NYT: No spying on Americans? Au contraire

posted at 9:21 am on August 8, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

On Tuesday, Barack Obama insisted that the US government isn’t spying on Americans by surveilling the contents of their communications.  Less than two days later, the New York Times makes hash of that claim.  The NSA, reports Charlie Savage, sifts through the content of “vast amounts” of electronic communications between Americans and people abroad in their search for links to terrorism, and not just the metadata:

The National Security Agency is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials.

The N.S.A. is not just intercepting the communications of Americans who are in direct contact with foreigners targeted overseas, a practice that government officials have openly acknowledged. It is also casting a far wider net for people who cite information linked to those foreigners, like a little used e-mail address, according to a senior intelligence official.

While it has long been known that the agency conducts extensive computer searches of data it vacuums up overseas, that it is systematically searching — without warrants — through the contents of Americans’ communications that cross the border reveals more about the scale of its secret operations.

Well, it’s not like anyone actually bought that nonsense from Obama on the Tonight Show.  Even one of Obama’s former key aides, Van Jones, openly scoffed at the claim that the NSA wasn’t spying on Americans:

“Everybody knows I love this president, but this is ridiculous,” said Jones. “We do have a spying program, and we need to figure out how to balance these out.”

Jones also criticized the Obama administration’s treatment of whistleblowers.

“You are prosecuting more whistleblowers than every American president combined,” said Jones. “You can’t yuck it up and say, well, whistleblowers come on out and we’ll treat you right.”

How does the NSA choose its targets?  Generously, at least in regard to cross-border collection:

To conduct the surveillance, the N.S.A. is temporarily copying and then sifting through the contents of what is apparently most e-mails and other text-based communications that cross the border. The senior intelligence official, who, like other former and current government officials, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the N.S.A. makes a “clone of selected communication links” to gather the communications, but declined to specify details, like the volume of the data that passes through them.

This again comes down to definitions. The FISA laws require at least one point of the communications to be outside of American territory so that the government can claim that the espionage targets a foreign source. However, the point of the collection appears to be watching what people in the US are discussing and with whom they are communicating.  One could argue that such scrutiny is essential in the war on terror, and a number of people have made that argument.

However, let’s not pretend that it’s something other than having the NSA — an agency whose charter was originally to intercept foreign communications in the Cold War — turn into a domestic spy service, with all of the potential for abuse that creates.


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Punk

Bmore on August 8, 2013 at 9:25 AM

When you’ve lost Van Jones ….

You’ve lost another Commie stooge?

NotCoach on August 8, 2013 at 9:27 AM

to intercept foreign communications in the Cold War — turn into a domestic spy service, with all of the potential for abuse that creates.

My own conspiracy theory, team Obama received reams of Fed data which was then used for election targeting of certain areas to boost or suppress voter turnout as they saw fit.

rob verdi on August 8, 2013 at 9:27 AM

However, let’s not pretend that it’s something other than having the NSA — an agency whose charter was originally to intercept foreign communications in the Cold War — turn into a domestic spy service, with all of the potential for abuse that creates.

‘That [surveillance] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology …

I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency [NSA] and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.’

– Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho), 1975, quoted in James Bamford’s The Puzzle Palace

Resist We Much on August 8, 2013 at 9:28 AM

At some point in time the MSM will have to place all the blame on obozo and his pals for all the “phoney” scandals in order to protect the agenda they hold dear. To prevent people from realizing this is a failed philosophy the media will have to throw obozo and friends under the bus to pave the way for 2016′s messiah.

Flange on August 8, 2013 at 9:28 AM

When you’ve lost the New Sedition Slimes,….

Steve Eggleston on August 8, 2013 at 9:29 AM

Barack Obama insisted that the US government isn’t spying on Americans

Filthy liar. I’m convinced the much-lauded OFA database is actually an NSA product designed to keep track of Americans down to the very zip codes in which they live.

Clapper and Alexander should be thrown in jail for spying on Americans and the FISA judges should be outed for allowing partisan and domestic spying- which is utterly outside their authority.

Happy Nomad on August 8, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Resist We Much on August 8, 2013 at 9:28 AM

The funny thing is Church is cheering the current situation from his circle of Hell because it is his party that is doing it.

Steve Eggleston on August 8, 2013 at 9:32 AM

It’s only spying, not spying spying.

Most transparently fascist administration ever.

rbj on August 8, 2013 at 9:32 AM

Flange they’ll blame it on the GOP….. they’ll never pin this on dear leader

The missing 8 years in us history

cmsinaz on August 8, 2013 at 9:33 AM

/me waves to whatever government agencies might be watching this.

Chris of Rights on August 8, 2013 at 9:40 AM

When you’ve lost Van Jones ….

… it won’t make a whit of difference. Blacks and commies will continue to worship the Lord of the Lies.

The Rogue Tomato on August 8, 2013 at 9:42 AM

cmsinaz on August 8, 2013 at 9:33 AM

That’s always plan A, but if things get bad enough, and they are quickly headed that way, then that becomes a real tough sell. Some in the media fell for their own hype about obozo, but the agenda is their real god, not obozo, and that needs to be protected at all costs. obozo and friends are outsiders and when their usefulness is up, they will be tossed out again.

Flange on August 8, 2013 at 9:42 AM

I’ll give you that flange
We shall see

cmsinaz on August 8, 2013 at 9:47 AM

it won’t make a whit of difference. Blacks and commies will continue to worship the Lord of the Lies.

The Rogue Tomato on August 8, 2013 at 9:42 AM

That’s a good one!

Key West Reader on August 8, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Rest easy, Citizen, this is all for your own good.

Any complaining will cause forfeiture of your ration card and you will be referred to the Bureau of Domestic Tranquility for reeducation.

Bishop on August 8, 2013 at 10:00 AM

When you’ve lost Van Jones ….

You’ve lost another Commie stooge?

NotCoach on August 8, 2013 at 9:27 AM

One of the truly serendipitous outcomes when commies come to power is their inveterate tendency to kill each other.

questionmark on August 8, 2013 at 10:07 AM

NYT managed to get this info without a leak from Edward Snowden.

What do they think they’re doing? Real investigative reporting of a Democrat administration? Has Hades frozen over?

Bitter Clinger on August 8, 2013 at 10:13 AM

it won’t make a whit of difference. Blacks and commies will continue to worship the Lord of the Lies.

The Rogue Tomato on August 8, 2013 at 9:42 AM

Heh!! I’m stealing that for a FB post.

Bitter Clinger on August 8, 2013 at 10:15 AM

…shut up!…WE know what’s best for you!

KOOLAID2 on August 8, 2013 at 10:17 AM

The Rogue Tomato on August 8, 2013 at 9:42 AM

“Lord of the Lies” heh heh heh… That’s a good one alrighty.

itsacookbook on August 8, 2013 at 10:43 AM

one could argue that such scrutiny is essential in the war on terror, and a number of people have made that argument.

One could also argue that Carthage actually beat Rome. It wouldn’t be correct but you could sure argue it.

chemman on August 8, 2013 at 10:46 AM

Bmore —- fantastic — that is all………

nchammer on August 8, 2013 at 10:52 AM

This isn’t one scandal, it’s a small piece of a much larger one. Keep in mind these other databases:

The “Race To The Top” student tracking program, which includes a host of private information.

The national medical record system, which in part will be used by IPAB to determine which treatments are not cost effective and should be made cash-only, if not out-right banned (the only info exempted is abortion history and HIV status.)

There is the economic transaction tracking.

And, I’m sure others we don’t know about yet.

HakerA on August 8, 2013 at 11:00 AM

However, let’s not pretend that it’s something other than having the NSA — an agency whose charter was originally to intercept foreign communications in the Cold War — turn into a domestic spy service, with all of the potential for abuse that creates.

Why not?

We already pretend that:

The “war on terror”, a supposed war on a tactic, is a phrase having any meaning.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on August 8, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Any communication crossing our border — data or physical — is subject to search. It’s in the Constitution. They can seize mail, laptops, jump drives…why not e-mail or phone calls?

This is a rehash of the first go-around about all of this years ago during the Bush Administration — the go around that had all the lefties with their panties atwist. Remember that phone closet (room 641A — the Study Group 3 Secure Room) in the AT&T communications center in San Francisco? The one outed by a “whistleblowing” AT&T employee named Mark Klein? Anyone remember where court review of that went after the EFF filed suit?

https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying

EFF is not doing well in court. They are batting 0.000.

I understand that my putative right to privacy ends at the border. It’s rightfully part of our Constitution. Get used to it.

unclesmrgol on August 8, 2013 at 11:20 AM

“It’s not spying if you already know we’re looking. Besides, we are “monitoring” US citizens, not “spying” on them.

-Precedent B.H. O’Bama

portlandon on August 8, 2013 at 11:22 AM

After almost 5 years of this crap, one could conclude that the president is a pathological liar. The lies, the coverups, the secrecy, Jones is right, he’s just ridiculous. As Shep said…Honey Boo Boo tells more truths!

scalleywag on August 8, 2013 at 11:24 AM

I understand that my putative right to privacy ends at the border. It’s rightfully part of our Constitution. Get used to it.

unclesmrgol on August 8, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Please explain how Internet architecture, transmitted content, and traffic routing explicitly recognize any borders whatsoever.

I am genuinely curious.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on August 8, 2013 at 12:37 PM

When you’ve lost Van Jones ….

But he’s gained John McCain and Lindsey Graham, so it’s about an even trade.

VorDaj on August 8, 2013 at 12:40 PM

It’s ok.

It’s obama on my shoulder! (And in my tv, and in my email, in my file sharing, in my cloud storage, in my healthcare (but not his!) and on my phone calls)

KMC1 on August 8, 2013 at 1:13 PM

Well to be honest, Tom Clancy covered this about a decade ago in that novel involving Jack Ryan’s son. In the same it had jihadiis crossing the southern border and attacking civilians like in malls. I just assumed that there were facts behind the fiction and acted online accordingly

AH_C on August 8, 2013 at 1:19 PM

And, I’m sure others we don’t know about yet.

HakerA on August 8, 2013 at 11:00 AM

-IRS leaking confidential data to political supporters
-IRS scrutiny and interference with the establishment and operation of conservative political groups
-IRS, DOJ, FEC collaborating to attack political opponents of Obama
-IRS warrantless grabbing of 60MM medical claims records of Americans from a claims processing company in CA via an unrelated pursuit of an individual
-DOJ intimidation of news reporters and organizations investigating Obama administration wrong-doing
-NSA capturing meta-data on all electronic communications in the US
-NSA capturing content data on all electronic communications in the US
-NSA sharing intercept meta-data and content with DOJ and local law enforcement related to domestic criminal behavior
-NSA partnership with the UK’s GCHQ to capture all electronic communications going to/from Europe and UK
-Homeland Security scanning all social media, blogs and news sites for any instances of any of more than 300 target words that include such terror related items as “San Diego”, “border”, “law enforcement”, “airport”, “station”, and “bacon”. Further scrutiny given all messages containing any of the 300+ target words.
-Library of Congress archiving all tweets since April 2010
-police departments across the country equipping patrol cars with license plate scanners that record the presence, time, data, and specific location of every license pate read. The captured information is then submitted to regional data bases where it is held a varying length of time from 60 days to forever
-licensing of domestic drones for use by local law enforcement agencies
-US Postal Service scanning the front and back of all pieces of mail it processes, then retaining those images in a master database

…and these are just the ones that immediately come to mind.

Move along…there’s nothing to worry about here.

Fourth Amendment

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

in_awe on August 8, 2013 at 1:20 PM

-Common Core Program capturing and storing in federal databases all sorts of information about school children and parents well beyond academic achievement records
-Obamacare massing more data and exposing it to millions of individuals (healthcare navigators) with minimal background checks (and many will be employed by the successor entities once known as ACORN, and other community organizing groups)

What have I missed?

in_awe on August 8, 2013 at 1:24 PM

At this point I don’t know why anyone cares what the President actually says. He lies.

petunia on August 8, 2013 at 2:11 PM

I am reminded of an old Star Trek episode

Captain Kirk: Everything Harry Obama tells you is a lie. Remember that. Everything Harry Obama tells you is a lie.

sadatoni on August 8, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Hey, Barry. You’ve got an “uppity” one in Jones, going all off message about gubmint snooping. Better get him back to the plantation and teach him his place . . .

tpitman on August 8, 2013 at 4:28 PM

Jones is not serious. He wants to be a little bit annoying to Obama, just enough to get the next payoff. Then he’ll shut up, again.

virgo on August 10, 2013 at 11:53 PM