NSA spied on member of Congress and broke new laws, report says
UPDATE (at bottom): Senate intelligence committee plans hearing on reported NSA violations
An article in The New York Times detailing new violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reports that in recent months the National Security Agency has been intercepting the communications of Americans on a scale going well beyond the broad legal limits established last year by Congress.
Even more shocking, the paper reveals that under the Bush administration the NSA spied on a member of Congress and sought to wiretap the lawmaker without a warrant.
Reports the Times:
And in one previously undisclosed episode, the N.S.A. tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant, an intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said.According to the Times, the NSA unintentionally spies on many Americans because it can't distinguish between American and non-American calls as "it uses its access to American telecommunications companies’ fiber-optic lines and its own spy satellites to intercept millions of calls and e-mail messages."
The agency believed that the congressman, whose identity could not be determined, was in contact — as part of a Congressional delegation to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006 — with an extremist who had possible terrorist ties and was already under surveillance, the official said. The agency then sought to eavesdrop on the congressman’s conversations, the official said.
The official said the plan was ultimately blocked because of concerns from some intelligence officials about using the N.S.A., without court oversight, to spy on a member of Congress.
The NSA's operational problems have "come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court," and officials are concerned that the controversy "could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts."
The Justice Department has already issued a statement confirming the problems but insisting that it has taken "comprehensive steps to correct the situation and bring the program into compliance."
However, constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald suggests that "these widespread eavesdropping abuses enabled by the 2008 FISA bill -- a bill passed with the support of Barack Obama along with the entire top Democratic leadership in the House, including Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, and substantial numbers of Democratic Senators -- aren't a bug in that bill, but rather, were one of the central features of it."
"Everyone knew that the FISA bill which Congressional Democrats passed -- and which George Bush and Dick Cheney celebrated -- would enable these surveillance abuses," Greenwald continues. "That was the purpose of the law: to gut the safeguards in place since the 1978 passage of FISA, destroy the crux of the oversight regime over executive surveillance of Americans, and enable and empower unchecked government spying activities. This was not an unintended and unforeseeable consequence of that bill. To the contrary, it was crystal clear that by gutting FISA's safeguards, the Democratic Congress was making these abuses inevitable."
"There are exceedingly few specifics in [the Times] story detailing exactly what the abuses were," Greenwald says in conclusion "In other words, most of the information about the NSA's abuses remain concealed. We have learned only a small fraction of what took place."
Read the full New York Times story here.
UPDATE: Senate intelligence committee plans hearing on reported NSA violations
According to a follow-up report published mid-day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told the Times:
“These are serious allegations, and we will make sure we get the facts. The committee is looking into this, and we will hold a hearing on this subject within one month."
Sen. Feinstein is the head of the Senate intelligence committee.
Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent out a press release in the Thursday morning hours after the Times story was published.
In reaction, Feingold writes, "Since 2001, I have spent a lot of time in the Intelligence Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and on the floor of the Senate bringing attention to both the possible and actual effects of legislation that has dangerously expanded the power of the executive branch to spy on innocent Americans."
"Despite these efforts, Congress insisted on enacting several measures including the USA PATRIOT Act, the Protect America Act, and the FISA Amendments Act, embarking on a tragic retreat from the principles that had governed the sensitive area of government surveillance for the previous three decades," Feingold added.
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