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.' "
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."
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.