Is the National Security Agency spying on Congress? Probably.
Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders put the question before America’s top spy boss in a letter sent to NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander on Friday.
In the letter, Sanders said he was “concerned about recent revelations that the (NSA) and other intelligence agencies are collecting enormous amounts of information about phone calls that Americans make, emails that we send and websites that we visit.”
Sanders said that the programs were “clearly unconstitutional” and also expressed contempt for the NSA’s monitoring of communications made by foreign leaders in “Brazil, Germany, France, Mexico” and elsewhere.
“I am writing today to ask you one very simple question: Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials?” Sanders wrote, defining “spying” as gathering metadata of phone calls, records of visited websites and emails “or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”
Over the weekend, the NSA responded to Sanders’ question by deflecting it.
“NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons,” the NSA wrote in a statement obtained by The Guardian. “Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons. NSA is fully committed to transparency with Congress. Our interaction with Congress has been extensive both before and since the media disclosures began last June.”
The NSA’s statement said Sanders’ letter was being reviewed, “and we will continue tow irk to ensure that all members of Congress, including Senator Sanders, have information about NSA’s missions, authorities and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties.”
Shortly after Sanders published his letter on his website, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had signed off on an order allowing the bulk collection of telephone metadata to continue for a period of 90 days.