The NSA Is Spying On Our Elected Representatives
After Senator Bernie Sanders asked the NSA whether it spied on members of congress, the NSA responded:
NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US 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.
In other words: yes, we spy on members of Congress, just like all other Americans.
For contrast, here’s what NSA would have said if it wasn’t spying on Congress:
The Constitution provides for a separation of powers between the executive branch – which includes the NSA and its parent agency, the Department of Defense – on the one hand, and the legislative branch (i.e. Congress), on the other hand.
So the NSA is constitutionally prohibited from spying on members of Congress or their staff, and we go to great lengths to ensure that we faithfully discharge that constitutional duty.
So the answer is: no. We do not and never would spy on Congress.
Yeah, they didn’t say that at all. Instead, NSA lumped Congress members in with the great unwashed masses of the American public who they spy on every day.
The Washington Post writes:
The answer is telling. We already know that the NSA collects records on virtually every phone call made in the United States. That program was renewed for the 36th time on Friday. If members of Congress are treated no differently than other Americans, then the NSA likely keeps tabs on every call they make as well.
It’s a relief to know that Congress doesn’t get a special carve-out (they’re just like us!). But the egalitarianism of it all will likely be of little comfort to Sanders.”
The Bigger Question: What Is NSA Doing With the Info?
But the bigger question is what the NSA does with that information. Remember, the Guardian reported in September that not only might the NSA be collecting information on Congress, but that it was sharing unfiltered information with a foreign nation … Israel:
The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.
According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. “NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection”, it says.
A much stricter rule was set for US government communications found in the raw intelligence. The Israelis were required to “destroy upon recognition” any communication “that is either to or from an official of the US government“. Such communications included those of “officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments, and independent agencies), the US House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the US federal court system (including, but not limited to, the supreme court)”.
In reality, there is quite a bit of evidence that NSA is using information gained through spying to blackmail Congress.