back to article NSA refuses to deny spying on members of Congress

The NSA has refused to confirm or deny that it is collecting information on the communications and email activities of members of Congress after being questioned directly by Bernie Sanders, one of two of the Senate's only independents*. "Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other America …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.

Page:

Anonymous Coward

How on earth are the NSA going to retain their powers if they can't blackmail congress members with threats to release their browsing history etc?

26
1
Anonymous Coward

I'd flip that around: now you know how they got away with it so far..

4
0
Bronze badge
Big Brother

Collect

Did the NSA collect data on Obama's political opponents in 2012?

This is a question that US news organizations have been playing with, but not asking directly. Even MSNBC has been playing with this question.

2
8
Bronze badge

Re: Collect

We have to presume that they collected data on everyone. NSA aren't 'for Obama' or any president, whatever flavour the next ones will come in -- they are for themselves.

28
1
Silver badge

Re: Collect

Maybe not but it would likely be fairly trivial to discredit any candidate who was strong on privacy. It would also be easy to make sure candidates didn't stray far from the standard talking points and any talk of opening up government remained just talk. The birther bunch might say that Obama did his quick flip on openness because the NSA found/made/whatever a copy of his "real" birth certificate.

4
0
Silver badge

Re: Collect

You seem to think the NSA cares about who is in power and are a presidential play thing that can be used for the president's purposes.

You would be wrong on both counts.

Firstly, the whole R vs D thing is a false dichotomy. Do you want blue Frootloops or Red Frootloops? It really does not matter; you're still getting Frootloops. The NSA, and all other 3-letter organisations, carry on business regardless of who is in power. They really don't care. The false dichotomy is, however, a nice diversion that keeps Joe Public from paying too much attantion.

Secondly, if - and we may as well assume they are - the NSA is gathering info on presidential candidates, that will be for their own use when one gets in power. They will certainly not diluting the power of that information by using it to bolster the other. It makes no sense to try to fiddle the results because the results really don't matter.

And anyone that believes that Obama can stop Merkel's phone being tapped is a fool. The NSA will continue to tap any phone they see fit, regardless of what the prez or anyone alse says.

17
4
Anonymous Coward

@ BillG You mean like the IRS

I noticed you got a lot of down votes. I guess they just ignored the hearings where the IRS targeted conservative groups. I wonder if the IRS and the NSA worked together?

2
4

This post has been deleted by its author

Bronze badge

Re: Collect

@AC 04:41

Actually it's Ms. Manning these days. Just saying.

1
0

Re: @ BillG You mean like the IRS

@AC 01:34

If you want the actual details and facts of the IRS issue, there's a pretty funny take on it here:

http://www.stonekettle.com/2013/05/the-irs-scandal-tempest-in-teapot.html

Short version: 501(c)3/4 "social organisations" aren't supposed to do political lobbying, or they'll lose their tax-exempt status. Following the Citizens United decision, 60% of US political funding switched to anonymous funding through such orgs and PACs. Someone in the IRS noticed that a lot of these were Tea Party groups, and searched specifically for these for a couple of months. The IRS inspector noticed this, and reported it to the US public. None were denied 501 status. None lost tax exemption.

The question is, are YOU happy that 60% of US political lobbying funds could be coming from Vladimir Putin, or the Muslim Brotherhood, and you wouldn't know any better?

3
0
Bronze badge

Re: Collect

Not sure, but in 2008 they apparently hoovered up all the calls in the Washington DC area code. This was later explained away as an accident - it is claimed that they wanted to intercept Egyptian calls (international code 20) but mistyped 202 and so ended up monitoring DC calls.

This is clearly not plausible. Firstly, it would have been clear almost immediately that they're not getting Arabic calls, and yet they were supposedly doing it for a month or more. We're supposed to believe it was important enough to set up a tap, but not important enough to notice for several weeks that they getting English calls instead of Arabic ones.

Secondly, the area code excuse just doesn't wash. For example, Algeria's code is 213 which is identical to a part of California (and not just similar). So the system must be able to distinguish between US calls and foreign calls or they'd get Californian calls every time they try to tap Algeria. Of course it would be trivial to have coded some kind of lock or error message if someone 'accidentally' sets up bulk collection of US calls, something they appear not to have done.

Now think about why the NSA might like to listen to all the calls in Washington DC in 2008 (an election year). Convenient mistake to make, no?

1
0
Bronze badge
Angel

Re: Collect

You seem to think the NSA cares about who is in power and are a presidential play thing that can be used for the president's purposes.

You don't seem to understand. The NSA is part of the Executive Branch. That means Obama runs the NSA. While the President can't do anything that isn't funded, he can stop anything he wants. Witness that during the last government "shutdown", Obama didn't stop the NSA snooping but he did stop the NSA's internal investigation into their snooping - and when the phony shutdown was over, Obama chose not to start the investigation again. For crying out loud, Obama's own Democratic party wants him to order the snooping stopped!

The NSA is part of the Executive Branch and the President can have it do, or not do, anything it is funded to do. That includes spying on private citizens without a warrant.

The undeniable truth here is that Obama has the legal, constitutional authority to stop the NSA snooping anytime he wants. Congress can't interfere because that would be a violation of the separation of powers. The downvotes I've proudly received are from people that don't understand the U.S. government and so want to believe that Obama is a powerless bystander to events in Washington.

At this point, liberals have their hands over their ears screaming I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALALALALALA

1
1

Re: Collect

Obama runs the NSA? REALLY? You must live in fantasyland - bureaucrats and past appointees run the NSA, and any other government offices. In Britain and in the US, and probably every other country of any size in the world, who is sitting in the big chair has only the appearance of power, it's the lifelong paper-pushers who administer and follow (or ignore) the twaddle coming down the pipe that actually influence the lives of the population. The power to listen in is intoxicating and probably irresistible. J Edgar Hoover of the FBI was the real power in Washington, BECAUSE he knew everyone's dirt, or could manufacture plausible dirt on anyone. The lesson from his story isn't to avoid collecting dirt, it is to avoid being the visible point man doing it.

1
0
Bronze badge
WTF?

Re: Collect

Obama runs the NSA? REALLY?

Yes.

Let me explain it to you again:

The NSA is part of the Executive Branch of the United States Government. The President of the United States is the head of the Executive Branch. The President runs the NSA.

Got it?

1
1
Silver badge

Re: Collect

That means Obama runs the NSA. While the President can't do anything that isn't funded, he can stop anything he wants.

Oh, that's just adorable. Did the fairies in your garden tell you that?

"Legal, constitutional authority" is of no consequence against opponents who are happy to break the law, and cannot be adequately monitored to ensure they comply with it.

Could Obama, or any other POTUS, take stronger action against the NSA? Sure. He could sanction and remove presidential appointees, though finding someone else who's any better to do the job and will meet with Congressional approval would be a good trick. He could certainly make use of the bully pulpit to encourage popular opposition and put pressure on Congress to do things like rewrite FISA. I think it's unrealistic to expect a President of any party to do that sort of thing - it's not the kind of behavior that gets you elected in this country - but it's theoretically possible.

But claiming that the President (any President) can simply make the NSA stop spying on US citizens is the height of naiveté.

1
1
Anonymous Coward

It's different when it's happening to you.

'Of course the intelligence agencies are only targeting terrorists'

then..

'What do you mean you were spying on me?'

Just like the misuse of RIPA and so many other laws - it doesn't take long for them to be misused.

18
1

Re: It's different when it's happening to you.

It's a politican who noted "power corrupts". Given the almost absolute freedom and power given the NSA the noble lord predicted they will soon end up absolutely corrupted - however nice they were to start with.

4
0
Bronze badge

Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

John 98, if you’re referring to Lord Acton, then what he’d noted was that “power tends to corrupt” — corruption is not inevitable. Did Acton’s six years as a MP, starting at age 25, inevitably corrupt him? (Granted, his power in Parliament was not absolute.)

Another one of Acton’s memorable quotes was “The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern.” If we accept that as axiomatic, what is to be done?

2
0
Bronze badge

Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

@John 98 @Irony Deficient

As you are aware, the "power tends to corrupt" quote is from a letter from Acton to Mandell Creighton:-

...I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it...

We now think of this as being about political power, and it is, but originally it was about Papal Infallibility (which needless to say, Acton was against) and the first Vatican Council. The bit I always remember is "Great men are almost always bad men".

3
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

I think, however, that Adams was more accurate or at least more pertinent to our system of government when he said that "power attracts the corruptible". We see that all the time. If you're a bully, join the police; if you want to kill people, join the army; if you want bribes and backhanders, become a politician. Other people become these things too, of course, but by and large it is the ones who are most obsessed that get the promotions and they tend also to be the dangerous ones. People with self-doubt or morals have less time to devote to exploiting their positions for personal gain.

To put it another way: the specific system of politics is not the problem; the problem is the politicians and the type of people who want to be politicians. That's why the quality of leadership never really improves despite thousands of years of supposed progress in political "science". It's still just pot luck and the best we can say about democracy is that we get to roll the dice more often, but they are the same dice.

3
1
Bronze badge

Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

Precisely the critical flaw in electoral democracy...

It is not representative government, because the only people in power are ones who explicitly sought it, and had to blow their own trumpets in a shallow popularity contest to achieve it. In other words, one must be both power-hungry and an egotist to end up as an MP.

If you want representative government, have an upper house selected on a pure jury basis, and apply the same strict rules as apply to juries - no outside influence on jurors, no discussion outside the chambers, no conflicts of interest. Then give this chamber the power to vote down any bill or make amendments. With a fixed term of a year, and no need to pander to anyone to get re-elected, jurors should be free to make their own decisions and as such, this body should be largely representative of the general public, far more so than Parliament presently is.

For those that say you cannot trust the public - well, we trust this system to decide whether to send someone to jail for the rest of their life, or give them freedom. It's not perfect, but it's far less corrupt and far better at producing decisions than if we let a bunch of elected politicians make decisions based on who's paying them bungs or their own ideological principles rather than the facts.

3
0

Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

So effectively you're suggesting we need National Service brought back in but instead of training in the army, you literally serve your country by representing it? It would at least be closer to actual democracy than todays democracy is.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

"So effectively you're suggesting we need National Service brought back in but instead of training in the army, you literally serve your country by representing it?"

That's one way of looking at it, yes. Interestingly the democracy in Athens put a big emphasis on military service and even people like Socrates had to do their bit on the front line, carrying a wounded Xenophon to safety on his back on one occasion.

Anyway, I would be very much in favour of a jury system instead of elections or as cap'n suggested, as a limiter on the elected nutters' powers.

0
0
Bronze badge

Re: It's different when it's happening to you.

"'Of course the intelligence agencies are only targeting terrorists'"

Which explains why Merkel's calls were tapped, doesn't it? I mean, it stands to reason that those tasked with finding and tracking terrorists would find themselves listening to the leader of one of their country's closest allies ... because it stands to reason that that one's allies are natural-born terrorists and extremists ... I mean, they've shacked up with your government, haven't they? And what could be more extremist than that?

0
1
Bronze badge
Facepalm

Re: It’s different when it’s happening to you.

It is not representative government, because the only people in power are ones who explicitly sought it, and had to blow their own trumpets in a shallow popularity contest to achieve it. In other words, one must be both power-hungry and an egotist to end up as an MP.

Agreed. And the next logical step is that, the way you win a shallow popularity contest is that you tell the shallow population just what they want to hear, whether it's true or not.

For example: "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it"

0
0
Silver badge

Re: It's different when it's happening to you.

"'Of course the intelligence agencies are only targeting terrorists'"

Which explains why Merkel's calls were tapped, doesn't it?

ALL ANIMALS ARE TERRORISTS, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE TERRORIST THAN OTHERS.

And while we're at it:

Whatever goes on two legs is an enemy

The spy services have always been great students of literature.

1
0
Bronze badge

"NSA's authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons,"

This answers the question fully, although people will differ about the meaning. Those who think metadata collection is spying will interpret the answer as "yes", and those who think it is not will think otherwise.

3
5
Silver badge

As an expert in the art of executive communications and weasel word press releases, I must inform you that no question was answered.

Words like procedures and process are meaningless if you don't define the context in which you are applying them. Those words are in the same class of word as 'suspect, expect, estimate, forecast, anticipate, etc...' They all have the feature of seeming like important words, and they can be important, but they're generally used where misinterpretation by the audience is desired. You say it means (x), but unless the person using the term establishes the meaning in context it doesn't actually mean anything. If pressed you can assign any definition you like.

That's not an NSA tinfoil hat kind of thing. It's taught in communications classes at university.

24
1
Bronze badge

Akin to

"Plausible denial", to serve exactly as you pointed out: "weasel word".

But, these politicians should expect that if the want to "rule" us and take our money, the price to exchange is LESS privacy than that afforded the taxpayer in the "ruled" class. If a politician is dealing with matters of law or contracts or national security, then they should be protected from and forbidden to engage in bribery, extortion, blackmail, graft, and more, not given more room to hide from engaging in it.

In this case, I am very relaxed about NSA spying intensively domestically -- if it keeps politicians less dirty. Won't clean them up, but it can keep them on notice.

1
5
Silver badge
Happy

Re: dssf Re: Akin to

".....In this case, I am very relaxed about NSA spying intensively domestically -- if it keeps politicians less dirty....." Shocking - dssf posted something I can actually agree with! Is that a flying pig outside?

0
3
Silver badge

Re: Akin to

"Won't clean them up, but it can keep them on notice."

I don't see how it does that. The politicians are free to do anything they wish as long as they promise to protect their cohorts in the NSA and keep the funding coming in and the NSA can equally pressure anyone else on the outside should the dirty secret start to get out in order to protect the hand that feeds. Each part is happy to continue helping each other no matter how dark and dank it gets because they are essentially holding this twisted system of hidden checks and balances to prevent their own side from becoming irrelevant.

5
0
Bronze badge

Re: Akin to

Then what you wrote just further underscores that the politicians' "concerns" are just for public consumption. The more sophisticate of the public recognizes it, and maybe most of the less attentive public does to some extent, but probably recognizes it can't do much about it, either.

I accept the minus 2 points on this topic, given my previoius naeve comment.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

"Those who think metadata collection is spying will interpret the answer as "yes","

And those who think that they're just collecting metadata will believe anything.

1
1
Bronze badge

To argue meta data - i.e. who is talking to who and when and for how long, but not the content of what they are discussing is not spying is like saying that following someone around with a telephoto lens and recording who they meet, and when and for how long is not spying because you're not actually listening to their conversations.

It quite obviously is, as my wife's restraining order confirms.

2
1
Silver badge

Easy answer

"Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons,"

So that would be zip.

I expect they have a list, starting with anyone who might vote to cut the NSA budget.

24
1
Bronze badge

Re: Easy answer...So that would be zip.

You beat me to it.

0
0
Silver badge

Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons

So that's a 'yes' then?

11
1
Anonymous Coward

"So that's a 'yes' then?"

More like "Hell will freeze over before we admit anything, about anyone. Now go away.."

0
0
Anonymous Coward

"Hell will freeze over before we admit anything, about anyone"

Looks like my choice of words was unfortunate:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/the-storm-so-bad-even-hell-has-frozen-over-9044252.html

0
0
Silver badge
Big Brother

So what they are saying is:

All of the American people (as well everyone person in the world) along with Congress are all suspected terrorists? Or do they know or suspect there's another American revolution in the offing? Or is really so simple that without having the "goods" on the Congress Critters, they will lose funding and power?

BTW, Don's right about weasel words. Politics has made this an art form of the highest order.

7
1
Silver badge

Re: So what they are saying is:

All of the American people (as well everyone person in the world) along with Congress are all suspected terrorists?

Look up Edgehill and Bullrun - both were battles in the US and UK civil wars where citizens were themselves considered potential enemies of the state. And both are codenames used by GCHQ and the NSA respectively.

6
0

This post has been deleted by its author

Silver badge

Re: So what they are saying is:

"All of the American people (as well everyone person in the world) along with Congress are all suspected terrorists?"

They've watched Homeland.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

There is no legitimate reason to spy on US Citizens!

Too bad the NSA think they are above the Constitution...the whole lot of them should be hung out to dry for this.

The NSA are doing the job of the terrorists by ruining our republic and violating our laws. This makes them criminals, everything they have ever done can be considered to be null and void.

14
1
Silver badge

The truly disturbing thing...

...is that this is only apparently an issue when it threatens congress members. Fuck those entitled tosspots.

If the tapping was to *actually* weed out terrorism and threats to the state then congress and high-ranking members of the state apparatus would be the first people you'd tap...who can do the most damage after all: People with access to military information or Joe Public?

11
0
Silver badge

Not illegal

There is no law against the NSA bugging congress.

There is however a law against British intelligence agencies bugging British MPs

But if you are the police recording them when they are working as a lawyer talking to their client - it's OK.

5
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Not illegal

The Brits do the spying on the US and the NSA spy on the Brits. Now THAT makes it "legal".

5
0
Silver badge

Re: Not illegal

There is however a law against British intelligence agencies bugging British MPs

And yet parliamentary authorities still manage to respond to FoIA requests in regards to the web usage associated with PCs within the houses of parliament.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2442260/Betting-website-receive-700-000-hits-year-parliamentary-computers.html

MPs are already being watched. It's not just solicitors that need to worry.

1
1
Bronze badge

Cu to the chase Re: Not illegal

"There is however a law against British intelligence agencies bugging British MPs"

I think that sentence should be corrected ASAP:

"There is however a law against British intelligence"

Intelligence relies upon communication; communication relies upon trust and empathy; emathy and trust are in short supply when you are aware of surveillance. Therefore there is a law against British developing and showing intelligence.

0
1

This post has been deleted by a moderator

Page:

This topic is closed for new posts.

Forums