Spying on Those Who Oversee Spying

March 14, 2014

The issue of NSA surveillance of civilians through implementing the data mining PRISM program, monitoring telephone records and planting software on personal computers has, over the past few months, launched a national debate about surveillance. However, while the public and media outcry has only risen, the outrage seems to be absent among the Senate Intelligence Committee members who oversee the intelligence agencies.

A few congressional members have spoken out against mass surveillance, such as Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Yet, to date, there has been no legislation passed to limit surveillance nor has there been significant outrage by our elected officials about such programs. Instead, some members of Congress have come out in support of the NSA's tactics, despite multiple revelations showing some of its actions to be unconstitutional.

The most vociferous of those who defend surveillance of citizens is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Intelligence agencies depend on her to speak in support of their work, and Feinstein has delivered by frequently and forcefully defending the benefits of such programs, arguing that citizens’ rights are not being violated and that the programs have had sufficient oversight and boundaries. When Leahy introduced the USA Freedom Act, aimed at restricting domestic spying of citizens, Feinstein countered with the FISA Improvements Act, a watered-down idea for reform while codifying NSA's current unconstitutional spying tactics.

One would assume that Feinstein herself would have no objection to being one of the citizen targets of the programs she so vigorously supports.

Not so.

On Tuesday, Feinstein spoke out harshly against the CIA, accusing them of monitoring her staff’s computer usage. Senate Intelligence Committee staffers have been investigating the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, and they will soon be releasing a scathing report of the agency. Feinstein said that in addition to stealing documents her staffers were reviewing, the CIA intimidated them by, among other measures, asking the FBI to look into whether they had committed a crime.

In addition to citing the doctrine of separation of powers in her objection to the surveillance of her office, she also used the same arguments that privacy advocates use when they speak out against mass surveillance. It’s ironic that she is now pointing to the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and requires probable cause for warrants, now that the surveillance has hit home.

We must ask: Why should the Fourth Amendment apply to members of Congress, but not to the citizens it serves?

Feinstein also cited Executive Order 12333, which she says prohibits domestic spying by American intelligence agencies.

We must also ask: Why does Executive Order 12333 apply to members of Congress, but not to the citizens it serves?

Beyond the Hollywood-like irony of this whole fiasco, what is more troubling is the overreach of our nation’s intelligence agencies. That the CIA had the audacity to spy upon the very body that oversees it shows a level of disregard for law that is appalling. That it continues to wage even broader surveillance of the American public is just as appalling and requires immediate action.

Enough is enough – Congress must put a stop to the runaway programs initiated and executed by intelligence agencies. Nothing less than our Constitution is on the line.

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