As published in Delaware Liberal Blog by Progressive Populist.
James Clapper, the Obama Administration’s Director of National
Intelligence has said NSA does not “wittingly” collect data on
citizens. General Keith Alexander, NSA’s Director as well as his
predecessor have testified that NSA is not spying on or collecting data
on citizens. Even the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee has
told the media that the American intelligence community is not
intrusively monitoring the communications of our citizens without a
So the House Intelligence Committee is clearly in the pocket of the
government institutions whose activities it is supposed to be monitoring
on behalf of the American people. With the revelations provided by
Eric Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and other journalists and
whistleblowers, we know the opposite is the truth. We are now living in
the Surveillance State many of us once feared would reappear after the
Senator Frank Church hearings in 1975, which resulted in legislation to
get a rogue intelligence apparatus under control. Sure enough, here it
Finally we hear from Senator Feinstein, who recently stated that
intelligence data collection was no different from the functioning of
local grand juries. Now she acknowledges that unaccountable monitoring
of phone conversations of many of our allies is a breach of trust and an
impediment to our ally relationships. Even hawkish former California
congresswoman Jane Harmon now advocates reforms to rein in our
It seems to me that there are at least two major criteria on which to
evaluate the massive scale of surveillance being undertaken by NSA, as
well as the various intelligence missioned agencies they service.
First, the damage being done to trust in our government by our citizens
as a result of the infringement of our civil liberties by our post 9-11
Patriot Act. Second, the results produced by NSA and other
intelligence/counterintelligence activities as a result of the massive
ramping up of domestic surveillance.
Various polls and studies are widely disseminated by the media
showing public trust of our federal government at an all time rock
bottom. The damage is clear. Very similar in fact to the post Watergate
period. In the surveillance arena, the Church Commission did a major
service to our democracy with the reforms instituted then to enhance
oversight and transparency. Over time, public trust greatly improved.
We can do it again through congressional work on Patriot Act reforms
and aggressive oversight of our intelligence apparatus. The mission of
NSA, originally focused on foreign signal intelligence, needs to be
significantly reviewed and clarified. The FISA court process currently
does not involve advocacy of citizen civil liberties and should,
according to former Senator Gary Hart and others he is working with on
the due process component to our surveillance policy. In addition,
House and Senate congressional oversight needs revitalization, as do
their security clearance policies which deny key leaders needed
information on intelligence operations.
Rep. Alan Grayson points out that non-Intelligence Committee members
are routinely denied information from both the committee and the
intelligence agencies they need to properly advocate for the privacy and
civil liberties of their constituents due to absurd policies on
security clearances. Further, he argues that he and his peers are
routinely lied to and misled about intelligence matters impacting their
constituents they are elected to serve, in the name of “security”. He
argues that the Intelligence Committee is complicit with the agencies in
misleading and denying access.
In the results area, there are already some distressing indications
that the disproportionately huge increases in our domestic surveillance
are not yielding huge results. In fact, the results are miniscule. NSA
has reported that 54 terror attacks have been thwarted; 25 in Europe, 11
in Asia, 5 in Africa and an underwhelming 13 in the USA.
42 of these 54 were interrupted plots and 12 involved terrorist
activities of material support. Surveillance of foreigners, ours and
that of foreign governments, yielded 1/2 of these. Four plots have
been detailed by intelligence agencies, including a San Diego terror
supporter sending money to Al Shabab in Somalia, a NYC subway plot
foiled, a Chicago supporter of terror providing support for the unfoiled
Mumbai attack and a plot against the NY Stock Exchange foiled.
Senator Ron Wyden pointed out that of these four terror projects,
only two were significantly impacted by Federal surveillance. He also
pointed out that of the 54 plots, the evidence suggests the
overwhelming majority were foiled not by surveillance but by
traditional informant help.
Peter Bergen of CNN estimated that of 33 terror plots derailed he
studied, the evidence showed that of 29 were stopped not by surveillance
but tips and informants.
Are we getting any kind of a reasonable return on investment in our
surveillance of our own people in conjunction with both the massive
human and financial commitment of national resources ? It sure doesn’t
appear so to me. A tough minded audit of results and payback are
Of course the American public would and should not have privy to much
of the how-to of our surveillance and intelligence gathering process
for obvious reasons. But through our representative democracy process,
our elected law and policy makers must have much more hands on oversight
of NSA and other agencies who have, as history has shown, the natural
inclination to overreach and deny access to those who are charged with
both maintaining our security as well as our civil liberties.