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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.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:37AM (#45864631)

      Head of NSA: We swear that we aren't conducting illegal spying on any individual member of Congress.
      Sen. Sanders: Pinky swear?
      Head of NSA: Pinky swear! Um, but not with that hand. We know what you've been doing with that hand.

      • 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: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.

          • by dbIII (701233)
            I think "Might makes right" is their version of the law. Just like in China.
          • by mysidia (191772)

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

            "Not only are we spying on all members of Congress.... on occasion, we may intercept, and prevent the delivery of an electronic communication to or from a congress member, or we may alter its content"

            "We may also change the content of electronically recorded votes."

            "That's all legal too."

        • Well, it's to fight terrorism, and help the children.
      • Re:Well, uh... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:26AM (#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."

        • "Yes, Bernie. You're being treated like a criminal too, because power (we the NSA wants it)."

          FTFY.

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

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 04, 2014 @02:21PM (#45866085)

          To be fair to the NSA, if you're looking for a group of people who are looking to destroy the USA, based on the evidence, Congress would be a very good place to start your search.

        • 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.
    • by rvw (755107)

      He should say: lie to us one more time and you will end up in jail! Then he will know for sure that they will spy on him.

      • by flyneye (84093)

        We need the CIA to spy on the NSA and see what theyre really up to.
        Utilizing the NSA to keep tabs on the CIA may be a winning idea as well.

        • No, no, no.

          The CIA can only spy on the NSA operatives working outside the country.
          We need the FBI to spy on their domestic agents.
          And then we'll have the Secret Service keep tabs on the G-men!

          We're paying for all these agencies; we might as well get use out of them!

          • Maybe we can have FBI agents spying on CIA... CIA spying on NSA and NSA spying on FBI
          • by flyneye (84093)

            The FBI couldnt find their ass with both hands and a map.
            We need the FBI to complicate matters.
            If the NSA can rationalize what they do, the CIA can as well.
            We could throw in a few other 3 letter agencies for a complete Keystone Cop scenario.
            Keep em all busy.

            • by Fnord666 (889225)

              The FBI couldnt find their ass with both hands and a map
              We need the FBI to complicate matters
              If the NSA can rationalize what they do, the CIA can as well.
              We could throw in a few other 3 letter agencies for a complete Keystone Cop scenario.
              Keep em all busy.

              Make them line item accountable to the GAO. That should royally screw them all.

          • by namgge (777284) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:07AM (#45865069)
            This is clearly a case where out-sourcing and off-shoring is the way to go. I suggest that MSS, the Chinese secret service, should be given preferred bidder status.
      • Why are you giving him a freebee? Think he didn't know it was illegal to lie to congress?

        Jail now.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by flyneye (84093)

      Some people are just gullible.
      Disturbing that its an elected official.
      Shame on Vermont for sending a bumpkin.

      • 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.

        • 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 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:5, Interesting)

            by FuzzyHead (86261) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @03:06PM (#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."

    • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "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!

      • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • Yes I agree with this. This may be how the NSA is legally circumventing the system. They get the GCHQ to spy on the US Citizens, while the NSA spies on everyone else on earth. This may very well be why the secret courts keep on saying the system is legal.
      • Sounds like they have been trained in the White tower :)

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Of course they don't monitor congressional phone calls, emails, and internet traffic. At the same time. Nobody generates all three at once!

        • Despite your comment intending to be funny, I frequently use the Internet and generate E-mail while talking on the phone ...

    • 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.

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

    by erroneus (253617) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:35AM (#45864611) Homepage

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

    • 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.

        • 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 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 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.

      • by Shavano (2541114)

        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.

        Because he has more power and influence. That's what important means.

  • by dk20 (914954) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:38AM (#45864643)
    I mean if they are "exempt" from being spied on it seems logical the "terrorists" would become members of congress and avoid being spied on.
  • 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
  • Of course they do. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:42AM (#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.

    • 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.

      It became necessary to destroy the country to save it.

  • 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?"
    • 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.

  • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @09:56AM (#45864711)
    At the very least, blanket metadata capture means the answer is absolutely, positively, unrepentantly YES.
    • by mjwalshe (1680392) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:31AM (#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.
    • by Teun (17872)
      But meta data isn't data, or so we're told.
    • I was going to make this basic point. Essentially it wouldn't be possible to really avoid collecting some kind of data on members of congress. If they're monitoring all of the emails and phone calls made by random citizens, and then one of those citizens emails/calls a member of Congress, then they would capture that data. The most that they could do would be do collect a list of phone numbers and email addresses that are known to belong to members of Congress, and then go back and delete communications

  • 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.
  • Based on what I've been reading, the dragnet collection system collects as much as it can - and then sorts it out later.

    So I would argue that some Congressional conversations have been swept into the Big Brother, weather intentional or not.

  • Let's see.

    What would be the advantage an unconstitutional spy organisation would have if it possessed informational leverage over a nation's legislators?

    This advantage is far from unprecedented, even in the States. Perhaps J. Edgar tended only to collect information on persons of interest instead of everyone, but he'd have used the interwebs if they were available to him.

  • 'nuff sad

  • After all, these politicians are well within the "three jumps" connecting them terrorists. Heck, they spend all day in meetings ABOUT terrorists!

  • They should be (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MikeRT (947531) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:22AM (#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 @10:23AM (#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 .

  • Of course we don't spy on Congress. The mere notion would be preposterous. And Bernie, how about that cute 20-something uninhibited hippie chick you have in Bennington that your wife doesn't know about?

  • They promise. *giggle*

  • A long time ago when I was in the military, I found out about a little tidbit of information. You see, sometimes congressmen go on "official trips" and they are reimbursed in full for all expenses they incur related to that trip. And sometimes, said congressmen are accompanied by members of the military. Well, the military members were not reimbursed for all their expenses and had to pay out of pocket for some items. Well, the congressmen saw the military members spending money above and beyond what they wo

  • by Bruinwar (1034968) <`moc.liamtoh' `ta' `rawniurb'> on Saturday January 04, 2014 @10:56AM (#45865013)
    He might want to ask Edward Snowden. If he really wants to know.
    • by gman003 (1693318) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @01:56PM (#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.

  • As the British journalist Claud Cockburn famously put it, "Believe nothing until it has been officially denied." We need those responsible to testify under oath on public record. We need their exact words. We need to hear how they deliberately mislead the public and congress with semantic games and outright lies... caught it the act, as it were.

    But then our political leaders do the exact same thing all the time and usually get away with it too. So much for exemplary leadership and governance. I think Arm
  • by Proudrooster (580120) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:27AM (#45865151) Homepage

    Senator, I am sorry, your question doesn't make sense. The NSA doesn't do any spying on Americans, we just collect meta-data about your computer, phone, and US mail. We also control the worlds largest bot-net that screws with peoples computers to allow us to collect even more meta-data. As we have stated previously, meta-data is NOT data and all of our hacking is done from outside the US so it is perfectly legal. Thank you Senator for ill framed question.

  • He should have asked:

    "Have you stopped spying on Congress?"

  • And the NSA's response was:

    "Uh... nooooooo?"

  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:51AM (#45865277)

    I assume this is clear- he's trying ot entrap them, as when Wyden forced Clapper to lie. Wyden KNEW the truthful answer to his question already, he was just forcing Clapper to lie before Congress.\

    Same thing here, for sure . We can take from this that the NSA spies on Congress. Snowden has a story about it spying on Obama when he was a senator. Maybe a leak is coming about this and the Senators are preparing the ground ...

  • Yes, let the NSA spy on Congressweasels, but only if their findings are made public. I want to know who my "representatives" have been meeting with, what was said, and why they're really going to vote a certain way.

    OTOH this still runs into a who-watches-the-watchers problem, because how do we know that NSA will release everything and not hold back to get a vote to go a certain way? Hmm.

  • And if not, why not?

    We have pledged to oppose all enemies of the United States, foreign and domestic. First and foremost, that's you and your associates, Bernie.

  • Why is the drug trade still booming, and insider trading, organised crime still operating? You would think if this universal monitoring is happening and is effective the police would be far more effective than they actually are.
  • This ladies and gentlemen is Enemy of the State (1998) moment. Straw that could break camels back. Realization that a tool you used to fight your enemies suddenly has more power than you.

    http://youtu.be/sg8T1zKKrXM?t=1h46m39s [youtu.be]

  • by BringsApples (3418089) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @02:28PM (#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?
  • by Nyder (754090) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @04:56PM (#45866873) Journal

    The next Snowden release will probably show proof of NSA spying on congress. Mainly if the NSA says, "No, we don't spy on congress"

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