Sen. Bernie Sanders’ letter to the NSA this week asked NSA director Keith Alexander if the NSA was spying on members of Congress. Here are the details of the letter.
While no written response from Keith Alexander has yet been made public, the NSA did feel moved to issue a press release about the issue Sanders raised. As quoted in various news reports, the press release stated:
NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures which protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons. NSA is fully committed to transparency with Congress. Our interaction with Congress has been extensive both before and since the media disclosures began last June. We are reviewing Sen. Sanders’s letter now, and we will continue to work to ensure all Members of Congress, including Sen. Sanders, have information about NSA’s mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties.
Politico has a story quoting the NSA response. We think the NSA response raises more questions than it answers, and we believe the best way for the Senate to get answers from the NSA is to hold a public hearing into the NSA’s behavior. If the NSA is willing to lie to Congress and the Senate, and deny legislators access to information they need to fulfill their duty of oversight, let the truth come out in public, under penalty of perjury. Let’s see if they will choose to lie then.
We would like to suggest some questions the senators might want to ask Gen. Alexander, and other senior NSA staff:
- What constitutes “extensive ” in “interaction with Congress has been extensive” when we hear of limited disclosure to the Senate and House intelligence committees?
- What does “all” mean in “all Members of Congress” when we believe information on NSA’s activities is limited to the Senate and House intelligence committees?
- What policies and procedures are used to ensure “protect the privacy of U.S. persons”?
- How are these policies and procedures implemented?
- How is the effectiveness of these “policies and procedures” managed and measured?
- How many people have access to this data?
- How is access monitored, controlled and reported?
- Describe in detail the access controls used. Please provide a complete list of such controls, any software which implements these controls, and the process by which management allows, denies and monitors the use of these access controls.
- Enumerate the number of personnel authorized to access the data collected based on the list of access controls listed as a response to (8). Provide an excel spreadsheet.
- List by occurrence number (no names) employees, contractors, their employment status, education and their individual security clearances enumerated in (9). Provide an excel spreadsheet.
- Provide a sworn, independent audit for the information gathered above from the DoD’s Inspector General’s Office, and one of the big four accounting companies.
Since the NSA’s public statement does not specifically deny spying on legislators, let us assume for a moment that this government agency was spying on members of Congress and the Senate. The NSA is part of the executive branch of the US government. If they spied on the legislative branch of government, this raises questions about the executive branch disregarding the separation of powers specified in the US constitution.
To clarify this a bit, consider the undue influence the executive branch could have over Congressmen and Senators, if it had a file listing things which could embarrass them, or cause them to be ruined financially. If an executive branch agency were to collect the information, store it, and provide it to senior people in the White House who might certainly cause votes to change in favor of Executive Branch policies. If the legislator refused to “play ball” with the White House, under the threat of selective leaking. This is the danger the NSA’s activities can cause to the existence of our democracy. The vote changes quietly, and we never hear about it.
The same danger exists with the Judicial branch of government. Judges are supposed to be independent of political influence, so they can discern when the state has infringed on the rights of the citizen, and provide the citizen with relief. If the NSA or other executive branch agency has a file on a given judge, could he or she be influenced to decide a case in the government’s favor?
For example, can we trust Judge William Pauley of New York to be completely independent of NSA influence when declaring the NSA’s warrantless surveillance constitutional? Are we positive the John Edwards’ mistress and child revelations were not the actions of the NSA through the National Inquirer? Or Elliott Spitzer’s payments to a Madam were not discovered first by the NSA and the Administration who provided favors to Wall St? Or Anthony Weiner’s wiener tweets were not revealed by surveillance? How do we know these judgments and revelations were not demonstrations of NSA’s power?
We’re not accusing Judge Pauley of doing anything wrong. If an executive branch organization were to spy on the legislative and judicial branches of government, would this represent a violation of the constitutional separation of powers, and enable absolutely massive corruption based on blackmail and secret misbehavior?
The NSA’s overwhelming desire to spy on everyone is reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover’s reputed files on politicians, actors, and activists. Funny how Hoover managed to stay in his job for decades, despite changes in administration. The NSA seems to want to be in the same position as Hoover, knowing everyone’s secrets. Judging by Hoover’s longevity, secrets which seem to give the holder of those secrets a lot of power.
Secrecy encourages corrupt behavior. Only “sunlight” and transparency can prevent corruption from reaching deep into government. PEOPLE, citizens, have a right to privacy. The right to privacy enshrined in our constitution is a direct result of the experience of England’s population when the State collected information on a broad scale, and then used it against its citizens. WHILE CITIZENS HAVE A RIGHT TO PRIVACY, GOVERNMENT DOES NOT. Why? Because whenever the state wants to keep ordinary things secret, it’s because its members have a bad conscience. They KNOW if the secret became public, the citizens would demand redress! Except in a very few areas, GOVERNMENT DOES NOT HAVE A RIGHT TO PRIVACY. Sunlight protects democracy.
People should have a constitutional, and a treaty right, to privacy. Governments should have no such privacy or secrecy rights because Governments have always misused these privileges. Complete transparency by Government is the only way to keep the consent of the Governed. What about the war exception you say? To which we respond: give governments such privileges and they will misuse them to kill our young. There is no “national security exception”. The key to national security is a well-paid, fully employed ,and well educated citizenry with minimal debt.
Do you recall the NSA assertion they surveil people at a depth of three steps? They wanted to leave us with the impression that by “limiting” their surveillance to three steps, America was not becoming a surveillance society. Let’s do the math. If they were to decide to surveil members of congress, their staffs, and other support staff, say 10,000 people, and each of them had 100 contacts, the first step could involve collating existing data on a MILLION people. If each of them had 100 contacts, you have a target population of 100 million. If each of those had 100 contacts, you could have enough “targets” to cover the whole of earth’s population more than once. Even if you subtract people who were known by more than one person, you can see the NSA’s three-deep “limitation” is more of a magician’s illusion than an expression of reality.
It’s already been proven the NSA’s surveillance is ineffective and while it has enhanced their budgets and careers, it has done little to enhance American security. This leaves the NSA with a huge problem. HOW CAN THEY SHOW US THEY ARE INDISPENSABLE? Since their history can’t help them, and most certainly can hurt them, they seem to have only one viable option.
We predict the NSA management will be tempted to generate a false flag attack on the United States, with a clearly documented trail of emails, phone call metadata, tweets and carrier pigeon droppings, to support their assertion: America Needs Them. These people have already shown a willingness to lie to legislators (Clapper said he told ‘the least untrue’ version a while back). If they’re willing to lie to government, why stop at the addition of a few database insert forgeries, when they’ve already been actively forging IP messages on the Internet?
“Quantum Insertion” is forgery. Forgery of an IP message. Forgery is illegal.
Will they execute such an attack? How would we know? They are the experts at deception and lying. The only thing we can be sure of is they cannot be trusted to tell us the truth. The NSA’s actions MUST be exposed to sunlight, and those in the organization have committed criminal acts must go to jail. ONLY with sunlight can citizens be certain government is not behaving badly. Government has demonstrated it cannot be trusted unless their actions are exposed to the light of day.
As the Romans asked: Quis custodiet iposos custodies? We have an answer: Citizen Privacy coupled with Transparent democracy. The well-paid, fully employed ,and well educated citizenry with minimal debt can watch the guardians.
We call on the Senate to open formal public hearings into the NSA, enshrine our privacy, inalienably and unambiguously, in the constitution, to bring sunlight into the organization, and to clear out secrecy, corruption and malfeasance, especially secrecy.
Logo by Electronic Frontier Foundation, for case against the government seeking to stop the illegal spying operation run by the NSA; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.