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Senator presses NSA to reveal whether it spies on members of Congress (theguardian.com)
158 points by joshfraser 1417 days ago | hide | past | web | 73 comments | favorite



Only for training purposes, with recordings promptly destroyed! See from 1995 (!):

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1995-12-12/news/1995346001_...

FTA:

"We listened to all the calls in and out of Washington," says one former NSA linguist, recalling a class at the Warrenton Training Center, a CIA communications school on a Virginia hilltop. "We'd listen to senators, representatives, government agencies, housewives talking to their lovers."


Also, for those who have missed it:

Obama was being surveilled as well, before being elected:

http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2013/06/19/podcast-show-112-...

Which means Obama may effectively be a puppet (if you compare his promises and reality, it sure looks like it). And that would then mean that no future President would be able to start limiting the growing corruption, with the NSA in power.


>Which means Obama may effectively be a puppet

Effectively? Nobody gets the backing of a major party for his nomination, donations, etc, without being thorougly screened and vetoed that they'll "do the right thing" to continue supporting several interests (partisan, financial, political, etc).

It's not like parties do all this gerrymandering and political games to then allow some loose canon President to realy change the system.

In that sense, they are all puppets, even without surveillance coming into play.


The difference is that when the puppetmasters are two political parties in competition to each other, they have adapt their positions to popular opinion or else their puppets loose power and become worthless. When the puppetmasters are the NSA, then they do not need to adapt their posistions, because regardless of the election, they still have puppets.


"two political parties in competition to each other"

Where can we find these parties? When last I checked, we had two parties that share a common high-level agenda and which generally agree on the majority of issues (to the point where people have basically forgotten that there could even be any debate on such things).


>to the point where people have basically forgotten that there could even be any debate on such things

Exactly. The problem is that the public accepts the status que as correct on numerous issues. If their were an issue where a significant portion of the voting public had a different view, then I would expect a one of the political parties to adopt that view to gain voters from the other.

I agree that a two party system is far from ideal. The main problem is that if every one who disagrees with the current position on issue X is already firmly committed to their own party for unrelated reasons then their is no pressure. The traditional solution to this problem to focus on primary elections. Unfortunately (for me), a group of Republicans have recognized this, and managed to affect significant change by focusing on the getting their views through in the primaries. In the long term (I hope) this will self correct as it damages the Republicans in the main election


>The difference is that when the puppetmasters are two political parties in competition to each other, they have adapt their positions to popular opinion or else their puppets loose power and become worthless.

Or you know, they can shape popular opinion to only care about secondary issues (which politician said what on TV, Obama's birth certificate, the debt ceiling, gay marriage, tax cuts, Hilary vs Palin, etc) which the parties pretend to fight out on, while agreeing on all important issues or slightly skewing from the same general direction on them...


This is brilliant. This is how we'll get legislation passed reigning in the NSA. Elected officials will wake up and ask "Wait, you mean they're spying on ME?!"


"leaders, go out in public and express intense indignation over the fact that the privacy of their citizens is being systematically breached, and genuine indignation when they learn that their privacy has also been targeted." - Glen Greenwald https://github.com/poppingtonic/greenwald-30c3-keynote/blob/...


In fairness, spying of congress (and the president, judges, etc) does seem much more concerning then spying on most citizens, as it would allow them to break the checks on their power that those bodies should provide. In fact, one of the largest concerns I have heard about surveleince is that it would allow them to blackmail politicians.


Yeah but if you're trying to catch criminals the signal to noise is far better with presidents, judges, and congress than with boring, normal citizens.


Hehe, good one.

FTR, the ratio is much lower when trying to catch foreign terrorists. :P


>In fact, one of the largest concerns I have heard about surveleince is that it would allow them to blackmail politicians

Would? That has been standard fair at least since the days of J.E Hoover.


And the technology keeps evolving.


> In fact, one of the largest concerns I have heard about surveleince is that it would allow them to blackmail politicians.

Considering the NSA is recording the content of everything, let's be honest, over time they accumulate blackmail material on everyone.

This applies to elected officials, and people who haven't even decided to run yet.


Erm, we live in a democracy. Almost anyone in the country over the age of 30 could potentially become a member of congress in 2 years or less. Being able to discourage someone from running for office is potentially just as distressing as being able to influence someone already in power.


No they won't. They'll just exempt themselves from it. Congress exempts itself from tonnes of laws.


[citation needed]


Congress is exempt from insider trading laws and many forms of arrest. A quick google search will reveal this.




Provided a narrow law protecting only congresspeople and their staff is not all that comes out of this.


I guess he didn't get the memo. It's a dragnet, senator, they spy on everyone.


That's the point. He knows very well the answer is "Yes".


"...if the NSA has spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials"

It depends on your definitions of "has", "spied", "spying", "currently", "elected" and "members".

So the answer is, "No".


I find it very depressing that semantics and definitions of fairly common-sense words are at the center of this particular set of weaseling.


Semantics and definitions are what the law is :)

In this case, as the parent points out, this is entirely the wrong way to ask the question.

You don't ask them whether they did X, you ask them what information they have, and then for each piece of information, how was it acquired.


Lawyer talk and double speak.

Bill Clinton got away with the Monica comment about sex and so will the next bunch about something different.


If you call impeachment getting away with it.

Side note: his predecessor had a long-time mistress that was well known to beltway insiders. The Right changed the rules once they were out of power.


Times have changed its no longer acceptable to have a mistress no matter what position you're in.


It is so incredibly infuriating...and by the people who are supposed to be looking out for us.


Read the article. The Senator defines spying very specifically. So specifically that it's already clear the answer is "yes".


> So specifically that it's already clear the answer is "yes".

would you like to put a wager on "yes" being the response he receives?


If you'd like to call or get in contact with Senator Sanders, try: http://www.callcongressnow.org/profile/S000033

Just click the call button, give the microphone permissions, and then it will call his Washington office for you via Twilio.

If you'd like to find another member of Congress, just visit the root domain: http://www.callcongressnow.org/

This is a little app I've been working on and I'm just starting to talk about it today, so bugs are to be expected. If you find one, please file an issue here: https://github.com/zmaril/callcongressnow


Now it makes sense. Every closeted gay Republican senator and aide knows the NSA has dirt on them, so they shut up.

(We all have stuff we don't want others to know, but few seem as common or career destroying as gay-bashing senators being in the closet)

Relevant: "Apparently to the homophobes running the NSA, chickenfuckers were a-okay — the security threat came from gays." http://pando.com/2013/12/29/snowdens-biggest-revelation-we-d...


I think the chickens were judged okay only after they'd confirmed no roosters were involved.


Gen Clapper lied once[1] under direct questioning by a Senator who knew the answer already. What makes Sen Sanders think that they won't lie again?

[1] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/...


I wonder if I can do the same thing with the MPAA:

well, yes I downloaded all those movies, but I haven't watched any of them. Really, if I decide to watch one, there is a process by which I purchase it first. Promise. It's not infringement unless I actually WATCH the movie.


This was actually central to a scandal that happened a few years ago involving former congresswoman Jane Harman. The allegations claiming that she was caught red-handed in impropriety were based on NSA transcripts.[1,2]

Also, somewhat unrelated yet interesting: Harman authored an op-ed in the Washington Post a couple months ago.[3] It seems she primarily railed against the NSA, while simultaneously failing to disclose her obvious conflict of interest, and took a parting shot at Snowden in the process.

[1] http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2009/04/jane-harm...

[2] http://www.salon.com/2009/04/20/harman/ (Gleen Greenwald authored this piece.)

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/security-policies-for...


>Sanders ... defined "spying" as "gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business".

To the twisted minds at the NSA, there are a ton of loopholes in that language, unfortunately.


Keeps your friends close and your enemies closer.

In this case why not spy on the people who have the power to cut your funding. Even though its clearly wrong and sounds like something North Korea does.


Uhh of course they do. Why would they be exempt? If anything they are a legitimate target for fears of compromising national security.


Well the soviet sleepers where trying to make Friends and contacts with people in government so if a congressman or Senator had an "aide" like "Katia" Zatuliveter an Aide to the MP for Portsmouth who is on the defense committee

I bet the FBI counter espionage guys would be interested

And in the Past MI5 did catch a US diplomat working for the nazi's s well as catching an MP spying for the opposition John Stone House for the STB.


Congress can fuck up the country far more effectively than terrorism. See: Congress' response to terrorism. The scrutiny on them should be ENORMOUS but instead it is exactly the reverse, they are using a billions-dollar world eavesdropping device to parallel-construction convict petty pot dealers.


Yes but I don't think closed door NSA style surveillance of congress people would be helpful. Government open data programs? Probably a better direction.


The goal is to have an answer on record.


It's pretty clear they do not care about being honest on record. Nor do we do anything about it when we find them in a lie.


I said the point was to have an answer on record. The point is not to have the truth on record; that has never been useful.


So then, how is having an answer on record going to be useful?


If the answer is yes,

> Acknowledgement that it has collected the communications records of American lawmakers and other officials is likely to make it harder for the NSA to argue that it needs such broad collection powers to defend against terrorism.

If the answer is no,

> The letter’s authors include surveillance skeptics like Sensenbrenner as well as those who voted against an earlier curtailment of NSA authorities, like Franks and Issa, the chairman of the House oversight committee.

> “There can be no disagreement, however, on the basic premise that congressional witnesses must answer truthfully,” read the letter, which requested a reply by 10 January.


You are saying that an answer of "no" is just not credible. I agree with that.


That's not remotely what I'm saying. I'm saying that getting a lie on record is valuable because it makes it more likely that desirable consequences will occur.


> I'm saying that getting a lie on record

But you are certain that it would be a lie? Then it is implicit in this that the "no" is not credible. You're not being very clear.


What would you like me to clarify?

If the no is true, then there isn't actually an issue. The point of such a request is to have someone give a public statement committing themselves to a position. Is this really so challenging to grasp?


> The point of such a request is to have someone give a public statement committing themselves to a position.

That's clearer, thanks, though a "public statement committing themselves to a position" is not in itself useful unless it has consequences. It seems that you can only state the usefulness by enumerating the possible outcomes.

The link to "denial and lie on record" to positive consequences is a tenuous one. The consequences of "truthful denial on record" are that the status quo of widespread scepticism continues, i.e. no new consequences.

> Is this really so challenging to grasp?

it is not useful for you to get upset and offensive when you aren't being understood. It would be useful for you to be clearer.


> a "public statement committing themselves to a position" is not in itself useful

This is how contracts work. This is how courts work. This is what people mean when they say, "Get it in writing." This is why we force confrontations. This is what Sun Tzu meant by picking your battleground. This is an essential utility that pervades the entirety of history and daily life.

> It seems that you can only state the usefulness by enumerating the possible outcomes.

I enumerated the possible outcomes when you asked how it would be useful.

It is not terribly surprising that utility is explained by listing the ways in which it is used.

> it is not useful for you to get upset and offensive when you aren't being understood. It would be useful for you to be clearer.

Honestly, I am having a hard time deciding whether or not you're a troll. That I'm responding at all is giving you the benefit of the doubt. I've discussed challenging concepts on here before, and I recognize when I'm being unclear or when I have an inadequate grasp on the subject to give a clear answer. That is not the case here. This is not a challenging concept. It is a core part of social interactions for anyone who has access to HN.


> This is how contracts work. This is how courts work. This is what people mean when they say, "Get it in writing." This is why we force confrontations.

And yet it doesn't work if you're James Clapper and can lie to congress without fear of consequence. This is why it's worth asking if there would in fact be consequences in this case.


Slowly accumulating outrage on the part of Congress and the people, one could hope.


They are also a target so that the head of the NSA can effectively control the country.


I can't help but feel that this is fake outrage, given for example, this writeup of a 60 minutes interview ... from the year 2000: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ex-snoop-confirms-echelon-networ...

"America politicians may also have been eavesdropped on, says Margaret Newsham, a woman who worked at Menwith Hill in England, the NSA's largest spy station. She says she was shocked to hear the voice of U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R.-S.C.) on a surveillance headset about 20 years ago."


I thought of this too!

This is why the question is such a good one. When 'Snowden's grandmother' tried to out them on exactly this minor detail of spying on a congressman she did not provide any primary first hand evidence, e.g. a tape recording. It was her word against the NSA's. Obviously we believe her, or at least we do now!

So when the NSA say they have never spied on anyone in congress, they will have to carefully craft their lie. I can't wait for it!


Of course they do.

If I am controlling the spying, every top law and business school student and people close to them would be under surveillance the day they were accepted.


Does anyone feel more reticent than usual to chime in on these threads despite this being one of the most provocative topics on HN? Asking for a friend...


No, I don't. I admit that I very occasionally think twice about saying some things.

Actually I think writing about the NSA in forums like this, and in email, is the only effective way I have at trying to convince the analysts and spies that they're doing the wrong thing. [You listening, analyst spy?]


I'm confused by this. I thought this was already established fact based on declassified documents?

http://www.theshillongtimes.com/2013/09/27/nsa-spied-on-us-s...


IMO, this is something tax dollars should pay for. Don't use tax money to spy on citizens, use it to spy on members of congress so they have incentive to behave in a less corrupt way. I personally don't mind that elected officials should have to transparently have their lives monitored. If I was an elected official, I wouldn't mind either. I'd rather it be the reason I was voted into office in the first place.

If members of the legislative branch are transparently spied on by another branch (in this case executive) of the government, it should keep corruption down, no?


I hope they strongly deny any spying, only to be burnt on the next morning by yet another leaked slide.


How many senators and congressman (conservative republicans in particular) are thinking "oh shit, i hope grindr uses eliptic curve crypto" right now?


I'm pretty sure they keep an eye on representatives that are involved in acts of treason, such as questioning or attempting to restrict the NSA.


This result of this should be interesting.


Uhh duh? Can't have those closest to you acting up..


Obviously they do. What kind of naive child would ask this question?


A child trying to draw out perjury in the same way that a prosecutor might.




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