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Ackerman reports: "A US senator has bluntly asked the National Security Agency if it spies on Congress, raising the stakes for the surveillance agency's legislative fight to preserve its broad surveillance powers."

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). (photo: Sanders.gov)
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). (photo: Sanders.gov)


Bernie Sanders Asks NSA if They Spy on Congress

By Spencer Ackerman, Guardian UK

04 January 14

 

• Vermont's Bernie Sanders poses question to spy agency
• Letter comes as court renews order for collection of US phone records

US senator has bluntly asked the National Security Agency if it spies on Congress, raising the stakes for the surveillance agency's legislative fight to preserve its broad surveillance powers.

Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and socialist, asked army general Keith Alexander, the NSA's outgoing director, if the NSA "has spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials".

Sanders, in a letter dated 3 January, defined "spying" as "gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business".

The NSA collects the records of every phone call made and received inside the United States on an ongoing, daily basis, a revelation first published in the Guardian in June based on leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden. Until 2011, the NSA collected the email and internet records of all Americans as well.

In response, the NSA has argued that surveillance does not occur when it acquires the voluminous amount of phone data, but rather when its analysts examine those phone records, which they must only do, pursuant to the secret court orders justifying the collection, when they have "reasonable articulable suspicion" of a connection to specific terrorist groups. Declassified rulings of the secret surveillance court known as the Fisa court documented "systemic" violations of those restrictions over the years.

Sanders' office suggested the senator, who called the collection "clearly unconstitutional" in his letter, did consider the distinction salient.

Asked if Sanders meant the collection of legislators' and officials' phone data alongside every other American's or the deliberate targeting of those officials by the powerful intelligence agency, spokesman Jeff Frank said: "He's referring to either one."

The NSA did not immediately return a request for comment. Hours after Sanders sent his letter, the office of the director of national intelligence announced that the Fisa court on Friday renewed the domestic phone records bulk collection for another 90 days.

Sanders' question is a political minefield for the NSA, and one laid as Congress is about to reconvene for the new year. Among its agenda items is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that seeks to abolish the NSA's ability to collect data in bulk on Americans or inside the United States without suspicion of a crime or a threat to national security. Acknowledgement that it has collected the communications records of American lawmakers and other officials is likely to make it harder for the NSA to argue that it needs such broad collection powers to defend against terrorism.

Civil liberties and tech groups are planning a renewed lobbying push to pass the bill, called the USA Freedom Act, as they hope to capitalize on a White House review panel that last month recommended the NSA no longer collect so-called metadata, but rely on phone companies to store customer data for up to two years, which is longer than they currently store it.

On Friday, Shawn Turner, the spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said in a statement that the intelligence community "continues to be open to modifications to this program that would provide additional privacy and civil liberty protections while still maintaining its operational benefits," such as having the data "held by telecommunications companies or a third party".

Advocates want an end to the metadata bulk collection as well as no expansion of phone company data record storage.

The Senate judiciary committee, whose chairman Patrick Leahy is an architect of the USA Freedom Act, announced Friday that it will hold a hearing with the review panel's membership on 14 January.

Additionally, the Justice Department announced a formal appeal of a 16 December federal court loss over the legality and constitutionality of the NSA's bulk phone records collection effort. The appeal follows one by the ACLU, which sought redress in a different federal court after a judge ruled 27 December that the NSA bulk collection passes constitutional muster.

The NSA has yet to directly address whether elected officials are getting caught in its broad data trawls. While senator Jeff Merkely of Oregon dramatically waved his phone at Alexander during a June hearing - "What authorized investigation gave you the grounds for acquiring my cellphone data," Merkely asked - the NSA has typically spoken in generic terms about needing the "haystack" of information from Americans it considers necessary to suss out terrorist connections.

The NSA and its allies have been under fire for months about their public presentation of the scope of domestic surveillance. House judiciary committee Republicans in December wrote to attorney general Eric Holder calling for an investigation of director of national intelligence James Clapper, who has acknowledged untruthfully testifying that the NSA does "not wittingly" collect data on millions of Americans.

"We must be vigilant and aggressive in protecting the American people from the very real danger of terrorist attacks," Sanders wrote to Alexander on Friday. "I believe, however, that we can do that effectively without undermining the constitutional rights that make us a free country."


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+77 # jorarmed 2014-01-04 12:02
Unfortunately, I am not optimistic regarding the outcome. I believe that one way or another the spying will continue. They have everything in place to do it and they are not going to give up, no matter what anybody says.
 
 
+30 # tedrey 2014-01-04 12:26
"No matter what anybody says."? The courts, Congress, the President?
 
 
+15 # Doubter 2014-01-04 20:24
right
 
 
+43 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-01-04 15:07
Bernie is "spying on the spys." They, NSA, enjoy spying, not being spied upon. Keep going, Bernie.
 
 
+11 # RLF 2014-01-05 08:02
Bernie should tell who ever he sent the letter that they will be held accountable for lies...put them under oath and ask them...then prosecute them when they lie. (I can dream can't I?)
 
 
+7 # Holy Cow 2014-01-05 08:43
Absolutely! Run, Bernie, run. Set an example for us all, you do and have done for years, an example of how to be bright, brave and determined.

Scarey it is, to stand up and pull out truth these so overtaken by evil greed and power over all addicted days. Yes, I agree with Eldon B.. Keep going, Bernie.
 
 
+75 # anyon 2014-01-04 12:10
This is surely the point: who governs? who is in control?
 
 
+5 # polfrosch 2014-01-05 09:13
Yes. Evidence and reason help to answer that question.

If the NSA (and the dual state) was in charge, would it tell congress the truth about whom they spy on?

We already know the answer: Clapper did lie to congress.

Without Edward Snowden, who is not "one" (see below: Kootenay Coyote post) but the ONLY source which can not to be ridiculed as "conspiracy theory" we have on the NSA programs, we would not even know Mr. Clapper lied to congress.

If the congress WAS in charge, why doesn´t it make an example of Clapper, to clarify what happens to spooks with coup d'état ambitions?

Instead it is Snowden congress and NSA want to make an example of - by all means necessary.

The NSA and the whole intelligence community (notice Snowden is the only one of 30.000 NSA apparatchiks who decided to become a heroic dissident) is a power asset all Reps and Dems competing for power don´t want to loose, as they could benefit from it in the near future. The upcoming INGSOC elite members are not the ones to fear 1984. (Bernie Saunders is a noble exception, there may be a few others.)

Furthermore: the NSA/CIA/etc intelligence dual state will not "fight terrorism", but rather make use of the right kind and measure of terrorism to "fine tune democracy" according to their needs, as terrorism is the cover story and cause for their growth, influence and power.

This is the complex Eisenhower warned us of. It is in power already. Don´t expect mercy. Expect INGSOC.
 
 
+68 # Artemis 2014-01-04 12:32
Of course the NSA and their various subdivisions spy on Congress....and undoubtedly on the President.
 
 
+52 # Arden 2014-01-04 12:33
And who spies on the spies?
 
 
+31 # Kootenay Coyote 2014-01-04 17:08
Well, Edward Snowden for one.
 
 
+53 # billeeboy 2014-01-04 13:11
Asking Fascists to not look at the data they have collected is laughable. They will look and then at some points there will be knocks on doors in the middle of the night.........
 
 
+46 # lobdillj 2014-01-04 13:11
In my opinion a tipping point has been reached. Who is going to believe them now? Who will believe Obama on the issue? What is the point, really, of asking the NSA any question? The answer cannot be believed.
 
 
+40 # TruthSeeker2 2014-01-04 15:52
"What is the point, really, of asking the NSA any question? The answer cannot be believed." The point, ALWAYS in asking public officials questions is to get their answer on record, to use against them later if necessary. When Senator Wyden asked Director Clapper if the NSA was bulk data collecting on Americans, he wasn't asking to learn the answer. He already KNEW the answer. He was asking to get Clapper to either admit it publicly or to lie publicly. That is how the game works. That is how public opinion is shaped. It is ALL a media war. It is all about who gets to capture the hearts and minds of the voting public. Currently the government relies on its PR arm, corporate media to shape the discussion. They are losing control...
 
 
+80 # unitedwestand 2014-01-04 13:11
This is why we love Bernie Sanders so much. A Congressman who actually works for the better interests of the people that elected him.
 
 
+17 # Byronator 2014-01-04 20:50
We should love him more than we love Barack or Hillary. If we have any brains.
 
 
+8 # hbheinze 2014-01-04 22:25
I do!
 
 
+66 # Im Skeptical 2014-01-04 13:18
Of COURSE the NAS spies on Congress! Of course it does! Great question. Of course it spies on the President too, the better to retain ultimate control of everything. So who is actually in charge? An unelected group of spies, catering to the 1%, the same people who ruined the economy and cost people their homes and jobs.
 
 
+47 # Vardoz 2014-01-04 13:35
Thank you Bernie!!!!
 
 
+28 # jwb110 2014-01-04 13:37
It is not so much that they spy in Congress but who gets the information. The crux of the matter is about who has access and can a private company, which is most of where of this gathering is done, sell or make this data available to other private companies. As huge as this NSA monolith seems to be and given that others have gained access where is all this info going??? That is my concern. Nations can be propagandized in a great many ways. Politically, in terms of Market Forces, and also forcing conformity on an entire nation is more possible because of the NSA and the gutting of the Constitution.
The 4th Amendment says what it says and needs no interpretation, in much the same way that the 2nd Amendment seems to need no interpretation.
A great Nation is falling from within and where the buck truley stops is with us.
Who Watches the Watchmen.
 
 
+1 # Caliban 2014-01-05 02:18
jwb110--I'd like to comment not on Sanders & the NSA but only on your apparent assumptions about the US Constitution expressed here: "The 4th Amendment says what it says and needs no interpretation, in much the same way that the 2nd Amendment seems to need no interpretation. "

The Constitution is a set of general principles which all laws must meet. It is not in itself a set of laws that have to be followed. In addition, the Constitution--a s a whole and in all of its parts--most certainly does have to be "interpreted", and it is--and has been since it was established--in terpreted in a variety of courts in a multitude of ways over the decades.

Saying something is "Constitutional " or "Unconstitution al" is merely the expression of an opinion until a Federal Court has the final say. And all lower court opinions are subject to the decision of those ultimate interpreters--t he justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. So what you say about the Constitution here is simply wrong, and you would do yourself and others a favor by thinking this matter through in more depth and detail.
 
 
+3 # karenvista 2014-01-05 03:31
Quoting Caliban:
jwb110-- the Constitution--as a whole and in all of its parts--most certainly does have to be "interpreted", and it is--and has been since it was established--interpreted in a variety of courts in a multitude of ways over the decades.


That is what is called "Precedent," and it is what the Supreme Court does whenever it make a decision. It sets a precedent-

Except in the case of Bush v Gore, which, for the first and only time in U.S. judicial history, the Supreme Court said its decision was not to be used as a precedent and was only applicable to that particular case.

Isn't that odd?

Saying something is "Constitutional " or "Unconstitution al" is merely the expression of an opinion until a Federal Court has the final say. And all lower court opinions are subject to the decision of those ultimate interpreters--t he justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. So what you say about the Constitution here is simply wrong, and you would do yourself and others a favor by thinking this matter through in more depth and detail.
 
 
+4 # RLF 2014-01-05 08:06
Oh Yeah! I trust those morons Scalia and Thomas with the constitution. Sure I do! We all know who they work for and it ain't the people (99%).
 
 
+1 # tedrey 2014-01-05 06:50
Caliban writes "Saying something is 'Constitutional ' or 'Unconstitution al' is merely the expression of an opinion until a Federal Court has the final say."

In other words, until a judge has expressed his own opinion.

"And all lower court opinions are subject to the decision of those ultimate interpreters--t he justices of the Supreme Court of the United States."

Which very interpretation (judicial review) is not in the Constitution at all, but is simply the opinion of certain Supreme Court justices 15 years after the Constitution was written, and therefore a mere precedent.

With the politicization of the Court, this has become a moot point on all political issues.
 
 
+1 # RLF 2014-01-05 08:09
As it says in the first line...the Constitution was not written for the courts...it was written by and for the people and ultimately we decide if something is constitutional or not. It may take a Constitutional convention to change things but ultimately the power was supposed to be in the hands of the people!
 
 
+3 # engelbach 2014-01-05 07:28
Yours may be the legal definition that is used in court, but every American has the right to read the Constitution and decide for himself what it means.

The Fourth Amendment is written in clear, non-technical language. Blanket warrants of the type used by the FISA court — and by the British in Writs of Assistance against the colonists — are specifically forbidden.

In contrast, the Second Amendment is written in ambiguous language and what it means depends upon one's understanding of its grammatical structure.
 
 
+4 # RLF 2014-01-05 08:11
Let's not forget that the FISA court is not a Constitutional court and is 100% appointed by chief justice Roberts. Fisa is a rubber stamp court...kangaro o all the way!
 
 
+1 # polfrosch 2014-01-05 09:36
So that´s what you are concerned about when you read jwb110´s statement?

Yours is a quite positivist comment from an American.
So your law is just another rumbling mechanism, not a living thing? Your judges are not a kind of prothetic limb for "We the People", and your constitution survives without the soul of the people, the citizens will to uphold it?
You just need some judges and a court, and after that obedience, end of story?

What kind of spirit is that?

I read about a different version of the US view on law, e.g in the Nuremberg trials.

But I am already used to the fact the US .gov and dual state has a Groucho Marx approach to constitutional law, visible in renditions, torture, NSA, drones and so on and so on:
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."
 
 
-48 # hutchr 2014-01-04 13:43
What is Bernie's stand on economic pressure on Iran? Is he finally supporting the Obama group on diplomacy or is he still undecided? Strange that he has taken so long to decide. Is he hungry?
 
 
+1 # engelbach 2014-01-05 07:32
I have no idea what your question, Is he hungry, means.

The issue is not whether to support so-called "diplomacy" — which in the case of Iran means threat of military action — but whether the United States has the right to impose its will on another sovereign nation.

I think that's why Sanders is undecided.
 
 
+19 # brux 2014-01-04 14:00
Of course they spy on Congress - the big question is, who are "they"? There is a group that with enough spying they can get power, and with enough power they can change things. Who knows how many politicians are working secretly for some cabal that has an agenda of what they want to turn America into?

With the power, money, technology that exists now, there is no way any system can work if someone powerful does not want it to. The world is operating under huge negative energy that we cannot dispel, and while that is happening we race to the bottom, and some small minority profit from that.
 
 
+24 # USA2012??? 2014-01-04 14:05
The NSA spying disclosure is hard for a number of people to take due to so many of "us" being so well conditioned to believe that in most respects we're the good guys.

Finding out that in many instances we're no better than those for whom we've been pointing the finger of accusation for wrong doing just goes against the grain of what we've been condition to believe is being American.

It's a bitter pill to be informed that you've been betrayed to the extent this subversion indicates, and for so long to boot! This disclosure begs the question, "What else have you and others like you been doing that we don't presently know about that's detrimental to our well being?
 
 
+8 # propsguy 2014-01-04 14:57
i think the NSA SHOULD spy on congress- on behalf of WE, THE PEOPLE. they could tell us who is taking what bribes to vote on what bills, how many tax breaks they take that are denied us, what wars they are planning, what they've done with our social security money, where the bodies are buried, etc

we could use it all as evidence in our lawsuits against many of them- THE PEOPLE VS THEIR REPS and there could be lots and lots of jail time
 
 
+17 # TruthSeeker2 2014-01-04 15:56
Actually bribes to Congress are already public record. It is called, "campaign finance report". Also check out, "financial disclosures" of all members of congress. Someone only needs to compile it. Check out: followthemoney. org
 
 
+1 # RLF 2014-01-05 08:13
That is only the money we know about...there is a reason congress and the senate has not put an end to offshore banking.
 
 
+1 # PCPrincess 2014-01-05 23:36
You got that right. There is no way that some of the laws I've seen passed by conservative representatives that harmed hundreds of thousands of Americans and sometimes the whole country and even, the planet itself, were written and/or passed for a measly $10,000 contribution that was written 'on the record'. No, for this kind of corruption and downright fraud and deceit, there is some major money passing thru the halls of Congress, which is why so few are immune to its effects. This is why a man like Bernie Sanders should be heralded by all and made known to all so that the people know the types of people we really should be electing. Imagine if we had a majority of ethical reps like Mr. Sanders. We could actually expect changes in campaign laws and lobbyist laws, etc.
 
 
+11 # PABLO DIABLO 2014-01-04 15:34
GO Bernie GO.
 
 
+11 # oakes721 2014-01-04 16:02
The "Peekaboo" team at NSA will Tiptoe through the minefield of honest questions, leaving gaping holes where they haven't a leg to stand on.

I'm told that the U.S. dollar's greatest value is in that it is universally accepted everywhere, allowing trade to occur much more easily. Although such money itself renders the convenience of CHOICE to its holder, it is only through TRUST that it is valued at all. The exposure of the U.S. as the Worldwide Peeping Tom demolishes that trust and the subsequent defense and denials only amplify the ugliness of its criminal actions.

Stories about our representatives being compromised by blackmail and threats to their personal and private lives (correction: their once-private lives) have been well established. Congressmen must take a stand ~ for the NSA is rebuilding our very foundation on quicksand.
 
 
+18 # Billy Bob 2014-01-04 16:31
Bernie Sanders is asking the best question. As the article states, it's a mine field for them.

Either they are or they aren't - or they won't bother to answer.

No matter what, it will be VERY REVEALING.

Option 1 (they are): That means they are above the law, above elected officials, and we really don't have a functional democratic republic at all. They will have admitted as much.

Option 2: (they aren't): That would mean Congress is somehow better than the rest of us, and Congress is above the law and above scrutiny.

Option 3: (they don't bother to answer): Which will show that they are above the law and above any meaningful oversite.

---

No matter how you look at it, this question puts the NSA in the position of revealing a logical inconsistency and a deep-seated profound hypocrisy.
 
 
+14 # James Marcus 2014-01-04 17:12
Terminate this agency.Nor may it be not revived 'by another name called'
Agency supervisors, including 'President Inventor', go To JAIL, immediately. No trial. No release!
The charge is treasonous subversion of the US Constitution. TREASON.
 
 
+9 # JJS 2014-01-04 18:49
"Does the NSA Spy on Congress?"
Now that is a REAL "fart in church" question?
You go Bernie!
 
 
+7 # RODNOX 2014-01-04 20:40
dear NSA employees---don t you ever wonder who spies on you ? do you even know who you are spying for ?
 
 
+1 # Robbee 2014-01-04 21:46
We Americas need a national bill of rights to protect us from all manner of spying, public and private, and to protect us consumers from anyone who sells us something, hires us, or otherwise obtains information about us (so far we have privacy rights to our health care info) sharing any information we provide them to anyone else.

If Snowden's disclosures prompt Congress to enact a bill of rights, he has done America a great service, You go, Bernie!
 
 
+6 # karenvista 2014-01-05 03:38
Quoting Robbee:
We Americas need a national bill of rights to protect us from all manner of spying, public and private, and to protect us consumers from anyone who sells us something, hires us, or otherwise obtains information about us (so far we have privacy rights to our health care info) sharing any information we provide them to anyone else.

If Snowden's disclosures prompt Congress to enact a bill of rights, he has done America a great service, You go, Bernie!



We have a "Bill of Rights." It's called the "Bill of Rights." The question is whether our government honors the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Apparently they don't, and they will lie to hide their treason.
 
 
+5 # ishmael 2014-01-04 23:28
Note that Mr Sanders has never received a reply to his very simple, straightforward question.

The NSA is a throwback to the typically seamy GOP tactics of the Watergate-era Nixon White House.
 
 
+4 # ishmael 2014-01-04 23:42
Of course the whole thing is comical, given that the NSA is funded by Senate actions.

Great work there, US Congress.
 
 
+2 # karenvista 2014-01-05 03:42
Quoting ishmael:
Of course the whole thing is comical, given that the NSA is funded by Senate actions.

Great work there, US Congress.


All funding matters must be initiated by the House, according to the Constitution. The Senate must confirm or deny or work out disagreements through a conference committee. If confirmed it goes to the President for signature or veto.
 
 
+2 # Marxian 2014-01-05 04:06
We were warned about this several years ago. I will remind everyone of the lyrics to the song "Monster" by Steppenwolf:

"There's a monster on the loose and he's got our heads into a noose,
And he just sits there - WATCHING!
 
 
0 # bissonmw 2014-01-05 09:06
Billy Joe Littletree- If what Congress does is or should be transparent to the public, why does it matter if NSA spies on Congress?
 
 
+4 # The Saint 2014-01-05 09:46
Sanders' comment brings back a host of memories around a little thing called "Watergate." Illegally gaining access to the records of political opponents.If Nixon had had the "terrorist" jargon he might have stayed.As with Snowden, people who have or release records of wrongdoing (a la Nixon's paranoia) must be labelled traitors, tied to terrorism and damaging national security. Republicans should be wary but of course they support the constitutional breech by government. (What say?) The FISA court is a joke so you can't take their endorsement seriously. All the other NSA people who know/knew what was going on chose to take
the "I was just following orders" defense. And you wonder why we need colleges and universities that actually make people think and learn to ask the ethical questions and not just the ones on how to be more quantitatively efficient.
 
 
+2 # freelybe 2014-01-06 02:29
Who is responsible for those running the NSA and who can remove them from their posts? Who hired them? Who do they answer to?
 
 
+2 # freelybe 2014-01-06 02:30
Congress, Clapper lied to you and to us. Watcha gonna do about it???
 

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