A report released this week by Circa News outlines the shocking revelations that former President Barack Obama’s National Security Agency was spying on Americans — without a warrant, without probable cause, and in direct violation of the very same guidelines and rules that Obama and his administration officials promised to adhere to in 2011. According to the report, over 5% of the requests for upstream data should not have even been asked for, let alone granted. The internet is awash with gasps and pearl-clutching, as Americans look at their laptops and smartphones and wonder if they were one of the targets. From the report:
Officials like former National Security Adviser Susan Rice have argued their activities were legal under the so-called minimization rule changes Obama made, and that the intelligence agencies were strictly monitored to avoid abuses.
The intelligence court and the NSA’s own internal watchdog found that not to be true.
Let’s not even bother bringing up the first glaring problem: Susan Rice claimed that it was all okay, the appropriate babysitting was ongoing, and everything was copacetic. Ms. Rice, however, will never win any awards for Most Likely To Tell The Truth About Anything Ever, so the simple fact that she was defending it should have raised red flags for anyone with a modicum of sense.
The NSA apparently ‘self-disclosed’ last October, two weeks before the election, in a closed hearing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. When the agency is literally tattling on itself, you can bet that they were either about to get caught doing something far worse, or things were so incredibly bad that they had no choice but to save face by appearing to confront the issue head-on before it was exposed somehow. The timing, of course, prompts the question: Why are we just finding out about it now?
The answer is that we’ve actually been sitting like frogs in a slowly warming pot for a long time. While this new report is making waves big enough to surf on, the truth is that the proof was out in the public eye years ago; most of the public, however, wasn’t paying attention. The government has been spying on citizens with whatever tech was available since the tech was available, and a while a few folks have been sounding the alarm for years, they’ve been largely ignored. This report is simply more confirmation that your friendly neighborhood conspiracy theorist was a lot less crazy than you thought.
As Ron Popeil would say, “But wait! There’s more!”
The Oct. 26, 2016 notice informed the court that NSA analysts had been conducting such queries in violation of that prohibition, with much greater frequency than had been previously disclosed to the Court.”
In other words, not only were they violating the law, they were lying about it to the court. They were actively hiding the fact that they were doing things they knew were improper and illegal.
The normally supportive [FISA] court censured administration officials, saying the failure to disclose the extent of the violations earlier amounted to an “institutional lack of candor” and that the improper searches constituted a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue,” according to a recently unsealed court document dated April 26, 2017.
After all of that, the court “censured” officials, which is basically like saying, “You guys are really, really naughty and should feel ashamed of yourselves,” but using big words and putting it on paper. What changed? What ended? What happened to the people who are perpetrating these crimes on the American people? Nothing.
Note that the court called it an “institutional lack of candor,” which is to say that the agency has a culture of dishonesty, even to the very apparatus that is supposed to hold it accountable. Cultural problems aren’t fixed with a Saturday session of mandatory awareness training.
The proverbial icing on this botulism-ridden cake is the fact that the NSA was caught with its collective pants down back in 2011, and this is just another chapter in the never-ending saga titled “Unconstitutional Agencies and the Unconstitutional Things They Do.” The ACLU reports:
In 2011, the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews the NSA’s activities, found that the NSA was violating the Fourth Amendment in retaining and searching certain wholly domestic communications collected under Upstream…The FISC ordered the NSA to adopt stringent procedures to protect those domestic communications from warrantless searches by agency analysists [sic]. However, according to news reports, the NSA told the FISC that it had been unable to meet the technical requirements imposed by the court.
And here we have the answer to why the NSA admitted to wrongdoing. It’s pretty clear; the court found massive problems in 2011, told the NSA to fix them, and the NSA came back six years later to say, “We’re sorry, we couldn’t do what you said,” at which point the court reiterated that the agency was Still Doing Bad Things. Sure, the NSA ‘ended’ certain portions of their surveillance net, but does anyone really believe they voluntarily gave up a means to collect data on American citizens if they weren’t already getting the same information elsewhere? The ACLU explains it even better, in their report on the NSA’s ending of certain types of surveillance:
It’s important to note that the government isn’t relinquishing its powers. We have no reason to believe the government has disavowed the authority to conduct “about” surveillance — even though this spying violates the Constitution. Rather, the government seems to be halting the practice because of technical problems that prevent it from complying with the FISC’s order. That means that if Congress doesn’t move to codify the prohibition on “about” surveillance, it could, theoretically, be resurrected.
A government, once given power, will never relinquish it — and liberty, once taken, is never given back.
The knowledge that the Obama administration was spying on Americans isn’t groundbreaking. Unlawful surveillance of citizens is standard operating procedure for the U.S. government, and has been for decades. In fact, the Trump administration is filled with people who want to expand it — so don’t expect it to end anytime soon.