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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 yes! Of Course! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by erroneus (253617) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @08:35AM (#45864611) Homepage

    It's for their protection. Don't the congressmen need to be safe like the rest of us?

  • Of course they do. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @08:42AM (#45864661)

    I've debated many 'True Patriots' before. The type of mindset that the NSA probably attracts. A common mode of thought for them is that the US must be protected from all enemies, forign and domestic - and that 'domestic' includes members of congress who support 'un-American' ideas. Democracy is too important to be entrusted to a democratic process.

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

    by glavenoid (636808) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:12AM (#45864793) Journal

    Incidentally, the comments on the fox news site are/were a bit amusing: on the one hand there's a "democratic socialist" asking important questions that might "impeach Obama", but on the other hand he's still a '"democratic socialist" so he's wrong by default. But hey, at least we have Ted Cruz to assure us this question is one “millions of Americans would like answered.”

  • They should be (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MikeRT (947531) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:22AM (#45864835) Homepage

    In an ideal system, the NSA would be by law required to wiretap all public officials and directly publish their communications to the Library of Congress with a daily transcript of "dirty conversations" sent to the FBI and appropriate OIG for human analysis. Given how Congress operates these days, and how successful they've been at pushing back on FBI attempts (post ABSCAM) to reign in congressional corruption, part of me while deeply opposed to what the NSA has been caught doing wants to see the NSA ordered to go Stasi on them.

  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:23AM (#45864841)

    It seems that this answer to this is a resounding "yes".

    The internal logic seems to go something like this-

    We are the NSA (true).

    We are essential to the defense of this nation (true).

    We are the subject matter experts on what it takes to perform this necessary function (true).

    People who don't know what we know and who lack our accumulated organizational knowledge as a consequence can't understand the world as it needs to be understood in order for us to be effective.(true)

    Any decision we've made with respect to how we should conduct ourselves and any action we've taken is because we think it will best serve the needs of this national security needs of this nation (true).

    Conclusion- we would do no wrong and have done no wrong no matter what we've done and any oversight by an entity outside ourselves, including (and especially) politicians or any event which,if made public, would diminish our stature, decrease our funding or increase oversight is a mortal threat (is there any other kind!!?) to the national security of this nation and deserves to be dealt with accordingly by us, without exception (false!)

    This is the logic of the computer Hal 9000 in Kubrik's 2001, A Space Odyssey .

  • by mjwalshe (1680392) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:31AM (#45864891)
    Well I am sue the MI5 has a list (that they share with the FBI/CIA/NSA) of American politicians who where a bit to friendly to the PIRA and probably a few of the Ultra Unionist side as well.

    Its not unknown for politicians to spy for the opposition John Stone House MP for example so over the course of the cold war its probably a good bet that at least some congressmen and senators where agents - thats what Anna Chapman and the other KGB sleepers where doing trying to make contacts with influential people.
  • Re:oh sure (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:36AM (#45864911)

    > so spying on them would likely be a major problem

    With the current NSA guidelines, as revealed by Edward Snowden's revelations, any communications with foreign nationals would automatically be susceptible to monitoring. So it's certainly a common practice with the pervasive, wholesale telephone and email monitoring currently in place: Congress is _expected_ to speak with foreign governments as part of diplomacy, trade agreements, investigating treaties. and on behalf of foreign families of their constituents.

    Whether more targeted monitoring of Congress is done by the NSA is another matter. The NSA's charter specifically forbids them from domestic intelligence, that's the role of the FBI. And for human assets in foreign intelligence, not direct communications monitoring, that's the CIA. But of course, with the new "Homeland Security" overseeing all the group's efforts, the lines have become not only blurred but deliberately concealed. When the responsibilities are deliberately overlapped and merged "to aid communication", it puts the tools of one group for specific uses in the hands of their supervisors who may have quite different agendas or guidelines. I'd look very, very carefully look at "Homeland Security", at the people who are expecte merge and organize the data and precisely what they are ordering or being allowed access to.

    They've managed to keep out of most of this NSA exposure. But as an "organizing" agency for all the other departments, they're in a very dangerous position to weave those threads together into a much tighter cocoon of monitoring at every level.

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

    by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:26AM (#45865149)

    Actual question from the letter:
    "Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials? ‘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.”

    "Yes, Bernie. You're being treated like a criminal too, because terrorism."

  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:29AM (#45865173)

    The argument could be made. Or, reversing the politics, it could be argued that senators who wish to tighten the limitations imposed on the NSA or reduce funding or military spending are exposing the country to danger - even if they intend no harm, they place the existance of the country at risk and cannot be allowed to hold office. I imagine many at the NSA would see no problem with, say, monitoring their emails for juicy scandals and leaking them to opponents or the media. After all, they are only doing what they believe is in the national interest.

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:56PM (#45865913)

    I think he is.

    This is a relatively public question, and Snowden has an obvious interest in keeping up with what Congress is doing about the NSA.

    As others have speculated, it seems like Senator Sanders is trying to catch them lying on record to Congress, which would be major political ammunition. They're obviously going to answer "no", so all the Senator needs is evidence that they are. Perhaps he already has it, but if not, asking the question this publicly is a good way to get Snowden to dig through his stash and find the evidence that they are. Or even another whistleblower - someone might decide it's time to pull the same thing, and because of this ensure that some of their files cover congressional spying.

  • by BringsApples (3418089) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @01:28PM (#45866129)
    ...isn't congress (supposed to be) made up of regular ordinary US citizens? Hasn't a federal judge ruled that the NSA's spying techniques are legal? So what's the news here?
  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 04, 2014 @01:42PM (#45866239)

    That is actually a tried and true tactic. Chile has two competing national police forces -- Carabineros and Investigaciones. The former are more beat cops and riot police and the latter are more detectives. The former are recruited from the lower classes and the latter from lower-middle or middle classes, which creates a bitter rivalry that will never be overcome -- classism guarantees that.

    Their duties purposefully overlap, and there is NOTHING they love more than catching each other red handed in shit they shouldn't be doing. As a result, Chile is largely free of the low-level, endemic police corruption that characterizes the rest of Latin America to one degree or another.

    (That does NOT mean that the Chilean police don't still murder Mapuche indians (they do) or torture certain suspects (they do)... but you will never, ever be shaken down by a cop in the country)

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @01:44PM (#45866255)
    It is spying if it's "secret" data. I moved. I didn't make it a secret to the USPS. The IRS had an issue with a deduction and tried to reach me by sending me a letter. It bounced. After the legal minimum time, they made a summary judgment against me. The collections arm of the IRS asked for my current address, and was given it. The IRS could have reached me at any time, but the "secret" data was withheld from the disputes division so they had plausible deniability when I got the default judgment against me. But readily given to the collections arm when they asked. Who else knows or can get to the "secret" data? How can I find or edit the information about me? I've moved since then, and to another address not served by the USPS (as was the previous not served by the USPS, who still collected it, probably from friends and family who still correspond through postal email.
  • Re:Well, uh... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FuzzyHead (86261) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @02:06PM (#45866363)

    I think there is something deeper to this. Even with no evidence that the NSA is spying on congress, he can still put them on a very difficult dilemma. The problem is as follows. If the NSA says yes, then they will admit to spying on the rulers of the US and opening up the possibility of blackmail implications, but best of all turning Congress against the NSA. If the NSA says no, then he can ask the NSA why they spying on the American public and not Congress when no laws should be applied differently.

    My guess is that the NSA will reply something like, "We do not separate data between regular citizens nor congress men, but we further do not actively seek out data on any congressman or government official."

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