Confirmed: There Is No Real Oversight Of The NSA's Surveillance

from the debunk-that-myth dept

Throughout these revelations of NSA spying, the common refrain from supporters of the program was that there was strong oversight "from all three branches of government." We'd already questioned those claims, but with the recent revelations of widespread abuses, combined with the head of FISC (judicial branch) admitting that he relies on what the NSA tells him to do the oversight, and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein claiming to have never even seen a key document concerning abuses, not to mention that the NSA teaches its analysts how to hide relevant info from those in charge of oversight, it seems pretty clear that the idea of real oversight is a joke.

The EFF has now broken down exactly why the truth is that none of the three branches of government have been able to do real oversight:

First, the Executive. After a review of internal NSA audits of the spying programs provided by Edward Snowden, the Post lays out—in stark detail—that the claims of oversight inside the Executive Branch are empty. The article reveals that an internal NSA audit not shown to Congress, the President, or the FISA Court detailed thousands of violations where the NSA collected, stored, and accessed American's communications content and other information. In one story, NSA analysts searched for all communications containing the Swedish manufacturer Ericsson and “radio” or “radar.” What's worse: the thousands of violations only include the NSA's main office in Maryland—not the other—potentially hundreds—of other NSA offices across the country. And even more importantly, the documents published by the Post reveal violations increasing every year. The news reports and documents are in direct contrast to the repeated assertions by President Obama (video), General James Clapper (video), and General Keith Alexander (video) that the US government does not listen to or look at Americans' phone calls or emails. So much for official pronouncements that oversight by the Executive was "extensive" and "robust."

Second, the FISA Court. The Post presents a second article in which the Chief Judge of the FISA Court admits that the court is unable to act as a watchdog or stop the NSA's abuses: “The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” its chief, US District Judge Reggie B. Walton, said in a written statement. “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance."  Civil liberties and privacy advocates have long said that the FISA Court is a rubber stamp when it comes to the spying, but this is worse—this is the Court admitting that it cannot conduct the oversight the President and others have claimed it is doing. So much for claims by officials from the White House (video), NSA, DOJ, and Intelligence Committee members of Congress that the FISA Court is another strong pillar of oversight.

Third, the Congress. Last week, Representative Sensenbrenner complained that "the practice of classified briefings are a 'rope-a-dope operation' in which lawmakers are given information and then forbidden from speaking out about it." Members of Congress who do not serve on the Intelligence Committees in the both the House and Senate have had difficulty in obtaining documents about the NSA spying. Last week, it was even uncovered that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, failed to provide freshmen members of Congress vital documents about the NSA's activities during a key vote to reapprove the spying. Senators Wyden and Udall have been desperately trying to tell the American people what is going on, but this year the House Intelligence committee's Subcommittee on Oversight has not met once and the Senate Intelligence committee has met publicly only twice

So, the next time an NSA defender trots out those claims of strong oversight from all three branches, don't let them get away with it, since it's clearly not true.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2013 @ 12:58pm

    Federal law regulating oath of office by government officials is divided into four parts along with an executive order which further defines the law for purposes of enforcement. 5 U.S.C. 3331, provides the text of the actual oath of office members of Congress are required to take before assuming office. 5 U.S.C. 3333 requires members of Congress sign an affidavit that they have taken the oath of office required by 5 U.S.C. 3331 and have not or will not violate that oath of office during their tenure of office as defined by the third part of the law, 5 U.S.C. 7311 which explicitly makes it a federal criminal offense (and a violation of oath of office) for anyone employed in the United States Government (including members of Congress) to “advocate the overthrow of our constitutional form of government”. The fourth federal law, 18 U.S.C. 1918 provides penalties for violation of oath office described in 5 U.S.C. 7311 which include: (1) removal from office and; (2) confinement or a fine.

    The definition of “advocate” is further specified in Executive Order 10450 which for the purposes of enforcement supplements 5 U.S.C. 7311. One provision of Executive Order 10450 specifies it is a violation of 5 U.S.C. 7311 for any person taking the oath of office to advocate “the alteration ... of the form of the government of the United States by unconstitutional means.” Our form of government is defined by the Constitution of the United States. It can only be “altered” by constitutional amendment. Thus, according to Executive Order 10450 (and therefore 5 U.S. 7311) any act taken by government officials who have taken the oath of office prescribed by 5 U.S.C. 3331which alters the form of government other by amendment, is a criminal violation of the 5 U.S.C. 7311.


    Reinterpreting the US Constitution in a secret court, while denying US citizens the ability to read that reinterpretation, is bad enough.

    Attempting to redefine or change it's meaning, in any way shape or form, other than directly amending the Constitution for all citizens to read and study, is a criminal violation as defined by 5 U.S.C. 7311 of Federal Law.

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