Jan 31 2014, 3:57am CST | by Forbes
I am simply stunned that others have not been calling for a full investigation of the NSA surveillance program (see earlier blog ). It has been nearly eight months since The Guardian’s first report on June 5, 2013, began the drip, drip, drip of continuing revelations made possible by Edward Snowden about a massive surveillance program operated by the U. S. National Security Agency (NSA). Media, such as The Washington Post , NBC News , and German television station NDR, also have published documents and conducted interviews with Mr. Snowden. Just two days ago another batch of documents published by The Guardian, The New York Times, and ProPublica revealed that the NSA is capturing information by exploiting mobile phones and gaming, social media, and mapping applications. A Top Secret powerpoint deck indicated the NSA can obtain a treasure trove of information from a smart phone, including location, phone settings, websites visited, networks connected, documents downloaded, and buddy lists.
The government has stated that it knows Mr. Snowden may have more to reveal. During Senate Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday, James Clapper, Director of National Security, called on Snowden “to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.”
The only thing that is certain about Snowden v. the NSA is that the full picture of what the NSA has been up to is not known. Prior to June 5, 2013, Americans generally believed their government was working hard to detect and prevent terrorist activities and attacks within the U.S. They also generally believed that whatever spying the U.S. intelligence community was up to was targeted at foreigners, not the American public. They now know that those general assumptions were not accurate. Through the many disclosures made since then, the people of the U.S. now know that:
Knowing this much, however, raises more questions than answers, and it is a far cry from a full picture. Moreover, there is no party in this mess that is pure. Not the NSA, the Administration, Congress, or Snowden. The NSA has denied, back-pedaled, used scare tactics, exaggerated, and apologized . They are masters at deception and loathe to admit overreaching. The Administration has defended, retreated, offered concessions, proposed reforms, and rejected the findings of it PCLOB report (238-pages) on the day it was issued. Congress has shrugged, justified, back-stepped, held hearings, changed its tune, and introduced numerous bills aimed to reform intelligence gathering, protect privacy, or tinker with procedures. They are afraid if they vote to strike down a program and something happens, they will be blamed, and they hate to backtrack on earlier votes.
Snowden has not been careful to release only information that impacted Americans’ civil liberties. Within the first ten days of his disclosure campaign, the South China Morning Post reported that Snowden had provided documents indicating that the NSA was spying on computers in China and Hong Kong, hacking into Chinese backbone providers to steal mobile text messages, and attacking the network of one of China’s top universities, Tsinghua University. He then revealed information about NSA’s spying on Angela Merkel and other allied leaders and collaborative intelligence sharing programs between the U.S. and the “Five Eyes” (U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). He also disclosed a Top Secret document regarding a program called Boundless Informant that analyzes and reports on telephone metadata collected around the world. These revelations revealed legitimate intelligence activities and involved national security information that harmed our national interests.
This post is a call for the facts to be found out and the truth to be determined. The privacy and civil liberties advocates and many in the media have railed about the scope of the programs and the intrusiveness of them. Some have filed legal actions. None of them, however, has called for an independent counsel to be appointed, a Congressional Committee to be established, or a special counsel to be appointed with full authority to seek and obtain information on exactly what the NSA has been up to, what authorizations or orders were given to establish these programs, how the collected data has been used and who has used it, and what private sector entities have cooperated and under what terms. (The Ethics in Government Act, which established the Office of the Independent Counsel, expired in 1999, but Congress could enact a new law for independent counsel or establish a Congressional Committee. The President also can order investigations. He announced in his State of the Union address that he was going to do all he could via his presidential powers. Here is an opportunity.)
It would be a mistake for Congress to enact legislation on intelligence reforms without having the full picture of what has been going on. In similar times, an earlier Congress established the Church Committee and dug deep. Their corrective measures may not have been perfect and some were probably flawed, but at least they were made on the basis of full information. (See my blog prior to Snowden asking whether we needed another Church Committee.)
This call for the truth is not all about what is legal or illegal. It is about providing the full set of facts for debate and discussion and making informed decisions about how this country should be operating and the values it should be upholding in the digital age — before it turns into a full police state.
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