Government Officials Think NSA Spying That 'Incidentally' Swept Up Congressional Phone Calls Still Not Enough Spying
from the an-eye-for-five-eyes-makes-the-whole-world-inadvertent-surveillance-targets dept
The Wall Street Journal’s recent revelation that the NSA swept up Congress members’ communications in a dragnet, which had been assumed to have shut down, has provoked a variety of reactions from Capitol Hill. Some Congress members have angrily expressed their displeasure at being spied on like so many citizens of so many nations (including ours).
Others seem more upset that the NSA’s spying was even dialed back in the slightest. In a followup to its bombshell post detailing the inadvertent Congressional surveillance that resulted from its targeting of Israel’s president, the Wall Street Journal has rounded up more comments from government officials who firmly believe the NSA did nothing wrong. And, for that matter, it should have been doing more of it.
In the case of Ms. Merkel, U.S. intelligence veterans feared losing access to private communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They also questioned the wisdom of the U.S. forfeiting its advantage, especially given their belief that the closest U.S. allies, including Germany’s BND federal intelligence service, were spying on the White House.
As has been the case universally, world leaders decrying NSA surveillance refuse to acknowledge their own intelligence agencies are engaged in the same tactics. Obviously, the NSA doesn’t want to run a surveillance deficit — something that can be ascertained from its general disgruntlement with its Israeli counterparts. Merkel also ignored another inconvenient fact: German intelligence had partnered with the NSA to spy on other foreign government leaders.
The hypocrisy of international politics remains as solid as ever. Even the promise made to Merkel is conditional, subject to revocation at any given moment. As was revealed earlier, the surveillance machinery is still in place. The only thing that’s stopped is the direct targeting of Ms. Merkel (other high-ranking German government officials are still fair game) and an additional handful of world leaders the administration has declared to be the sort of “friends” the US doesn’t spy on.
Under the new regime that emerged, once a leader was added to the protected list, spying on his or her direct communications was off limits. Restarting monitoring required a consensus among the White House National Security Council, the intelligence services and other government agencies, according to current and former officials.
The implants are still there. The next president could flip them back to surveillance mode. The next episode of international discomfort could bring about the required consensus. The spying was paused, not stopped. But even the pause has been unbearable for some officials.
The NSA maintains it “scrubbed” intercepted Congressional conversations, but that’s less reassuring than the agency would like it to be. All it shows is that there’s still plenty of ways to gather data and communications originating from US persons. The easiest way to do it is to grab it from the “other side” — overseas, with extraterritorial intercepts subject to far fewer civil liberties protections than the NSA’s purely domestic programs.