05.13.2013 2

NSA Denies Spying on U.S. citizens

By Nathan Mehrens

“One of the biggest misconceptions about [the] National Security Agency is that we are unlawfully listening in on, or reading emails of, U.S. citizens. This is simply not the case.”

That was a National Security Agency (NSA) statement published by Reuters on April 15 that sought to quell fears the federal government’s top signal intelligence agency was aggregating emails and phone conversations of U.S. citizens.

Apparently, Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, did not get the memo when he appeared May 1 on CNN’s Out Front with Erin Burnett. She wanted to know if the government could listen in, after the fact, to telephone conversations between Katherine Russell, widow of the deceased Boston terrorist bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and her late husband.

Clemente’s response was, to say the least, shocking: “[T]here is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation.”

Burnett could not believe what she was hearing, and commented, “So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.”

Clemente replied, “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

As a counterterrorism agent, Clemente would certainly be in a position to know if, in the conduct of a national security investigation, the government could tap into past conversations. But how would that be possible?

Former NSA employee William Binney, a whistleblower who left the agency as technical director of the agency’s world geopolitical and military analysis reporting group in 2001, may have the answer. After nearly 40 years of service, Binney resigned over the government’s use of a monitoring program that he in part says he helped to design.

“After 9/11, all of the wraps came off for NSA and they just decided to — between the White House and NSA and CIA — to eliminate the protections on U.S. citizens and collect domestically,” Binney said in an interview with Democracy Now.

The scope of the surveillance is startling, Binney revealed: “I would suggest that they’ve assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens. The data that’s being assembled is about everybody. And from that data then they can target anyone they want.”

That would include almost all emails and phone conversations, which according to Binney’s and Clemente’s separate allegations, the government captures and stores digitally for potential later use. Simply breathtaking.

Binney even suggested doing so would be relatively easy for the government to pull off: “All they would have to do is put the various devices at various points along the network, at choke points or convergent points where the network converges and they could basically take down and have copies of most everything on the network.”

So much for the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches, to say nothing of the utility of the Internet or telephones being secure ways to communicate.

If true, these allegations suggest we are upon the de facto realization of the surveillance state.

Even worse, nobody on Capitol Hill seems to care all that much. Instead, Congress continually reauthorizes the Patriot Act, which compels communications and Internet companies to “share” extensive user data on U.S. citizens with the government, including to the NSA.

Congress still funds NSA operations as well, which come September 2013, will include the agency’s new multi-billion dollar Utah Data Center, as reported by Wired.com. The center will include “four 25,000-square-foot halls filled with servers, complete with raised floor space for cables and storage… [and] more than 900,000 square feet for technical support and administration.” There, the agency will be able to collect and store septillions of bytes of data.

Meanwhile, on April 18, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed on a bipartisan basis the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) that supposedly would streamline the sharing of intelligence on cyber threats from the U.S. national security apparatus to Internet Service Providers and other web companies to protect the nation’s critical digital infrastructure.

But during the debate over CISPA, members of Congress have yet to address Binney’s allegations, now partially confirmed by Clemente, that Internet Service Providers may unknowingly already be “sharing” user data with the government.

For years the Internet has been abuzz about seemingly far-fetched allegations of massive levels of personal intrusion by the federal government. Credence has now been lent to these concerns by multiple former government intelligence officials.

It’s time for Congress to get to the bottom of what’s going on in our intelligence community and whether they are in fact violating the most basic, personal freedoms of U.S. citizens. This issue is too important to be ignored and if true, cannot be allowed to continue behind a veil of secrecy if our Constitution is going to mean anything.

Nathan Mehrens is the President of Americans for Limited Government.

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