With new documents, it is now impossible to deny that the NSA has unlawfully spied on Americans
By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
Despite the best efforts of the government and some talking heads in the media, it is now officially impossible to deny that the National Security Agency (NSA) has conducted unlawful surveillance of Americans.
With the latest round of documents leaked by Edward Snowden and published by The Washington Post (after they held back the release for quite some time), the public has finally gained a glimpse into the ugly reality of the NSA’s surveillance.
The documents give the public some insight into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) finding last year which stated that the government’s surveillance breached the Fourth Amendment on at least one occasion.
The new documents released by the Post reveal that even in the agency’s own internal reviews, they found that privacy rules were broken and its legal authority was overstepped thousands of times every year since 2008.
Many of the agency’s infractions involve spying on Americans or foreign targets within the United States without proper authorization.
“They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls,” the Post reported.
The level of detail shown in the document is so thorough that it goes beyond what is “routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance,” according to the Post.
In other words, the agency is keeping this information secret. Glenn Greenwald, the reporter for the Guardian that initially covered Snowden’s leaks and interviewed the leaker in Hong Kong, asked on Twitter, “what possible excuse is there for marking those [documents released by the Post] top secret?”
Greenwald also brought up a point that cannot be overlooked:
One key to the WashPost story: the reports are internal, NSA audits, which means high likelihood of both under-counting & white-washing
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 16, 2013
However, it seems that the most notable of the new documents is the NSA summary of the classified FISC opinion the Obama administration has fought so hard to keep secret.
The summary states that NSA collection of data gathered as part of their so-called “upstream” surveillance programs was, in fact, found to be “deficient on statutory and constitutional grounds.”
Ryan Gallagher rightly points out that this provides “what is the first direct evidence of unlawful NSA spying on Americans in the trove of secrets spilled by Snowden.”
The document also reveals that Obama administration officials have made what could be charitably called “less than entirely accurate” statements about NSA surveillance.
For instance, Shawn Turner, the director of communications for National Intelligence for the Obama administration, told the Guardian that they stopped collecting Americans’ email records for “operational and resource reasons.”
It now seems much more likely that the program was shut down because the FISC found it to be unlawful.
The newly released documents also clearly show that the NSA has defied the FISC, making the court’s supposed oversight as non-existent as the oversight provided by Congress.
Indeed, the chief judge of the court said that they lack the ability to independently verify how frequently NSA surveillance breaches the court’s rules, according to the Post.
Furthermore, the court can’t even verify if the government is being truthful in claiming that the violations reported by staff are, in fact, unintentional.
“The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, the chief judge of the court, said to the Post in a statement.
“The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders,” Walton wrote.
Documents show that in 2012 the NSA illegally retained over 3,000 files it was ordered to destroy by the FISC, showing that the court really has little to no power.
In May 2012, an audit found that there were some 2,776 incidents of unauthorized collection, storage, distribution of and access to legally protected communications in the past year alone.
However, as Greenwald noted, that audit could very well be underreporting the reality of the situation.
Gallagher notes that “given that the NSA reportedly intercepts a massive 1.7 billion communications every day, it is surprising that internal reports of unlawful surveillance are not far higher.”
“This may be explained in part by the fact that the figures published by the Post account only for incidents at the NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters and other facilities in the Washington area, not its many other regional operating centers that are scattered across the world,” he concludes.
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