07.30.2013 1

Bachmann: ‘National security is a real and present danger’

By Robert Romano

“As we know all too well, national security is a real and present danger, and it is something that we have to take quite seriously.”

Maybe it was a Freudian slip.

But to be fair to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who on July 24 was speaking against a proposed amendment to the 2014 Defense Appropriations Act offered by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have defunded the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic surveillance program, that is most likely not what she meant to say.

It was a gaffe, but the articulation that “national security is a real and present danger” nonetheless rings true to the very supporters of the Amash amendment who Bachmann criticized for peddling what she called a “false narrative.”

“A false narrative has emerged that the federal government is taking in the content of Americans’ phone calls. It’s not true. It’s not happening. A false narrative has emerged that the federal government is taking in the content of the American people’s emails. It’s not true. It’s not happening,” Bachmann said.

A member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Bachmann would presumably be in a position to know whether the NSA and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were merely gathering the metadata of phone calls and emails on everyone — which is outrageous enough — or the content of the communications themselves.

Certainly, this has been a bone of contention since the disclosures in the Guardian newspaper reported by Glenn Greenwald based on information provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The government’s official line has been that it’s just telephony and Internet metadata on U.S. persons being gathered, but not the content.

But that contradicts the claims made by others, including Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, on May 1 on CNN’s Out Front with Erin Burnett. Burnett asked 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 nonchalantly claimed it was possible: “[T]here is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation.”

Burnett was shocked, asking again: “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.”

Then there’s NSA whistleblower Russ Tice who in a June 19 interview with Sibel Edmonds’ Boiling Frogs site said, “Yes, it’s everything,” stating he had received confirmation from his main source at the agency.

Tice was terminated from the agency in 2005 after urging Congress for greater protections for intelligence agency whistleblowers after a 20 year career with the Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Air Force, Office of Naval Intelligence, and the NSA.

According to Tice, his source has confirmed that “NSA is copying every domestic communication, word for word, content. Every phone conversation… every email, everything.”

There’s Edward Snowden himself, who told the Guardian’s Greenwald that “Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a Federal judge to even the President if I had a personal e-mail.”

One of the documents disclosed by Snowden, a 2009 NSA Inspector General report, clearly indicates that at least some content was being collected from private communications providers in addition to the metadata as early as 2001: “Private sector partners began to send telephony and Internet content to NSA in October 2001. They began to send telephony and Internet metadata to NSA as early as November 2001.”

Even President Barack Obama himself appeared to confirm that the agency could go back in time and obtain the content of phone calls and emails. In a June 7 press conference he said, “What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls, they are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content… If the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call they’ve got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation.”

NSA director General Keith Alexander made a similar admission in June 12 testimony in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee in questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.), who asked Alexander, “It’s my understanding you have the metadata, you have the records of what appears on a phone bill, and if you want to go to the content, then you have to get a court order.”

Alexander responded, “It’s correct,” adding later, “Sen. Feinstein, if you want to get the content, you’d have to get a court order.”

But how could the agency access the content of a phone call, even with a court order, from past metadata if it was not already recorded? This remains unanswered, Rep. Bachmann and others’ assurances to the contrary notwithstanding.

Because if there are recording everything, then Bachmann was correct that “national security is a real and present danger” — to everyone’s liberty.

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government. 

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