NSA is a Rogue Agency
Congressman Alan Grayson writes today:
In the 1970s, Congressman Otis Pike of New York chaired a special congressional committee to investigate abuses by the American so-called “intelligence community” – the spies. After the investigation, Pike commented:
It took this investigation to convince me that I had always been told lies, to make me realize that I was tired of being told lies.
[Congress has] signaled a clear message to the NSA: we do not trust you [and] members of Congress do not trust that the House Intelligence Committee is providing the necessary oversight. On the contrary, “oversight” has become “overlook”.
Despite being a member of Congress possessing security clearance, I’ve learned far more about government spying on me and my fellow citizens from reading media reports than I have from “intelligence” briefings.
One long-serving conservative Republican told me that he doesn’t attend such briefings anymore, because, “they always lie”.
I’ve requested classified information, and further meetings with NSA officials. The House Intelligence Committee has refused to provide either. Supporters of the NSA’s vast ubiquitous domestic spying operation assure the public that members of Congress can be briefed on these activities whenever they want. Senator Saxby Chambliss says all a member of Congress needs to do is ask for information, and he’ll get it. Well I did ask, and the House Intelligence Committee said “no”, repeatedly. And virtually every other member not on the Intelligence Committee gets the same treatment.
Recently, a member of the House Intelligence Committee was asked at a town hall meeting, by his constituents, why my requests for more information about these programs were being denied. This member argued that I don’t have the necessary level of clearance to obtain access for classified information. That doesn’t make any sense; every member is given the same level of clearance.
There is no legal justification for imparting secret knowledge about the NSA’s domestic surveillance activities only to the 20 members of the House Intelligence Committee. Moreover, how can the remaining 415 of us do our job properly, when we’re kept in the dark – or worse, misinformed?
Representative Pike would probably say that rank-and-file representatives will never get the information we need from the House Intelligence Committee, because the spying industrial complex answers only to itself. After all, Pike, and many of the members of his special congressional committee, voted against forming it. As it is now constituted, the House Intelligence Committee will never decry, deny, or defy any spy. They see eye-to-eye, so they turn a blind eye. Which means that if we rely on them, we can kiss our liberty good-bye.
Patrick Leahy – the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and member of the Subcommittees on Defense and Homeland Security for the Appropriations Committee – has top secret clearance. Leahy said:
We sometimes find we get far more in the newspapers — we get crossword puzzles as well — we get more in the newspapers than in classified briefings.
Congressman Justin Amash said that the NSA would only divulge information in classified briefings if Congress guessed at the right questions:
Amash said that intelligence officials are often evasive during classified briefings and reveal little new information unless directly pressed.
“You don’t have any idea what kind of things are going on,” Amash said. “So you have to start just spitting off random questions. Does the government have a moon base? Does the government have a talking bear? Does the government have a cyborg army? If you don’t know what kind of things the government might have, you just have to guess and it becomes a totally ridiculous game of twenty questions.“
A senior staffer for the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee – one of the biggest apologists for NSA spying- confirms Amash’s statement:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in August that the committee has less information about, and conducts less oversight of, intelligence-gathering that relies solely on presidential authority. She said she planned to ask for more briefings on those programs.
“In general, the committee is far less aware of operations conducted under 12333,” said a senior committee staff member, referring to Executive Order 12333, which defines the basic powers and responsibilities of the intelligence agencies. “I believe the NSA would answer questions if we asked them, and if we knew to ask them, but it would not routinely report these things, and in general they would not fall within the focus of the committee.”
Indeed, most Congress members had no idea what the NSA is doing. Even staunch defenders of the NSA – and congress members on the intelligence oversight committees – now say they’ve been kept in the dark.
Likewise, a Federal judge who was on the secret spying court for 3 years says that it’s a kangaroo court. Even the current judges on the secret spying court now admit that they’re out of the loop and powerless to exercise real oversight. When these judges raised concerns about NSA spying, the Justice Department completely ignored them.
No wonder members of all 3 branches of government – Executive, Legislative and Judicial – have praised the debate on spying which Snowden’s leaks started.