We’ve known for some time that our government has been spying on virtually everyone. Anyone who paid the slightest bit attention to the Patriot Act has known for a decade we were headed in the direction we have gone in.
The nation’s intelligence chief, Director of Intelligence James Clapper, gave Congress a public briefing on the NSA’s phone records program in March of this year. When asked by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) if the NSA was collecting information on millions of Americans, Director Clapper said “no”. He then went on to say that it might happen “inadvertently”, but the NSA certainly had no intention of spying on regular Americans. Senator Widen’s pertinent question is at about the 6 minute mark, Director Clapper’s dishonest answer is at 6:52 in this video of the briefing.
And along comes Edward Snowden. Whether you consider him a patriot or a traitor, Mr. Snowden’s revelations about the security state’s activities have definitely impacted the conversation. What we have learned is that the NSA is basically copying the internet, all of our text messages and emails, and even the snail mail (external only, they say) every single day. As you are reading this, realize that a copy of it is already tucked away in an NSA storage facility somewhere.
Whoops. Looks like Director Clapper has been caught, shall we say, being economical with the truth. So, because of Mr. Snowden’s revelations, he has since apologized for his statements to Congress. He said that his comments were the “least untruthful statement I could give.”
The Director of Intelligence for the entire nation has had to apologize for basically lying to Congress. Would that apology ever have come without Mr. Snowden’s activities? Now people are starting to talk. And there’s the whole drama of Snowden’s flight to keep the story in the news every day. Time to send in the A-team to calm everyone down.
President Obama decided to address the issues of transparency at the NSA and Edward Snowden just before he went on his annual vacation. You can find the entire text of his remarks here.
Basically, what President Obama said was that we need to make reforms within the security state to promote more transparency. The nature of the reforms that he is calling for are blatantly meant to address the abuses that Mr. Snowden revealed. But what we are supposed to believe is that President Obama would have come forward of his own volition, just out of the blue, giving it the importance of something that should be addressed before he leaves for vacation, and calling for reforms of abuses, that his Director of Intelligence had just earlier this year testified before Congress weren’t happening. Sure, he would have.
President Obama also wants us to know that the security apparatus of the United States is comprised of good Americans, patriots, people who can be trusted. Except of course for Mr. Snowden, who was part of that patriotic group but NOW is most certainly NOT a patriot. And he was the only one. No more guys like Snowden out there. We can trust them ALL. Uh-huh.
And why exactly is it that Mr. Snowden isn’t a patriot? Well, President Obama opines, if he really were a whistleblower he had nothing to fear about coming forward with his allegations. After all, we have laws to protect whistleblowers in this country. Yes, President Obama, we do. But we also know that YOUR administration has hunted down and prosecuted more whistleblowers than all of the other presidents in American history…COMBINED. I can’t imagine for one minute why Mr. Snowden might not trust our “whistleblower” protection, since it has been used to protect those getting the whistle blown on them more than the whistleblower. It seems to be used more like whistleblower bait, used to draw them out then lock them up, rather than any sort of protection.
I found President Obama’s remarks and logic to be the most disinginous I’ve ever heard from him, and deeply disappointing. And what he has done since then does nothing to improve my opinion.
Showing that he intends to make good on his promises, Clapper has now been tasked by the president to set up a team of experts who will examine “whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.” Yes. That “Outside Review” is being overseen by Obama’s Director of Intelligence. You know, the one that just caught red-handed lying to Congress. The one who should have been FIRED for doing so. Yep, he’s just the one to give us an “impartial review.” Sound impartial and objective to you?
That mission statement also differs somewhat from what Obama promised last Friday. At his White House press conference, the president said the team would be investigating any possible abuse of the system by government or contractors, but that appears to have dropped off the list of things to look at.
Clapper will review the evidence from the remaining unnamed team of independent experts and edit it into a report for the president within the next 60 days, with a full analysis due by the end of the year. I guess we are just supposed to believe that Director Clapper will suddenly get an attack of Truthfulness and Integrity and THIS time he won’t give us the “least untruthful statement” he could make.
And then this morning we get yet another disturbing headline. According to their own internal audit, the NSA has broken privacy rules thousands of times per year.
How is it we now know about this internal audit? Because it really doesn’t sound like something the NSA and the security state would just be happy for everyone to know. We know about it because of Edward Snowden. The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Nothing at all conspiratorial about that.
Add to that the growing evidence that information collected by the NSA is being filtered into the DEA other law enforcement agencies for the prosecutions of Americans that have absolutely nothing at all to do with terrorism.
From the LA Times:
The New York Times reported last week that the NSA had rebuffed requests that it share its data with law enforcement agencies that wanted to use the information to investigate crimes including drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement.
That was encouraging. But two days later Reuters reported that a secretive unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration had been “funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.” Moreover, Reuters reported, law enforcement agents had been directed to conceal how such investigations began.
As far as we know, the DEA doesn’t have access to the telephone records of virtually every American that the NSA has scooped up under a broad interpretation of the Patriot Act. But the Reuters story suggests that the DEA and other law enforcement agencies may be using other information obtained by the NSA, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the NSA — with minimal supervision by the FISA court — may examine the contents of the phone calls, email and social media postings of foreigners reasonably believed to be outside the U.S.
In my mind, a whistleblower is someone who expose abuses and crimes with knowledge that is being purposely kept from the public domain by fiat or conspiracy. A whistleblower’s revelations are the sort that spark reform. What state of affairs have we arrived at when it becomes a crime to report a crime? Why shouldn’t he be considered a whistleblower?
What on earth can the NSA gain from collecting a gazillion terabytes of information on it’s own citizens? Well…that’s a discussion for another day.
Coming Soon: Stripper Poles and Drag Queens: What the NSA is REALLY Interested In