NSA Is Out Of Control. Time To Rein It In.

Filed in International, National by on October 30, 2013

James Clapper, the Obama Administration’s Director of National Intelligence has said NSA does not “wittingly” collect data on citizens.  General Keith Alexander, NSA’s Director as well as his predecessor have testified that NSA is not spying on or collecting data on citizens.  Even the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee has told the media that the American intelligence community is not intrusively monitoring the communications of our citizens without a warrant.

So the House Intelligence Committee is clearly in the pocket of the government institutions whose activities it is supposed to be monitoring on behalf of the American people.  With the revelations provided by  Eric Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and other journalists and whistleblowers, we know the opposite is the truth.  We are now living in the Surveillance State many of us once feared would reappear after the Senator Frank Church hearings in 1975, which resulted in legislation to get a rogue intelligence apparatus under control.  Sure enough, here it is again.

Finally we hear from Senator Feinstein, who recently stated that intelligence data collection was no different from the functioning of local grand juries.  Now she acknowledges that unaccountable monitoring of phone conversations of many of our allies is a breach of trust and an impediment to our ally relationships.  Even hawkish former California congresswoman Jane Harmon now advocates reforms to rein in our intelligence apparatus.

It seems to me that there are at least two major criteria on which to evaluate the massive scale of surveillance being undertaken by NSA, as well as the various intelligence missioned agencies they service.  First, the damage being done to trust in our government by our citizens as a result of the infringement of our civil liberties by our post 9-11 Patriot Act.  Second, the results produced by NSA and other intelligence/counterintelligence activities as a result of the massive ramping up of domestic surveillance.

Various polls and studies are widely disseminated by the media showing public trust of our federal government at an all time rock bottom. The damage is clear.  Very similar in fact to the post Watergate period.  In the surveillance arena, the Church Commission did a major service to our democracy with the reforms instituted then to enhance oversight and transparency.  Over time, public trust greatly improved.

We can do it again through congressional work on Patriot Act reforms and aggressive oversight of our intelligence apparatus.  The mission of NSA, originally focused on foreign signal intelligence, needs to be significantly reviewed and clarified.  The FISA court process currently does not involve advocacy of citizen civil liberties and should, according to former Senator Gary Hart and others he is working with on the due process component to our surveillance policy.   In addition, House and Senate congressional oversight needs revitalization, as do their security clearance policies which deny key leaders needed  information on intelligence operations.

Rep. Alan Grayson points out that non-Intelligence Committee members are routinely denied information from both the committee and the intelligence agencies they need to properly advocate for the privacy and civil liberties of their constituents due to absurd policies on security clearances.  Further, he argues that he and his peers are routinely lied to and misled about intelligence matters impacting their constituents they are elected to serve, in the name of “security”.  He argues that the Intelligence Committee is complicit with the agencies in misleading and denying access.

In the results area, there are already some distressing indications that the disproportionately huge increases in our domestic surveillance are not yielding huge results.  In fact, the results are miniscule. NSA has reported that 54 terror attacks have been thwarted; 25 in Europe, 11 in Asia, 5 in Africa and an underwhelming 13 in the USA.

42 of these 54 were interrupted plots and 12 involved terrorist activities of material support.  Surveillance of foreigners, ours and that of foreign governments,  yielded 1/2 of these.  Four plots have been detailed by intelligence agencies,  including a San Diego terror supporter sending money to Al Shabab in Somalia, a NYC subway plot foiled, a Chicago supporter of terror providing support for the unfoiled Mumbai attack and a plot against the NY Stock Exchange foiled.

Senator Ron Wyden pointed out that of these four terror projects, only two were significantly impacted by  Federal surveillance.  He also pointed out that of the 54  plots, the evidence suggests the overwhelming majority were foiled not by surveillance but by traditional  informant help.

Peter Bergen of CNN estimated that of 33  terror plots derailed he studied, the evidence showed that of 29 were stopped not by surveillance but tips and informants.

Are we getting any kind of a reasonable return on investment in our surveillance of our own people in conjunction with both the massive  human and financial commitment of national resources ?  It sure doesn’t appear so to me.  A tough minded audit of results and payback are imperative.

Of course the American public would and should not have privy to much of the how-to of our surveillance and intelligence gathering process for obvious reasons.  But through our representative democracy process, our elected law and policy makers must have much more hands on oversight of NSA and other agencies who have, as history has shown,  the natural inclination to overreach and deny access to those who are charged with both maintaining our security as well as our civil liberties.

Delaware congressional delegation- are you in?




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  1. cassandra m says:

    NSA has reported that 54 terror attacks have been thwarted; 25 in Europe, 11 in Asia, 5 in Africa and an underwhelming 13 in the USA.

    First, if these numbers are correct, I wouldn’t be especially underwhelmed by even one terror attack thwarted. We can argue about the cost/benefit of that but I’m AOK with stopping an attack.

    Second, I’m going to re-iterate that we have enough smart people and technology to be way more targeted on how surveillance and spying happens. Scooping up mountains of data in order to figure out what to do with it just doesn’t seem like a good use of resources. But it is a good way to shove oversight aside. If you have people in the field getting tips and information, then any data mining ought to flow from that, which means that all of us shouldn’t be potential targets. Because it still feels to me that the kind of data gathering they do now presumes that we are all guilty until the data filters clear you. And that’s wrong.

  2. Rusty Dils says:

    What the NSA is doing is unconstitutional. It is that simple. Some people argue that we have to protect our freedoms and our liberties by using these blanket (unconstitutional ) spying techniques. What they fell to realize, is that the second they started this blanket spying they took our liberties away.

    I have been in sales my whole life. It surely would be easier if I put spies at each business I called on that reported back to me the inside information on what the executives were thinking about. Which suppliers they preferred, who they felt had lower pricing, what conditions of sale would make their final decision. John Rockefeller used to do it that way. It was called industrial espionage. It was legal at the time he did it, (but not ethical). But later on of course the anti trust laws outlawed that type of behavior, and rightly so. So business had to go about doing the hard word of prospecting and competing on an honest basis, and being fair with their clients so they would be returning customers. The government would have to do the same, work hard, follow up on leads, find the people who sell explosives and weapons to the terrorist for example. There are ways to do it. What the government would also have to do is hire investigators from the private sector who specialize in this arena. There are proper ways to gather intelligence based on probable cause without blanket unconstitutional spying. Any elected official who continues to say this is ok, needs to be voted out of office. I can think of several Republicans who need to go for this reason alone. ie Lindsey Grahnm, John McCane, Pete King. I am sure there are many democrats that need to go as well

  3. LeBay says:

    So business had to go about doing the hard word of prospecting and competing on an honest basis, and being fair with their clients so they would be returning customers.

    You are one naive salesman, Rusty.

  4. Tom McKenney says:

    Want to find where your competitors are selling? Follow their car.
    An easier way to get government business is to contribute to their campaign and, have them write the specs for a bid. If you contribute millions, you get a no-bid contract.

  5. Tom McKenney says:

    Rusty, you seem to want to extend and expand the power the government already has into the private sector. The corporate world probably has more information on us than the government. Does it matter if Big Brother is corporate or government?

  6. stan merriman says:

    Good to read today that Sec. Kerry has gone public that NSA is way over the line. Not good to hear today that Sen. Feinstein reverses herself on NSA overreach and compliments their work. Win some. Lose some.

  7. Tom McKenney says:

    Anybody else find it strange Snowden is in Russia condemning surveillance, while Russia was trying to bug the members of the G-20 Summit with the gifts to attendees.

  8. fightingbluehen says:

    “Good to read today that Sec. Kerry has gone public that NSA is way over the line.”

    That’s rich. Was Sec. Kerry giving a confession , or are we really supposed to think that he’s providing us with some kind of revelation.

    Unless the President decides to keep him out of the loop ,Kerry knows what the NSA is doing.

    The other scenario would be that Obama himself hasn’t known anything about it for the past five years, but that couldn’t be, could it?

  9. Dave says:

    The NSA is not doing anything more than what intelligence services in every country has always been doing throughout history. The tools they currently have available provide the ability to be more pervasive but it’s nothing new. Corporate intelligence is no different.

    I expect corporations to use intelligence to provide products they think I might be willing to buy; to influence my buying decisions (propaganda); to obtain leverage for themselves (lobbying). I expect intelligence services to be concerned about the national defense, whether foreign or domestic. I trust the intelligence services a bit more than corporations because they are relatively passive in that are not trying to sell me anything.

    What is important though is to recognize that absolute power corrupts absolutely and there needs to be effective appropriate controls, checks, and balances on the collection and use of information. The NSA is not spying on me and they aren’t going to show up on my door step to take my guns (if I had any).

    While some want to assign responsibility to the current administration, every previous administration has had to deal with type of issue, sometimes in public, but often behind the scenes. Primarily the responsibility lies with Congress who has failed in its responsibility as a branch of government. Perhaps if they hadn’t spent their time repealing ACA 40 some odd times they might have time to fulfill those responsibilities.

  10. Tom McKenney says:

    NSA’s intercepting power goes back at least 45 years.