Rand Paul

Rand Paul Rightly "Appalled" That NSA Spied on Members of Congress

We don't need more surveillance of Americans, says Paul. "We need...more targeted surveillance."


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A couple of years ago, President Obama pledged to stop the relatively indiscriminate surveiling of the leaders of American allies. Now, the Obama administration has been caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar again, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current and former U.S. officials said. Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The U.S., pursuing a nuclear arms agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that inflamed mistrust between the two countries and planted a political minefield at home when Mr. Netanyahu later took his campaign against the deal to Capitol Hill.

When this sort of activity first surfaced, most of the outrage was directed at the seemingly two-faced behavior our leaders directed at our alies. There's a strong argument that being nonplussed by such revelations is totally fake on the part of world leaders.

This time, though, NSA hijinks are rippling through the U.S. Congresss because it turns out communications with American lawmakers were also being raked in:

The National Security Agency's targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears—an "Oh-s— moment," one senior U.S. official said—that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.

White House officials believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu's campaign. They also recognized that asking for it was politically risky. So, wary of a paper trail stemming from a request, the White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold, officials said. "We didn't say, 'Do it,' " a senior U.S. official said. "We didn't say, 'Don't do it.' "

Read more here.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of the first major political figures to consistently call out the government on unwarranted surveillance, is hopping mad. The Republican presidential candidate told Fox News:

"I'm appalled by it and this is exactly why we need more NSA reform."

"The debate in Washington right now is unfortunately been going the other way since the San Bernardino shooting. Everybody's saying 'Oh, we need more surveillance of Americans.' In reality what we need is more targeted surveillance," Paul suggested.

Since the 9/11 attacks, there has been a consistent effort simply to increase via dragnet the total amount of information (whether actual phone conversations, browser histories, metadata, and the like) regardless of warrants or even serious leads that might be valuable for intelligence and law-enforcement services. Paul and a too-small number of privacy-minded legislators have consistently pushed for the limiting of bulk collections and other activities, arguing that warrantless gathering of such material is not only unconstitutional but ineffective. They've scored real, if not total, victories, too, such as The USA Freedom Act.

"I'm not against surveillance. But I am against indiscriminate surveillance," Paul told Fox News.

That sounds about right, doesn't it? Read more and watch video at The Daily Caller.

At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece detailing how most "NSA cheerleaders discover value of privacy only when their own is violated." Such surveillance-state stalwarts as Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) never had a problem with indiscriminate hoovering up of material until they learned their conversations were also in the mix.

And then there's Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.),

one of the few members of Congress who could compete with Hoekstra and Harman for the title of Most Subservient Defender of the Intelligence Community ("I can honestly say I don't know a bigger booster of the CIA than Senator Feinstein," said her colleague Sen. Martin Heinrich) — learned in 2014 that she and her torture-investigating Senate Committee had been spied on by the CIA. Feinstein — who, until then, had never met an NSA mass surveillance program she didn't adore — was utterly filled with rage over this discovery, arguing that "the CIA's search of the staff's computers might well have violated … the Fourth Amendment." The Fourth Amendment! She further pronounced that she had "grave concerns" that the CIA snooping may also have "violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution."

Greenwald underscores how government claims that Americans' communications are only swept up "incidentally" is hogwash. For instance, "The 2008 FISA law enacted by Congress had as one of its principal, explicit purposes allowing the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans' conversations without warrants of any kind." 

Read the whole thing here.

Watch Reason's interview with William Binney, the NSA whistleblower who is called "Edward Snowden 1.0." A Vietnam vet and NSA lifer who grew disillusioned with the agency's behavior, explains why gathering more data actually gets in the way of successful intelligence gathering and how reform must start at the top of the government.

NEXT: 2015: The Year in Fear

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  1. “But..but…if the NSA doesn’t spy on us the terrorists will GET US!!!! OHMAHGAWD WE’LL ALL DIE!!!!”

    1. Indeed, let’s not be silly. The members of Congress need to be watched over just like other Americans, to make sure they don’t engage in inappropriately deadpan “parody” or any other kind of trigger-speech to stir up unwanted controversy and damage reputations. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:


  2. “Appaulled”

  3. “In reality what we need is more targeted surveillance”

    Simple. Develop profiles. Surveil profiled persons.

    Oh, wait,…profiles! Bad!

    How many will die for the religion of PC?
    How many will have their 4th Amendment rights violated for the religion of PC? (300+ million)

  4. So, the Surveillance State was unable to prevent the Boston Marathon bombing and San Bernadino. But, they sure as hell were able to dig up dirt on our allies and our own legislators to advance the President’s domestic political agenda.

    This is why Paul is absolutely right about this. Mass surveillance is pretty much useless as an instrument of national security. You wind up completely overwhelmed by the amount of data you need to sift through to achieve any actionable conclusion. What it is good for is digging up dirt on people and spying on people who have an expectation of privacy.

    1. So much this.

  5. The government must be given all possible tools to fight the War On Terror!

    What? The government is spying on the nobility? THIS OUTRAGE WILL NOT STAND!

  6. At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece detailing how most “NSA cheerleaders discover value of privacy only when their own is violated.” Such surveillance-state stalwarts as Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) never had a problem with indiscriminate hoovering up of material until they learned their conversations were also in the mix.

    Reminds me of when Rob Portman changed his position on same-sex marriage because his son came out.

    1. People have to be subjected to the system they support in order to realize how onerous it is. Also, better late than never.

  7. it turns out communications with American lawmakers were also being raked in

    You mean to tell me the NSA was surveilling cabinet officials and important men like Koskinen and Pistole?

  8. Well, if the NSA’s mission is to keep an eye on America’s enemies, it appears they finally got one right.

  9. Open letter to most of Congress:

    What does it matter if you don’t have anything to hide?

  10. This actually is a pretty big deal. There’s no real percentage in blackmailing me, but getting leverage on members of congress could pay big.

    1. Scary how this coincides with the 9,000 year anniversary of this practice.

  11. What makes governments dangerous? Power.

    What does government surveillance do? Increases government power.

    “You have nothing to worry about if you have done nothing wrong.”

    That depends on who is defining what is wrong and what is right.

    Are political opponents doing something wrong?

    Are unfavorable news reporters or agencies doing something wrong?

    What happens when the President (any President) or his devotees, who can find out about anyone in the US, does not like someone and decides to do something about it; whether it be political or personal?

    Government officials seem oblivious that the potential for abuse from these programs is astronomical. We can not have government surveillance that in the hands of less than desirable government officials (which is most of them) can silence or destroy dissenters and political opposition.

    It is not about why they pass such ridiculous laws or the purity of their intentions, it is about what some future demented politician might use these laws for.

    1. Agreed, though I would quibble about the last sentence.

      I am fond of pointing out to BHOmaniacs that, if some cop in Honolulu ca 1980 had decided to make one more pot bust at the right moment, their idol wouldn’t even have a vote, let alone be POTUS.

      1. I blame Dunphy

  12. The most significant thing is, the NSA has not stopped one terrorist attack.
    Like Emperor Palpatine fooling Anakin into becoming a Sith, they convince the public their plan is needed and necessary to counter terrorism, but in fact they only use it to illegally snoop on the American people.

    1. The tactic is at least as old as Sulla’s dictatorship. I’m sure there are older precedents.

  13. “Like Emperor Palpatine”

    Walter, not everything is about Viet Nam.

  14. The national security establishment is subject to the same incentives as all other bureaucracies; fail to deal with a problem afflicting the people, blame it on insufficient money and power, pressure Congress into giving more of both so it can appear to be “doing something” about whatever problem concerns people, profit.

    It’s bad enough with, say, education, but with counterterrorism, tolerating those incentives is like naming your bodyguard the beneficiary of a life insurance policy on you. And people wonder why they don’t seem to be effective.

  15. It would be interesting to see what Sen. Dianne Feinstein has to hide. Oh, the outrage, having rights-violations you support bite you in the ass!

  16. If I understand correctly Rand Paul condemns the surveillance that caught up US lawmakers and Netanyahu but not with, for example, Turkery’s Erdogan.

    He can’t really believe that the US and Israel are tied at the hip and that Netanyahu’s machinations against the US are not dangerous.

    In this report Netanyahu is accused of bribing US lawmakers. Such activity should be the focus of surveillance.

  17. Rand’s co-workers deserve it. More relevant is the extent to which the NSA us able to use phonetaps and looter prohibitionist laws and treaties to blackmail, coerce and imprison politicians and their wealthy backers everywhere else in the world. By first selling short and then so destabilizing foreign economies, the US could have sucked enough money out of the derivatives market to shore up the collapsing economy and transfer stupid cupidity abroad. Both the German and Brazilian presidents have gathered evidence their own phones and others in their governments were tapped by Amerika’s National Socialist Arbeiterpartei. Did the telescreens not cover this news?

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  19. Of course the NSA incidentally scoops up congressional conversations, and the worry of what they have will prevent any real reform.

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