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Countdown: James Risen--The Eavesdropping Continues

From Countdown, James Risen on the NSA's domestic surveillance program which has been found to have accessed the personal emails of former President B
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From Countdown, James Risen on the NSA's domestic surveillance program which has been found to have accessed the personal emails of former President Bill Clinton, along with millions of other Americans' mails and phone calls.

Keith asks just what Congressional oversight is in place to prevent this and whether the Obama administration has actually put some oversight in place to end the over-collection of data that occurred under the Bush administration. Risen notes Eric Holder's unwillingness to say the program is illegal during Congressional hearings, which means we aren't going to see anyone prosecuted for spying on every American illegally any time soon. Of course with so much of this being classified we're going to be lucky to ever find out just what the NSA has been doing. I'm inclined to assume the worst since these people have given me no reason not to.

When or how we ever get Big Brother out of our lives is a question yet to be answered. If spying on a former President and a former member of the House Intelligence Committee isn't enough to raise some concerns from our political elite and put a stop to some of this, I'm not sure what is.

For more on this you can read Risen's article at the New York Times: E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress. From the article:

The National Security Agency is facing renewed scrutiny over the extent of its domestic surveillance program, with critics in Congress saying its recent intercepts of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans are broader than previously acknowledged, current and former officials said.

The agency’s monitoring of domestic e-mail messages, in particular, has posed longstanding legal and logistical difficulties, the officials said.

Since April, when it was disclosed that the intercepts of some private communications of Americans went beyond legal limits in late 2008 and early 2009, several Congressional committees have been investigating. Those inquiries have led to concerns in Congress about the agency’s ability to collect and read domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis, officials said. Supporting that conclusion is the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation.

Both the former analyst’s account and the rising concern among some members of Congress about the N.S.A.’s recent operation are raising fresh questions about the spy agency.

Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, has been investigating the incidents and said he had become increasingly troubled by the agency’s handling of domestic communications.

In an interview, Mr. Holt disputed assertions by Justice Department and national security officials that the overcollection was inadvertent.

“Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” Mr. Holt said.

Other Congressional officials raised similar concerns but would not agree to be quoted for the record.

Mr. Holt added that few lawmakers could challenge the agency’s statements because so few understood the technical complexities of its surveillance operations. “The people making the policy,” he said, “don’t understand the technicalities.”

The inquiries and analyst’s account underscore how e-mail messages, more so than telephone calls, have proved to be a particularly vexing problem for the agency because of technological difficulties in distinguishing between e-mail messages by foreigners and by Americans. A new law enacted by Congress last year gave the N.S.A. greater legal leeway to collect the private communications of Americans so long as it was done only as the incidental byproduct of investigating individuals “reasonably believed” to be overseas.

But after closed-door hearings by three Congressional panels, some lawmakers are asking what the tolerable limits are for such incidental collection and whether the privacy of Americans is being adequately protected.

“For the Hill, the issue is a sense of scale, about how much domestic e-mail collection is acceptable,” a former intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because N.S.A. operations are classified. “It’s a question of how many mistakes they can allow.”

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