, too.

  17. The job of the NSA is to be non-transparent. For the ACLU or anyone else to think otherwise is just silly. Generally using the computer to check out your partner is not a firing offense. Usually it is a spank on the hand or stand in the corner offense.

  18. NSA all over the world not only in USA are not renowned for transparency.No wonder they are reluctant in reporting about their transgressions, although required on their part by the law.
    I think apart from reporting secretly to the President’s office, it should be parallely reported in the public domain. NSA do not realizing that doing so would not only make them transparent but also more efficient and would attract better people in its fold.

  19. good article Larry,

    As for my take on this. I believe the NSA is trying to set a lower bar of what is considered acceptable behavior. Namely, instead of apologizing and rectifying a particular violation of the law, as anyone else would do, it instead is setting a minimally acceptable level of lawlessness that can effectively be “zero’ed out” by declaring that a certain amount of violation is ok. Then, we can expect to see this bar raised until the agency is effectively out of control by an independent standard.

    Government agencies for Government agency’s sake. While they do thing to protect the public from terrorists and foreign states, we have to wonder why “we are here” to being with. Protect ourselves from tyranny? that is good as long as we don’t become the tyrants.

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