The administration insists, perhaps even accurately, that allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true, and that there are many layers of technical and supervisory checks in place. (Although Edward Snowden sure seems to contradict that version.) But that's not really the point. Say this administration is followed by a paranoid president (say, Ted "The Anointed One" Cruz), with a system in place that allows him to gather private information on anyone who stands in his way, maybe because the Baby Jesus told him to. Are we to assume he wouldn't use it? Do we trust him not to? If it's there, sooner or later, someone will abuse it.
The latest Guardian release by Glenn Greenwald:
A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.
The files shed light on one of Snowden's most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.
"I, sitting at my desk," said Snowden, could "wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email".
US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden's assertion: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."
But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.