January 15, 2014
We’ve shown that the NSA has been spying on Congress for some time.
The NSA has never denied that it’s spying on Congress. Instead, the NSA first said:
Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons.
And Friday, NSA chief Keith Alexander wrote a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders saying that the NSA cannot reveal whether the agency has been targeting members of Congress in its metadata collection because doing so would violate privacy provisions accorded to civilians in the program:
The telephone metadata program incorporates extraordinary controls to protect Americans’ privacy interests. Among those protections is the condition that NSA can query the metadata only based on phone numbers reasonably suspected to be associated with specific foreign terrorist groups. For that reason, NSA cannot lawfully search to determine if any records NSA has received under the program have included metadata of the phone calls of any member of Congress, other American elected officials, or any other American without that predicate.
This is the exact same excuse the NSA and other intelligence agencies have previously given for hiding how many Americans they spy on.
As Wired reported last June:
The surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won’t tell two powerful United States Senators how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency as part of its sweeping new counterterrorism powers. The reason: it would violate your privacy to say so.
That claim comes in a short letter sent Monday to civil libertarian Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall. The two members of the Senate’s intelligence oversight committee asked the NSA a simple question last month: under the broad powers granted in 2008′s expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, how many persons inside the United States have been spied upon by the NSA?
The query bounced around the intelligence bureaucracy until it reached I. Charles McCullough, the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the nominal head of the 16 U.S. spy agencies. In a letter acquired by Danger Room, McCullough told the senators that the NSA inspector general “and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons,” McCullough wrote.
In other words, the NSA is sending the same message to both the American people and their representatives in Congress: f@ck off.