Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) recently wrote an Op-Ed,, "NSA's call-records program is prudence -- not prying," that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle defending the National Security Agency's programs. In her Op-Ed, Senator Feinstein disingenuously assures us that the NSA does not conduct surveillance, but rather it merely collects information contained on the average telephone bill, not the content of the messages.
Senator Feinstein further claims that there are "strong legal and constitutional protections already in place to prevent improper behavior." But where were the "protections" when the NSA monitored the phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and leaders of other allies, including France, Spain, Mexico, and Brazil?
According to the Senator, the erosion of public confidence in our intelligence community can be laid at the feet of whistle blower Edward Snowden, who disclosed classified material outlining the pervasiveness of the NSA programs. I disagree. The erosion of public confidence in our government started way before Snowden. During the George W. Bush administration, Bush and his minions built a case for war against Iraq without regard to factual evidence concerning Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
And remember the "Plame Affair," where Valerie Plame was outed as a covert CIA operative allegedly in retribution for her husband James C. Wilson's op-ed piece in the New York Times arguing that, in his State of the Union Address, then President Bush misrepresented intelligence leading up to the invasion by suggesting without evidence that the Iraqi regime sought uranium to manufacture nuclear weapons. No WMD were ever found in Iraq.
Further, Bush alleged that there was a secret relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Untrue. On April 29, 2007, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said on 60 Minutes, "We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period."
And who can forget Secretary of State Colin Powell's 2003, infamous presentation before the United Nations to "prove" the urgency to invade Iraq. Powell claimed that Iraq harbored an al Qaeda network, despite evidence to the contrary. He showed photos of an alleged poison and explosives training camp in northeast Iraq operated by the al Qaeda even though this area was outside Iraqi control and even though U.S. intelligence agencies found no substantive collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Later, Powell acknowledged that much of his 2003 UN presentation was inaccurate.
Finally, on April 16, 2009, President Obama released four top secret memos that allowed the CIA under the Bush administration to torture al Qaeda and other suspects held at Guantánamo and secret detention centers round the world in violation of international law. Remember Abu Ghraib.
Clearly, public confidence in our government had eroded well before Snowden came on the scene. By the way, the NSA surveillance programs began during the Bush administration.
Who's watching the NSA? The watchers supposedly include internal NSA audits, the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) panel of judges, the President's Civil Liberties and Oversight Board, a newly appointed presidential intelligence privacy review group, and the respective Congressional intelligence committees. Senator Feinstein is Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Committee is one of the watchers. Were those with oversight asleep at their post or did they simply look the other way while the NSA ran amok? Why didn't the strong legal and constitutional protections touted by Senator Feinstein prevent the NSA's improper behavior?
Senator Feinstein is now touting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Improvement Act. (Ah there's that word "surveillance" again.) The proposed Act does not change anything about the way the FISA Court works, not does it provide for an advocate to represent those American individuals or groups that the FBI and NSA want to wiretap. It provides no significant improvement in the oversight of FBI/NSA electronic eavesdropping activities, and it does not restrict or tighten the control of the FBI collection efforts. In short, the proposed Act is nothing but window dressing.
Security will continue to trump civil liberties.