The biggest lie Americans are told about the NSA is that it is subject to “strict oversight.”

Listening to President Obama, Senator Dianne Feinstein, or most any high-ranking official in the national-security bureaucracy, one gets the impression that the Senate and House intelligence committees are keeping careful tabs on the most technologically empowered spy agency in human history.

The truth is that Congress is alarmingly ignorant about NSA spying. It’s not all the national-security state’s fault. There are too many issues for every legislator to master them all; surveillance policy is a particularly complicated; and national security is an area many in Congress undermine checks and balances by deferring to the president.

Yet even the most diligent, knowledgeable members of the Senate Intelligence Committee consistently lack basic information that’s plainly needed for adequate oversight. No one who assesses the relevant evidence can credibly deny this.

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