A powerful Senator – a member of the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, the Subcommittee on Defense of the Appropriations Committee, and Formerly on the Select Committee On Intelligence (Lindsey Graham) – asked the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:
- If the government was spying on him
- Whether his identity had been “unmasked”
- And whether this information could be used for blackmail by politicians who didn’t like him
The counsel for the intelligence agency refused to respond:
What should we make of that?
Washington's Blog asked the highest-level NSA whistleblower of all time - Bill Binney* - what he thought.
They won't tell him because his communications with foreigners and domestically [background] are being collected and probably targeted. That's why they don't ever want to tell senators or representatives or the president or federal judges etc. their communications are collected and scanned.
Further, they won’t tell them how many US citizens are in their databases … again because it’s about 280 million by my estimates.
All of these acts are crimes against the constitution and laws of the US which should put them in jail. (see attached)
These letters are a direct violation of the intelligence acts of 1947 and 1978. But, who cares, the intelligence community runs the US government anyway.
The two letters Binney sent to us are attached at the end of this post. The first letter – to NSA whistleblower Russel Tice – says that he can’t talk to anyone in Congress about what’s really going on.
The second letter – to Senators Wyden and Udall, both on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – says that the NSA can’t reveal how many Americans it has spied on because that would “likely impede NSA’s mission” and “would itself violate the privacy of US persons.”
[The NSA’s letter to Russ Tice] shows the arrogance of the intelligence community that they can, in writing, say that the congress is not cleared to know about intelligence programs.
By law, they are required to keep the Congress informed of all their programs – for Covert programs that requirement is to the Gang of 8.
The Washington Times explained in 2006:
Renee Seymour, director of NSA special access programs stated in a Jan. 9 letter to Russ Tice that he should not testify about secret electronic intelligence programs because members and staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees do not have the proper security clearances for the secret intelligence.
(And see this.)
Binney previously pointed out how absurd this is:
Russ Tice … was prepared to testify to Congress to this, too, and so NSA sent him a letter saying, we agree that you have a right to go to Congress to testify, but we have to advise you that the intelligence committees that you want to testify to are not cleared for the programs you want to speak about. Now, that fundamentally is an open admission … by NSA that they are violating the intelligence acts of 1947 and 1978, which require NSA and all other intelligence agencies to notify Congress of all the programs that they’re running so they can have effective oversight, which they’ve never had anyway.
In case you think this is a one-off, remember that the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said in 2007:
Do you think that because I’m Chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say I want it, and they [the intelligence agencies] give it to me? They control it. All of it. ALL of it. ALL THE TIME. I only get – and my committee only gets – what they WANT to give me.
Remember that the NSA was created in secret … and Congress wasn’t even notified.
During the Vietnam war, the NSA spied on two prominent politicians: Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker. Church was the chairman of the committee investigating wrongdoing by the NSA and other intelligence agencies.
To this day, Congress members get more information about NSA spying from reading the newspaper than they get in classified NSA briefings.
Congressman Justin Amash said that the NSA would only divulge information in classified briefings if Congress guessed at the right questions:
Amash said that intelligence officials are often evasive during classified briefings and reveal little new information unless directly pressed.
“You don’t have any idea what kind of things are going on,” Amash said. “So you have to start just spitting off random questions. Does the government have a moon base? Does the government have a talking bear? Does the government have a cyborg army? If you don’t know what kind of things the government might have, you just have to guess and it becomes a totally ridiculous game of twenty questions.“
A senior staffer for the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee – one of the biggest apologists for NSA spying- confirms Amash’s statement:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in August that the committee has less information about, and conducts less oversight of, intelligence-gathering that relies solely on presidential authority. She said she planned to ask for more briefings on those programs.
“In general, the committee is far less aware of operations conducted under 12333,” said a senior committee staff member, referring to Executive Order 12333, which defines the basic powers and responsibilities of the intelligence agencies. “I believe the NSA would answer questions if we asked them, and if we knew to ask them, but it would not routinely report these things, and in general they would not fall within the focus of the committee.”
And the courts don’t have any oversight over the intelligence agencies either:
- A Federal judge who was on the secret spying court for 3 years says that it’s a kangaroo court
- Even the current judges on the secret spying court now admit that they’re out of the loop and powerless to exercise real oversight.
- When these judges raised concerns about NSA spying, the Justice Department completely ignored them
- The secret spying court recently noted that there is an institutional “lack of candor” at the NSA, and that the agency’s illegal spying constitutes a “very serious” constitutional issue
In other words, the intelligence agencies are rogue.
But what about Senator Graham’s question about whether someone who didn’t like him could blackmail him with information gained through spying?
Postscript: Here are the letters which Binney sent us:
*Binney is the NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information, who served as the senior technical director within the agency, who managed six thousand NSA employees, the 36-year NSA veteran widely regarded as a “legend” within the agency and the NSA’s best-ever analyst and code-breaker, who mapped out the Soviet command-and-control structure before anyone else knew how, and so predicted Soviet invasions before they happened (“in the 1970s, he decrypted the Soviet Union’s command system, which provided the US and its allies with real-time surveillance of all Soviet troop movements and Russian atomic weapons”).