Senator Bernie Sanders is starting to ask questions many in the media and public have wanted to know for some time – is the NSA spying on other government officials? And if so, is the agency using that information as leverage to further its own power?
In response to Sanders’ public questioning the NSA refused to deny it was spying on members of Congress.
When asked by The Washington Post, an NSA spokesman said that the agency’s privacy safeguards are effective at covering all Americans.
“Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons,” the spokesman said. “We are reviewing Sen. Sanders’s letter now, and we will continue to work to ensure that all members of Congress, including Sen. Sanders, have information about NSA’s mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties.”
The same protections as the people the NSA spies on without oversight? Not exactly reassuring. While WaPo categorized that response as “refusing to deny” that the NSA spies on members of Congress it might be more accurately described as admitting guilt. As we know through programs like PRISM and TURMOIL the NSA sees itself as licensed to collect all that can be collected, from everyone.
The question Sanders is asking is not a new one nor is it without evidence. Former intelligence analyst Russ Tice claimed President Obama was having his phone tapped as early as 2004. While that accusation is difficult to prove concretely, the charge leveled in the 1980s claiming that the NSA was being used against members of Congress to promote the Reagan Administration’s wars in Latin America does have substantiating evidence.
Congressman Michael Barnes, a perceived opponent of President Reagan’s policy in Nicaragua, was reportedly tasked to be spied upon and so the NSA listened to his phone calls and provided the material to Reagan Administration officials which circulated transcripts from the intercepted calls. Rep. Barnes also told of a meeting between him and fmr. CIA Director William Casey where Casey detailed further communications intercepted by the NSA. Barnes was furious at his intercepted communications being used by domestic political opponents saying:
“I was aware that NSA monitored international calls, that it was a standard part of intelligence gathering,” he says. “But to use it for domestic political purposes is absolutely outrageous and probably illegal.”
Could it happen again? Has it happened already? If the NSA is collecting this information, as one could easily surmise from their public statement, where does it go and who has access to it?
The NSA needs to fully answer Senator Sanders’ questions.