Read This If You Want To Understand Just How Far The NSA Has Gone, And The Political Mess Behind It
from the must-read dept
Even without a full picture of the programs, two senators who were not on the Intelligence Committee became intense critics of N.S.A. domestic surveillance: Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In May, 2006, after the USA Today article appeared, Biden said it was frightening to learn that the government was collecting telephone records. “I don’t have to listen to your phone calls to know what you’re doing,” he told CBS News. “If I know every single phone call you made, I’m able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive.”It's a long but fascinating article that you owe it to yourself to read, no matter where you stand on these issues. It paints the whole picture that hasn't been clear to many, and highlights just how dysfunctional the oversight has been of the NSA. And, if you weren't already impressed enough by Senator Wyden, the article presents even more reasons to be impressed by him (and depressed that there's only one of him).
Obama’s objections to domestic surveillance stretched back even further. In 2003, as a Senate candidate, he called the Patriot Act “shoddy and dangerous.” And at the 2004 Democratic Convention, in the speech that effectively launched his eventual campaign for President, he took aim at the “library records” provision of the law. “We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states,” he declared. In 2005, when he arrived in Washington, Obama became one of Wyden’s new allies in his attempts to reform the law. The Patriot Act was up for reauthorization, and, at Wyden’s urging, the Senate was trying to scale back the “library records” section. One of the first bills that Obama co-sponsored, the Security and Freedom Enhancement Act, would have required that the government present “specific and articulable facts” if it wanted a court order for records, a much higher standard than the existing one.
Obama and several other senators, including John Kerry, now the Secretary of State, and Chuck Hagel, the current Secretary of Defense, laid out their legal case against the provision in a letter to colleagues on December 14, 2005. The government could “obtain library, medical and gun records and other sensitive personal information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act on a mere showing that those records are relevant to an authorized intelligence investigation,” they wrote. It allowed “government fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans. We believe the government should be required to convince a judge that the records they are seeking have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy.” The following day, on the Senate floor, Obama said that the provision “seriously jeopardizes the rights of all Americans and the ideals America stands for.”
The Bush White House fought Obama’s changes, but offered a few minor concessions. Most notably, a business that received a demand for records could challenge in court a nondisclosure agreement that accompanied the demand. That was enough to placate some Democrats, including Obama. Wyden objected that the change did nothing to address Obama’s concerns, but the reauthorization of the Patriot Act passed the Senate on March 1, 2006. Wyden, eight other Democrats, and one Independent voted against it; Obama and Biden voted for it. Bush signed the law on March 9th.
Wyden later learned that, while he and Obama were fighting to curtail Section 215, the N.S.A.’s lawyers were secretly arguing before the FISA court that the provision should allow the N.S.A. to legally collect the phone records of all Americans. The lawyers, encouraged by their success in retroactively legalizing the Internet-metadata program, believed that they could persuade the FISA court to force phone companies to regularly hand over their entire databases. At the FISA court, there are no lawyers challenging the government’s arguments; all the N.S.A. needed to do was convince a single judge. Had Obama’s language been adopted, the N.S.A.’s case would have collapsed.
On Twitter last week, after the Snowden leaks showing that, yes, as Wyden had been hinting all along, the NSA has been collecting location data on tons and tons of people, there was a great tweet by Kade Ellis, saying:
New rule: when Ron Wyden asks "NSA, do you do this spying?" HE ALREADY KNOWS THE ANSWER AND THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YESUnfortunately, as the article details, Wyden very rarely is even allowed to ask these questions, and the intelligence community stonewalls at every opportunity. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who should be managing oversight of the intelligence community appears to believe her job is rather to defend and support the intelligence community.
Still, the most disappointing aspects of the article really focus on how President Obama and his advisors, many of whom had spoken out against the Patriot Act and various aspects of the program now in place, suddenly changed positions once they were in power, and it was their power to abuse. The repeated stories of intelligence industry insiders coming up with the flimsiest of reasons why these programs must continue are plenty troubling. However, the fact that no one in the government seems to think that the American public can even be trusted with their basic reasoning and interpretations of the laws of the land is just ridiculous.
Either way, as stated, you owe it to yourself to find some time to read the whole thing -- but prepare to be outraged.