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Senator Bernie Sanders Asks NSA If Agency Is Spying On Congress 363

Posted by timothy
from the friends-of-ron dept.
cold fjord writes with this excerpt from Fox News: "A U.S. senator on Friday pressed the National Security Agency on whether its controversial spying practices extend to monitoring members of Congress. 'Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials?' Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asked in a letter to NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander released from the senator's office. Sanders, a self-described 'democratic socialist,' defines spying as monitoring the phone calls, emails and internet traffic of elected officials."
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Senator Bernie Sanders Asks NSA If Agency Is Spying On Congress

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  • Well, uh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msauve (701917) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:28AM (#45864593)
    The NSA has already shown a willingness to lie to Congress, what does he expect? They're an equal opportunity usurper.
  • Wanna bet? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by no-body (127863) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:41AM (#45864653)
    NSA: No
    Reality: "censored" (reducted) due to harming security
    People's thoughts: 50% true, 50% BS
    Result: Nothing happens, business as usual
  • I hope they are... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wjcofkc (964165) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:50AM (#45864679)
    And if so I hope they either:

    a. Admit it.
    b. Deny it then get caught lying about it.

    Either way the fallout would be both spectacular and likely productive from a citizen standpoint. If either a or b happens and it gets swept under the rug, then at least we can be certain that the United States is no longer run by the United States government. Sometimes I wonder if I will one day be answering the question, "Where were you when the Constitution and Bill of Rights were permanently suspended?"
  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:57AM (#45864719)

    we aren't conducting illegal spying on any individual member of Congress.

    Hair splitting truth!

    What IS going on:

    we are spying on all members of Congress and everyone else.

  • Re:oh sure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Intron (870560) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:01AM (#45864743)

    now that HE might be being spied on he suddenly cares?

    Congress has constitutional protection from the executive branch, so spying on them would likely be a major problem, even if spying on the rest of us is "legal". Also, lying to Congress is frowned upon. I think this puts Alexander in a real bind if he has to sign a letter to Congress.

  • by Felix Da Rat (93827) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:01AM (#45864745)

    One of the things Bernie did worth noting is clearly stating what he means as spying:

    "Spying" would include gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business?

    Part of me thinks he has evidence of them engaging in something like that, much like Wyden asking Clapper about the wholesale collection effort. But with the clarification, and coming in written form, it makes a 'Not Wittingly' answer less liely (granted, Wyden did forewarm Clapper of the question, and did give his office time to change their answer afterwards).

  • Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Patent Lover (779809) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:07AM (#45864769)
    If you're going to give this idiotic organization an unlimited budget with zero oversight you reap what you sow.
  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:09AM (#45864781)

    God forbid that our enemies discover that the NSA is willing to commit treason by performing espionage (an act of war) against America.

  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ebno-10db (1459097) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:15AM (#45864801)

    The NSA has already shown a willingness to lie to Congress, what does he expect?

    To make some important points. To anyone who needs it spelled out, the question serves two purposes. First, it plants a concern in people's minds by suggesting a possibility. Second, when the NSA is caught spying on congress, it's one more lie to hang them by (a fellow can hope, can't he?). It's all the better question because his fellow congresscritters will be more upset by the NSA spying on them than mere constituents.

  • Re:NSA's response (Score:1, Insightful)

    by ebno-10db (1459097) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:20AM (#45864827)

    who votes along Obama's party line

    Which in issues like the NSA is the same as Bush's party line was. Still, keep believing you can score political points by pretending that the R's are better defenders of the 4th Amendment than the D's. I've also got a bridge to sell you.

  • Re:And if so... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ebno-10db (1459097) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:26AM (#45864857)

    The sad thing about congressional corruption is that most of the information about it is public. Being corrupt behind closed doors is one thing, but doing it openly is a mark of true contempt.

  • Double question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:27AM (#45864865)

    Multiple questions never work when you deal with spooks. If the answer to any part of the question is no, then they will simply answer no.

    It can be very annoying when you work with spooks. They will look you carefully in the eyes, consider what you asked and and after a few seconds answer with a one liner, that never actually tells you anything.

  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:28AM (#45864871) Journal

    More importantly, why is a member of Congress more important that I am? So it is bad to spy on me but REALLY BAD to spy on someone just because they are elected? Fucking elitism at its finest.

  • by Daemonik (171801) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:41AM (#45864941) Homepage

    A member of Congress or the Senate on a day to day basis will deal with 100x the sensitive material you will. Furthermore there's the question of who gets access to the records & can they abuse it to blackmail govt. officials or otherwise effect policy decisions.

    So yes you are not a special snowflake.

  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:44AM (#45864959)

    "It's all the better question because his fellow congresscritters will be more upset by the NSA spying on them than mere constituents."

    THIS!

    And that's the crying shame isn't it!

  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:45AM (#45864961) Journal

    The NSA isn't spying on them to get that information. My point still stands, the NSA shouldn't be spying on anyone without a valid warrant signed by a judge, just as the constitution clearly states. That they are elected doesn't make them better than you or I, and their outrage should be the same regardless of who is being spied upon without a warrant.

  • by Bruinwar (1034968) <bruinwar.hotmail@com> on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:56AM (#45865013)
    He might want to ask Edward Snowden. If he really wants to know.
  • by Daemonik (171801) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:03AM (#45865047) Homepage
    Seriously?
    1. a) Nobody knows exactly what information the NSA collects. They might very well have an extensive workup on everyone in Congress.
    2. b) It's not a matter of better or not better. It's a matter of access to sensitive information & ability to effect the nations laws. Nobody is going to blackmail Joe Schmoe to pass laws benefiting them but they certainly might Joe Congressman.

    So yes, spying on anyone without a warrant is bad, but spying on government officials is worse.

  • by Fnord666 (889225) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:10AM (#45865079) Journal

    Sometimes I wonder if I will one day be answering the question, "Where were you when the Constitution and Bill of Rights were permanently suspended?"

    It's more of a "how do you boil a frog?" type of gradual decay. The question will be more of "Where were you when you realized that they had suspended the last of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution?". In either case the answer will likely be on the day that they come for you.

  • Re:Double question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Znork (31774) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:19AM (#45865121)

    If they have even the slightest concern about appearing to care about legalities they're probably outsourcing it to GCHQ or one of their other partners who will do just enough (with NSA consultant personell if they feel like it) to cover the bare necessities. So of course they'll say no and of course they're spying on congress.

  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by M. Baranczak (726671) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:23AM (#45865135)

    Some people are just gullible.

    Come on, you really think Bernie Sanders doesn't know that they're liars? Maybe he just wants to get them on the record as telling (yet another) lie.

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:28AM (#45865167)

    According to the FISA courts, all warrants are valid by virtue of having been issued by the government for an alleged national security purpose.

  • by khallow (566160) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:04PM (#45865349)

    The NSA isn't spying on them to get that information.

    And you know that how? As Daemonik noted, even if they get important information by accident rather than intent, it doesn't mean that they can't use that to influence legislation for the benefit of themselves and clients.

    If this turns out to be a set up question for another Snowden release (like when German Chancellor Merkel called President Obama to ask whether the NSA had been spying on her only to have Snowden release that very information within a couple of days), it won't look good for the NSA.

  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by akozakie (633875) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:28PM (#45865489)

    Here's hoping that he actually has some proof that they do. If so, this is a very smart move. If they say "yes we do", Congress will be forced to react immediately in some way, at least for PR reasons. If they say "no we don't" and he proves they're lying, then at least some officials will lose their jobs and/or land in jail. Just showing proof without this question would achieve very little - some fake outrage and no consequences.

    If he has nothing... He's either gullible, just trying to show activity or simply hoping some proof will come up. He might be right - if there's anything like that in Snowden's documents it will soon appear if they officially deny.

  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HornWumpus (783565) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:52PM (#45865585)

    I'm willing to bet the majority of congress knows exactly what the NSA has on them. It was discussed last time the NSA gave them their voting instructions.

  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drgould (24404) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @01:37PM (#45865823)

    What IS going on:

    we are spying on all members of Congress and everyone else.

    And it's all legal, according to their interpretation of the law.

    You forgot that part.

  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Luckyo (1726890) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @02:01PM (#45865953)

    I'm going to give you a bigger one. Having dirt on members of congress allows for significant degree of political control. It would be downright foolish for NSA not to use its current spying capabilities not to keep politicians currently in power in check.

    Is it possible that they are not spying? Sure. Is it likely? Hell no. They'd be utterly stupid not to spy on the leaders, have as much as dirt as possible to have a lot of political power when they need it. That and they also legitimately need to spy on them to ensure that they are not betraying their own country, as these are the people in position of significant power to be able to actually damage national interests if they sell out to another country or hostile interest.

  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @02:37PM (#45866201)
    "Well, so long as you don't include GPS tracking of your cell phone, hacking your computers to read the contents, and human asset spying, then no we haven't targeted any congressmen for any 'spying' activity"

    Funny that tapping the lines to read the content is "spying" but hacking into the personal computer and reading the contents while not in transit isn't spying. Nor does location tracking, or remote microphone activation of a cell phone count as spying. When you list the methods so explicitly you miss the truth. Much like Clinton correctly answered "no" to whether he had sexual relations, but because the question was framed so poorly, he was impeached for telling the truth.
  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Solandri (704621) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @02:39PM (#45866219)

    Here's hoping that he actually has some proof that they do. If so, this is a very smart move. If they say "yes we do", Congress will be forced to react immediately in some way, at least for PR reasons.

    There is nothing to "react immediately" to. This isn't some rogue NSA operation. The House and Senate already knew NSA was doing this, or at least part of them did. The Intelligence Committees of the House [wikipedia.org] and Senate [wikipedia.org] are the ones who are tasked with deciding which classified projects are created and approved, and sit in the classified briefings where progress on such programs is discussed. They're the ones who created this program and steered challenges to it through the FISA court [huffingtonpost.com] so that it would remain secret and legal.

    Sander's isn't doing this because he has some big reveal he's hiding. He's just using this as a way of skirting the taboo against senators directly criticizing other senators, by instead criticizing the program those on the Intelligence Committees approved. In all likelihood the answer to his question is yes, unless the phone company has some special database entry which flags which phone numbers belong to members of Congress so their metadata is not included in that sent to the NSA.

    In the bigger scheme, this is just a part of the whitewalling to dump the fallout from this onto the NSA in the mind of the public. By acting shocked and dismayed at the program, the politicians in Congress and the White House can appear to be innocent in all this when in fact they were the ones who created this program and created the laws which made this program legal (albeit Constitutionally sketchy).

  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @03:04PM (#45866355) Homepage Journal
    A mirror would be the second best place

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