NSA Abuses Never End

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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. I think rafflaw’s post is a step in the right direction. A start to a long needed conversation. A conversation we really need and congratulations to him for beginning it here. We don’t all have to agree, but we all do need to be aware. This misuse of agency information is not new, LBJ is rumored to have read individual tax returns and audits in his bathroom when sitting on the stool for fun and giggles…long before and after him has “information” been a currency in Washington DC. It was no coincidence that Lois Lerner moved from the FEC to the IRS as an SES executive…anyone not seeing the political connection isn’t looking very hard.

    As for what we, as a populace, can do about the NSA, or the IRS, et al. is a matter that needs discussion. I’ve worked in the belly of the federal government beast, at least the defense portion, which is connected to the environmental portion (cue the song about bones connected to what bones), they’re all connected…there really is no end to it and I’ll admit, I doubt we can rein the crazies in to a corral, let alone be rid of them. All I have is hope.

    Only means I know of, as just a starter, is to force a RIF of the institutionalized executive bureaucrats (the policy & rule makers) of not less than 75% and the only means to do that would be through funding reductions with specified applications…e.g., reduction in the executive levels of the bureaucracy. As someone earlier said, there really are good people in the NSA…but they are all at the field operations level, however….not the senior executive level….those senior folk have adopted an aberrant model as someone said earlier. None of that matters one whit unless we return to a real annual 12 appropriation budget debated and passed in Congress. I have no idea of that is possible, but if the new Congress, as constituted now cannot do it, then it will never be done again. It will take sheer guts on the part of many to accomplish even the first steps. I wish I believed it was likely…as I said above, all I have is hope. If we actually achieve a re-balance of power, then an independent review panel for NSA might work…however, the NSA is not the only agency possibly run amok these days. The true Constitutionally appointed “review panel” for all is the Congress. As I said, all I have is hope.

    Father Mike and Olly pretty much explained why I more or less did not participate in the “torture” discussion here earlier…in addition to my personal bias based upon the actions of others, which I know is no excuse. I can’t criticize those who perpetually refer to “Boosh did it” and then try to use the same logic myself. I’d rather seem like a fool than prove it.

    As for what is classified, and what is not very well held in security, as Nick asked earlier here, all I can say is that the best place for a spy to go in the US of A for intelligence is the library, and now the Internet…very little is really held secure. No doubt the NSA is used by politicians to spy on others, their funding is dependent upon political favor….and this feature (bug) is not new by a long shot. That is one step away from a politician being extorted based upon info they have or info held against them. So, yeah, a lot more is available than we think…and a lot more is “classified” than necessary, and then carelessly left lying about.

    There are times when I feel like a silly chump for not just openly talking about DOD budgetary information, most of which is classified quite low as FOUO level. Never-the-less, I don’t because I have a responsibility not to do so. Security clearance be danged, now that I am retired I could ignore the protocols required, but I don’t, not because I am a boy scout, just because I swore once I would abide them and still believe I am obligated to do so. That said, in the time since retirement, while consulting with my former colleagues, I have come across things I would love to blow a whistle on…but only if I could be assured of a positive change….complete cessation of the malfeasance…and NO blow-back on my successors, which is nearly impossible. In short, it is no longer my call. My advice to those I consult is for them to do likewise…either suck it up and act within the system or just shut up.

    Anyway…thanks, rafflaw, for provoking a conversation that is needed.

    1. Feinstein slept with the man who is reputed to have slept with both a mayor of SF and a US Senator from California.

      How many of you will let somebody wash your feet on the first Thursday in April?

      Is the ancient Bashan Bull still listed in the official list of breeds.

      Where did the Falcon code origjnate.

      1. Canon – wasn’t Feinstein both mayor of SF and a US Senator from CA. So wouldn’t her husband qualify?

  2. First they came for Snowden, but I did not speak up because I was not a journalist.
    Then they came for Manning, but I did not speak up because I was not in the military.
    Then they came for ……

    Ok folks, what is the origin of a set of phrases like this and to what huge event in the 20th Century does it begin to depict?

    Some other questions. Was there a German American Bund unit in your city back in the 1930’s?
    Did Diane Feinstein sleep with the……?
    Who does Chuck Todd sleep with? Why did he call Snowden a “traitor”?
    Should we watch LinkTV and not MSNBC or CBS?
    Do you have a short wave radio? Is it right handed or left handed?
    Ich mochter ein NSA fur de ……
    War is War and spelled the same in German and English. Just pronounced with a V in Deutsch and with more emphasis on the “ar”.

    When will we really get troops out of Afghanistan and all the pirate territories East of Corfu?
    Why do you encourage Johnboy to join the Marines? Are you daft?

    When people bark, dogs listen.

      1. Paul Schulte…..
        Ah yep…he was married to both in one woman.. funny. I might use this the next time I give examples during a sermon on Trinity Sunday……not.

        Bill McWilliams
        Not sure how far back we could go with tit for tat.

        So I’ll shoot for Korea … Truman Doctrine left that peninsula out of area of our concern. Guess what happened next? A sidelght…Soviets surprised by our response. The Soviet UN delegation was “mysteriously” absent from the Security Council mtg. They would have had to veto the resolution.

        At the end of WWII, a troop of Japanese were unleashed to take out Ho Chi Minh. That really set well.

        Later Kennedy approved deposing the Vietnam Emporer and later President Diem was assassinated. Oh yes, there was no Second Gulf of Tonkin incident which served to got us into the mess. A former shipmate of mine had been the CIC officer on the Turner Joy. Johnson constructed the track. CIC ..Combat jnformation center….tracks all contacts and other combat related issues as well as communicate with the ships of the task group.

  3. There isn’t anything wrong with the NSA. (No..I haven’t resigned my orders or joined a junta.) The Constitution with its documents and the Federal Codes lay out standards and penalties. Well … so does every major religion. The measure of “rightness” in the humanist secular society (and religions) is relative. A “deconstructist” like our current chief executive (not the first either…Kennedy’s directed CIA deposed an empire and later execution (assassination ) of another’s president….long before Reagan’s thing in Central America.) Today’s mainline theologians …Borg et.al……clearly practice the primary tenet that the truth of any written document is determined by the reader…not the author’s intent or the “time in life.” — culture. Truth comes from the current reader. Another example— lie to pass ACA. Absolutely no remorse or even a hint of,contrition…..the end and means adage applies . Justified.

    Looking back, note how we have defined personhood since the founding of our country. “We hold these truths to be self evident”. Pretty maliable truths…women, Indians and Blacks for example.

    Geneva convention and Nuremberg…….a Nazi admiral about to be charged with crime of unlimited war at sea…..if it floats…sink it without warning. Ooops….that opens Nimitz and others to the same charge. But now we have the Commander-in-Chief personally conducting unlimited warfare..personally signing off.killing non-combatants in countries with which we are not at war.We were going to jail the Nazi V-1&2 rocketeers until we discovered how wonderful their work was and the Russians were bearing down

    Yes we have the Constitution etc…a real great set of codification of right behavior.Closer to home, we have the actual shifting standards and practices….home is your Castle, then it’s seize private property for public good ….. now private property for a private company’s mall. Seize=forced to sell…actual fair price set by unelected officials.

    NSA spying and torture? Based on historical precedences, standards and practices…what’s everybody’s problem?

    BTW in prep for Vietnam we Naval Advisors and others were caged, waterboarded, strung up, thrown against walls then had three days to get to the charter at Travis. Lost 23 lbs in the 6 days of “playing POW”. Why was that? 40+ years ago it was standard indoc for if you got caught…we only got a taste. Don’t you think the trained bad guys were trained even more? Hell, they have copies of our manuals.

    Now some of the above is tongue in cheek as I am not a deconstructionist and have little use for the likes of Borg and his ilk’s theology. People little understand their significant influence on society.

  4. Though this is a piece regarding the NSA, as a nation, we have fallen into the trap of measuring abuse of power by the effect and not the cause. This attitude enables those in government service to violate the public trust as long as it’s not perceived to be “too” egregious. Instead of the objective measure of dishonoring the oath of office, we get the subjective measure that divides the nation along ideological lines.

    I cannot cast the first stone because until 7 years ago, I was in that trap. I take responsibility for my contribution to the rise of the administrative state and will spend the remainder of my days trying to find a way to unwind the damage. I have great respect for Jonathan Turley and I wouldn’t have been able to say so 7 years ago. I would have seen him as a threat and not the principled person he has proven himself to be.

    The usual suspects will question my new devotion to the constitutional means of government because I have indicated support for the use of torture. The mistake they make is to imply I do not want anyone to be held accountable; nothing could be further from the truth. The actions of government must be measured in accordance with the rule of law and every violation must be held to account. That being said, I will never condemn anyone that chooses to use illegal means for personal or national security once they’d exhausted every legal means.

  5. I lean toward those who detest the NSA reach into our civil liberties. But, when there are shitbird terrorists w/ dirty bombs, anthrax, etc. we folks who want the NSA put in it’s place will not care WHAT we do to stop them. Spying, torture, it will all be acceptable. And, if you think that’s not the case, you are either a liar or clueless to human nature. It’s easy to be principled when there’s no gun pointed @ your head.

  6. Anarchist 2.0 and Don de Drain

    Read the whole post. It’s not once we go there but that we have been there and continue to be there. The outrages are a result of the arrogance of those that do step over the ideological line with arrogant incompetence. Cheney and the other two simpletons are prime examples of arrogance and incompetence. It is that arrogance that takes the acts of torture beyond the hidden and hopefully necessary level to the levels seen during the Bush administration. It is when leaders really don’t give a fork that we have passed the line.

    Hopefully the balance between leaders that do what they gotta do but understand that it is wrong and a free public opinion will be the norm. This over reaction by the Bush clowns which caused a necessary incursion into Afghanistan to be so ineptly handled, an unnecessary and ineptly handled war in Iraq, and the flaunting of American racism and bigotry in Iraq, was partially the fault of an overly galvanized American public. They elected the three stooges the second time because too many people thought we were at war and you don’t change leaders at the beginning of a war. Unfortunately it was only through his second term that Bush was seen as the incompetent straw man he was. The first term showed him as a laughable cowboy type. The second term say his crew screw up what could have been benchmark history for dealing with thugs and the results of his stupidity in the world of economics. Just like Reagan he lowered taxes and increased spending. Just like Reagan seven years of bad luck followed. The problem is that what could eclipse the tech revolution that saved America’s butt after Reagan, the switch to alternative energy, is being held in check by the status quo.

    Beware the status quo and its oligarch.

    We need to keep things in perspective even when the sky seems to be falling.

    1. issac – both Bushes handled the wars in Iraq beautifully. It was the peace that got screwed up after the 2nd, or really Iraq War, Part Deux. There was an armistice signed at the end of the first one, but no peace.

  7. Judges and juries almost always forgive officials/police violating statutes if there were a genuine exigent circumstance. The legal “risk” to constitutional officers is actually a healthy deterrent.

    In other words if there is truly a legitimate emergency situation, police and national security officials have very little to fear from bending or even breaking a law. Spying on your spouse, neighbor, daughter’s boyfriend or Martin Luther King, Jr. does not meet that standard.

    What’s dangerous is making those unconstitutional and illegal actions “legal” to do at all times without a warrant from a judge or without a genuine exigent circumstance. It makes us more safe, not less safe.

    1. Ross – there was a fair amount of CPUSA activity involved and funding involved in the Civil Rights movement. If you watch Eyes on the Prize, watch for the Julian Bond interviews. He makes a rather startling statement in one of them concerning the connection with the CPUSA. You will have to pay attention because he does blow by it pretty fast, but it is there none the less. So, considering that admission, I would consider the taping of MLK to be righteous. However, then playing his bedroom escapades during DC cocktail parties was over the edge. MLK was another one who could not keep it zipped.

  8. JFK wanted to “tear the CIA into 1,000 pieces” and scatter them into the wind.
    Our intelligence agencies didn’t prevent 9-11 — and almost certainly played a role in the events of that day.
    Such agencies function mainly to protect and advance corporate interests via covert operations, often funded by drugs operations. They played the main role in introducing the crack use back in St. Reagan’s efforts to fund the terrorists he called “freedom fighters” in efforts to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

    The U.S. knew Pearl Harbor was going to happen but let it do so, in order to have an excuse to goose the economy via getting us involved in WW2.

  9. One answer to the problem of NSA is more aggressive journalism, but that’s a difficult thing when all the news outlets are owned by corporations with vested interests connected to the NSA.

  10. Issac-

    The problem with the “doctrine of necessity” is that, once you go there, you end up with people like Dick Cheney attempting to justify lots of conduct based on the “doctrine of necessity,” where the conduct, in my view, was completely unjustified. Without accountability, the doctrine of necessity becomes a blank check for sociopaths who hold a position of power to do whatever they want to do. I don’t disagree with you that there are times when the doctrine of necessity will justify breaking the law. But those who break the law based on what they perceive to be the “doctrine of necessity” need to understand that they will be held accountable for errors in judgment. Rafflaw believes that there is presently insufficient accountability, and I agree.

    For me, it is not just the lack of prosecutorial accountability. The lack of public judicial accountability is just as troubling. The system of government established by those who founded this nation cannot survive an extended period of time when key court proceedings are completely secret and when courts give a “pass” to the executive branch whenever the executive branch waves the banner of “national security.”

    1. Don de Drain – right now you have Obama and Holder and Lerner, et al using the ‘doctrine of necessity.’ Cheney has been out of office for 6 years. This NSA report is on Obama.

  11. Isaac-

    “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. ”

    Governments will all act like cornered rats when they come to believe that they are cornered rats. When they feel attacked, they feel their power slipping, then they’re at their most dangerous, and always have been.

    However, governments rarely come to that point because of innocence on their part, which is why the pejorative term applied to opponents of that government (in this case “terrorists”) in order to dehumanize them begin to be applied to a larger and larger population until eventually the only people that aren’t terrorists are those suspected of it.

    At that point, the cornered sewer rat of a government will treat everyone as an enemy- spy on everyone, militarize law enforcement, maintain a large rate of incarceration, opinions will be flying that interpret existing laws to provide less actual protection than might have been perceived in the past, bribing politicians will be made legal, a transfer of wealth from the commonwealth to a shrinking civil society, some declaration of permanent war against a vague enemy that covers the entire planet . .you know, that kind of thing.

    At that point, when you consider what the word freedom (or, more specifically “political freedom”), then it cannot be equivalent to the conditions provided by that “cornered rat” government, which has only it’s own survival as a goal, not any of the principles, traditions, or customs which it may have found useful in the past.

    Pre information age America is gone, or not gone, rather, just crouched in a corner hissing us.

  12. Paul Schulte: LOL. I had that fight with my father. He quit driving after he had to buy the town a new red fire hydrant. He insisted to me and everyone that it was his voluntary decision to stop driving.

    Trooper York: United we stand; divided we fall.

  13. The NSA believes it is above the law and every day it gets away with violations of the law and Clapper and others are permitted to lie to Congress and the American people that belief is confirmed. Imagine a government agency that breaks the law so much and it’s own policies being so mistrusted even by the morally bankrupt congress being required to provide a report on its misbehavior and then being allowed to redact that information. It’s appalling but ain’t that America!

  14. Does the Executive have the right to circumvent the Constitution if it deems it necessary for national security? If not, why does the NSA? It seems as if some Americans are ok with certain governmental agencies’ power superseding the three branches of government. If you say yes to both the Executive and the NSA having unlimited powers, as in the use of torture or spying on the citizens, then how to you reconcile this with the fact that we are a representative democracy? Who ‘elected’ the NSA?

  15. Great post! As a die hard conservative I join brother Raff in his quest to stop the out of control NSA.

    This is one issue that we can all get behind.

  16. If you are in favor of governmental agencies having powers that are above the law, then the NSA abuses aren’t going to bother you I guess. It kind of boggles the mind that those who want smaller government are so complacent about the huge powerful governmental agencies that appear to answer to no one for illegal activities. Someone upstream mentioned the Consititution, how do governmental agencies that can circumvent the Consitution get outright approval or tacit approval from Americans who honor the Constituition?

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