President Obama said last night that the government doesn’t spy on Americans:
A handful of congress critters – who rake in the dough by acting as apologists for the NSA – say that spying is necessary to protect American from terrorists.
And the NSA pretends that its spying program is overseen by Congress and the courts.
They’re all full of hot air.
The Government Is Spying on American Citizens On U.S. Soil
The government has adopted a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act which allows it to pretend that “everything” is relevant … so it spies on everyone.
Former NSA head Michael Hayden just confirmed that the government spies on our communications:
Spying Is Not Used Just to Prevent Terrorism
The NSA isn’t the only agency which spies on Americans. Many other agencies – concerned only with domestic issues – spy on Americans as well.
Moreover, Reuters reports that – since the late 1990s – the NSA has been funneling its spying information to agencies throughout the country to prosecute petty crimes:
A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.
[F]ederal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.
“I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.
“It is one thing to create special rules for national security,” Gertner said. “Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”
The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.
“Remember that the utilization of SOD cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function,” a document presented to agents reads. The document specifically directs agents to omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony. Agents are instructed to then use “normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD.”
A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. “You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.
After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as “parallel construction.”
The two senior DEA officials, who spoke on behalf of the agency but only on condition of anonymity, said the process is kept secret to protect sources and investigative methods. “Parallel construction is a law enforcement technique we use every day,” one official said. “It’s decades old, a bedrock concept.”
“It’s just like laundering money – you work it backwards to make it clean,” said Finn Selander, a DEA agent from 1991 to 2008 and now a member of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which advocates legalizing and regulating narcotics.
“You can’t game the system,” said former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. “You can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases. If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw it?”
“I was pissed,” the prosecutor said. “Lying about where the information came from is a bad start if you’re trying to comply with the law because it can lead to all kinds of problems with discovery and candor to the court.”
Current and former federal agents said SOD tips aren’t always helpful – one estimated their accuracy at 60 percent. But current and former agents said tips have enabled them to catch drug smugglers who might have gotten away.
And see this must-watch interview with the Reuters reporter who broke the story:
It’s not just drug offenses. The IRS and many other agencies use the information to go after petty violations of law.
The Washington Post points out:
Surveys show most people support the NSA’s bulk surveillance program strongly when the words “terrorism” or “courts” are included in the question. When pollsters draw no connection with terrorism, support tends to wane. What will happen when the question makes clear that the intelligence not only isn’t being used for terrorism investigations against foreign agents, but is actively being applied to criminal investigations against Americans?
And Yves Smith notes:
This is only the part we’ve been permitted to see. Just imagine what else goes on.
Spying Does Not Keep Us Safe
Top security experts say that mass spying doesn’t keep us safe.
NSA spying did not prevent a terror attack on Wall Street. While the government initially claimed that mass surveillance on Americans prevented more than 50 terror attacks, the NSA’s deputy director John Inglis walked that position back all the way to saying that – at the most – one (1) plot might have been disrupted by the bulk phone records collection alone.
And no, it didn’t lead to last week’s tip about a new terror threat. AP reports:
An intelligence official said the controversial NSA programs that gather data on American phone calls or track Internet communications with suspected terrorists played no part in detecting the initial tip.
And the New York Times writes:
Some analysts and Congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the N.S.A.’s data-collection programs, and that if it showed the intercepts had uncovered a possible plot, even better.
(Indeed, the government has resorted to lamer and lamer excuses in a failed attempt to justify mass surveillance).
In fact, the argument that the new terror warning shows that NSA spying is necessary is so weak that American counter-terrorism experts have slammed it as “crazy pants”.
And Colbert ridiculed the fear-mongering:
Remember, top counter-terrorism experts say that mass spying actually hurts U.S. counter-terror efforts. And that we can keep everyone safe without violating the Constitution … more cheaply and efficiently than the current system.
There’s No Real Congressional or Judicial Oversight
Indeed, most Congress members have no idea what the NSA is doing.
And a Federal judge who was on the secret spying court for 3 years says that it’s a kangaroo court.
Revealing Spying Programs Does Not Harm National Security
The top counter-terrorism Czar under Clinton and Bush says that revealing NSA spying programs does not harm national security. Many other counter-terrorism experts agree.
(TechDirt also points out that it makes no sense that whistleblower revelations about spying hurt our security … while U.S. official revelations that they’re tapping the communications of Al Qaeda doesn’t.)
Spying Is Destroying the Economy
Mass surveillance by the NSA directly harms internet companies, Silicon Valley, California … and the entire U.S. economy. And see these reports from Boingboing and the Guardian.
The American People Hate Spying
While leaker Edward Snowden is treated as a traitor by the fatcats and elites, he is considered a hero by the American public. (Remember, in the last 10 years, whistleblowers have had no “legal” way to get the information out).
What’s It Good For?
A Congressman noted that – even if a mass surveillance program is started for good purposes – it will inevitably turn into a witch hunt. Surveillance can be used to frame you if someone in government happens to take a dislike to you. Government spying has always focused on crushing dissent … not on keeping us safe. Indeed, every single American is vulnerable to being labeled a terrorist by the government … and so spying is aimed at everyone.
An NSA whistleblower says that the NSA is spying on – and blackmailing – top government officials and military officers (potentially including former presidents; and see this). Indeed, high-level US government officials have warned for 40 years that mass surveillance would lead to tyranny in America.
Spying started before 9/11 … and may have stemmed from an emergency program which has nothing to do with our current situation.
Oh, And Mass Spying Is Illegal
In addition to all of the above-described problems with spying, experts say that the spying program is illegal. Indeed, they point out that it’s exactly the kind of thing which King George imposed on the American colonists … which led to the Revolutionary War.
A former U.S. president says that the spying program is so bad that it shows that we no longer have a functioning democracy.