Since we began began publishing stories about the NSA's massive domestic spying
apparatus, various NSA defenders - beginning with President Obama - have sought to
assure the public that this is all done under robust judicial oversight. "When it comes
to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls," he proclaimed on June
7 when responding to our story about the bulk collection of telephone records, adding
that the program is "fully overseen" by "the Fisa court, a court specially put together
to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government
generally, is not abusing them". Obama told Charlie Rose last night:
"What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to
your telephone calls ... by law and by rule, and unless they ... go to a court, and obtain a
warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it's always been, the same way when we
were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to
go to a judge, show probable cause."
The GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, told CNN that the NSA
"is not listening to Americans' phone calls. If it did, it is illegal. It is breaking
the law." Talking points issued by the House GOP in defense of the NSA claimed that
surveillance law only "allows the Government to acquire foreign intelligence information
concerning non-U.S.-persons (foreign, non-Americans) located outside the United States."
The NSA's media defenders have similarly stressed that the NSA's eavesdropping and
internet snooping requires warrants when it involves Americans. The Washington Post's
Charles Lane told his readers: "the government needs a court-issued warrant, based on
probable cause, to listen in on phone calls." The Post's David Ignatius told Post
readers that NSA internet surveillance "is overseen by judges who sit on the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court" and is "lawful and controlled". Tom Friedman told New
York Times readers that before NSA analysts can invade the content of calls and emails,
they "have to go to a judge to get a warrant to actually look at the content under
guidelines set by Congress."
This has become the most common theme for those defending NSA surveillance. But these
claim are highly misleading, and in some cases outright false.
Top secret documents obtained by the Guardian illustrate what the Fisa court actually
does - and does not do - when purporting to engage in "oversight" over the NSA's
domestic spying. That process lacks many of the safeguards that Obama, the House GOP,
and various media defenders of the NSA are trying to lead the public to believe exist. . . .
[I had thought it was as clear as law can be that any person who has committed a
political crime should be exempted from mandatory extradition even if a treaty existed
imposed a duty on its parties to hand over individuals accused of serious criminal
activity. To be sure, from the perspective of the United States government, Snowden's
exposure of the PRISM surveillance program was a flagrant violation of the Espionage
Act. But it was also as clearly a political crime as almost any undertaking can be.
There was no violence involved or threatened, and no person can be harmed by the
disclosures.--Richard Falk, "What
am I missing in the Snowden affair?," aljazeera.com, July 10, 2013]
[". . . all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does
two things. It searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the
emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or
Google search terms that you've entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity
that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future."--Kari
Rea, "Glenn Greenwald: Low-Level NSA
Analysts Have 'Powerful and Invasive' Search Tool," guardian.co.uk, July 31, 2013]