Glenn Greenwald surgically dismantles the Obama administration's reassurances that the recently-revealed National Security Agency (NSA) programs are subjected to rigorous oversight from the surveillance court:
Top secret documents obtained by the Guardian illustrate what the Fisa court actually does – and does not do – when purporting to engage in "oversight" over the NSA's domestic spying. That process lacks many of the safeguards that Obama, the House GOP, and various media defenders of the NSA are trying to lead the public to believe exist.I discussed the FISA Court on Breaking the Set with Abby Martin:
Since whistleblower Edward Snowden first disclosed that the NSA is conducting routine, ongoing, widespread domestic surveillance on millions of innocent Americans, something my NSA whistleblower clients Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, and J. Kirk Wiebe have warned about for years, the Obama administration (and its' pundit apologists) have been scrambling to explain how the NSA's blanket domestic surveillance is authorized by laws intended to collect foreign intelligence.
Watch Fran Townsend squirm on CNN's The Situation Room as Wolf Blitzer explains the breaking news that the NSA does vacuum up content as well as metadata.
Greenwald's article reveals that despite assurances from the government, many NSA analysts have access to Americans' electronic data without first getting court approval based upon individualized suspicion.
The decisions about who has their emails and telephone calls intercepted by the NSA is made by the NSA itself, not by the Fisa court, except where the NSA itself concludes the person is a US citizen and/or the communication is exclusively domestic. But even in such cases, the NSA often ends up intercepting those communications of Americans without individualized warrants, and all of this is left to the discretion of the NSA analysts with no real judicial oversight.Greenwald's article is a must-read next chapter in the debate sparked by whistleblower Snowden's disclosures. If the government wants the American public to trust them, the government should provide more than just discredited assurances.
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In sum, the NSA is vacuuming up enormous amounts of communications involving ordinary Americans and people around the world who are guilty of nothing. There are some legal constraints governing their power to examine the content of those communications, but there are no technical limits on the ability either of the agency or its analysts to do so. The fact that there is so little external oversight is what makes this sweeping, suspicion-less surveillance system so dangerous. It's also what makes the assurances from government officials and their media allies so dubious.