In a secret briefing, the National Security Agency (NSA) admitted they can listen to U.S. phone calls and other communications without a warrant but over half of the Senate decided to fly out of Washington D.C. early and skip the briefing on the NSA’s surveillance programs.
According to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), in a secret briefing the NSA told members of Congress that the contents of a phone call could be accessed “simply based on an analyst deciding that.”
This makes the uncovering of programs like PRISM, Boundless Informant and the turning over of all U.S. phone records by Verizon that much more troubling since the government previously insisted that they did not access actual content.
If the NSA wants “to listen to the phone,” apparently all that is required is an analyst’s decision, according to an in-depth article written by Declan McCullagh for CNET.
Nadler said he was told that no legal authorization is required, just an analyst’s decision, much like what was said by leaker Edward Snowden.
“I was rather startled,” said Nadler, a lawyer and member of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary and ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.
As CNET points out, this revelation “suggests the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.”
Since the same legal standards covering phone calls also apply to other communications like text messages, instant messages, e-mails, etc. the statements of Nadler indicate that an NSA analyst could decide to access the contents of communications without having to obtain court approval.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has already decried the decision, with EFF senior staff attorney Kurt Opsahl saying the approach has serious “constitutional problems.”
“It epitomizes the problem of secret laws,” Opsahl said.
Former NSA technical director William Binney, who helped bring the NSA’s global surveillance network in to the modern era, also said that the NSA records the calls of 500,000 to 1 million people or more who are on their target list.
While the NSA may not record all of the phone calls made every day, they “look through these phone numbers and they target those and that’s what they record,” Binney said to the Daily Caller.
Binney has also notably exposed the NSA’s surveillance programs in court along with two other NSA whistleblowers.
Yet somehow over half of the Senate thought leaving Washington early for a nice, long weekend was more important than being briefed on the government’s secret surveillance programs.
“Only 47 of 100 senators attended the 2:30 briefing, leaving dozens of chairs in the secure meeting room empty as [Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, [NSA head Keith] Alexander and other senior officials told lawmakers about classified programs to monitor millions of telephone calls and broad swaths of Internet activity,” according to The Hill.
Unfortunately, The Hill was not given the names of the Senators who did and did not attend the closed briefing.
Even Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) seemed upset with the apparent lack of interest.
“It’s hard to get this story out. Even now we have this big briefing — we’ve got Alexander, we’ve got the FBI, we’ve got the Justice Department, we have the FISA Court there, we have Clapper there — and people are leaving,” Feinstein said.
Of course, Feinstein is not quite a consistent champion of civil liberties, transparency or even honesty but any outrage is better than none at all.
Apparently our so-called representatives in Washington would rather leave early to enjoy a long weekend than to learn about a surveillance program that seems to be violating some of the most essential rights of the American people.
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