January 11, 2016 - San Francisco, CA – PipeLineNews.org – Last week Pete Hoekstra, former Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, blasted the U.S. intelligence service over allegations that the WH was made privy to communications intercepted by the NSA on members of Congress along with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu as he prepared to address the legislative body on the issue of the nuke deal with Iran.
“Both are serious violations of the public trust, but the NSA case is potentially so egregious that it threatens the very credibility of the IC. Whether conservative, progressive, Republican, Democrat or Libertarian, all Americans fear the immense capability of government to target them. A proportional reaction is required because it extends to the very heart of constitutionally guaranteed protections.” [source, Pete Hoekstra, NSA Spying on Congress Requires Suspending State of the Union Invite , Breitbart]
Hoekstra’s outrage however is selective given that data collection on Americans at a very high level of detail has been routine for a decade, is only getting worse under this administration and yet the Congressman seems concerned only when his former buds in the legislature get swept up in the electronic dragnet.
Perhaps it was understandable post 9/11 that the U.S. would need to ramp up its data collection capacity with less concern for civil liberties than many might have preferred at the time. But that was nearly 15 years ago and repeated claims by the American intelligence apparatus [comprising at least 17 separate agencies] that indiscriminate data collection has been scaled back appear to be the opposite of what is now routinely going on.
Much of the government’s discussion about the extent to which U.S. intelligence agencies intercept electronic communications from Americans is intentionally less than clearly stated. There are assurances of “procedures being in place,” references to FISA/FISC [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Court oversight, mentions of search warrants where indicated, talk of “limits” placed on domestic surveillance etc., none of which really clarify the matter, nor are they really intended to because the truth would be unsettling.
How does Hoekstra’s recent high dudgeon regarding spying on Congress square with facts already in the public record?
In a March 12, 2013 Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing Senator Wyden [D-OR] engaged Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as follows:
“Sen. Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
Director Clapper: No sir. It does not. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.” [source, Andy Greenberg, Watch Top U.S. Intelligence Officials Repeatedly Deny NSA Spying On Americans Over The Last Year , Forbes, June 6, 2013]
Ok, so sometimes information is accidentally gathered in the course of a lawful investigation and is then subjected to a process which the NSA calls minimizing it, removing it from the logs apparently.
But then a curious event took place.
In early June 2013 Edward Snowden, a former very high level operative within numerous U.S. intelligence agencies including working as an NSA contractor revealed the existence of a program called PRISM, which was tasked with indiscriminately gathering all electronic data directly from the carriers, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Verizon etc.
The PRISM program is the single largest provider of electronic data to which U.S. intelligence has access; some have estimated that it constitutes over 90% of the summed agencies’ content.
Why did Snowden take such precipitous action?
“I would say sort of the breaking point was seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie on oath to Congress. There’s no saving an intelligence community that believes it can lie to the public and the legislators who need to be able to trust it and regulate its actions.”
So rather than being the equivalent of a laser search, U.S. intelligence simply grabs everything, the shotgun approach:
“Each time you pick up the phone, dial a number, write an email, make a purchase, travel on the bus carrying a cellphone, swipe a card somewhere, you leave a trace – and the government has decided that it’s a good idea to collect it all, everything. Even if you’ve never been suspected of any crime. . [source, Eric Snowden]
The disclosure made things a bit uncomfortable for Clapper as he immediately sought to “clarify” the lie he told Congress the previous year:
“In an article published today by the National Journal, Clapper said he stood by that answer, but then qualified it: “What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails,” he’s quoted as saying. ‘I stand by that.’” [source, Andy Greenberg, Watch Top U.S. Intelligence Officials Repeatedly Deny NSA Spying On Americans Over The Last Year , Forbes, June 6, 2013]
When the über pro-administration NBC reported in 2013 that every phone call in the United States is run through the NSA’s data sieve, we tend to take notice.
Does it really matter if U.S. Signals Intelligence [SIGINT] personnel are reading your mail with prurient interest or just combing through it [both violations of the 4th Amendment] on the chance that you might be an extraordinarily stealthy [or sloppy] jihadist?
Within the small community of writers and researchers [within which we work] who are actively promoting increased vigilance regarding the Islamist enemies of the United States, both domestic and abroad there has been general – and in many cases enthusiastic - support for the electronic dragnet which PRISM represents
In this world, Edward Snowden is viewed at best a dupe and at worst a malicious traitor.
Though we remain undecided as to how Mr. Snowden should ultimately be dealt with [we do not believe the traitor allegation] his revelations have proven largely to be true. The American government and its data-sharing partners are intercepting every single bit of electronic communication at the most basic level, the backbone hardware of the ‘Net.
This brings us back to the estimable Mr. Hoekstra, who is whining about illegal surveillance of Congress [suggesting, in symbolic protest that it refuse to host Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Speech] when as former Chair of the House Intel Committee he damn well must know that the misdeeds to which he is referring barely scratch the surface of the larger and more central issue – an out of control president who is using every aspect of American national intelligence to surveil, pressure and thereby control his opponents.
That American intelligence establishment and the leadership of the U.S. military are willing to go along without protest, is simply a commentary on how quickly a republic can be subverted when people with ill intent are allowed to assume positions of power while the general public looks on but refuses to see.
End note, additional resources:
1. William Mayer, Looking Through A PRISM - The NSA’ s Metadata Problem,, PipeLineNews.org, January 20, 2014
2. Though a little dated, still well worth a look: - What is known about NSA's PRISM Program?
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