The NSA Tells Congress What to Think And Say About the NSA: Checks and Balances in Action

Julian Sanchez at Cato with some bitter but worthwhile examples of how checks and balances really work when it comes to congressional oversight on executive action, especially when "national security" is (supposedly) involved:

Blogger Mike Masnick recently came across a series of talking points that the National Security Agency provided its putative “overseers” on the congressional intelligence committees back when it first became known that President George W. Bush had authorized an unlawful warrantless surveillance program.  (These talking points have apparently been publicly available for some time, but have escaped attention.)

Some pieces of NSA’s script for its legislative vassals are merely humorous. For instance:

I have personally met the dedicated men and women of the NSA. The country owes them an enormous debt of gratitude for their superb efforts to keep us all secure.

One perk of this sort of ventriloquism, I suppose, is that you can dispense entirely with modesty when heaping praise on yourself.

Other points on the list, however, appear to be outright falsehoods.  For instance:

I can say that the Program must continue. It has detected terrorist plots that could have resulted in death or injury to Americans both at home and abroad.

As best we can tell from the unclassified version of the Inspectors General’s Report on the President’s Surveillance Program, this is not true.  Rather, while it appears to have had somevalue, the program “generally played a limited role in the FBI’s overall counterterrorism effort,” and “was rarely the sole basis for an intelligence success.” On the whole, it “was not of greater value than other sources of intelligence,” and “most [intelligence] officials had difficulty citing specific instances where [the program] had directly contributed to counterterrorism successes.” .....

Returning to the talking points, there’s this:

The Program is not “data mining”; it targets only international communications closely connected to al Qai’da or an affiliated group.

Two deceptions for the price of one! As we now know, the original “Stellar Wind” program did indeed involve data mining as well as warrantless wiretapping. Once the program was revealed, however, intelligence officials retroactively decided to make up something called the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” as a label for only the warrantless wiretapping component of the program. Then, even though the NSA surveillance program did involve data mining, they could claim that the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” didn’t use data mining, because they’d defined it (without telling anyone) as the non-data-mining parts of the real larger program....

Also, as the Inspectors General concluded, “most [of the surveillance program's] leads were determined not to have any connection to terrorism.” 

Reason on the NSA.

I wrote for Reason all the way back in 1992 on Congress' general tendency to become ideological prisoners of what they tend to hear from lobbyists of all sorts; and the most dangerous lobby in Washington is, as always, the government itself.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • SIV||

    That Bush guy again.It's like he never left.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    Romney would have done it too!

  • ||

    Possibly. We'll never know. It's got me positively tearing up inside.

  • SIV||

    I see Sanchez pussied out on his threat to quit Cato?
    I'm so surprised.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Just like those threatening to leave the country if X is elected?

  • Caleb Turberville||

    OT: Henry Rollins thinks that making college free or cheap will end "disaster capitalism."

  • ||

    That's because he's a Loose Nut.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    you gotta be able to trust someone with ink like his

  • Caleb Turberville||

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Flag_(band)

    ...Which is weird since Black Flag was known for their "DIY ethic."

  • ||

    Rollins is not Black Flag, he was merely their singer for a while.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    I just think it's a amazing a college drop-out who scrimped and saved and lived a very DIY-lifestyle is now telling the rest of the world "Hey, college should be a basic right. IT'S NECESSARY FOR OUR SURVIVAL!"

  • ||

    The TEAM groupthink overpowers everything else.

  • General Butt Naked||

    The TEAM groupthink overpowers everything else

    It was very disappointing finding out that a lot of the supposed rebellious punk rockers of yore were just big government shills. Yeah Hank, taxes totally fuckin' rock, why don't you go get another tattoo you fucking twat.

  • Ted S.||

    Always with the racist flags.

  • iggy||

    In other news, Henry Rollins doesn't understand how scarcity works.

  • ||

    I went to a Henry Rollins spoken word show that was immediately prior to the 2008 election and his main theme was "even if you have absofuckinglutely no clue what the hell is going on, you must vote".

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Did "going to a Henry Rollins spoken word show" sound like good idea to you?

  • ||

    I like his music and I figured it would be entertaining, at the very least. I was sadly mistaken.

  • JW||

    At least you received an education that night.

    Never waste your hard earned money on his drivel ever again.

  • Ted S.||

    I'm OK with paying the professors minimum wage.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I'm not.

    Fuck free college.

  • Juice||

    If it's an adjunct professor, they already make below minimum wage. :-)

  • JW||

    "Disaster capitalism." Is that welfare-fascism dog whistling for "Not free shit?"

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Watch this if you dare.

  • JW||

    Nope. Life's too short.

  • Caleb Turberville||

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Yes. Her husband is Avi Lewis
    and her father-in-law is Stephen Lewis

    It's one giant lefty family.

  • Coeus||

    I am continually ashamed that I thought he was a deep thinker in when I was in high school.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Disaster capitalism? My neighbors and I engaged in that. It was fun! Then regular capitalism started operating again as the hurricane damage was straightened out.

  • ||

    These talking points have apparently been publicly available for some time, but have escaped attention

    There's the 4th estate, doing its job again!

  • JW||

    Doggedly incompetent, they are.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "When I need your opinion, I'll give it to you."

  • Tulpa Doom||

    I should try this for my student evaluations.

    "Dr Tulpa showed sincere interest in the learning of every student in the class, and never cut off idiots asking questions that he answered 5 minutes before. Also, his personal hygeine is impeccable."

  • db||

    You get to pick the questions on those?

  • Tulpa Doom||

    Unfortunately, no. No doubt they would be much better if I could.

  • The Derider||

    What do you teach?

  • Sernylan||

    Ebonics

  • Tulpa Doom||

    Calculus in the morning, bestial mechanics in the afternoon.

  • General Butt Naked||

    "Associate staff member Dr. Tulpa is like totally awesome and stuff, like yeah. Without him we wouldn't have ever figured out that int(cos(x) dx is Mitt Romney. Or that the second derivative of tan(x^2) is Mitt Romney. Or that you can figure out the change in Mitt Romneys over Mitt Romney by taking the integral of Mitt Romney from negative Mitt Romney to positive Mitt Romney. Awesome!"

  • Tulpa Doom||

    You wound me.

  • Ted S.||

    Who gets to unwind you?

  • ||

    Your review is obviously fake. There's obviously no such thing as a negative Mitt Romney.

  • ||

    Three branches with checks and balances? 4th estate as a guardian against tyranny and corruption? The government is legitimate because it draws its power from the constitution?

    All lies.

  • Almanian.||

    B-b-b-b-b-b-but....SAY IT AIN'T SO, SUTHENBOY!! SAY IT AIN'T SO!!!!!

    *runs away crying*

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Is it wrong that I think Tegan is cuter?

  • JW||

    You idiot. That's Dave.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Is it wrong that I think Tegan is cuter?

    Nope, couldn't have a horse race without a difference of opinion.
    Sara looks rather a lot like my first wife. Three decades ago.

  • ||

    Horse race is an apt description with those two.

  • ||

    Neigh, heller! That bit is the mane reason es-shoeing Autotunes-using teeny-boppers behooves you.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Regulatory capture, not just for the Executive Branch!

  • Killazontherun||

    You would expect this sort of behavior from the CIA, but from the NSA, whose men are dutiful and valorous, and whose women are truthful and fetching, this is outrageous.

  • The Derider||

    Do you think the reason Rand Paul won't go to intelligence briefings because he's worried about being brainwashed by NSA talking points?

    Assuming that politicians actually believe the talking points they use in public, particularly regarding classified information, is incredibly naive.

  • Calidissident||

    Why am I not surprised you're making excuses for this?

  • Tulpa Doom||

    If he goes to the briefing he can be accused of divulging classified info if he talks about it later.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    No, Derp, Rand doesn't go to them because he doesn't want to be associated with lying pricks at the NSA.

    Which reminds me about Susan Rice...

  • Jordan||

    NATIONAL GREATNESS! DERPMOCRACY!

  • JeremyR||

    I knew someone who worked at the NSA.

    Or at least, I didn't know he worked there until he got fired. For punching out his boss.

  • Killazontherun||

    I'd never fire someone who kept me honest like that.

  • AuH2O||

    Tulpa is the cuntiest cunt who ever cunted.

  • ||

    THAT'S DR. TULPA TO YOU. HE TEACHES THE CALCULUS TO FRESHMEN SO GIVE HIM THE RESPECT HE DESERVES.

  • ||

    Yes, but does he make more money than you? With a PhDoctorate, I'm sure he does. This is the crux of the issue, and MNG (Rest in Piss) has set that bar. Otherwise, your post is unsubstantial and clearly lacking merit. -)

  • Mr. FIFY||

    AND he teaches the bestial mechanics.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    So I get ragged on not only for my own statements, but also MNG's. Joy.

    I suppose you wouldn't mind if I ripped on you for what Dr. Sanjay Gupta says on CNN.

  • John3||

    Silly Congress. Don't they understand that they report to the Central Committee, who, in turn, report to the Politburo?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Here's a non-related laugh riot from the HuffPo:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....23739.html

    I laughed for almost thirty seconds.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    And another - and this one is even funnier!

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....f=politics

  • waaminn||

    lol, the NSA is about as useless as the TSA!

    www.WebAnon.tk

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement